Cubs

The Cardinals are absolutely coming after the Cubs now

The Cardinals are absolutely coming after the Cubs now

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Cubs may not be looking over their shoulder, but the Cardinals are hot on their tail. 

St. Louis pulled off a whopper of a trade on the final day of the MLB Winter Meetings, setting the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort abuzz Wednesday afternoon by trading for stud outfielder Marcell Ozuna from the Miami Marlins.

Ozuna just turned 27 last month and is under team control for the next two years. He finished 15th in National League MVP voting last season after hitting .312 with a .924 OPS, 37 homers, 124 RBI and 93 runs scored.

He has made the All-Star team two straight seasons and also won a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove in 2017.

The move gives the Cardinals arguably the most dynamic outfield in the NL, with Tommy Pham (who finished 11th in NL MVP voting last year) expected to slide over to center field full time and Dexter Fowler filling out whatever other corner outfield spot Ozuna doesn't take.

Those three players — Pham, Fowler, Ozuna — will likely make up the heart of the Cardinals order for at least the next two seasons.

In return, the Cardinals' full package hasn't yet been announced, but it is reported to be a haul:

Right-handed pitching prospect Sandy Alcantara is one of the names heading back to Miami:

The 22-year-old Alcantara was ranked the Cardinals' No. 4 prospect by Baseball America last month.

Ozuna is the latest addition in a busy offseason for the Cardinals, who have added pitcher Miles Mikolas and Luke Gregerson on free-agent deals. Gregerson figures to slot in as a late-inning option (possibly even serving as closer) while Mikolas will join the rotation.

The Cardinals are still reportedly in on the game's top available closers, including Wade Davis. They lost pitchers Lance Lynn, Zach Duke, Seung Hwan Oh and Juan Nicasio to free agency this winter.

The Cardinals and Marlins already engaged in repeated talks earlier this offseason regarding a possible Giancarlo Stanton trade, but the slugger ultimately turned down a deal, citing a lack of desire to play in St. Louis. He was later dealt to the New York Yankees.

It's been three years since the Cardinals made the playoffs and despite 169 wins the last two seasons, have finished a combined 26.5 games behind the Cubs in the division. 

The last time the Cardinals made the postseason, they were ousted by the Cubs in the 2015 NLDS when Joe Maddon's team was still forming their winning ways.

Javy over everybody? The Cubs are buying it

Javy over everybody? The Cubs are buying it

Instead of debating about which team is better, the latest installment of the Crosstown Series has now become at least partially about Javy Baez.

The White Sox have been out of playoff contention for weeks in a season that has been tabbed a "rebuilding" year from the outset. Meanwhile, the Cubs are marching toward a fourth straight postseason berth.

So what else do Chicagoans have to argue about?

As Hawk Harrelson steps down from the booth this weekend, maybe it's Baez who is emerging as the central polarizing figure in this crosstown "rivalry." 

Cubs fans love them some "El Mago" and some corners of the Sox faithful can't stand to think of Baez as the NL MVP.

Just watch/listen to the crowd every time Baez steps up to the plate at Guaranteed Rate Field this weekend.

Hours after Cubs manager Joe Maddon raved about Baez's value to the North Siders, the NL MVP candidate went out and had himself an eventful first inning Saturday night — drilling a two-run shot, committing an error that led to an unearned run and then making a slick sliding stop to end the opening frame:

With Addison Russell on administrative leave, Baez slots over to shortstop full time for the Cubs indefinitely.

Saturday marked Baez's 43rd start of the season at short, but he's spent the majority of his time at second base (75 starts) while also dabbling at the hot corner (18 starts at third base).

Regardless of where he's played defensively, Baez has put up numbers that very well may earn him some serious hardware this November.

"He fits," Maddon said. "Listen, look at our league — [Dodgers shortstop Corey] Seager's been out the whole season. [Brandon] Crawford is really good in San Francisco. But for the most part, think about it — [Baez] might be the best overall shortstop in the league right now.

"Grade it all out with his offense, defense, baserunning, etc. American League, there's some competition on that side. But overall, I mean, he's a Top 3/Top 5 shortstop in all of baseball right now, even though he has not played there a whole lot."

FanGraphs ranks Baez as the fourth-most valuable shortstop this year with 5.2 WAR, coming in behind Francisco Lindor (7.4 WAR), Manny Machado (5.7) and Andrelton Simmons (5.3).

Maddon didn't mention Trevor Story (4.5 WAR), the Colorado shortstop who has thrown his name in the hat for NL MVP with 33 homers, 102 RBI and an .894 OPS, though he's currently out with an elbow injury and his Rockies may be fading in the postseason race.

But Baez is pacing the entire NL (regardless of position) in RBI — 109 now after Saturday's 2-run shot — and he is tied for second in homers, second in slugging percentage, sixth in runs scored, eighth in OPS, ninth in hits and 10th in stolen bases.

It's impossible to truly calculate his intangibles (baseball IQ, disruption on the basepaths, all-around swag) and his value to this Cubs team, but one thing is certain: The North Siders would not have driven into the South Side Saturday morning with a 1.5-game lead in the NL Central if not for Ednel Javier Baez this season.

Not many teams could lose their starting shortstop 10 days before the end of the season and be able to replace a Gold Glove-caliber defender so easily.

"We're kind of lucky that Javy is able to do that as well as he does," Maddon said. "He's had a lot of play out there already this year. So yeah, I feel very comfortable about it. ... You don't even think twice when you put Javy's name at shortstop."

Addison Russell releases statement, calls abuse allegations 'completely false'

russell_statement.jpg
USA TODAY

Addison Russell releases statement, calls abuse allegations 'completely false'

Addison Russell responded to the allegations that he physically and psychologically abused his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy.

In a statement released Friday night, Russell called the allegations against him "completely false," stating that he is confident that an investigation will exonerate him.

"These allegations are completely false. I made that clear to Major League Baseball last year and reiterated it to the Cubs today," Russell said in a statement released by the Major League Baseball Player's Assocation. "I'm confident any full and fair investigation will fully exonerate me. The protection of my children is foremost in my mind so I will have no further comment."

Reidy released a blog post late Thursday night detailing years of physical, emotional and psychological abuse that she experienced while married to Russell. The Cubs released a statement early Friday, saying they would "cooperate with the League's investigation so the appropriate action can be taken."

Cubs president Theo Epstein and owner Tom Ricketts held a press conference before Friday's game against the White Sox, saying that while the timing of the situation is not ideal, it does not matter.

"Any time there are accusations of this nature, they have to be taken very seriously and timing or inconvenience doesn't play into it," Epstein said. "All parties have an obligation to get to a just and fair resolution and if that includes discipline if appropriate, then so be it. If it doesn't, then so be it.

"But the important thing here is that justice and fairness is ultimately found. Timing is not ideal, but it doesn't matter. What matters is getting to a just and fair resolution and we're supportive of the league's step."