Cubs

Maddon: Javy Baez knows his time is coming with Cubs

Maddon: Javy Baez knows his time is coming with Cubs

Nothing Javy Baez does surprises Joe Maddon anymore.

The Cubs manager even thinks Baez could pick up switch-hitting if he wanted to.

Maddon has been talking up Baez since the beginning of spring training 2015, pointing to the youngster's speed, defense and baseball IQ as gamechangers even if he's still developing and maturing at the plate.

Baez was once THE prospect in Chicago, the must-see "next big thing" when he came up in August 2014. 

Since then, we've seen guys like Addison Russell, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber leap over Baez on the development path.

It's not like Baez was left behind, though. A finger injury and the passing of his sister derailed much of his 2015 season and another finger issue delayed his 2016 debut.

But Baez is getting work all over the diamond as a super-utility guy, having already played every infield position plus left field this season. 

The 23-year-old turned in an impressive showing in Thursday's series finale with the Dodgers - hitting a homer, driving in three runs and playing spectacular defense at second base, including a diving catch in short center field.

Of course, Maddon isn't shocked by Baez's recent success.

"Honestly, no," Maddon said. "The way he's accepted [his utility role] is really - I shouldn't say I'm surprised with, but I'm pleased with. He's really accepted it well.

"When he doesn't start the game, you go down there and give him a high five before the game and he's smiling, he's engaged. You know he's gonna be ready that night. He's just doing it properly.

"So that's the part that I'm really pleased with because I know if he has that kind of mindset, he's gonna play like you're seeing him play right now."

The Cubs are in a different spot right now than Baez's first go-round with the big-league club. 

There's no guarantee Baez will ever find a home at a particular position in Chicago, but he could settle into third base and push Bryant to the outfield full time.

Or, Baez could just stick in the Ben Zobrist-type utility role that Maddon loves so much.

"I think he knows that his time's coming," Maddon said. "He's gonna be a starter. He knows that. He knows even if he doesn't start tonight, he has a pretty good chance of getting on the field at some point.

"So all those different factors, he's really dealt with perfectly, actually."

Baez is on pace for only 306 at-bats this season and he's admitted it's tough to get going at the plate.

Even with Thursday's performance and a stretch in which he's gone 5-for-14, Baez still entered play Friday with just a .253/.295/.384 slash line, good for a .679 OPS.

He's admitted it's hard to stay locked in at the plate while not starting every day.

"I'm keeping my approach every time I come to the plate," he said. "When I'm not playing, I hit in the cage during the game to stay warm in case I get in the game."

Baez has talked to Zobrist about how to react to the ball when switching positions so often. 

The young utility guy feels comfortable in his work defensively and has gotten used to playing third base one day, second the next and shortstop the next.

Baez said he's fine with playing all over the place and doesn't have a favorite position right now. He's made sure Maddon knows he will be ready to play wherever whenever.

With the defense down, Baez has started to shift his attention to his plate approach lately.

"I focus more on offense right now," Baez said. "I think it's one of the hardest things in the world. I'm pretty good at defense, so I'm just letting that take care of itself."

Maddon thinks Baez's unselfish play personifies where the entire Cubs team is at right now, entering Friday a season-high 22 games over .500.

"I'm not surprised with anything with him or the whole group right now," Maddon said. "Our guys are just out to win. That's it. 

"They don't care who gets the credit or who gets it done that night. We're just out there to win it and it's beautiful to watch."

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow is getting an extended All-Star Break.

For the second time in the last month, the Cubs closer is heading to the disabled list to get another break, this time with inflammation in his right biceps.

That leaves the Cubs without their best relief pitcher — a guy with a 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 22 saves in 24 chances — for the next week as the team hits the ground running in the second half with 12 games in 11 days against the Cardinals and Diamondbacks.

"It's been bothering him a bit, but we thought it was manageable," Joe Maddon said before the Cubs kicked off play Thursday evening. "But now it's not [manageable], so just have to take a little bit of a break. 

"We don't anticipate him being gone for a long time, but it seems to be prudent to go this course right now."

Maddon pointed to a bit lower velocity Morrow had in San Diego Sunday and believes now is "the right time to back off for the latter part of the season."

The Cubs do have Carl Edwards Jr. back from the paternity list and the 26-year-old flamethrower already got a "break" of his own earlier this season when he missed about 5 weeks with a shoulder issue.

The word "break" is key here because that's how Maddon and the Cubs characterize these little stints on the disabled list.

After all, they are "breaks," even if they're not built into a season like the All-Star Break.

The Cubs want both Morrow and Edwards to be healthy and dynamic in late September and throughout the postseason in October. They've been uber-cautious about the two pitchers throughout their respective Cubs careers and a stint on the disabled list serves to save bullets and wear and tear on their right arms in the dog days of the season.

After all, Morrow has already appeared in 35 games this season, which he's only done once since 2008 — last year, when he pitched in 45 games. Morrow has a long history of arm issues, so the Cubs have given him plenty of slack as they try to keep him healthy for the most important stretch of the season.

But that's also why the Cubs are looking to add some reinforcements to the bullpen before the trade deadline. They were linked to Brad Hand before the lefty was traded to the Cleveland Indians Thursday and they've also been linked to Orioles closer Zach Britton.

If Britton's healthy, he could serve as a perfect fit for the Cubs as a rental with closing experience and a guy from the left side to help fill both needs in the Chicago bullpen.

The Cubs currently have Justin Wilson, Randy Rosario and Brian Duensing as left-handed options in the bullpen, but all are at varying levels of confidence at the moment.

Wilson still has some issues with control, but otherwise has been very good of late. Rosario is a rookie and his outlying numbers indicate his 1.95 ERA is a bit of a mirage. Duensing just recently returned from the DL himself and currently boasts a 6.59 ERA and 1.83 WHIP on the season.

Then there's Mike Montgomery, who right now has a stranglehold on a spot in the Cubs rotation while Yu Darvish gets healthy. There is currently no update on Darvish, which means Montgomery won't be moving back to the bullpen anytime soon.

With less than 2 weeks left until the trade deadline, Maddon would be all for adding another arm or two to his pitching staff.

"Sure. All of the pitching, they're definitely going to want to look at it," Maddon said. "Our numbers are among the best in the NL both overall and as a bullpen and then even into the starters.

"But you're always looking to make it better. That's what GMs do. We'll see how it all plays out. We're hoping the [Morrow] thing is a shorter situation, which we believe it will be."

Cubs reportedly a 'main player' in trade talks for Orioles' Zach Britton

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly a 'main player' in trade talks for Orioles' Zach Britton

According to Bruce Levine of 670 The Score, the Cubs are a “main player” in a possible trade for Orioles closer Zach Britton before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

The Cubs will face competition from some familiar names as far as a bidding war for Britton goes. 

After sending Cubs closer Brandon Morrow back to the 10-day disabled list with right biceps inflammation on Thursday, the team could be searching for another reliever.

The 30-year-old is a ninth-inning veteran who tallied a career-high 47 saves with a 0.54 ERA in 2016, the year he finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting. He’s also been selected to two All-Star Games in his eight-year career.

But the closer’s 2018 season has had its ups and downs. He’s spent time getting reacquainted to pitching after having surgery for a ruptured right Achilles tendon that kept Britton out until June. He’s only pitched in 15 games while posting a 3.68 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. Britton hasn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances.

Should the Cubs actually be concerned with his recent health issues?  According to MLB.com, the Orioles reliever has “been showing a dramatic increase in velocity.” It seems it took him some time to get back to his previous form.

If he can even be close to the same player he was two years ago, Britton would be more than useful to the Cubs bullpen.