Cubs

Cubs: Time running out for Javier Baez to make Opening Day roster

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Cubs: Time running out for Javier Baez to make Opening Day roster

TEMPE, Ariz. — Time is running out for Javier Baez to show the Cubs he belongs on the Opening Day roster. 

Baez hasn’t played in a Cactus League game since March 20, getting treatment on the left thumb he jammed while diving headfirst into first base. That leaves the Cubs looking at how to replace a versatile player they believe could be a Ben Zobrist 2.0.  

“We’re attempting to create an 11th hour to get this whole thing done,” Joe Maddon said before Monday’s 8-8 tie against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. “But getting more definition about Javy is really important right now.”

Maddon, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer watched Baez play catch that morning at the team’s Mesa complex. The Cubs have only two games left on their Cactus League schedule before heading to Las Vegas for two exhibitions against the New York Mets on Thursday and Friday, meaning the window for Baez is about to close.

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“Yes, absolutely, we are (concerned),” Maddon said. “That’s why we got to make up our mind relatively soon, so we can go to Plan B. 

“The concern is that he has not had enough at-bats, that he’s not played enough in the outfield. Those are the kind of concerns that we have. So, yes, we need to try to figure out how we want to process all that right now.”

With Spencer Patton optioned to Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs still appear to be leaning toward carrying Neil Ramirez as an eighth reliever. For that final bench job, the Cubs could add Munenori Kawasaki as a backup middle infielder or hold onto outfielder Matt Szczur, who’s out of minor-league options.  

The Cubs do have some flexibility with Zobrist, who started at shortstop against the Angels, and Kris Bryant, who can move from third base to the outfield. But Maddon loves the dimensions Baez could bring to this team.

[MORE: Where things stand with Javier Baez and Cubs roster]

“If you don’t have him,” Maddon said, “you have to be more creative regarding how you’re going to shuffle maybe a late-inning defensive replacement, how you’re going to shuffle the pinch-running, who’s going to be available and who do you want for those roles. That’s why he is so important being all of those things.”

In Maddon’s mind, the overall body of work has shown that Baez belongs in the big leagues as soon as he’s healthy.   

“Yes,” Maddon said. “The concern is purely health right now.”

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

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USA Today

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon’s time with the Cubs may be over, but the memories made in his five years on the North Side will live on in Chicago sports lore forever. No matter how frustratingly his tenure may have ended, the outpouring of support and appreciation from management, fans and players alike throughout the process of Maddon’s departure are evidence of that.

“I love him like a dad,” Anthony Rizzo said

“I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner,” Theo Epstein later added, standing beside Maddon as they delivered joint reflections on the end of the era.

Maddon touched the lives of so many within the organization and without in his time with the Cubs, but not many more so than catcher Willson Contreras, who burst onto the scene as one of the best young sluggers in baseball under Maddon’s guidance. Maddon — a catcher himself in his short time as a player — never shied away from criticizing Contreras in times he thought it earned, but it’s clear that the two forged a real bond over the last four years. 

Sunday afternoon, artist Austin Ploch revealed that Contreras reached out to him shortly after the end of the 2019 season to commission this heart-warming piece, commemorating the mutual respect and adoration between mentor and pupil:

The painting is derived from a photo of the two that Contreras posted to his Instagram account after it was officially announced that Maddon would not return as the Cubs manager:

Ploch has commissioned work for Contreras before, but now Willson will have a tangible memento to remember his first manager (along with his 2016 World Series ring). We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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