Cubs

David DeJesus Q&A: New CSN Cubs analyst on retirement, Anthony Rizzo and Joe Maddon

David DeJesus Q&A: New CSN Cubs analyst on retirement, Anthony Rizzo and Joe Maddon

MESA, Ariz. — David DeJesus felt a sense of calm on Wednesday when he hit send on his Twitter account, announcing his retirement as a professional baseball player and promoting his new gig as a Cubs analyst for CSN Chicago.

DeJesus will appear across multiple platforms, bringing the perspective of someone who got in on the ground floor of the Wrigleyville rebuild, mentored Anthony Rizzo during the 101- and 96-loss seasons and appreciated Joe Maddon's laissez-faire style with Tampa Bay.

After being a go-to guy for reporters on some intentionally bad teams in 2012 and 2013, DeJesus talked about how his TV deal came together, the jarring nature of this business and his overall impressions of the Cubs:

Q: All along, were you planning to pivot and move into the media?

A: "Three years ago, I would tell you there would be no chance. But in late December, Kap (CSN's David Kaplan) gave me a call. I was still getting ready for spring training. My hip injury was healing, so I was really focused on that. Todd (Hollandsworth) just left (for Fox Sports Florida). There's a spot open right now. (Kaplan) asked: 'Do you mind me throwing your name in the mix?'

"I really didn't think anything was going to come of it, because I wasn't really pursuing it at all. Like two days later, I (interviewed with CSN). It was a waiting game and next thing you know — boom! — all right, you're our guy.

"So now it came to the point where I had to make a decision: Am I going to keep following a baseball career where I'm coming off an injury at 37 years old? Or do I turn the page and start a new chapter in my life?"

Q: Was not playing last year specifically a physical issue or more about the mental grind?

A: "At the end of the 2015 season, I went to the Angels and I did terrible there. After the season, I went to the doc and I had a 50 percent torn labrum in my left hip and there was a cyst in there. So any time I tried to sit on my back leg ... I just couldn't do anything.

"(I figured): Let me give myself some time away from baseball, hang out with my son, be a dad for a little bit. But in the back of my mind, I'm going to still try for spring training this year.

"The reality was: All right, no one's calling. You're getting older. Injuries have crept into my career and you missed the whole season.

"And then this job popped. It was a godsend, because I was praying about what's next. Every baseball player has the what's-next moment. I'm fortunate enough that mine wasn't that long."

Q: Could you explain how weird or abrupt that feeling is after playing 13 years in the big leagues and being so structured?

A: "It's crazy, because you expect a team to call. You expect a team to just give you an invite. When your agent stops calling you, your phone stops ringing, it's a real humbling moment. I needed to have that time to really mentally and physically separate myself from the game.

"I needed to dig into: Who am I? I had to answer those questions. Am I just a baseball player? Or am I someone who can still stay in the game somehow?

"This job fell into my lap where I can still be a part of a team and still be in baseball, but on the other side of the camera."

Q: Where were you when the Cubs won the World Series?

A: "My wife doesn't watch too much baseball, but once that postseason comes along, that's when you start seeing some tweets about the Cubs.

"We moved out to California, and over there sports really get lost. You can go to the beach. There's just so much to do. We were just living life. But then the World Series came, and that's still a team that's in both of our hearts. That was my first big-market team — and what I feel is the classiest organization in MLB. We both have ties there. We still have our house there.

"Seeing them win it, I was like a (proud) older brother. I was there when teams were just stomping all over us, just beating us down badly. And to see them winning the World Series five years later, it's like: 'Yes!'"

Q: We used to see Rizzo following you around like a puppy dog during spring training: What did you try to teach him?

A: "I wanted him to have a routine. Get yourself something that you can rely on each and every day to get your body ready for the game, mentally and physically, because we knew he had the talent. He just needed to find his place.

"He struggled in San Diego and I think he needed confidence, that daily confidence to know: 'OK, I've prepared myself for the game and now I'm just going to go out there and play it. Let my skills shine.'"

Q: As one of the first guys signed by the Theo Epstein regime, what do you remember from that free-agent process and the recruiting pitch?

