Cubs

When Eli talks, the Giants listen

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When Eli talks, the Giants listen

From Comcast SportsNetEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- When Eli Manning talks, the New York Giants listen. Making a rare mid-week address, the Super Bowl MVP told his teammates Tuesday to take care of personal business early so they can focus on preparing to play the New England Patriots in the super sequel in Indianapolis on Feb. 5. In other words, use the next 48 hours to buy tickets for family and friends, book air fares and hotel rooms and show up on Thursday ready to start practicing for the title game. Manning seemingly was ready to go on Tuesday. He had little to say about the 20 or so times the 49ers hit him or knocked him down during the 20-17 overtime win in the NFC title game in San Francisco on Sunday. The 30-year-old said he had a workout and was fine when asked about his health. He was more concerned about the Giants being ready for the rematch with Tom Brady and company. "I just told them a little bit how to prepare for this," said Manning, one of 15 Giants who played in Super Bowl XLII win over New England. "Just handle your business with tickets and get that stuff done, and just a few things on the mindset of this week. We have to have great preparation. Prepare this week like you are playing the game this week." Manning said the week leading up to the Super Bowl tends to throw teams off because they have to take bus rides to practice and their routine is thrown off. He believes the Giants will have 95 percent of their game plan practiced by Saturday, and they will be reviewing things in their week in Indianapolis. "Once we get out there, everyone will feel good about what we are doing, and now it will continue as dress rehearsal," Manning said. Punter Steve Weatherford, who is finally going to the Super Bowl after losing in the AFC title game the past two seasons with the Jets, appreciated Manning's message. ""Anytime he opens his mouth, it has some substance to it," Weatherford said. "He is not a guy who is going to bark a lot. He rarely talks actually. He is a very quiet leader. It was jovial in that team meeting but as soon as Eli got up to talk everyone shut up because they knew it was something important. He is a veteran. He has been there before and he knows what it takes to win, and he is a Super Bowl MVP and people respect him." Safety Antrel Rolle, who went to the Super Bowl with Arizona and lost in 2009, said Manning's message was excellent. "He doesn't say much and when he says something, he means it," Rolle said. "It's about business and that's basically what the message was about. We've got to go out there and take care of business. Everything else is for the spectators. Everything else is for your family and for your friends. We're going out there to take care of business." Players can purchase up to 15 tickets apiece for the game and kicker Lawrence Tynes said that can cause problems, especially deciding which members and friends gets the tickets. "I let my wife be the bad cop," said Tynes, who once again kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime to get New York to the Super Bowl. He also did it against the Packers in January 2008. Protecting Manning will be a big factor against the Patriots. The Niners sacked him six times and had at least that many hard hits on him. Guard Kevin Boothe said the line could have played better, but he added that San Francisco is an outstanding defense. He added Manning never went into the huddle and told the line they had to protect better. "He's a tough guy," Boothe said. "Nobody has ever questioned his toughness. He hung in there and made the plays when we needed them." Giants defensive end Justin Tuck was impressed "He doesn't get rattled," Tuck said. "He took a few good hits. He took a lot of hits, some that were like you look and go: "Nahhhhh" I was hoping I could get one on Alex (Smith) like that. But it just showed his toughness. I know I said Eli looked like the kind of guy who rarely sees the weight room but he's a tough guy and to get up and continue to fire the football and lead our football team the way he did with number of hits he took in that game, it's makes it easy to rally behind him." It also makes it easier to listen to him. NOTES: Manning had no regrets about his comment earlier this season that he felt he was in the same class with Brady. He admitted he can't always control how the answer is played by the media. He said his only concern now is getting ready to play the game. "My job is to play the game," he said. "It's your job to talk and make up stories." ...Tynes grew up in the Florida panhandle. He calls it the "Redneck Riviera."

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

While the Cubs put the finishing touches on a lackluster loss to the Reds Monday night at Wrigley Field, the game quickly took a backseat as reports of a trade filtered through Baseball Twitter.

In came a veteran catcher — Martin Maldonado — from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Montgomery, who will live on in Cubs history books forever as the guy who threw the curveball that notched the final out in the 2016 World Series to break a 108-year championship drought.

There are many layers to this move, including the corresponding aspect of Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras hitting the 10-day injured list with a strain in the arch of his right foot. Contreras had an MRI Monday afternoon/evening, which revealed the issue. 

Contreras felt like he could play through it and passionately pleaded his case, but the Cubs want to exercise an abundance of caution with one of their most important players.

"Our medical staff feels like if he were to try to play on it, that he'd be risking exacerbating the injury and turning it into something long-term," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "So we have to get ahead of it, take it out of Willy's hands and take him off his feet. 

"We don't expect it to be longer than 10 days — that's what we hope for, anyways."

But even before the severity of Contreras' injury was known, Epstein said the team was already in talks with the Royals front office.

"We've been having discussions with Kansas City and they had an opening in their rotation after trading [Homer] Bailey and they'd been talking to a couple teams about Maldonado and we knew that," Epstein said. "We'd actually been working on a version of the deal beforehand and it was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear that Willson was gonna miss some time."

That's interesting.

So the Cubs' interest in Maldonado is not solely based on Contreras' injury, which means they value the veteran catcher as more than just a short-term, couple-week insurance policy to pair with Victor Caratini. 

