Cubs

Joe Maddon on Ian Happ: ‘Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen’

Joe Maddon on Ian Happ: ‘Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen’

MIAMI – The Cubs factored Ian Happ into their preseason plans, hoping he could give the team a shot of adrenaline at some point and play well enough to be marketed as a trade chip in a blockbuster deal for pitching.

But the Cubs couldn’t have projected this for late June: Happ batting third behind Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, the switch-hitting presence and middle-of-the-order force needed with Ben Zobrist on the disabled list and Kyle Schwarber about to get a mental reset at Triple-A Iowa.

“Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen, when you look at the size and how far the ball goes,” manager Joe Maddon said Friday at Marlins Park. “It’s a unique combination of size and strength. You normally see a bigger guy with that kind of juice."

Happ (6-foot, 205 pounds) also patrolled right field that night – one of four different positions the rookie has handled so far – with Gold Glove defender Jason Heyward also on the disabled list and the Cubs in scramble mode.

The Schwarber demotion is a reminder of how hard this game is, how quickly it can spin out of control and how small sample sizes can be misleading, even on the biggest stages against some of the best pitchers on the planet.

But check out Happ’s first six weeks in The Show projected as a 162-game average on Baseball-Reference.com: 46 homers, 97 RBI, .916 OPS and 199 strikeouts.

“He’s just really interesting,” Maddon said. “Now you’re seeing him hit better from the right side, too, which is really going to matter. That really makes him a threat. You put him in the lineup based on that.”

The shorthanded Cubs have needed Happ – at the age of 22 – to protect Bryzzo Souvenir Co., add another layer of Zobrist versatility and learn it all on the fly for a team with World Series expectations.

“He’s pretty self-confident,” Maddon said. “There’s times I can tell when it’s beating him up a little bit when he goes through some of those funks where maybe he’s chasing pitches out of the zone. But he seems to rebound very quickly. Strong-minded. Strong-willed. Very confident individual.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs hopeful Kyle Hendricks returns before All-Star break]

Two weeks into Happ’s big-league career, Maddon got questions about how long the Cubs will be patient and what they would need to see out of him before thinking about a return trip to Des Moines.

Though Happ was hitting .207 as recently as last week, his average has jumped roughly 40 points. He’s homered eight times in his last 14 starts. Fifteen of his 21 RBI have come with two outs. His OPS hasn’t fallen below .741 at any point this season.

“That’s adjusting,” Maddon said. “You get here, nobody really knows you, they throw you pitches, you hit ‘em well. And all of a sudden, you stop seeing those pitches. You’re not going to see them again until you stop swinging at the stuff that they want you to swing at.

“He’s done a pretty good job of laying off the bad stuff. That’s why it’s coming back to him. He’s really reorganized the strike zone here.”

That whole process sped up on Schwarber, who lost the swagger and the ability to crush fastballs that made him such a dangerous hitter. Happ doesn’t have it all figured out, but by the look on his face and the sound of his voice, you would have no idea whether or not he’s hitting. 

“Unbelievable guy,” said Happ, who’s tight with Schwarber. “He’ll go down, rake, be back soon and do what he’s capable of doing, which is hitting the ball hard all over the ballpark. He’s done it his whole life. And he’ll continue to do it.” 

Cubs' Jason Heyward on racial injustice: 'It feels like a broken record'

Cubs' Jason Heyward on racial injustice: 'It feels like a broken record'

Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward joined ESPN 1000’s “Waddle & Silvy” on Monday for a candid conversation on the unrest and tensions across the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of officer Derek Chauvin.

“It feels like a broken record and where we’re watching a rerun,” Heyward told Marc Silverman and Tom Waddle. “I feel like these things continue to happen over and over and over again and you have people continuously and helplessly trying to find a solution.”

Heyward, who grew up in McDonough, Ga. described how his father discussed racial injustice with him and his brother at a young age.

RELATED: Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts: 'We all need to step up to end' racial injustice

“He didn’t do that just to do it, that wasn’t something he was proud of having to do and having to explain,” he said. “That was something from experience that he could take and know that he went to one of the first integrated schools in South Carolina, integrated movie theaters, having separate bathrooms — things like that.”

Those conversations continued as Heyward committed to pursuing a professional baseball career while in high school, he said. As he was preparing to play for a travel team in East Cobb, Ga., his father told him of what he may face, such as being called the N word and people talking bad about his family.

Heyward noted how as a minor leaguer in the Braves farm system, he faced racism playing games in Savannah, Ga. — then home to a Mets affiliate. Silverman mentioned the racist messages Heyward received on Twitter after leaving the Cardinals in free agency to join the Cubs. Last year, MLB investigated racist messages sent to former Cub Carl Edwards Jr. on social media.

