Mike Trout

Wacky Chicago weather may actually simplify things for Cubs

Wacky Chicago weather may actually simplify things for Cubs

Winter is coming...

...and it might not be the worst thing in the world for the Cubs.

After a pair of sun-filled days at Wrigley Field to begin the series with the visiting Angels, Sunday brought frigid temperatures and a lot of precipitation — including snow.

The temperature for Sunday's 1:20 first pitch was projected to be 35 degrees — 23 degrees with windchill. Plus, the snow. That all added up to a quick postponement, as Major League Baseball made the call more than five hours before game time. No makeup date has been announced yet.

It'll represent something more akin to the weather north of The Wall instead of the North Side of Chicago in mid-April. (How fitting on the day of Game of Thrones' long-awaited premiere.)

This means the Cubs won't need a spot start from Tyler Chatwood at all before Jon Lester returns. The 35-year-old veteran tested his hamstring on the field before Friday's game and could be back sometime within the next couple weeks after going on the injured list Tuesday morning.

Chatwood was slated for the start Sunday and due to a couple more off-days in the April schedule, the Cubs wouldn't have a need for a fifth starter again until April 27. 

With Sunday's game rained/snowed/wintered out, the Cubs opted to keep their rotation the same for the series in Miami beginning Monday.

Assuming there are no other changes to the rotation or schedule, the Cubs could — in theory — line their rotation up like this over the next couple weeks:

April 15 - Yu Darvish
April 16 - Jose Quintana
April 17 - Cole Hamels
April 18 - OFF
April 19 - Kyle Hendricks
April 20 - Darvish
April 21 - Quintana
April 22 - OFF
April 23 - Hamels
April 24 - Hendricks
April 25 - Darvish
April 26 - Quintana

That's a four-man rotation where everybody is on regular rest.

By the time April 27 rolls around, it will have been 18 days since Lester injured his hamstring.

With the Cubs opting to keep Chatwood out of the rotation, it gives them a nine-man bullpen for roughly three weeks as they try to improve upon their 5-9 early-season record.

However, as simple as it may make things for Maddon and Co. in April, it could lead to complications down the stretch.

The Angels do not have an opportunity to play a makeup game when they come to Chicago to play the White Sox in early September and they do not share many mutual off-days with the Cubs the rest of the season. Two such options — Aug. 26 and Sept. 23 — would not exactly be ideal choices.

If the Cubs have to fill either of those days with this makeup game, that would ensure they'd be playing a game in 39 of the final 41 days of the season — a schedule that would come close to rivaling their exhausting stretch to end 2018. (Though, it would obviously be a better draw to stay at home for one makeup game instead of having to travel to Washington, D.C. like last year's club had to do in mid-September.)

By the time the game is made up, the Angels also may have a much better lineup. If the game was played Sunday, Mike Trout was already ruled out and the Angels were also without Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton. Four or five months down the line, all three of the players may be back on the field, creating a much a much more formidable lineup.

Who knows how it will all play out and if it will wind up working out in the Cubs' favor or not, but one thing's for certain: No game Sunday means everybody gets to spend their day rewatching Game of Thrones leading up to the premiere.

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How the Cubs plan to line up their rotation in Jon Lester's absence

How the Cubs plan to line up their rotation in Jon Lester's absence

The Cubs officially placed Jon Lester on the injured list Wednesday (retroactive to Tuesday), but it's not yet known what all the ripple effects will be.

The only things we know for certain: Lester will miss at least one start and in that one start (Sunday against the Angels at Wrigley Field), the Cubs will hand Tyler Chatwood the ball.

But funky early-season scheduling and weather changes could have a major impact from there, not to mention Lester's own timetable on that injured left hamstring.

"With Jon, when he's ready to go, he's gonna go," Joe Maddon said Wednesday. "...We're just gonna play this as we go along. We're not gonna create a finish line. Jon's a pretty tough individual and we're gonna keep it open-ended and as he progresses, we'll try to create the finish line."

From there, the Cubs have enough days off already built into their schedule where they could maneuver through with only a four-man rotation (Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana) and they could have even more time off if weather becomes a factor. 

After this homestand, the Cubs head to Miami for a quick three-game trip, then are off on Thursday, April 18 before starting another homestand. However, they have yet another day off Monday April 22 and could work it so that they wouldn't even need a fifth starter (and thus could have an extra arm in the bullpen) until Saturday, April 27 in Arizona.

And by then, it'll have been nearly three weeks since Lester hurt his hamstring running the bases. 

The bigger issue isn't how the 3-7 Cubs fill out the rotation, but how they find — and sustain — a rhythm without their ace and Opening Day starter. To date, he had recorded two of the Cubs' three quality starts and has been the most effective pitcher on the entire staff.

"He's our guy; he's our ace," Kyle Hendricks said. "We know we have to pick up some of the slack, but it's the same mindset coming in — just try to win today.

"He's the picture perfect guy for us. He sets up the image we want to have as a staff. He's been that guy that we always look to. He goes out and sets the example for us. It's unfortunate having him go down for a couple here, but we hope it's quick and we can get him back and rolling again."