A: "(In Boston, they) were trying to (acquire) me a few years earlier, before I injured my thumb in 2010 with the Kansas City Royals. So they knew the type of player I was. They wanted to change the atmosphere inside the clubhouse, bringing in guys that are team-oriented and can play the game as well. I think that's what they saw in me — a veteran leader that can show guys the right way and be a truthful and honest person inside and outside the clubhouse."

Q: What made Maddon such a good fit for this Cubs team?

A: "The looseness. Joe gives the reins to the players. He lets the players patrol themselves. He doesn't get into all the little things, all the rules. He had two rules: Run the ball out and be sexy.

"Play sexy? As a player, how do you not like that? It's unbelievable that he gets away with that. When you're on other teams playing against Joe Maddon teams, you're always like: 'Dude, why are these guys enjoying themselves (so much)?'

"That's what you saw last year. These guys were having fun. The players made the clubhouse. That's the special thing about Joe. He (gives) the players the freedom to be who they are."

Q: Looking back on your time with Tampa Bay, what would your 'best' and 'worst' lists look like in terms of Maddon's stunts?

A: "I liked his Miami all-white dress-up (trip). You feel like you're in 'Miami Vice' walking off the plane. The other one I remember (was when) we were struggling with our bats, so he brought in this like Native American rain man, thinking the water sprinkled in our dugout would wake up our bats. But the only thing it did was it poured nonstop for three days outside the stadium. So it did bring rain, but it didn't do anything for our bats at all."

Q: Were you surprised at the backlash over how Maddon managed during the World Series?

A: "It comes with the territory, man. Being a manager, you have to make tough moves at times. Not everyone's going to be behind you. In any job, in any leadership role, there is going to be backlash. There is going to be people that love you. And there is going to be people that hate you.

"Joe handles it the right way: 'Hey, man, we won the championship.' That's the ultimate goal — to win the championship. In my opinion, there were some things there. Come on, (Aroldis) Chapman? I think we all saw it.

"But at the end of the day, they have the World Series trophy back in Chicago. Come on, we're looking too hard to find stuff sometimes."

Q: In this job, have you prepared yourself for the times where you might have to criticize people you've worked with before?

A: "That's the question that everyone's asked. It's a very good question, because that, in my opinion, is going to be the toughest part, when that first moment comes. But I've talked to Todd and other guys who've just started in (the business). It's part of the game. But I'm going to wrap it in love.

"I'm going to (say): 'You shouldn't have done this.' But let's try to make it a teaching moment for the fans. It's not about calling guys out as a human being, as a person. We're just calling out what we saw on the baseball field. That's it."

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

How you evaluate Cole Hamels’ 2019 performance depends on which half of the season you look at.

Hamels was the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher through June, putting his name firmly in the conversation to make the All-Star Game. Through his first 17 starts, he held a 2.98 ERA, with 97 strikeouts and 35 walks in 99 2/3 innings.

That 17th start – June 28 against the Reds – represented a turning point for the left-hander, however. After throwing one warmup pitch ahead of the second inning, Hamels took a beeline for the Cubs’ dugout, exiting the game with a left oblique strain.

Hamels quickly detecting the strain was key, as he avoided a more significant injury and only missed one month as a result. However, he never got back to his pre-injury level after returning. In 10 starts, he posted a 5.79 ERA, walking 21 batters in 42 innings as opponents slashed .315/.397/.506 against him.

Which of the two pitchers does Hamels more closely resemble at this point? That’s what teams will have to evaluate this offseason, when the soon-to-be 36-year-old lefty hits free agency for the first time in his career.

On top of his oblique strain, Hamels also missed a start in September with left shoulder fatigue. By the time he returned, the Cubs were eliminated from postseason contention, but he wanted one last chance to show what he’s capable of before free agency.

“I don’t want to put that in the back of teams’ heads of how I finished,” Hamels said the day before his final start of the season. “I think I’m capable of what I was able to do in the first half - that’s who I am - and I can still get those good results for hopefully [the Cubs], if they consider that.

“But also, for other teams to know that I’m not the type of player that’s on the regression. This is what we’re gonna expect. It’s more so what I was able to do in the first half - the type of player that I am and the results that I can get out on the field.”

He certainly backed those words up, shutting down the Cardinals – who hadn’t clinched the NL Central yet – in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Hamels pitched four innings, allowing no runs on just two hits.

