Cubs

Brewers bolster lineup, agree to terms with former-Dodger Yasmani Grandal

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USA TODAY

Brewers bolster lineup, agree to terms with former-Dodger Yasmani Grandal

While the Cubs continue to sit on the sideline, the NL Central arms race keeps on moving along.

Wednesday night, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported that the Brewers and free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal have agreed to a one-year contract. The deal is pending a physical.

Fans might remember Grandal for his nightmare performance in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Brewers. That one game aside, the catcher is a solid addition that will bolster an already dangerous Brewers lineup.

Grandal, 30, has played in parts of seven MLB seasons — three with the Padres and four with the Dodgers. 2018 was one of his best seasons offensively; in 140 games (440 at-bats), Grandal delivered a .241/.349/.466 slash line.

Grandal's 24 home runs with 68 RBIs in 2018 are the second-best single-season totals that he has posted in his career (he hit 27 home runs with 72 RBIs in 2016). 

Adding Grandal is an immediate upgrade offensively to Milwaukee's catching depth. Combined, Brewers catchers delivered a .237/.294/.363 slash line in 2018, hitting 16 home runs with 52 RBIs. The group was led by 38-year-old Erik Kratz (.236/.280/.355, 203 at-bats) and Manny Piña (.252/.307/.395, 306 at-bats).

Adding Grandal will not come cheap for the Brewers. According to Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports, the catcher will make $18.25 million next season. Only Ryan Braun ($19 million) will make more than Grandal for the Brewers in 2019.

https://twitter.com/TBrownYahoo/status/1083215973249736705

The Brewers adding Grandal is yet another example of NL Central teams improving their rosters while the Cubs stay idle. This offseason has seen the Cardinals add All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and reliever Andrew Miller as well as the Reds acquiring Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp.

Goldschmidt and Miller certainly will improve the 88-win Cardinals, and the 82-win Pirates are sure to cause problems for divisional foes. Puig and Kemp will not put the 67-win Reds over the top, though, and the Brewers are due for some regression in 2019 after nearly making the World Series.

The Cubs are coming off a 95-win season in which key players (Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow) missed extended time due to injury. The team struggled tremendously at the plate in the second half as well, so there is room for improvement next season.

Still, seeing the rest of the division improve while the Cubs stand by likely isn't an easy pill for fans to swallow. If one thing is certain, it's that the NL Central should be one of baseball's toughest divisions in 2019.

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What Cubs lineup could look like in 2020 if Kris Bryant leads off

What Cubs lineup could look like in 2020 if Kris Bryant leads off

Kris Bryant told reporters Wednesday he's offered to leadoff for the Cubs this season to manager David Ross. And while nothing is set in stone, the 2016 NL MVP is one of the Cubs’ best options for the role.

Bryant isn’t a prototypical leadoff guy but it’s not like we’re discussing a cleanup man moving to the No. 1 spot in the lineup. Yes, he has power, but he’s also an on-base machine (career .385 OBP) who accepts his walks (career 11.9 percent walk rate).

Considering Bryant’s plate discipline, opponents will either have to pitch to him or run the risk of walking him ahead of Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras. Bryant leading off will give those guys more RBI opportunities. He’s also one of the Cubs’ best baserunners, and his ability to take an extra base benefits those hitting behind him.

It’s important to note Bryant wouldn’t change his approach in the top spot — his power won't just disappear. He has a career .502 OBP with the bases empty and could put the Cubs ahead right away with a long ball or put them in business with an extra-base hit.

Bryant will be himself no matter where he hits: an elite on-base guy who almost always puts together a quality at-bat. He’s as good a leadoff candidate as any on the Cubs (no disrespect meant to Anthony Rizzo, aka the “Greatest Leadoff Hitter Of All-Time”).

If Bryant leads off, here's what standard lineups could look like, both against righties and lefties:

Versus RHP

1. (R) Kris Bryant (3B)
2. (L) Anthony Rizzo (1B)
3. (R) Javier Báez (SS)
4. (L) Kyle Schwarber (LF)
5. (R) Willson Contreras (C)
6. (L) Jason Heyward (RF)
7. (R) David Bote
8. Pitcher
9. (S) Ian Happ (CF)

Former Cubs manager Joe Maddon liked to alternate lefties and righties in his lineup. With MLB’s new three-batter minimum rule for relievers, I stuck to that mentality to create a late-inning advantage for the Cubs.

