Cubs

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Albert Almora Jr. ready for an everyday spot in the lineup?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Albert Almora Jr. ready for an everyday spot in the lineup?

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Connor McKnight (670 The Score) and Phil Thompson (Chicago Tribune) join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs offense comes alive with Albert Almora, Jr. leading off. Is it time to make him the everyday centerfielder? 

Plus Mitch Trubisky says this week’s minicamp is the most he’s been coached in his career. So how long will it take him to master Matt Nagy’s new offense?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

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."

With Hot Stove season in full tilt, when will Cubs join the fray?

With Hot Stove season in full tilt, when will Cubs join the fray?

LAS VEGAS — Cubs fans are getting very antsy, and it's easy to see why.

The Cubs' offseason began weeks earlier than past falls due to the one-and-done postseason appearance and with such a disappointing finale, even Theo Epstein teased the potential for an offseason of change

Yet here we are, at the end of the first day of the MLB Winter Meetings — 68 days after the 2018 season came to a close — and the Cubs have yet to make an impactful addition to the roster.

That's not to say they haven't done anything. They picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million option as well as the team options they held on Pedro Strop and Jose Quintana. But the list of offseason acquistions at the moment looks like this:

LHP Jerry Vasto (waivers)
RHP Rowan Wick (trade with Padres)
OF Johnny Field (waivers)

Only Wick is on the 40-man roster. The Cubs also re-signed pitcher Kyle Ryan to a major-league deal after he spent 2018 in their minor-league system.

On the other side of the coin, the Cubs have already lost Drew Smyly and Jesse Chavez this winter — both of whom ended up with the Rangers — and traded Tommy La Stella to the Los Angeles Angels. They've also likely lost a crop of free agents headlined by Daniel Murphy and Justin Wilson (neither are expected back in a Cubs uniform in 2019).

So it's understandable why fans are impatient.

Does that mean the Cubs are on the verge of making a move and filling the holes in their bullpen or lineup?

"No, nothing imminent," GM Jed Hoyer said Monday evening in the Cubs' suite inside the Delano Las Vegas. "Today is sort of build the ground work, have those conversations and hopefully you build some momentum for the end of the week or towards next week. But there's nothing imminent."

Like last winter, it's a very slow-moving free agent market around the game even if the trade market has been very active to date. 

It's not just the top names like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, either. Almost every free agent relief pitcher is still on the market and nearly every team with hopes of contending in 2019 needs to build up their bullpen, so the Cubs have spent a lot of time talking to agents with nothing bearing fruit yet (obviously). 

That said, Hoyer confirmed the Cubs still spent much of their time Monday chatting with other teams about potential trades. 

While the Cubs have been clear about their desire to add relievers, another bench bat and some more leadership in the position player group, they also continue to state publicly that they're expecting most of the advancement from 2018 to 2019 to be done in-house. The Cubs front office maintains the solutions will come from within to rebound from a late-season fade where the offense went ice cold.

Still, for those who can't wait for there to be actual news — any news — on the Cubs front, they may not have to wait long.

As Hoyer met with the Chicago media early Monday evening (Vegas time), he speculated the day may be only half over for the Cubs front office.

"I feel like Day 1 is really difficult to assess," Hoyer said Monday. "We'll have a better sense of [any potential moves] tomorrow. If things are going to happen, they gain momentum as the week goes on. Usually, ideas don't percolate on Wednesday.

"The way things work in these meetings, [Monday evening is] like Noon on the first day in some weird way. People work through the night."