The Rundown: Cubs Sign Another 2B, Contreras Could Be MVP-Worthy, Gleyber Torres Projects as Generational Breakout

The way it’s played out is not as funny as the movie, but the Cubs additions to their roster this winter looks like the front office has taken a few pages from the script of Major League. Maybe Tom Ricketts can get Randy Newman to write a new theme song for the team. I mean, after all, Go Cubs Go is feeling a little aged and boomerish. How about the more appropriately titled No Cubs No?

  • Front Office Executive: “I never heard of most of these guys…This guy’s dead!”
  • Fictional Indians Team Owner: “Well cross him off then.”

The front office made another stellar, under-the radar signing last night, agreeing with second baseman Carlos Asuaje on a minor-league deal. That means, not counting split deals, the Cubs still have yet to add a single penny to this year’s payroll.

It’s also apparent to me, if not everybody else, that Theo Epstein gets a little OCD when it comes to collecting second baseman and should maybe consider professional counseling. The Cubs already have Nico Hoerner, Ian Happ, David Bote, Daniel Descalso, Tony Kemp, and Robel García on their 40-man roster, all of whom are perfectly capable of manning the keystone for at least limited duty. Javier Báez can play there too, and, in a pinch, Zack Short could probably take a turn or two at second base. Though not on the 40-man, the Cubs also gave Hernán Pérez a minor league contract with an invite to spring training.

With that in mind, you might ask yourself why the Cubs would feel the need to invite Asuaje to camp, given that he holds a career .240/.312/.329 slash line with below-average figures in wRC+ (75) and wOBA (.284). I’ve asked myself the same question, and I came up with no legitimate reason other than Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic mentioned last week that the Cubs might take a flyer on the underachieving infielder. Putting it less delicately, if Asuaje makes the final 26-man roster, it means that one or more of the above players, all of whom are better, will not be traveling to Milwaukee with the team once spring training ends. It’s certainly looking like there is full intent here to start Hoerner back at Iowa.

And that brings me back to the movie Major League. If you are not rostering the best players once camp ends, what exactly are you telling your fans?


Apropos of Nothing

I will be attending the second game of the Cubs-Brewers opening weekend series at Miller Park. If you are making the trip north of the Cheddar Curtain, let me know, and I’ll meet you for a beverage or two. The game is March 28, and I’m guessing Kyle Hendricks will get the start. That’s also my birthday weekend, so I’ll be pregaming at Kelly’s Bleachers.

If you’re counting it down, the season starts in just 69 days. Hope springs eternal, am I right? Hello? Anybody there, or did you leave me when I posted the graphic by Jeff Passan? Is this thing on?

Cubs News & Notes

  • Arbitration numbers are due Friday. Look for Epstein and Jed Hoyer to try to sign some of their eligible players ahead of any hearings in an attempt to save a buck or two. The hearings will be held Feb. 3-21 in Phoenix, AZ.
  • The Dodgers may have interest in Kris Bryant once his grievance is resolved, though I’d put my money on a trade for Mookie Betts or Francisco Lindor ahead of any attempt to acquire KB.
  • The key to unlocking the second-base mystery will be the decision the team makes regarding Hoerner. He would lengthen the Cubs bench if he starts the season in the bigs, assuming a rotation of Bote, Pérez, and Hoerner at second.
  • Hitting coach Anthony Iapoce believes Willson Contreras is a legitimate MVP candidate (video).
  • The Rangers are among the finalists to sign Nick Castellanos. The Cubs are mentioned, too, but at this point it’s likely just a courtesy.
  • Jon Lester is listed as a pitcher who could potentially rebound in 2020. Considering the lefty had an unsightly 6.09 ERA in his last 11 starts, that’s not much of a stretch.
  • Pitchers Danny Salazar and Alex Wood remain unsigned. If either or both are forced to sign minor league deals, the Cubs could find a nice swingman in Salazar and a fifth starter in Wood if they’re interested. Both will be playing in their age-29 seasons. An old familiar face is also a free agent and could be worth a look to potentially fill that fifth slot.
  • Another intriguing bullpen arm could be Jeremy Jeffress, who is represented by the same agent as Asuaje.
  • For those who’ve not been following the details, the Ricketts family’s purchase of the Cubs from Tribune Media Co. still isn’t quite complete. Or at least the ramifications of the sale are still spinning out. On Monday, the US Tax Court upheld $72.7 million in penalties over the 2009 sale of the team. That decision granted the IRS a partial win in its challenge of the $845 million deal’s tax treatment. You can read the actual legal document if you’re so inclined, but we may also be working up something a little more detailed. These penalties aren’t new by any stretch, but the timing isn’t great considering all the other financial issues the Cubs appear to be dealing with. Of course, this is more of a Tribune issue and shouldn’t directly impact Cubs ownership or the organization.

New Music Tuesday

  1. ChangesOne by David Bowie – When I first met my step daughters, we were in the car listening to this album’s counterpart CD, and at the ages of 10 and 12, my two girls knew every single word to Young Americans. I knew immediately we were going to be family.
  2. The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders from Mars by David Bowie – Do yourself a favor and watch the movie Ad Astra with the volume off and this album playing instead. When Moonage Daydream (Brad Pitt is falling) and Starman (Pitt sees pictures of his astronaut father) play back-to-back its nearly revelatory.
  3. Away From the World by The Dave Matthews Band – If the music industry hadn’t repeatedly gouged its own eyes out over the last 25 years, this album would have sold a lot more than 458,000 copies. The band got back in the studio with producer Steve Lillywhite in 2018 and very typically knocked this one out of the park. It would be nice if Ricketts could bring this band back to Wrigley Field for a two-night gig this summer. Maybe he needs to clear some payroll first.

Tuesday Stove

Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres could have a monster season in 2020 according to projections. Per Dan Szymborski, Torres could be on the cusp of a five-year run that rivals the best seasons of former New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

Eric Thames has signed a one-year deal with the Nationals that will pay the first baseman $4 million. The Nats appear to be maintaining hope they can sign Josh Donaldson, but they’ve also positioned themselves nicely to make a trade for Bryant or Nolan Arenado. Let me shock and awe you if I may, by predicting that Donaldson will sign with the Dodgers, who will also trade for Betts.

Washington also agreed to terms with reliever Daniel Hudson on a two-year deal that will guarantee the pitcher $11 million.

These five under-the-radar free agents, including Steve Cishek, could help contenders in 2020.

Extra Innings

Come on back baseball.

They Said It

  • “Willson [Contreras], for me, is an MVP candidate. For a catcher, being behind the plate the way he blocks, the way he throws, the energy he brings. It’s just being more consistent, and [last] year he was super consistent, and then had that hamstring injury…if [he] can stay in the lineup this year…he’s got a chance to win the MVP.”  – Anthony Iapoce

Tuesday Walk Up Song

Belly Belly Nice by the Dave Matthews Band. Dave and his mates went nearly a full decade before releasing anything new from the studio, and this song, with its signature DMB, funky instrumental hooks, is a throwback to some of the band’s bigger hits like Ants Marching and What Would You Say? It sits at number eight on my top ten songs of the decade.


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