Cubs

Maddon: Rizzo needs to represent Cubs in All-Star Game

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Maddon: Rizzo needs to represent Cubs in All-Star Game

Joe Maddon wants to see Anthony Rizzo at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati next month.

Even if that means Rizzo has to play some shortstop.

Maddon made his case for the Cubs first baseman Sunday in Minnesota — "The guy's gotta be on the All-Star team. Let him play shortstop, I don't care." — and continued it before Monday's game against the Dodgers.

In fact, Maddon wouldn't even give a true endorsement to anybody else on the Cubs roster. Just Rizzo, whom Maddon said is having a "remarkable" start to the season.

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"His year is definitely above and beyond," Maddon said. "I've not seen it, personally, the kind of year he's having right now. Among the group on the field, of course, (Kris Bryant) is going to get some noise at third base.

"Among the pitchers, we've had a lot of good performances. I thought Jason (Hammel) was in the running, but obviously the last couple outings probably may have knocked him out just a little bit.

"And the bullpen, I can't tell you for sure anybody definitely deserves to go there. So just being perfectly honest, Rizz is the one guy that should be there absolutely."

That's a stark change of pace considering Rick Renteria last year said all his players are All Stars and deserved to go.

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Maddon wasn't bashing any of the other Cubs players or anything. He was simply being honest and realistic about the chances.

Rizzo is hitting .310 with a .419 on-base percentage and .587 slugging percentage, good for a 1.006 OPS. Even with a stacked NL first base deck that includes Los Angeles' Adrian Gonzalez (.888 OPS, 12 home runs, 45 RBIs) and Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt (.365 AVG, 1.129 OPS, 19 home runs, 57 RBIs), Rizzo has made a strong case for himself.

"Yeah, I want to go," Rizzo said. "Of course. But there's a lot of competition. So whoever's deserving usually doesn't get to go all the time. It is what it is."

Another NL All-Star voting update will come out Tuesday, but in the last official results, Rizzo was fourth, behind Goldschmidt, Gonzalez and Cardinals slugger Matt Adams, who is currently on the disabled list.

[MORE CUBS: Jon Lester has no problem with Joe Maddon's decision]

Maddon admitted the All-Star voting method is "skewed," which is obvious at first glance at the AL voting update, which has a Kansas City Royal starting at just about every position.

Maddon feels the All-Star voting method will be addressed and changed at some point. But that won't be this season, and the Cubs still want to find a way to get Rizzo on the roster in Cincinnati next month.

"I want to believe that, regardless of what those votes say, he's going to be put on that team somehow, because he deserves to be there," Maddon said. "So we're all sifting through this methodology regarding voting for an All-Star team, which I totally understand and believe in the fan participation.

"But I've always believed that peer recognition is the best you can possibly receive in any occupation. ... I'm even excluding coaches and managers. Just the peer group — the players — I'd be really interested to see what they had to say about that in regards to sincerely voting who should be in the game or not."

[SHOP CUBS: Get an Anthony Rizzo jersey right here]

Maddon believes the All-Star voting process is "ripe" for discussing right now on ways to improve the method. And he feels Rizzo will end up representing the Cubs in the Midsummer Classic.

"Guys like him — he's got to be on the team," Maddon said. "I know these other guys are good — I've watched them, I've seen them — but he cannot not be chosen."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.