Cubs

Javier Baez becoming a game-changer for Cubs on defense and offense

Javier Baez becoming a game-changer for Cubs on defense and offense

PITTSBURGH – When Javier Baez made his splashy debut in August 2014, it symbolized how much the Cubs wanted to sell the future and change the conversation after another selloff at the trade deadline. 

But it also makes a statement when Javy Being Javy starts to live up to the hype – and create a highlight reel – only as a role player. That’s one takeaway from the defensive clinic Baez put on at third base during this three-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates that ended with Wednesday’s 6-2 win at PNC Park.   

“It’s a crazy situation here with the talent we have,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said, “and Javy at times being overlooked and not necessarily in the starting lineup every day. To have a guy like that with probably some of the best hands in all of baseball off the bench (is) a luxury that we’re happy to have. He’s a special talent.”

A natural shortstop, Baez has a unique ability to read the ball off the bat, but he’s also realized the value of sitting back and waiting at third base. Baez writes and eats left-handed and uses that as his dominant side, which helps him get into such an easy defensive flow. Even more than Addison Russell, Baez has the classic, big arm you’re looking for in a prototypical shortstop.    

“You’re crazy,” Arrieta told Baez on Tuesday night after watching the third baseman react to a John Jaso check swing in the sixth inning, charging to the edge of the infield grass, grabbing the ball with his bare hand and making a fluid throw to first base for the out.

Baez made it look easy again in the seventh inning, going to his backhand on a David Freese chopper up the third-base line, planting his right foot on the edge of the outfield grass and unleashing a laser throw to first base. 

Baez got Freese again in the ninth inning, making a charging backhanded play look routine and reinforcing why manager Joe Maddon sees him as such a weapon.

“You can actually say without stretching things way too far that he’s one of the best infielders in the National League – and he doesn’t start,” Maddon said. “Just purely as a defensive, groundball, infield-acumen kind of player, he’s one of the best in the league right now. Period. 

“So we just got to find an opportunity for him. His bat continues to make progress. I absolutely feel great when he’s out there on defense, because he can really impact a game in a positive way.”

With a 3-for-5, two-RBI afternoon on Wednesday, Baez pushed his average to .341, showing that he’s not the same all-or-nothing hitter who struck out 95 times and put up nine homers in 52 games in 2014.  

“When I got called up, I was hot with the bat, but I knew it wasn’t me,” Baez said. “It wasn’t my swing. I’m finally feeling really good at the plate and hopefully we can keep it going.”

Whether that means bumping Kris Bryant to the outfield more often or becoming that Ben Zobrist super-utility guy or filling in for the next injured player, right now it looks like the Cubs made the right choice in holding onto Baez and not packaging him in a deal for a pitcher.       

“You have not only a guy that can play the hell out of some infield,” pitcher Jon Lester said, “but he also gives you another guy at the bottom end of that lineup that has some thump. You make a mistake and this guy can take you back.”

Credit Baez for making those adjustments at the plate, smoothing out some of his rougher edges and realizing that for now this is his path to sticking in The Show.   

“I’ve been showing how much I’ve been growing up and my discipline at the plate,” Baez said. “My mind is all over the place with the positions, but I don’t have any problems playing it. I think I’m doing a pretty good job playing defense.”

Cubs reportedly interested in Troy Tulowitzki

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly interested in Troy Tulowitzki

According to MLB Insider Jon Heyman, the Cubs are one of the teams interested in free agent shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The 5-time All-Star will be holding a workout soon, with Chicago being one of the six teams reported to have a scout present at his workout.

Heyman did mention that while the Cubs aren’t necessarily the favorites right now, we will know how good of a chance they will have soon. Tulowitzki and his team are reported to be narrowing down their list to (at least) 6 teams.

Last season Tulowitzki played 66 games for the Blue Jays, batting .249 with 7 home runs and 26 RBI. For his career he is a .290 hitter and is looking for a bounce-back season after dealing with complications from bone spur injuries in both heels over the years.

Toronto has to pay the $38 million left on Tulowitzki's contract, freeing up other teams to sign the veteran to a more reasonable deal. Since the Blue Jays went the route of cutting him, teams can offer Tulowitzki a league minimum salary.

For the Cubs, he represents-however small-a chance to extract great value from a veteran player, which would be a big bonus considering how the Yu Darvish signing backfired in year one.

Tulowitzki is likely to be searching for playing time on a legit title contender, so if he can provide any solid offensive production going forward, he and the Cubs could be a solid match.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Winter Meetings recap

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Winter Meetings recap

When nothing happens in Vegas, it stays in Vegas. Luke, Kap and Tony talk about the Cubs lack of moves during the Winter Meetings.

In this episode of the Cubs Talk Podcast with Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan and Tony Andracki:

00:10 - What happen in Vegas stays in Vegas and this year that means nothing. Luke, Kap & Tony talk Cubs lack of moves at Winter Meetings.

00:50 - Where the heck is all the money? This was supposed to be a wide-open window - we step on the accelerator.

01:25 - Cubs keep throwing money at the problem (Chatwood, Darvish) and it has become a cautionary tale.

02:50 - Are the Cubs playing at the shallow end of the kiddie pool?

03:50 - Tony talks about the volatility of the relief market.

05:15 - Where is the bullpen market? Brewers are making moves, but it's still "crickets" for the Cubs.

06:20 - Tony: Other than bullpen - Cubs have to address backup middle infielder most of all.

06:57 - Daniel Descalso rumors. Kap describes him as a grinder who fits the leadership mold.

07:47 - Luke is a little worried about Steve Cishek. He threw a career-high 70 innings last season.

09:34 - The guys talk about the possibility of a "second deadline" for the Winter Meetings to force clubs to make more moves.

11:06 - Luke: "I wanted to see Machado and Harper walking down the strip and making it rain!"

12:45 - Cubs still have so much to address. Some Cubs fans are starting to get a little itchy. Teams in the division are making moves. What about us?

14:45 - Question: Is Anthony Rizzo the third-best 1st baseman in the Central Division?

15:50 - Prediction time: What's biggest move the Cubs will make before opening day? Kap believes that Ian Happ will not be a Cub before the regular season starts.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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