Cubs

Cubs opposition research: Should the Rockies inspire fear in the NL?

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USA TODAY

Cubs opposition research: Should the Rockies inspire fear in the NL?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Colorado Rockies

2017 record: 87-75, third place in NL West

Offseason additions: Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, Chris Iannetta, Shawn O'Malley

Offseason departures: Greg Holland, Mark Reynolds, Jonathan Lucroy, Alexi Amarista, Tyler Chatwood, Pat Neshek, Jordan Lyles

X-factor: Ian Desmond

The Rockies made a splash last winter when they handed Desmond $70 million over five years even though they already had a shortstop and a centerfielder.

Desmond, now 32, had a forgettable first season in the Mile High city. In between a hand fracture and a calf injury, he filled something of a utility role for the Rockies, playing mostly left field and first base while also seeing time in center and at short.

Desmond hit just .274 with a .701 OPS in 373 plate appearances, a far cry from the .285 AVG and .782 OPS he posted in Texas in 2016.

If Desmond can get back to being a potent hitter in one of the best offensive environments in baseball, it would do wonders for a team that made it to the NL wild-card game last year.

Projected lineup

1. Charlie Blackmon - CF
2. D.J. LeMahieu - 2B
3. Carlos Gonzalez - RF
4. Nolan Arenado - 3B
5. Gerardo Parra - LF
6. Trevor Story - SS
7. Ian Desmond - 1B
8. Chris Iannetta - C

Projected rotation

1. Jon Gray
2. Chad Bettis
3. Tyler Anderson
4. German Marquez
5. Kyle Freeland

Outlook

The Rockies were something of a surprise as a contender in 2017, in large part because of a pitching staff that far exceeded expectations.

Holland was a revelation as the Colorado closer last season, but the team has still upgraded in that regard by inking former Cubs closer Wade Davis to a big free-agent deal. The Rockies also retained the services of Jake McGee and added Shaw to a bullpen that also includes Adam Ottavino and Mike Dunn.

It's a good group of relievers, but Shaw has appeared in an absurd number of games the last few seasons and at some point, that high workload may come back to haunt him. Cubs fans remember Shaw as the guy who served up Ben Zobrist's World Seres-winning hit in the 10th inning of that epic Game 7.

The Rockies have a lot of depth to their rotation with Jeff Hoffman and Antonio Senzatela joining the group above, but only Gray may be the only above average arm of the bunch. Gray — selected in the 2013 MLB Draft immediately after Kris Bryant — may be ready to take the leap into ace territory.

But the Rockies have far too many question marks to confidently peg them as a playoff team again. Carlos Gonzalez back on a one-year deal helps a little, but where will young outfielder David Dahl play when healthy?

Blackmon and Arenado are two of the best players in the game and former Cub LeMahieu is very solid, but they may wind up missing Mark Reynolds quite a bit in that lineup.

Colorado would need everything to break right again in 2018 to get into the postseason, and I'm not so sure that happens.

Prediction: Fourth place in NL West, no playoffs

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets

Remember That Guy: Gary Gaetti

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AP

Remember That Guy: Gary Gaetti

There have been 1,052 players in MLB history born in Illinois (or at least that’s how many we know of).  And of those players, the one with the most home runs is… Jim Thome with 612.  But the player who’s second; the player who had the “record” prior to Thome was Gary Gaetti with 360. 

Gary Gaetti homered in his MLB Debut (in his first at-bat) on September 20, 1981 for the Twins.  As a rookie the following season he hit 25 long ones. He was a mainstay at the hot corner for the Twins in the 1980s, winning four Gold Gloves (1986-89) with two All-Star selections (1988-89).  He was part of the 1987 World Champions (and was ALCS MVP).  By the time the Twins won their second World Series in 1991, Gaetti was in California with the Angels.  In 1995 at age 36 he had a renaissance for the Royals with 35 home runs and collected his lone career Silver Slugger before moving onto the Cardinals for the next few seasons. 

After being released by the Birds in mid-1998, Gaetti arrived on the North Side where he hit 17 home runs in 150 games (in 1998-99). In that 1998 season, he was a teammate of both Mark McGwire (who hit 70 HR for the Cardinals) and Sammy Sosa (who hit 66 HR for the Cubs). He remains the last player age 40 or older to homer in a Cubs uniform (all 17 of his home runs with the Cubs came after he turned 40).  Gaetti even made an appearance on the mound for the Cubs to close out what would end up a 21-8 rout at the hands of the Phillies on July 3, 1999 at the Vet.  He allowed two runs, including a solo home run by Marlon Anderson and an RBI triple by Doug Glanville. Gaetti concluded his MLB career with five games for the Red Sox in 2000.

After his retirement as a player, Gaetti had some coaching gigs in the minors and majors. In 2012, when 50-year old Roger Clemens came back to make two starts for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, Gary Gaetti was the manager, as he was three years later when 50-year old Rafael Palmeiro played a game for the Skeeters. Gaetti led the team to the Atlantic League championship in 2016.

Quite a career.

Glanville Offseason Journal: Traded in the offseason, but life goes on

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AP

Glanville Offseason Journal: Traded in the offseason, but life goes on

My mom’s father, my grandfather, in his North Carolina accent, used to ask me nearly every time I saw him.

“You still hittin’ that ball?!?!”

