Cubs

Predicting the nicknames Cubs players will wear on new MLB jerseys

Predicting the nicknames Cubs players will wear on new MLB jerseys

Yahoo's Jeff Passan dropped a bomb of sorts Wednesday evening, saying Major League Baseball will actually relax their uniform rules for one weekend in August (25-27).

That's huge because the league has typically been very buttoned-up (pun intended) on teams' uniforms and instead of a very stingy set of guidelines, players will be able to wear jerseys with nicknames on the backs, boast fluorescent-colored shoes or wear a personalized patch to pay tribute to someone instrumental in their development.

The league sent around a memo and is calling the event "Players Weekend," allowing the game's stars to show their personalities on the field. The Cubs will be in Philadelphia taking on the Phillies that weekend. 

The loud-colored shoes and patches are cool and all, but let's be honest: The nicknames will be the best part for fans. (It will also be the best part for MLB as they can easily sell the jerseys and shirseys with the nicknames on it as a way to rake in bonus cash.)

Will somebody use "HE HATE ME" like the XFL star? How many baseball movie references will there be like "Willie Mays Hayes" or "The Rocket"?

Let's try to predict what nicknames the Cubs players will have on their uniforms (working with the current roster since we can't predict the future as awesome as that would be):

Jake Arrieta - "The Body"

Rationale: "Jake the Snake" is kinda lame. Let's say he goes with "The Body" after his nude appearance in ESPN's body issue.

Eddie Butler - "Big Red" 

Rationale: He's got red hair (though he is only 6-foot-2).

Wade Davis - "Beethoven" 

Rationale: The Cubs closer used to listen to Beethoven before games and the quiet, calm veteran is also not exactly a "Hell's Bells" or "Rage Against the Machine" kinda guy.

Brian Duensing - "Duenston Checks In" 

Rationale: After that sweet '90s movie with Jason Alexander.

Carl Edwards Jr. - "String Bean Slinger

Rationale: "CJ" is too easy and lame. "String Bean Slinger" is Edwards' former Twitter handle, so let's throw that on there.

Justin Grimm - "The Grimm Reaper" 

Rationale: I mean, duhhh.

John Lackey - "Blue" 

Rationale: Of the "You're my boy, Blue!" fame in "Old School." Lackey is the oldest player on the Cubs not named Koji, he may have actually written baseball's old-school "unwritten rules" and the Cubs' color is blue.

Jon Lester - "Big Game Jon"

Rationale: He stole it from his buddy Lackey after his reputation as a clutch performer and had an epic 2016 postseason with the Cubs, shutting down the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS, winning co-NLCS MVP and then coming up huge in relief in Game 7 of the World Series.

Mike Montgomery - "Accidental Closer"

Rationale: Let's be honest, it will probably be "Monty." We just wanted to get a bit more creative with the 6-foot-5 lefty who picked up his first professional save by getting the final out of the World Series.

Hector Rondon - "Carlos Rodon"

Rationale: How many casual fans confuse these two guys based on last name alone?

Pedro Strop - "Full Tilt"

Rationale: Strop never wears his hat straight and draws a ton of completely unwarranted hate because of it. It would be hilarious to draw attention to that fact for three days.

Koji Uehara - "Doc"

Rationale: He's old and he throws slow.

Willson Contreras - "Castaway"

Rationale: It will almost assuredly be "Willy" but that's too easy because we feel like people refer to him more as "Willy" than "Willson" anyways. So we just went with a "WILLSON!!!" reference.

Miguel Montero - "Captain America"

Rationale: Again, it will be "Miggy," but we wanted to pay tribute to Montero's hard work for gaining American citizenship, passing a test he joked most of his teammates couldn't pass (we couldn't either).

Javy Baez - "Bubble Boy"

Rationale: Javy has more flair than almost anybody in baseball and maybe his best moment ever was when he dropped the bubble gum in San Francisco but caught it and pointed at the camera, oozing with swag.

Kris Bryant - "Sparkle"

Rationale: There's no point in even trying to deny his dreamy blue eyes. 

Ian Happ - "Baby Zo"

Rationale: He's the young version of Ben Zobrist, right?

