Cubs

Joe Maddon explains how Cubs young players can handle trade rumors

Joe Maddon explains how Cubs young players can handle trade rumors

Two weeks ago, it seemed Ian Happ was at the top of the list of Cubs potential trade bait.

Now, there are some circles of the fanbase that would rather see Javy Baez or Kyle Schwarber traded than Ian Happ.

Roughly two-and-a-half hours before Eddie Butler started for the Cubs in the series finale with the San Francisco Giants Thursday afternoon, the conversation with Joe Maddon turned to the neverending search for pitching and how young players can handle being a part of trade rumors.

"I think a lot of times when people are mentioned in a trade, sometimes it's perceived that they're not going well, people want to push them to the front of the line," Maddon said. "All of a sudden, [Baez is] going well, so I expect him to go to the back of the line relatively soon."

After a stretch where he went 1-for-18 from May 10-17, Baez entered play Thursday with eight hits in his last 13 at-bats, including two homers and eight RBI. He's raised his OPS 104 points in the process to .798.

[RELATED - Another reminder that Javier Baez is a game-changer — not trade bait — for Cubs]

Happ, meanwhile posted a 1.240 OPS in his first eight games in The Show, including seven extra-base hits (four doubles, two homers and a triple). 

Schwarber's batting average hasn't climbed over .200 since the last day of April.

Of course, part of the discussion with all three is the positional versatility — Baez and Happ can play all over the field while Schwarber is a left fielder and rare catcher.

"Another part of the trade narrative is based on depth, obviously," Maddon said. "So if you have other pieces like that, then you promote somebody within that group. I think Javy's gonna be in that position for a bit regardless — no intent on our part.

"However, he's still going to be mentioned in those moments because of what I just said — he's gonna go good or bad. And when he's going great, you're never gonna trade him. But right now, he's playing really well. That was a good game he had [Wednesday]. He's in the .270s now [average], better at-bats, he's not chasing pitches, the defense is obviously showing up.

"I just think the nature of our team, the young guys, you're gonna hear that. If you're gonna attempt to get pitching, you're gonna hear the typical names mentioned. And just from our players' perspective, I just would hope they won't take it to heart too often.

"But if they hear it enough and they're asked about that question often enough, of course it's gonna leave a mark. But [Baez] is impactful. Listen, none of these guys that you like aren't even nearly as good as they're gonna be in a couple years. Just be patient."

The Cubs are always going to be searching for pitching as their farm system has had much more success producing young hitters than arms.

The Cubs are still looking for some consistency from the fifth starter spot this season and looking further down the road, both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are only under contract through 2017. As of right now, only Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are penciled into the Cubs' 2018 rotation.

Of course, given the surplus of quality, young position players, the Cubs could deal from a position of strength to acquire impact, controllable pitching.

But it's hard to see them ever trading Baez or Schwarber — who are both in the midst of their first full season in the big leagues and will forever be entrenched in Cubs lore with their postseason heroics last fall.

Baez is also particularly important for his impact in the field, as an elite defender at three infield spots and the Cubs' only depth at the shortstop position after Addison Russell.

In Thursday's lineup, Maddon gave Russell a day off and inserted Baez at shortstop, a move that gives the Cubs manager peace of mind from a defensive standpoint — "It's a beautiful thing."

There's no way Happ will keep hitting like he has in his first two weeks in the majors, but his performance after only 91 minor-league games above Class-A ball could serve as a showcase for other teams looking at trade options from the Cubs system.

"I can't emphasize enough—- if you like our kids, just wait a little bit," Maddon said. "Continue to fertilize them, nurture them and they're gonna keep getting better."

Fergie Jenkins adjusts to new normal during what was his signature week of season

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USA TODAY

Fergie Jenkins adjusts to new normal during what was his signature week of season

Fergie Jenkins just got back from Lowe’s.

“They want people to stay inside,” he said. “I went out to get some fuel for my weed whacker.

“There’s still a lot of people shopping.”

The legendary Cubs pitcher spoke by phone from home in Frisco, Texas, late last week, the day after Texas’ stay-at-home order went into effect.

Jenkins, 77, is well aware he’s in the high-risk age range for COVID-19 reaction. So he’s being careful, mostly staying inside, using a lot of hand sanitizer, he said, and taking precautions the few times he goes out.

He picked a hell of a time to move from Scottsdale, Ariz., to his new place just north of Dallas — arriving barely a week ago just as the state of Texas braces for what authorities expect to be a steep rise in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks.

It’s why he needs a few more trips to the hardware store than usual as he tries to settle in, for a lamp, a small appliance or a screwdriver. And why he usually needs to stop at the local Kroger’s grocery while he’s out or to handle another delivery of furniture when he gets back.

“I wash my hands about every 30 minutes,” he said, “with Dial soap and dry off with a paper towel. And I have Lysol spray. When I make a sandwich, I spray down the kitchen counters, and I spray the doorknobs, everything.”

If there’s a small silver lining in the moment for Jenkins, who expected to be spending last week in Chicago for the Cubs’ home opener, it might be that his focus on the move and on staying safe has distracted him from the closed ballparks during a time on the baseball calendar that was once his signature week throughout a 19-year Hall of Fame career.

Only nine pitchers in history have made more Opening Day starts than his 11 — including a franchise-record seven for the Cubs.

