Cubs

Willson Contreras plays with his 'hair on fire' and fuels comeback win for Cubs

Willson Contreras plays with his 'hair on fire' and fuels comeback win for Cubs

The Cubs needed this shot of adrenaline from Willson Contreras, an energetic player who had to learn how to channel his emotions before becoming the rookie catcher for a World Series winner.

Whether or not you believe in the hangover effect, the Cubs haven’t looked quite as sharp as the 2016 team that — beginning Opening Night — played like it was on a mission. Maybe this Contreras-fueled 5-4 comeback victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field will become a spark.

“You plug into this guy,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He plays with his hair on fire. He does. Sometimes it can actually work against him. He gets a little bit overassertive. As he learns to play with his hair on fire — not absolutely a forest fire, maybe just slightly like the burning bush of some kind — he’s going to learn how to control all that.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Contreras made it through last October and early November just fine and entered this one-run game as a pinch-hitter. Facing lefty reliever Joely Rodriguez, Contreras drove a go-ahead, two-run double into left field, clapping his hands and pointing to the sky from second base as the crowd of 39,335 roared.

That piece of clutch hitting showed how Contreras stays alert and mentally prepared and why the comeback Cubs (15-12) might be ready to take off again. But the essence of Contreras also came through on the very next at-bat when Matt Szczur hit a ball toward Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis, who made a diving stop to his left and spun around.

As Contreras kept sprinting from second base, Galvis paused and threw a ball that bounced off the back of the pitcher’s mound. That allowed Contreras to slide headfirst under the tag from catcher Andrew Knapp. Feeling out of breath, Contreras got up from the dirt and slapped home plate with his right hand for a 5-3 lead and the insurance run the Cubs would need.

“I don’t know how to play (any other way),” said Contreras, who credited third base coach Gary Jones. “He sent me home the whole way. I was running as hard as I could and I was trying to get around the base. I think I missed it at first. Everything happened so fast.”

 

Cubs Talk Podcast: Laying out a Báez extension and why Contreras' trade value spiked

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Laying out a Báez extension and why Contreras' trade value spiked

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan gives his thoughts on what a Javier Báez extention could look like. He also discusses how Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox increases Willson Contreras' trade value.

1:25 - Will Cubs and Javy Báez agree on a contract extension?

3:44 - If Báez doesn't want to commit long term, do Cubs trade him now?

6:15 - Kap gives his proposed deal that Báez could accept.

8:41 - Will Cubs lock up other key players with same type of mentality?

10:52 - Will Cubs be willing to trade Willson Contreras?

11:55 - With Grandal to the White Sox, teams might be more willing to part with their best prospects with Contreras in a deal.

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs showing interest in Korean pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim, report says

Cubs showing interest in Korean pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim, report says

The Cubs are one of several teams interested in Korean left-handed starter Kwang-hyun Kim, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required).

Kim, 31, has pitched with SK Wyverns in the KBO League since 2007. The team posted him on Friday, meaning he’s free to negotiate with all 30 MLB clubs. Kim was also posted in 2014, but the system between MLB and KBO has changed since then.

When KBO teams posted their players prior to 2018, interested MLB teams submitted blind bids for the exclusive right to negotiate with the player. The highest bidding MLB team had 30 days to negotiate a contract with the player if the KBO team viewed the bid as reasonable.

If the KBO player agreed to a big-league contract, the KBO team pocketed the bid. If he and the MLB team didn’t come to terms, the MLB team received their bid back. The Padres submitted the highest bid for Kim in 2014 ($2 million) but the two sides didn’t agree to terms.

The new system —  introduced in July 2018 — is much simpler: if a posted KBO player signs with an MLB team, his KBO team receives a transfer fee based on the size of his MLB contract. As was the case with the old system, players have 30 days to negotiate an MLB deal.

Got all that?

In 12 KBO seasons, Kim holds a 3.27 ERA in 298 games (276 starts) with 1,456 strikeouts in 1,673 2/3 innings. According to Sung Min Kim of the Lotte Giants (also KBO) R&D department, Kim’s repertoire includes a low-to-mid-90s fastball, an upper 80s slider with a sharp break and a slow curveball averaging 69 mph.

The KBO is a lower level of competition than MLB, but Kim could fill a hole on the Cubs’ pitching staff as a starter, reliever or both.

The Cubs have an opening in their rotation after not tendering Cole Hamels a qualifying offer (a one-year deal worth $17.8 million). That would’ve been very enticing for Hamels, but the Cubs payroll is already projected to be $219.8 million in 2020, not including any potential offseason acquisitions.

Hamels could return to the Cubs in free agency at a cheaper salary, but Tyler Chatwood is already under contract for 2020 at $13 million. Chatwood enjoyed a resurgent 2019 season as a reliever/occasional spot starter and has earned the right to compete for the No. 5 rotation spot next season, should Hamels sign elsewhere.

But with or without Chatwood in the bullpen, the Cubs will need to address their relief corps this offseason. The bullpen struggled to pitch in high leverage spots in 2019, and Steve Cishek, Derek Holland, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop are all free agents. And as things currently stand, Kyle Ryan is the only lefty reliever penciled into the 2020 Opening Day bullpen.

Kwang is experienced and would fill at least one need on the Cubs roster. The Cubs doing their due diligence on him can't hurt.

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