Francisco Lindor

Cubs Talk Podcast: Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry 'we had Baez ahead of Lindor in the draft'

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry 'we had Baez ahead of Lindor in the draft'

David Kaplan and Luke Stuckmeyer are joined by former Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry.  In part 1, Hendry looks back at some of the players he drafted during his time with the Cubs and getting a deal done with Theo Epstein at the trade deadline in 2004.

00:45 - What he does now for the Yankees

02:30 - How involved is a GM with drafting a player

04:30 - Looking back at the drafting of Javier Baez

05:45 - What made Javier Baez so appealing as a draft pick

09:00 - Josh Donaldson moving to 3rd base after the Cubs drafted him

11:45 - On having to trade prospects at the trade deadline to put the team over the edge for a postseason spot

13:10 - Looking back at the 2004 3-way deadline trade that brought Nomar Garciapara to the Cubs

14:35 - On Willson Contreras' growth in the Cubs organization

16:40 - On going over budget to sign Starlin Castro

17:20 - Carlos Zambrano's growth within the Cubs organization

19:10 - How good could Gleyber Torres be?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Javy over everybody? The Cubs are buying it

Javy over everybody? The Cubs are buying it

Instead of debating about which team is better, the latest installment of the Crosstown Series has now become at least partially about Javy Baez.

The White Sox have been out of playoff contention for weeks in a season that has been tabbed a "rebuilding" year from the outset. Meanwhile, the Cubs are marching toward a fourth straight postseason berth.

So what else do Chicagoans have to argue about?

As Hawk Harrelson steps down from the booth this weekend, maybe it's Baez who is emerging as the central polarizing figure in this crosstown "rivalry." 

Cubs fans love them some "El Mago" and some corners of the Sox faithful can't stand to think of Baez as the NL MVP.

Just watch/listen to the crowd every time Baez steps up to the plate at Guaranteed Rate Field this weekend.

Hours after Cubs manager Joe Maddon raved about Baez's value to the North Siders, the NL MVP candidate went out and had himself an eventful first inning Saturday night — drilling a two-run shot, committing an error that led to an unearned run and then making a slick sliding stop to end the opening frame:

He later added a seventh-inning walk and a ninth-inning RBI single, bringing his season slash line to .293/.329/.569 (.898 OPS) in helping the Cubs to an 8-3 win and extending their lead to 2.5 games in the division.

"It's gotta be really exciting for him and his family right now," Maddon said. "We've been through it before a couple years ago with [Kris Bryant]. It's nice to see Javy arrive at this point. I mean, when we first got here, all the talent in the world — big swing, little bit out of control with his game, errors on routine plays and now all of a sudden, he's making the routine play routinely and then he's still able to make the spectacular play.

"And he's on the verge of accepting walks and when he's on the verge of doing that, that's when his hitting's gonna really take off. Lotta credit for him — he plays every day with energy, mentally and physically."

At this point, the NL MVP race probably comes down to Baez, Milwaukee's Christian Yelich and Atlanta's Freddie Freeman over the final week of the season.

"For me, what puts him above everybody in that talk is his ability to play multiple positions," said Jon Lester, who improved to 17-6 on the season in Saturday's win. "I think it's easy to show up every day and know what spot in the order you're gonna hit and what position you're gonna play. I think that's kinda the ease-of-mind type thing. Javy's done it at second, short, third for us all year. So I feel like that puts a little bit of added burden on him as far as showing up every day and not knowing where exactly he's gonna play.

"The offensive side of it speaks for itself. People want to nitpick at the fact that he doesn't walk, but I think the numbers speak for themselves — .300 with 34 [homers] with [110 RBI] and that's hard to argue. I know the other guys are good and I'm not taking anything away from those guys, but I think when you add multiple positions to a guy, I think that changes my vote for sure."

With Addison Russell on administrative leave, Baez slots over to shortstop full time for the Cubs indefinitely.

Saturday marked Baez's 43rd start of the season at short, but he's spent the majority of his time at second base (75 starts) while also dabbling at the hot corner (18 starts at third base).

Regardless of where he's played defensively, Baez has put up numbers that very well may earn him some serious hardware this November.

"He fits," Maddon said. "Listen, look at our league — [Dodgers shortstop Corey] Seager's been out the whole season. [Brandon] Crawford is really good in San Francisco. But for the most part, think about it — [Baez] might be the best overall shortstop in the league right now.

"Grade it all out with his offense, defense, baserunning, etc. American League, there's some competition on that side. But overall, I mean, he's a Top 3/Top 5 shortstop in all of baseball right now, even though he has not played there a whole lot."

FanGraphs ranks Baez as the fourth-most valuable shortstop this year with 5.2 WAR, coming in behind Francisco Lindor (7.4 WAR), Manny Machado (5.7) and Andrelton Simmons (5.3).

Maddon didn't mention Trevor Story (4.5 WAR), the Colorado shortstop who has thrown his name in the hat for NL MVP with 33 homers, 102 RBI and an .894 OPS, though he's currently out with an elbow injury and his Rockies may be fading in the postseason race.

But Baez is pacing the entire NL (regardless of position) in RBI — 109 now after Saturday's 2-run shot — and he is tied for second in homers, second in slugging percentage, sixth in runs scored, eighth in OPS, ninth in hits and 10th in stolen bases.

It's impossible to truly calculate his intangibles (baseball IQ, disruption on the basepaths, all-around swag) and his value to this Cubs team, but one thing is certain: The North Siders would not have driven into the South Side Saturday morning with a 1.5-game lead in the NL Central if not for Ednel Javier Baez this season.

Not many teams could lose their starting shortstop 10 days before the end of the season and be able to replace a Gold Glove-caliber defender so easily.

"We're kind of lucky that Javy is able to do that as well as he does," Maddon said. "He's had a lot of play out there already this year. So yeah, I feel very comfortable about it. ... You don't even think twice when you put Javy's name at shortstop."

Cubs vs. Indians: Which team is better positioned to get back to the World Series in 2018?

Cubs vs. Indians: Which team is better positioned to get back to the World Series in 2018?

It's been nearly 19 months since the Cubs and Indians played what may go down as history as the most important baseball game ever.

Game 7s are always instant classics just because of the win-or-go-home aspect, but the added bonus on that early-November day in 2016 was the fact either one of Major League Baseball's longest championship droughts was going to end. It was just a matter of whether it would be the Cubs' 108-year history or the Indians' 70-year.

Obviously we all know how that played out and for the first time since holding a 3-1 lead in that 2016 World Series, the Indians are returning to Wrigley Field for a brief two-game set beginning Tuesday night.

We're only a little over a quarter of the way through the 2018 campaign so the playoffs are a long way away. But could these two teams be destined for another date in the Fall Classic?

Let's examine the current positions:

STARTING PITCHING

The rotation is the easiest place to look for championship teams. It's really hard to survive a month of high-intensity postseason baseball without a stable of workhorses (even in today's changing world of shorter and shorter outings). 

On paper in spring training, these looked like two of the top rotations in baseball. It hasn't played out that way for the Cubs, though there is clearly reason for optimism with the way Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish pitched over the weekend in Cincinnati.

But the Indians rotation has been absolutely incredible, even including Josh Tomlin who was just bumped to the bullpen with a 7.84 ERA. The Top 4 starters in Cleveland can go toe-to-toe with any in baseball, as Corey Kluber (2.36 ERA, 0.84 WHIP), Carlos Carrasco (3.65, 1.07), Trevor Bauer (2.59, 1.12) and Mike Cleveniger (2.87, 1.16) would create plenty of issues for the opposition in a playoff series.

The rotation is the true strength of the Indians and while the Cubs still boast a starting 5 that could potentially hold its own against anybody in baseball, this one has to go the way of Cleveland.

Edge: Indians

BULLPEN

When you feature Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, it'd be easy to look at that and chalk it up as a Cleveland victory in the bullpen category, but things haven't been so great for the Indians of late.

Miller can't stay healthy and even when he is on the mound, rough outings have dragged his overall numbers (3.09 ERA, 1.54 WHIP) down. We're not used to seeing Miller's ERA even start with a "2" let alone a "3" so this is definitely a cause for concern. Allen, meanwhile, has only blown 1 save in 7 chances, but he also has a 3.32 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, which would be his worst numbers of any season since his rookie year of 2012.

The rest of the Cleveland bullpen is a complete mess, with Zach McAllister (7.16 ERA), Dan Otero (7.47), Tyler Olson (6.08), Nick Goody (6.94) and Matt Belisle (5.06) all struggling.