RELATED: Ranking Cubs' legend Fergie Jenkins' 11 career Opening Day starts

His last Opening Day start was 37 years ago today in his final season; his best, 49 years ago today when he pitched 10 innings to beat Bob Gibson 2-1 at Wrigley Field on a walk-off home run by Billy Williams.

“That was the fun part of it,” said Jenkins, whose Hall of Fame opponents in openers also included Jim Palmer, Steve Carlton, Jim Bunning, Dennis Eckersley and Bert Blyleven. “Just to tell yourself after all the hard work you did in spring training that if I’m not ready to compete today, I’m going to lose.”

He almost always was ready — his 2.58 career ERA on Opening Day compared to 3.35 the rest of the year attesting to that much.

The one he remembers most fondly is the first, in 1967, against the Phillies — his original team — at Wrigley Field with his parents in attendance.

“My mother had glaucoma and had never seen me pitch. She listened to games on a transistor radio. My dad had watched me pitch other ballgames in relief,” he said. “And just the fact that Leo [Durocher] gave me that opportunity in 1967…”

He pitched a complete game and beat Bunning 4-2.

A half century later, he finds himself opening boxes instead of seasons and wondering like the rest of us when the world — including sports — will find a semblance of normalcy again.

Jenkins, an ambassador with the Cubs, was in camp during spring training until Major League Baseball shut things down in mid-March and delayed the start of the season.

A year after losing his wife following a long series of health issues, he bought his new place in Texas at the end of last year, but he didn’t make the long drive from Scottsdale for the move until a couple of weeks ago.

“It’s been an experience. A little different,” he said. “I’m just doing things one day at a time.”

That means making use of his Weber grill, considering making use of his new bike in the new neighborhood and continuing his Cameo side gig on Twitter — which he used to help raise money for suddenly displaced game day workers at Sloan Park in Mesa after the shutdown last month.

“The world’s going through a crisis, and sports is the last thing on people’s minds right now,” Jenkins said. “When we had 9/11, especially in New York, they thought by playing baseball it would help give people something to think about besides what had just happened on 9/11.

“This is totally different.”

Ongoing. Uncertain. Spreading.

“It’s scaring people,” he said. 

“Sure, I miss the sport. I especially miss seeing hockey and basketball,” added the Canada native and one-time Harlem Globetrotter.

“Now it’s all changed. Now you turn the news on and see how many [new cases and media briefings] we’re having. And the president trying to do this and that. The world’s changed, and not for the good. Even beyond this [crisis].”

Jenkins said he’s confident baseball will be played this season, whether a 100-game season or 80, mostly based on a faith in medical science to provide at least more definition, if not reliable treatment for the virus.

A return in June? July? “Who knows?” he said.

What he might know as well as anyone, however, is the collective attention span and endurance level of a group of ballplayers during a lengthy shutdown.

As Cubs and other big-league players use Twitter and Instagram to show how they’re individually working out during shelter-in-place practices, Jenkins recalls how he and Texas Ranger teammates handled the longest single-season shutdown in major league history.

The Rangers were 33-22 and 1 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West when players began a two-month strike in June of 1981.

“Maybe 15 guys stayed around,” Jenkins said, rattling off the names of teammates such as Jim Kern, Doc Medich, Buddy Bell and Jim Sundberg.

They procured about six dozen balls from the team, Jenkins said, and then went to local parks to throw, run, take infield and take batting practice.

“Just a regular park,” he said. “Everybody would phone each other every day: ‘You coming to the park?’ … ’You coming to the park?’ “

After a day of workouts, they would head somewhere for an early dinner and talk about the latest strike news, he said.

“After about 40 days guys got sick and tired. It got to the point where guys were getting bored,” he said. “Then only a half-dozen guys were showing up. It just petered out.”

It would be another three weeks at that point before the 1981 season restarted.

If that experience is indicative of anything, it might simply underscore the need for at least three or four weeks of a second “spring training” once a start date is determined — if not suggest a reminder for how much of a gift any baseball at all this year might be.

As Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said the week after the shutdown: "If there’s not [a season], then obviously our world’s not in a good spot. This is bigger than baseball.”

Until then, Jenkins has a grill and a weed whacker to fire up. And Lysol to spray.

“I’m going to stay busy,” he said, mentioning some bass fishing he’d like to do once the stay-at-home order is lifted.

So he'll do his best to stay safe and well, he said.

“People are taking it to heart now, what’s going on. A lot of people are losing their lives. And now it’s the younger people,” he said. “It teaches you a lesson. They tell you what to do: Just do it.”

After all, this is a guy with a lot more Opening Days in mind — including this one.

“If they get everything settled, I’ll be back,” he said of joining the crew of Cubs Hall of Famers who were scheduled for the opening festivities, including Williams, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg and Lee Smith.

“Hopefully, we’re all there,” Jenkins said, then laughed a little. “If we’re all still kicking.”

Ranking Cubs' legend Fergie Jenkins' 11 career Opening Day starts

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Ranking Cubs' legend Fergie Jenkins' 11 career Opening Day starts

Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins is tied for 10th all-time with 11 Opening Day starts for three teams, including a franchise-record seven for the Cubs (two each with the Rangers and Red Sox). He compiled a 2.58 ERA on Opening Day (compared to 3.35 the rest of the year).

Monday marks the anniversary of three of those starts, including his best one, and his last one. He faced six other future Hall of Famers along the way in those openers. Ranking those 11 starts:

Ranking Fergie Jenkins' 11 career Opening Day starts

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