Cubs

Will Kyle Schwarber's physical transformation transform his hitting and fielding, too?

Will Kyle Schwarber's physical transformation transform his hitting and fielding, too?

MESA, Ariz. — You might have heard that Kyle Schwarber is skinny now.

Yes, it seems the “Hulk” part of Schwarber’s one-time nickname “Fast Hulk” has been rendered inaccurate after Schwarber’s well-documented physical transformation this offseason.

And so the question becomes: What do we do with the “Fast” part? Does that get to stay?

Schwarber’s bodily makeover and the accompanying lifestyle changes have Wrigleyville thinking the slugger will now become some sort of different player, a guy who can wipe away the memories of a challenging 2017 campaign in which he hit just .211 and spent a stint in the minors at Triple-A Iowa. From the ashes of the guy who made a few glaring fielding mistakes in left field shall rise a phoenix capable of Gold Glove defense. That’s the idea, right?

Schwarber’s suggesting pumping the brakes on all that. Asked how much effect getting into such good shape will have on his play, he kind of threw cold water on the notion that he’ll be someone brand new.

“I don’t think there’ll be much,” he said Friday. “Being whatever I am isn’t going to help me go out and hit .500 and 70 home runs. I’ve got to go out and perform, still, at the end of the day. It’s going to help with things I can control. Being quicker, more explosive, those are things I can control, and working on my swing, everything like that. It’s trusting your preparation and taking it into the game.”

And really, Cubs fans shouldn’t want Schwarber to change too much. Despite what was characterized for much of 2017 as a horrendous season, Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, just two behind team-leader Anthony Rizzo, and walked 59 times, third on the team behind Kris Bryant and Rizzo.

But obviously this new-look Schwarber will be able to do some new-look things, right?

“It’s definitely going to feel better,” Schwarber said. “I would say there was a lot of work that was put in just acceleration and more explosiveness throughout the offseason just to get quicker, quicker hands, explosiveness, things like that.”

“It doesn’t ensure anything, but his whole game should be a little bit quicker because of that, whether it’s defensively, base running, movement in general,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We’ll see how it pertains to hitting.”

And on defense?

“I think that’s definitely going to help, too, just being able to get quicker, more explosive first steps, just being able to get better reads,” Schwarber said. “I think it’s all going to benefit. This isn’t something that’s going to not benefit me at all. This I think’s just going to help down the road. I think it’ll be good.”

“I do believe if you just start carrying less weight, you’re probably going to feel better on your feet out there, you’re probably going to be able to do some things you might not have been able to do before,” Maddon said. “So I just think that in and of itself is going to be able to improve his defense.”

The Cubs have helped Schwarber and the other guys who had less-than-ideal 2017s in other ways. There’s a new hitting coach in town in Chili Davis, who will be tasked with getting guys like Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and more back to what they’ve done in years past.

Schwarber mentioned that he and Davis have already established a bit of a connection, with Schwarber relating to Davis starting out as a catcher and being moved to the outfield, just like he was.

“Chili’s great. I talked to him on the phone a couple times in the offseason and was able to really sit down with him and talk baseball a little bit,” Schwarber said. “The guy’s got a really great understanding of the game. He really gets that hitter’s side of the game, where he can just sit down and talk to you and go through what’s in your mindset and anything else. I’m looking forward to working with him. I think it’s going to be a great new voice.

“And to be able to listen to his story a little bit, it kind of relates to me. So I’m really excited to just work with him throughout the whole year and get that mindset down and go from there.”

In the end, baseball is a results-oriented business, and Schwarber’s transformation won’t mean much to many if his statistics don’t go through a transformation, as well. But again, even in a year seen on the outside as a disaster, Schwarber hit 30 home runs and helped the Cubs to their third straight National League Championship Series. Not too shabby.

A new body and a new focus built from what happened last year could yield new, even more positive numbers.

“You’ve got to be able to take it a day at a time. You can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. You can’t beat yourself up too much, there’s always tomorrow,” Schwarber said. “You’ve just got to be able to find a way that day to help the team win. If you go 0-for-4 with four punch outs but make a great play in the outfield, That’s a great day right there.

“That’s my focus this year, just take it a day at a time, don’t worry about the end goal and just worry about just trying to help the team win that day.”

That all sounds pretty typical for a professional athlete. But given how difficult things were for Schwarber at points last season and how hard he has worked this offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a different batch of results from a different-looking player.

“What he’s done is pretty darn impressive,” Maddon said, “and we’re all eager to watch how it plays out there and I know he’s eager to show us.”

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

With Anthony Rendon officially joining the Angels, the Nationals have a vacancy at third base.

Washington has options to replace Rendon; Josh Donaldson is still available in free agency, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant could potentially be had via trade.

The Nationals have reportedly inquired with the Cubs about Bryant, and while they “love” the 27-year-old, their focus is on Donaldson, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Cubs would likely seek center fielder Victor Robles in a deal, a holdup on Washington's end, Heyman said.

From the Cubs perspective, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for Robles. He’s 22 years old, plays excellent defense (22 DRS in 2019, No. 1 in MLB by center fielders) and is only scratching the surface as a big-leaguer. Robles is projected to be a star, but Bryant already is one. If the Nationals want Bryant badly enough, they’ll have to sacrifice talent in a deal.

On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why Washington would be unwilling to trade Robles, who's under team control through 2024. Bryant will hit free agency after 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he'll hit the open market after next season.

Nonetheless, if the Nationals do engage in Bryant trade talks, you can bet the Cubs will at least ask for Robles in return. A trade could be worked out without him, but for a Cubs team searching better center field production, you've got to wonder who could be more enticing than Robles.

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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