Cubs

Maddon, Cubs trying to 'unearth' Soler with lineup switch

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Maddon, Cubs trying to 'unearth' Soler with lineup switch

Jorge Soler checked off another big league "first" Saturday.

The 23-year-old slugger hit leadoff for the first time in his brief MLB career in Cubs manager Joe Maddon's attempt to get Soler going at the plate.

Standing at 6-foot-4 with a 215-pound frame, Soler looks more like a linebacker than a leadoff guy, but Maddon thinks this move could help get Soler back on track.

"I've been debating on this one," Maddon said before Saturday's game against the Brewers. "I've done it in the past with different guys, just to have them think differently.

"It's not about changing your mechanics or trying new things — it's just to think differently. And I'm all about when a hitter is not going as he can, the last thing you want to do is change up his mechanics. You want to change your mental mechanics first.

"So right now, he sees his name in the leadoff spot, he's got a different vibe about him, probably a little more carefree — I would think — about the day."

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Soler leads the National League with 35 strikeouts, having played in all 21 of the Cubs' games this season.

Since going 2-for-5 with a double and two runs in the Cubs' win over the Pirates on April 21 in Pittsburgh, Soler has been in a slump at the plate, hitting just .133 with a .424 OPS — and that includes a 2-for-4 game Friday.

In the last eight games, Soler is 4-for-30 and has seen his average fall from .327 to .259 on the season. He also has struck out 17 times in that stretch.

Soler has made 14 career starts in the No. 2 spot in the order, but is hitting just .250 with a .270 on-base percentage and .603 OPS in that slot. He has failed to hit a homer in 60 at-bats while batting second.

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Maddon thinks the switch can help put Soler at ease, and he wants the rookie to go up there with a different approach, worrying more about setting the table than cleaning it up.

"The whole job I want to get across from him is — you're out there to score runs," Maddon said. "Don't worry about home runs. Don't worry about hits. Go out there and score runs."

In order for Soler to lead off, Maddon had to bump Dexter Fowler down to the two-hole. Fowler has been doing his job this season as a tablesetter, with a .367 on-base percentage and 12 runs on the season.

Fowler is in the midst of a six-game hitting streak in which he's 10-for-21 (.476 average) with a 1.046 OPS.

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Maddon isn't concerned that a different spot in the order will affect the veteran centerfielder much.

"I told (Fowler) I just wanted to try to unearth the other guy," Maddon said. "I wasn't worried about Dexter; I think he's going well.

"This is more designed to Jorge specifically to see if we can get him to feel a little bit better about himself."

Cubs free agent Nick Castellanos reportedly agrees to deal with Reds

Cubs free agent Nick Castellanos reportedly agrees to deal with Reds

Yesterday, it was reported that the Reds were the favorite to ink Cubs free agent right fielder Nick Castellanos. On Monday, it appears those two sides have reached an agreement on a multi-year deal, per The Athletic's C. Trent Rosencrans and Ken Rosenthal: 

Given the Cubs' desire to steer clear of the luxury tax in 2020, the odds of a reunion with Castellanos were always low. The club's recent signing of outfielder Steven Souza only furthered that belief.

To lose him to a divison rival, though, undoubtedly stings, especially considering the gumption with which the Reds have approached the offseason. Cincinnati has also notably added Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama and Wade Miley this winter.

MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported the deal is for $64 million over four years and added that the deal includes at least one opt-out.

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Reds are favorite to sign Cubs free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, report says

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USA TODAY

Reds are favorite to sign Cubs free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, report says

The odds of a Cubs-Nick Castellanos reunion happening have seemed slim all offseason. Although they've been connected to him at various points this winter, bringing back the fan favorite right fielder would require some serious financial gymnastics for the North Siders.

With the Cubs cognizant of the luxury tax, the division rival Reds have emerged as the favorite to sign Castellanos, according to MLB insider Jon Morosi.

The Reds have emerged as the frontrunner to sign free-agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, one source said Sunday, and there are indications the sides have made progress over the past several days. While Cincinnati is now the favorite to sign Castellanos, the Giants also have negotiated with the 27-year-old in recent weeks.

Because of their desire to stay under the luxury tax in 2020, the Cubs have only made low-cost acquisitions this winter. They were penalized $7.6 million for eclipsing the threshold in 2019; if they do so in 2020, they'll be taxed 30 percent on their overages —  and see their 2021 draft pick drop 10 spots, if they go over the figure by $40 million.

At this point, the only realistic scenario where the Cubs re-sign Castellanos is if they shed salary. However, they've reportedly signed outfielder Steven Souza to a one-year deal, giving them five outfielders (along with Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward). That might be the biggest indicator of a reunion not being in the cards.

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