Cubs

It's up to the union to change Cubs/Kris Bryant situation

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It's up to the union to change Cubs/Kris Bryant situation

DENVER – Could there be a Kris Bryant Rule in the next collective bargaining agreement? It’s become a hot-button issue for the Major League Baseball Players Association, which on some level only has itself to blame.

At least that’s how St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Carlos Villanueva sees it as an ex-Cub who’s on the union’s executive board, part of the team that helped negotiate the labor deal that will expire after the 2016 season.

The Cubs crossed off another day on their Triple-A Iowa service-time calendar as Bryant went 3-for-4 with three RBI and his first home run this season during Saturday’s 13-0 win over Memphis. By keeping Bryant in the minors for at least 12 days – only five more to go – the Cubs can delay his free agency for another year, until after the 2021 season.

“I’m a union guy,” Villanueva said. “We signed that contract. That language in the contract – the team has the liberty to do what they want when it comes to that. We don’t have to like it. And if we don’t like it, next time we sit at the bargaining table, we have to do something about it.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Bryant technically isn’t even a member of the union yet. But when the Cubs sent Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect down to minor-league camp on March 30, the MLBPA released a statement saying: “Today is a bad day for baseball.”

Super-agent Scott Boras also helped blow this up into a huge national story. As Bryant said, he’d rather have a bulldog working for him instead of a poodle.

“You hear the speech,” Villanueva said. “You hear we want to take north the best 25 players. I haven’t been around him that much, (but) I saw what he can do last year, and I have to believe that he is one of the best 25.

“If I’m an owner of a team, if I’m a GM, and the rules permit me to have a guy for an extra year at less money, it’s a business decision. And I would probably do the same thing. At the end of the year, can you say, ‘Well, we didn’t make the playoffs by one or two games, could he (have made) a difference in it?’ Maybe. We don’t have a crystal ball to know.

“They know they’re going to have him for a long time and I’m pretty sure he’s going to be real good.

“Of course, as a fan, I want to see him. I’m probably not as upset as everybody else. But from a business point of view, we drew it up. We both agreed to it. We signed it. And they’re within their rights to do what they’re doing.”

Villanueva is so popular in the Cubs clubhouse that players still wear T-shirts with his face on the front and his quotes on the back. He is also a strong bilingual voice inside the union, someone who always tries to see the big picture.

Stay tuned to see if the service-time calculus stays the same under the next collective bargaining agreement – or if there’s a variable that changes the entire Bryant equation.

“I can’t give you an angry quote,” Villanueva said. “I hate that it is what it is, but there’s nothing that prohibits the team right now, aside from making fans maybe angry or other players upset. They really shouldn’t care. Because if he does come up, and he starts raking, and they win, nobody’s going to remember it.

“Boras is going to remember it. He’s not going to get paid as much, maybe. But it’s not the first time that something like this has happened, and it’s not going to be the last. If we don’t like it…then we have to do something about it when we sit at the table. And I’m pretty sure we will.”

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.