Another long-tenured member of the Cubs coaching staff won't assume the same position in 2020.
According to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, Lester Strode won't be back as Cubs bullpen coach next season. However, MLB Network's Jon Heyman said the Cubs have offered Strode "another prominent position" with the team.
Strode had been the Cubs bullpen coach since 2007, working alongside five different managers. He's spent 31 years in the organization, starting off as a minor league pitching coach (1989-93). He then moved up to the big-league club as a pitching assistant (1994-95) before serving as minor league pitching coordinator from 1996-2006.
Uprooting Strode from his position comes less than a week after the Cubs and longtime strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss parted ways. Buss, who served as Cubs strength and conditioning coach since 2001, joined Joe Maddon’s Angels coaching staff as a quality assurance coach.
At his end-of-season press conference, Cubs president Theo Epstein said that there’d be changes up and down the organization this winter. Parting ways with Maddon — who was replaced by David Ross — will garner more headlines, but the Strode and Buss news represent major culture shakeups, too.
The same can be said about the changes in the Cubs’ training staff, which The Athletic (subscription required) reported on Monday.
“I think this is a real opportunity,” Epstein said on Sept. 29. “When you fall short of your goals, and fail to perform at that biggest moments as dramatically as we did, it provides a real opportunity, if you’re willing to be honest with yourself and you’re willing to take a hard look inside.
“We’re not blowing anything up, per se. That’s not the goal, but we’re likely to see real change, real adjustments at various levels, most levels of our baseball operations in some form or another.”
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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