Cubs

On night Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras return, Kyle Schwarber shows how deep Cubs lineup can be

On night Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras return, Kyle Schwarber shows how deep Cubs lineup can be

Hours before Tuesday’s 6-1 win over the Mariners, the Cubs scratched Kris Bryant from the starting lineup due to right knee soreness, an ailment that has bothered him since late-July.

The news was unfortunate for the Cubs, as it coincided with the returns of Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras to the starting lineup for the first time since landing on the restricted and injured lists, respectively.

So, even with Zobrist and Contreras returning, the Cubs were unable to unleash a full-strength lineup for the first time in months (Javier Báez also sat due to a sore thumb). Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s response?

“We still have nine good names in the lineup regardless,” Maddon said pregame. “It’d have been nice to see what it looked like with everybody, but it just did not want to occur today.”

One player among those nine stood out amongst the rest, however: Kyle Schwarber.

With Bryant out, Schwarber slid up from fifth in the initial lineup to second. The Cubs left fielder finished the night a stellar 3-for-3, finishing a triple shy of the cycle while also drawing a walk. Despite his impressive night, Schwarber was quick to point out the impact Zobrist and Contreras had on the lineup.

“It was great having Zo, and obviously Contreras back, too,” Schwarber said. “Benny at the top of the lineup, seeing a lot of pitches up there and Contreras having a lot of good at-bats, with the home run there.

“Being able to have those two guys back, it’s definitely a good thing.”

On paper, it’s obvious what the returns of Zobrist and Contreras mean to the Cubs. Once Báez and Bryant return to the lineup – which could come as soon as Thursday’s series opener against the Brewers – the Cubs can roll out a starting group capable of doing damage at every position, sans the pitcher’s spot.

Now in his fifth MLB season, Schwarber is no forgotten man on the Cubs roster. However, he can get lost in the shuffle on a team that has many big names, from Bryant to Báez to Anthony Rizzo to Jon Lester and others.

What also can get lost in the shuffle is what Schwarber has been doing offensively over the last few weeks.

In his last 15 games, Schwarber holds a .313/.400/.750 slashline, hitting five home runs over that stretch. He’s in some kind of rhythm right now, which he agreed is part of his recent offensive success

“Yeah, it’s a part of it,” he said. “Just being able to have good rhythm out there but also being able to get the barrel to the ball. Whenever I can do that, it’s going to come off pretty hot and I’ll take it, if it’s on the ground or in the air.”

It came via the latter in one at-bat Tuesday.

Schwarber hit second on Tuesday, though it’s unlikely he remains there as the season winds down. The returns of the aforementioned players will bump him down in the lineup, and for the Cubs, that could pay huge dividends. Not many teams have a 30+ home run guy hitting in the 6-8 holes, let alone one who has great strike zone judgement.

Where he hits isn’t something Schwarber hangs his hat on – he said postgame “wherever I hit, I hit.” The same can be said about reaching the 40-home run plateau, which he’s within shouting distance of.

“I’m not going to look that far. I think I’m just [going to] take it day-by-day,” he said. “We’re in a big spot here. Just try to take it day-by-day, try to get a win every day.

“If you keep continually doing things to help the team win, good things will happen.”

Schwarber is doing a lot of good things offensively right now. Should that continue, the Cubs offense will reap the rewards.

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Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

In the wake of the cheating allegations surrounding the Houston Astros, multiple parties have weighed in with their takes on the situation, and this includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish. He stated that this past season, he had noticed "weird behavior" from batters. Bleacher Nation then tweeted out a video showing Darvish stepping off the mound in a matchup against Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers, stating that he stepped off the mound because Yelich's "eyes move first...I'm not sure what he is trying to do."

Darvish then went on to elaborate that he wasn't trying to accuse the Brewers of stealing signs, rather that he was just stating what he had noticed in terms of batter behavior. Darvish made a minor grammar mistake, saying "your" instead of "you're" and when he responded to try to clarify that, it may have accidentally caused more confusion, as some mistakenly thought he was saying that Yelich indeed was stealing signs, but this was not the case.

