State of the Cubs: Shortstop

State of the Cubs: Shortstop

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the seventh installment on the shortstops.

This "State of the Cubs" series could be rebranded as a "How often will Javy Baez play this position" series? That was the case for the last two installments (second base, third base), but the question is even more pertinent for the most important infield position.

The first month, at least, is guaranteed: Baez will be the Cubs' shortstop every single day if he's healthy enough to play (rhyme not intended, but a welcome addition). But what will happen if Addison Russell is still on the roster when he's eligible to return from suspension on May 1? 

That's the main question that will have to be answered over the next few months...

Depth chart

1. Javy Baez
2. Addison Russell*
3. David Bote
4. Daniel Descalso
5. Phillip Evans
6. Ryan Court

Filling in for Russell over the last two years, Baez has made 119 starts at shortstop and will be "The Guy" at the position for at least April. If Russell ever makes it back to the active roster, will he automatically regain the starting shortstop role and push Baez to a valuable infield utility role? 

Apart from any off-field issues that will obviously dictate Russell's future, his on-field performance has not been up to standards recently. His power took a major dip in 2018 (due at least in part to a hand injury he battled all season) but his typically Gold Glove-caliber defense also took a step back, as he made a career high 17 errors while also managing a shoulder injury.

The simple fact is Russell has not been healthy enough or productive enough at the plate over the last two seasons to warrant everyday at-bats at shortstop when the Cubs have another very good option on the roster in Baez.

Some fans may not want to see Russell back in a Cubs uniform, but all signs point to that being the case on May 1. Still, it would be hard to see Joe Maddon penciling him into the starting lineup every day. Russell will be rusty after a long layoff and he'll also have to prove the team is better with him as the starter and Baez moving elsewhere. Based off what we've seen since Russell's stellar performance in the World Series, the Cubs are better off with him starting against left-handed pitchers and coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter/defensive replacement late in games.

As for Opening Day (and possibly beyond), however, there are a bunch of question marks beyond Baez on the shortstop depth chart.

Bote has shown a terrific glove in a small sample size in the big leagues, but has only played 10 innings at shortstop in his big-league career. Descalso has played all over the field throughout his career, but he did not appear at shortstop in 2018, saw just 2 innings there in 2017 and turned 32 in October. 

Evans and Court are minor-league signings that represent depth around the infield. Court — an Illinois native — played 114 games for Triple-A Iowa in 2018, including 59 at shortstop.

Ben Zobrist has played there in the past, but he'll be 38 in May and has logged only 13 innings at short in a Cubs uniform. 

What's next?

Nothing big, but that same two-word phrase could be utilized as an answer to this question at any Cubs position the way this winter has gone. 

Given Baez's hard-nosed style of play, he's more susceptible to injury (even if it's only minor aches and pains that keep him out of the lineup for just a day or two). The Cubs will want plenty of reliable shortstop depth behind him either for the first month or longer if we've already seen Russell's last game in a Cubs uniform.

For a team with championship aspirations, it'd be difficult to staff the most crucial infield position with a bunch of question marks if Baez were to miss any serious time.

Unless the Cubs acquire some more infield depth that could represent a reliable option at shortstop, all signs point to an in-house expectation that Russell will be in the mix from May 1 on. It'd be hard to see the team getting rid of Russell and then giving Baez a day off in the middle of a heated division race in September and instead inserting Bote, Descalso, Evans or Court in at shortstop.

The bottom line

Even if Russell comes back into the shortstop mix, expect Baez to lead the team in starts and innings played at the position in 2019 and possibly beyond. At the moment, Baez is clearly the Cubs shortstop of the present and future.

State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B
State of the Cubs: 3B

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Andy Green ‘fired up’ to be with Cubs, help David Ross any way he can

Andy Green ‘fired up’ to be with Cubs, help David Ross any way he can

It’s quite fitting Andy Green’s introduction to Cubs Nation came at the team’s annual fan festival this weekend.

Green, whom the Cubs officially hired as bench coach in December, grew up a Reds fan in his native Lexington, Ky. It wasn’t long before his allegiances changed to one of Cincinnati’s geographic neighbors, however.

“I went to [former Reds ballpark Riverfront Stadium] as a kid at like 5, 6, 7, first time I saw big-league baseball,” Green told NBC Sports Chicago on Saturday. “But my mom took me up to Wrigley at 12 or 13. I was like ‘This is big-league baseball.’

“I switched over allegiances that time as a Cubs fan, watched Ryne Sandberg — Mark Grace was somebody who jumped off the page to me at that point in time. It was late 80s, early 90s.”

After four years managing the Padres, Green’s childhood fandom has come full circle. Now, he’s David Ross’ right-hand man, brought in to use his own experience managing to help the first-year manager adapt to his new position.

