Cubs

Cubs second-base question will be open-ended

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Cubs second-base question will be open-ended

Thursday, March 11, 2011Posted: 8:30 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

PHOENIX The Cubs are two weeks away from Opening Day and everyone wants to know what Mike Quade will do with the rotation, how his lineup will fall and who will play second base.

The daily speculation misses a larger point about the Cubs manager. Quade wouldnt have reached this point if he was inflexible. He wouldnt have survived 17 seasons managing in the minors if he couldnt adapt to his surroundings. He kept his dream job because of how he handled his personnel.

The thing about Q is he knows youre going to need all 25 guys, Jeff Baker said. He made it very clear that hes going to keep everyone involved.

With so many jobs already decided at this point in camp, second base is one of the final frontiers where the media can second-guess Quade. The Cubs are not about to trade for Michael Young. They like their internal options in Baker and Blake DeWitt.

Quades position is that both deserve a serious look and will get opportunities. In the end, he says, Players usually make those decisions for you.

Baker turns 30 this summer and realizes how quickly you age in this game.

He was an All-American at Clemson University and rose quickly through the Rockies system. He was given 299 at-bats in Colorado in 2008 and hit .268 with 12 homers and 48 RBI. He doesnt want to only face left-handers in Chicago.

Obviously, Id like to be an everyday guy, Baker said. Everyone in here wants to do that. No one aspires to be a utility bench guy. But at the same time, if thats what my job is, Ill go out there and try to do it well.

Baker, whose father is a retired U.S. Army colonel, was born in West Germany and grew up all around the world. He makes friends quickly and moves easily through the various groups in the clubhouse. He wont complain and will do whatever he can to help DeWitt, a former Dodgers first-round pick with something to prove.

Greg Maddux the front-office assistant who once played with DeWitt in Los Angeles recommended him in the Ted LillyRyan Theriot deal last summer. DeWitt is only 25 and serious about his craft. The Cubs believe he has potential to grow offensively, especially through his work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

Im going to give it everything I have every day, DeWitt said. If that turns into 400, 500 (at-bats), whatever, it doesnt matter to me concentrate on winning and the rest will take care of itself.

DeWitt is hitting .171 this spring, while Baker is at .394. Quade prides himself on being someone who looks inside the numbers, but he doesnt even have to do that to know thats not a big enough sample size.

Good teams always have players that exceed expectations and their career numbers. Maybe the Cubs will hit on a second baseman, but that position will not make or break the season. That depends more on Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and what looks like an improved bullpen.

Between 2004 and January 2012, the Cubs will have paid Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena close to 184 million combined. They invested their money in corner infielders, not to mention the outlay for Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome.

Baker and DeWitt fit this team at this moment. Since Ryne Sandbergs last game in 1997, the Cubs have used seven different starting second basemen on Opening Day in the past 14 years. We know it wont be Mike Fontenot again on April 1.

Until then, the questions will keep coming. Will Soriano have a bounce-back year? Can Starlin Castro hit leadoff? How good can Geovany Soto be? The answers will be revealed across the next six months.

This lineup is evolving, Quade said. Maybe I accidentally put a lineup out there that just wears the baseball out and I dont have to change. But I think that realistically well have to mix and match and then performance matters.

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.