Schwarber-Báez-Rizzo looks lethal and is somewhat interchangeable. Rizzo recently said he prefers hitting third or fourth but will hit where Ross wants him. Ross suggested Wednesday Rizzo will hit behind Bryant; it looks unorthodox but Ross can always adjust it. 

Rizzo has fared well hitting second and hitting him there keeps him and Bryant back-to-back.

Rizzo hitting second (237 plate appearances): .300/.401/.515, 153 wRC+.

I like Báez getting RBI chances behind Bryzzo, the Cubs’ two best on-base guys. And, he mashes in the three hole:

Báez career hitting third (118 plate appearances): .366/.398/.571, 161 wRC+ 

Similarly, Schwarber has been more successful hitting cleanup than any other spot:

Schwarber career hitting fourth (68 plate appearances): .393/.441/.787, 211 wRC+

Those aren't the biggest sample sizes, but the numbers are eye-popping. Contreras and Heyward hitting fifth and sixth brings us back to a more traditional Cubs lineup. The second base competition is wide-open, but I'll give Bote a slight edge after he hit .274 with a .425 OBP post-All-Star break last season.

Bote will also play some third, which is when we'll see Daniel Descalso and Jason Kipnis (if he makes the roster) at second.

RELATED: Cubs roster projection 1.0: Bullpen, second base competitions are wide open

From there, I like a pitcher hitting eighth and Happ hitting ninth as a second leadoff guy. He has a good eye for the strike zone and his ability to get on base will give the top of the order more RBI chances.

Now, for the lineup against lefty starting pitchers:

1. (R) Kris Bryant (3B)
2. (L) Anthony Rizzo (1B)
3. (R) Javier Báez (SS)
4. (L) Kyle Schwarber (LF)
5. (R) Willson Contreras (C)
6. (L) Jason Heyward OR (R) Steven Souza Jr. (RF)
7. (R) Albert Almora Jr. (CF)
8. Pitcher
9. (R) David Bote (2B)

Ross believes in a structured lineup, so this looks pretty similar to the previous order. Heyward isn’t going to sit against every lefty starter, but when he does Souza’s power bat will fit in nicely in the sixth spot.

In this scenario, Hoerner is in Triple-A and Bote is the starting second baseman against lefties. Where Bote hits is contingent on Almora. I’d put Bote ninth when Almora is in the lineup because the former is more of an on-base threat. Almora’s contact-oriented approach could help move ahead any baserunners ahead of him. The same can be said about Bote, but I like the idea of him getting on base for the top of the order.

Happ, a switch-hitter, will also start against righties and I can see him hitting sixth, seventh or ninth. A lot of this hinges on how he, Almora and Bote are performing at the plate. Each will get their at-bats, but the Cubs need one to emerge as a consistent contributor.

Do these groupings look unfamiliar? Sure, but Bryant leading off will put us in new waters. Again, nothing is set in stone, and the Cubs have a ton of lineup combinations for this season. Seeing Bryant atop the order sure looks like an enticing possibility, however.

Kris Bryant to get a shot as Cubs leadoff hitter

Kris Bryant to get a shot as Cubs leadoff hitter

The leadoff spot has been in flux for the Cubs since Dexter Fowler left after the 2016 season. A new chapter in that role could soon be coming.

According to multiple reports, Kris Bryant talked about leading off for the Cubs in a meeting with new manager David Ross and it sounds like he will get a chance to do just that.


The Cubs have been creative with the leadoff spot without the lack of a traditional leadoff hitter on the roster. Anthony Rizzo even has 57 games in the leadoff spot in his career.

Bryant has had seven starts at the top of the order. He hit .321/.387/.464 in those games.


The Cubs' own Twitter account has made it semi-official by poking fun at Bryant as a leadoff hitter.


What this would do to the rest of the Cubs' lineup is going to be interesting. Bryant primarily batted second or third last year. Putting him at leadoff could separate him from Rizzo and Javy Baez in the middle of the lineup. Ross could also continue to change things up and put Baez or Rizzo second to keep the team's best three hitters back-to-back-to-back in the order.

Ross hasn't even managed a spring training game yet, but this could be his first big change. With the first spring training game coming up on Saturday, we should get a clue as to how Ross plans to send the team out. Suddenly the batting order is something to keep an eye on.

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