Cubs

Cubs: Joe Maddon wants Tsuyoshi Wada to hit the reset button

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Cubs: Joe Maddon wants Tsuyoshi Wada to hit the reset button

Tsuyoshi Wada knows he’s put himself in a tough position in the Cubs starting rotation after another rough, short outing.

The left-hander was yanked from the Cubs’ 6-3 win over Cincinnati Thursday after allowing a leadoff home run in the fourth inning, giving him back-to-back abbreviated starts with little success in them. Manager Joe Maddon said after Thursday’s game he hasn’t yet thought about dropping Wada from the rotation, but if 34-year-old doesn’t get the message, he very well could lose his spot.

The message Maddon will deliver to Wada on Friday: Be more assertive and trust your stuff.

[MORE: Cubs get back to normal with re-opening of RF bleachers]

“That’s why he’s here in the first place,” Maddon said. “A guy like that that doesn’t throw exceptionally hard, you need to trust what you’re doing out there."

Wada’s fastball velocity has dropped about one mile per hour since he made his season debut May 20 in San Diego, though he said there’s nothing wrong with his arm. The feeling Maddon and catcher Miguel Montero have is it’s all mental at this point.

“He needs to not give that much credit to the hitters,” Montero said. “It feels like he’s giving them too much credit and he falls behind … He needs to pitch to more contract.”

Montero said he saw Wada trying to make perfect pitches in 0-0 counts over his three innings Thursday, in which he allowed three runs on four hits with two walks. He gave up a two-run triple to Reds starter Michael Lorenzen and a solo home run to light-hitting outfielder Chris Dominguez, the later of which knocked him out of the game in favor of Travis Wood, who threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

The early results for Wada were solid for a No. 5 starter: A 2.30 ERA on 10 hits, five walks and 19 strikeouts over his first three starts covering 15 2/3 innings. He posted a 3.25 ERA in 13 starts for the Cubs last year, so the club has seen him succeed before.

Maddon feels like if Wada can get back to being more “primal” in term of his aggression, and re-gain the confidence that he can pitch well in the majors, he’ll be fine. But with two former starters in the bullpen in Wood and Edwin Jackson, there’s no shortage of options with the Cubs right now to replace him if he can’t turn things around.

“I don’t make those kind of decisions,” Wada said through a translator. “But if you look at the results it could be happening.” 

 

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.