Cubs see center-field possibilities for Javier Baez


Cubs see center-field possibilities for Javier Baez

The Cubs have another player on their radar for center field: Javier Baez.

It’s a huge leap to think playing center for Santurce in winter ball translates into being an everyday outfielder on the North Side, but the Cubs are intrigued by the possibilities with Baez.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein said the Cubs are sending Doug Dascenzo – the organization’s outfield/baserunning coordinator – to Puerto Rico to work with Baez on a potential transition. That’s an interesting piece of information as the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings that begin Monday in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Manager Joe Maddon has described Baez as one of the best young middle infielders he’s ever seen, valuing his strong arm and baseball IQ and not wanting to give up on those defensive skills.

But the Cubs have anointed Addison Russell as their franchise shortstop, second baseman/former All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro is guaranteed $38 million across the next four seasons and leadoff guy Dexter Fowler is testing the free-agent market.

Maybe Baez could become a super-utility guy for a manager who loves moving pieces around, a trade chip for a front office that needs pitching or a creative short-term solution in center field.

“We’ll get him a look out there, just to add to his versatility,” Epstein said. “It makes sense to do it at a moment in time when we have a bit of a hole in center field. It makes sense to see what Javy looks like out there.

“He’s someone who’s always enjoyed taking flyballs during batting practice out in center field (and) has always looked really good doing so. We’re going to work with him a little bit more and see what it looks like in games, whether it maybe creates another option for Joe late in games or as an injury fill-in.

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“Who knows what it could lead to down the road? But it will be fun to take a look at him out there.”

Baez – the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft – just turned 23 years old. He made some adjustments during a difficult year from a personal and professional standpoint, spending most of the season at Triple-A Iowa before making an impact as a September call-up and playoff performer.  

There will be times where Baez appears to be out of control, but he didn’t look like the rookie who struck out 95 times in 52 games in 2014. With a powerful lineup anchored by Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs don’t need an offensive superstar and can focus on a defensive upgrade in center field.

For all of his offensive contributions, Fowler (102 runs scored) didn’t excel as a defender and the Cubs have looked at free agents Denard Span and Gerardo Parra and wondered if the Boston Red Sox would make Jackie Bradley Jr. available in a trade.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Epstein said the Cubs continue to have a dialogue with Casey Close, Fowler’s high-powered agent. But it hasn’t sounded like the Cubs are making Fowler a top priority or that he’s interested in coming back to Chicago at a discount. 

“It’s status quo,” Epstein said. “We really enjoyed the experience we had with Dexter in 2015. I thought he made tremendous contributions, both on the field and off the field, and we’d be quite open to his return. But, obviously, we have to do it in a way that fits our outlook in 2016 and beyond.”

As part of the qualifying-offer calculus, if Fowler signs with another team, the Cubs would recoup a draft pick after giving up their first-round selection to get veteran pitcher John Lackey on a two-year, $32 million deal.

“We’ll see where it goes,” Epstein said. “But (Dexter’s) going to end up in a great spot and help a team win, whether it’s here or somewhere else.”

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.