Cubs

Taking a look at the Cubs' performances in the Arizona Fall League

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Taking a look at the Cubs' performances in the Arizona Fall League

With the holidays just around the corner, the Arizona Fall League is wrapping up action, as some teams are already done playing.

All eight Cubs in the league played for the Mesa Solar Sox, who dropped the season finale Thursday afternoon and finished with a 10-20 overall record.

As a group, the Cubs didn't light the world on fire on the stat sheet, but there were definitely some promising numbers. Statistics in the Arizona Fall League certainly aren't an end-all, be-all (especially for pitchers, as it is widely considered a hitter-friendly landscape). Experience is what matters in pro baseball's premier fall league.

Javier Baez, SS

The Cubs' top prospect didn't play the last half of the season after breaking his thumb, but he still tied for the team lead in homers (4) and was second in RBI with 16 in just 57 at-bats. However, he hit only .211 and walked just twice. Baez added three steals and was never caught.

Matt Szczur, OF

Szczur's name is probably familiar to most Cubs fans since he's been in the Cubs' system for the past three years and boasts some exciting athletic ability. Some of that was on display this fall, as the 23-year-old stole nine bases (which led the Solar Sox) in 12 attempts and carried a .368 OBP. Szczur walked 14 times and struck out just 10, but he struggled to hit with power, notching only five extra-base hits and a .363 slugging percentage in 91 at-bats. The good news is he definitely had a chance to showcase his talents, as only three other players on the team collected more at-bats.

Logan Watkins, 2B

Watkins joined the club when Baez went down and played in nine games, hitting .219.375.344. The most encouraging sign was his eight walks compared to just three strikeouts. He also homered and scored eight runs in 32 at-bats. His final line wasn't eye-popping, but it was a solid way to end 2012 for the Cubs' Minor League Player of the Year.

Rubi Silva, OF

The 23-year-old Cuban outfielder enjoyed a breakout 2012 campaign, in which he hit .296.315.412 at High-A and AA for the Cubs. But that success didn't carry over to the AFL, as Silva hit just .206 with 21 strikeouts in 68 at-bats. He stole three bases, but managed just two extra-base hits, both triples.

Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP

Rhee, a 23-year-old Korean pitcher, started 26 games for Double-A Tennessee this season, sporting a 4.81 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. He pitched six games in the same capacity for the Solar Sox, but struggled in the hitters league to the tune of a 6.27 ERA and 1.82 WHIP in 18.2 innings. Rhee's biggest problem wasn't control (8 walks in 18.2 innings is not a horrible total), but he surrendered 26 hits, including one homer.

Tony Zych, RHP

The Illinois native (born in Monee, attended St. Rita High School) got his first taste of Double-A action for the Cubs this season and continued to gather experience with his first stint in the AFL. Zych, 22, had a 3.86 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 13 games. The oddest part about his stat-line is the 4 strikeouts in 14 innings, a far cry from his minor-league numbers in which he has whiffed 69 batters in 65.1 innings.

Nick Struck, RHP

The Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year didn't make a start in the Arizona Fall League, but pitched in 12 games out of the bullpen and sported a solid 1.47 ERA to go with a 5.51 EAR. He struck out 11 guys in 16.1 innings and allowed just 12 hits, but walked 12 batters and allowed three homers.

Kevin Rhoderick, RHP

The 2010 draft pick out of Oregon State University (Darwin Barney's alma mater) was the Cubs' best pitcher on the Solar Sox boasting a 0.96 WHIP and 4.82 ERA in 9 games, with 14 strikeouts in 9.1 innings.

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”

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Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs' GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."

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