He knew my brother took extensive time to groom me in the game of baseball as soon as I could walk. So he recognized early on that my passion for the game only grew with time. So when he passed away during the offseason nearing midnight into Dec. 23, 1997, it was tough. I could no longer answer his question with a baseball career update.

He passed away in the same hospital where the legendary Negro League player, Buck Leonard, would pass away less than a month sooner. It is just so happened that Leonard’s passing coincided with the day my grandfather was first admitted into the same facility. I took it as a sign as I reviewed baseball and family history thinking about how I could honor my grandfather through both.

1997 was not the offseason I had envisioned. After coming off my breakthrough major league season, my first full season as a major leaguer with the Chicago Cubs, I had hit .300 and earned a chance to be in the starting lineup nearly every day. We had an exit meeting that year in the Astrodome. Cubs general manager at the time, Ed Lynch, was blunt and honest.

He explained very clearly that the organization tried to give the everyday job to “everyone else but you,” but was complimentary in how I was able to take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself.

I was a speedy center fielder that was in left field for most of the season after a revolving door of our top outfield prospects didn’t quite do enough to lock down the every day role. A platoon gave me a chance to play against lefties, which grew into against righties too.

The talent was deep from my vantage point: Ozzie Timmons, Robin Jennings, Pedro Valdes, Brant Brown, Brooks Kieschnick, Scott Bullet and so on. There were a ton of a good outfielders, and when the smoke cleared, I was the one holding the starter trophy. I was hoping the offseason was a time where I could cement that status as a Chicago Cub.

So I went into the offsseason with hope. Hope that only strengthened while I was on Lake Shore Drive and heard Ed Lynch on the radio talking about my season and how the expansion of the league (1998 the league added the Rays and the D-Backs) was going to force him to make tough decisions about who to protect from the expansion draft.

He conceded that I would be seeking a significant raise after my season. Then, the minimum salary was $109,000 (I made a little more than that in year two) and because of my strong year as a second season player, Lynch was making a reasonable conclusion. I knew my agent was happy.

My grandfather’s health had been declining over time, so his passing was not a shock, but before I fully digested the loss, the phone rang around 12 hours after I got word that he was gone. Who was calling?

I took the call in the basement of my parent’s house. This was while I was in the midst of a sea of unwrapped Christmas gifts strewn all over the ping pong table, the main wrapping station in the Glanville household during the holidays. My first thought was it must be my mom, who was in North Carolina pivoting from savoring his last hours to working on funeral arrangements. My brother was with her. It already was an awkward holiday from our geographically broken family.

It was Ed Lynch on the line, telling me that I had been traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.

What?

I fielded all of the media calls the rest of that day. It was an all-day affair. Between the fresh news of my grandfather’s passing, the shock of being traded after finally breaking through as a starter, and the exhaustion at the idea of learning a new organization, I was not that thrilled.

In fact, one member of the Philadelphia press core finally asked me why I was sounding so unenthusiastic about being traded to the team I loved growing up as a kid. So I had to tell him about my grandfather’s passing and the reality sinking in that I was about to celebrate my first family Christmas with our nuclear family broken into pieces.

For the first time during the holidays, there was this divider in my family. Separated by life’s harsh terms. My father and I were home and my mother and brother were not. My dad and I celebrated at a long-standing friend’s house, a thousand miles from my mom and big bro, and a million miles away from truly accepting that I had been traded.

I had just completed my sophomore year in Major League Baseball and it was a moment when I felt like I had figured out some of my mechanics of the game. I was learning how to be consistent, learning the ropes about managing life in season and now offseason.

I was being traded to a team whose organization brought me great joy in 1980 as a die hard fan, a place where I could start in center field, but this was different. This was the business of baseball. The day I became a movable commodity, traded away for present value in Mickey Morandini. The Phillies were betting on my next chapter being my best years.

Can they do that? Just trade me away without asking me? Of course they can. Wait, why can they?

My 1980s memories of that Phillies championship was more than about the trophy. It framed an era. By my following that team since I was five or six, I saw that team build, I pulled my hair out when the Dodgers kept knocking them out in the ‘77 and ‘78 NLCS. But most of all, they had the same personnel. A core of players, nearly untradeable. Garry Maddox, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa and so on. They were practically glued together for several seasons.

But in the modern game of the late '90s, that dream of being drafted by a team, growing up with that organization, winning with the Cubs and retiring a Cub was no longer possible. That was how the game was evolving.

Although I was a big leaguer, I still was a fan. I still was caught off-guard even after I knew the Cubs protected me in the expansion draft. I understood that at all times, lurking were many ways in the game where I could change teams. Some voluntary, most not.

I realized that the offseason was not just this big training session to get ready for the next season. It was also a chess match of competing value. What you are worth versus what you think you are worth. The 2018 Cubs have many players asking that question. Will Kyle Schwarber be traded? Will Kris Bryant sign?

All players will experience life hitting them in the face when they least expect it. During that downtime, the reflection time, the break. That is why it can sting so much. And loss spares no one in this game, even after you hit .300. The rumors alone can eat you up.

I would attend my grandfather’s funeral and reunite with my mom and brother days after the trade. I took a moment during the time with family to make one simple declaration to the sky above.

“Granddad, I am still hitting that ball.”

Just this year, instead of Cubs blue, I would be wearing Phillies red.