White Sox

Dale Nuts Sveum will give Cubs an identity

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Dale Nuts Sveum will give Cubs an identity

MILWAUKEE Nyjer Morgans face lit up when a reporter mentioned Dale Sveum: Nutso, thats my guy!

The Milwaukee Brewers paid their respects on Friday, everyone from legendary broadcaster Bob Uecker to general manager Doug Melvin, who were seen chatting with Sveum during batting practice.

Sveum has preached that you need to play with an edge, that theres nothing worse than being a vanilla team. How can the Cubs get under a teams skin? Ask the instigator who played junior hockey in Canada.

I cant give you all my secrets, Morgan said with a smile. But you just play the game hard, play the game right, have fun with it and everythings going to happen for them.

Sveum is the kind of guy who left his introductory news conference at Wrigley Field last November and went back to Wisconsin. The new Cubs manager was the best man for a Miller Park clubhouse attendant and had planned the bachelor party for that weekend.

Sveum killed it that day, drawing upon his experience in Milwaukee and telling Cubs fans everything they wanted to hear. (He also joked that his Nuts nickname had nothing to do with my lower half.)

In Sveums mind, 99.9 percent of all players want to be looked in the face and told to get their crap together.

The catcher should fear you running into home plate dont take the easy way out and slide. Win or lose, the other team should know that theyre in for a fistfight.

Sveum said: The worst thing that happens in baseball is when we look over and say: Theyre dogs. Nobody plays hard over there.

Major League Baseball once suspended Morgan, then with the Washington Nationals, for throwing a ball into the stands and igniting a bench-clearing brawl.

Last season Morgan mocked Alberta Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals on Twitter, using his Tony Plush alter ego. But he quickly bonded with Sveum, the Brewers hitting coach at the time.

Hes just cool, calm, collected, Morgan said. Hes been in the trenches and he knows what its like to go through struggles and to have success and just keep it all together. (That) made the game a lot easier.

He had your back. And when you have a guy thats in your corner and battling for you, you cant ask for anything more.

Cubs president Theo Epstein recognized those qualities when he hired Sveum, who assembled a coaching staff with decades upon decades of experience in the majors.

A 3-11 start only reinforced Epsteins belief that Sveum could be the next Terry Francona. The Cubs have gone 3-0-2 in their last five series against the Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, all potential playoff contenders.

Theyve been a model of consistency since Opening Day, Epstein said. That was a pretty rough first couple weeks and Dale handled everything with a real calmness and confidence that I think is genuine and players pick up on that. They like playing for Dale and all the coaches.

The amount of preparation, hard work and attention to detail is as good as it gets. They deserve a lot of credit for how smoothly things have gone, and hopefully results follow.

Its hard to draw many conclusions after 32 games. Mike Quades 37-game audition in 2010 didnt turn out to be a preview of things to come in 2011.

But its easy to notice all the balls hit right into defensive shifts, the calculations made after extensive video analysis. Outside of Kerry Wood throwing his hat and glove into the Wrigley Field seats the other night, there really havent been many unscripted moments. Its pretty much been all business.

Were playing good baseball, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. I think the teams on the other side of the field are recognizing that. Were playing hard on both sides of the ball and things are going to keep coming as long as we play that way.

The Cubs and Brewers woke up Friday tied for last place in the National League Central, and it will be interesting to see where this I-94 rivalry goes from here.

To be honest, Sveum said the Brewers were far more concerned with the Cardinals, and got up for those games. There were sparks between Morgan and Pujols, and Zack Greinke called Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter a phony.

Nyjer obviously did a few things that would get under anybodys skin, Sveum said. I love the guy, (but) when he gets between the lines, theres a different person that comes out sometimes.

He just has that hockey mentality (where he cant) restrain himself sometimes. But hes a wonderful kid. Hes a completely different person than (the perception). The bad thing about Nyjer is people think hes this crazed psycho or whatever. And hes one of the most polite, nicest kids youll ever be around.

Greinkes one of the most brutally honest guys youre ever going to be around, and probably said some things he wished he wouldnt have said.

But thats just the rivalry that comes out sometimes. You try not to say stuff that youll regret. Thats (their deal). Were the Chicago Cubs. Were not the Brewers. Thats not our concern anymore.

White Sox right field search: Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and ... Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?

White Sox right field search: Joc Pederson, Nicholas Castellanos, Marcell Ozuna and ... Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?

Right field, designated hitter and starting pitching.

The White Sox, despite handing out the richest contract in team history already this offseason, have yet to address any of their previously stated positional needs. (OK, maybe Yasmani Grandal ends up factoring into the solution at DH.)

That's not for lack of trying, though, with the team offering more money to Zack Wheeler than he took to stay on the East Coast and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies. They've been linked to Madison Bumgarner since Wheeler made his decision Wednesday.

The White Sox will surely continue to pursue starting-pitching help, but what's going on in their search for a new right fielder? The need is arguably the most critical on the roster and is certainly pressing after a mixture of players combined for some of the worst production in the game there last season. There are options, and supposedly the White Sox are looking at a few of them.

Earlier this week, we heard the White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers were in "preliminary trade talks" surrounding Joc Pederson, who the South Siders reportedly tried to acquire last offseason. Pederson played more left field than right field last year for the NL West champs, but he had a career year at the plate, with new highs in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, home runs, hits and RBIs. There's only one year of team control remaining on the 27-year-old's contract, but the White Sox would be getting a big-time upgrade in their lineup — and a left-handed one, at that.

That same report, from USA Today's Bob Nightengale, also mentioned the White Sox expressed interest in Nicholas Castellanos, perhaps the best hitting outfielder on the free-agent market. Castellanos was stellar last season, leading the major leagues with 58 doubles. He was particularly good after being acquired by the Cubs in a midseason trade, slashing .321/.356/.646 with 16 home runs and 21 doubles in 51 games for the North Siders. Castellanos long terrorized White Sox pitching while with the division-rival Detroit Tigers, and he's the kind of impact bat that would bolster the middle of the lineup. But he comes with defensive questions that Pederson does not — minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019, compared to five for Pederson as a right fielder.

The White Sox were reportedly interested in the other top outfielder on the free-agent market, Marcell Ozuna, early in the offseason. A little older than Pederson and Castellanos, he's just a couple years removed from a dominant 2017 campaign, when he slashed .312/.376/.548 with 37 homers and 124 RBIs for the Miami Marlins. Since being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals, Ozuna hit .263/.327/.452 with 52 homers and 177 RBIs in two seasons. He played left field exclusively in his time with the Redbirds.

Now, enter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who White Sox Talk Podcast aficionados will remember from a discussion in mid October. The Japanese import has been posted, and according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi, the White Sox are among four interested teams. Tsutsugo was described by reporter Jim Allen as "a quality bat in Japan, but he’s really not the elite bat," which might raise concerns. A left fielder, Tsutsugo brings good on-base skills and slashed an incredible .322/.430/.680 with 44 homers during the 2016 season. But his defense seems to be an issue in left, with Morosi writing "scouts question whether Tsutsugo has the range to be an average defensive left fielder in the majors." If that's a concern at his actual position, might there be even further worries moving him to a different spot in the outfield? Perhaps the White Sox could be eyeing him for that aforementioned vacancy at DH. He's also a lefty, which would bring some balance to the lineup.

But it's a different nugget in Morosi's report on Tsutsugo that should catch White Sox fans' eyes. Morosi added that "the White Sox likely won’t attempt to sign Tsutsugo immediately, while waiting for decisions from free agents Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna."

Now, we already heard the White Sox connected to those two top-of-market players, but their potential interest in Tsutsugo hinging on what Castellanos and Ozuna have to say could illustrate just how seriously they're considering either of those heavy-hitting free agents. Or maybe all three are secondary targets should a trade with the Dodgers fail to materialize (again).

Whether talking about Ozuna or Tsutsugo, it's unlikely the White Sox would do any rearranging in their outfield to keep them in their current positions. They've discussed Eloy Jimenez as a long-term left fielder, talking multiple times about his improving defense out there (where he sparked more than a few grimaces with his play during his rookie season). For those who see what they consider an easy fix by just moving Jimenez to the DH spot and allowing someone else to play left, manager Rick Renteria went as far as saying this summer that "it would be, I think, derelict on my part and on our part as an organization to limit the ability for him to play on both sides of the baseball." So don't expect Jimenez to move any time soon.

Like with everything these days, the White Sox seem to have plenty of options to consider. With offseason activity coming a bit faster than it did in recent years, perhaps the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in San Diego, will provide an answer as to which way they'll end up going.

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Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

The Cubs are looking for bullpen help this offseason. Enter Astros free agent right-hander Will Harris.

Harris has quietly been one of the game’s best relievers since 2015. In 309 games (297 innings), the 35-year-old holds a 2.36 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. Over that same period, his ERA ranks third among relievers with at least 250 innings pitched, trailing Zack Britton (1.89) and Aroldis Chapman (2.16).

2019 was one of Harris' finest seasons yet, as he posted a pristine 1.50 ERA and 0.933 WHIP in 68 appearances. Of the 60 innings he pitched last season, 49 2/3 of them came in innings 7-9, an area the Cubs bullpen needs the most help.

Cubs relievers posted a 3.98 ERA last season (No. 8 in MLB), but that number is deceiving. The bullpen was OK in low and medium-leverage spots — as defined by FanGraphs — posting a 3.19 ERA (tied for No. 2 in MLB). But in high leverage spots, they sported a woeful 7.92 ERA (No. 24 in MLB) and a 15.4 percent walk rate (tied for last in MLB).

"It was a real interesting year in the 'pen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "Our inability to pitch in high-leverage situations was a clear problem and was a contributing factor — we had the third-worst record in all of baseball behind just the Tigers and Orioles in combined 1 and 2-run games.

"Our inability to pitch in high-leverage moments kind of haunted us throughout the year, and that’s something that I have to do a better job of finding options for."

Those walks often spelled doom for the Cubs. Fans remember all too well the three-straight free passes Steve Cishek handed out on Sept. 10 against the Padres, the final of which was a walk-off (literally). David Phelps and Cishek combined to walk three-straight Cardinals on Sept. 20, two of whom came around to score. The Cubs lost that game 2-1; there are plenty more similar instances.

Harris, meanwhile, walked 14 batters (6.1 percent walk rate) in 2019 — 15 if you count the one he allowed in 12 postseason appearances. His career walk rate is 6.2 percent.

Four Cubs late-inning relievers are free agent this winter in Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. Cishek and Kintzler had solid 2019 seasons, while Strop had his worst season as a Cub. Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 2018, but he and the Cubs are working on a minor league deal, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. Strop has expressed his desire to return next season.

Harris regressing in 2020 is a concern. Relievers are the most volatile players in baseball, and Harris could see his performance sag in 2020 after pitching an extra month last season. Teams will have to trust his track record and assume a regression isn't forthcoming.

But assuming Cishek, Kintzler, Morrow and Strop all won’t return in 2020, the Cubs have a couple late-inning relief vacancies. Harris is one of the better available options, and he’d help the Cubs cut down on the walks dished out by their bullpen.

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