Cubs

Hector Rondon understands why Cubs would make big trade with Yankees

Hector Rondon understands why Cubs would make big trade with Yankees

Hector Rondon won’t take it personally if the Cubs raid the New York Yankees at the Aug. 1 trade deadline, strengthening their bullpen with Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller and cementing their status as World Series favorites. 

Rondon has perspective after a long journey, signing with the Cleveland Indians as a teenager out of Venezuela, becoming one of the brightest pitching prospects in that organization, coming back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and going from Rule 5 afterthought to elite closer for a first-place team. 

“If they bring in a Chapman or a Miller, if they put him in my spot, whatever, s--- happens,” Rondon said before getting the last two outs in Monday night’s 5-1 win over the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. “I can’t control that. The most important thing for me is to come into the game, pitch my inning – whatever inning they put me in – and do my job.”

As the Cubs began a rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer still had two more weeks to go shopping for a team that once seemed like it had everything, at least until a downturn before the All-Star break.  

The issue isn’t Rondon, who’s now 16-for-20 in save chances, putting up a 1.64 ERA and only four walks against 42 strikeouts in 33 innings. It’s trying to shorten games for a slumping rotation, reacting to a weak market for starting pitchers and giving manager Joe Maddon another late-inning weapon. 

“If we get one of those guys, I’m fine,” Rondon said. “It’s better for us. If not, I think we have a really good group in the bullpen. I know it’s a long season, and sometimes we struggle, but most of the time this year, we’ve been good.”

Rondon will also welcome Joe Nathan’s presence, viewing the addition of a six-time All-Star closer the same way he processed the Rafael Soriano and Fernando Rodney deals last season.  

“I’ve tried to learn as much as I can,” Rondon said. “Especially Nathan, he’s got (300)-something saves. Any information he can give to me – or anything we can talk about – I (will) try to learn as fast as I can. They’ve been through tough situations.”

Nathan made back-to-back appearances with Triple-A Iowa over the weekend, a significant checkpoint in his recovery from a second Tommy John procedure on his right elbow.

“All I know is that he’s getting closer,” Maddon said. “I also know that from his perspective he’s willing to do anything for us.”

Maddon said Nathan – who’s 41 and hasn’t thrown a pitch in The Show since April 2015 – “definitely” wouldn’t start out as a ninth-inning option for the Cubs. 

“But you would definitely feel good about his experience,” Maddon said. “He’s a veteran. He knows what he’s doing out there. (We’d be) trying to find out where he’s at on the major-league stage.”

Upgrading the bullpen is an obvious move, but those first impressions could ultimately influence just how desperate the Cubs might feel at the trade deadline. 

“If we have the answers in-house, then it makes it a lot easier,” Maddon said. “It’s important to get a look, and it does help Theo and Jed regarding what they may be wanting to do as we get closer.”

The Yankees have been under .500 after the All-Star break for the first time since 1995 and considering their first sell-off in a generation. Miller – an All-Star reliever who’s signed through the 2018 season with a reasonable $9 million annual salary – makes sense for a New York franchise that refuses to do a total teardown. Chapman would be a rental player who comes with triple-digit velocity and the stain from the 30-game suspension he served this season under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy.

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Rondon is 28 years old, under club control through the 2018 season and ready to do whatever the Cubs ask in a pennant race.

“He is one of the best out there, there’s no question,” Maddon said. “Rondon has taken it to another level here. When you give him the ball – and when you talk to him in tight moments on the mound – he is very much in the present tense right now.

“If things go a little bit awry, I’m not seeing it get too quick on him, and that’s what I really like. Now stuff-wise – outstanding – fastball velocity, the slider, he’s throwing somewhat of a changeup/split. He’s got all kinds of pitcher.

“Ronnie’s a closer that pitches. He’s just not out there throwing as hard as he can, and that’s really the beauty of him. Again, remember, this guy is still learning. He’s still young and he’s going to keep getting better. 

“We got to keep him well. I can’t abuse him, because he has pitch-ability beyond just being a guy that throws hard. And that’s where he’s going to separate himself in the years to come.”    

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.