19 for '19: How much will a renewed focus on vocal leadership help the Cubs?

19 for '19: How much will a renewed focus on vocal leadership help the Cubs?

We're running down the top 19 questions surrounding the Cubs heading into Opening Day 2019.

Next up: How much will a renewed focus on vocal leadership help the Cubs?

Early on in Spring Training, Cubs' SS/2B/tag wizard Javy Baez made headlines with this quote: 

"I think it's the little things," he said. "Last year, I didn't run full speed to first base and I would get back to the dugout and no one would say anything. This year, if I don't do it, someone will hopefully say something and it's not to show you up, it's to make our team better."

It's a noteable bite, but not exactly surprising; Joe Maddon has a history of publicly taking players to task over hustle issues - just ask Wilson Contreras (or Baez or Jorge Soler or BJ Upton or Delmon Young). 

The Cubs undoubtedly struggled with accountability and communication last year. It was not the largest issue on their plate, (and it won't be this year) but the team had leadership issues that needed to be addressed. 

The good news, at least, is that the Cubs are *more* than prepared to have someone step up. Jason Heyward proved that in 2016. Jon Lester was forged in the fire of fried chicken and beer. Anthony Rizzo's consistent excellence on and off the field commands a certain level of respect. That's not even mentioning Cole Hamels -- whose $20 million option would have been less of a no-brainer if not in some part for his leadership -- Ben Zobrist, and new addition Daniel Descalso. Their lineup on any given day is going to feature a half-dozen guys that other teams would love in leadership roles. 

Veteran leadership is a hard thing to quantify. There's absolutely value in it - the term pro's pro is trite beyond belief, but it didn't show up out of thin air. With that said, for every pro's pro there's a Mike Matheny out there, deploying Bud Norris to spy on the rest of the clubhouse. Being a veteran doesn't make you a leader, and there's a certain danger in expecting anyone who's ever seen a playoff game speaking up at the first sign of trouble. If the wrong person -- and for the sake of this exercise let's give him some random name like Jonathan Papelbon -- takes discipline into his own hands, you end up on the floor of the dugout getting choked out. 

Ultimately, the biggest motivator for "correct" behavior is winning. When you're winning you're having fun, and when you're having fun, admiring a double against the Reds in September maybe isn't a Capital Offense. 

There's not going to be some overhaul in clubhouse vibe, though; a tight ship just isn't Joe Maddon's style. But as the Cubs' current window begins to start looking smaller, it stands to reason that the urgency to bust tail on every play would increase. The Cubs have what it takes to self-police a clubhouse - the bigger question is who's up to the task, and how they'll go about it. 

The complete 19 for '19 series:

19. Who will be the Cubs' leadoff hitter?
18. Who's more likely to bounce back - Tyler Chatwood, Brian Duensing or Brandon Kintzler?
17. How different will Joe Maddon be in 2019?
16. Can Cubs keep off-field issues from being a distraction?
15. How can Cubs avoid a late-season fade again?
14. Is this the year young pitchers *finally* come up through the system to help in Chicago?
13. How much will Cubs be able to count on Brandon Morrow?
12. How does the Addison Russell situation shake out?
11. Will Willson Contreras fulfill his potential as the best catcher on the planet?
10. Will the offseason focus on leadership and accountability translate into the season?
9. Will payroll issues bleed into the season?
8. Will Javy Baez put up another MVP-caliber season?
7. Will Jon Lester and Cole Hamels win the battle against Father Time for another season?
6. What should we expect from Kris Bryant Revenge SZN?
5. Do the Cubs have enough in the bullpen?
4. What does Yu Darvish have in store for Year 2?
3. Are the Cubs the class of the NL Central?
2. Is the offense going to be significantly better in 2019?
1. How do the Cubs stay on-mission all year?

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Cubs and Rockies have reportedly discussed a 1-for-1 Kris Bryant-Nolan Arenado trade

Cubs and Rockies have reportedly discussed a 1-for-1 Kris Bryant-Nolan Arenado trade

The dust is beginning to settle Wednesday following news that third baseman Kris Bryant lost his service time grievance case against the Cubs. The case argued the Cubs purposely kept Bryant in the minor leagues to open the 2015 season to gain an extra year of control on his contract.

Bryant will remain under team control through 2021, rather than see his free agency get pushed up to next offseason. However, the outcome doesn’t end the saga; the Cubs could still move Bryant to gain young assets with an eye towards long-term sustainability.

During an appearance on NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan’s “Kap and Co." Wednesday, ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported the Cubs and Rockies have discussed a 1-for-1 deal involving Bryant and Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado. Rogers added Colorado would pick up salary in such a deal. 

Oh my.

The Cubs have been linked to Arenado multiple times over the past month, but the logistics of a deal would be tricky. Arenado, who signed a lucrative extension last February, is owed $234 through 2026 — including $35 million annually through 2024.

All of the Cubs roster moves this winter have been budget-driven, as the club is looking to remain under the luxury tax threshold. Adding Arenado’s salary would put the Cubs well into the red. Even if Colorado picked up salary, the Cubs would have to shed money through another trade, if they truly wish to remain under the threshold.

Arenado told on Jan. 21 “There’s a lot of disrespect from people there that I don’t want to be a part of. You can quote that.” The comments came after Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich put trade talks involving the superstar to bed.

The Cubs’ motivation in this hypothetical would be cost certainty. Trading Bryant would ensure they don’t lose him for nothing — should he depart in free agency in two years — if they feel they won’t be able to extend him.

However, Arenado has an opt-out in his deal after 2021, so the Cubs could face the same fate if they acquired him.

Worth noting: ESPN’s Jeff Passan told Kaplan multiple times Wednesday Arenado would love to be a Cub. Rogers also opined he believes Bryant will be dealt, but not for Arenado.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks, and it feels like the grievance outcome is only the start of what’s to come for the North Siders.

Kris Bryant reportedly believes Cubs 'openly lied' during arbitration hearing

Kris Bryant reportedly believes Cubs 'openly lied' during arbitration hearing

There’s a reason why teams try to settle with players before going to arbitration. It’s a messy process that doesn’t necessarily involve being friendly to the other side.

The resulting tension from having to argue against your own player is something the Cubs are apparently dealing with in the aftermath of the Kris Bryant service-time grievance. Bryant lost the case and, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, does not sound happy with his organization.

The basis of Bryant’s case was that the Cubs were deliberate in keeping him in the minors longer just so they could have an extra year of contract control. That’s not starting from a point of good intentions.

Nightengale is reporting that the Cubs “lied to him.” Bryant “feels unwanted, underappreciated, and believes the organization openly lied during the arbitration hearing.”

In reality, none of this should be surprising. If Bryant didn’t feel like he had been wronged, he wouldn’t have filed the grievance in the first place. Once at the hearing, the sides are literally arguing against each other, which can easily lead to more contention.

Bryant may have already been on his way out of Chicago, whether via trade or eventual free agency. But reports that the former MVP is unhappy with the Cubs won’t help their chances of re-signing him.

What it does perhaps change is the Cubs' urgency to trade Bryant. Bringing back an unhappy player may not be the best way to move forward. It could hurt the market for Bryant because teams will know the Cubs are motivated to trade him. The Cubs, however, don’t necessarily need more leverage in trade talks. Multiple suitors should provide plenty of that, competing with each other to get the winning bid.

Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times has a contradictory report, with a source claiming there is "no ill will whatsoever" between Bryant and the Cubs.

The Bryant grievance case has been viewed as the key starting point for the Cubs' offseason, and it does look like the stage is now set.

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