Cubs

Kap: Cubs need to think long-term, not 2012

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Kap: Cubs need to think long-term, not 2012

While the 2012 Chicago Cubs are playing decent baseball and looking far better fundamentally than most Cubs teams of the past decade, their bullpen has been largely responsible for several late inning losses.

Change a handful of those losses into wins and you have a team that would be right in the thick of contention in a very weak National League Central.

Through games of May 16th, the Cubs have lost five games after having the lead in the seventh inning or later. Former closer Carlos Marmol has three blown saves and has been an adventure most every time out, as has top setup man Kerry Wood. Their poor performances have been a major reason why the Cubs sit 15-22 and seven games in back of the division leading St. Louis Cardinals despite outstanding starting pitching.

With the poor bullpen costing the Cubs several games early in the season, there has been considerable angst among Cubs fans who are clamoring for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to make a move or two to solidify the back end of the pen. However, premier relievers do not come cheaply and for the Cubs to acquire one would cost them one of the few trading chips that they have.

An honest assessment of what the Cubs have of value that they would also be willing to part with is a very short list.

I believe that it is a foregone conclusion that Ryan Dempster will not be on the Cubs roster after the July 31st trade deadline. He is throwing extremely well and with his contract up at the end of the season, he will not require a major financial commitment from whoever acquires him. As long as he stays hot, the Cubs will be able to extract a fairly substantial package of players from a contending team as starting pitching is very tough to add in season.

However, adding a top flight reliever should not be at the top of Epstein and Hoyers list.

Instead, the Cubs will be looking to add a piece to their team that will impact the team 145 or more times a year. That means finding a long-term answer at third base, second base, corner outfield or catcher. They could choose to add a young, top-flight starting pitching prospect but those deals are very tough to make because with the price of pitching in the free agent market skyrocketing, most teams are unwilling to trade such a precious commodity.

Who has trade value that the Cubs would be willing to deal? Dempster -- who I am 100 percent confident will be traded -- and Matt Garza who is a top-of-the-rotation talent but could bring back a huge haul in a blockbuster deal if the Cubs choose to move him and perhaps a prospect or two out of the system if the deal made sense.

Beyond that, the current crop of Cubs talent has very little value to contending teams in terms of being able to receive an impact player back in trade.

So while it is extremely frustrating to watch a struggling bullpen continually give away games, the current state of the Cubs does not have the luxury of trading key players in their system to improve the bullpen of a very suspect 2012 team.

While I do expect Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to be active in moving veterans for young players with outstanding potential, they must remain focused on the long-term plan that they developed upon their arrival in Chicago last fall.

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.

If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.

Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:

NUTS: Home cooked?

The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.

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Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.

“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.

“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”

What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.

“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”

BOLTS: Taking the fifth

All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.

He hadn’t started anywhere in a month — and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).

No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”

He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.

“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen — just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”

CHATTER: The mask at hand

“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”

—Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.

“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”

—Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.

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2020 MLB schedule: Chicago Cubs, White Sox could benefit from short trips

2020 MLB schedule: Chicago Cubs, White Sox could benefit from short trips

Both the Cubs and White Sox may benefit this season from the unique MLB schedule which will have all clubs play regionally, instead of across their leagues. Since the A.L. Central and N.L. Central teams are all fairly close, and Chicago is practically in the middle of the action, both the Sox and Cubs will rank near the bottom for miles traveled over the course of the regular season, according to MLB Network.

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During their 2020 schedule release show, MLB Network displayed a graphic saying the Cubs will travel the second-fewest miles at 4,071 and the White Sox will travel sixth-fewest at 4,750 miles. It’s important to note that may not give them an edge in the regular season, as the other teams to round out the list are all Central division opponents as well: the Brewers, Tigers, Cardinals and Reds.

But when it comes time for the playoffs, that rest may pay off-- especially if either team faces off against a team from the West. All of the top-five teams for most miles traveled come from the A.L. and N.L. West, ranging from 11,332 miles traveled for the Rockies to a whopping 14,706 miles traveled for the Rangers. In a condensed season, with significantly less rest, that long travel could take a toll.


RELATED: White Sox schedule release: Slow start not an option with brutal first week

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