“There’s talk on the street, it sounds so familiar. Great expectations, everybody’s watching you. The people you meet, [they] all seem to know you. Even your old friends treat you like you’re something new.” – Glenn Frey and Don Henley, New Kid in Town
After another disappointing offseason in which the Cubs did little to improve their chances of winning, I find myself in a bit of a holding pattern as a fan. That won’t stop me from getting my hopes up, though said hopes mean finishing above fourth place. In assuming that Chicago will eventually trade Willson Contreras, I’ve set my sights on following Frank Schwindel, Patrick Wisdom, and the new magnificent seven: Marcus Stroman, Seiya Suzuki, Clint Frazier, Daniel Norris, Nick Madrigal, Brennen Davis, and Caleb Kilian. I suppose you can add Wade Miley to the mix, too.
Some are cornerstone pieces that will be here when the Cubs are competitive again, and Madrigal, Stroman, Suzuki, Kilian, and Davis are part of that core. Frazier and Norris have an opportunity to play themselves into the mix. Miley will probably be trade fodder once the season hits the 54-game mark, though he could be extended if Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins like what they see of the veteran, assuming Miley likes it in Chicago.
As far as Schwindel and Wisdom are concerned, most of us want to see if either can continue to surprise or at least partially sustain their trajectories from the previous season. Can Wisdom hit 40-plus home runs with a full season of regular at-bats? Can Frank the Tank continue to barrel the bulk of the pitches he sees into regular multi-hit games? The odds favor Schwindel, as Wisdom might be a candidate for regression.
I’m more interested in Frazier and Norris based on their once-upon-a-time prospect pedigrees. A half-decade ago, both would have been monster offseason acquisitions, the kinds we dreamed of this past winter. Each has become a quintessential journeyman, projection still somewhat fresh in our minds yet facing the back nine of what could be short and disappointing careers for both. It’s not unfair to say this is the last chance for each, though that seems terrifyingly unjust considering neither has reached the age of 30.
Baseball can be cruel at times, especially when unfulfilled promise exists. Hoyer and Hawkins are banking on a wave of prospects to change the fortunes of what has become 3-4 years of franchise disappointment. Chicago’s minor league studs are entertaining to watch and even more fun to talk about. Indeed, the organization’s future is as bright as its ever been, but Frazier and Norris should serve as cautionary tales, too. Nothing is a guarantee until it can be proved against major league competition, and in that respect, even someone as talented as Davis offers little more than hope for the time being.
On the other hand, Frazier and Norris could hit their strides as older but still-unproven veterans, much like Wisdom and Schwindel did last season. Maybe Hoyer’s executive-level knack is finding an occasional diamond in a coal pile because he seems to be a bit out of his depth in the primary free-agent market. Low-risk, high-reward signings are great for the bottom line, but they rarely result in championships. That’s especially true if budgetary constraint is part of the team’s mission statement. Everybody loves a Cinderella story, but there is a paper-thin margin for error if you are authoring that tale with purpose and conviction.
Once upon a time, Frazier and Norris seemed destined for the same futures we are banking on from Davis and Kilian. In a perfect world, the two veterans would right the ships that are their careers and serve as leaders for Chicago’s next championship team. The flip side of that would be a trajectory cut short, one that implodes on the launch pad.
We’ve all had to break some shit in our lives in order to ascend to higher levels, so I understand why we are here as Cubs fans. Hoyer is choosing will over wits, though I’m not sure that kind of old-school management plays in today’s game. The Cardinals succeeded for decades with a similar game plan, but even they seem almost Mesozoic in baseball’s modern age. The Dodgers have drafted the new blueprint for success, one Theo Epstein promised a decade ago, which is to fortify the prospect pipeline with premium free agents. Time will tell if Hoyer and Hawkins can make similar strides.
Cubs News & Notes
- Keith Law of The Athletic spent some time at Chicago’s minor league complex and said the Cubs have a “Murderer’s Row” of prospects (subscription required for access).
- The rotation at South Bend will be absolutely loaded this year.
- David Ross said he likes what he sees of the team’s future stars.
- The “bobblehead snub” might be the clearest indicator that Contreras will be playing elsewhere at some point this season
- Most experts project Chicago will win 71-74 ball games this season. The Cubs finished 71-91 in 2021, so despite a number of offseason moves, Hoyer is effectively stuck in neutral.
- The Wrigley Field pregame experience is ranked 20th in all of baseball, and frankly, I’m surprised it’s not higher. The bar scene and neighborhood atmosphere is second to none, but perhaps that’s not included. Then again, here in Milwaukee, a lot of fans will forego the game just to stay in the parking lot and tailgate. I’m not a fan.
- Stroman and Kyle Hendricks are both under consideration to be the Cubs’ Opening Day starter, and each says the other deserves the honor.
- I’m a bigger fan of on-base machine Alfonso Rivas than most, including some readers who have little faith in the 25-year-old. I believe he and Michael Hermosillo, though a little younger, could be this year’s version of Wisdom and Schwindel.
- The Cubs have a bit of an outfield logjam with Frazier, Hermosillo, and Rafael Ortega.
Odds & Sods
Perhaps Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is hoping to become the next aged rookie to make a baseball splash at the Friendly Confines. He looks like a bona fide left fielder to me.
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 29, 2022
Climbing the Ladder
- Contreras and Ildemaro Vargas had home runs against the ex-Cubs starter.
- Suzuki was hitless and has yet to record his first hit in Cactus League action.
- Ian Happ was also hitless and is now 0-for-9 in exhibition play.
- Mark Leiter Jr. looked like an ace, pitching three scoreless innings with three punchouts.
Spring Training News & Notes
No matter how the organization tries to spin it, the Reds are definitely tanking.
With Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos joining Bryce Harper in Philadelphia, Cubs fans may get a sense of “what might have been” and the Phillies have a high-powered offense that could be the best in baseball.
On a sad note, the Daily Dish is ceasing operations.
Apropos of Nothing
I’m going to see the Eagles tonight at Fiserv Arena here in Milwaukee, which is significant for a couple of reasons. First, tomorrow is my birthday, and this will be the third time I’ve seen the band as part of that annual celebration. Additionally, it is my first indoor concert since the pandemic started, and ironically, the last band I saw indoors was the Eagles on their last tour.
There is a weird vibe at Eagles shows. It’s mostly a lot of very attractive younger women (by younger I mean late 30s/early 40s) hanging out with divorced, suburban dads who think a few IPA’s, a hit or two on a joint, and a spin around an adults-only website as a nightcap is the very definition of feral indignity. Today I am completing lap 57 around the sun, and I sure hope others don’t see me as part of that demographic, though my spidey senses tell me otherwise.
The Sammy Sosa hop or Stro’s strut? You wanna weigh in?
🎶They don't wanna face you, @STR0, no, no.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 29, 2022
They Said It
- “We’re finding that middle ground in terms of, ‘OK, what can we clean up in the swing?’ For me, it was just being more direct to the ball, not losing the barrel. It’s so minute. As a hitter — or I guess for people in general in anything — they say to fix something, you think it’s huge, right? Then when they’re shown, it’s literally so small. But that’s baseball. Small is huge, right? It’s a game of centimeters.” – Wisdom
- “No. 15 prospect, right-hander Kohl Franklin, made a strong argument that that’s about 13 spots too low. Franklin missed all of 2021 with the world’s longest-lasting oblique injury, but he looked unfazed by the time off, working 94-99 with explosive late life and two plus pitches in his power curveball and changeup.” – Law
Wednesday Walk-Up Song
In the City by the Eagles – I love the way Joe Walsh closes out this song in live performances.