The relief corps has been an area of major strength for the Cubs in the first quarter of the season. Only Luke Farrell has an ERA above 5.00 in that Cubs bullpen and four different pitchers boast ERAs under 2.00 — Brandon Morrow (1.13), Steve Cishek (1.71), Pedro Strop (1.35) and Brian Duensing (0.61). 

The Cubs' main trick will be managing the workload for all these guys to ensure they don't run full-speed into a wall as they did late last season. But for now, the Cubs bullpen is head and shoulders above the Indians.

Edge: Cubs

OFFENSE

This is the toughest area to evaluate between these two teams.

The Indians' offense is incredibly top-heavy with Francisco Lindor (.933 OPS), Jose Ramirez (.985) and Michael Brantley (.936) providing probably the best Top 3 in an order in baseball. Brantley wasn't around for that 2016 World Series and has missed so much time the last few years with health woes, but he's back and as good as ever right now.

Beyond that, Cleveland is still searching for help. With Lonnie Chisenhall, Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer on the disabled list, the Indians outfield was so desperate for help they had to add Melky Cabrera to the mix as well as needing to rely on 37-year-old Rajai Davis.

Edwin Encarnacion will probably heat up at some point overall, but he's still on pace for close to 40 dingers. Jason Kipnis has been atrocious and Yonder Alonso has also underwhelmed. There's not much in the way of offensive help coming, either, until Zimmer and Chisenhall are healthy.

The Cubs feature a Jekyll and Hyde offense that sometimes looks like the best lineup in the game and at other times, causes their fanbase to pull out hair in frustration. But that's also the way the game has gone in general right now.

That being said, Kris Bryant is making a serious case as the best player in baseball, Willson Contreras is making a serious case as the best catcher in baseball, Albert Almora Jr. is making a serious case as deserving all the Cubs' at-bats in center field and Javy Baez is making a serious case as the starting All-Star second baseman this summer, currently leading the National League in RBI.

Even Ian Happ has utilized a recent hot streak in Cincinnati to bump up his season numbers (now boasting an .870 OPS) and soon-to-be-37-year-old Ben Zobrist has a .382 on-base percentage.

Once Anthony Rizzo gets back to being the hitter we all know him to be and Addison Russell starts depositing baseballs into the bleachers on a regular basis, you'd figure the Cubs offense would stablize.

There's too much potential and talent here to finish anywhere but Top 3 in the NL in runs scored, which cannot be said about the Indians in the AL.

Edge: Cubs

DEFENSE

Another area where the Cubs have been up-and-down, but once again, there is too much talent and potential here not to give Chicago the edge.

Zimmer's return will greatly improve the Indians' team defense and Lindor is still great, but Cleveland still can't match the Cubs' potential Gold Glove contenders at 5+ positions (Rizzo, Russell, Baez, Almora, Jason Heyward).

Edge: Cubs

INTANGIBLES

Both teams have some awesome veteran leadership and even the younger players are plenty battle-tested.

Terry Francona and Joe Maddon are two of the best managers in the game, but Francona may have a longer leash in Cleveland. Maddon's honeymoon period on Chicago's North Side ended the day the Cubs won the World Series, oddly.

The jury is still out on the new Cubs coaching staff, too. Chili Davis looks to be making an impact with the Cubs offense at times and his strategy of using the whole field and limiting strikeouts will take some time to really show strides on a consistent basis. The Cubs pitching staff is still walking FAR too many batters, but that's hardly Jim Hickey's fault.

Both teams should be plenty hungry all summer long as they were bounced from the 2017 postseason in ways that left poor tastes in their respective mouths.

But we'll give this edge to the Indians simply because they are still searching for that elusive championship, so maybe that drive will give them a leg up on the Cubs.

Edge: Indians

OVERALL

The Indians are 22-23, but actually sit in 1st place in the woeful American League Central.

The Cubs are 25-19, yet duking it out with a trio of other teams in their own division.

As such, the Indians' road TO the playoffs seems much, much easier as we sit here in the week leading up to Memorial Day. And the ability to cruise to a division title will allow them to rest and conserve their energy for October, while the Cubs will probably not get to coast to the NLDS like they did in 2016.

That rest and relaxtion may give the Indians an edge, but as of right now, this Cubs roster looks to be better equipped to win it all.