Theo, Cubs staying realistic with trade deadline bearing down


Theo, Cubs staying realistic with trade deadline bearing down

Theo Epstein's front office is still determining how to proceed during the 2015 MLB trade deadline.

Heading into the July 4 weekend, the Cubs stood at 42-35 with a 1.5-game lead on the National League's second wild card spot. 

That puts the chances of the Cubs making the playoffs at 68.7 percent, according to FanGraphs.

The Cubs are a young team with three rookies in the everyday lineup once Jorge Soler returns and questions at the back end of the rotation. It's not a guarantee Epstein and Co. are going to go all-in to try to get a major piece down the stretch.

"You have to assess realistically what your chances are and be honest," Epstein said.

[MORE: Cubs: The power dynamic between Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein]

The Cubs returned to Wrigley Field on Friday for a 10-game homestand heading into the All-Star break on the heels of an impressive three-game sweep of the Mets in New York in which the pitching staff gave up just one run in 29 innings. 

But Epstein cautioned that even though things looked rosy Friday morning, it's best to avoid "snapshots" of how a team is doing during a small sample of games.

The Cubs are 2-7 against the St. Louis Cardinals, who entered play Friday leading the majors with 51 victories despite a three-game losing streak.

There may be a sense around the Cubs as a team on the rise once the young players figure things out more and some key guys return from injury, but they still won't hit the halfway mark on the season until next week.

"You don't win any blue ribbons or gold stars for half a decent season," Epstein said. "We're just trying to get better, trying to see what we need to do to make sure that we're still relevant three, four months from now. That's what matters.

"It doesn't matter too much where we're at right now. It's part of the process, part of the grind and our guys are doing a great job of working hard and staying focused."

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With the addition of the second wild card in each league and the fact that one of those wild card teams will be going home after just one postseason game, Epstein explained that the current system does change the way teams think heading into the trade deadline.

"It maybe increases the number of buyers, but it also adds — for teams that are more in wild card contention than division contention — an element of caution, too," Epstein said. "There is a natural inclination not to go too hog-wild on the short-term rental because you may be only looking at one [playoff] game.

"So you don't let that dominate your thoughts, but it's in the back of your mind, I think, for most clubs that are clear wild-card contenders and not division contenders. I'm not saying we're in that boat, just speaking generally."

Epstein also mentioned how the second wild card keeps more teams in contention longer, increasing demand while decreasing the number of teams looking to sell with months still left in the season.

This is the first time in Chicago Epstein's front office will be looking to buy at the deadline instead of sell, but the Cubs president of baseball operations built two World Series winners with the Red Sox in Boston and understands the trade market in July isn't always what it seems. 

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"You have to be creative, you have to be patient, you have to be understanding and you have to recognize that the trade deadline is not a panacea," Epstein said. "It just gets a ton of attention for natural reasons, but if you go back and look, rarely is it a defining factor.

"Maybe the trades in Boston in 2004 really helped. But more times than not, when we've made deals, it's just kind of hit-and-miss. The guys you get, sometimes they don't perform and then other players you've had all year step up and you play well.

"If you look at the history, teams that go to the World Series, it's very rarely a deadline deal. It's just an opportunity to address things, maybe for this year, areas of need or maybe do something to set yourself up for next year if you've got something that might be hard to address in the offseason. 

"Yeah, we know what we'd like to do, but we're realistic about what we might be able to do."

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.