Cubs

If Cubs think big at trade deadline, Anthony Rizzo is cool with Aroldis Chapman

If Cubs think big at trade deadline, Anthony Rizzo is cool with Aroldis Chapman

WASHINGTON – Cubs officials viewed Anthony Rizzo staring into the dugout and essentially challenging the Cincinnati Reds to a fight as a turning point in the rebuild. The young first baseman kept barking, dropping his hat and glove to the ground, responding to the two 100-mph pitches Aroldis Chapman buzzed around Nate Schierholtz’s head.

Rizzo and Chapman eventually patched things up at the 2014 All-Star Game, less than a week after that benches-clearing incident at Great American Ball Park. The Cubs respected how Rizzo stood up for his teammates and showed a different kind of intensity for what was becoming an emerging team.

Now comes a New York Post report that the Cubs had a scout at Yankee Stadium watching flame-throwing relievers Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, waiting to see if the Bronx Bombers will finally become sellers after an unbelievable run of 23 straight winning seasons.

“Yeah,” Rizzo said before Monday’s 4-1 loss at Nationals Park, he’s good with the idea of Chapman joining Joe Maddon’s bullpen. “But I know enough now not to look at the rumors. I’m sure we have scouts (out) scouting a lot of other people, too. But since they’re looking at the Yankees, it’s news.”

Rizzo is right – the Cubs will scout anyone who might be a difference-maker – and has perspective after getting traded twice before his 23rd birthday. Remember, Rizzo was supposed to be the long-term answer at first base for the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres. If anything, this just shows how targeted the Cubs can be with the team that has the best record in baseball.

There is no wondering if the Cubs are a year away or mortgaging the future for the coin flip of a wild-card game. As good as setup guy Pedro Strop (2.78 ERA, 12 holds) and closer Hector Rondon (1.33 ERA, 11 saves) have been, the bullpen is this team’s most obvious weakness. Adding one of those Yankee relievers would be shortening the game and copying part of the World Series blueprint the Kansas City Royals used last year.

Rizzo knows Theo Epstein as well as any other player in the clubhouse, how the president of baseball operations won’t hesitate to make a bold, aggressive move.

“That’s what he does,” Rizzo said. “I think we’ve put ourselves in a way better position this year than last year at the trade deadline to (address) whatever he thinks we need. Obviously, we’re really happy with our team now.

“If you’re talking last year, we weren’t exposed in any way last year in the playoffs. We just got beat. That’s really it. It’s not like we have one weakness. We just didn’t hit versus the Mets – and that bit us.”

Chapman began this season serving a 30-game suspension covered by Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy, accepting the punishment after a dispute with his girlfriend in South Florida last fall. The Yankees waited for the price to drop after Cincinnati’s deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers fell apart at the winter meetings as those police reports surfaced.

That background information will have to be a factor, even if Chapman will become a free agent after this season. But the Cubs will have to be in those conversations if the Yankees ultimately decide to sell, because Chapman has 11 saves, a 1.93 ERA and 21 strikeouts through 14 innings.

“He throws 100, and he pretty much locates it (wherever),” Rizzo said. “And then if you happen to hit his fastball, he’ll start wrinkling in his slider or curveball. He knows how to pitch. The game’s over when he comes in.”

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

With Anthony Rendon officially joining the Angels, the Nationals have a vacancy at third base.

Washington has options to replace Rendon; Josh Donaldson is still available in free agency, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant could potentially be had via trade.

The Nationals have reportedly inquired with the Cubs about Bryant, and while they “love” the 27-year-old, their focus is on Donaldson, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Cubs would likely seek center fielder Victor Robles in a deal, a holdup on Washington's end, Heyman said.

From the Cubs perspective, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for Robles. He’s 22 years old, plays excellent defense (22 DRS in 2019, No. 1 in MLB by center fielders) and is only scratching the surface as a big-leaguer. Robles is projected to be a star, but Bryant already is one. If the Nationals want Bryant badly enough, they’ll have to sacrifice talent in a deal.

On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why Washington would be unwilling to trade Robles, who's under team control through 2024. Bryant will hit free agency after 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he'll hit the open market after next season.

Nonetheless, if the Nationals do engage in Bryant trade talks, you can bet the Cubs will at least ask for Robles in return. A trade could be worked out without him, but for a Cubs team searching for better center field production, you've got to wonder who could be more enticing than Robles.

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Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto