State of the Cubs: Third base

State of the Cubs: Third base

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 sixth installment on the third basemen.

The main Cubs third base question of the winter actually has nothing to do with the position at all. It's all about Kris Bryant's bat and whether or not he can return to the MVP-caliber form he put up on an annual basis before 2018.

But there are other questions in terms of how much Bryant will actually play at third base in the coming season. The Cubs always had Javy Baez as an option at the hot corner with Bryant in the outfield, but now David Bote's emergence and Daniel Descalso's arrival present a host of other options for the Cubs.

Depth chart

1. Kris Bryant
2. David Bote
3. Javy Baez
4. Daniel Descalso
5. Phillip Evans

Bryant is expected to be fully recovered from the shoulder injury that sapped a lot of his power in 2018 and assuming he can stay healthy, will likely return to his previous form in some capacity. That's not to say he'll be the 2019 NL MVP, but a healthy Bryant is a major force and will completely change the complexion of a Cubs lineup that fell off a cliff in the second half of last year.

But don't be surprised to see Bryant play that outfield as much as ever in 2019 for a variety of reasons. When facing tough left-handed starters, Bryant could move to a corner outfield spot and get either Jason Heyward or Kyle Schwarber out against the southpaw and another right-handed bat in the lineup in Bote.

Bote also turned a lot of heads with his stellar defense at the hot corner and when the Cubs need their best defensive lineup out there, that might mean Bryant in the outfield, Bote at third and Baez at shortstop. Bote will have to make adjustments to work back to the league after his bat was exposed down the stretch, but at the very least, he looks like he could be a glove-first utility player who can platoon against left-handed pitchers.

Baez will start the year as the Cubs' primary shortstop, but after Addison Russell's suspension is up, Baez may move back to a super-infield role, seeing regular time at short, second and third with Bryant moving to the outfield in that scenario as well.

Descalso has played almost as much third base as second base in his career to date, so he represents more depth at the hot corner. Evans, who signed as a minor league free agent earlier this winter, can also play all over the infield.

What's next?

Likely nothing beyond figuring out the playing time at third base. The Cubs may not have many more moves left this winter as it is, but they surely don't need to shore up third with any more depth. 

The bottom line

The focus in spring training will be on Bryant's left shoulder and even if he starts the season healthy, he'll have to prove he can make it through the full 6-7 months of a season without the injury cropping back up.

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

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Will Venable uniquely reveals he's staying with team during Cubs Convention

Will Venable uniquely reveals he's staying with team during Cubs Convention

Cubs third base coach Will Venable squashed the notion he may leave the organization on Saturday.

During a coaching staff panel at Cubs Convention, a young fan asked Venable, who interviewed for the Houston Astros managerial opening on Friday, if he’s leaving the Cubs. Before Venable could answer, Cubs manager David Ross chimed in.

“I would like to know that too,” Ross said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Venable’s answer?

“No, I’m not,” he said, drawing a chorus of cheers from the room packed full of Cubs fans.

Things could obviously change, but as of now it appears Venable is staying put. Kudos to the third base coach for handling what could have been an awkward moment well and taking the question in stride.

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In wake of Astros cheating scandal, Cubs proud they've won the right way

In wake of Astros cheating scandal, Cubs proud they've won the right way

The Cubs and Astros often are compared as franchises that rebuilt from the ground up before winning historic World Series titles. The Cubs snapped their 108-year championship drought in 2016, whereas the Astros won their first ever title a year later.

Both clubs reached baseball’s mountaintop behind young, talented position players — Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Anthony Rizzo; George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa — and acquired an ace, veteran starting pitcher — Jon Lester; Justin Verlander — to help cook up the right recipe for winning.

Only now, Houston’s success has been tainted by their cheating scandal; the Astros used a camera located in center field at home games during the 2017 season to steal opposing teams’ signs. 

The scandal resulted in the Astros firing general manager Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch — who both received year-long suspensions from MLB beforehand. The Red Sox and manager Alex Cora — Houston’s bench coach in 2017 — have parted ways, as have the Mets and manager Carlos Beltran, who played for the Astros in 2017. 

While other clubs are in a whirlwind, the Cubs have made one thing 100 percent clear: they play the game the right way.

“We’re really clear about what the rules are. They’re posted for everybody. We talk every spring training about playing with integrity and expecting our players to play fair,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday at Cubs Convention. “And they’ve done a great job of that. I was proud of Anthony Rizzo when he said yesterday that he can say with 100 percent certainty that we play within the rules. And I echo those thoughts, I know that.” 

New layers in the Astros scandal unearth seemingly by the day. Thursday, videos and images surfaced on Twitter possibly showing Houston players wearing wired buzzers under their jerseys. MLB said they found no such evidence in their investigation, however.

Sign-stealing in baseball is as old as the game itself but using technology to do so is problematic, as it goes from looking for a competitive advantage to downright cheating. Houston not only stole signs, but they did so in a way where their hitters knew the exact pitch coming their way.

“It’s unfortunate. It’s definitely surprising too,” Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber said Friday. “For me personally, this is the only organization I’ve been in and the way we go about our business is pretty straightforward, cut through. We go with the rules, we go out there and play baseball.

“To hear this is definitely upsetting. I can’t imagine how some of the teams feel that played them in that playoff series, knowing that this is a real thing and knowing that it was an advantage. For that to happen, it’s a shame.”

For the Cubs, their hubris is so strong they don’t feel the need to steal signs, according to right fielder Jason Heyward.

“Even when [former hitting coach] Chili Davis got to our team, he kind of mentioned to us about how teams in Boston,” Heyward said, “how they got together — and this is no pun intended on what just happened with the manager — but he would just say ‘Hey guys, just pay attention. If you’re on second base, look in and see if we can find a way to get a little bit of an edge late in the game.’

“We were all kind of like to ourselves ‘Well, we don’t really do that here. We never really needed it.’ That’s not being cocky or anything, but we never really needed it.”

“I got nothing against any team or any players, but I think we should play the game right and let your talent the competition decide who’s the best,” shortstop Javier Báez said. 

The Cubs maintain they’ve been playing the game the right way, and they’re extremely proud of that. This current era of Cubs baseball has netted four postseason appearances in five seasons, three trips to the NLCS and that one famous championship.

“Definitely feels good, the ways we did it, especially stepping on top in ’16,” Schwarber said. “I think it’s a better satisfying taste too, now that you can look back on it. I think it’s a little thing that you can say you’re proud of. 

“You hear people back in the steroid era say that they’re proud they didn’t take part in that. I think we can say the same thing too.”

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