Cubs

The future is now for the Cubs and Addison Russell

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The future is now for the Cubs and Addison Russell

PITTSBURGH — Addison Russell became the overnight trending topic on Twitter, the latest mega-prospect dropped into what’s becoming a very interesting Cubs team.

Looking out across the infield at this beautiful waterfront stadium, you saw Russell playing alongside Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Kris Bryant. No player is older than 25. Each one is under club control through at least the 2020 season.

The Cubs kept pushing the youth movement they believe will create a perennial contender, fast-tracking Russell into Tuesday night’s 9-8 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. 

“I’m excited for what tomorrow brings,” Russell said after going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. “I’m just happy to get the first one out of the way, kind of see what it’s like up here.”

[MORE CUBS: Starlin Castro wants to win now with Addison Russell]

In terms of atmosphere, the Cubs (8-5) are trying to create to what manager Joe Maddon would call “the new normal.” The Pittsburgh skyline became the backdrop, but the Cubs think this group can play together at Wrigley Field and deep into October.

“It’s all still theory,” Maddon said. “Theory and reality are kind of coming together. My point is that they have to get out there and play. It’s one thing to look good on a piece of paper — and another thing to go out there and perform.

“I have a lot of faith in this group. I think we are going to perform. But be patient. They are young. They are going to make mistakes. They’re going to have some bad days. It’s not going to be an oil painting every night. But if you have a creative mind’s eye, you can see over the next couple years (what) it’s going to possibly look like.”

This doesn’t definitively answer the long-term questions about Castro, a three-time All-Star shortstop who wants to win a Gold Glove this year and looks energized playing for a team that’s not already buried in April.

The Cubs have options. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein went into this season saying he had no agenda, wanting to see how it all shakes out first.

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Russell might be the best defensive shortstop in the organization. But for now, the Cubs will get him acclimated at second base, where Arismendy Alcantara (2-for-26) didn’t produce and Jonathan Herrera has been filling in with Tommy La Stella (rib cage) on the disabled list.       

“I did not expect this,” Russell said. “I couldn’t even guess that this was going to happen to me. But I’m here now, and that’s all that counts.”

Russell is 21 years old and has played only 14 career games at the Triple-A level. He hit .318 with four doubles, one homer and nine RBI in 11 games at Iowa this month. He entered this season as a consensus top-five prospect for Baseball Prospectus (No. 2), Baseball America (No. 3), ESPN (No. 4) and MLB.com (No. 5). 

To make room for Russell, the Cubs optioned Alcantara to Iowa and transferred third baseman Mike Olt (wrist) to the 60-day disabled list. Whatever happens next, the Cubs have sent a clear message that the future is now, with Bryant and Jorge Soler already making an immediate impact.

“I’m ready to perform with these guys,” Russell said. “Hopefully, if someone else is in my shoes, you’ll be asking them the same question about me. That’s kind of like the goal right now.”

 

If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant after

If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant after

After losing out on free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon, the Texas Rangers have spoken to agent Scott Boras about Cubs free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

Castellanos played third with the Detroit Tigers from 2014-17, but considering he posted a -64 Defensive Runs Saved in four seasons, he won’t be moving back there. Interestingly, however, Castellanos is willing to consider playing first base, according to Grant.

The Cubs — who are reportedly still pursuing Castellanos — obviously would be affected if the 27-year-old signs with Texas, as they'll lose one of their most productive players from 2019. But besides that, Castellanos landing with the Rangers would impact the Kris Bryant trade market.

The Rangers are looking for a consolation plan at third base after missing out on Rendon. They have a three-year offer on the table for Donaldson, according to Grant, and signing him would only entail money. The same cannot be said about acquiring a third baseman via trade, like Kris Bryant, who would acquire several assets.

But if Donaldson doesn’t sign with the Rangers, they’ll be more inclined to pursue Bryant. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said at the Winter Meetings they’ll address third base this offseason, and the Cubs third baseman would be the best option left, if the Rangers don’t land Donaldson. That is, unless Texas calls the Rockies about Nolan Arenado.

Daniels pointed to how the Rangers are unlikely to trade for a player with only a few years of team control left (like Bryant) without making other major additions.

“There are some trade options [that] would have quite frankly made more sense in our mind if we had landed the free agents at the top of our list,” Daniels said. “I don’t love the idea of half measures. I don’t love the idea of taking a chunk out of the system if it doesn’t really make sense. Trading for somebody with a year or two of control if the club is a little more filled out.”

