Cubs

Do Cubs still see catching as part of Kyle Schwarber’s future?

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Do Cubs still see catching as part of Kyle Schwarber’s future?

The Kyle Schwarber question doesn’t have a simple, yes-or-no answer.

Can he catch in the big leagues? Sure, maybe, probably not.

It all depends on a team with World Series expectations, a learning curve that’s incredibly demanding and a player who didn’t have a single professional at-bat above the Class-A level at this time last year.

The Cubs have always been more bullish on Schwarber than the industry consensus, getting the last laugh after draft experts wondered why they reached for a designated hitter with the fourth overall pick in 2014.

Schwarber made his big-league debut the following June, slugging 16 home runs in 69 games last season and then hitting five more bombs in the playoffs, including the ball that landed on a Wrigley Field video board (which turned into a goofy story for the Chicago media).

The Cubs still owe Miguel Montero $28 million across the next two years, David Ross is about to begin his farewell tour and Willson Contreras has emerged as a frontline catching prospect. A strong season at Triple-A Iowa could have Contreras ready for Chicago by 2017. The Cubs can’t afford to let Schwarber work on the art of catching in Des Moines.

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s a catcher,” catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello said. “I’m not letting that go until Joe (Maddon) or Theo (Epstein) says he’s not a catcher. That’s where I see Kyle Schwarber being the most impactful on this team – behind the plate at some point. I think he’s capable of it. I think he wants to do it. And his baseball IQ is off the charts.”

[RELATED: Theo on DH: 'We can't count on it']

Maddon’s coaching staff and Epstein’s front office love Schwarber for his energy, enthusiasm and blue-collar attitude. He’s spent most of the offseason working out in Tampa, Fla., doing yoga to increase his flexibility and agility drills to create more explosiveness.

Yes, there were times where Schwarber looked awkward trying to play left field during a National League Championship Series the New York Mets never trailed in and swept by a 21-8 aggregate score.

But it also takes unbelievable rhythm, timing and hand-eye coordination to bash like Schwarber, who had been a second-team All-Ohio linebacker in high school before going to Indiana University.

“It’s no secret, the kid can hit,” said bench coach Dave Martinez, who works with the team’s outfielders. “We love putting him in the lineup, there’s no question about that. What you guys don’t know is this kid is unbelievably athletic.

“He wants to steal bases. He comes up to me all the time and says: ‘Hey, let me steal, let me steal, let me steal.’ Relax, baby steps. But this guy is a team player. He’ll do anything we ask him to do. Of course, he wants to do both. He thinks he can catch and play the outfield.”

During last week’s Cubs Convention events, Martinez noticed how Schwarber shadowed the three-time Gold Glove outfielder with the new $184 million contract.

“I watched Schwarber hang with Jason Heyward and pick his brain about playing the outfield,” Martinez said. “(Schwarber) knows he’s got a lot of work to do. He’s willing to put in the time, both in catching and the outfield.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Is there enough time for on-the-job training with a team that FanGraphs projects will finish with the best record in baseball?

Borzello worked on Joe Torre’s New York Yankees teams that won four World Series titles between 1996 and 2000. Jorge Posada, a premier offensive catcher in The Bronx, didn’t really begin to contribute until his age-25 season in 1997, when Joe Girardi still caught 111 games. It took three more years before Posada blossomed into an All-Star who would get 600-plus plate appearances and play more than 112 games.

“Yeah, I think he can catch,” Borzello said of Schwarber, who will turn 23 during spring training. “He just needs the reps. And it’s up to Theo and (general manager) Jed (Hoyer) to decide what they want to do as far as the wear and tear from that position, and (how) they think that will effect the long-term offense.

“Can he do it? Yeah, he can certainly do it cerebrally. And physically, we would have to find out.”

This is an interesting big-picture question. But the reality is no one will care about Schwarber’s UZR or pitch-framing finesse when he’s crushing the ball out toward the Allegheny River, the way he did during that unforgettable wild-card win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

“I love the work, man,” Schwarber said. “Whatever the team wants me to do – that’s going to be what it comes down to. I feel like (I) have to get better at those positions to continue on and help this team win. So whatever it is – whatever they want me to do – I’m all-in and all for it.”

Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason

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USA TODAY

Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason

The Cubs are just a couple of weeks away from a pivotal offseason that could see a lot of change coming to Chicago's North Side.

Then again, we thought the same thing a year ago and it turned out Theo Epstein's biggest move last winter was signing Daniel Descalso to a two-year deal.

But after missing the playoffs in 2019, the Cubs are now at a crossroads as an organization. 

The NBC Sports Chicago crew previewed the offseason on the latest CubsTalk Podcast with some bold predictions for the winter.

Listen here and check out the fearless calls below:

(Note: Rationale and more context on each bold prediction in the podcast.)

David Kaplan

1. Cubs are going to take a page out of the Yankees' book and retool on the fly rather than go all-in to contend in 2020.
2. Jose Quintana has thrown his last pitch as a Cub.
3. This will be the second-to-last offseason for Theo Epstein as the Cubs president of baseball operations.

Kelly Crull 

1. Cubs re-sign Nick Castellanos and trade away Kyle Schwarber.
2. Tyler Chatwood will be in the 2020 rotation.
3. John Lackey will be named quality assurance coach on David Ross's coaching staff. (Kidding, but only kind of...)

Tony Andracki

1. Before the Cubs play a Spring Training game, Javy Baez will sign an extension that will keep him in Chicago through at least 2023.
2. Willson Contreras will be traded this winter and the Cubs will get some much-needed pitching help in return.
3. Cubs sign Howie Kendrick this winter as the professional bat and lefty-masher they craved in 2019.
4. Ben Zobrist will return on a one-year deal and finish his playing career in a Cubs uniform.
5. David Bote, Albert Almora Jr. and Addison Russell will all be traded or non-tendered this winter as the Cubs remake their bench/depth.

Jeff Nelson

1. Willson Contreras will sign a contract extension.
2. Ben Zobrist will return as a player/coach.
3. Jose Quintana will be traded for minor league depth.
4. Terrance Gore will be signed to be the 26th man on the roster under the new rules.

Theo Epstein’s dog damages Arizona rental property with excessive urine

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USA Today

Theo Epstein’s dog damages Arizona rental property with excessive urine

In the midst of an intensive hiring process for the new Cubs manager, Theo Epstein is being sued by an Arizona couple claiming Epstein’s dog, Winston, damaged their house. The cause of damage? Peeing excessively inside the property Epstein rented for spring training in 2015.

Yes, you read that right, Epstein’s dog peed so much he’s being sued.

The lawsuit was filed this Tuesday in Maricopa County, according to the Phoenix New Times, citing Epstein’s dog left “a terrible odor and urine-stained carpeting” in the Paradise Valley, Ariz., home where he and his family stayed.

Winston is a rescue mutt, weighing in at around ten pounds. He can’t pee that much, right?

The lawsuit states the dog "peed prolifically in the $1 million house, staining tile and stone flooring, wood door jams, cabinets, and furniture."

John and Mary Valentino referenced a 2017 quote by Epstein as proof that Winston had a peeing problem. When asked about being named the world’s greatest leader by Fortune magazine after the Cubs 2016 World Series win, Epstein said: “I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house.”

Epstein left the rental property two weeks early due to a scorpion infestation later was shown a repair estimate of $51,405, according to the report.

Julian Green, the Cubs vice president of communications, told the New Times the lawsuit was “baseless.” He also said that an exterminator discovered 45 scorpions on the property that “put (Epstein’s) family at risk every time they put their children to sleep.” The Epsteins moved into a different house for the last two weeks of spring training.

The owners kept the $5,000 security deposit, and according to a source the Epsteins did not hear from them again for more than four years until the suit was filed Tuesday.

When asked about the lawsuit, Epstein replied, “As I said, we have no untouchables. Winston is definitely available in the right trade.”

We’ll be keeping tabs on this story as it unfolds. In the meantime, it’s good to see Epstein still has a sense of humor, even with a dog urine lawsuit and a Cubs managerial search on the line.

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