The Rundown: Looking for Cubs Silver Lining or Two, Happ Defends Bryant, Cards Seize Control of NL Central, Sunday Baseball Notes
If you live in the Midwest and have been blanketed by this weekend’s heavy, wet snow, there’s no better time to dream about Spring Training and summer baseball. If the timeline remains as scheduled, pitchers and catchers will start to report in the next 2-3 weeks. We should start seeing more player quotes soon, and at some point manager David Ross will climb out of hibernation to spin this offseason as positively as possible.
You’ve got to hand it to the Cubs, though. They’ve actually made the acquisitions of Joc Pederson, Kohl Stewart, and Trevor Williams — the latter of which Cubs Insider broke — sound exciting. Perhaps the best thing about the Williams signing is that he will no longer be a divisional opponent. The veteran righty is the kind of middling starter that has made Chicago’s hitters look bad over the past few seasons, though his lifetime ERA of 7.09 at Wrigley Field shouldn’t give anybody the warm fuzzies.
Williams struggled badly in 2020, going 2-8 with a 6.18 ERA while giving up the most home runs (15) in the majors, a sharp contrast to a remarkable 2018 campaign in which he pitched to a 1.38 in his second-half starts.
There are other positives, too. The veteran has a career 3.17 ERA in March and April, and a career 3.47 ERA when his offense scores two runs or less. Heartwarmingly, Williams’ dad is a die-hard Cubs fan and former Wrigley Field usher who is pretty excited his son will pitch on the North Side this season. We should therefore expect the best from his son. No athletes want to disappoint their fathers.
I was born and raised in Chicago. Watched Ernie Banks hit is 500th HR in May of 1970. I worked 4 summers as an usher at Wrigley. This is a dream. Wake me up. This pic was at Wrigley in 2018. It was so cold that night. I am warm tonight. pic.twitter.com/kzpV7hWXAQ
— RICHARD WILLIAMS (@SDRICH7777) January 31, 2021
Hoyer sent scouts to watch Jake Arrieta throw a bullpen session on Friday and the 2015 NL Cy Young winner pronounced himself healthy and ready to go. Arrieta posted a 2.73 ERA as a Cub from 2013-17, throwing two no-hitters while serving as the team’s ace. Right now, the Mets and Cubs appear to be the favorites to land the 35-year-old righty, though more teams may show interest based on Friday’s workout.
Jeff Samardzija and Mike Foltynewicz could be reclamation project options, too, spell check be damned. I think the best the Cubs can hope for from any of these guys is that they pitch well enough in limited innings that Hoyer can flip them for prospects at the July 31 trade deadline. Imagine if Arrieta was traded to a contending team for an unheralded young pitcher with control problems who ends up becoming elite? I know, mind blown.
Then again, maybe Stewart is just that guy. CI analyst Brandon Miller thinks the former first-round draft pick could be a good under-the-radar acquisition and particularly loves his changeup and curve. He’s just 26 and not arb-eligible until 2023, so he certainly has the potential to become a rotation fixture going forward. If the Cubs can sign Arrieta, he could be a positive influence on Stewart. Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies should help, too. Stewart has a low strikeout rate, but it must be mentioned that the Twins instruct their young hurlers to pitch to contact.
In the meantime, Pederson represents somewhat of a buy-low reclamation project for hitting instructor Anthony Iapoce. The common denominator among most of Chicago’s free agent signings this winter is that each has had one or more decent seasons before falling on hard times, and their new left fielder is no exception. Pederson blasted 36 home runs with an .873 OPS in 2019 and has been better than league average in three of his six full seasons.
The key will be limiting strikeouts. In good seasons, the left-handed slugger keeps them at about 19-20%, but that rate jumps to 25% or higher when he struggles. Despite a poor 2020, Pederson had a stellar postseason and was instrumental in the Dodgers’ World Series run. As a part-time player, Pederson batted .382 with two home runs and eight RBI across 16 games. If anything, he’s been a solid producer for most of his career and can always be relied upon to make hard contact.
Cubs News & Notes
- Tom Ricketts has reportedly increased the team’s player payroll budget, though nobody knows by how much or what that ceiling was previous to the announcement. It probably shouldn’t have taken so long, but there are still 140+ free agents available, including many good players at discounted prices. Perhaps Kolten Wong will be a fit.
