Cubs

Ian Happ, Tony Kemp and the Cubs second base picture

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USA TODAY

Ian Happ, Tony Kemp and the Cubs second base picture

Ian Happ's playing time has been more Jekyll and Hyde than the Cubs offense.

After being recalled from Triple-A Iowa, Happ started every big-league game he was around for in July but is still waiting for his first August start.

Happ has been the Cubs position player affected most by the trade deadline additions of Nick Castellanos and Tony Kemp, coming off the bench in six straight games after starting his first five contests on the last road trip. With the division race so tight, the Cubs aren't focused on production over potential and manager Joe Maddon said last week the time for development has come and gone this season. 

Happ hasn't seen any time at second base, working exclusive as an outfielder over the last two weeks. Yet Maddon and the Cubs insist the 24-year-old is still in the second-base picture moving forward.

"He and I have already talked about that," Maddon said Monday. "Happer's very adament that he feels comfortable at second base, so we're not afraid of that, either."

Maddon likes utilizing Happ as part of the Cubs' top defensive outfield late in games when they get a lead, moving him to left with Albert Almora Jr. in center field and Jason Heyward in right. 

But Happ continues to get his work out at second base and played 20 games there for Triple-A Iowa earlier this season. In spring training — before he was sent down to the minors — Happ was determined to be a part of the equation at second base for the Cubs, even texting Maddon over the winter.

However, at the moment, it's been Kemp and David Bote who have been splitting time at second base — a key defensive spot on the diamond for a team that has struggled to find consistency in that aspect all season.

Even in a part-time role, Happ has been contributing, with a game-winning homer Monday night and a single through the shift Sunday afternoon.

For his part, he's just happy to be here again after more than three months in the minors.

"It's great to be back with this group and just to be a part of it, to be able to help any way I can," Happ said. "This atmosphere, getting back to it, the difference is, down [in the minors], you're not playing in front of 40,000 people. You're not in the middle of a pennant race that matters, that is something that people care about.

"To get back to that, to get back to being a part of an organization that expects to be in the playoffs every year and expects to be competing for a championship, I missed that. That atmosphere is what we've been doing since I've been here for three years now and there's nothing better."

Beyond defense, the Cubs like Kemp over Happ at second base because of the former Astro's supreme contact ability. He's also turned heads already with his energy and enthusiasm, including a backflip on the field before each game.

"My brother always told a story about me being dressed in uniform at 7am for a 1pm game when I was little," Kemp said. "I've always loved the game and loved competing and I love watching people have success in the game. This game can beat you up — it's really hard mentally and physically — but if you can surpass that, you'll have fun in this game.

"Sometimes, you forget. Sometimes, you get to this level and people treat it like a job. But you have to keep going out there, having fun and having that little kid in you."

So how does the 27-year-old keep that little kid alive and well inside as he goes out and plays in the big leagues?

"You just have to go out there with a positive attitude every day," Kemp said. "Some days are harder than others. Some days are easier than others and that's just how it is. There's a lot of peaks and valleys, but if you can just remember why you started playing the game, then I think that's when that energy really comes out.

"It's just natural. It's just how I am. It's easy being around guys like this, because these are some of the best guys in the business to do it. Being a small part of it is fun and we're gonna have a fun run these next couple months."

Cubs announce David Ross' 2020 coaching staff

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USA TODAY

Cubs announce David Ross' 2020 coaching staff

Monday, the Cubs announced their 2020 coaching staff under first-year manager David Ross. The group features several new faces (italicized) among the holdovers from last season.

-Andy Green — bench coach
-Tommy Hottovy — pitching coach
-Mike Borzello — associate pitching, catching and strategy coach
-Anthony Iapoce — hitting coach
-Terrmel Sledge — assistant hitting coach
-Craig Driver — first base/catching coach
-Will Venable — third base coach
-Mike Napoli — quality assurance coach
-Chris Young — bullpen coach
-Chad Noble — bullpen catcher
-Juan Cabreja — staff assistant
-Franklin Font — staff assistant

Some notes on the new guys:

-Green was the Padres manager from 2016-19 (274-366 record) and was the Diamondbacks third base coach in 2015 — his first season coaching in the big leagues. Green's experience will be vital as Ross gets accustomed to managing.

-Driver spent the last two seasons as the Phillies bullpen catcher/receiving coach and the prior two seasons as Yale's catching coach. He was a collegiate catcher at University of Puget Sound and graduated in 2011.

-Napoli played 12 big league seasons from 2006-17. He and Ross won the 2013 World Series with the Boston Red Sox. Napoli will offer an extra set of eyes in the dugout from someone who, like Ross, played catcher, a position which helps managers manage the game from the field.

-Young spent 2018-19 with the Phillies as associate pitching coach and pitching coach, respectively. He previously worked in the Padres (2010-14) and Astros (2015-17) scouting departments.

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Ken Rosenthal says there's ‘not a chance’ Cubs re-sign Nicholas Castellanos

Ken Rosenthal says there's ‘not a chance’ Cubs re-sign Nicholas Castellanos

With MLB’s Winter Meetings kicking off Monday, the chances of the Cubs re-signing free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos aren’t looking great.

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required), there’s “not a chance, at least for the moment,” the two sides reunite this offseason. Rosenthal cited how the Cubs are telling representatives of even low-budget free agents the organization needs to clear payroll space before entering serious negotiations.

The Cubs’ 2020 luxury tax payroll is projected to be $214 million (per Roster Resource), over MLB’s $208 million threshold. Should their payroll exceed $208 million, the Cubs will be penalized for their overages for a second straight season. Thus, the organization is looking to get under the threshold this offseason. Signing Castellanos would complicate that.

Rosenthal’s report brings back memories of last offseason; the Cubs were handcuffed by a self-imposed budget due to their payroll being right around the luxury tax threshold. They were economic in their spending, adding low-cost free agents Daniel Descalso, Tony Barnette, Brad Brach, Xavier Cedeno and Kendall Graveman. Whether it be due to injury, ineffectiveness or some combination of the two, those players had minimal-to-no impacts on the 2019 Cubs.

Castellanos, on the other hand, was an integral piece of the Cubs last season after they acquired him from the Tigers at the trade deadline. The 27-year-old slashed .321/.356/.646, hitting 16 home runs and 21 doubles in 51 games. That performance improved Castellanos' value entering free agency, and multiple teams are reportedly pursuing him — including the Cubs.

Could the Cubs shed enough salary to open space for Castellanos on the payroll? Sure, but they’re looking to upgrade their second base, center field and high-leverage relief production. As great as Castellanos was with the Cubs, they ultimately may not have the payroll space to bring him back.

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