That didn't stop Yelich from sounding off on Darvish with quite a harsh response, a response that was so harsh that some were shocked at the nature of it.

MLB free agent Josh Donaldson chimed in, humorously stating that he could definitely  use some help hitting off of Darvish and jokingly asked for what tips Yelich might have. 

Darvish then retweeted a few tweets that illustrated the point he was trying to make. 

Darvish also responded to Donaldson, saying that he doesn't think the third baseman needs any help hitting off of him either. 

At the end of the Darvish seems to be in a good place, and from his Twitter interactions, it is clear that he was not as upset or offended over the situation as Yelich was. 

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How the Cubs can get a Javier Báez deal done now

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USA TODAY

How the Cubs can get a Javier Báez deal done now

With the MLB GM Meetings now over, the Cubs will turn their attention to seeing how their fact-finding mission will influence their offseason makeover of the entire organization.

As Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday, the Cubs and Báez’s camp have begun negotiating a long-term contract extension. While many have speculated that Báez could command a massive salary that would rank among the top of MLB in terms of the total value, the Cubs do have some leverage. Báez still has two more years of club control, which should help to suppress the contract’s total value.

Put yourself in Báez’s shoes. If the Cubs offered you a six-year deal, would you do it? If you say yes, you have lifetime security for you and generations of the Báez family. However, you could be leaving money on the table because you would never reach free agency in the prime of your career.

Rejecting an offer of that size means you would have to perform at a level among the best players in all of baseball for two more seasons, and you would have to avoid serious injury as well. Báez plays with a flair and a passion that also puts his body in harm’s way on a daily basis.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, 27, is two months older than Báez and the highest paid shortstop in baseball at $20 million per season. He signed a six-year, $120 million contract in 2019, which runs through the 2026 season.

Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor — who was selected No. 8 overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, one spot before Báez — will also be a free agent after the 2021 season. He made $10.55 million in 2019 and is projected to make $16.7 million in 2020.

Báez is projected to make $9.3 million.

So, would Báez accept a deal that would protect him against injury and set him up with lifetime security, knowing that with two more seasons before free agency he would potentially leave significant money on the table?

There could be three elite shortstops on the free agent market after the 2021 season: Báez, Lindor and Trevor Story of the Rockies. This may affect what each guy could make on the open market and what they might be willing to accept in a deal now. 

Add in the fact that there will be a new MLB collective bargaining agreement by the time those three stars hit the market, and there should be some impetus for them to get a deal done now. Multiple MLB front office sources expect Lindor to be dealt before he reaches free agency and some of those same sources believe Story could be traded before then as well.

What about a deal that helps the Cubs achieve payroll flexibility in 2020 and 2021 and locks Báez in long-term?

A former high-ranking MLB executive suggested a deal structure that pays Báez $10 million in 2020, $16 million in 2021, plus six additional years at an average annual value of $23 million. That would bring the total value of the contract to $164 million.

Add in two club options for an additional two seasons at $30 million each and it allows Báez to have the largest contract of all active shortstops in MLB. Total value of the deal: $224 million; guaranteed value of the deal: $164 million.

A deal structured like that gives the Cubs certainty with one of their most talented and marketable players and protects Báez from serious injury for the rest of his career.

Would he sign a deal structured like that? I know I would. There is no greater feeling in the world than long-term financial security. A deal structured like this is a win-win for both sides.

If the Cubs won’t give Báez a deal in this ballpark, then they have to think about moving him now. You can’t allow a player of his magnitude to reach free agency and you absolutely cannot lose him to another team. He is on a potential Hall of Fame track and he is one of the most charismatic players in all of professional sports.

This deal has to get done.

If the Cubs can sign Báez for less than the aforementioned deal, then they should consider themselves very lucky.

Either way, get a deal done. Javy Báez has to be priority No. 1.

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