New bullpen addition George Kontos is happy the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016...but he didn't want them to

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AP

New bullpen addition George Kontos is happy the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016...but he didn't want them to

George Kontos is just like you.

He was born in the Chicagoland area (Lincolnwood), grew up a diehard Cubs fan and went to school close to home at Northwestern. He even lived and died with that uber-emotional 2003 National League Championship Series, hanging out on Waveland Avenue with college buddies during the infamous Bartman Game.

But that's where the comparisons stop.

When the Cubs finally won it all in November 2016, the veteran reliever had a unique perspective...and he wasn't quite sure what to feel.

Kontos rooted for the Cubs his whole life and now finally gets to put on a uniform with the iconic logo, signing a minor-league deal with the organization over the winter. But he was originally selected out of Northwestern by the New York Yankees in the 5th round of the 2006 MLB Draft and later traded to the San Francisco Giants in April 2012. He spent the next five years in San Francisco, winning a pair of World Series but also losing to those 2016 Cubs in the NLDS after a collapse by Kontos' bullpen mates in Game 4.

"Being in baseball, I'm obviously rooting for the team I'm playing for. I've come in and played against the Cubs lots of times and the 8-year-old inside of me has always rooted for them," Kontos said. "But 2016 was a little bit difficult because they went through us in the first round and we had that bit of a collapse in Game 4 with our bullpen.

"So that one was tough. I can't say I was rooting the Cubs on then, just because it was so fresh and left such a bad taste in my mouth after how we finished our season. But now that it's moved on, I'm happy that they were able to do that. It was something I always hoped for growing up and the fact they were able to do it and I was able to watch it is awesome."

Kontos still lives in Chicago, so even after the Giants were knocked out in 2016, he couldn't escape the Cubs' run. Not that he necessarily wanted to, either.

As that postseason developed, Kontos was recruited by 120 Sports (now Stadium) to do a live broadcast of Games 1 and 2 of the World Series in the West Loop studios.

He still had to fight through those mixed emotions for the broadcasts, especially because he — like Cubs manager Joe Maddon — felt great about the Giants' chances if they were able to get back to Wrigley Field for Game 5 of the NLDS with Johnny Cueto on the mound. Maddon has often pointed to how important that Game 4 comeback was because San Francisco had Cueto looming for a winner-take-all matchup at what guaranteed to be a tense atmosphere at the corner of Clark and Addison.

But now, looking back, Kontos can revel in the joy the same way other Cubs fans can. Plus, the dude has two World Series rings already from the 2012 and 2014 Giants.

He hasn't spent a lot of time around these Cubs, but he can see some similarities between those Giants "dyansty" teams and this current Cubs roster. 

"The thing we had with the Giants the years we won is we had unbelievable team chemistry," Kontos said. "Everyone checked their ego at the door and it was playing as a unit to accomplish one common goal to win that day. And as the season progresses and as the postseason kicks in, that motto is definitely amplified where we have to come in and win today. It's all about picking each other up."

Kontos may get caught up in the numbers game in the Cubs bullpen, as there are plenty of arms vying for the last couple spots in spring training.

Who knows how this will all shake out with Kontos, but for now, he's getting to play for the team he grew up watching and rooting for.

"It's a dream come true," Kontos said. "I've been a Cubs fan since I was 5 years old. In those dreams as a little kid, it was always a Cubs uniform I was wearing as I was envisioning myself in a major-league game. 

"Being able to step into this clubhouse and put this jersey on and hopefully getting the opportunity to toe it up at Wrigley on Opening Day or whenever throughout the season, it's definitely going to be a dream come true for me, my family and everybody who's ever rooted me on along the way — teachers, friends, people from Northwestern. There are a lot of ties that go back there and I'm very proud to pitch in front of whenever I pitch at Wrigley."

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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Giants

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Giants

The National League looks as strong as ever, with as many as 12 of the 15 teams planning to contend in 2019.

The Cubs had a quiet winter, transactionally speaking, but almost every other team in the NL bolster their roster this offseason. 

But expectations haven't changed at the corner of Clark and Addison. After a disappointing finish to 2018, Kris Bryant and Co. once again have their sights set on another World Series.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2018 record: 73-89, 4th in NL West

Offseason additions: Gerardo Parra, Drew Pomeranz, Rene Rivera, Stephen Vogt, Yangervis Solarte, Cameron Maybin, Drew Ferguson, Travis Bergen, Pat Venditte

Offseason departures: Hunter Pence, Hunter Strickland, Nick Hundley, Gregor Blanco

X-factor: Dereck Rodriguez

You could easily make the case that Madison Bumgarner should be the X-factor for the Giants in 2019, given that if he pitches like an ace, he could either draw a huge return in a deal before the trade deadline or stay in town and possibly help the team emerge as a surprise contender in his final season by the bay.