Anthony Rizzo - "THE GREATEST LEADOFF HITTER EVER"

Rationale: In all caps. Has to be in all caps.

Addison Russell - "Addyshack"

Rationale: You know, like Caddyshack?

Ben Zobrist - "Zorilla"

Rationale: Has. To. Be.

Albert Almora Jr. - "Not-so-fat Albert"

Rationale: We're out of creative juices, sorry.

Jason Heyward - "Reign Man"

Rationale: We wanted to have more fun than just "J-Hey" and wanted to pay tribute to the awesome CSN feature on Heyward's legendary Game 7 rain delay meeting.

Jon Jay - "The Sixth Man" or "Sidekick"

Rationale: Joe Maddon has had a lot of money quotes about Jay this season, comparing him to a good sixth man in basketball based on his talent off the bench and the Cubs manager saying he would adopt Jay as a son or a sidekick because he loves the veteran outfielder so much. 

Kyle Schwarber - America's Large Adult Son

Rationale: Don't even try to pretend like you don't get the reference.

Brandon Morrow, Craig Kimbrel and the 'puzzle' that is the Cubs bullpen

Brandon Morrow, Craig Kimbrel and the 'puzzle' that is the Cubs bullpen

From potential trades to payroll to their exact offseason checklist, the Cubs are playing things close to the vest early this offseason.

Which makes sense, as it doesn't do them any good to publicly talk about which players they're hoping to trade or exactly how much they have to spend to reshape a roster that missed the playoffs for the first time in a half-decade. 

But one thing is certain: The bullpen ranks very high on the Cubs priority list this winter.

At MLB's GM Meetings last week, Theo Epstein acknowledged the bullpen is a major focus for his front office and said, "we need to hit on a number of relievers this winter."

If the season started today, the Cubs bullpen might look something like this:

Craig Kimbrel (closer)
Rowan Wick
Kyle Ryan
Brad Wieck
Tyler Chatwood
Alec Mills
Danny Hultzen
Duane Underwood Jr.
Adbert Alzolay

That also doesn't take into account the potential of Chatwood, Mills or Alzolay getting a shot at the starting rotation (plus Colin Rea, who was added to the 40-man roster earlier this month).

There's not a whole lot of MLB experience in that projected bullpen beyond the closer. Kimbrel has 565 career big-league appearances under his belt, but the other eight names on that list have combined for only 329 relief appearances spanning 374.2 innings. 

That's not to say there's no promise in this group — Wick, Ryan and Wieck all impressed in varying degrees of sample size in 2019 while Mills and Chatwood also performed admirably in swingman roles — but there's simply not much of a track record. 

To some degree, the Cubs are going to be counting on guys from the aforementioned group (plus other internal candidates like James Norwood and Dillon Maples) in 2020, but there's also clearly a lot of work to do for a unit that struggled mightily in high-leverage spots last season.

"That's a puzzle we're going to be putting together all winter," Jed Hoyer said. "We'll look at every possible angle to do it — minor-league free agency, major-league free agency, trades. We're gonna be creative in how we put a bullpen together, but right now, there's a lot of flexibility.

"It's hard to picture that painting right now, but I think we'll be creative and try to put together a good bullpen."

As Hoyer indicated, there is no one way to put together a quality relief corps.

For example, the Cubs signed Kimbrel to $43 million deal, acquired Wick and Mills in under-the-radar minor-league trades, moved Chatwood from the rotation to the bullpen, drafted Underwood and picked up former second-overall pick (2011) Hultzen on a minor-league deal as he made his way back from a laundry list of injuries. Wieck is the most recent acquisition, quietly coming over from the Padres in exchange for Carl Edwards Jr. while everybody was focused on the Nicholas Castellanos deal.

One such unconventional option could be Brandon Morrow, the oft-injured former closer who initially signed with the Cubs prior to the 2018 season, but was only able to pitch for a few months before missing the last year-and-a-half with ongoing arm issues. The Cubs declined his $12 million 2020 earlier this month and thus owe him a $3 million buyout.

