Cubs

Cubs: Jake Arrieta trolling Pirates fans is ‘all in good fun’

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Cubs: Jake Arrieta trolling Pirates fans is ‘all in good fun’

PITTSBURGH — During the middle of this dream season, a reporter asked Jake Arrieta why he even bothers to go on social media: “I like to talk s--- to people.”

Hey, why stop now? The Cubs kept telling everyone “#WeAreGood,” and they wound up with 97 wins and the third-best record in baseball.

Arrieta trolled Pittsburgh Pirates fans on Twitter, saying he wanted it “LOUD” on Wednesday night at PNC Park and telling them the blackout atmosphere “doesn’t matter” in the National League wild-card game.

[MORE CUBS: How Jake Arrieta transformed himself into the Cubs ace]

The back-and-forth responses led to the first question on Tuesday afternoon during Arrieta’s news conference.

“It’s a big part of the fan-player interaction,” Arrieta said calmly, sitting on stage inside the interview room. “It’s all in good fun. I don’t mean anything negative towards anybody. It’s kind of the buildup to the game. You’ve got two very passionate fan bases.

“It is all in good fun. There’s nothing meant in a negative aspect there. I think it’s just kind of a unique way to start interaction within the fan bases.”

Arrieta is such a good talker and a thoughtful player that it doesn’t sound like bulletin-board material when he says things so matter-of-factly.

Arrieta has definitely backed it up this year, leading the majors with 22 wins, finishing with the lowest ERA (0.75) after the All-Star break in big-league history and possibly winning a Cy Young Award.

The Pirates won 98 games and earned their third straight postseason appearance, but they managed to score only three earned runs in 36 innings against Arrieta, who’s never thrown a playoff pitch before.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s much different,” Arrieta said. “It’s the same preparation. It’s a team that I am comfortable with analyzing, scouting and pitching against. It’s an extremely balanced group of guys in that order who can make a lot of things happen. And I feel confident that I can neutralize a lot of their power, a lot of their speed guys, with different sequences.

“You know, I intend to have some pretty good success tomorrow.”

[MORE CUBS: How the Cubs built a World Series contender]

It’s that kind of confidence that propelled Arrieta from being a Triple-A-ish guy with the Baltimore Orioles to the hottest pitcher on the planet.

“From Day 1, I knew I could pitch like this my whole career,” Arrieta said. “I did it in college. I did it in the minor leagues. I did it in the big leagues, at times. I knew there were some adjustments in there — mentally and physically — that needed to be made.

“I knew once I was able to kind of get over that hump that things would eventually work themselves out. The work ethic was there. I had to cut some things out. I was trying to do too much. Just so many variables in there that needed to be rearranged, some taken out.

“But, yeah, I knew that I would be here one day.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.