But Rodriguez also has the potential to impact the present and future of this franchise. Pudge's son exploded onto the scene with a surprising rookie season (6-4, 2.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) last year and certainly showed flashes of ace-level. Can he duplicate it and build off those numbers in 2019 or will he take a step back and that will go down as his flash-in-the-pan season?

Rodriguez already turns 27 in June, but if his breakout was legit, the Giants have a staple in their rotation for the next six seasons. And that might be the best they can hope to accomplish in 2019 — find pieces for the future amid an aging core.

Projected lineup

1. Steven Duggar - CF
2. Joe Panik - 2B
3. Buster Posey - C
4. Brandon Belt - 1B
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Brandon Crawford - SS
7. Mac Williamson - LF
8. Gerardo Parra - RF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Jeff Samardzija
3. Dereck Rodriguez
4. Derek Holland
5. Drew Pomeranz

Outlook

This does not have the makings of a playoff team.

The Giants' offseason was only notable because of the moves they did not make: They could not land Bryce Harper after swooping in at the 11th hour and they did not trade away Bumgarner.

It's interesting that they were even engaged in talks with Harper. His addition would've been huge for the roster, but would they even be in the mix for October even with the slugger holding down the middle of the order? And if they had the payroll to climb above $300 million for one player, why didn't they use any of it to bolster any other weaknesses on the roster?

The Giants still have a championship core in Bumgarner, Posey, Belt and Crawford, but they're all either entering their mid-30s or in the final year of their deal.

And there's not much else to get excited about. Johnny Cueto had Tommy John surgery and isn't expected to pitch in 2019, Longoria is still a good fielder but wasn't even a league-average hitter a season ago and the starting outfield of Williamson-Duggar-Parra may well be the worst trio in the game.

The bullpen is a potential saving grace, as they return all five of their top arms (Will Smith, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Sam Dyson, Reyes Moronta).

Who knows, maybe everything breaks right for the Giants in 2019 — Posey rejoins the MVP race, Longoria returns as an above-average hitter, Bumgarner regains ace status, Samardzija and Pomeranz finally put it all together, Panik enjoys a breakout season, every player stays healthy, Duggar becomes a star, and on and on.

Hey, it *could* happen. But it probably will not. This is one of only three teams in the NL that I don't expect to be a part of the playoff race in 2019.

Prediction: 5th in NL West

All 2019 previews & predictions

San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals

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The Giants may be emerging as the new lead horse in Bryce Harper Sweepstakes

The Giants may be emerging as the new lead horse in Bryce Harper Sweepstakes

 

Smash Mouth may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but they’re certainly not putting their fingers and thumbs in the shape of an “L” on their foreheads.

Not yet, anyways.

The Bryce Harper Sweepstakes might be reaching a fever pitch, with the report Wednesday from NBC Sports Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic that the San Francisco Giants offered the superstar a 10-year deal.

That falls right in line with what Smash Mouth — yes, *that* Smash Mouth — tweeted from their official account Tuesday afternoon:

There’s no indication yet from Pavlovic or elsewhere how much the Giants are offering over that 10-year span, but it’s fair to assume it would be beyond the $300 million Manny Machado got last week. It’s been suggested often this winter that Harper and his superagent Scott Boras would like to top the overall value of Machado’s contract.

Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million offer from the Washington Nationals before the end of the 2018 regular season.

The Giants have been one of the latest arrivals to the Harper Sweepstakes and it was tough to discern how interested they’d be in inking the slugger to a long-term deal.

But now they may well be the favorites in landing Harper and placing him some 500 miles north of Machado and the Padres.

The Giants woke up Wednesday morning as one of only 3 teams in the National League that didn’t appear to be “going for it” in the near future, but obviously adding Harper to the mix would change those expectations in the snap of a finger (or the swipe of a pen).

Right now, the Giants “boast” an outfield of Steve Duggar, Mac Williamson and Gerardo Parra with Drew Ferguson and Cameron Maybin also working into the picture.

Adding Harper would be a huge get for the lineup, pairing him with Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford. That may not spell a playoff team for 2019 — especially with Johnny Cueto set to miss the entire year and serious pitching questions beyond that — but it certainly would add further mud to the NL waters.

That’s not good news for a Cubs team with no money coming off a very quiet winter, but it’s still probably better than Harper going to a team like the Dodgers or Nationals — two squads that are set to be contenders even without his services.

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