Cubs

Joe Maddon’s message to Cubs before playoff pressure turns up

Joe Maddon’s message to Cubs before playoff pressure turns up

Joe Maddon doesn’t believe in meetings or rah-rah speeches or dress codes. The Cubs manager doesn’t want his players showing up to the ballpark early or taking extra batting practice, refusing to pigeonhole them into one position or follow baseball’s unwritten rules.

If players became frustrated with the spring-training feel at the end of the regular season, then Maddon also sounded annoyed at the passive-aggressive comments to reporters. If Maddon sometimes seems to make it about himself, then there’s also no denying his hands-off, big-picture, media-friendly style has been a spectacular success for a World Series-or-bust franchise. 

The cold water sprayed all over Maddon’s white hair, Great American Ball Park’s visiting clubhouse and the manager’s office after Sunday’s 7-4 comeback victory over the Cincinnati Reds marked a Game 162 release and a celebration of his 200th win in a Cubs uniform.

 “Just look around the clubhouse,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “(With) the character of the people and the players that we have – if we hold each other accountable – that’s the kind of regular seasons that we can have as a unit if we stay healthy and we perform to our ability. 

“Yeah, 200 wins in two seasons is no easy feat. But after we win a ring, we’d like to make it three seasons with 100.”   

“Try Not To Suck-tober” is here, so when the players gather before Tuesday afternoon’s simulated game at Wrigley Field, Maddon will give a rare State of the Cubs address, something simple and to the point, an updated postseason version of what he told them in spring training and around the All-Star break.    

“Most of the guys have been there (before),” Maddon said. “I don’t want to give them any stark advice regarding how they should deal with any of this stuff. It’s not going to be a long meeting. It’s primarily going to be about: In playoff baseball, things are going to go wrong. And how do you deal with (it) when things go wrong?

“You have to be able to maintain your focus. When things are going well, it’s easy. We all can do that. I just want to remind them to be able to maintain our focus, maintain our methods, even if something goes awry.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon wants his team to play the same game all the time. In theory, it shouldn’t matter if it’s April and the Arizona Diamondbacks are filling Chase Field with noise pollution, or an August weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals in front of 40,000 in Wrigleyville, or the October spotlight that can be blinding. 

So before Friday’s Game 1 against the winner of the National League wild-card game – either the New York Mets or San Francisco Giants – batting practice will be optional.

“Nothing should change,” Maddon said. “We’ll have our workout Tuesday (and) get some pitchers involved. Wednesday and Thursday, we will do different things, just to brush up. And then Friday it will be normal pregame. 

“If you don’t want it on the field and want to hit in the cage, please do. If you want to go hit on the field, please do. I don’t want anything to change. I want minimal or no changes whatsoever.”

Theo Epstein’s front office may have handed Maddon the keys to a Ferrari, but as Lou Piniella once said: This is not some push-button operation.

Even with multiple candidates for MVP (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo) and the Cy Young Award (Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks) and a range of personalities that goes from a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell) to accomplished veterans in their mid-to-late 30s with World Series rings (Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, David Ross) to the role players (Javier Baez, Matt Szczur, Travis Wood) who have thrived with Maddon’s keep-everyone-involved philosophy.

“Joe has that great sixth sense when it comes to people,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “He knows when to be where he needs to be, and the tone he needs to set for us. We’ve done a good job of being ourselves and policing ourselves on things and fighting through the ups and downs of the season.”

So the Cubs will rely on the daily routines, natural talent, emotional intelligence and scouting reports that got them to this point – and not try to reinvent the wheel just because the fans and the TV networks will be so focused on 1908.

“I want them to go out and play with a free and clear mind,” Maddon said. “There’s no information right now that’s really that above and beyond pertinent. You might grab a nugget or two. You might. Might. I’m all about the nugget. But I don’t want them carrying anything differently than when we’ve been seeing them (while) winning (103) games this year. I don’t want them to be any different.

“This is what we want to do. But don’t go nuts and try to do anything differently right now.”

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

With the MLB offseason about to kick off, we run down the boldest predictions for the Cubs winter from around the NBC Sports Chicago Cubs content team. Topics include where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, how much money they’ll get, what the Cardinals will do this winter, Cubs offseason trades and how Theo Epstein’s front office may add to the pitching staff.

