Cubs

Howie Kendrick is a perfect fit for the 2020 Cubs

Howie Kendrick is a perfect fit for the 2020 Cubs

Watching Howie Kendrick play hero for the world champion Washington Nationals over and over again this fall, one thought came to mind: He would be the ideal fit for the 2020 Cubs.

Professional approach at the plate?

Check. 

Veteran leader that has a big impact in the clubhouse?

Check.

Right-handed hitter that can hammer lefties (a clear weakness for the 2019 Cubs)?

Check.

Versatile defender who can play multiple positions?

Check.

Clutch hitter?

Check. (In addition to his October, Kendrick also posted a 1.135 OPS in late and close situations in 2019.)

Free agent with an affordable price tag for a team like the Cubs who already have a ton of money committed to the 2020 roster?

Check.

It's the last part that may be the biggest concern here, as players coming off big performances in the playoffs tend to get big contracts in free agency (see Kelly, Joe and Eovaldi, Nathan). But Kendrick will be 37 in July and is coming off a 2-year, $7 million deal and has suffered several injuries over the last few years.

Assuming Kendrick is looking for a reasonable deal and doesn't re-sign with the Nationals, it would be a no-brainer for the Cubs to hit up agent Larry Reynolds and chat about making Wrigley Field the veteran's next home.

Right now, the Cubs have a plethora of options they can consider for bench/part-time roles — David Bote, Tony Kemp, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Daniel Descalso, Robel Garcia, Albert Almora Jr. 

But for the 2020 team, Kendrick could represent the right-handed version of Ben Zobrist — a professional, veteran hitter with an advanced approach at the plate, positional versatility, clubhouse leadership and a great example for the rest of the lineup on a daily basis. 

Kendrick played first base, second base and third base with the Nationals in 2019 and spent time in left and right field in 2017-18. He's not a Gold Glove defender and at his advancing age, it's probably not likely a team would want him to play a corner outfield spot on a regular basis. For the 2020 Cubs, he could be a backup at first base if Anthony Rizzo needs a break or his balky back acts up again, he could play third and push Kris Bryant to the outfield or he could play second and move Nico Hoerner to center field or, at the very least, provide some veteran insurance at the position behind the rookie Hoerner.

Offensively, Kendrick is a perfect fit for the Cubs in several ways. For starters, he struck out just 13.2 percent of the time in 2019 — a figure that would've ranked first among Cubs hitters last year — and his contact rate of 84.3 percent would be a welcome improvement for a lineup that ranked last in baseball in contact last season (73.8 percent). He also leads baseball in batting average since the start of the 2017 season (.325), 4 points ahead of Jose Altuve (.321).

On top of that, Kendrick has experience leading off (.360 OBP in 63 career games there), he can help address the Cubs' woes against southpaws (hit .376 with a 1.036 OPS against lefties in 2019) and the aforementioned clutch gene showed up in a big way in October with the winning home run off the right-field foul pole in Game 7 and a grand slam off Kelly in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the NLDS.

As Theo Epstein looks to revamp the Cubs lineup and find a way to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts, Kendrick could be an important part of that. There's no guarantee he'd be able to bring the magic of the 2019 Nationals to whichever team he plays for next, but there are worse gambles to take than one on a 14-year MLB veteran with 1,722 career hits who can clearly still play at age 36. 

This is all assuming the Nationals would even let him get away, given what they said about him after his World Series-clinching heroics Wednesday night:

"Howie is one hell of a player," Washington GM Mike Rizzo said, according to MLB.com. "He's one of the most professional hitters I've ever been around. He's a key component to our leadership structure here."

"Howie is a true professional," Davey Martinez said. "You see him on the field and what he does. But what he does in that clubhouse with those guys is unbelievable. And you can't replace that. He's been the heart and soul of this team."

Sure, Martinez and Rizzo were euphoric as they made those comments about their World Series hero, but those are certainly fantastic endorsements of Kendrick as not only a player, but also as a person who can lift up those around him within the clubhouse.

Sounds like a perfect fit for what the Cubs are looking for.

Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

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USA TODAY

Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

When former Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson signed with the Twins last week, one thought was Atlanta could pivot and try to acquire Kris Bryant to fill the void in their lineup.

That possibility looks less likely now, as the Braves announced Tuesday they’ve signed former Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal.

The Braves didn’t have a dire need for a third baseman — 22-year-old Austin Riley, a former top prospect, is waiting in the wings — so much as they needed a bat to replace Donaldson. Bryant would have checked both those boxes, but the path to acquiring him is more difficult.

Bryant has been fixated in trade rumors this winter, but any extensive negotiations won’t occur until his service time grievance case is resolved. NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan reported last week Bryant trade rumors this winter have been “greatly exaggerated” because the lingering grievance.

The Braves have been named a potential Bryant suitor as they hold the top prospects the Cubs would seek in return for Bryant. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman threw cold water on that notion recently.

There’s also the possibility the Cubs don’t move at all Bryant this offseason.

"No, we're not in a position where we *have* to do anything,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday at Cubs Convention. “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 longer time 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."

Ozuna joining the Braves means the Cardinals lost one of their most productive bats from the 2019 division championship club. Like the Cubs, St. Louis' offseason has been marked by low-key moves, outside of the Cardinals acquiring pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore from the Rays, a deal which sent Cardinals slugger Jose Martinez to Tampa Bay.

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Cubs acquire righty reliever Travis Lakins from Red Sox as bullpen stockpiling continues

Cubs acquire righty reliever Travis Lakins from Red Sox as bullpen stockpiling continues

The Cubs continued their stockpiling of relievers on Tuesday, acquiring right-hander Travis Lakins from the Red Sox. The North Siders will send a player to be named later or cash considerations to Boston in return.

Lakins is a former sixth-round pick by the Red Sox who made his big-league debut last season. The 25-year-old sported a 3.86 ERA in 16 appearances, three of which he started the game as an "opener." He pitched 23 1/3 innings in the big leagues season, striking out 18 while walking 10. He holds a 4.45 ERA in parts of five minor-league seasons.

Lakins' fastball ranks in the 70th percentile for spin rate, averaging 93.7 mph with his four-seamer last season with Boston. 

The Cubs have acquired a plethora of low-key relievers this winter, including Dan Winkler, Ryan Tepera, Jason Adam and now Lakins. The club lost stalwart Steve Cishek to the White Sox and haven't been connected to the reliable Brandon Kintzler this offseason.  Pedro Strop is also a free agent, and the Cubs are reportedly interested in a reunion.

As of now, the only locks for the 2020 bullpen are closer Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck. Thus, the Cubs have been gathering as many relief options as possible with the hope some will emerge as viable relief candidates this season. At the least, they'll have plenty of depth in case any injuries occur or if any arms underperform.

"You realize to get through a season, it's not a matter of going up on a whiteboard and writing up your eight relievers," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said at Cubs Convention Saturday. "It's a matter of [needing] 15, 20, 25 good relievers over the course of the summer to really get through it.

"When you guys see a lot of these transactions of relievers, often times they're going to be coming off down years. For the most part, I bet you when we acquire a guy, you can look back and you can see a year in the not-too-distant past when they had a really good year.

"That's the kind of shot we have to take, and that's the kind of shot every team has to take on capturing that lightning in a bottle. Buying really high on relievers and signing them after they have a breakout year is really expensive and really difficult and doesn't have a great success rate. We try to find those guys that we can catch lightning in a bottle, and that's been a big part of our strategy."

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