Cubs

What the Jon Jay deal means for the Cubs and Dexter Fowler

What the Jon Jay deal means for the Cubs and Dexter Fowler

The Cubs and Dexter Fowler appear to be heading in opposite directions, with the World Series champs adding Jon Jay to their outfield mix while the “you go, we go” leadoff guy waits to finally land that big, multiyear contract.    

This doesn’t automatically slam the door shut on Fowler’s return, a team source said Tuesday after the Cubs finalized Jay’s one-year, $8 million deal. But the Cubs understand it would take something completely unexpected to bring back Fowler, the way they shocked the baseball world in spring training, days after he reportedly agreed to a three-year, $35 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles.

Without that $13 million investment in Fowler, it’s difficult to see the Cubs winning the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years. Fowler took full advantage of the platform, earning his first All-Star selection, getting on base almost 40 percent of the time, hitting 13 homers with 25 doubles and seven triples and setting himself up for a huge payday, even with the added cost of a draft pick after the Cubs made him another qualifying offer (assuming that concept survives this round of collective bargaining).   

At the very least, the Cubs figure Jay will fill Chris Coghlan’s role as an extra outfielder and a left-handed hitter off the bench. But the Cubs also envision Jay complementing Albert Almora Jr. in center field and being a strong veteran presence in a clubhouse that will miss retiring catcher David Ross.

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Almora – the first player Theo Epstein’s regime drafted here in 2012 – shared his excitement on his Twitter account: “Pumped for @jonjayU to join the squad!!!! #MiamiBoyz.”  

Jay, 31, also grew up in South Florida, going to the University of Miami and developing into a second-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. Jay played in 12 postseason series with the Cardinals between 2011 and 2015 and won a World Series ring before getting shipped to the San Diego Padres in the Jedd Gyorko trade last winter.

Jay had surgery on his left wrist before the 2015 season and didn’t look like the same player, hitting .210 and appearing in only 79 games with the Cardinals. He recovered to hit .291 for the Padres, but a broken right forearm limited him to only 90 games.

If Jay can stay healthy, his .352 career on-base percentage and ability to play all three outfield positions should fit in a powerful lineup that values versatility.   

Jay – who owns a career .996 fielding percentage in center field, the highest mark for any active player (minimum 500 games) at the position – also joins a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency last season.

Jay follows big-game pitcher John Lackey and Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward – who can also play center – as ex-Cardinals who have left St. Louis and switched sides in the rivalry. The next chapter could even see Fowler in Cardinal red, with St. Louis believed to have some interest at the right price.

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

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USA Today

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

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He may have lost the service-time battle, but Kris Bryant's got eyes on winning the war

He may have lost the service-time battle, but Kris Bryant's got eyes on winning the war

He always knew it was going to be an uphill battle. Kris Bryant just expected the climb to last a couple weeks, not a couple years. 

“Yeah, jeez. That took forever,” he said on Saturday, in regards to the grievance he filed against the Cubs back after the 2015 season. “It really did. At the beginning of it, I was told that it’d take maybe a couple weeks, so I was ready for it. And then the off-season kept going on and I was like, ‘All right, come out with it, let’s go.’”

Fast-forward 200 or so weeks, and the Cubs’ star third baseman got an answer – just not the one he, his agent Scott Boras, and the MLB Players Association was looking for. An independent arbitrator disagreed with the notion that the Cubs had manipulated Bryant’s service time in order to keep him under contract longer, and ruled that he would remain under team control until after the 2021 season. While many felt that what the Cubs did violated the spirit of the law, ultimately they didn’t infringe on the letter. 

“Obviously we had a disagreement. We handled it respectfully,” Bryant said. “I’m very thankful that Theo and the team saw it through. I saw it through to the end because it was something that I really believed in. My Mom and Dad told me to always stand up for what I believed in, and I was going to see the process through, and I saw it through. Respect on both ends, there’s definitely no hard feelings, so let’s definitely put that narrative to bed.” 

Despite one of the strongest cases in the history of these contractual disputes, there were ultimately too many ambiguities involved to reward Bryant with free agency one year earlier. Getting a substantial raise would have been nice, but much of Bryant’s motivation behind filing the grievance in the first place came from a sense of responsibility to bring to light what many feel are unfair labor laws within the current collectively-bargained agreement. It’s certainly not one extra year of market value salary, but as baseball barrels towards a contentious stretch of negotiations, bringing the issue to light – according to Bryant – is a win within itself. 

“I definitely felt that responsibility to take it on and be like, I want to be the guy that fights for this because I believe this is right,” he said. “And it’s going to help us in 2 years.

“I think it’s good for us to go through stuff like this. You identify the problems that you see, and you try to make it better. This last round, I think we, as players, really took a whoopin’. It’s up to us to fight for things that we think are right.” 

Don’t be surprised when Bryant continues to be a public figure throughout the next 24 months (or more) of discussions. He’s one of the game’s most recognizable faces, and from the very start, his five-year career has been tied to the hip of MLB’s service time manipulation controversy. He was vocal about squashing any idea that he held ill-will towards the Cubs front office, but did concede that the gray area which many front offices love to exploit has opened the door for uncomfortable, unnecessary friction. 

“The team doesn’t want to go through it,” he said. “I mean, Theo doesn’t want to have to make decisions like that, and cause … I wouldn’t say problems, but disagreements between players and the front office. I don’t want to be put in that situation either, so let’s just make it black and white. It’d make things a whole lot easier.” 

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