The Rundown: Checking on Cubs’ Offseason Acquisitions, Morel Goes Yard, Japan Wins Epic WBC Final
“We went to the town with the library and swung all over that long tall bank on the main street.” – Paul McCartney & Wings, Magneto & Titanium Man
Opening Day is a week from tomorrow, and though the weather conditions aren’t expected to be ideal, there should be Cubs baseball. It’s time to check in on Chicago’s offseason additions as the team prepares to head north.
- Dansby Swanson: The shortstop was Chicago’s biggest-ticket free agent, signing a seven-year contract worth $177 million. He was 0-for-3 in yesterday’s 6-2 win over the Royals and is batting .065 in Cactus League action. Swanson is a career .255 hitter who has improved each season, so his inauspicious start with the Cubs is alarming. The early season cold weather won’t be an ally and he’s going to have to turn things around quickly. Swanson has always been a streaky hitter, so perhaps he’ll reverse current trends when the games count.
- Jameson Taillon: The 31-year-old righty was signed to be a mid-rotation starter after two successful seasons with the Yankees. Taillon started yesterday’s contest and struck out nine Kansas City batters in five innings of work. He’s added a sweeping slider to his repertoire since arriving and he has 18 punchouts in 13.1 innings pitched. That 12.2 K/9 would be the highest of his career if it carries over into the season.
- Cody Bellinger: The Cubs are betting on a return to form for the former MVP and Rookie of the Year. Bellinger has struggled badly at the plate in recent years and finished 2022 with a .210 average to go along with 19 home runs and 14 stolen bases. He’s 6-for-30 (.200) this spring with one bomb and four RBI. He has yet to attempt a steal.
- Trey Mancini: An outfielder and first baseman, Mancini signed a 2/$14 million deal with an opt-out after this season. He struggled badly after being traded to the Astros last year, batting just .176 in 186 at-bats during Houston’s championship run. The 31-year-old has been a bright spot since arriving and is hitting .400 with two taters across 38 plate appearances.
- Eric Hosmer: The veteran first baseman joined the Cubs on a minimum-salary contract after being released by the Red Sox. The Padres are paying the balance of the $28.3 million he is owed after signing an eight-year deal there in 2018. He’s hitting .242 and has plated five runners this spring.
- Tucker Barnhart: The two-time Gold Glove award winner will be a co-starter with Yan Gomes after signing a two-year $6.5 million deal with Chicago. He’s 2-for-23 (.087) in Cactus League action, but his value lies in his work behind the plate.
- Brad Boxberger: An 11-year veteran with closing experience, Boxberger was signed to strengthen the bullpen. He spent the last two seasons with the Brewers, posting a 2.95 ERA and striking out 68 batters in 64 innings of work. Boxberger hasn’t given up an earned run in 5.2 innings of work. He has four strikeouts the four walks this spring.
- Michael Fulmer: The former first-round pick has also added a sweeping slider to his arsenal and has the inside track to be the Cubs’ closer. Fulmer has been nearly perfect this spring, allowing just two hits and two walks across seven innings of work with seven punchouts.
- Miles Mastrobuoni: The Cubs acquired Mastrobuoni in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this offseason, giving them another option in the middle infield. The 27-year-old is 3-for-8 this spring and he’s hit .188 in 16 major league at-bats.
- Mike Tauchman: The Fremd High School graduate is the favorite to make the team while Seiya Suzuki recovers from his oblique injury. Tauchman played college ball at Bradley, is friends with hitting instructor Dustin Kelly, and has a home run, three RBI, and four stolen bases this spring.
Cubs News & Notes
- Former top pitching prospect Brailyn Márquez is finally throwing again. He hasn’t thrown a competitive pitch since the end of the 2020 season.
- Marcus Stroman returned to Arizona following the completion of the WBC. He made two starts for Puerto Rico, posting a 3.00 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP in nine innings. The righty also returned with the tips of his dreadlocks dyed blonde, just like the rest of the team, aptly named “Los Rubios” — The Blondes.
- Stroman and Nelson Velázquez are hoping to carry that WBC vibe into the regular season.
- In his latest piece for The Athletic, Sadahev Sharma details the unique way ($) Tommy Hottovy is helping Keegan Thompson recover from diminishing velocity.
- Mancini is using lessons he learned last year as the foundation for his spring training plate adjustments.
- Team Japan honored Suzuki after defeating the Americans in the WBC championship game.
- Suzuki has been progressing well in his rehab lately, including playing long toss, running sprints, and getting work in the batting cage.
- Hayden Wesneski, Julian Merryweather, and Edwin Ríos are Chicago’s top breakout candidates.
