Cubs

Cubs? White Sox? Manny Machado mum on Chicago possibilities as both sides of town dream of his World Series impact

Cubs? White Sox? Manny Machado mum on Chicago possibilities as both sides of town dream of his World Series impact

What’s Manny Machado’s favorite pizza place? What’s his favorite bar on Rush Street? Does he want to shoot the puck at the Blackhawks game? Maybe drive a Red Line train? Headline Lollapalooza?

Heck, is there anything that can get this guy to Chicago?

Sadly, Machado has no opinion on Chicago, at least no opinion he'd like to share. He talks as though he’s experienced nothing but the tarmac at O’Hare and the inside of the visitor’s clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“To be honest, nothing,” Machado said when one of the multitude of media members asked him what he thought about the city ahead of his Baltimore Orioles’ game against the White Sox on Monday night. “I go from my (hotel) room to the ballpark to play baseball. I try to keep it simple, my life is simple. I don’t really do too much other than come here and play.”

Sorry, Cubs and White Sox fans. No inside info to better the offer.

Both sides of town are entranced by Machado Mania. The North Side wants him to arrive via trade and help deliver another World Series championship in 2018. The South Side wants him to ink a monster free-agent deal and deliver a whole bunch of World Series championships as the new face of the rebuild.

But no matter whether you want the MVP candidate in blue pinstripes or 1983 throwbacks, he made no indication he’s thinking about his next team when he spoke Monday.

“That’s out of my hands. I can’t control that,” he said. “I’ve got to go out and win some games, do as much as I can for my ball club.

“I’m here to play baseball. Obviously you’ve got to answer these questions, but at the end of the day none of that matters. I’m here to win some games with my ball club, win some here with the Orioles, and play well at the same time.

“I’m not getting distracted by any of this, and all this talk, it’s rumors. They’re all rumors and talks. At the end of the day, I’ve got to go out there and perform and win games for this ball club.”

For the Cubs, rumors of a Machado pursuit would come at a seemingly steep cost. With almost nothing to deal away from the farm system, an Orioles team looking to jumpstart a rebuilding effort of their own would likely require Addison Russell as a centerpiece of any trade offer. Would Theo Epstein’s front office be willing to part with Russell, who they always speak so highly of, who is still just 24 years old and who remains under team control through the 2021 season? Just for a few months of Machado, who is by no means a guarantee to stick around on a free-agent deal?

The Cubs’ title chase this season would figure to be better served by getting two of their recent pitching acquisitions to turn in more consistently good performances. If Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish can right their respective ships, the Cubs might not need to worry about blowing up their core to add an MVP candidate to an already menacing lineup featuring multiple All Stars. But there’s no doubt about it: Any team that adds Machado to the mix is going to improve its chances of hoisting a trophy this October.

Unlike a pursuit of a player during free agency, it’s the Orioles the Cubs need to convince to seal a deal, not Machado, and even with Russell as the main piece, the Cubs’ package might not be the best one out there. But Machado, despite his comments, has likely heard a little bit of what it’s like to play on the North Side from the guy he calls his cousin, Albert Almora Jr.

“As kids growing up we played together,” Machado said. “When we were playing in his backyard growing up, we always dreamed about playing together some day in the big leagues and putting on the same big league uniform and be on the same field, win a World Series together, that’s every kid’s dream.”

Meanwhile, the White Sox are, as they’re doing in every facet of their existence at the moment, playing a long game when it comes to Machado or any big-name free-agent-to-be. Reports dating back to last winter say they’re expected to be one of the many teams vying to sign Machado to what’s sure to be a gargantuan contract when he joins Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson and a host of other superstars in free agency this winter.

Machado’s production has made him the object of White Sox fans’ affections for some time, and the dream of seeing him join all the young talent in this rebuilding effort and leading the South Siders in their next pursuit of a title is still alive and well in their minds. The White Sox will have the financial ability to pay the high price for Machado, if they choose — a price, it should be noted, that come winter will be only measured in money and not players, as a midseason trade during this campaign would be. Obviously the biggest selling point is their bright future, where he could anchor a lineup that also features Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert. Pair that with a boatload of cash, and maybe it’s enough to edge out the rest of what’s expected to be a very competitive market.

The White Sox, too, have an apparent void at third base (or shortstop, should they do some maneuvering on the left side of the infield) moving forward after Jake Burger, last year’s first-round pick, twice tore the same Achilles tendon this year. While there’s still time needed to tell where exactly the White Sox will have major league holes to fill, penciling names into a 2020 lineup leaves most pencilers with a question mark at third base. Machado would fit nicely there, and the apparent need could provide more drive for the White Sox to get something done this winter. There will be other options, of course, should they miss out on Machado. Donaldson this winter and Nolan Arenado the following are two other alluring names. Be it Machado, it would be the kind of statement signing that signals that the rebuilding effort is ready to transition into the contention phase, much like the Cubs did with Jon Lester.

And like the Cubs, the White Sox have their own Machado friend to make a convincing pitch. Nicky Delmonico played alongside Machado (and Harper, for that matter) on a Team USA squad back in 2009.

“It was really cool. I got to play with Harper for two years and Machado (for one),” Delmonico said last week. “Just to be around that type of talent, it was a lot of fun.

