What will the Cubs do with Nico Hoerner once - or if - Addison Russell is able to return to the field?
Russell is still in concussion protocol and it's unknown when he will resume baseball activities. There are no clear timelines for head injuries and every person responds differently.
He was still showing symptoms this weekend after taking a 94 mph fastball to the face in Milwaukee last Sunday. Russell meets with team doctors each day, but will be relegated to the bench until he is given medical clearance to return.
Even if Russell is able to play again over these next couple days, how could the Cubs possibly take Hoerner out of the lineup right now?
The rookie collected 3 more hits Saturday, including a 3-run homer in the sixth inning:
More like Nico HOMER!— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) September 14, 2019
Hoerner hits the Cubs' 236th home run of 2019, a franchise record for most in a single season! pic.twitter.com/FLav3KivHO
That now gives him 11 RBI in his first six MLB games.
"Nico's performance cannot be overlooked," Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. "That [homer] was the first pitch he saw yesterday? I mean, c'mon. And beyond that, the thing I'm really focused on is the defense. He's really done a nice job on defense, which we really need that moment out there. The offense has been a plus.
"I have not given that thought until I know that Addison is ready to rock and roll. And once he does, I know one thing for sure - even if Nico were to start the game, we could upgrade the defense later with Addison in the game, too. So it's one of those things - I don't even permit myself to go there. I don't even know if [Russell is] gonna play or not. I don't know that.
"So in the meantime, Nico: just keep doing what you're doing. He's impressed probably the industry, but more importantly - the clubhouse. The guys have really been impressed by him."
It’s been a nightmare season for Russell. He missed the first month serving out the rest of his suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy. He was optioned to Triple-A Iowa initially after the suspension and then came up to the big leagues, where he struggled and was unable to carve out consistent playing time despite the Cubs' need for production at second base.
Russell was then demoted to the minors again in late-July after persistent baserunning/mental mistakes. When Javy Baez went down with injury on the last homestand, Russell stepped in to play shortstop (his natural position), but committed a throwing error in three straight games last weekend in Milwaukee.
Saturday marked only the 95th professional game in Hoerner's career, but he has drawn rave reviews from every corner of the Cubs clubhouse, including seasoned veteran Jon Lester tabbing him as a sparkplug.
Less than a week ago, Hoerner was sitting at home in Oakland with his family, thinking his regular season was done and getting ready to play in the Arizona Fall League soon.
Now, he and his family are at Wrigley Field, soaking it all in:
"It's been amazing. Every other aspect of our lives is in complete chaos."@Kelly_Crull caught up with Keila Diehl -- Nico Hoerner's mom -- to see what it's been like for the family since the Cubs called up Hoerner from Double-A on Monday. pic.twitter.com/pMppN8PdqB— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) September 14, 2019
"[My first game at Wrigley] was amazing. It felt like I had always hoped it would," Hoerner said. "Something you think about for a long time and it definitely lived up to the hype. I had hyped it up to my family a lot just from seeing one game here last year. I said it was unlike anything I had ever seen before and they agreed."
After his debut week, it's natural for fans to wonder if Hoerner should be the Cubs' starting shortstop on a playoff roster even if Russell is able to come back healthy. Baez's exact timeline looms as an x-factor here, too.
Who knows how this will all play out over the next two weeks, but the Cubs have to get to October first and right now, Hoerner is clearly the answer to help them do so.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream
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.
you are😩— ダルビッシュ有(Yu Darvish) (@faridyu) November 15, 2019
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.
Be better than this. Nobody needs help facing you https://t.co/DlUDwjJn4X— Christian Yelich (@ChristianYelich) November 15, 2019
Hey Christian #BeNiceToYu. Come on man— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) November 15, 2019
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.
💀 I could use some help off him whatcha got?— Josh Donaldson (@BringerOfRain20) November 15, 2019
Darvish then retweeted a few tweets that illustrated the point he was trying to make.
FWIW, Darvish is a mild-mannered guy and he wasn't accusing Yelich of anything:https://t.co/mYFuVCPqwH— Tim Stebbins (@tim_stebbins) November 15, 2019
Because he was responding to someone and having an actual conversation. He was explaining what his perspective was he didn’t feel comfortable with yelich eyes moving. so he stepped off. He never once blamed the brewers and it wouldn’t be a topic if it wasn’t for the astros— El Kevo (@Kevin_k23) November 15, 2019
Darvish also responded to Donaldson, saying that he doesn't think the third baseman needs any help hitting off of him either.
I don't think you need help either. https://t.co/9jKpUwcx2Q— ダルビッシュ有(Yu Darvish) (@faridyu) November 15, 2019
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.
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.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.