The Rundown: Ross Finalizes Roster, Alzolay Earns Rotation Spot, Pederson Raking, No Movement on Core Extension Talks
The Cubs will play their final Cactus League game against the Diamondbacks today before coming home to Chicago for their season opener against the Pirates on Thursday. After watching Jake Arrieta get dinged for four runs, three on a home run given up by Juan Gámez, I’d seen enough. That Arrieta re-entered the game was the tip of the iceberg. I think we’re all pretty much done with spring training.
The Cubs lost 12-8 to the Rangers yesterday, though Joc Pederson continued to rake. The left fielder was 1-for-2 with his eighth homer of the exhibition season and, assuming he doesn’t play today, will leave Arizona with a tidy .372 average and 17 RBI to boot. Not a bad start to his Cubs career and coming off of a similarly torrid World Series last fall, Pederson should help Cubs fans adjust to Kyle Schwarber playing for the Nationals.
That's EIGHT in Cactus League play! pic.twitter.com/HPCKIAXtka
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 28, 2021
The bigger news is that David Ross made some stunning moves over the weekend that included sending Nico Hoerner to Triple-A and Shelby Miller, arguably the team’s best pitcher this spring, to the alternate site in South Bend. Many have said all spring that Hoerner needs more reps in the minors and normally the demotion would seem to be fair, if not slightly questionable, but Iowa isn’t starting their season for at least a month. The Cubs, White Sox, and Brewers are reportedly going to stage a dozen or so practice games, so the second baseman will get his reps, but Hoerner, who was one of the team’s best hitters at Mesa, may have been better served remaining with Chicago.
David Bote earned the starting gig and he’ll have to prove he’s capable of being an everyday player, so his strong spring shouldn’t be anything more than an indication that he’s done straddling the Mendoza Line. Hoerner’s glove will be missed and it’s hard to understand how the demotion is better for him or the team, especially given the rotation’s reliance on above-average fielding.
As the team headed to Arizona last month, few believed that the squad Jed Hoyer put together would make decisions so tough for Ross, but looking back, every new player brought in has truly excelled. Perhaps Austin Romine is the exception, but he’s injured so he gets an incomplete. Though nothing counts until the regular season starts, I’d say Hoyer is much better at filling in the fringes of the roster than Theo Epstein was, no apologies to Daniel Descalso or Steven Souza, Jr. It’s a testament to Hoyer that some fans actually lament that Ildemaro Vargas didn’t make the team.
Realistically, role players may make the difference between winning the division or missing the playoffs completely this year. If that is indeed the case, it will be players like Eric Sogard, Matt Duffy, and Jake Marisnick that will determine the team’s fortunes. For now, the Cubs seem to have a slight advantage over the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds, especially with a rotation that is much stronger than many of us expected. In fact, the rotation has been so good that Ross bumped Alec Mills to the bullpen. A roster that genuinely runs 30 deep between both sites with eight pitchers capable of starting should make for a solid and interesting season.
Cubs News & Notes
- Adbert Alzolay was equal parts surprised and ecstatic that he made the Opening Day roster.
- The still rookie-eligible pitcher will begin the season as the team’s fifth starter, though his eventual role has yet to be determined.
- Alzolay’s performance against the Dodgers on Thursday convinced Ross that the flame-throwing righty with the big slider deserved a spot in his rotation. “All the work you’ve put in throughout this whole time, really, I’ve been able to see it now,” the skipper said to Alzolay. “I know what you showed in the game against the Dodgers was the quality that you showed me last year when you came to the big leagues with that new pitch that you have now.”
- Mills lost his spot in the rotation when the Alzolay announcement was made. The rotation and bullpen are obviously in flux right now and probably will be for at least the first few weeks of the season.
- It’s highly doubtful the Cubs are leveraging service time in the wake of Hoerner’s demotion.
- Hoyer granted outfielder Cameron Maybin his outright release once Ross finalized his roster.
