Cubs

Cubs managing a crisis: Cashner, Wells to DL

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Cubs managing a crisis: Cashner, Wells to DL

Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Posted: 10:24 a.m. Updated: 3:23 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Its only April 6, but already the Cubs have reached the seasons first crisis point.

Without flashing any warning signs, Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells are heading to the disabled list, leaving 40 percent of the Cubs rotation in doubt.

Cashner has been diagnosed with a rotator cuff strain. Wells has strained his right forearm. Neither starter will throw a baseball for two weeks, at which point they will be re-evaluated by the Cubs medical staff.

General manager Jim Hendry said Wednesday that he doesnt expect this to be a long-term health issue for Cashner or Wells, and ruled out surgery as an option for either pitcher.

Cashners parents traveled to Chicago for his first career major-league start. They watched their 24-year-old son keep the Arizona Diamondbacks completely off-balance, working the ball up and down, in and out.

Cashner felt something in the sixth inning around his 71st and 72nd pitches and was pulled after allowing just one run on two hits. He didnt even shower and headed straight to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for an MRI.

I dont think this is too serious, Cashner said. We caught it at the right time, jumped on it early. (Well) rehab it back and get it strong and be good to go.

The Texan always stays confident and does not like to show weakness. The Cubs invested their 2008 first-round pick in Cashner because of the smooth, easy way the ball leaves his right hand. He doesnt need a violent motion to generate velocity.

Hes never had anything but a blister, Hendry said. (He has a) great delivery thats about as easy a 95-to-97 mph (throw) as youre going to see. Great mechanics hes a scouts dream and a tough kid. It just came out of nowhere. There was never any discomfort.

Wells doesnt have much of a medical history either. The 28-year-old pitched as well as anyone in Cubs camp, displaying a renewed focus and commitment, and carried that momentum into Mondays 4-1 victory over the Diamondbacks.

Wells felt sore the next day and underwent an MRI that did not reveal any structural damage or elbow issues. He finished last season at 8-14 with a 4.26 ERA, but took great pride in making 32 starts and accounting for almost 200 innings. For the moment that durability is now in question.

Its a big year for me you want (to) get off to a great start, Wells said. You want to be a part of what I feel is something special here. To take some time off this early in the season is (disappointing). You just want to take care of it and make sure its not something thats going to linger throughout the season.

Im going to put on my best cheerleading outfit here and get myself healthy and make sure Im out here pulling for my teammates every day.

The Cubs are now on the clock to identify starters for Sunday in Milwaukee and next Tuesday in Houston. Theyll benefit from three off-days built into their April schedule.

Casey Coleman impressed many in the organization during his audition late last season, going 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in eight starts. The third-generation big-league pitcher is expected to be called up from Triple-A Iowa to join the rotation.

The Cubs are also considering stretching out reliever James Russell for the other spot. When asked about two non-roster invitees to camp, Hendry indicated that Todd Wellemeyer isnt ready yet, and that Braden Looper isnt about to come out of retirement.

Forget about Carlos Silva he torched every bridge back to Chicago with his comments about pitching coach Mark Riggins. The entire industry has stayed away from Silva since his unconditional release.

Now the Cubs must be patient with Cashner and Wells and take the long view on two pitchers they could see in their rotation for years to come.

We will obviously proceed with extreme caution, Hendry said. Well find a way to get through it. No excuses. Nobodys going to feel sorry for you.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Astros have shown interest in Willson Contreras, report says

Astros have shown interest in Willson Contreras, report says

As the Cubs look to retool their roster and improve a depleted farm system, it’s evident a member of the team’s core position player group may get traded this offseason. That player could be catcher Willson Contreras.

Thursday, The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma (subscription required) reported the Astros “went into this offseason” with interest in Contreras.

Majority of Houston’s core position players are under contract for 2020 — like the Cubs — though the Astros currently lack a catcher. Both starter Robinson Chirinos and backup Martin Maldonado — who briefly was a Cub in 2019 — are free agents.

Chirinos hit .238 in 2019 with a solid .347 on-base percentage and 17 home runs. Maldonado is limited offensively (.213/.293/.378 in 2019) but has a cannon for an arm and won a Gold Glove Award in 2017. He finished 8th in MLB last season in Defensive Runs Saved (8) among all catchers. Chirinos (3) tied for 20th and has built great rapport with 2019 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. 

The Astros could look to bring Chirinos and/or Maldonado this offseason. Neither will command long-term deals on the open market and they don't come with expensive price tags. The tandem worked well for the Astros in 2019, but they could stabilize the position for the future by acquiring someone like Contreras. He’s only 27 — younger than Chirinos (35) and Maldonado (33) — and is one of the top offensive catchers in baseball. Contreras also has a cannon, but his defense (-1 DRS in 2019) and pitch-framing are works in progress.

Contreras has plenty of value for the Cubs, so they won't just trade him for the sake of doing so. The return package would have to be sufficient, whether it includes prospects, big league players or both. And as a reminder, trade rumors are referred to as such for a reason. One shouldn't overreact every time a Cubs player pops up in a report.

"The nature of any offseason, there are gonna be rumors about your major-league players and even your best players and that doesn't necessarily mean they're true," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at last month's GM Meetings. "No one knows how this winter's going to evolve. Even us. We have no idea who will be available for us, so I think taking any name that comes up in a trade rumor with a mouthful of salt is appropriate — not just a grain because I think they're usually untrue."

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Cubs 'open-minded' on where Nico Hoerner fits in 2020 equation

Cubs 'open-minded' on where Nico Hoerner fits in 2020 equation

The MLB offseason is a month old, but we still don't have any clear answers on what the 2020 Cubs roster will look like.

So much of that depends on the trade market and who Theo Epstein's front office deals away and what they get in return. 

One of the other major contributing factors is Nico Hoerner and how the Cubs view him. Will the impressive rookie make the Opening Day roster? Will he see more work at second base or center field or both? 

At some point next year, it seems likely Hoerner will be the everyday second baseman with Javy Baez manning shortstop. That path was made simpler when the Cubs parted ways with Addison Russell earlier this week. 

But will the Cubs want Hoerner to start the year in Triple-A Iowa — a level he skipped over in September when he was tasked with filling in for the injured Baez — to continue his development?

"It's a great question and I don't think one that I can answer that well right now," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said last month. "All I can say is that his timetable obviously was faster than we ever expected being in a pennant race and necessity of Javy going down and Addy going down, it sort of forced our hand to do that. And Dixon Machado was injured. We put Nico in a really challenging spot and he couldn't have responded better. His makeup, competitiveness is fantastic; his poise was really impressive. 

"Clearly he exceeded our expectations in that spot. What that means going forward, I can't answer at this point. But I think it's safe to say we hold him in incredibly high regard and whatever number of games in September that he played in — I'm still incredibly impressed that he can go from being at home to starting the next night and performing the way he did."

The 22-year-old former first-round pick hit .282 with 3 homers and 17 RBI in his first 20 big-league games while playing solid defense at shortstop and earning praise from veterans in the clubhouse for his energy, work ethic and the spark he provided the team down the stretch. 

If Hoerner was a shoo-in to make the Opening Day roster, that would change the equation for the Cubs this winter as they look to build their 26-man squad. But 20 games isn't a huge sample size and he may well need more time down in the minor leagues to refine his offensive approach and defensive versatility.

"We haven't figured that out yet," Epstein said at the GM Meetings. "I think you could make strong arguments on both sides, whether he should be part of the club on Opening Day or a little bit more seasoning [in the minors]. I think a lot will depend on what else we do and yeah, sure, what type of spring training you have might be a factor as well. We're not at the point where we're ready to make that decision yet, but we're open-minded."

As it stands right now, the Cubs' position player group is pretty locked down everywhere but second base and center field. Barring a trade that opens up another hole on the roster, those are the two spots Epstein's front office will look to upgrade this winter after subpar production in 2019. If they felt confident enough in Hoerner to pencil him in as the starting second baseman, that would erase a need and allow the front office to focus on outfield and the pitching staff.

Hoerner might also be a factor in the center field equation. He got some work there in the minors last season and started a game in center on the final weekend of the MLB season in St. Louis.

The Cubs still have Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ on the roster to play center field and they can also shift Jason Heyward over there if there's a corner outfielder that makes sense to add this winter. 

At second base, there's still a long list of names even after Russell's departure — David Bote, Daniel Descalso, Tony Kemp, Robel Garcia and maybe even Happ could be in the second base picture. 

Hoerner has the most upside out of that group (the Cubs don't view Happ's long-term position on the infield), but the rookie is also currently the top backup to Baez at shortstop and figures to play multiple positions under new manager David Ross.

"He needs more reps," Hoyer said. "Obviously there's rough edges that we can smooth out there, but the fact that he's willing to [play multiple positions] says a lot about who he is as a competitor. I think he has a chance to be good at one position, but he also has a chance to move around the diamond and really help us in a lot of ways that way, too.

"He's not a finished product and defensively, he'll continue to get better and better. Defense in the big leagues is something that keeps improving with instruction and reps. But I thought he handled himself really well."

Offensively, Hoerner is exactly the type of hitter the Cubs are looking for as they attempt to diversify the lineup. He is contact-oriented with elite hand-eye coordination and an ability to battle with two strikes and put the ball in play. Hoerner also uses the whole field and has a line-drive approach — skills that should help an offense that has too often been all-or-nothing the last couple seasons.

That all adds up to Hoerner slotting in as an important long-term piece of the puzzle and the Cubs eventually handing him the keys to an everyday role, though that might not be from Day 1 of the 2020 season.