So it'll be Chatwood on Sunday against Mike Trout (assuming he plays after suffering a groin injury this week), the red-hot Tommy La Stella and the Angels. This will be Chatwood's first start since Aug. 18 of last season.

He signed a 3-year, $38 million deal in free agency before 2018, but found himself out of the rotation by the time the July 31 trade deadline rolled around when the Cubs added Cole Hamels into their starting five. He only made 5 appearances from there, tossing 9.2 innings total.

Chatwood has been pitching out of the bullpen so far in 2019, allowing 4 earned runs and walking 4 batters in 5 innings. He now has handed out 106 free passes (99 walks, 7 hit-by-pitches) in 108.2 innings in a Cubs uniform, compared to only 90 strikeouts.

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What baseball's extension trend — now starring Mike Trout — means for the White Sox rebuild and future free-agent pursuits

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USA TODAY

What baseball's extension trend — now starring Mike Trout — means for the White Sox rebuild and future free-agent pursuits

Baseball's hottest club is "Extension."

With back-to-back winters of free-agency frustration and changes to the collective-bargaining agreement (if not something much worse) looming, some of baseball's biggest names are saying "forget it" to what was once the ultimate goal of every player: reaching free agency and cashing in for big bucks. But you see it now, unless you're Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, that path has become a very risky one. Even a Cy Young winner like Dallas Keuchel can't find a job. Same goes for Craig Kimbrel, one of baseball's best closers and a guy potentially on his way to the Hall of Fame.

And so the extension craze is sweeping the game. If your current team is willing to hand out massive dollars, why risk jumping ship? Take the money. Take the security. Especially when these contracts are of the record-breaking variety.

The latest member of the club is the best player in baseball. Mike Trout reportedly agreed to a 10-year extension with the Los Angeles Angels. Throw in the two years and roughly $70 million remaining on his current contract, and he'll make $430 million over the next 12 years.

Trout's new deal follows the one Nolan Arenado took with the Colorado Rockies last month, the one that will net him $260 million over the next eight years. That came just a few years after Giancarlo Stanton's 13-year, $325 million with his then-current team, the Miami Marlins. He was traded to the New York Yankees after the first three years of that contract and will be in pinstripes through the 2027 season.

Those guys are three of the best players in the game, but these kinds of deals aren't limited to only the most elite talents/brands in baseball. This offseason featured "stay with your current club" deals for Aaron Nola (Philadelphia Phillies), Luis Severino (Yankees), Aaron Hicks (Yankees) and Miles Mikolas (St. Louis Cardinals). Next year's free-agent class is set to be absolutely loaded, but Arenado's already taken himself out of it. Hicks won't be a part of it, either. Given this trend, there's speculation Chris Sale might not hit that market and instead sign a new contract with the Boston Red Sox. Same for Anthony Rendon and the Washington Nationals. And here's a thought: Now that Trout has a monster deal in hand, what will that mean for the other guy who was set to break the bank after the 2020 season, Mookie Betts, the reigning AL MVP? Is there a possibility that a free-agent class assumed to star two of baseball's biggest names now might not contain either?

And that's why this all applies to the White Sox.

No, Trout sticking with the Angels doesn't have some dramatic impact on the White Sox ability to compete for championships in the future, nor does any single one of these extensions in isolation. But as part of his ongoing rebuilding project, Rick Hahn wants to add a premium talent from outside the organization. It's been part of the plan all along. There were opportunities to do that this offseason with Machado and Harper, but those two are playing elsewhere. Those weren't the last opportunities. There will be others in offseasons and at trade deadlines to come.

But this trend of extensions could limit those opportunities.

Arenado was at the top of the wishlist for many White Sox fans, but he's not going anywhere until at least after the 2021 season and he might stay in Denver through the length of his contract, through the 2026 season. Rendon, then, looks like a fine alternative, a third baseman who has been excellent in recent seasons, with a .305/.389/.534 slash line, 49 homers and 192 RBIs in the last two years. Well, if he decides to stay in D.C., there goes the opportunity to add him to the mix on the South Side. Sale might have no interest in coming back to the White Sox, but no matter how realistic his return is or isn't, if he takes himself off the market, that dramatically shifts the starting-pitching market in free agency next offseason, a market the White Sox could be looking to be a part of.

So whether these extension signers or extension candidates are White Sox targets or not, their avoidance of the free-agent market will have its consequences for Hahn's front office.

It's worth noting, though, as Stanton and the Marlins showed, these extensions do not mean all these players will remain with the team they sign with. Trades could become an even more common way to acquire the game's best players after they cash in for their big-money deals. In that area, the White Sox could find more opportunities. After all, Hahn has built a talent-packed farm system, and trading from a position of depth — such as the outfield, where seven of their top 11 prospects play — could end up being the way in which the White Sox get their premium talent from outside the organization.

Trout might not have been in the cards for the White Sox two offseasons from now, so news of his high-priced extension might have made no difference to the team on the South Side. But he's joining in a trend — and now setting a new bar with this record deal — that could have big effects on which players the White Sox will even have the opportunity to pursue in the coming years. And because building a contender solely out of homegrown players is just about impossible, that's a big deal.

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