The Cubs' perspective on Astros sign-stealing scandal

The Cubs' perspective on Astros sign-stealing scandal

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The baseball world is reeling following The Athletic's report earlier this week detailing how the Houston Astros electronically stole signs in 2017.

It was a revelation that will have a major impact on the sport — and the Astros, in particular — for years to come, but it was not altogether surprising. Sign stealing has been a staple in the game for decades and recent technology has only added different avenues for teams looking to cheat.

What was most notable here was the alleged use of a centerfield camera in Houston that allowed the Astros to determine what pitch was coming in the dugout and then relayed that information to teammates in the batter's box by banging on a garbage can.

Here's a great example of the Astros' system at work:

Theo Epstein was asked about the scandal at the GM Meetings Wednesday and initially admitted it's best for him and presidents/GMs of other teams not to comment on the matter while MLB took the lead looking into the matter.

"Certainly not something to be swept under the rug," Epstein then said. "It needs to be fully investigated and bring light to it and I'm sure there will be appropriate action taken."

Epstein said he and the Cubs have encountered similar sign-stealing tactics in the past (including in the playoffs), but wouldn't get into any specifics with teams.

"There are always a number of teams that there's rumors about or more than rumors," Epstein said. "It's just part of baseball. I'm sure some of them are based in fact and some are based in fiction. It's just important that any time this type of stuff comes up, MLB has to investigate it and take it really seriously and we understand that they are."

With the Astros in particular, their sign-stealing may have had a major impact on the career of current Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish. The veteran right-hander pitched against the Astros in the 2017 World Series and gave up 8 earned runs on 9 hits and 2 walks in 3.1 innings across two starts in that Fall Classic. The first of those two outings came in Houston in Game 3.

It was initially thought Darvish was tipping his pitches, but the Dodgers have since concluded that wasn't the case:

Those were the last two outings for Darvish before he entered free agency and eventually signed a six-year pact with the Cubs. As he went through a difficult debut season in Chicago, he admitted that the way his Dodgers tenure ended and the backlash he received from fans in L.A. was tough to deal with.

As we've seen many times already this offseason, Darvish responded in hilarious fashion to the news on Twitter:

He's also received apologies from a number of Dodgers fans who now have more context regarding Darvish's performance in the World Series. 

These latest reports on the Astros won't help the Dodgers garner a 2017 World Series trophy and it won't change Darvish's numbers, but at least it's some vindication for the Cubs pitcher.

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Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

With Anthony Rendon officially joining the Angels, the Nationals have a vacancy at third base.

Washington has options to replace Rendon; Josh Donaldson is still available in free agency, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant could potentially be had via trade.

The Nationals have reportedly inquired with the Cubs about Bryant, and while they “love” the 27-year-old, their focus is on Donaldson, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Cubs would likely seek center fielder Victor Robles in a deal, a holdup on Washington's end, Heyman said.

From the Cubs perspective, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for Robles. He’s 22 years old, plays excellent defense (22 DRS in 2019, No. 1 in MLB by center fielders) and is only scratching the surface as a big-leaguer. Robles is projected to be a star, but Bryant already is one. If the Nationals want Bryant badly enough, they’ll have to sacrifice talent in a deal.

On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why Washington would be unwilling to trade Robles, who's under team control through 2024. Bryant will hit free agency after 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he'll hit the open market after next season.

Nonetheless, if the Nationals do engage in Bryant trade talks, you can bet the Cubs will at least ask for Robles in return. A trade could be worked out without him, but for a Cubs team searching better center field production, you've got to wonder who could be more enticing than Robles.

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Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

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.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto