Cubs

The return of Javier Baez and how Cubs are prepared for next wave of injuries

The return of Javier Baez and how Cubs are prepared for next wave of injuries

The Cubs are looking at internal solutions and hoping for strength in numbers with Kyle Schwarber sidelined for the rest of the season. Javier Baez could be on deck.

Baez hit in the middle of Triple-A Iowa’s lineup on Monday night, with Cubs manager Joe Maddon saying the organization would like to see him get around 20 or 25 at-bats before joining the big-league club.

That could happen as soon as this week’s opening homestand at Wrigley Field — or once Baez gets his timing down after a left thumb injury prevented him from making the Opening Day roster.

The Cubs plan to move Baez around the infield and the outfield with Iowa, grooming another versatile player to help fill the void with Schwarber awaiting surgery to repair the torn ACL and LCL in his left knee.

That’s how Theo Epstein’s front office built this flexible roster over the years, preparing for worst-case scenarios with a Rookie of the Year who can play third base and all over the outfield (Kris Bryant), an All-Star super-utility guy (Ben Zobrist) and a bullpen stocked with four swingmen (Trevor Cahill, Adam Warren, Clayton Richard, Travis Wood).

“Overcoming adversity is really all about character and looking at it the right way,” Epstein said, “instead of sulking and getting down and thinking about what you don’t have. It’s seeing it as an opportunity to overcome something, an opportunity for someone else to step up, an opportunity to really prove your mettle as a club.

“Because injuries are not a variable in this game. They’re a constant. You just don’t know who. You don’t know how long. You don’t know what type of injury. But you know you’re going to have injuries. So if you don’t prepare for them, then shame on you.”

That’s what the Cubs had in mind when they signed Dexter Fowler to a one-year, $13 million contract in late February — or multiple news cycles after the Baltimore Orioles were supposed to be finalizing a three-year, $35 million deal with Maddon’s you-go, we-go leadoff guy/outfielder.

“Dexter’s pretty much been the guy that’s gotten this whole thing rolling,” Maddon said. “We have so many great guys within our support group. It’s obvious with the guys that came in. You’re talking about Jason (Heyward) and ‘Zo’ and what they’ve already done to this particular group.

“These guys (understand) that we can survive. They realize that people are going to have to pick each other up.”

The Cubs also look at Iowa and already think Albert Almora could be a plus defender in center field, with Willson Contreras projected to be a frontline catcher in the big leagues.

As Maddon said: “I really believe you’re going to see a lot of guys (who) are going to come up from the minor leagues and do equally as well (and) surprise a lot of people.”

The Cubs can’t afford to lose Anthony Rizzo, an MVP presence in the middle of their lineup and new clubhouse and a Gold Glove-level defender at first base.

Schwarber’s promotion from the minor leagues helped transform the Cubs into a 97-win team last year. He got a loud ovation when he used a crutch to climb the dugout steps and join his teammates on the field before Monday’s home opener against the Cincinnati Reds.

Maybe the Cubs will have lightning strike again this summer.

“We hate to lose Kyle,” Epstein said. “It changes who we are a little bit, because he’s unique. But we’re built to withstand some injuries and to keep fighting and to have the next guy step up.

“That’s why you have depth. That’s why you have talented players waiting for that opportunity. I think our guys will rise to this challenge.”

Kris Bryant is ready for fatherhood '[I was] put on this earth to be a dad'

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USA TODAY

Kris Bryant is ready for fatherhood '[I was] put on this earth to be a dad'

Suffice to say Kris Bryant is budding with anticipation for becoming a father.

Bryant and his wife, Jessica, are expecting their first child — a baby boy due in April. During Friday night’s Cubs-Padres broadcast, the third baseman shared his excitement for fatherhood with reporter Taylor McGregor

“I think this is really what I’ve been put on this Earth to do, is be a dad,” Bryant said, laughing. “Obviously I play baseball pretty good, but I’m just so excited [for] this new journey with my wife and my family. Honestly, I think this is going to be one of the best years of my life.”

Bryant’s son is due shortly after Opening Day, but the Cubs will play two spring training games in Las Vegas — Bryant’s hometown — on March 7-8. He told McGregor one of Jessica’s last doctor’s appointments is around the same time, so Bryant will get one last visit in before Baby Bryant is born.

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How Dusty Baker inspired former Cub Adam Greenberg after scary head injury

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AP

How Dusty Baker inspired former Cub Adam Greenberg after scary head injury

Adam Greenberg’s baseball career was cut short by a scary head injury 15 years ago. But with the help of Dusty Baker, he found the motivation to transition to his post-baseball life.

Greenberg made his MLB debut with the Cubs on July 9, 2005, and Baker called upon the then 24-year-old to pinch-hit in the ninth inning against the Marlins. On the first pitch Greenberg saw in the big leagues, Marlins reliever Valerio De Los Santos hit him in the back of the head with a 92-mph fastball.

Greenberg was concussed from the incident, suffered from vertigo and vision problems, and battled depression. The Cubs released him in 2006 and he caught on with the Royals and later the Dodgers in 2007 — which is when Baker reappears in the story. From MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart:

A couple of years following the incident, in 2007, Baker got a letter from a fan requesting a baseball card be signed. In the letter, the person told Baker that Greenberg had been released by the Royals and his baseball career was in jeopardy. Baker tracked down Greenberg and left him the voice mail that served as his motivation for a post-baseball life.

“It was so genuine and from the heart,” Greenberg said. “It put me in tears the first time, but it was the motivation and inspiration I needed to get up and keep going. And since then, he’s been somebody that’s been near and dear to me."

It's unfortunate Greenberg couldn’t experience a long big-league career, but Baker inspired him and helped him move forward post-baseball. According to McTaggart, Greenberg started a nutrition company and sold it 10 years later. He also ran for state senate in Connecticut in 2019 and is currently a baseball analyst for the ACC Network.

Greenberg’s career effectively ended moments after it began, but 2005 wasn’t the last time he stepped in a big-league batters’ box. In 2012, fans started an online petition to get him one last at-bat — and his career came full circle. The Marlins signed him to a one-day contract on Oct. 2, 2012, and he pinch-hit that same day against the Mets.

Greenberg struck out on three pitches, but Baker’s voicemail left a mark on his life. Seeing him enjoy success outside of baseball is as heartwarming as it gets.