Cubs

Can the World Baseball Classic improve? Joe Maddon isn't sure that's possible

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AP

Can the World Baseball Classic improve? Joe Maddon isn't sure that's possible

MESA, Ariz. — Joe Maddon is a huge proponent of selling the game of baseball worldwide and clearly sees the place the World Baseball Classic has in that endeavor. 

But with the WBC kicking off this week, Twitter seems ablaze with how to "fix" or improve the international competition. 

Does playing it in the first few weeks of March really help? The schedule limits some of Major League Baseball's best players from participating given they are not yet in midseason form and still in the process of getting back into the swing of things.

But when would be better? 

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When the Olympics and other international hockey competitions are going on, the NHL shuts down for a few weeks and the game's best players head overseas to play for their home country. 

Could you imagine that in baseball? The entirety of MLB shuts down for all of July, the All-Star Game is canceled or rescheduled, the 162-game season is shortened and pitchers may endure extra stress pitching in high-intesity games that don't count toward their MLB team's ultimate goal of winning the World Series.

It'd be a mess.

And with the season already extending into November with the playoffs, after the MLB slate is out, too.

Which is why Maddon — who spoke at length on the matter Tuesday morning before his team took on Team Italy in an exhibition game at Sloan Park — isn't sure a better idea exists:

"I think it's as good as it can be under the circumstances. The time of the year really inhibits a lot of the best players playing more en masse. There's probably not an adequate or a proper time to do it other than this, so that makes it more difficult. 

"I don't blame some guys for not wanting to play. I understand why guys do want to play and support their country and participate. It's just an imperfect situation. I think we're doing the best that we can under the circumstances. It would be kinda neat if everybody's best could actually participate. 

"But the way our season is played and the length of it and what happens at the end of it, guys have just had enough. So when is the right time? At the beginning when you're fresh? At the end when you're tired? The middle like they did in hockey where they just shut it down, but nobody wants to shut it down. 

"I think we're doing the best under the circumstances and I think the number of guys participating is probably as much as you're gonna see. It's true: To get guys to get up to that mental and physical level this early can have an impact. It just depends on the player, but it can. I think the greater concern a lot of times is the physical impact, that somebody may get injured. 

"But for me, it's also like turning the dial up quickly, too. You saw Javy [Baez]. Javy noticably did that and did it well, I thought. His role this season, it's not every day, so it meshes pretty well with Javy. Like if Lester went or if Arrieta went, especially after the World Series, that would be a little bit of a concern trying to push it so quickly after playing so long."

But Maddon also understands the bigger purpose of the WBC beyond just winning: to promote the game of baseball and get kids more interested.

Of course, there's the matter of national pride, too, as teams like the Netherlands and Israel get to show the world what they're made of in countries where baseball isn't as prominent.

That being said, Maddon has always been in favor of his Cubs team carrying worldwide appeal — especially to the younger crowd — with guys like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber.

"Our group should appeal anywhere that baseball's played," Maddon said. "We do — and baseball does — a great job with us. It's about our players. I think we're authentic, we're charismatic players that are good and are young.

"So there should be a positive impact for the attempt to sell the game to a more wide-ranging group. Why wouldn't you showcase that group of players?"

Cubs free agent Nick Castellanos reportedly agrees to deal with Reds

Cubs free agent Nick Castellanos reportedly agrees to deal with Reds

Yesterday, it was reported that the Reds were the favorite to ink Cubs free agent right fielder Nick Castellanos. On Monday, it appears those two sides have reached an agreement on a multi-year deal, per The Athletic's C. Trent Rosencrans and Ken Rosenthal: 

Given the Cubs' desire to steer clear of the luxury tax in 2020, the odds of a reunion with Castellanos were always low. The club's recent signing of outfielder Steven Souza only furthered that belief.

To lose him to a divison rival, though, undoubtedly stings, especially considering the gumption with which the Reds have approached the offseason. Cincinnati has also notably added Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama and Wade Miley this winter.

MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported the deal is for $64 million over four years and added that the deal includes at least one opt-out.

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Reds are favorite to sign Cubs free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, report says

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USA TODAY

Reds are favorite to sign Cubs free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, report says

The odds of a Cubs-Nick Castellanos reunion happening have seemed slim all offseason. Although they've been connected to him at various points this winter, bringing back the fan favorite right fielder would require some serious financial gymnastics for the North Siders.

With the Cubs cognizant of the luxury tax, the division rival Reds have emerged as the favorite to sign Castellanos, according to MLB insider Jon Morosi.

The Reds have emerged as the frontrunner to sign free-agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, one source said Sunday, and there are indications the sides have made progress over the past several days. While Cincinnati is now the favorite to sign Castellanos, the Giants also have negotiated with the 27-year-old in recent weeks.

Because of their desire to stay under the luxury tax in 2020, the Cubs have only made low-cost acquisitions this winter. They were penalized $7.6 million for eclipsing the threshold in 2019; if they do so in 2020, they'll be taxed 30 percent on their overages —  and see their 2021 draft pick drop 10 spots, if they go over the figure by $40 million.

At this point, the only realistic scenario where the Cubs re-sign Castellanos is if they shed salary. However, they've reportedly signed outfielder Steven Souza to a one-year deal, giving them five outfielders (along with Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward). That might be the biggest indicator of a reunion not being in the cards.

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