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.”

Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

As if things weren’t already going well enough for the Cubs during this strange, short season of baseball in a pandemic, now the baseball gods are dropping gifts into their laps.

The Cardinals’ lengthy shutdown because of a coronavirus outbreak has the Cubs’ arch rivals restarting their season Saturday in Chicago with a patched-up roster and eight games over the next five days, including five games against the Cubs.

And although that means the relative hardship of two doubleheaders for the Cubs in three days, all five of those games Monday through Wednesday are against a decimated Cards roster that won’t have the front end of its rotation for any of the games.

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They catch the Cardinals at their weakest point of the early season a week after catching an otherwise formidable Cleveland team at a moment of clubhouse crisis involving protocol perps Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger.

That one resulted in a two-game sweep by a combined score of 14-3.

This one already has resulted in all 10 games against the Cardinals now being scheduled for Wrigley Field.

Combine that with the three road games against the White Sox next month, and it means that the team with baseball’s best record on the field, the perfect record in player COVID-19 testing and no significant injuries to key players so far will play 60 percent of its games within its Chicago bubble if the Cubs and MLB pull off the full 60-game season.

If the Cubs were positioned any better to make the playoffs, they’d already be there.

“You can look at it that way if you want,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “We’re just doing our thing.”

No other way to look at it from here. Have you seen the rest of the schedule?

The Cubs have 43 games left, including 29 within a National League Central Division that doesn’t include another .500 team three weeks into a nine-week season. Nine more games are against the Tigers and White Sox.

The best team on the schedule is the Twins, and all three of those games are at home and not until the second-to-last weekend of the season.

With all due respect to Ross and his fear of “bad juju,” the Cubs can’t lose.

“It’s still early on,” the manager said.

Nothing’s early in a 60-game season. And the Cubs already have matched the hot starts of their 2016 and 1908 World Series champions.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go in the season,” Ross said.

The Cubs did have to scratch Tyler Chatwood from his scheduled start Friday night because of back tightness. And Kris Bryant has missed the last two games because of a sore finger after rolling his wrist trying to make a diving catch in left field in Cleveland Wednesday.

But Alec Mills looked good in short-notice replacement duty Friday until a rough four-pitch (and three-run) sequence in the sixth. And Chatwood might be ready for one of Monday’s games — or possibly one of Wednesday’s.

“Things falling in our favor?” Ross said. “We’re playing good baseball, and that should be the focus for me and not the other stuff.”

Granted, they still have to play the games. Granted, Bryant wasn’t available off the bench with the bases loaded in the eighth Friday, and Josh Phegley struck out instead.

And, yes, they actually lost a game to the Brewers Friday night.

But if you still don’t believe the baseball gods are stirring the Cubs’ pot so far this season, you weren’t paying attention in the ninth inning when Craig Kimbrel struck out Avisail Garcia swinging at a 98-mph fastball to start the scoreless inning and Manny Piña swinging at a 96-mph fastball to end it.

What closer problem? Bring on the Cardinals, right?

These guys might not lose another game.

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Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

Cubs' Colin Rea to start on Saturday, Tyler Chatwood possibly Monday

The Cubs plan to start swingman Colin Rea on Saturday against the Brewers, manager David Ross said after Friday's game.

Alec Mills was originally slated to pitch Saturday but was bumped up to Friday because Tyler Chatwood was scratched with mid-back tightness. The Cubs will evaluate Chatwood to see if he's an option to pitch on Monday, when they're scheduled to play a doubleheader against the Cardinals.

Rea, 30, has made two appearances this season, allowing no runs and one hit while striking out three in three innings. He was named the 2019 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, sporting a 3.95 ERA in 26 starts.

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Rea's last big league start was July 30, 2016 with the Marlins. He allowed one hit in 3 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out four with no walks.

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