“It was pretty special. We had a lot of guys who are doing well at the big league level. It was like a big family.

“You’re with each other every day. It’s like what I compare to the minor leagues. You’re playing every day in that short amount of time. So you got to know that person pretty well. And to play with those guys, it was a lot of fun.”

And Welington Castillo, too, got to know Machado when they were teammates last year in Baltimore.

“He’s special, honestly,” Castillo said. “I had the opportunity to play with him last year in the (World Baseball Classic) and then for a year with the Orioles. It’s nice to play with him in the same lineup and spend time with him. He’s an awesome player and an awesome person. I think that’s why everybody is talking about him. Everybody sees because he’s been showing them every year, what he can do.

“Who wouldn’t want to have a guy like him?”

If Machado has received any PR training through this process, he put it to good use Monday. Nothing he said indicated any preference to join either of this city’s teams either this season or next. He didn’t say the word “Cubs” once, and judging by his response to the lone question asked specifically about the White Sox, it doesn’t sound like the South Side rebuild is the talk of the Orioles’ clubhouse.

That, though, will likely do nothing to dampen enthusiasm on either side of town that Machado could soon call this city home, nor does it mean Machado wouldn't be jazzed about joining a championship contender this season or a franchise with a bright future next season.

But until a deal is made this summer or this winter — or both — it’s all just speculation. Until then, Machado’s going to try to beat one of Chicago’s teams four times this week, either as a preview of what could be or a display of opportunity lost.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Redemption Stories & Schwarber Leading Off

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Redemption Stories & Schwarber Leading Off

Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by the Cubs Postgame Live team of David Kaplan and David DeJesus to break down all the various redemption stories on the 2019 Cubs, ranging from Kris Bryant returning from an injury-plagued campaign to Tyler Chatwood becoming a legitimate weapon out of the bullpen (1:00). Then, the guys discuss how well Kyle Schwarber is performing out of the leadoff spot over the last week (11:45).

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Kyle Schwarber finding his niche in Cubs' leadoff spot: 'He’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be'

Kyle Schwarber finding his niche in Cubs' leadoff spot: 'He’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be'

After two seasons alternating table setters atop their lineup, the Cubs may finally have found a consistent leadoff hitter in Kyle Schwarber.

“It’s one of those things you have to believe it to see it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before Friday’s game against the Reds. “And sometimes there’s other folks that have to see it to believe it. I just thought it was the right time.”

Schwarber started his 11th-straight game on Friday, hitting leadoff in the last nine games of that stretch. Unlike his abysmal tenure leading off in 2017, though, Schwarber is getting into a groove hitting first for the Cubs this season.

In 2017, Schwarber hit leadoff 37 times; not only did he slash a woeful .190/.312/.381 with seven home runs, but he walked 24 times compared to 48 strikeouts. The Cubs went with a leadoff-man by committee approach the rest of the season, as 10 other players hit leadoff at least once.

Schwarber has flipped the script as a leadoff hitter this season. Although the sample size is small, he’s slashing .265/.372/.618, (34 at-bats) with three home runs and seven walks compared to 12 strikeouts.

“Again, I liked it back then, I did. However, he did not react to it well in that moment,” Maddon said. “But if you look at his overall abilities as they stand right now, for me, that’s the perfect spot for him, especially in our lineup.

“He’s made some adjustments recently, he’s more mature as a hitter, he’s understanding it better. All of those things are involved. I like it; I could’ve done it earlier this year, but he really wasn’t doing what he’s doing right now earlier this year.

“I think this last three weeks or so, he’s really morphed into the hitter we thought he could be.”

Schwarber certainly has been trending upwards since the calendar flipped to May. In April, he slashed .211/.282/.338 with 25 strikeouts and seven walks. While he’s hitting .224 this month, he holds a stellar .389 OBP (.837 OPS), walking 19 times compared to 21 strikeouts.

“There’s things that he’s doing right now that are permitting him to be more consistent,” Maddon said. “Like the other day, that first at-bat walk against [Max] Scherzer in what was such a big at-bat. There was like four pitches all over the place and he didn’t swing.”

Schwarber walked in both of his at-bats against Scherzer on May 17 on a combined 10 pitches. He took four pitches out of the zone the first time around and four more the second at-bat. On the latter instance, the only strikes came on foul balls.

All of this is not to say that the days of Schwarber hitting for power are over. He has four home runs in May, three of which have come in the leadoff spot. And while RBI chances aren’t as prevalent for leadoff hitters, Maddon mentioned how Schwarber has room to grow.

“To this point, he hasn’t really been the RBI guy that you might envision. He’s been more the table setter,” he said. “I think as he learns his craft better, of course he can drive in runs more consistently.

"He’s on the verge of doing that right now. The benefit has been for him to set the table more than cleaning it up to this point, but I think he has the abilities to do both.”

Following the Cubs’ 6-5 loss to the Reds on Friday, Maddon reiterated his confidence in his latest No. 1 hitter. Schwarber went 1-for-4 with a home run, a walk and a strikeout.

“I like his at-bats right now in general,” he said. “That’s kind of why I did what I did, because I think that it’s become a more mature at-bat and the more the stays up there, the more comfortable he’s going to get.”

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