Cubs

Serenity now: Cubs will let Marlins do damage control

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Serenity now: Cubs will let Marlins do damage control

The Cubs spent Mondays off-day in Miami. The sun and the sand might as well be a postcard for the teams serenity now state of mind.

One team will be in crisis mode on Tuesday in Little Havana, and it wont be the Cubs. Ozzie Guillen returns from his five-game suspension and the Marlins will have to spin the story to their citys strong Cuban community.

Protestors may gather outside Marlins Park after Guillen made sympathetic comments about Fidel Castro in an interview with TIME magazine. The Cubs will just show up for work. Theyve already had front-row seats to the media circus.

One player compared the past few years to a runaway train. The team was up for sale, and the fans blamed everything on general manager Jim Hendry, even if it wasnt all his fault. Milton Bradley and Carlos Zambrano created fireworks in the clubhouse.

Inside the managers office, Lou Piniella burned out. Mike Quade won over the players during a 37-game audition, but lost them over the course of the 2011 season.

To be clear, the Cubs dont have it all figured out yet. Theyre 3-7 and the national experts seem to think theyll wind up around 90 losses.

But now that Theo Epstein has been given the keys to the kingdom, there is a sense of stability and confidence in the long-range plan. People have noticed how quiet it is around this team.

Everybody just focuses on what we do playing baseball, outfielder Alfonso Soriano said. Everybodys relaxed and enjoys what we do.

This is different now, a lot of young guys, a lot of talent, new manager, new GM. Those guys they know what theyre doing. Theyre very smart.

Dale Sveum has zero tolerance for nonsense. The manager wont have to answer for Zambranos next explosion.

Its gonna happen, an ex-teammate predicted. Its in his DNA.

The Cubs transferred more than 15 million to the Marlins in the Zambrano trade, a deal that almost certainly doesnt happen if Guillen isnt managing in Miami.

Epsteins front office consciously tried to tape a distraction-free zone around the team. Near the end of spring training Ryan Dempster who will get the start on Tuesday night was asked about the new atmosphere.

I think its too early to say, Dempster said then. DeJesus is a real problem child. This kids crazy.

Yes, the Cubs imported low-key, low-maintenance veterans like David DeJesus, Ian Stewart and Paul Maholm. Sveum created a serious environment where hitters are in the cage early and studying video on computers late.

There are so many outside distractions in baseball, (even without) the situation in Miami, outfielder Reed Johnson said. They just kind of stressed to really focus on doing the little things weve done in spring training to help us win games.

If we can do those little things, thats really going to give us our best chance to keep putting some Ws in the win column.

Sveum believes a team takes on the managers personality, and this is where the Cubs broke off from the Red Sox model.

Boston woke up on Monday trying to interpret Bobby Valentine going on television and saying that Kevin Youkilis wasnt as physically or emotionally into the game.

Sveum doesnt need to see his face on billboards, and didnt come into the season with any plans for endorsements. He shrugs and sort of chuckles in the middle of his answers, and his grammar isnt perfect.

All that masks a very sophisticated view of the game, heavy on quantitative analysis, with an understanding of its emotional rhythms.

One thing you try and do as a manager is keep everybody on the same playing field every single day and communicate, Sveum said. As a manager, you have to be the same guy every day. Its just one of those things: Keep going, its a long season.

As an organization, the Cubs dont want any surprises. The video and the numbers will tell them where to position fielders. The background reports on potential draft picks will run four- or five-pages long. Decisions wont be made from the gut. Its all about risk management.

Chris Volstad the pitcher acquired in the Zambrano trade grew up in South Florida and spent almost seven years in the Marlins organization.

When Volstad was asked what to expect for Ozzie Night at Marlins Park, he said the two words the Cubs never want to hear: Well see.

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

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AP

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

The youth movement is underway in Chicago and it's happening quicker than expected.

Adam Boqvist played in his 10th NHL game of the season on Sunday, officially triggering the first year of his entry-level contract. That means he will become a restricted free agent at end of the 2021-22 season. If he appeared in nine games or fewer, his contract wouldn't have kicked in until next season, which would've bought the Blackhawks an extra year of Boqvist playing at a cap hit of $894,167.

"Maybe that was a discussion very early on but as far as coach perspective, we like him," head coach Jeremy Colliton said on whether he and GM Stan Bowman had conversations about burning Boqvist's first year. "I think he's played well and it's an opportunity with some injuries to give him some ice time. He's handled it well so far."

Boqvist is the second rookie on the Blackhawks this season to burn their first year, joining No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach. Whether the decisions were dictated by circumstances or not, the Blackhawks have seen enough of both of them to feel they can have an impact on the team in the short term without hindering their developments in the long term.

The number to watch now is 40. Like Dach, if Boqvist appears in 40 or more games this season, it will count as a full season and bring him one year closer to unrestricted free agency. Any player that's accrued seven full seasons or is at least 27 years old as of June 30 of that respective year can become an unrestricted free agent.

Boqvist appeared in six games for the Blackhawks during the month of November before getting reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Nov. 14 when Connor Murphy was ready to return from his groin injury.

But with Calvin de Haan (shoulder) expected to be out long term and Duncan Keith still out with a groin injury, the Blackhawks called up Boqvist for insurance and because they lacked defensemen with offensive upside. It appears he will remain with the big club for the time being and it serves as a chance for their No. 8 overall pick in 2018 to prove he can handle NHL minutes on a consistent basis during a desperate time for the Blackhawks.

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