Cubs

Relocated bullpens create different atmosphere for Jon Lester, Cubs

Relocated bullpens create different atmosphere for Jon Lester, Cubs

Monday marked the Cubs' first game without bullpens in the field of play at Wrigley Field, which created a different warm-up environment for starter Jon Lester. 

A near two-hour rain delay and temperatures plummeting into the 30s didn't take away from the energy at Wrigley Field before the Cubs' 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The pregame player introductions, the banner-raising ceremony and the team strutting the World Series trophy in from right field produced waves of roaring cheers from the standing-room-only crowd of 41,166.

But Lester was largely separated from the party, taking his pregame warmups into the surprisingly quiet confines of the relocated Cubs bullpen under the left field bleachers. 

"When the doors are closed, it feels like you're in a offseason training facility throwing a bullpen with ESPN on the TV," Lester said. 

So Lester had bullpen coach Lester Strode open the green plexiglass doors separating the bullpen from the left field warning track during his pregame routine Monday to get more of the music and crowd noise. 

"It'll take a little bit of time," Lester said. "We're used to the other way. It'll take a bit of time and it really did help once they opened the doors. You still had the vibe from outside and you could feel that. It's nice warming up in a warmer environment than what it was outside. It'll take a little bit of time, it will. Any time you have change it's going to take a little bit to get used to it." 

Consider it a stark contrast to the last game played here on Clark and Addison before Monday night, when Lester fired six tense innings in a win-or-go-home World Series Game 5 against the Cleveland Indians. Lester threw his warm-up pitches that October night down the left field line, only feet away from an anxiously-energized crowd hoping to see the Cubs send the World Series back to Cleveland. 

The benefit, though, for starting pitchers of having the bullpens removed from the field is lessening whatever distractions may arise while preparing for a game. Monday was a prime example of that. 

"For a night like tonight, it was good," Lester said. "It was good. You had the separation and definitely distanced yourself from the crowd and what was going on. But leading up to that point, it was nice to be on the field and see everything and the team being introduced and all the applause and all that stuff, so it was good. But it was definitely easy to separate yourself when you got into the bullpen and got ready for the game." 

After emerging from under the bleachers, Lester fired six solid innings, allowing one run on four hits with one walk and seven strikeouts. While he didn't get much of an opportunity to take in the pageantry of Monday's banner-raising ceremony, he'll get the full experience of Wednesday's ring ceremony. 

"It was a special night," Lester said. "Definitely something that'll go down in my book as something that I'll remember for a long, long time. Now, I look forward to Wednesday and getting the fun stuff, getting the rings." 

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

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AP

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

It won't be long before baseball fans get their first look at the Cubs under new manager David Ross.

ESPN announced Thursday they will broadcast two of the Cubs' first four games in 2020: March 29 against the Brewers in Milwaukee (Sunday Night Baseball) and March 30 against the Pirates (3 p.m. first pitch). The latter game is the Cubs' 2020 home opener.

Ross worked as a color analyst for ESPN from 2017-19 before the Cubs hired him as manager in October. So, not only will his club be in the national spotlight early in the season, but his former co-workers will be the ones analyzing him as his managerial career kicks off.

The Cubs open the season on March 26 against the Brewers.

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Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

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USA TODAY

Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

This is the best thing the White Sox have done for the Cubs in years.

The White Sox made a big splash in free agency Thursday, signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract. Grandal joins the South Siders from the Brewers, where he played an integral role in Milwaukee making a second-straight postseason appearance in 2019.

Grandal led qualified catchers in on-base percentage (.380) last season, also posting career highs in home runs (28) and RBIs (77). He’s also an excellent pitch framer, tying for fourth in RszC (runs saved by catcher framing) among all catchers with 9.

Milwaukee’s payroll reached a franchise-high $122.5 million in 2019 and their farm system (No. 29 in MLB, per Baseball America) is lacking. How they replace Grandal’s production is a major question mark, which in turn is a win for the Cubs this offseason.

But besides plucking him from the NL Central, the White Sox signing Grandal early in the offseason helps the Cubs, who have important decisions of their own to make.

Although Cubs president Theo Epstein said to take any trade rumors with a “mouthful of salt,” multiple teams believe catcher Willson Contreras is available for trade. The Cubs need to retool their roster and replenish a farm system that has been depleted in recent seasons from numerous “win now” trades.

The Cubs and White Sox made the notorious José Quintana trade in July 2017, but it’s unlikely the two would have matched up for a Contreras trade. The Cubs need young assets; trading away young assets is the last thing the White Sox want to do as their championship window opens.

So, Grandal landed with a team that was unlikely to be involved in any potential Contreras trade talks. Grandal was the best free agent catcher; Contreras is the best catcher that can be had in a trade.

Other teams interested in Grandal — such as the Reds — can no longer turn to him in free agency. The Rays have made addressing the catcher spot this winter a priority, but they have one of MLB’s lowest payrolls each season. Signing Grandal wasn’t going to happen, but Tampa Bay has the farm system (No. 2 in baseball, per MLB.com) to make a big trade.

Contreras is the best catcher available — for the right price, obviously — so the ball is in the Cubs' court. They don’t get better by dealing their two-time All-Star backstop, but Contreras’ trade value is high. With Grandal off the market, it just got even higher.

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