Cubs

Cubs keeping an eye on Albert Almora and Javier Baez

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Cubs keeping an eye on Albert Almora and Javier Baez

The Cubs don’t know how all these pieces are going to fit together, which makes 2015 a big year for The Plan.

The Cubs moved Albert Almora to the seven-day disabled list on Tuesday, but didn’t sound concerned about the Double-A Tennessee centerfielder. The organization followed concussion protocol after Almora, a gifted defender, hit his head against the wall trying to make a catch during Monday’s game.

Almora – the first player drafted here by the Theo Epstein administration in 2012 and yet another Scott Boras client – felt like he was on the verge of a breakthrough year in spring training.

[MORE CUBS: Joe Maddon preaching patience for Jorge Soler]

Almora hit .345 (10-for-29) in the Cactus League and kept riding that momentum in the Southern League. He’s hitting .297 at Tennessee and showing some more patience, walking five times through 16 games at Tennessee. He walked twice during 36 games with the Double-A affiliate last year.

The Cubs viewed that discipline and understanding as part of the next stage of Almora’s natural development. He only turned 21 two weeks ago and has already shown signs of elite defensive skills.

Epstein essentially ruled out the idea of Javier Baez playing the outfield when a reporter floated that idea before Addison Russell’s Wrigley Field debut on Monday night.

“That’s thinking too far ahead,” Epstein said. “We got a lot of guys with a lot of versatility. Given that, there’s the ability for all our core guys to fit on the field together at the same time – if we get to a point where they’re all up here together.

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“But that’s thinking really far in the future right now. We just make sure guys continue to have the ability to play multiple positions. And in Javy’s case, get him back on the field.”

Baez took an extended leave of absence after his 21-year-old sister, Noely, died on April 8. At that point, Triple-A Iowa’s season hadn’t started yet. Baez recently reported to the team’s complex in Mesa, Ariz.

“Right now, the focus is just getting Javy back to game-ready,” Epstein said. “He’s working hard in Arizona. He’s getting a lot closer. He’s going to play a lot of second base and mix in some shortstop.”

In terms of a timetable for rejoining Iowa, Epstein said: “There’s a good chance that we’re talking days, not weeks.”

Reds are favorite to sign Cubs free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, report says

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Reds are favorite to sign Cubs free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, report says

The odds of a Cubs-Nick Castellanos reunion happening have seemed slim all offseason. Although they've been connected to him at various points this winter, bringing back the fan favorite right fielder would require some serious financial gymnastics for the North Siders.

With the Cubs cognizant of the luxury tax, the division rival Reds have emerged as the favorite to sign Castellanos, according to MLB insider Jon Morosi.

The Reds have emerged as the frontrunner to sign free-agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, one source said Sunday, and there are indications the sides have made progress over the past several days. While Cincinnati is now the favorite to sign Castellanos, the Giants also have negotiated with the 27-year-old in recent weeks.

Because of their desire to stay under the luxury tax in 2020, the Cubs have only made low-cost acquisitions this winter. They were penalized $7.6 million for eclipsing the threshold in 2019; if they do so in 2020, they'll be taxed 30 percent on their overages —  and see their 2021 draft pick drop 10 spots, if they go over the figure by $40 million.

At this point, the only realistic scenario where the Cubs re-sign Castellanos is if they shed salary. However, they've reportedly signed outfielder Steven Souza to a one-year deal, giving them five outfielders (along with Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward). That might be the biggest indicator of a reunion not being in the cards.

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Brandon Kintzler, Cubs most consistent reliever in 2019, signs with Marlins: report

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USA TODAY

Brandon Kintzler, Cubs most consistent reliever in 2019, signs with Marlins: report

Brandon Kintzler officially won't be back on the North Side in 2020.

Saturday, ESPN's Jesse Rogers reported Kintzler has agreed to a one-year, $3 million deal with the Marlins. The deal includes a $4 million option for 2021.

Kintzler was the Cubs' most consistent reliever in 2019, sporting a 2.68 ERA and 1.02 WHIP (both career highs) in 62 appearances. He was effective against both righties and lefties, the latter of which hit .163 against him.

The Cubs haven't been connected to Kintzler this offseason and have instead accumulated a plethora of low-cost, high-potential relievers. The organization has been extremely cognizant of MLB's luxury tax threshold after surpassing it in 2019 and wants to avoid becoming a repeat offender in 2020.

Kintzler becomes the second reliable reliever to depart the Cubs in free agency this winter, along with sidearmer Steve Cishek (White Sox). Pedro Strop is still a free agent, and while the Cubs have been connected to him, a recent report says the race to sign him is down to the Marlins and Rangers.

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