Although he said he experiences less of that today in the big leagues, Heyward added it still happens and that’s the message that needs to be shared. He described how the start to reaching a solution is people continuing to discuss racial injustice and being willing to listen and be aware of others’ concerns.

"While everyone has different views and different concerns and every ethnicity, race, gender, all these things — people have their own struggles, man," he said. "But I think at the end of the day, right now we’re seeing a lot of conversation about this that we’ve seen before but I think it’s being spread a little bit faster through social media, through LeBron James, through the rest of the NBA, through other athletes, through people that are starting to look around and say ‘I’m not African American, I’m not black but this affects me too.

"'This affects my kids, this affects them going to school, this affects my friends and their families and their generation.' So, I feel like everyone is a little bit more woke right now, regardless of how ugly things have been, how hard things have been on the people that are being affected most."

Floyd's death sparked week-long protests across the country that became violent. Heyward talked about looking into the future and what happens next as he sees some of the nation's more angry responses.

"I see confusion. I see anger, I see hatred, and these are all things people deal with as human beings on a daily basis. You have some people going out there with a certain message that they’re gonna put out. You have other people going out there and following and thinking they’re doing it for the right thing, but they don’t exactly understand it."

Heyward sees both sides of the issue, expressing sympathy for the difficult job and "judgements" police face.

"To me, that’s the trickle-down effect and what sucks is there are a lot of good cops, there are a lot of great cops," he said. "I’m friends with some — close family friends — to where they’re gonna take a lot of heat for this as well."

The bottomline is this issue isn't new for the life many Americans live on a daily basis.

"When you have hatred, when you have anger, when you have people that dealt with this 40 years ago, when you have people that dealt with this 20 years ago, people that dealt with it 10 years ago, people for the first time dealing with it now, you got people at all different walks of life who have different emotions about it and different thoughts on how to handle it.

"Everyone's not gonna have the same opinion, everyone's not gonna agree. But having the conversations, putting it out there and being aware of how we're all thinking as different individuals is a huge step in the right direction."

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How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

The Ricketts family, more than any other owners in the NL Central, should be intrigued by the MLB Players Association’s economic counterproposal.

Overall, the proposal is the second step in a fiery tango, in which the players association and owners begin on opposite sides of the room and hopefully end up somewhere in the middle. The players’ response, which the union reportedly delivered to the league on Sunday, will almost definitely not be adopted in whole. But, in the midst of both sides’ hard-lining, the players extended the option to defer some player salaries if the postseason is cancelled.

As one of the top five spenders in MLB, the Cubs would be one of the teams most affected by that aspect of the proposal.

The prospect of losing the playoffs to a second wave of COVID-19 is the stuff of baseball owners’ nightmares. The postseason supplies especially lucrative TV deals, which become especially important as the league braces for a massive loss of revenue this year.

The MLBPA counterproposal addressed that fear by including deferrals, according to multiple reports. Contracts calling for salaries of $10 million or more (before proration) could be deferred, with interest. High-payroll teams could enjoy up to $7 million each in relief, The Athletic reported.

The Cubs have 10 players poised to make at least $10 million before their salaries are prorated this year, per spotrac.com.

– Jason Heyward, $23.5 million

– Yu Darvish, $22 million

– Jon Lester, $20 million

– Kris Bryant, $18.6 million

– Anthony Rizzo, $16.5 million

– Craig Kimbrel, $16 million

– Tyler Chatwood, $13 million

– Kyle Hendricks, $12 million

– Jose Quintana, $10.5 million

– Javier Baez, $10 million

That’s the most in the league. Twice as many as the White Sox. In the NL Central, the Cardinals (8) are the closest to catching the Cubs, followed by the Reds (5). On the other end of the spectrum, the Pirates don’t have any players with $10 million salaries.

There is, however, a Catch-22. According to chairman Tom Ricketts, 70 percent of the Cubs’ revenue comes from gameday operations. With such a high payroll, and fans banned from attending games for the foreseeable future, the Cubs organization is poised to take an especially large financial hit.

Still, Ricketts said on CNBC last week, “We’d definitely like to see baseball back." 

A presentation from the commissioner’s office to the players association, obtained by the Associated Press, projected $199 million in local losses for the Cubs alone, before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. That estimate was based on an 82-game season without fans and with players taking prorated salaries.

If that number is accurate – the players continue to call on owners to open their books – $7 million wouldn’t be much relief in the face of a cancelled postseason. And, as mentioned before, it would come with interest. But by mentioning deferrals in a counterproposal, the MLBPA introduced an area for potential compromise.

The players quickly dismissed the league’s sliding scale proposal, which could reportedly pay the highest-paid players merely 20-30 percent of their salaries. But deferrals could help ease owners’ financial challenges this season without axing players earnings so drastically.