Cubs

Why Maddon, Cubs opted to keep three catchers after Miguel Montero's return

Why Maddon, Cubs opted to keep three catchers after Miguel Montero's return

Joe Maddon loves bucking convention.

Whether it's forgoing batting practice or hitting the pitcher eighth, the Cubs manager doesn't play anything "by the book." 

So does it surprise anybody that he wanted to keep three catchers with Miguel Montero's return from the disabled list?

Instead of sending backup catcher Tim Federowicz back down to the minors, the Cubs sent outfielder Ryan Kalish out by designating him for assignment

The Cubs were already one bench spot short because of the decision to carry 13 pitchers, so another catcher on the roster essentially reduces the bench players to Javy Baez and Tommy La Stella (as of Saturday's starting lineup) plus that extra catcher.

Maddon likes the flexibility three catchers provides him, no matter how unconventional it may be.

"It gives us more freedom to do things in the latter part of the game," Maddon said. "You've seen us pull catchers early for different maneuvers and then, when you're going with just one guy into extra innings, it's never comfortable.

"But 'Fed' has kinda forced our hand to do this because he's played so well and he's looked so good. So that's how we chose to do it. It can change, obviously. But for right now, we thought it was the right thing to do."

Maddon has essentially had three catchers on the roster for most of his tenure as Cubs manager.

The Cubs broke camp last season with Welington Castillo joining Montero and David Ross on the 25-man roster before Castillo was traded May 19.

After Montero returned from a thumb injury last August, the Cubs moved Kyle Schwarber to the outfield, though still had him get some time behind the plate.

This season, the Cubs' plan was to roll with Schwarber, Montero and Ross (with Schwarber obviously playing a bunch in left field) before Schwarber's season-ending knee injury in the third game of the season.

Ross got the start Friday against Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano and figures to be behind the dish again Sunday with Jon Lester pitching. 

Montero got the call Saturday against Pittsburgh southpaw Jeff Locke.

The Cubs could also get outfielder Matt Szczur (hamstring) back off the disabled list early in the coming week. 

Maddon said Szczur has been doing really well, working in the weight room. The young outfielder also took batting practice before Friday's game and the Cubs are encouraged with his progress.

When Szczur returns, Federowicz figures to be the odd man out on the 25-man roster, but who knows? Maybe that's just simply too conventional for Maddon's Cubs.

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.