Hamels looked stellar in that game, but it doesn’t change the fact that returning from an extended injury absence isn’t easy on pitchers. They need time to regain command of their pitches, plus any amount of arm strength lost during their time on the shelf.

Hamels made two rehab starts at Triple-A before rejoining the Cubs on Aug. 3. He was determined not to return too quickly, as he did so with the Rangers in 2017 after straining his right oblique. That wound up negatively affecting him the rest of the season.

Still, maybe one or two more rehab starts this time around would’ve served him well, though he felt that he could compete at the majors without his best stuff. Plus, it’s not like he was guaranteed to find his groove again by pitching in more minor league games.

Results are all that matter in the big leagues, however, and they show that while the Cubs starting rotation was okay, it wasn’t the difference maker capable of leading the team to October, as anticipated. Cubs starters finished the season with a 4.18 ERA, 10th in MLB and sixth in the National League.

Hamels’ post-injury woes played into those numbers, and he’s determined to bounce back in 2020 to prove his second half performance was a fluke. His first half showed that he still can pitch at a high-level, but he may not be in the Cubs’ plans for next season, regardless.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the team’s rotation at his end-of-season press conference. “It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well.

“We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Those comments seem to indicate that Hamels won’t be back next season. The Cubs have Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills as internal rotation options for 2020 and could look outside the organization for more. Hamels also made $20 million in 2019, so freeing up his salary would help the Cubs address other roster needs.

The Cubs could do a lot worse than having a healthy Cole Hamels in their rotation, though. He’s enjoyed a resurgence since the Cubs acquired him and has had plenty of success against the NL Central and at Wrigley Field overall during his career:

vs. Brewers: 20 starts, 8-5, 3.53 ERA
vs. Cardinals: 17 starts, 5-6, 2.21 ERA
vs. Pirates: 13 starts, 5-4 record, 2.52 ERA
vs. Reds: 20 starts, 11-2 record. 2.30 ERA
at Wrigley Field: 25 starts, 7-4 record, 2.20 ERA

Granted, a large portion of those starts came earlier in his career. But with how competitive the NL Central was in 2019 and will be in 2020, the results can’t be ignored.

“Obviously I do very well at Wrigley, so I hope that’s a consideration - I love to be able to pitch there,” Hamels said about the Cubs possibly re-signing him. “For some reason, it’s just the energy and I’ve mentioned it before, it’s baseball to me. And that’s what I really feed off of and that’s hopefully what they think about.”

But if the Cubs decide to part ways with Hamels, he’ll have his fair share of suitors. The Brewers and Reds each could benefit from adding starting pitching this offseason, and Hamels would bring a ton of experience to two squads that will be competing for postseason spots in 2020.

“Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are gonna think about it,” Hamels said with a laugh. “If you have to come to Wrigley three different times [as an opponent], I don’t pitch bad there.

“I just want to win. I think that’s it. When you get the taste of it early and then you don’t have it for a while, that’s what you’re striving for. To play this game and in front of sellouts and the energy and the expectation of winning, it’s why I enjoy the game.

“That’s what I want to be able to continue to do for the few years I have left.”

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Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is one step closer to becoming the unquestioned face of Major League Baseball.

For the next year, El Mago will be the cover boy for video-game-playing baseball fans, as Baez announced on his Twitter Monday morning he is gracing the cover of MLB The Show 2020:

On the eve of Game 1 of the World Series, Playstation released a video depicting why they chose Baez as the new face of the game:

Last year's cover featured Bryce Harper, announced before he even signed with the Phillies. 

Baez also joins the likes of Aaron Judge, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Barry Bonds and David Ortiz as cover athletes for the PS4 game.

The 26-year-old Baez has become one of the most recognizable figures in the game, playing with a flair and swag that includes mind-bending baserunning maneuvers and impossible defensive plays. 

Case in point:

Baez missed the final month of the 2019 season with a fractured thumb, but still put up 29 homers and 85 RBI while ranking second on the team in WAR. In 2018, he finished second in NL MVP voting while leading the league in RBI (111) and topping the Cubs in most offensive categories. 

Theo Epstein said he never deems any player as "untouchable," but Baez is about as close as it gets for this Cubs team right now. He made the switch to shortstop full time this year and wound up with elite defensive numbers to go along with his fearsome offense and an attitude and mindset the rest of the Cubs hope to emulate.

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