 

One topic we could all agree on was David Ross' potential as Cubs bench coach if the incumbent Brandon Hyde ends up taking a job as manager for another team around the league.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here and check out all of our bold predictions below:

 

 

David Kaplan

 

—Anthony Rizzo and his new wife, Emily, will adopt Manny Machado, change his last name and see Manny Rizzo playing third base for the 2019 Cubs.

—Because of the Rizzo move, the Cubs will move Kris Bryant to a full-time outfielder.

—The Cubs will trade away Jose Quintana and sign Patrick Corbin.

—The Cubs will sign a pair of former Indians relievers for the back end of the bullpen in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

—The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber to the Royals for Whit Merrifield, who will start 155 games in the leadoff spot in the order.

—Joe Maddon will be a lot more consistent with the Cubs' lineup and batting order all season.

 

Kelly Crull

 

—Anthony and Emily Rizzo will receive more wedding gifts from Cubs fans than Kris and Jessica Bryan received.

—Anthony Rizzo will train this offseason so he will be able to sing — or play the piano — for the National Anthem at Wrigley in 2019.

—The Cubs will have no money left to remodel the media room at Wrigley Field.

 

Luke Stuckmeyer

 

—The Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley Field is going to be replaced by Kap's Kryo & Keto Korner.

—The Cubs will finally find a solution to the leadoff hitter issue.

 

Tony Andracki

 

—The Cubs sign Bryce Harper for less than $250 million. (He follows 23 people on Twitter)
—Manny Machado does not get a contract for more than $250 million, either.
—The Cardinals will sign Craig Kimbrel and either Machado or Josh Donaldson to play 3B. 

 

Rationale: St. Louis could really use the bat and closer and they have a sense of urgency in the division this winter we haven't seen from them in at least a decade. The Cubs and Brewers have clearly been better for two seasons now and look to have a better chance at contending than the Cardinals in 2019, as well. That can't be sitting well with the "Best Fans in Baseball." 

 

Jeff Nelson, producer

 

—The Cubs will trade 2 of the following players:  Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr.

—The Cardinals will sign Manny Machado to play third base.

—Because of construction delays, the visitors’ clubhouse will not be ready for the home opener, forcing the Pirates to dress at their hotel and come to the ballpark in full uniform.

Mike Piff, social media manager

—Cubs sign Nick Markakis.
—Cubs sign Tyson Ross.

Eric Strobel, producer

—The Cubs 2019 saves leader is not currently on the roster.

Rationale: We saw what happened to the bullpen in Brandon Morrow's absence; it got the job done by and large, but was not longer truly feared. Deep 'pens are the norm in October now with lockdown relievers being counted on more and more. The front office knows they can't truly entrust that kind of workload to Morrow with his injury history - Theo admitted as much in his end-of-season press conference. While they probably will not make a big splash, a huge focus of the offseason will be to surround Morrow/Strop/Edwards/etc. with as many talented arms as possible. The Cubs could very well enter next season without a designated closer, but if they do, it will not be Brandon Morrow.

Scott Changnon, multi-platform producer

—The Cubs will sign Bryce Harper.

Rationale: "I dunno, maybe."

Nate Poppen, producer

—Cubs sign Andrew McCutchen, plug him into CF and make Almora a 4th OF (or expendable)
—Bryce Harper signs with Yankees.
—Manny Machado signs with Angels.

Matt Buckman, producer

Non-roster prediction: The Cubs will welcome Sammy Sosa back to Wrigley Field. Sammy turns 50 this winter, and fueled by our wonderful documentary on 1998, the Cubs will finally mend their broken bond with Sammy and bring him back to Wrigley.

Roster prediction: The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber for a leadoff hitter. Joe has had to get very creative with the top of his order since Dexter Fowler left. Though the front office has downplayed the importance of a lead-off hitter the last two off-seasons, they will look to add one for 2019 so that Joe doesn’t have to be so creative. They won’t have a place to play Schwarber after they sign Harper so they will swap his power for a new “you go, we go” guy. Look at KC or TB as AL teams that need to add power and also have guys who could potentially lead off for the Cubs. Mallex Smith (TB) or Whit Merrifield (KC) would be interesting options.

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No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.