David Bote has suddenly made himself indispensable to the Cubs

David Bote has suddenly made himself indispensable to the Cubs

We didn't know it at the time, but David Bote trotting in to replace an injured Kris Bryant in Colorado was an interesting bit of foreshadowing.

When Bryant took a 96mph fastball to the helmet in that April 22 game against the Rockies, that could've defined the season for the Cubs.

Instead, Bryant's season-defining moment came a month later.

He only missed a few games after the pitch to the head, came back and continued to rake for a month before injuring his left shoulder.

Two months later, that shoulder is still bothering Bryant and with their MVP on the disabled list for the second time in a matter of weeks, the Cubs have turned to Bote, the 25-year-old with 20 career MLB games under his belt.

That's not to say the Cubs' World Series hopes ride on Bote or anything like that. But with Bryant a serious question mark over the final two months of the regular season and into the playoffs, Bote has transformed from maybe the Cubs' best trade asset to an integral part of the big-league roster.

Bote flashed his value immediately, getting called up Thursday when Bryant hit the DL, starting at second base and making a diving stop that saved a pair of runs for his team:

He also singled in his second at-bat and scored a run as the Cubs attempted to mount a comeback.

And, of course, there was the game-tying homer in the bottom of the ninth on an 0-2 pitch:

What a moment for the rookie, who said he was forced out of the dugout by Javy Baez and Ian Happ for a curtain call the 38,979 fans in attendance demanded.

"He's very important to us right now, I agree," Joe Maddon said. "Listen, we liked him in spring training. I saw him briefly the last couple years — maybe like in a game or two, he came on over. 'David Bote is a good guy' — I'm hearing all this stuff. But then all of a sudden, he starts putting balls in the left-centerfield gaps and over walls. 

"That home run he hit here [July 4] in dead center, that was one of the hardest-hit homers all year, I thought. But his defense at third base and his baserunning, those have really been attractive. If you think about the games he's played so far, think about all the really good baserunning maneuvers.

"For me, he's got a major-league kind of a makeup. Not too fast. He has not been overwhelmed to this point. For all those different reasons, he fits really well."

Bote won't be playing every single day in Bryant's absence, but he gives the Cubs necessary depth on the infield. He can play third base or he can move to second base and allow Javy Baez to move over to the hot corner and either way, the infield defense is still very good.

He also represents a right-handed option for Maddon's lineups against left-handed starting pitchers (which they badly needed Tuesday night against Robbie Ray). 

At the very least, Bote can be a late-game pinch-runner, pinch-hitter or defensive replacement as part of a double switch. His versatility meshes perfectly with the rest of the big-league club.

With the trade deadline coming up fast (next Tuesday), Bote's name was being thrown out as potentially the Cubs' best asset to give away in exchange for pitching depth. This farm system doesn't have the elite options like Gleyber Torres or Eloy Jimenez anymore and the guys that started the year as the organization's top pitching prospects are dealing with injuries or ineffectiveness.

Bote said he tries to stay off social media as much as possible to avoid any potential rumors and joked no other friends or family members tell him what they see because "they know better."

"I don't know what's out there or who wants me or this or that,:" he said. "My approach every day is to be the best David Bote ballplayer I can."

After coming into the year as a relative unknown in the baseball world and absent from any lists of Cubs top prospects, Bote's value has skyrocketed over the last few months. The Cubs love his makeup.

"I think he's really valuable," Maddon said. "He's a good baseball player. He swings the bat well. When he first got up here, I was made aware that he's better at second base than third base defensively, but I've seen great things — really good third base play. 

"He's improved there. He's out there with [Cubs infield coach Brian Butterfield] all the time and I'm sure it was the same thing back in Triple-A. Great baserunner, gives you a good at-bat, plays the game hard, man.

"He just does everything right. I think for the group that was not on him industry-wide before coming to the big leagues is on him now and that's why you're probably seeing his name mentioned more prominently based on what he's done here."

However, that was all before Bryant's shoulder started acting up.

Bote is an 18th round draft pick of the Cubs from 2012 and had a unique perspective on the rise of the organzation from "Lovable Losers" to World Series champs

Now he has an opportunity to help put the team that drafted him into a spot to potentially win a second title in three seasons.

Forget winter of change, 'status quo' might be the new normal for Cubs

Forget winter of change, 'status quo' might be the new normal for Cubs

For the second straight offseason, Theo Epstein teased a winter of change after a disappointing end to the campaign.

And for the second straight offseason, the Cubs showed up for the annual fan convention without many significant changes to the roster. 

The fanbase has grown impatient and frustrated and itching for ways to improve upon a 2019 team that openly admits it did not perform up to its potential. 

"I understand the frustration," Epstein said Friday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. "There's a lot of days I'm frustrated, too, where you look out and there's a great fit on a player who you know you can recruit and sign a reasonable deal that he's worth and you can't get that player and that's frustrating.

"But that's the reality. Every club every winter has a certain landscape, certain paramaters they have to operate under. There are going to be times that we're gonna be really aggressive and have a ton of flexibility and every player is a possibility for us. We knew this was gonna be one of those offseasons where we were gonna be more active in trades than free agency and so there are days where we wake up frustrated or go home at the end of a long day frustrated. 

"So I certainly understand that from the fans, but then, I also look at the talent that we have on paper and I talk to our players and I get excited about how good of a team we can be."

The parameters the Cubs are working under includes a payroll that is already projected over the luxury tax for a second straight season, which the club wants to get back under and reset. That means the Cubs have yet to commit one single dollar in guaranteed big-league money this offseason, instead operating on the fringes of the roster to take fliers on pitchers (like Casey Sadler, acquired Friday) or position players (such as Hernan Perez on a minor-league deal) rather than re-signing Nicholas Castellanos or adding a bullpen piece with a long track record of success.