Morrow, 35, is reportedly healthy and has expressed interest in making a comeback. If he doesn't manage to land a big-league deal (which is unlikely given his recent elbow issue and track record of injuries), he is open to signing a minor-league deal with the Cubs, as first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer

The Cubs would be interested in that, as well, as it's a low-risk, high-upside move. When he's been able to get on a mound over the last four seasons, Morrow is 7-0 with a 1.79 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 24 saves and 12 holds.

"When healthy, he can certainly be a big part of the solution," Epstein said. "We appreciate his sentiments about if he's gonna sign a minor-league deal, he feels a responsibility that it should be here. That certainly seems like the type of thing that makes sense for both sides down the road."

The Cubs are already probably going to have to get creative to fit all their desired moves into the 2020 budget, so a reunion with Morrow makes sense as a potential piece of the bullpen puzzle. But obviously the Cubs cannot go into the season expecting Morrow to stay healthy all season or relying on him as a key cog.

The biggest key to the success of the 2020 bullpen will be Kimbrel, who had a very forgettable debut season in Chicago. 

Kimbrel went 0-4, posted a 6.53 ERA, gave up 9 homers in 20.2 innings and blew 3 saves in 16 chances with the Cubs after signing midseason. He also missed roughly a month of action between a knee injury and then an elbow injury that lingered into September.

Will a typical offseason and spring training be enough to get the 31-year-old back to his Hall of Fame-caliber form?

"Some of the injuries may well have been because of the lack of spring training, ramping up too quickly," Hoyer said. "Of course there's a lot of variables. I don't think we know exactly why he struggled. I thought there were some moments where he looked like he was about to take off and he looked really good and some injuries held him back. 

"Hopefully a really good spring training and he can get back on track, really stabilize our bullpen and allow us to build a bullpen without having to worry about the last three outs."

Regardless of how the Cubs build the bullpen this winter, all eyes will be on Kimbrel. If he can't regain his form, it's going to make life a lot more difficult on Epstein's front office and new manager David Ross. 

However, it does help that Wick, Wieck and Ryan got valuable experience pitching in high-leverage moments in the midst of a pennant race last season. All three figure to be big parts of that bullpen puzzle moving forward. 

Before a minor shoulder issue cut his season short, Chatwood was dialing it up to 99 mph out of the bullpen and impressing in short spurts or in a long relief role. After a long road, Hultzen finally made his MLB debut in 2019 while Underwood struck out all six batters he faced in his season debut in August and showed some promise.

If the Cubs are going to have to lean heavily on the group of relievers without much track record, at least they got a bit of a head start.

"Yeah, it gives us some comfort," Hoyer said. "We have a lot of uncertainty, a lot of moving parts in the bullpen. But the way some of those guys pitched at the end of the year does give us hope that we can find some diamonds in the rough and some of those guys that we found last year can continue to make strides and help us." 

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Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

In the wake of the cheating allegations surrounding the Houston Astros, multiple parties have weighed in with their takes on the situation, and this includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish. He stated that this past season, he had noticed "weird behavior" from batters. Bleacher Nation then tweeted out a video showing Darvish stepping off the mound in a matchup against Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers, stating that he stepped off the mound because Yelich's "eyes move first...I'm not sure what he is trying to do."

Darvish then went on to elaborate that he wasn't trying to accuse the Brewers of stealing signs, rather that he was just stating what he had noticed in terms of batter behavior. Darvish made a minor grammar mistake, saying "your" instead of "you're" and when he responded to try to clarify that, it may have accidentally caused more confusion, as some mistakenly thought he was saying that Yelich indeed was stealing signs, but this was not the case.

That didn't stop Yelich from sounding off on Darvish with quite a harsh response, a response that was so harsh that some were shocked at the nature of it.

MLB free agent Josh Donaldson chimed in, humorously stating that he could definitely  use some help hitting off of Darvish and jokingly asked for what tips Yelich might have. 

Darvish then retweeted a few tweets that illustrated the point he was trying to make. 

Darvish also responded to Donaldson, saying that he doesn't think the third baseman needs any help hitting off of him either. 

At the end of the Darvish seems to be in a good place, and from his Twitter interactions, it is clear that he was not as upset or offended over the situation as Yelich was. 

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