Cubs

Sosa believes Cubs should retire his number

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Sosa believes Cubs should retire his number

Sammy Sosa took to Ustream, a live-streaming website where users can tune-in to such streams, to do an interview discussing a number of topics, including his Hall of Fame candidacy, the potential of the Cubs retiring his No. 21 and whether he may get into coaching later in his life.
Two weeks ago Sosa received just 12.5 percent of votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America, while his good friend Mark McGwire received 19.8 percent of the votes on his fifth year on the ballot. Sosa disagreed with the writers' decision to not vote him in, saying he believes both he and McGwire deserve to be elected.
"I think so," Sosa said earlier today. "I'm not gonna come here and say anything that is gonnajeopardizemy future, but time will determine everything. Right now whatever it is, it is. I am not anybody else to go up there and say what I have to say. I'm waiting for my time. I'm the type of person that doesn't like the controversy. Definitely time will determine everything."
Sosa's 609 career home runs are certainly the main reasons he believes he deserves Hall of Fame votes, and he said two of his round-trippers still stick out to him years later.
"The one that when I hit No. 62 for the first time, that was one that I feel comfortable with and I think I'm never gonna forget that one," he said. "And 600, which I hit in Texas."
Sosa said he can not narrow down his fondest memory of his playing days in Chicago, but that sprinting out to his right field position to the roars of fans in the bleachers sticks out to him.
Related: Cubs might look to repair 'awkward' situation with Sosa
The topic of whether the Cubs will retire Sosa's jersey in the coming years was brought up, and Sosa said it is something he is looking forward to, but admitted should have happened earlier.
"I think that it's something that I'm looking for, something that I want to happen," Sosa said. "Kind of surprised it didn't happen before, but time determines everything and when that happens I'll be more comfortable and happy with my whole family. And this is a good number I carried for 14 years in Chicago, so that number should have been retired a long time ago."
While his number may be retired, don't expect to see Sosa in a Cubs uniform anytime soon. The slugger shot down any rumors about himself one day coaching -- in Chicago or the major leagues -- saying he is happy with where he is.
"Maybe in the future we'll have the opportunity with Chicago, down the road it might change my mind but I'm comfortable here."

Jim Hickey steps down as Cubs pitching coach

Jim Hickey steps down as Cubs pitching coach

The Cubs' coaching staff shakeup continued this offseason with pitching coach Jim Hickey leaving for personal reasons, according to a statement from the Cubs.

Hickey - a Chicago native - spent just the one year as pitching coach of the Cubs after serving in the same capacity with the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays for 11 seasons.

“Jim Hickey notified us yesterday of his decision to step down as pitching coach and leave the organization for personal reasons," Theo Epstein said in the team's statement. "We thank Jim for his season with the Cubs and his positive impact on our pitchers. Jim has our full support and we all wish him well.”

Hickey's departure from the Cubs has been rumored for weeks before he stepped down of his own accord three days before Thanksgiving.

Still, this is another surprising shakeup on the Cubs coaching staff after Epstein stressed the importance of continuity within the organization following the Cubs' final game.

Since being ousted from the postseason after the National League Wild-Card contest, the Cubs have already replaced their hitting coach - hiring Anthony Iapoce for the departed Chili Davis - watched their assistant hitting coach (Andy Haines) leave for a promotion with division rival Milwaukee and are now in the same boat on the pitching staff, creating a situation where there will be a third different voice coaching pitchers in the span of roughly a calendar year.

In Hickey's one year with the Cubs, the bullpen led baseball in ERA but faded down the stretch due in part to injuries and overuse. The rotation struggled in the first half, ranking 26th in the league in innings pitching as a unit, too often failing to pitch deep into ballgames. But the starting staff stabilized once the Cubs traded for Cole Hamels and was a major strength of the team for the final two months of 2018.

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State of the Cubs: Bullpen

State of the Cubs: Bullpen

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team each week by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the second installment on the bullpen.

Two years in a row, the Cubs bullpen faded at the most crucial point in the season. Much of that was due to overuse earlier in the season — something they hope to address by letting their starters go deeper into games in the first few months of 2019.

But 2018's fade was more complicated than that. Sure, there was overuse (Steve Cishek), but there were also injuries (Brandon Morrow, Pedro Strop) and the mixture of physical, mental and mechanical issues that led to Carl Edwards Jr.'s collapse. By the time the National League Wild-Card Game rolled into Wrigley Field, the bullpen consisted of Strop pitching through "severe pain," Jesse Chavez, Cishek coming off back-to-back-to-back appearances and then a slew of starting pitchers.

Needless to say, that's not how the Cubs drew it up and it's why the bullpen is a major area of focus for Theo Epstein's front office this winter.

Here's how the bullpen looks at the moment:

Depth chart

1. Brandon Morrow
2. Pedro Strop
3. Carl Edwards Jr.
4. Steve Cishek
5. Mike Montgomery
6. Brandon Kintzler
7. Alec Mills
8. Randy Rosario
9. Brian Duensing
10. Justin Hancock
11. Tyler Chatwood?
12. Allen Webster
13. Dillon Maples
14. James Norwood
15. Jerry Vasto

The Cubs have more than $30 million committed to this bullpen, and that's not including the arbitration raises for Montgomery and Edwards (which is estimated at a combined $4.4 million). If Chatwood actually makes a move to the bullpen due to a crowded rotation, that number adds another $12.5 million.

The Cubs are in a tough spot financially and have resources tied up in Kintzler ($5 million) and Duensing ($3.5 million) — a pair of veterans coming off down 2018 seasons but have a long track record of success and could be prime bounceback candidates in 2019 (which would certainly bode well for the Cubs). 

Strop remains one of the greatest relief pitchers in Cubs history and picking up his $6.25 million option was a no-brainer. Cishek was the MVP of the bullpen (and possibly the entire pitching staff) before fading down the stretch and he should again be a reliable option with a more realistic workload in 2019.

Morrow and Edwards are the X-factors, but for different reasons. 

Morrow is a legitimate stud in any relief role and his attacking style of pitching sets a great example for Edwards and others. When he was serving as closer, the Cubs bullpen ranked as the best in baseball, allowing Maddon a plethora of options for the middle innings to bridge the gap from starting pitchers to Morrow. 

Edwards possesses some of the best pure stuff (or "shit" as Morrow puts it) of any reliever in baseball, but he also has work to do on the mechanical and mental side of the game to ensure the late-season collapses become a thing of the past. Things got so bad for Edwards in 2018, he wasn't even active for the Wild-Card game — the reason cited was a forearm issue, but he also struggled the entire month of September (12 walks, 5.14 ERA in 7 innings). 

If the Cubs could somehow harness Edwards' incredible natural ability for a full season, it would change the entire complexion of the bullpen all year, but especially in September and October. 

What's next?

Even if Edwards, Kintzler and Duensing find their way back into Joe Maddon's circle of trust, the Cubs have a clear need for another high-leverage reliever or two this winter.

With the dearth of quality left-handed options (remember: Montgomery may wind up in the rotation at some point again), it would be a natural fit to see the Cubs add another southpaw with some closing experience, but GM Jed Hoyer said earlier this month he's more worried about quality than which arm they throw with.

"Certainly [a lefty] is ideal," Hoyer said at the GM Meetings. "I'd probably more focus on good relievers than handedness, honestly. The key is not only to have a good bullpen all year, you gotta have that bullpen pitching well down the stretch. Part of that, I think, is having the depth to not overuse guys. So that's certainly a focus for us. 

"We have a good rotation, our bullpen performed exceptionally well last year — it really did. But we have to make sure it does that again by adding enough depth or get to that point in the season. I'm actually impressed our bullpen held up as well as it did given our short starts early in the season that they actually held up pretty well. But we have to be aware of the impact that can have on us next year."

The bottom line

There's no shortage of reliable relievers available on the free agent — from Craig Kimbrel to Andrew Miller to Cody Allen to Zach Britton. It's possible the Cubs would want to outbid other teams for the services of Miller or Britton but Epstein historically shies away from shelling out big money for closers, so don't expect them to be among the top suitors for Kimbrel. Even Morrow's deal was only $21 million guaranteed over two years.

It's more likely we'll see the Cubs make some smaller moves in free agency (maybe bringing back Jesse Chavez?) and potentially acquire an impact reliever via trade (a la Wade Davis for Jorge Soler two years back).

Either way, the Cubs will add another guy who can pitch in the late innings (possibly even at closer) and probably another lefty or two to serve as depth and competition with Duensing/Rosario/Vasto.

It would help if the Cubs had potential impact relievers coming up through the farm system, but they can't count on that given they've had zero luck in that area over the past few years.

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