Cubs

The Reds send a strong message with Moustakas signing

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USA TODAY

The Reds send a strong message with Moustakas signing

The Cincinnati Reds are coming for the top of the National League Central.

Reports surfaced Monday afternoon the Reds had inked free agent infielder Mike Moustakas to a four-year deal, adding an impact bat to the middle of the lineup, per ESPN's Jeff Passan:

Moustakas would play second base with the Reds, as The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported:

The 31-year-old left-handed-hitting Moustakas crushed 35 homers and drove in 87 runs for the Brewers a season ago in only 143 games. It was his third straight season with at least 28 homers and 85 RBI and it also marked the first time he played second base in the big leagues. Since 2015, he's made three All-Star teams and has an .817 OPS.

The move weakens the Brewers as it ensures he won't be going back to Milwaukee, but it absolutely strengthens the Reds. Cincinnati entered the winter as a darkhorse candidate to win the 2020 NL Central on the strength of their strong pitching staff, but they needed to make a splash to add some more offense.

Enter Moustakas.

There's certainly a concern with playing Moustakas at second base full-time after only 47 career games at the position, but he's a dynamic hitter in the prime of his career and will be a huge addition to the lineup behind underrated star Eugenio Suarez (49 HR, 103 RBI in 2019).

If Joey Votto can return to form after a down season, the Reds are in business. But even if age has caught up to Votto, his on-base skills (.357 OBP last year) would play well atop the order and Cincinnati also has an exciting group of up-and-comers in the outfield — Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel and Aristedes Aquino.

Add that to a pitching staff that currently ranks among the best in the NL and it's suddenly a four-team race in the division. A rotation headed by Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer and a bullpen featuring Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen and others and the Reds figure to be in an awful lot of games. They only needed some more offense.

After what the Reds gave up in the Bauer trade at the deadline last summer, it was clear they were gunning for a playoff spot in 2020. With the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals all looking like they're in tough spots financially this winter, maybe it's time to start looking at the Reds as a potential favorite for the division.

The Cubs, meanwhile, have yet to make an impactful move this winter after an 84-win campaign.

The Cardinals made it to the NLCS last season and return a lot of the same roster, the Brewers rode another September surge into the NL Wild-Card game and get MVP Christian Yelich back from injury and now the Reds are retooled and ready for a playoff push. Things are certainly not going to be easy for first-year manager David Ross and the Cubs in 2020.

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

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USA TODAY

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since July 2018, but he’ll get a shot at making a comeback next season.

Morrow is set to sign a minor league deal with the Cubs, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. It’s worth $1 million if he makes the Cubs' roster and could reach $2.25 million if Morrow makes 65 big-league appearances. 

Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 15, 2018, missing the second half of that season with right biceps inflammation. He underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow last offseason, which was supposed to keep him out for the first month of the 2019 season. But Morrow suffered several setbacks and never pitched in 2019. 

Morrow’s agent, Joel Wolfe, told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times last month that the right-hander feels a sense of loyalty to the Cubs after they stuck by him through thick and thin. He said Morrow was open to a minor league deal.

When he last pitched, Morrow was one of the most dominant closers in baseball. He posted a 1.47 ERA in 35 games in 2018, converting 22 of 24 save tries. He provided the Cubs with a power arm in the back of the bullpen, striking out 31 batters in 30 2/3 innings compared to nine walks.

For the Cubs, Morrow is a low-risk addition with high-reward potential. He told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers that his arm feels great. If he’s healthy, he could be a major contributor to the Cubs' bullpen.

This time, the Cubs won’t place such high expectations on the 35-year-old. They expect closer Craig Kimbrel to bounce back in 2020 with a normal offseason ahead of him. Kimbrel signed a three-year, $43 million deal with the Cubs last June and struggled mightily, posting a 6.53 ERA in 23 games.

If healthy, Morrow could prove to be a lethal weapon in front of Kimbrel. If he can’t stay healthy, it’s not like the Cubs are investing a lot of money in him, as they did two offseasons ago when Morrow signed a two-year, $21 million deal.

Simply put: if Morrow pans out, great. If he can’t stay healthy, the Cubs can move on without losing a large investment.