Why Cubs have to target pitching at trade deadline: 'The bats are here'

Why Cubs have to target pitching at trade deadline: 'The bats are here'

NEW YORK — It’s not just Joe Maddon happy talk or next-level spin from Theo Epstein when the Cubs insist they believe in their lineup and expect a huge turnaround.

How much is enough? The Cubs have used first-round picks on Javier Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ. The Cubs traded another first-round talent (Andrew Cashner) and an All-Star pitcher (Jeff Samardzija) to get Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell. The Cubs guaranteed Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist $240 million after the New York Mets swept them out of the 2015 National League Championship Series.

Short of the American League All-Star lineup, what do you want? This franchise has absolutely poured its resources into hitters. The Cubs finally looked like an offensive juggernaut again on Tuesday night, knocking out Zack Wheeler in the second inning and launching five homers during a 14-3 win at Citi Field.

The most pressing issue for the defending World Series champs — and the biggest long-term concern about The Foundation of Sustained Success — remains the rotation. That makes the July 31 trade deadline a rare opportunity for Epstein’s front office to impact a pennant race and build for the future.

“I am not hoping for anything,” Maddon said. “I really support what we have right here. (Theo) and Jed (Hoyer) are going to constantly look at whatever they perceive to be upgrading our team. So if it happens, wonderful, based on their evaluation. And if it doesn’t, my job is to make this work.”

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The Cubs have so many question marks after Jon Lester, the $155 million ace with three World Series rings who became the eighth active pitcher to notch 150 career wins, joining John Lackey, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver.

In what Maddon called an “effortless” performance, Lester shut down the Mets (29-34), allowing only one run across seven innings while piling up 10 strikeouts against one walk. That’s exactly what a 32-32 team needs now to take off in a weak division.

But where the Cubs can see so many signs pointing toward a sustainable offense and anticipated growth — youth, talent level, past playoff performances against some of the best pitching in the world — the rotation appears to be trending in the wrong direction.

The Cubs don’t know when Kyle Hendricks will stop feeling the tendinitis in his right hand and come off the 10-day disabled list. Lackey was born in 1978, has a 5.26 ERA and is threatening to break Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven’s single-season record for home runs allowed (50). Even if the cut on his right thumb is manageable, Jake Arrieta has already been dealing with questions about his velocity, mechanical alignment and walk-year distractions.

Maybe the change-of-scenery stuff works, but Mike Montgomery has already been traded three times and Eddie Butler owns a 6.12 career ERA across parts of four big-league seasons.

“I believe our guys are going to be fine,” Maddon said. “I really was counting on Kyle being back this time through. I thought that for sure, based on what I had been hearing.

“From my perspective — for me and the coaches — it’s about us maintaining the same message by doing our same work, not trying to change a whole lot and supporting our guys. It’s being there for them. I think that’s what’s important right now.

“It’s not about being angry. I don’t understand those methods of teaching or coaching. Our guys are good. They’re going to show it again this year. They need our support right now and that’s what they’re going to get.”

Support could mean finally trading from this surplus of hitters and getting that pitcher who could start Game 2 in a playoff series and solidify the 2018 rotation.

“I think the bats are here,” Maddon said. “I honestly do. We have not performed at our level yet offensively. But I believe our bats are here with good health and everybody being able to participate. There’s enough offense out there.”

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On the day he was introduced as the next Cubs manager, David Ross made it a point to explain how important it is that his bench coach is "one step ahead" of him as he gets his feet under him.

Theo Epstein echoed that sentiment, saying a bench coach with managerial experience was vital as the Cubs help Ross along as not only a first-year manager, but also a first year coach.

Enter Andy Green.

The 42-year-old Green spent the last four seasons as the San Diego Padres manager, but was fired with one week left in the 2019 season and two years left on his current deal. The Padres wanted a different voice moving into the future after Green compiled a 274-366 record and lost at least 85 games each season, finishing no higher than fourth place in the National League West.

But the Cubs don't want Green to be the manager and they love what he brings to the table as a veteran coach and Ross' right-hand man. 

