Cubs

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Cubs ripple effects from Andrew McCutchen's deal with Phillies

Cubs ripple effects from Andrew McCutchen's deal with Phillies

LAS VEGAS — The Cubs would still like to add another hitter and some leadership to their roster, but Andrew McCutchen won't be the guy to check both boxes.

McCutchen agreed to a 3-year deal worth a reported $50 million (with an option for a fourth year) with the Philadelphia Phillies Tuesday afternoon in a move that will have plenty of ripple effects around the league:

The Cubs were never directly linked to the 32-year-old outfielder, but McCutchen is known as a clubhouse leader and a seasoned veteran — something Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer hope to add to their young core of position players for 2019. 

However, Hoyer admitted Monday evening at the Winter Meetings it was more likely the Cubs would address their leadership deficiency with a bench bat given the shape of the current roster.

The move also means the Phillies may be out of the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes given they just tied up a good amount of money to fill one of their outfield holes:

The Phillies have long been seen as a frontrunner for Harper this winter given the "stupid" amount of money they have available and ready to spend over the offseason.

If the McCutchen move means the Phillies are out on Harper, that's good news for the Cubs, who are still hanging around the sweepstakes, even if on the outskirts. 

However, there are conflicting reports on this front:

The Phillies could use multiple outfielders and middle-of-the-order bats in their lineup and McCutchen's average annual salary of $16+ million isn't enough to completely tie down Philadelphia's ownership.

If the Cubs miss out on — or can't afford — Harper this winter, McCutchen could've been a solid Plan B as a guy who sports a career .378 on-base percentage and is still a very valuable hitter even as he ages. But the Cubs maintain they're expecting most of their offensive improvements to come from within this winter as young players continue to progress and develop. 

McCutchen also brings a lot to a Phillies lineup that also faded down the stretch last year after beginning the season as a contender in the National League playoff race.

The Phillies already have a ton of quality starting pitching options led by Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta and now they're adding solid veteran hitters around budding star Rhys Hoskins. Between the McCutchen deal and the Jean Segura trade with the Mariners earlier this winter, the Phillies have formed a much-improved middle of the order as they hope younger guys like Odubel Herrera, Scott Kingery and Nick Williams take the next step offensively.

The Cubs have plenty of work to do in their own division, but the NL East is shaping up to be one hell of a division as well.

The NL playoff race will be awfully fun in 2019.

Cubs not selling Kyle Schwarber stock: 'We really believe in him'

Cubs not selling Kyle Schwarber stock: 'We really believe in him'

LAS VEGAS — It's Winter Meetings time, which means, of course, that it's Kyle Schwarber trade rumor season.

Every winter since he made his MLB debut in the middle of the 2015 season, Schwarber has found his name linked in trade rumors.

Yet the Cubs have not taken the bait, instead doubling and tripling down on Schwarber as a player and as an important part of the team's core. 

So it wasn't a surprise when USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale reported Sunday teams have inquired about trading for Schwarber but were turned away.

We know the Cubs don't deal in untouchables thanks to the Kris Bryant trade conversation earlier this winter, but Schwarber is right up there with players the organization has no interest in selling unless they're blown away with the return.

"Nothing's changed," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Monday. "We really believe in him. He's an incredibly gifted hitter and we fully believe in the makeup. In general, I think you can ask a similar question about almost any guy in our core. For a reason, we 've stuck by these guys and we've won a lot of games with these guys and we believe in them.

"Of course there's no untouchables and we've said that over and over, so whenever these rumors come out — 'would they trade any of these guys?' Of course. We never have an untouchable. We do believe in these guys. If we didn't believe in them, we certainly would've changed course by now.

"The last three years, we've made a real effort to have this group together and I think we're still gonna win a lot of games as a group."

The day after the Cubs' 2018 season ended in disappointing fashion, Theo Epstein discussed the need to evaluate the team's young position players on production rather than potential.

While Schwarber took some steps forward in 2018, he still falls into that category. Sure, he drastically improved his defense thanks to increased fitness/weight levels. And he improved his walk rate while cutting down on his strikeout rate. 

But he still hasn't morphed into that ever-dangerous hitter that sits in the middle of the Cubs order and strikes fear into opposing pitchers. Schwarber hit 30 homers in 2017 and 26 last season, but drove in just 59 and 61 runs, respectively. He also found himself out of the lineup often against left-handed pitchers. 

It's important to keep in mind that Schwarber is still developing as a hitter and big-league player, missing out on the entire 2016 regular season with that devastating knee injury and enduring prolonged struggles in 2017 due in part to increased pressure hitting in the leadoff spot.

To put it in perspective, Schwarber had a very similar season to Phillies cornerstone player Rhys Hoskins and consider how he compares to fellow teammates Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo through a similar number of plate appearances through their first three-plus MLB seasons:

Schwarber (1,274 PAs) — .228/.339/.470 (.809  OPS)
Rizzo (1,211 PAs) — .238/.324/.412 (.735 OPS)
Baez (1,267 PAs) — .255/.300/.427 (.727 OPS)

Schwarber was worth 3.2 WAR (FanGraphs) for the Cubs in 2018, but the team knows there's a lot more in there waiting to be unlocked.

He's a big reason why the Cubs are betting on an overall team improvement in 2019 thanks to individual steps forward.

"Ultimately, I'll still go back to what I've said over and over each winter is the biggest improvements are going to be from within," Hoyer said. "No matter what we do from the outside, getting our guys back and getting our team playing like we should is the most important thing.

"We have spent a lot of time on that today as well, talking to Joe, talking to our coaches, talking to our scouts. As much as we talk about external stuff, we never get that far away from the internal improvements we need to make."