Epstein knows this isn't an ideal way to build a contender, but the Cubs aren't blowing it up, either. They're stuck in something of a baseball purgatory, trying to win in 2020 but also recognizing the need to improve the long-term health of the franchise. That means resetting the luxury tax, adding long-term pieces and potentially trading away short-term assets.

"We were an 84-win team last year, but underlying stats projected out, we were probably a 90-win team," Epstein said. "Not to say we didn't have issues — we did. Not to say we don't have holes now — we do. But there's significant upside with this group of players. We're not gonna whistle past a graveyard. We're gonna carry more risk into this year than we want to. More risk into this year than we traditionally have in the past and it's our job to operate our way around that.

"...We're gonna carry risk in the 'pen this year and we have to find a repeat where we find value in guys and guys improve and step up. We have risk with our rotation health. We don't have the type of depth and redundancy you'd like to have. And then at a couple positions, there's gonna be some risk with guys with real upside, but guys who if things don't break our way, we could have holes out there. And so that's on us and something we have to continue to plan for every single day. But we have real upside at every position, too."

Fans can laugh and scoff as Epstein and David Ross and the players talk about the potential for the 2020 Cubs to win the World Series or exclaim they're hopeful for the season ahead. But what else do you expect them to say? It'd be silly for the president or a manager or the star of a team to say "No, we don't expect to win this year." Especially when a team has as much talent on the roster as the Cubs have...even if there are holes and risks and not an ideal amount of depth.

Epstein is right — the 2019 Cubs *should have* finished with a 90-72 record instead of an 84-78 record. That's projected based off the Cubs' +97 run differential. The 89-73 Brewers, meanwhile, were projected for only an 81-win season based on their +3 run differential. 

However, those numbers are ultimately meaningless. The reality is the Brewers were in the playoffs (even if only for one game) and the Cubs spent the entire last week of the regular season knowing they weren't going to be partaking in any October action.

After another disappointing finish, Epstein and the Cubs brass wanted change. In a perfect world, they'd already have it — a reshaping of the roster to shake things up and get a different mix than the team that has fallen short of expectations the last two seasons.

But this isn't a perfect world and the Cubs front office isn't going to force things. They won't make a change just for change's sake.

"We're not in a position where we have to do anything," Epstein said. "I think you want to always avoid being put in a corner where you have to make a deal and your back's against the wall and you're gonna take any deal that's out there. We're not at all in that position, but looking at the horizon of the next two years, I think you would be wise at some point to do something that looks out a little bit more for the long term and a little bit less for the short term. But that doesn't have to happen now. We're not in a position where we have to move anybody.

"...What's most likely is status quo — it's hard to get long-term extensions done, it's hard to get trades done. We have what we feel is a pretty good club. We're trying to compete this year and we're not in a position where we have to do anything."

That's certainly a change from the tone set forth by Epstein in his end-of-season presser on the final day of September. But while the roster is essentially intact, the Cubs gave the rest of the organization a major face-lift, from the coaching staff to the scouting department to the strength and conditioning staff. 

Status quo is a good thing for those Cubs fans hoping Epstein's front office doesn't trade away their favorite player.

Kris Bryant is in attendance at Cubs Convention this weekend, but he's also dealing with a bout of the flu, so he did not speak to the media and had to pass on his now-annual segment on the Ryan Dempster show (which was anything but..."boring").

Epstein joked they might be doing a Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope where the Cubs lull everybody into the idea that nothing will happen this winter only for some major news to come down in the three weeks between the Convention and spring training. 

Things can change in a hurry when it comes to trade talks, but it's becoming more and more likely the Cubs will report to their complex in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 11 with a "status quo" roster.

Cubs add another pitcher to the bullpen mix


Cubs add another pitcher to the bullpen mix

A few hours before the 2020 Cubs Convention kicked off, Theo Epstein's front office was hard at work adding another pitcher to the bullpen mix.

It's not a big name fans are itching for, but the Cubs acquired right-handed pitcher Casey Sadler from the Dodgers Friday afternoon. The Cubs sent minor-league infielder Clayton Daniel to LA in return. 

Sadler, 29, was designated for assignment by his former team earlier in the week. He has 42 career MLB appearances under his belt, 33 of which came last season between the Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays (1 start). 

Sadler performed well in 2019, posting a 4-0 record, 2.14 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, but only had 31 strikeouts in 46.1 innings. He had more success missing bats in Triple-A, with 12.3 K/9 in 38.2 innings last year.

This brings the Cubs' 40-man roster to 39 with a little less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. The move fits the theme of the offseason where Epstein and Co. are taking fliers on all the buy-low pitchers they can as a volume-game approach to building a pitching staff.

Sadler is out of minor-league options, so he should get a shot at cracking the big-league bullpen out of camp.

At the moment, Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck look like the only locks for the Opening Day bullpen, but a host of others will be in the mix in Arizona, including:

Ryan Tepera (free agent)
Trevor Megill (Rule 5 pick)
Dan Winkler (free agent)
CD Pelham (waiver pickup)
Brandon Morrow (minor-league free agent)
Duane Underwood Jr. (out of minor-league options)
Alec Mills (out of options)
Adbert Alzolay
Dillon Maples
James Norwood

There are a lot of question marks building a bullpen out of that group, especially considering the proven names the Cubs lost from last year's club (Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Brandon Kintzler).

Daniel, 24, was the Cubs' 31st-round pick in 2018 out of Jacksonville State University. He reached Double-A Tennessee last season and hit .305 with a .799 OPS, 2 homers and 21 RBI in 67 minor-league games a year ago.