"Talking to the Padre guys that I know well, he has excellent in-game strategy and always thought ahead very well in-game," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "Very bright, very well prepared. And that's not to mention he's a really good coach. We felt like that was a really good pairing for David. He hasn't managed, so having a guy next to him that, by all accounts, was really good in-game and controls information well, I think that's a really nice pairing."

At his introductory presser, Ross acknowledged his weaknesses as a first-time manager and admitted he will need some time to get the "feel" back of being in the dugout and engaged in each pitch after serving as either a broadcaster or front office executive for the last three years.

As a player, Ross often tried to think and strategize along with his manager, but that's not the same as actually having to make those calls and worry about pitching changes, pinch-hitting, umpire challenges and any other in-game duties a manger is tasked with. It can all add up quickly and managers often have to make the crucial decisions at the snap of a finger.

Ross and Green have not worked together, but the Cubs are hoping they can form a fast friendship and believe Green's ability to prepare is also an asset along with his experience. 

"He's gonna be great at [the bench coach job]," Padres GM A.J. Preller said. "I think it's gonna be a really good thing for somebody that's in that [manager's] chair for the first time having somebody that's gonna be knowledgeable, prepared, detail-oriented and somebody that understands what it's like to sit in that seat. I think all those things are gonna help serve [Green] really well."

Preller and Green reportedly didn't always see eye-to-eye in the big picture view of where the Padres were going, but there's no denying how the San Diego GM feels about his former manager's intellect and the Cubs won't need him to call the shots — only to assist Ross in doing so.

"Andy is probably one of the most intelligent baseball people I've been around," Preller said. "To me, probably as good a person as I've been around as far as Xs and Os and knowing the game. Andy always seemed to be two or three steps ahead. He's very well thought out, very well prepared. It's gonna be a huge strength for him and I think it will be nice for a first-year manager to have somebody like Andy sitting next to him."

A bench coach's exact duties vary from team to team and manager to manager, but with the Cubs, they will lean on Green initially to help Ross along with the experience aspect, making sure the game is not too quick for the first-year manager. During games, Green will be standing right next to Ross, weighing decisions and options along with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.

But like other bench coaches, Green will also be tasked with helping to serve as a bridge between Ross and the Cubs players. In a lot of ways, Ross is the face of the franchise, as he will partake in somewhere around 500 media sessions throughout the course of the season, including before and after each game. Between that, addressing the team as a group, individual meetings with players and all the strategy and discussions with the R & D department and the front office, Ross will need to lean on Green to be his right-hand man off the field, as well.

It helps that Green just finished managing in the National League, where he knows the opponents and the game is quite different than the American League, which has the benefit of the designated hitter.

"He's a guy that understands all different aspects [of being a coach]," Preller said. "He understands some of the newer information, some of the newer technology. He's gonna understand things that have worked in the past in terms of preparing for games from an advanced information standpoint and then he'll draw upon his experiences being in the National League, knowing the league really well.

"I think he'll be able to give all those things to David Ross and to the Cubs players — somebody who comes in with the mindset of just trying to help the team out and help the team grow. All those things are going to be positives."

We'll see how quickly Ross and Green can jell together, but it's clear the Cubs believe Green can help expediate the process of preparation and in-game strategy for Ross, both now and in-season. 

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview


Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan talks with former Cubs front office executive and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti on how to fix a major league roster, when to deal a player who is heading into free agency, and more

01:30 How he moved from MLB to being a scout in the NHL

04:30 How to fix a major league roster

06:40 On building the roster when other teams know your weaknesses

09:30 When to deal a player who is facing free agency

11:30 Balancing trying to win now vs. building a team for a sustained run

14:30 On how a GM can't depend only on signing a big free agent

18:00 On his time with the Cubs in the 1980s

19:45 On how a GM deals with Scott Boras

22:00 On how a GM deals with talk radio and the media

26:00 On how he almost got CC Sabathia on the Dodgers for 2008 playoff run

28:00 On how not trading for Ryan Dempster helped bring Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast


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