- Free agents Chase Anderson and Rick Porcello fit the mold of what the Cubs seem to be looking for in free agency: Pitchers with decent amounts of previous success who were derailed during the pandemic-shortened season.
- The Angels are still showing some interest in catcher Willson Contreras, whose market could be much more robust now that J.T. Realmuto has re-signed with the Phillies.
- Ian Happ believes Kris Bryant is being treated unfairly by the media and the fans just for being open and honest.
- MLB Network named the NL Central the least compelling division in baseball, adding that the division could get interesting if the Cubs make another move or two and if the Brewers sign free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
- Farm head Matt Dorey believes the team’s top five prospects provide a great deal of optimism for the future of the franchise.
Odds & Sods
I’ve got nothing.
There is no 'training' like MLB spring training
1969 Detroit Tigers pic.twitter.com/6AwnFJtOrm
— CirclinTheBases (@CirclinTheBases) January 26, 2021
Updates on Nine
- For a while, it appeared nobody wanted to win the NL Central. Then the Cardinals traded for slugging third baseman Nolan Arenado and somehow convinced the Rockies to pay down $50 million of the guaranteed $199 million Colorado still owed him. In return, St Louis will send a bundle of lower-to-mid-tier prospects out West. Essentially, the Redbirds have added the impact bat they desperately needed, and did so without sacrificing any of their greatest strengths: pitching, defense, and a steady pipeline of young talent.
- The Brewers will enter spring workouts with minimal changes to their big league roster. Milwaukee’s biggest remaining needs are at first and third base, where the team used Justin Smoak, Eric Sogard, Jedd Gyorko, and Luis Urías to cover those spots for much of last season with little success.
- Though the Reds recently acquired shortstop Kyle Holder as a Rule 5 pickup, they have reportedly entertained trade discussions with the Rays for Willy Adames and with Cleveland for newly-acquired infielder Amed Rosario.
- In what could be a case study for Cubs fans, the Phillies decided to open up their wallets and re-sign Realmuto and Didi Gregorius at a total cost of $143.5 million. That means Philadelphia will enter 2021 with basically the same lineup that finished 28-32 and in third place in the NL East. The Cubs have decisions to make regarding the futures of Bryant, Javier Báez, and Anthony Rizzo.
- New Mets owner Steve Cohen announced yesterday that he is going to “take a break” from Twitter after his family received threats this week in relation to the ongoing stock-trading clash between independent investors and hedge funds.
- The White Sox have re-signed left-hander Carlos Rodón to a one-year contract. The Cubs were said to be interested in the starter and former first-round pick.
- Sluggers Nelson Cruz and Marcell Ozuna are still available in free agency, and each may be waiting for further clarification on whether or not the league wi deploy a universal DH again this season. Right now, their markets are limited to AL teams only, particularly for the 41-year-old Cruz.
- There’s no doubt Mike Trout is the game’s best player, but Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Alex Bregman are also very good and can hit just about any pitch thrown to them.
- Ken Griffey Jr. was recently named senior advisor to commissioner Rob Manfred, and the hope is that he can help “help make baseball cool again.”
Sliding Into Home
I ordered the official, customized No. 31 home jersey for Scott Crandall’s wife, Peg, and in the gift note I wrote: “From Scott’s Cubs Insider family.” To those who contributed, I added a special mention. Thank you, everyone.
¡Feliz cumpleaños, Brailyn Márquez! The left-handed prospect turned 23 yesterday.
Never will there be a pitcher like 6' 10" Randy Johnson…but a "smaller" 6' 4" Brailyn Marquez sort of throws 100 mph fastballs like Johnson. pic.twitter.com/LQic1uLMx3
— Brendan Miller (@CubsRelated) January 14, 2021
They Said It
- “There’s pressures and things that go into every job. Nobody would have that reaction if it was a more normal job, if it was a more normal high-pressure situation job. But everybody goes through it. If Kris [Bryant] is willing to be that open and honest with people and fans, he shouldn’t be criminalized for that. We shouldn’t put him on display and write articles about how terrible it is that he’s not having fun anymore.” – Ian Happ
Sunday Walk Up Song
We Gotta Get Out of This Place by The Animals – Hilton Valentine, founder and lead guitarist of the Eric Burdon-led 1960s rock band, passed away this morning.