- This spring represents a return to normalcy for Cubs fans for the first time since the pandemic.
Odds & Sods
Hosmer has a new glove, and all the excitement of an eight-year-old because of it.
"I feel sexy with the new glove! Big Red."@TheRealHos305 mic'd up is a treasure. ▶️ https://t.co/49tPUc1chH pic.twitter.com/DXVsr6eUGO
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 21, 2023
Climbing the Ladder
“Excuse me please, one more drink. Could you make it strong? ‘Cause I don’t need to think.” – Dave Matthews, Grace is Gone
Christopher Morel hit another home run in yesterday’s win, and though he’s likely ticketed for the minors, I think that’s a mistake. With so many new players on this year’s roster, I believe the clubhouse needs Morel’s energy and love for the game. Plus, the sophomore utility player can handle multiple positions.
The strikeouts are a big issue, and Morel has 19 in 45 Cactus League PAs. That said, his energy is infectious and I feel a bit melancholy just thinking about him playing at Iowa. Morel will be a big part of any success the Cubs have this season, but it’s a bit of a waste to enlist him in that Iowa-Chicago shuttle.
- St. Louis: The Cardinals optioned rotation candidates Dakota Hudson and Matthew Liberatore. The latest arrangement means the Cardinals will likely open with a rotation of Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Jordan Montgomery, and Steven Matz.
- Milwaukee: With Aaron Ashby and Jason Alexander on the injured list, Craig Counsell has three options for the fifth spot in the Brewers’ rotation: Adrian Houser, Wade Miley, and Bryse Wilson.
- Cincinnati: With Edwin Díaz out for the season, the Mets could consider replacing him with Reds’ reliever Alexis Díaz. The two are brothers.
- Pittsburgh: Outfield prospect Canaan Smith-Njigba has some of the best raw power in the Pirates’ system, and could make team’s final cut. The rookie is the older brother of projected NFL first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
How About That!
Japan won its third World Baseball Classic as Shohei Ohtani closed out the 3-1 win by striking out Mike Trout.
The thrilling tournament was played without a pitch clock, suggesting that time limits aren’t necessarily needed.
Rob Manfred said the WBC will return in four years and it is unlikely to be moved to midseason or the fall. He also said he’d like to see more star pitchers participate.
Clayton Kershaw will not be the Dodgers’ Opening Day starter, but he’s okay with that. Julio Urías has been tabbed and Kershaw admitted the young star earned it.
The Mets are opening a members-only speakeasy behind Citi Field’s right-field fence this season called The Cadillac Club. A seat in the front row will cost you $24,999 per game and includes complimentary parking, food, soft drinks, beer, and wine. The club is climate controlled and includes a private bar with field views, lounge seats, flat-screen televisions, in-seat storage, and personal beverage coolers. An in-stadium concierge is also provided.
Ohtani-Trout was the epic ending that perfectly encapsulated this year’s WBC.
If you aren't impressed, you should be. Mike Trout has had 3 swinging strikes in only 24 of his 6,174 career MLB plate appearances!pic.twitter.com/VTlcRnAgPH
— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) March 22, 2023
Wednesday Morning Six-Pack
- The 2023 World Baseball Classic broke several records including viewership, attendance, and merchandise, and also set records for social media buzz. Attendance in the first round alone increased by 98.1%.
- World Baseball Classic Pool D games in Miami drew 295,850 fans — the most-attended round ever on U.S. soil.
- Additionally, 62% of Puerto Rican households tuned in to watch their team defeat the Dominican Republic.
- 240,000 Czechs watched their national team — made up of teachers, firefighters, and electricians — take on Japan. It was the most-watched baseball broadcast in the country’s history.
- In host Taiwan, Chinese Taipei’s games averaged 1.30 million viewers, which is also a record.
- Since March 1, Ohtani has gained 1.36 million followers on Instagram. He is also the first MLB player to garner 3 million total followers.
Note: All stats accumulated from Front Office Sports on Twitter.
They Said It
- “It’s not just [Thompson], a lot of guys do this. You go through this cycle. First, you feel great and you’re moving fast. Then you move too fast. And now you need to slow it down. Now you feel good again, then you’re going too slow and then you have to speed back up again and the cycle starts again. Sometimes the things you were working on a month ago that were clicking may not be the same thing you need to focus on right now.” – Hottovy
- “The slider’s just been a lot better in the bullpens lately. Today I just kinda had some cues I worked on in between starts and I thought today was a lot better. I’d say consistent shape that way. I also knew where to start it and where it’s gonna finish.” – Taillon
Wednesday Walk-Up Song
Spring stats don’t mean anything, do they?