Cubs

The seat is getting hotter for Dolphins' Sparano

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The seat is getting hotter for Dolphins' Sparano

From Comcast SportsNet

DAVIE, Fla. (AP)Linebacker Karlos Dansby says the Miami Dolphins are playing to save coach Tony Sparanos job, which might mean hes doomed.

Sparano began the season on borrowed time, and an 0-3 start has left his status even more shaky. With tough road assignments looming in the next two games against the Chargers and Jets, Sparanos players acknowledged the urgent need for a turnaround.

Were putting him in a tough situation, Dansby said Monday. Weve got to play better. Right now his job is on the line, and weve got to do a better job of defending it for him. Were the only ones who can.

One day after a 17-16 loss Sunday at Cleveland, Sparano talked with reporters for 20 minutes but addressed his job insecurity only briefly.

I dont know anything about that, he said. Im getting ready for the San Diego Chargers.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hasnt commented. Ross embarked on a public courtship with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh after last season, and when talks fizzled, Sparano received an extension through 2013.

But for Sparano to keep his job that long, the Dolphins need to start winning. Among those attending the game in Cleveland was Ross good friend Carl Peterson, the former Kansas City Chiefs general manager, and his presence might have been a hint the owner is considering changes.

Including last season, Miami has dropped six games in a row. Problems range from penalties, a feeble pass rush and red zone inefficiency to mangled syntax.

Were going to find out what kind of team this team is, quarterback Chad Henne said after the game. He misspoke when he added, I know one thing about these guys: Theyre not going to stop quitting.

Or words to that effect. However, linebacker Kevin Burnett said things could go downhill fast.

At this point its going to be, which road are we going to take? Burnett said Monday. Are we going to take the road of pointing fingers and saying, You, you, you, or, Its the coach? Or are we going to take the road of saying, OK, were going to stick together, get fixed the things we need to get fixed, and find some way to pull out a win.

The defeat at Cleveland was the Dolphins closest game this season, which made it perhaps the toughest loss. Miami dominated all afternoon before folding at the finish.

Colt McCoy completed 10 passes in the first 56 12 minutes, then completed nine during an 80-yard touchdown drive that gave the Browns their first lead. The Dolphins defense turned soft at the worst possible time.

Thats where I expect some of the closers, some of the big-play players, to make those kind of plays, Sparano said. Ive got to find out who the closers are. I know who some of them should be.

When Miami reached midfield with a chance to pull the game out in the final minute, Henne threw three consecutive incompletions and then an interception.

It was part of a familiar pattern for Henne, who started the game 15 for 17 and went 4 for 12 the rest of the way. His passer rating is a career-best 82.4 but only 48.7 in fourth quarter, when he tends to struggle most.

As is Sparanos custom, he defended the quarterback.

He gave us a chance to win, the coach said.

A more meager contribution came from running back Reggie Bush, who rushed for 24 yards in 11 carries and fumbled twice. Through three games Bush has yet to make the impact anticipated, totaling just 80 yards rushing and 71 receiving.

The other offensive playmaker, Brandon Marshall, has only one touchdown. The Dolphins are scoring 17.6 points a game, almost identical to last year, when Ross complained the offense needed to be more dynamic and exciting.

But the most glaring statistic is zero wins, creating a gloomy mood at the Dolphins complex.

I know the work put in by the coaching staff and this team, Sparano said. My greatest frustration is not seeing them smile. I want to see the guys smile.

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

While the Cubs put the finishing touches on a lackluster loss to the Reds Monday night at Wrigley Field, the game quickly took a backseat as reports of a trade filtered through Baseball Twitter.

In came a veteran catcher — Martin Maldonado — from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Montgomery, who will live on in Cubs history books forever as the guy who threw the curveball that notched the final out in the 2016 World Series to break a 108-year championship drought.

There are many layers to this move, including the corresponding aspect of Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras hitting the 10-day injured list with a strain in the arch of his right foot. Contreras had an MRI Monday afternoon/evening, which revealed the issue. 

Contreras felt like he could play through it and passionately pleaded his case, but the Cubs want to exercise an abundance of caution with one of their most important players.

"Our medical staff feels like if he were to try to play on it, that he'd be risking exacerbating the injury and turning it into something long-term," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "So we have to get ahead of it, take it out of Willy's hands and take him off his feet. 

"We don't expect it to be longer than 10 days — that's what we hope for, anyways."

But even before the severity of Contreras' injury was known, Epstein said the team was already in talks with the Royals front office.

"We've been having discussions with Kansas City and they had an opening in their rotation after trading [Homer] Bailey and they'd been talking to a couple teams about Maldonado and we knew that," Epstein said. "We'd actually been working on a version of the deal beforehand and it was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear that Willson was gonna miss some time."

That's interesting.

So the Cubs' interest in Maldonado is not solely based on Contreras' injury, which means they value the veteran catcher as more than just a short-term, couple-week insurance policy to pair with Victor Caratini. 

On the one hand, that leaves the Cubs free to trade Caratini over the next couple weeks if a deal developed.

But the move for Maldonado also shores up a major area of depth for the Cubs, which is exactly what Epstein talked about before Monday's game, referencing the change in MLB rules that eliminated the August waiver wire deadline. Now, every team has to make their moves ahead of the July 31 deadline and that's it.

"Teams need to keep depth in mind a little bit more, that you have to anticipate where you might be vulnerable to an injury and try to build that depth up in advance — preemptively, really — knowing that there's no escape valve in August," Epstein said. "So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Well, despite fantastic seasons from Contreras and Caratini, the Cubs actually have very little in the way of catching depth beyond those two. Taylor Davis is the only other backstop on the 40-man roster and he has almost no big-league experience. When Caratini was on the IL earlier this year with a hand injury, Davis rarely played in the month-plus he was on the roster.

Even if Contreras' injury is as minor as it appears, it underscores the point that the Cubs' depth is very fragile at the most physically demanding position on the field. What would the team do if Contreras or Caratini suffered an injury in August or September?

Now, they can add Maldonado into the mix — a veteran catcher who draves rave remarks for his defense and game-calling. 

The right-handed-hitting catcher is due to turn 33 next month and is in his ninth big-league season. He hasn't done much with the bat in his career (.289 on-base percentage, .351 slugging) and that hasn't changed this year (.647 OPS), but his work behind the plate was enticing to the Cubs and their veteran-laden pitching staff.

"He's an established catcher in the league who does a lot of great things behind the plate," Epstein said. "He can really receive, he can really throw. He's caught playoff games. He's handled some of the best pitchers in the game; he's a favorite for pitchers to throw to.

"He's very calm back there, very prepared, calls a great game, really soft hands, lot of experience, lot of savvy and someone who we think can step in and share the job with Vic and get up to speed really quickly in what we hope is a brief absence from Willson."

The Cubs haven't yet shared a plan for how they plan to manage the roster crunch for all three catchers when Contreras returns from injury in a week or two, but that might be because they don't yet have a plan. That's more of a "cross that bridge when it comes" type of situation.

When everybody is healthy — if everybody is ever healthy all at the same time — the Cubs could carry three catchers and utilize Contreras' ability to play the outfield and Caratini's first/third base versatility. They could also option Caratini to the minors for a couple weeks and bring him back up when rosters expand in September or if another injury strikes.

Either way, the Cubs front office, coaching staff and pitching staff can rest easier knowing they have another experienced backstop on the roster. 

The other aspect to all this, obviously, is in the Cubs bullpen and starting depth. Montgomery is out, which means there is an easy open spot on the roster for Alec Mills, who is making a spot start Tuesday while Cole Hamels continues to rehab his oblique injury.

In the longer term, this could be a good thing for the Cubs bullpen, as Montgomery was miscast and rarely used as a short-inning reliever. The 30-year-old southpaw last threw on July 2 and has only made five appearances in the last month. 

Montgomery was slowed by injury in spring training and then again in the first couple weeks of the season, but he had been building up his workload of late - throwing at least 2.1 innings in each of his last three outings. Still, the Cubs opted to go with Mills Tuesday against the Reds instead of Montgomery and they also had Tyler Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay in the rotation at various points earlier this season.

Montgomery hasn't started once in 2019, but he made 28 starts in a Cubs uniform, including 19 last year while filling in for the injured Yu Darvish.

The Cubs clearly feel good enough with their rotation depth as is (Mills, Chatwood, Alzolay) and Hamels' return looks to be right around the corner, so the writing was on the wall that Montgomery wouldn't get many chances to start in the short or long term in Chicago.

It's also good for Montgomery, a guy who got the last out in the World Series and did everything asked of him in his three-plus years in Chicago, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. 

Now he gets an opportunity to start, which he's been vocal about wanting to do, and he'll be thrown right into the fire — the Royals have him penciled in to start Friday...in Cleveland.

How's that for full circle?

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

When general manager Rick Hahn has talked about bringing up key prospects, he says he wants those players to be able to come up to the majors and stay there. That won't be the case with Zack Collins.

The White Sox sent the catcher down to Triple-A Charlotte following Monday's 5-2 loss to the Royals. No corresponding move will be made until Tuesday, but it is expected Welington Castillo will return from his rehab stint and rejoin the White Sox.

Collins was called up on June 18, but only played in nine games with seven starts in his 28 days on the big league roster. Collins drew a pinch-hit walk in his first plate appearance at the Cubs on June 19. He then homered two days later in his first start in Texas.

After that, Collins struggled. He goes back to Charlotte after hitting .077 (2-for-26) with five walks, the one home run and 14 strikeouts in 31 plate appearances.

It's unclear if Collins had a chance to stick on the roster or if the plan was for him to go back to Triple-A once Castillo was ready to return. Collins certainly didn't do himself any favors at the plate, but he also didn't see regular playing time.

Collins, a first-round pick in 2016, was seen working out at first base in fielding practice before games, but he stuck to catcher and DH. He could have played some first base or DH when Castillo returned. However, the White Sox claimed A.J. Reed off waivers and he debuted after the all-star break. Reed has taken the at-bats at DH, leaving Collins without regular at-bats.

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