When Green took the helm in San Diego in 2016, the Padres were in the thick of a full-scale rebuild. He holds a 274-366 won-loss record, but that isn’t indicative of what he’s bringing to the Cubs dugout.

“Andy so far for me probably [has been] the biggest help for me in directing my thoughts, getting things organized, getting prepared,” Ross said Saturday at a coaching staff panel. “This guy has been through the season, the National League, knows the details of what it takes to lead.

“Obviously, his resume and what he’s done building a young group over in San Diego speaks for itself. Who he is as a person, Andy right off the bat probably [has] been the biggest help for me. Sends me text messages, emails about leading, about coaching. I can’t say enough about this guy, and I’m very blessed to have him next to me in every game. You guys are gonna see a great product, and a lot of my big decisions, I’ll have a great mind next to me helping me make those.”

Green said he’s spent the last few months learning what Ross’ vision is as a manager and how he intends to execute it going forward. Managing games and preparing for them are different beasts, but Green can already see the intangibles that could make Ross successful.

“He’s fun to work with, he’s hungry to win, he can hold people accountable and smile at the same time, which is an unbelievable skillset that I don’t have,” Green said of Ross. “People feel it when I come down on them. They feel love when he comes down on them. He just has that [relatability] that very few people do, and that’s incredibly impressive to me.”

Accountability has been the word of the offseason for the Cubs. After five seasons with Joe Maddon as manager, the club felt it was time for a new voice in the dugout. They hired Ross not only to try and make the team greater than the sum of its parts, but also hold players accountable, putting them in their place and using tough love when needed.

Ross will have a lot on his plate this season, so he'll rely on Green to lead in areas as needed and take a load off his plate.

“For [managers], there’s a large number of tasks that if you have a capable staff, you can just delegate and not even think about,” Green said. “I want to take that kind of stuff off his plate, stuff that doesn’t have to have the manager’s attention, because you can get some decision fatigue, because it’s amazing what comes at you in that seat.

“I know what that feels like, so every now and again, it’s nice to have somebody who doesn’t just have the answer but has the feelings that come with the answer. I’ve enjoyed it, and honestly, it’s a whatever he needs type thing. My vision on him is I’ve watched him do so much prep work this offseason getting ready for game decisions. He’s going to be great. He’s going to be great.”

It also helps that Green has four years of managing under his belt. Ross can learn from his successes in San Diego, but also learn from Green’s failures to ensure he doesn’t make the same mistakes common in new managers.

“It takes a little minute to know where the best answer is on the bench, and he’ll figure that out pretty quickly,” he said of Ross. “Executing the game decisions, you have to find out in time how he processes those things.

“I made a lot of mistakes. He can learn from my mistakes without having to make them himself. If you can share things in humility, a lot of times it keeps somebody else from repeating your mistakes. There’s things I messed up on, things I did well too. Kinda share those visions along the way and make certain the whole way that this is David Ross’ team and he’s leading this team and all I’m here to do is support and help him and help the players perform at their top level.”

Green spent four years with a losing club. He’s joining a Cubs team full of star players — which, as functioning infield coach on a team with Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, excites him. He wants to win now and believes Ross is the man to lead the way.

And, again, the lure of being a Chicago Cub was strong.

“The fan base is one that you’re fired up to go to work for and bring a winner to,” he said. “Whatever part I can play in that, I’m fired up to do it.”

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Willson Contreras, expert at going viral, tells hilarious profanity-laced story from 2019

Willson Contreras, expert at going viral, tells hilarious profanity-laced story from 2019

Willson Contreras and viral moments at Cubs Convention go hand-in-hand.

At the team’s annual fan festival in 2018, Contreras stole the show with a story from the 2017 season. During a mound visit against the Cardinals, the Cubs catcher gave profanity-laced advice to Jon Lester, the Cubs starter who rarely throws pickoffs due to a serious case of the yips.

"I went out there and I said, 'Hey motherf--ker, throw the f--king ball to first,'” Contreras recalled in January 2018.

Contreras stole the show again Saturday, telling a story about a moment against the Cardinals — this time from the 2019 season.

“So last year, we were facing the Cardinals and I started talking to [Marcell] Ozuna,” Contreras said. “He told me ‘Just call a fastball right down the middle.’ [And I said] ‘Yeah okay, I will.’ Then I called the fastball and he took it.

“I told him ‘What the f— are you talking about? Just hit the ball, just hit it.’

“He asked me ‘Just call it again.’ And I did it. He took it. Swing the [bat]. I called a third pitch and it was a strikeout. And then next time it was like just ‘Shut up,” or something."

Warning: graphic language

How Contreras will top this at 2021 Cubs Convention is uncertain, but considering he now has two viral moments on his resume, we can be sure the next one will be just as amazing.

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