Cubs

Cubs: Javier Baez beginning takeover of second-base job

Cubs: Javier Baez beginning takeover of second-base job

MILWAUKEE – Cubs manager Joe Maddon kept Javier Baez in the lineup the day after a full-speed, head-on collision with Jason Heyward in shallow center field left him looking like a boxer with a bloodshot left eye and dark bruising around that eyelid. 
 
Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year. Baez has now started four of the season's first five games at second base, pushing Ben Zobrist toward the outfield and into more of a super-utility role for the defending World Series champs.  

At what point does Baez become your everyday second baseman? (Hint: It's already happening.) 

"I haven't even thought about that," Maddon said before Saturday's game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. "Zo's at second base tomorrow. Javy's off tomorrow. Today's lineup was not based on the collision at all. I had that lineup made up before the game. 

"I'm going to try to balance it out as much as I can. Part of it is it's not just about Javy being the everyday second baseman. How do you get (Albert) Almora in the lineup? How do you get (Jon) Jay in the lineup? How do you keep Zo in the lineup as often as possible? That's really what it comes down to.

"So pretty much what you've seen to this point, I think, is like a good indicator of what we're going to be able to do with everybody being healthy."

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Baez generates more highlight-reel plays and buzz on social media, but Zobrist is still a clubhouse leader, All-Star second baseman and World Series MVP. Zobrist is in the second season of a four-year, $56 million contract signed with the idea of ending the 108-year drought and focusing on one position to help preserve his body through his mid-30s.

Beyond the respect for Zobrist, Maddon also seems to be trying to avoid anointing Baez, a player so confident he got the Major League Baseball logo tattooed onto the back of his neck as a teenager. Throughout spring training, Maddon answered questions about the second-base dynamics by identifying Zobrist as the primary option with Baez as a defensive rover.    

"It's always about semantics, man," Maddon said. "You got to be (careful). Whatever you say, it sticks. And then people hold you to that, which they should. When it comes to baseball players, man, if you say they're one thing and then try to make them into something else, it really freaks them out."

This is also the direction where Maddon sees the game trending, lineups built with analytics and matchups in mind, rosters becoming less top-heavy and revolving more around depth and flexibility. Maddon has talked about the year he never formally named a closer for the Tampa Bay Rays and just kept going to the same guy in the ninth inning for save situations. 

"Without naming a closer, without naming a second baseman, without a naming an eighth-inning guy or a seventh-inning guy, it really creates a lot more latitude, which you need in today's game," Maddon said. "Our group needs that. I think it's going to become more prominent throughout the industry where you might name a closer only and then the rest of the guys will just be out there and be ready. Position-player-wise, we're just different, I think, with all the versatility that we do have."      

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On the day he was introduced as the next Cubs manager, David Ross made it a point to explain how important it is that his bench coach is "one step ahead" of him as he gets his feet under him.

Theo Epstein echoed that sentiment, saying a bench coach with managerial experience was vital as the Cubs help Ross along as not only a first-year manager, but also a first year coach.

Enter Andy Green.

The 42-year-old Green spent the last four seasons as the San Diego Padres manager, but was fired with one week left in the 2019 season and two years left on his current deal. The Padres wanted a different voice moving into the future after Green compiled a 274-366 record and lost at least 85 games each season, finishing no higher than fourth place in the National League West.

But the Cubs don't want Green to be the manager and they love what he brings to the table as a veteran coach and Ross' right-hand man. 

"Talking to the Padre guys that I know well, he has excellent in-game strategy and always thought ahead very well in-game," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "Very bright, very well prepared. And that's not to mention he's a really good coach. We felt like that was a really good pairing for David. He hasn't managed, so having a guy next to him that, by all accounts, was really good in-game and controls information well, I think that's a really nice pairing."

At his introductory presser, Ross acknowledged his weaknesses as a first-time manager and admitted he will need some time to get the "feel" back of being in the dugout and engaged in each pitch after serving as either a broadcaster or front office executive for the last three years.

As a player, Ross often tried to think and strategize along with his manager, but that's not the same as actually having to make those calls and worry about pitching changes, pinch-hitting, umpire challenges and any other in-game duties a manger is tasked with. It can all add up quickly and managers often have to make the crucial decisions at the snap of a finger.

Ross and Green have not worked together, but the Cubs are hoping they can form a fast friendship and believe Green's ability to prepare is also an asset along with his experience. 

"He's gonna be great at [the bench coach job]," Padres GM A.J. Preller said. "I think it's gonna be a really good thing for somebody that's in that [manager's] chair for the first time having somebody that's gonna be knowledgeable, prepared, detail-oriented and somebody that understands what it's like to sit in that seat. I think all those things are gonna help serve [Green] really well."

Preller and Green reportedly didn't always see eye-to-eye in the big picture view of where the Padres were going, but there's no denying how the San Diego GM feels about his former manager's intellect and the Cubs won't need him to call the shots — only to assist Ross in doing so.

"Andy is probably one of the most intelligent baseball people I've been around," Preller said. "To me, probably as good a person as I've been around as far as Xs and Os and knowing the game. Andy always seemed to be two or three steps ahead. He's very well thought out, very well prepared. It's gonna be a huge strength for him and I think it will be nice for a first-year manager to have somebody like Andy sitting next to him."

A bench coach's exact duties vary from team to team and manager to manager, but with the Cubs, they will lean on Green initially to help Ross along with the experience aspect, making sure the game is not too quick for the first-year manager. During games, Green will be standing right next to Ross, weighing decisions and options along with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.

But like other bench coaches, Green will also be tasked with helping to serve as a bridge between Ross and the Cubs players. In a lot of ways, Ross is the face of the franchise, as he will partake in somewhere around 500 media sessions throughout the course of the season, including before and after each game. Between that, addressing the team as a group, individual meetings with players and all the strategy and discussions with the R & D department and the front office, Ross will need to lean on Green to be his right-hand man off the field, as well.

It helps that Green just finished managing in the National League, where he knows the opponents and the game is quite different than the American League, which has the benefit of the designated hitter.

"He's a guy that understands all different aspects [of being a coach]," Preller said. "He understands some of the newer information, some of the newer technology. He's gonna understand things that have worked in the past in terms of preparing for games from an advanced information standpoint and then he'll draw upon his experiences being in the National League, knowing the league really well.

"I think he'll be able to give all those things to David Ross and to the Cubs players — somebody who comes in with the mindset of just trying to help the team out and help the team grow. All those things are going to be positives."

We'll see how quickly Ross and Green can jell together, but it's clear the Cubs believe Green can help expediate the process of preparation and in-game strategy for Ross, both now and in-season.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan talks with former Cubs front office executive and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti on how to fix a major league roster, when to deal a player who is heading into free agency, and more

01:30 How he moved from MLB to being a scout in the NHL

04:30 How to fix a major league roster

06:40 On building the roster when other teams know your weaknesses

09:30 When to deal a player who is facing free agency

11:30 Balancing trying to win now vs. building a team for a sustained run

14:30 On how a GM can't depend only on signing a big free agent

18:00 On his time with the Cubs in the 1980s

19:45 On how a GM deals with Scott Boras

22:00 On how a GM deals with talk radio and the media

26:00 On how he almost got CC Sabathia on the Dodgers for 2008 playoff run

28:00 On how not trading for Ryan Dempster helped bring Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs

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

Cubs Talk Podcast

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