Cubs

If it was up to Jonathan Papelbon, Cubs would be a great landing spot

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If it was up to Jonathan Papelbon, Cubs would be a great landing spot

CINCINNATI - Imagine Jonathan Papelbon pumping his fist and giving Jon Lester a bear hug after closing out a victory at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs probably aren't going to make a big splash before the July 31 trade deadline, or at least won't make bullpen help the priority, but it's still fun to think about "Cinco Ocho" in Wrigleyville.

The Philadelphia Phillies have the worst record in baseball and Papelbon can't wait to get off that team and back onto a contender. After all, that's what he thought he signed up for in Philly after leaving the Boston Red Sox.

Papelbon will be 35 in November and is in the last guaranteed season of a four-year, $50 million free agent contract (which has a vesting option for 2016) he signed after the 2011 season. The Phillies have not finished over .500 since he signed that deal, losing 321 games across the last four seasons.

[RELATED - Can Theo Epstein land a big fish at the trade deadline?]

Papelbon used this week's All-Star stage to rip the Phillies during his media-day appearance.

"That's not what I signed up for," Papelbon said. "I signed up for a team that won 102 games and was expecting certain things. Now, it didn't happen and I've tried to ride that ship as much as I can. I've tried to keep my mouth shut as much as I can.

"But it's time to you-know-what or get off the pot. I feel like three years is plenty of time to ride it out, so to speak. ... For me, I'm just simply trying to be on a winning ballclub and win as many rings as I can before it's all said and done and I'm coaching Little League.

"I feel like I've given this organization as many opportunities as they can to put a winning ballclub out there and as many chances to keep me in this organization and it just hasn't happened. We're where we're at today and that's just it."

Papelbon said he's optimistic the Phillies will "do the right thing" and trade him. He admitted it's hard to stay focused in a losing environment. You wouldn't know it by looking at his numbers (1.60 ERA, 14 saves, 9.4 K/9).

"I'm not watching what the Cubs closer's doing, what the Toronto closer's doing," Papelbon said. "Whether I go to Toronto, whether I go to Chicago, whether I stay in Philly, whether I go anywhere, the only consistent thing that's going to happen is every night I'm going to prepare to go out and compete.

"I'm gonna do that regardless of where I'm at. Even though, if it's still in Philly, I'm not gonna be happy."

[MORE - After Schwarber move, Cubs waiting for more impact at trade deadline]

The six-time All-Star has 339 saves on his resume to go along with a career 2.33 ERA. He closed out the 2007 World Series, getting the final outs for Lester and Theo Epstein's Red Sox.

It would be hard to see the Cubs giving up that much or eating the rest of the money Papelbon is owed. It might be a risk to add Papelbon's big, outspoken personality to the clubhouse and a bullpen where manager Joe Maddon enjoys having the freedom to mix-and-match.

The Cubs bullpen has stabilized over the last couple months after a rough start to the season. Jason Motte is having success closing out games right now and Maddon still has Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop as options. And don't forget about Rafael Soriano, who is working his way back to the big leagues.

Still, Lester said he would welcome Papelbon to Chicago with open arms and it doesn't seem to take much to sell Papelbon on the idea of packing up and moving to the North Side to reunite with his old Boston teammate.

"Jonny is one of the best lefties in the game," Papelbon said. "Great friend of mine. Came up through the minor leagues with him. Learned how to play baseball with him. We both kinda went through that together.

"For me to be able to get back on the field with him and compete with him would be a great deal and a great opportunity. But I think the biggest thing is, here's what a lot of people don't understand: If this decision was solely on my shoulders, I would've been gone a long time ago. But I only have so much. I can only do so much.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Cubs All-Star Game hat]

"If another team comes to the Phillies and they have an offer and the Phillies don't like it or don't want to accept it, I can't do anything about that.

"I've only got so much power. This is not really on me a whole lot. I wish it was. But it's just not."

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: