Steve Stone mailbag: Time to worry about Sox?


Steve Stone mailbag: Time to worry about Sox?

Friday, Aug. 13, 2010
1:30 PM
Steve Stone dives into his mailbag to answer your questions about the White Sox's recent struggles, the chances the Cubs trade Carlos Zambrano, and more!
Yosef B., Rochester, N.Y. -- With the White Sox recent struggles this past week or two, is this anything that we should worry about? What do the Sox have to do to regain their contender-style play?

Steve Stone: First of all, it's unrealistic to assume in a 30-game stretch that a team will win 25 again, which is what happened. As far as the recent lull, they won four of their last 10, which is two games worse than Minnesota, who won six of their last 10, hence the one game lead Minnesota enjoys in the Central. They won't be as hot as before, but they should be good enough to contend and possibly win down the stretch. If they continue to catch the baseball, they will be in fairly good shape. If they are better than Minnesota, then they will win; if not, they will lose. And on the realistic side of things, that's the way things are in baseball.

Frank T., St. Charles -- Has any full-time player ever had more RBIs than hits for a season? I can't find anyone -- Harmon Killebrew came close and Carlos Quentin so far is in the running.

Steve Stone: I have really no idea seeing as I don't have any books that talk about hits and runs batted in over the course of the season. It's safe to say Carlos is a run producer and their batting averages are fairly irrelevant because you look to them to hit home runs. Despite his batting average coming into today of .232, he has 24 homers and 76 driven in and it becomes a fairly impressive offensive year. Again, I would rather have him hit .232 and be on a pace to drive in 100 than hitting .300 and driving in 40 runs.

Chad S., Chicago -- Steve, do you think the Cubs will be able to trade Carlos Zambrano this winter?

Steve Stone: It all depends on how much of his salary they are willing to eat and how he looks in the games the Cubs have left. The Cubs have played 115 games right now, so they have 47 left and it depends on how he looks in his starts in those games. If he looks good, they might be able to trade him, but he is not going to resemble the 19 million pitcher that the Cubs thought he would be before he started breaking Gatorade containers, having confrontations with the umpires, fighting teammates, etc. I think they will do anything in their power to get him off the team. That being said, they could very well be stuck with him another year or two.

Hugh J., Chicago -- Does Andrew Cashner have a future as a starter? If he does, will he have to dial back his fastball into the low-to-mid 90's?

Steve Stone: I think the Cubs dearly need some bullpen help and they probably want to use Cashner in that role. He has a great fastball, but he is struggling this first year with 1-5 record and a 5.68 ERA. The walk total is way too high and it depends on what the Cubs think, but I have to see more types of pitches and offspeed pitches to move into that starting position. For the moment and into next year, the best case is to grow into that premiere setup man stage, perhaps to be a closer.

Mike B, Oswego -- With the wealth of information on sites like Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, what stats do you use to evaluate players and make predictions?

Steve Stone: I use my eyes. I'm in my fifth decade, and those who solely rely on computers usually come up a little short. Those who have been around the game a long time and who have seen every type of player, we really depend on our eyes to show us what kind of player you are dealing with. A man's ability to play on a division-contending team, you can't find that into a computer because some guys have never played on a winning team. It's the same reason I wouldn't let anyone do open-heart surgery on his first day, even if he was the top med student coming out of Harvard, the best heart surgeon they had ever seen. I prefer the experienced guy that has done 5,000 of these, and no matter what happens on the table, he has seen it before. The computer is a nice tool but you can't replace the eyes of a veteran baseball evaluator because, at the end of the day, the computer doesn't have eyes.

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

USA Today

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

Jason Kipnis, who’s potentially the Cubs’ new second baseman but indisputably the pride of Northbrook, said there’s one major reason why his possible reunion with Wrigley Field is so exciting.

“Now I don’t have to hate the 'Go Cubs Go' song,” he quipped.

Kipnis was a late addition to the Cubs’ roster, and still not even a guaranteed one at that. After almost a decade spent being one of the Cleveland Indians’ cornerstones, Kipnis arrived in Mesa on a minor league contract, looking to win a job. Ironically, being with his hometown team is unfamiliar territory for the two-time All-Star. 

“[Leaving Cleveland] was hard at first,” he said. “You get used to the same place for 9-10 years, and I think it’s a little hard right now coming in and being the new guy and being lost and not knowing where to go. But it’ll be fun. It’s exciting. It’s kind of out of the comfort zone again, which is kind of what you want right now – to be uncomfortable. I don’t know, I’ve missed this feeling a little bit, so it’ll be good.”

It was a slow offseason for the second baseman, but the second baseman said that he was weighing offers from several teams. Opportunity and organizational direction dictated most of his decision-making, but Kipnis admitted that the forces around him were all, rather unsubtly, pulling him in one direction.

“They were telling me to take a deal, take a cut, whatever. Just get here,” he joked. “... It made sense, it really did. I think I didn't fully understand it until it was announced and my phone started blowing up and I realized just how many people this impacted around my life. Friends and family still live in Chicago, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The theme of renewed motivation has hung around Sloan Park like an early-morning Arizona chill, and Kipnis said part of the reason he feels the Cubs brought him in is to set a fire under some guys. He talked with Anthony Rizzo during the offseason, who talked about how the Cubs had struggled at times to put an appropriate emphasis on each of the 162 games in a regular season. That’s not a new problem in baseball, and it struck a chord with Kipnis, who himself was on plenty of talented Cleveland teams that never got over the hump. 

“They got a good core here. I’m well aware of that, they’re well aware of that, too,” he said. “I texted him and called him and asked him what happened last year, because I look at rosters, I look at St. Louis’, I look at all that, and I’m like, ‘I still would take your guys roster.’” 

As for his direct competition, Kipnis said he hasn’t had a chance to really get to know Nico Hoerner yet, but doesn’t feel like the battle for second base has to be a contentious one by any means. At 32, Kipnis has been around long enough to understand the dynamics an aging veteran vs. a top prospect, and doesn't feel like it’s a situation where only one of them will end up benefiting. 

“I know he came up and had a pretty good success, so I think [it’s] going to be a competition, but at the same time, I’m not going to try to put him down,” he said. “I’d like to work with him, kind of teach him what I know too and hopefully both of us become better from it.” 

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

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