If the Rangers land Castellanos, a pursuit of Bryant could follow. The same can be said if they sign Donaldson, even, thanks to Bryant’s positional versatility.

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With Winter Meetings over, Cubs gearing up for 'trading season'

With Winter Meetings over, Cubs gearing up for 'trading season'

SAN DIEGO — What a difference five years makes. 

At the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings — the last time the offseason spectacle was in San Diego — the Cubs had just tabbed Joe Maddon their new manager and spent the week trading for Miguel Montero, working out a free-agent deal with Jon Lester and then celebrating those big successes.

This time around, the "big" move the Cubs made during the Winter Meetings was selecting pitcher Trevor Megill in the Rule 5 Draft Thursday morning. 

But the bigger news was the moves the Cubs didn't make — they have not yet shaken up the core of the roster with a significant trade.

All week long in Ron Burgundy's hometown, the Cubs front office reiterated the team is not shopping at the top — or even the middle — of the free agent market and pointed to how free agency had to see more movement before they could jump into the fray on the trade market. At least they aren't having to wait as long as normal for free agency, with the biggest names off the board this week in an offseason moving much quicker than the last couple that extended into February.

That's setting the stage for a potentially busy January for the Cubs.

"In general, there's been a focus on free agency, which is totally logical," Jed Hoyer said Thursday morning. "I think there's still some really good players in the free agent market. We're not there yet. There's still some guys that teams are focused on, but I do think that the way things are moving — traditionally, Christmas was always a boundary for free agents, so to speak. Everybody wanted to be signed by Christmas. 

"Maybe we're going back to that. That would certainly leave the rest of December after that and January would be more of a trading season. So maybe we're back to that traditional calendar, I'm not sure. If the primary free agents are off the market, that definitely clarifies the dynamic for different teams."

So mark your calendars for January as potential "trading season."

What Hoyer is saying makes sense. Anthony Rendon is off the free agent market (reaching a deal with Joe Maddon's Angels), but there's still a very good third baseman available in Josh Donaldson. Why wouldn't teams continue to try to sign him and only commit money and a compensation draft pick instead of giving up a haul to the Cubs in exchange for Kris Bryant?

Right now, it appears the Rangers, Nationals, Dodgers and Braves are still in need of a third baseman and the Phillies might be, as well. Donaldson is only one person, so depending on how the rest of the trade market plays out, there could conceivably be three or four teams bidding on Bryant.

"As the free agents go off the market, it clarifies things for us and for other teams," Hoyer said. "I wouldn't say that moves us closer [to a move], but I think it definitely provides clarity. ... It feels to me like continued action in free agency in the days to come and early next week. 

"It seems like there's probably some free agent deals that are closer to fruition and they're not ready to be announced yet, but it seems like there's a lot of activity. I think as those things get finalized, it will clarify the trade market. There's gonna be teams that still want to improve after free agents are generally off the board."

Whether any team ends up meeting the Cubs' asking price is another matter entirely. Bryant is one of the game's best players, a fantastic role model and is well-liked within the clubhouse and fanbase. Plus, he's under team control for the next two years for somewhere between $40-$45 million (assuming he does not win his service time grievance). 

If the Cubs don't get a franchise-altering haul, they aren't trading Bryant. They won't make a move just for change's sake, as Theo Epstein insisted this week.

Nothing appears imminent on the trade front in any capacity — with Bryant, Willson Contreras or any other player — but signs still point to some sort of major shakeup to the roster this winter. 

Epstein said he would be fine heading into spring training with the "status quo" on the roster because he likes the talent of the players and the fresh dynamic created by David Ross, a new coaching staff and a revamped group behind-the-scenes.

But make no mistake — the Cubs' ideal winter would not be migrating down to Mesa, Ariz., with a status quo roster. The ideal winter would include shaking up the roster to fortify current weaknesses and improve the long-term health of the franchise beyond the 2021 season.

"We've been talking in a lot of hypotheticals — if we get this guy, if we get that guy. And we also always circle back to with the roster we have right now — status quo — because it's hard to acquire players," Epstein said. "So I'd feel good. I'd feel like we'd have one of the most talented teams in the league, but that we'd have some areas of exposure where we'd need things to go right. But we'd have a lot of guys in place that have a lot of potential and things could really break our way and we'd be fairly dynamic. 

"But leave no doubt, there are areas where we want to acquire players to address our weaknesses and put us in the best possible position to succeed. Status quo is not a bad option, but we're obviously out there looking to make changes and change the dynamic and improve and grow."