Cubs

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer dissects what’s gone wrong and how the defending champs turn it around

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer dissects what’s gone wrong and how the defending champs turn it around

ST. LOUIS – The Cubs are without a simple explanation for their uneven start, not totally buying the World Series hangover theory, not having a devastating injury as an excuse and not noticing a new sense of entitlement in the clubhouse.

Being surprised that the Cubs are hovering around .500 might be the wrong way to look at it. This is a team that has allowed 41 runs in the first inning, put up a 4.56 rotation ERA, committed 27 errors through 34 games and watched underperforming hitters up and down the lineup. It could be so much worse.

“I don’t think it’s complacency at all,” Hoyer said Friday before the Cubs inched to 18-17 with a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. “There’s no diagnostic test for why we’re a .500 team right now. It’s not like you can say we’re missing this or we’re lacking that. Ultimately, we’re a .500 team – and we’ve actually scrambled for some wins to get to that point. 

“In some ways, we probably haven’t played as well as that record, but I don’t think it’s complacency. These guys are really competitive. Probably the thing that I look at the most is that we’ve had so many deficits. I feel like the whole year we’ve played from behind. 

“When you’re behind a lot, it does a lot of things that are negatives. It forces hitters to press. You feel like you have to get a hit here, because we’ve got to cut into the lead. It puts players on edge. You’re constantly playing that way. 

“Also, it shortens up some starts where you wish you could allow a guy to work his way in. But when you’re in the sixth inning and you’re down 3-1 or 5-2, you have to pinch-hit there. You don’t have a choice. So I just think that the nature of our early games has made this whole season feel like we’re scrambling out of the woods every night.” 

Another weird aspect is that the Cubs pretty much nailed their offseason moves, except for late-winter signing Brett Anderson, who’s on the disabled list with a lower back strain and an 8.18 ERA.

The Cubs carefully selected the players they wanted to add to this mix, focusing on accomplished veterans who already owned World Series rings. Wade Davis – who has two wins, eight saves and a 0.00 ERA – might be the best closer on the planet. Koji Uehara – who has held the opponent scoreless in 14 of his 16 outings – is an elite setup guy. Jon Jay (.299 average) is an ideal extra outfielder and mentor to Albert Almora Jr. 

But this isn’t about one big move or a quick fix almost 25 percent into the schedule. It’s all the little things that have added up to a fourth-place team so far. These Cubs aren’t playing defense at a historic level, the way the 2016 team made spectacular throws and catches look routine and propped up the pitching staff almost every night. So much for defense being slump-proof. 

“Last year, I thought the hallmark of what we did really well was we had clean, efficient games where we led from start to finish,” Hoyer said. “We went up 4-1, got into the bad part of the bullpen and then spread it out and not even use our good bullpen to win. Those games were on a regular basis. This year, this feels like the opposite. It feels like we’re constantly fighting from behind.

“We’ve shown a lot of fight. But it feels like a lot of that fight is having to come back in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. And that’s a terrible recipe for success.”

The good news for the Cubs is that the Cardinals (19-15) aren’t running away from them and no team has separated itself yet in the National League Central. This isn’t the beginning of the Wrigleyville rebuild, trying to project prospects from the Baseball America rankings and waiting for the right free agent at the right time. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision the Cubs taking off again.  

“I just don’t think we’ve played our best baseball yet,” Hoyer said. “I can’t imagine this group – given what they went through last year, given how much they care about each other – (would) take anything for granted. 

“The comforting thing is we just saw largely the same group win the World Series. We know it’s there. We know that a lot of these guys are underperforming where they will be at the end of the year. 

“We’re due for an offensive outbreak. We know we can play better defense. We know we can pitch better. So we know it’s all there. Now we have to put it together.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Laying out a Báez extension and why Contreras' trade value spiked

Cubs Talk Podcast: Laying out a Báez extension and why Contreras' trade value spiked

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan gives his thoughts on what a Javier Báez extention could look like. He also discusses how Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox increases Willson Contreras' trade value.

1:25 - Will Cubs and Javy Báez agree on a contract extension?

3:44 - If Báez doesn't want to commit long term, do Cubs trade him now?

6:15 - Kap gives his proposed deal that Báez could accept.

8:41 - Will Cubs lock up other key players with same type of mentality?

10:52 - Will Cubs be willing to trade Willson Contreras?

11:55 - With Grandal to the White Sox, teams might be more willing to part with their best prospects with Contreras in a deal.

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs showing interest in Korean pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim, report says

Cubs showing interest in Korean pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim, report says

The Cubs are one of several teams interested in Korean left-handed starter Kwang-hyun Kim, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required).

Kim, 31, has pitched with SK Wyverns in the KBO League since 2007. The team posted him on Friday, meaning he’s free to negotiate with all 30 MLB clubs. Kim was also posted in 2014, but the system between MLB and KBO has changed since then.

When KBO teams posted their players prior to 2018, interested MLB teams submitted blind bids for the exclusive right to negotiate with the player. The highest bidding MLB team had 30 days to negotiate a contract with the player if the KBO team viewed the bid as reasonable.

If the KBO player agreed to a big-league contract, the KBO team pocketed the bid. If he and the MLB team didn’t come to terms, the MLB team received their bid back. The Padres submitted the highest bid for Kim in 2014 ($2 million) but the two sides didn’t agree to terms.

The new system —  introduced in July 2018 — is much simpler: if a posted KBO player signs with an MLB team, his KBO team receives a transfer fee based on the size of his MLB contract. As was the case with the old system, players have 30 days to negotiate an MLB deal.

Got all that?

In 12 KBO seasons, Kim holds a 3.27 ERA in 298 games (276 starts) with 1,456 strikeouts in 1,673 2/3 innings. According to Sung Min Kim of the Lotte Giants (also KBO) R&D department, Kim’s repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, an upper 80s slider with a sharp break and a slow curveball that averages 69 mph.

The KBO is a lower level of competition than MLB, but Kim could fill a hole on the Cubs’ pitching staff, whether that’s as a starter, reliever or both.

The Cubs have an opening in their rotation after not tendering Cole Hamels a qualifying offer (a one-year deal worth $17.8 million). That would’ve been very enticing for Hamels, but the Cubs payroll is already projected to be $219.8 million in 2020, not including any potential offseason acquisitions.

Hamels could return to the Cubs in free agency at a cheaper salary, but Tyler Chatwood is already under contract for 2020 at $13 million. Chatwood enjoyed a resurgent 2019 season as a reliever/occasional spot starter and has earned the right to compete for the No. 5 rotation spot next season, should Hamels sign elsewhere.

But with or without Chatwood in the bullpen, the Cubs will need to address their relief corps this offseason. The bullpen struggled to pitch in high leverage spots in 2019, and Steve Cishek, Derek Holland, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop are all free agents. And as things currently stand, Kyle Ryan is the only lefty reliever penciled into the 2020 Opening Day bullpen.

Kwang is experienced and would fill at least one need on the Cubs roster. The Cubs did their due diligence on him can't hurt.

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