Cubs

Cubs: Maddon not worried about 'being nice' with quick hook on Hammel

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Cubs: Maddon not worried about 'being nice' with quick hook on Hammel

Joe Maddon is trying to win baseball games, not make friends.

These are the kinds of calls Theo Epstein's front office envisioned when they pitched the idea of coming to Chicago to Maddon in the offseason. 

The celebrity manager was at it again Wednesday night, yanking starter Jason Hammel out of the game after just 65 pitches, when he had given up only one run in 5 2/3 innings.

His last time out, Hammel threw just 76 pitches against the San Francisco Giants, and the veteran was not happy with the decision.

He wasn't any happier this time around, refusing to speak much on the matter after the game, saying he was "obviously" surprised and upset that he came out of the game.

[MORE CUBS: Six in a row: The Cubs are feeling 'unbeatable']

Maddon said he was "certain" Hammel would be upset but explained his reasoning while also reminding the media that the number of pitches doesn't matter because "it's not a 100-pitch exercise."

Maddon didn't like how Hammel matched up against Adam Lind with a runner on second and two outs, so instead of walking the Brewers first baseman, he brought in left-hander Clayton Richard from the bullpen to face the lefty Lind.

"From my perspective, where I'm sitting, it's not about being nice," Maddon said. "It's about trying to do the right thing at the right moment. I've been watching Lind all year. He's one of the scariest left-handed hitters out there right now.

"You could have chosen to walk him or 'pitch around him,' which I wasn't comfortable with that either. I thought Clayton could put the ball on the ground; he did not. ... I thought it was the right thing to do."

[MORE CUBS: Cubs searching for spots to get Kyle Schwarber in at catcher]

Hammel is a 32-year-old veteran in his 10th year in the big leagues. He has been one of the Cubs' most consistent starters all year, posting a 3.11 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 22 games.

So even catcher Miguel Montero was surprised by Maddon's quick hook.

"It caught me a little off guard there," Montero said. "But he had his plan. Obviously, Hammel threw his ball good, maybe not quite as good as I've seen him in the past.

"They were putting good swings on it. (Maddon) saw that. He saw that they were hitting the ball good. That's probably why he made that decision.

"As a player, we don't understand because we like to compete and we think we're still good and all this. But sometimes, we kinda actually step back and go, 'You know what? You were right because I didn't pitch that great.'

"He didn't pitch bad, but I've seen him better before."

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

But, all's well that end's well, maybe? The Cubs did get the win, and Hammel talked about how proud he was of the way his teammates played.

However, given this is two starts in a row, Maddon knows the frustration is building for Hammel.

"I'm sure there's a statute of limitations involving something like this, and I might be, like, pressing it right now," Maddon said. "However, I really like the guy a lot; I think he's outstanding. I'm sure we'll be able to get through it. 

"I want him to be upset, actually, because of his competitive side. I'm fine with that."

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.

[MORE: The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason]

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, as we discussed on the latest CubsTalk Podcast.

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.