My initial plan was to lead with the A-Rod/Yu Darvish “debacle” talk, but that turned out to be several more column inches than I’d planned on and it got it’s own slot. Maybe not lucky for Yu, but lucky for you since I’m keeping this one a little more concise. Spoiler alert: Some quoted text led to this not actually being concise at all.
What a weird night for baseball Sunday was, huh? Not only was the Cubs game delayed about 90 minutes, but the whole preamble was consumed by research into why a pair of prospects were pulled early from their respective games with Myrtle Beach and Tennessee.
Things got weirder/worse once the game actually started and ESPN’s three-person booth devolved into some sort of free-form performance art. I’m sure there are people out there that love that stuff, but there were times at which the broadcast felt more like Mystery Science Theater 3,000. It was as though Alex Rodriguez, Jessica Mendoza, and Matt Vasgersian were the main attraction by simply commenting on random topics that were ancillary to the game, especially as it wound down.
I was admittedly on edge the entire evening since a pretty bad abrasion I suffered two weeks ago recently became infected. I’m now on both oral and topical antibiotics, but the pain through much of yesterday had gotten pretty excruciating. If you’ve ever dealt with anything like that yourself, you may know how one can get a little irritable under those circumstances.
Anyway, on with the show.
David Bote showing out
There was a time when popular opinion had David Bote as a serious trade chip. But with Kris Bryant missing time with a bum shoulder, Bote has proven to be a more than capable replacement. That’s going to be incredibly important for the Cubs over the month of August, which is how much time I expect Bryant to miss.
Though his most recent MRI revealed no structural damage, Bryant had a second cortisone shot in the troublesome joint after trying to come back too quickly the first time. Given his desire to avoid offseason surgery, you can bet KB is going to take it easy and ensure that everything is right before he comes back again.
Who knows, we might even get reports of eye rolls from teammates and a clubhouse divided over Bryant’s injury by the time the Cubs are next on ESPN.
But back to Bote, who continues to put in work in what is I think his fifth stint with the big league club. The number of times his yo-yo has bounced doesn’t really matter, only that he’s put up 0.9 fWAR in only 64 plate appearances, which puts him on pace for 8.4 fWAR in a full season (600 PA). Consider that Aaron Judge led MLB with 8.2 fWAR last year, and that was in 678 plate appearances.
Listen, I’m not silly enough to think Bote can maintain his 149 wRC+ mark given everyday playing time. What I am silly enough to think is that he can be a helluva lot better than just replacement level for the time Bryant is out. Which means he should be at third base most or all of that time, as his sparkling defense and solid bat have proven.
I’m not sure what Bote’s long-term future is, but he feels like one of those super-utility players the Cubs love so much. All that matters for now is that he’s a great fit for this team and providing them a much-needed lift.
#HugWatch gone wrong
Because the trade deadline is approaching, everyone’s ears perk up when they hear that a player has been lifted early from a game. And with the Cubs probably aiming more for bullpen guys without future club control, that generally means checking their minor league ranks.
So when news came out that Trent Giambrone — rhymes with “jabroni” — had been pulled from his game with AA Tennessee, chins were being scratched. Then Smokies broadcaster Mick Gillispie tweeted that Giambrone was embracing teammates and the #HugWatch went into overdrive.
A Marlins expert reported that they weren’t involved, same for the Rangers guys. It wasn’t for former Cub Blake Parker, who’s now with the Angels, but multiple Cubs beat writers reported that it appeared a trade was pending. After hours of speculation, the Cubs finally announced that Giambrone had been pulled due to a tight hammy.
So was he just trolling everyone? Could he have even realized he had that kind of power? Either way, it sure was an anticlimactic end to what had been a pretty fun evening of rumor-mongering. For what it’s worth, Luis Ayala was lifted due to some tummy issues.
Lester HOF worthy?
For as good as he’s been over the course of his career, Jon Lester has always felt like one of those Hall of Very Good pitchers. Despite nearly winning the Cy Young a couple years ago, he’s never really been in the conversation of “best in the game” at any point. But as Tom Verducci argues, Lester’s total body of work is getting more HOF-worthy all the time.
Lester is one of the best under-the-radar Hall of Fame candidates in the game today. Why? Because he is durable (headed for an 11th straight season with more than 30 starts); he is better in his 30s (3.09 ERA) than in his 20s (3.76), when we tend to form such opinions; and his statistical doppelganger, Roy Halladay, goes on the ballot this fall.
Few pitchers in the game today have a cleaner arm action than Lester. He is signed through 2020, so with his fabulous mechanics and with the Cubs figuring to stay competitive he has a good chance of getting to 200 wins. (He enters career start 370 on Tuesday with 171.)
Lester is no Halladay when it comes to being on the short list of “Best Pitcher in the Game” candidates during their prime. Halladay’s case is one for a strong peak. His value is entirely packaged in a 10-year window in which he finished in the top five in Cy Young voting seven times (winning it twice), made eight All-Star Games and led the league in complete games seven times. Lester has finished in the top five of Cy Young voting three times (no wins), made six All-Star teams and never led the league in a major statistical category.
Citing clean arm action and the improvement in his changeup and curve, Dooch says Lester can continue to enhance his candidacy for another few years. And considering the stigma of PEDs that surround several other players active in Lester’s generation, his clean history could help as well.
It’s actually a very strong case when you look at all the numbers he’s put up relative to several other pitchers who are already enshrined at Cooperstown. Couple that with postseason success that includes World Series wins with both the Red Sox and the Cubs, and you can see how it all makes sense.
But the best part of it all is that Cubs fans get to keep watching Lester pitch in the present and don’t have to worry about this whole Hall of Fame business for several years.
• The Cards are open to offers on Bud Norris and Jose Martinez, the latter of whom was the subject of a conversation Sunday night that smacked of past Kyle Schwarber talk. You know, the whole “bad glove, AL player” stuff.
• Darvish played catch in the rain Sunday in St. Louis, which, in addition to spurring that ill-fated segment during the game, may actually be a really good sign. What I mean is that a guy with serious injury concerns isn’t going to be out there in less than ideal conditions. So if he and the Cubs were comfortable with it, that means good things for the future.
• Prior to being moved back to the leadoff spot, Anthony Rizzo was hitting .236/.333/.393 with 12 homers and a 95 wRC+ in 357 plate appearances. In 68 PAs atop the order, he’s gone .411/.500/.696 with three homers and a 209 wRC+ to raise his overall line to .263/.360/.440 with a 113 wRC+. He’s still got a ways to go if he wants to bring those numbers up to what he’s done in recent seasons, but things are looking much better.