Cubs

Cubs in position to be dealmakers

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Cubs in position to be dealmakers

MESA, Ariz. The front office must be prepared for disaster. So while it seems like a surplus, just remember the mood 12 months ago, long before sweeping changes hit Clark and Addison.

Last year the Cubs felt pretty good about the rotation at this point, general manager Jed Hoyer said this week during a session with beat writers. It kind of blew up.

The Cubs were toast once Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner were injured during the first week of last season. Braden Looper, Todd Wellemeyer and Carlos Silva (blah, blah, blah) turned out to be nonfactors.

So you can analyze what the Cubs might do at the crossroads with Matt Garza trade him or extend him and wonder if Wells or Chris Volstad will be a long man making around 2.7 million.

Travis Wood appears ticketed for Triple-A Iowa, and Rodrigo Lopez has quietly put together a nice spring that has kept him in the picture. It doesnt necessarily mean the Cubs will make a deal.

I feel like whenever you think you have pitching depth dont ever really talk about it out loud, because you dont, Hoyer said. So, yeah, in theory, on paper (thats) right. But things usually have a way of working out.

Nothings guaranteed two weeks from Opening Day. But Jeff Samardzija looks like a lock for the rotation. In Hoyers words, hes grabbed that competition by the throat.

Decision time is coming soon, particularly for the final spots in the bullpen, and things will begin to come into focus after Wednesdays off-day. The Cubs will have to listen and see whats out there.

For the most part, GMs dont call around too much until the end, because they realize everyones assessing, Hoyer said. There will be a lot of phone calls made around the next 10 days or so, because I think everyone has an area or two theyd look to improve or a guy (who) they liked in the offseason (now becomes) available.

I wouldnt be surprised if we made a move, but I also think we have the pieces in place that we wouldnt need to. But, yes, well certainly be active in those conversations and I dont think wed be doing our job if we werent.

The Cubs have room in the budget to add an impact player or two, and Theo Epstein has said that he hopes to be buyers, not sellers, at the trade deadline.

The president scaled back spending on the on-field product and invested in technology and expanding what had been perhaps the smallest front office in baseball. The baseball operations department has gone from around 90 employees to more than 120.

Our total major-league payroll will be a little under where it was last year, Hoyer acknowledged. But we sort of left some flexibility so we can make some moves over the course of the season if we need to.

The bill for the big-league team will be around 112 million, according to sources, and include the roughly 15 million the Cubs are paying the Miami Marlins to take on Carlos Zambrano, the 5 million payment on Carlos Penas pillow contract and Silvas 2 million buyout.

The projected Opening Day roster will cost around 90 million, a relatively modest amount for a franchise that Forbes found has risen 14 percent in value during the past year to 879 million.

In its annual Major League Baseball survey released on Wednesday, Forbes ranked only the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox ahead of the Cubs in terms of overall worth.

Epsteins explicit goal is to build a sustainable team that will be playing deep into October every year. So the Cubs arent going to rush top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson to Wrigley Field. They will take the long view and place a high value on years of club control.

But the Arizona sunshine fuels optimism, and Hoyers anything can happen attitude can be traced back to rotation depth. At the moment, the Cubs dont seem to be inclined to take away from this strength and be exposed to a potentially huge weakness.

Were going to throw a good starting pitcher at the other team every night, Hoyer said. When you break camp every year, you want to win the World Series. Obviously, thats your goal. But I dont see any reason why we cant be incredibly competitive this year.

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

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AP

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

The youth movement is underway in Chicago and it's happening quicker than expected.

Adam Boqvist played in his 10th NHL game of the season on Sunday, officially triggering the first year of his entry-level contract. That means he will become a restricted free agent at end of the 2021-22 season. If he appeared in nine games or fewer, his contract wouldn't have kicked in until next season, which would've bought the Blackhawks an extra year of Boqvist playing at a cap hit of $894,167.

"Maybe that was a discussion very early on but as far as coach perspective, we like him," head coach Jeremy Colliton said on whether he and GM Stan Bowman had conversations about burning Boqvist's first year. "I think he's played well and it's an opportunity with some injuries to give him some ice time. He's handled it well so far."

Boqvist is the second rookie on the Blackhawks this season to burn their first year, joining No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach. Whether the decisions were dictated by circumstances or not, the Blackhawks have seen enough of both of them to feel they can have an impact on the team in the short term without hindering their developments in the long term.

The number to watch now is 40. Like Dach, if Boqvist appears in 40 or more games this season, it will count as a full season and bring him one year closer to unrestricted free agency. Any player that's accrued seven full seasons or is at least 27 years old as of June 30 of that respective year can become an unrestricted free agent.

Boqvist appeared in six games for the Blackhawks during the month of November before getting reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Nov. 14 when Connor Murphy was ready to return from his groin injury.

But with Calvin de Haan (shoulder) expected to be out long term and Duncan Keith still out with a groin injury, the Blackhawks called up Boqvist for insurance and because they lacked defensemen with offensive upside. It appears he will remain with the big club for the time being and it serves as a chance for their No. 8 overall pick in 2018 to prove he can handle NHL minutes on a consistent basis during a desperate time for the Blackhawks.

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