The Cubs have reportedly made their first new hire for David Ross' coaching staff.
Former Phillies pitching coach Chris Young has been hired as bullpen coach, according to The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma. Young replaces Lester Strode, who has been with the Cubs since 1989 — the last 13 seasons coming as bullpen coach. The Cubs have offered Strode a different position with the organization, according to a report, however.
2019 was Young's lone season as Phillies pitching coach, though he held the club's assistant position in 2018. Prior to that, he spent five years as a pro scout with the Padres (2010-14) and three with the Astros as a scout (2015-16) and scouting supervisor (2017).
Under Young, the Phillies team ERA rose from 4.14 in 2018 to 4.53 in 2019 (though ERA leaguewide rose from 4.14 to 4.49 over the same period). So, he may not deserve the brute of the blame, which often is the case when a team underperforms in some area. Plus, the Phillies used 31 pitchers (excluding position players) in 2019, seeing many relievers go down with injuries while the rotation was ineffective. Combine those two things, and you have a recipe for a pitching disaster.
Even with that being true, though, Young's data and analytics-based methods were never fully embraced by the Phillies' pitching staff, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman. Whether that changes in Chicago is to be seen, but Young will obviously be in a lesser role, one where those methods will be very useful for Cubs relievers.
Editor's note: This is not the same Chris Young who got into a skirmish with Derrek Lee in 2007.
In other Cubs coaching staff news, MLB Network's Jon Heyman said that quality assurance coach Chris Denorfia won't be back next season. The 39-year-old also stepped in as first base coach briefly in 2019, as Will Venable moved over to third base coach while Brian Butterfield dealt with vertigo-like symptoms.
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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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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