Cubs

Cubs: Manny Ramirez sends positive message to Javier Baez

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Cubs: Manny Ramirez sends positive message to Javier Baez

Javier Baez is going through a personal crisis at a time when his professional career is at a crossroads.

Manny Ramirez still sees so much potential in Baez, who took a leave of absence from Triple-A Iowa after his sister, Noely, died last week at the age of 21. The Cubs are giving Baez space as he mourns an inspirational figure in his life.

“When you lose part of your family, you get kind of down,” Ramirez said Monday at Wrigley Field. “But I told him: Leave everything to God.”

[MORE: Cubs feel for Javier Baez during his leave of absence]

Ramirez found religion and rehabilitated his image to the point where Theo Epstein’s front office hired him to be a player/coach last season at Iowa, where he formed a strong bond with Baez. In their own ways, they are baseball gym rats, incredibly gifted hitters with a few personality quirks.

Ramirez enjoyed the experience enough to become a hitting consultant this year, with Baez being perhaps his biggest project.

Baez isn’t expected to return to the Iowa club until later this week. Noely had been born with spina bifida and confined to a wheelchair, but her death was described as sudden and unexpected – within the context of her medical condition – and not something that weighed on Baez throughout spring training.

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After a long debate in Arizona, there’s still a feeling inside the organization that Baez should be on the big-league team now. The thinking being the Cubs could use his speed on the bases and presence at second base, where he would almost function like a quarterback or point guard running the defense. It could also be a way to accelerate his learning curve at the plate after he struck out 95 times during a 52-game audition last season. There’s no doubt he plays the game hard.

“We got his support,” Ramirez said. “That’s all we can do. He’s going to come back and do his job. We need him here in Chicago. We need him at second base. The team will be better and he’s going to be fine.”

For all his Manny Being Manny moments – and questionable off-the-field decisions – Ramirez won two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox and became one of the best hitters of his generation with a surprisingly methodical, studious approach.

Ramirez recognizes talent and sees a bright future for Baez, a 2011 first-round pick who is only 22 years old and had been Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect heading into last season.

“It’s like I always tell Javy: He’s an unbelievable kid,” Ramirez said. “He can play. He can run. And his hitting is going to come along. I haven’t seen (anybody) with that kind of bat speed.”

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

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USA TODAY

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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