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?"

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

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