On the one hand, that leaves the Cubs free to trade Caratini over the next couple weeks if a deal developed.

But the move for Maldonado also shores up a major area of depth for the Cubs, which is exactly what Epstein talked about before Monday's game, referencing the change in MLB rules that eliminated the August waiver wire deadline. Now, every team has to make their moves ahead of the July 31 deadline and that's it.

"Teams need to keep depth in mind a little bit more, that you have to anticipate where you might be vulnerable to an injury and try to build that depth up in advance — preemptively, really — knowing that there's no escape valve in August," Epstein said. "So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Well, despite fantastic seasons from Contreras and Caratini, the Cubs actually have very little in the way of catching depth beyond those two. Taylor Davis is the only other backstop on the 40-man roster and he has almost no big-league experience. When Caratini was on the IL earlier this year with a hand injury, Davis rarely played in the month-plus he was on the roster.

Even if Contreras' injury is as minor as it appears, it underscores the point that the Cubs' depth is very fragile at the most physically demanding position on the field. What would the team do if Contreras or Caratini suffered an injury in August or September?

Now, they can add Maldonado into the mix — a veteran catcher who draves rave remarks for his defense and game-calling. 

The right-handed-hitting catcher is due to turn 33 next month and is in his ninth big-league season. He hasn't done much with the bat in his career (.289 on-base percentage, .351 slugging) and that hasn't changed this year (.647 OPS), but his work behind the plate was enticing to the Cubs and their veteran-laden pitching staff.

"He's an established catcher in the league who does a lot of great things behind the plate," Epstein said. "He can really receive, he can really throw. He's caught playoff games. He's handled some of the best pitchers in the game; he's a favorite for pitchers to throw to.

"He's very calm back there, very prepared, calls a great game, really soft hands, lot of experience, lot of savvy and someone who we think can step in and share the job with Vic and get up to speed really quickly in what we hope is a brief absence from Willson."

The Cubs haven't yet shared a plan for how they plan to manage the roster crunch for all three catchers when Contreras returns from injury in a week or two, but that might be because they don't yet have a plan. That's more of a "cross that bridge when it comes" type of situation.

When everybody is healthy — if everybody is ever healthy all at the same time — the Cubs could carry three catchers and utilize Contreras' ability to play the outfield and Caratini's first/third base versatility. They could also option Caratini to the minors for a couple weeks and bring him back up when rosters expand in September or if another injury strikes.

Either way, the Cubs front office, coaching staff and pitching staff can rest easier knowing they have another experienced backstop on the roster. 

The other aspect to all this, obviously, is in the Cubs bullpen and starting depth. Montgomery is out, which means there is an easy open spot on the roster for Alec Mills, who is making a spot start Tuesday while Cole Hamels continues to rehab his oblique injury.

In the longer term, this could be a good thing for the Cubs bullpen, as Montgomery was miscast and rarely used as a short-inning reliever. The 30-year-old southpaw last threw on July 2 and has only made five appearances in the last month. 

Montgomery was slowed by injury in spring training and then again in the first couple weeks of the season, but he had been building up his workload of late - throwing at least 2.1 innings in each of his last three outings. Still, the Cubs opted to go with Mills Tuesday against the Reds instead of Montgomery and they also had Tyler Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay in the rotation at various points earlier this season.

Montgomery hasn't started once in 2019, but he made 28 starts in a Cubs uniform, including 19 last year while filling in for the injured Yu Darvish.

The Cubs clearly feel good enough with their rotation depth as is (Mills, Chatwood, Alzolay) and Hamels' return looks to be right around the corner, so the writing was on the wall that Montgomery wouldn't get many chances to start in the short or long term in Chicago.

It's also good for Montgomery, a guy who got the last out in the World Series and did everything asked of him in his three-plus years in Chicago, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. 

Now he gets an opportunity to start, which he's been vocal about wanting to do, and he'll be thrown right into the fire — the Royals have him penciled in to start Friday...in Cleveland.

How's that for full circle?

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

When general manager Rick Hahn has talked about bringing up key prospects, he says he wants those players to be able to come up to the majors and stay there. That won't be the case with Zack Collins.

The White Sox sent the catcher down to Triple-A Charlotte following Monday's 5-2 loss to the Royals. No corresponding move will be made until Tuesday, but it is expected Welington Castillo will return from his rehab stint and rejoin the White Sox.

Collins was called up on June 18, but only played in nine games with seven starts in his 28 days on the big league roster. Collins drew a pinch-hit walk in his first plate appearance at the Cubs on June 19. He then homered two days later in his first start in Texas.

After that, Collins struggled. He goes back to Charlotte after hitting .077 (2-for-26) with five walks, the one home run and 14 strikeouts in 31 plate appearances.

It's unclear if Collins had a chance to stick on the roster or if the plan was for him to go back to Triple-A once Castillo was ready to return. Collins certainly didn't do himself any favors at the plate, but he also didn't see regular playing time.

Collins, a first-round pick in 2016, was seen working out at first base in fielding practice before games, but he stuck to catcher and DH. He could have played some first base or DH when Castillo returned. However, the White Sox claimed A.J. Reed off waivers and he debuted after the all-star break. Reed has taken the at-bats at DH, leaving Collins without regular at-bats.

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