- Dillon Maples will break camp with the team. I’m tired of hearing about his potential and would rather see the reliever get more outs than runners allowed. A 1.929 career WHIP doesn’t support that, however.
- The Cubs and Anthony Rizzo were rumored to be close to an extension, but it seems the two sides are in disagreement on the first baseman’s value.
- Rizzo remains the likeliest of the team’s core to be extended, and it would be prudent for the Cubs to lock him up. Bear in mind, when Rizzo agreed to his last contract extension in 2013 it wasn’t finalized until May.
- The Cubs could be one of the biggest surprises in baseball or could be set up to be completely gutted by the midseason trade deadline.
- That said, Chicago could surprise anybody who believes they’ve been surpassed by the Cardinals and Brewers.
Odds & Sods
Always nice to remember the legendary Sidd Finch as rosters throughout the league are finalized.
A #Mets rookie who threw a 168 MPH fastball, attended @Harvard & played French-horn, was the @SInow cover story by George Plimpton published on 3/28/85. "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch."
It became an April Fool's Day classic.https://t.co/IWYdCHNFgP …#BaseballandtheLaw p 237
— #BaseballandtheLaw 🏛 ⚾️ (@BaseballandLaw) March 28, 2021
Spring Training News & Notes
With just a few days to go before Opening Day the most important news of the week is health-related.
Félix Hernández has decided to opt-out of his contract with the Orioles rather than accept a minor league assignment.
The Dodgers see one-time top prospect Gavin Lux as an everyday player this season.
Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes tested positive for COVID-19, the team announced on Saturday, while also indicating that no other members of the team have been inflicted so far.
Tim Kurkjian of ESPN provides 30 compelling reasons to be excited about the start of the 2021 season.
Could there be five players better than Mike Trout this season? Jeff Passan says not to discount the possibility.
The Nationals announced they’ve optioned third baseman Carter Kieboom to the minors. Starlin Castro and Josh Harrison will split time at the hot corner to start the season.
Versatile infielders are baseball’s newest secret weapon.
As of yesterday, the highest priced Padres ticket for Opening Day on StubHub is $2,250.00, for a VIP Field Box seat. The lowest-priced will cost a fan over $190 once taxes and dealer fees are added.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini will make his return after battling and beating stage 3 colon cancer. That’s just one of 11 stories to keep an eye on when the regular season starts this week.
Apropos of Nothing
I watched a great and highly recommended documentary last night about the history of Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, America’s original haven for outcasts, dope fiends, and loners. Of course, I’m always excited whenever I see a film that features Canter’s Deli on Fairfax. The Strip is the part of L.A. they don’t show you on HBO’s “Entourage.” I followed it with “The Black Dahlia” to complete my thematic evening.
Sliding Into Home
I am getting my first COVID vaccine on Thursday, a great way to celebrate Opening Day! It is nice to see the country slowly opening up again. Milwaukee is abuzz with talk of Summerfest (moved to September this year) and 100% capacity by July 1, though some events well into August are still being canceled or rescheduled.
If you were hoping the Cubs might extend a core player or two before Thursday, hope is about all you have right now. At this point, it may not be too far fetched to think Miller, Pederson and Marisnick have a better chance of returning next year than Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Báez.
Cubs are still working on possible Anthony Rizzo extension and would love to get it done while there’s no likelihood for a new deal anytime soon for Baez or Bryant, as I just said on @mullyhaugh. All 3 are eligible for free agency at year’s end. @MLBNetwork
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 29, 2021
They Said It
- “When I started looking at it from the lens of someone like, say, Kyle Hendricks, he goes every day and does his work, what he does before his throwing day, what he does during the game, his routine, all of that. I think that helped me a lot to change a lot of parts of my game.” – Adbert Alzolay
- “I’ve obviously expressed it before. I love Chicago. I love the fans. I love the city. I’m happy here. It’s just about doing what’s right and what makes sense.” – Anthony Rizzo
Monday Walk Up Song
Let’s Get it Started by The Black Eyed Peas – I’m ready for Opening Day. You?