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Jason Heyward survives attack from swarm of bees during Cubs game

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Jason Heyward survives attack from swarm of bees during Cubs game

MESA, Ariz. — This looked like one of Joe Maddon’s gimmicks gone wild, an Easter Sunday swarm of bees surrounding Jason Heyward in center and chasing the Cubs outfielder all the way out to the warning track.  

Heyward jumped onto the fence at Sloan Park, trying to escape, but that didn’t work, either. He just kept swatting his glove through the air, brushing away the bees buzzing at his beard and waving around his blue Cubs hat. 

Heyward estimated he got stung at least 10 times in front of a sellout crowd, the TV cameras and a social-media audience that loves stuff like this. Fans sitting on the berm wrapped themselves underneath blankets during a bizarre third-inning scene that interrupted the game for several minutes.

“It was no stunt,” Heyward said after a 12-9 loss to the Seattle Mariners. “It was real.”

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This came two days after the Cubs manager had his players pose for pictures with two cubs from Bearizona Wildlife Park, near the end of a Camp Maddon that has featured all sorts of diversions, from mimes to karaoke to hippie costumes.

Heyward had moved from right field to center when Dexter Fowler left the game after feeling tightness on his left side. The Cubs downplayed it and didn’t have a postgame update on Fowler, who did feel good enough to homer in his first at-bat. So the bees attacked Heyward.

“I wasn’t thinking to get out of there until it just got crazy,” Heyward said. “I just tried to get out of the way. I should have went over the fence.

“It’s OK. Not allergic.”

Heyward — who usually comes across as calm and cool and older than 26 — simply shrugged off the entire episode. But a plague descending upon a player at the beginning of an eight-year, $184 million contract sort of fit into the sometimes surreal vibe surrounding this team in spring training.

[MORE: Where things stand with Javier Baez and Cubs roster]

For Sunday's workout, Cubs players and coaches dressed like 1970s gym teachers with tight shorts and knee-high socks. The bees ultimately forced Cubs relievers to walk across the grass after the third inning and move into the right-field bullpen with the Mariners.

“That was wild — I’ve never had a delay like that before,” said pitcher Jason Hammel, who gave up two of Robinson Cano’s three homers and was charged with nine runs in 4.1 innings. “I had no idea. But once I figured out what was going on, you could see from the whole left-field line all the way out to center – they were everywhere.”

Now the question becomes: Can strength/conditioning coach Tim Buss find a beekeeper suit in time for Monday’s workout?     

“The fact that Heyward isn’t swollen beyond belief right now — I don’t know how he made it out of that,” Hammel said.

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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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: