Baseball

We thought it may never come, but baseball season is once again upon us. And with the Cubs’ World Series core all signed to other teams and the Red Hot Chili Peppers just releasing a new album with John Frusciante on guitar, it really feels like we’re back in 2006. (Linked is Frusciante shredding up Give It Away like it’s nothing on Howard Stern. I didn’t get to see this band live with him in the lineup, so I am absurdly excited for the tour. Take my money.)

The Cubs have yet to officially announce their Opening Day roster, but it’s certainly starting to take shape, and things look a bit rocky with a myriad of starting and bullpen pitchers beginning the season on the injured list, because of course they are. Kyle Hendricks is deservedly slated to be the Opening Day starter, with Rossy confirming that Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman are starting on Friday and Saturday respectively. Drew Smyly, a pickup from the Braves this offseason, could be an option for Sunday’s start as well.

Stroman, the offseason pitching signing the Cubs inked just before the lockout, is yet another pitcher who loves inducing ground balls, and throws a 92 mph fastball—and though that may not seem very fast to you, it’s fast compared to the rest of the Cubs pitchers, since fastballs are not this team’s specialty. Meanwhile, veteran starter Wade Miley, who the Cubs easily plucked from the swarmey, grimey hands of Bob Castellini, has been on a slower ramp-up schedule over Spring Training and is expected to start the season on the injured list. Miley had a bounceback season with the Reds last year with a 3.37 ERA and a no-hitter to his name.

The bullpen is just a teeny tiny bit of a tire fire at the moment, with three of the strongest pitchers, Adbert Alzolay, Brad Wieck and Codi Heuer, starting the season on the 60-day IL. (White Sox fans are laughing maniacally at this news, I’m sure.) With the slower start to begin the season with the off-day on Monday, I bet we see Alec Mills or Keegan Thompson on relief duty to patch some of those bullpen holes. Other than those guys, we have a myriad of Joe Schmoes who will have a chance out of the bullpen. Michael Rucker is an interesting name to keep an eye on—he pitched 28.1 innings last season and had a ballooning 6.99 ERA, but didn’t look terrible in Arizona with a 2.25 ERA and 11 strikeouts over 8 innings. Some other names we will likely see early: Jesse Chavez, Scott Effross, Daniel Norris, Mychal Givens, David Robertson, and Rowan Wick. With no true closer figured out yet, expect the latter three to be rotating in and out of the 9th innings until Rossy sees someone that can maybe sorta kinda replace Craig Kimbrel. (Nobody can.)

As for the fielders, let’s start out with the obligatory fuck you to Ricketts and Co. for the handling of Willson Contreras’s contract extension this offseason. We’ve seen this long national nightmare before and we all know where it’s going—if Contreras is still a Cub after this year’s deadline I will be genuinely shocked. In the meantime, Rossy is relieved to have the DH in the NL now so he doesn’t have to ride Contreras into the fucking ground during the first half of the season. Hopefully he has a bounceback offensive season this year with some days off in the DH role as new signee Yan Gomes takes some starts. That way Contreras can get paid the big bucks he deserves in free agency when he signs to some team that isn’t the Cubs. Prepare yourselves.

The Cubs infield consists of a halfhearted shrug from me. Andrelton Simmons, who the front office hailed as the singular solution to the team’s defensive issues we saw in the back half of last season, looks bound for the injured list with shoulder problems. This means we will see Nico Hoerner at shortstop, who is surprisingly not injured to start the season (please God, do not Motherfuck me on this.) Patrick Wisdom and Frank Schwindel will make their triumphant returns and we’ll see if last season wasn’t just an epic, humungous fluke. Finally, Nick Madrigal is expected to hopefully not get hurt this season and build upon his offensive numbers—he had a .305/.249/.425 slash line with the Sox before tearing his hamstring in June to end his 2021 season.

Last but not least, the Cubs outfield got bolstered substantially with the signing of Seiya Suzuki from Japan, who nudges Jason Heyward, God save us all, over to center. There’s understandably been a lot of hype around Seiya, but I’m trying to temper my expectations as he will probably need some time to adjust to the MLB. He hit two home run bombs in Spring Training but also had 7 strikeouts in 17 plate appearances, good for a .235/.350/.588 slash line. So again, time to adjust is needed. Meanwhile, Ian Happ, known oh-so-affectionately around here as the Kirby Dach of the Chicago Cubs, had surgery over the offseason and will probably see a lighter workload to start things off. Heyward continues to be a Locker Room Guy and not much else—just two more seasons on that contract to go. Other than that, we’ll probably see old familiars like Rafael Ortega and Michael Hermosillo filling in any outfield holes.

It was really looking like the Cubs were heading into full-blown rebuild mode going into this offseason, but the tides have turned slightly with some significant pitching signings and the acquisition of Seiya Suzuki this winter. Now the Cubs’ ship seems to be turning in circles, stuck between rebuild and contention, the place that MLB owners love so much to be. This team certainly won’t be good, but considering the expanded 12-team playoff system that came out of the lockout and the irreverent tanking of the Reds and Pirates this year, a playoff spot may not be as out of reach as you think…if everything goes exactly according to plan, of course. But I think a season not unlike the one in 2006 is in our midst.

Despite it all…go Cubs go!

Everything Else

There’s nothing funnier than when a Cubs team with nothing to play for spoils a playoff-contending team by winning the series. It gets even funnier when it’s the Cincinnati Reds, who only got one win and arguably should’ve come out of this series with all three to jump back into a playoff position. Now they are a game back of the Padres in the wild card race and the Cubs have won eight of their last nine games. Get your fun where you can get it at this point of a lost season.

September 6, 2021
Cubs 4, Reds 3
WP: Effross (2-0) LP: Lorenzen (0-2)
Box Score

The Reds become one of the more formidable opponents the Cubs have faced recently, as they poked holes in our defense and figured out Justin Steele the third time through the lineup, which is when opponents always figure out Justin Steele.

Ian Happ spotted the Cubs an early 3-0 lead after a fielding error and a single for Rafael Ortega and Frank Schwindel put them on base, putting Happ in the position to hit his big homer. That was just about all the offense either team allowed until the 6th, when things got stupid with Steele walking a batter, allowing a single and hitting two guys in a row.

Codi Heuer replaced Steele and we all watched as most of his pitches didn’t go where he wanted them to go, culminating toward the Reds tying the game on a double off of him. However, Scott F-Ross came in in the 7th and was able to pretty reliably shut down the Reds offense as they squandered their chances of moving back into a wild card position.

The nail in the coffin of this game was Frank Schwindel once again with the game-winning hit, which happened in the bottom of the 8th inning and scored Alfonso Rivas, who had singled earlier. Adam Morgan completely shut things down in the 9th with the save, which included a line-out for pinch hitter Joey Votto. A solid performance, despite a complete lack of offense for most of the outing with Sonny Gray on the mound.

September 7, 2021
Cubs 3, Reds 4
WP: Miley (12-5) LP: Sampson (0-2)
Box Score

Despite their best efforts and a start from Adrian Sampson, the Cubs weren’t able to win their eighth in a row. Two homers – one a leadoff homer – in the 1st inning for the Reds made it so the Cubs couldn’t ever catch up. The Cubs were unable to figure out Reds pitcher Wade Miley, with only a Willson Contreras solo homer in the 3rd inning to dent Miley’s stats.

Sampson allowed six hits in five innings pitched and allowed no more runs after his shaky first inning. He also threw only one strikeout and allowed a walk, however, which is a somewhat-concerning stat. Miley, on the other hand, struck out eight Cubs in his seven innings pitched and allowed no walks and only five hits. Contreras’s homer was the only run he allowed, showing the Cubs how far this team actually is from having a solid starter. Pray for us all.

Sergio Alcantara had a few good throwing plays this game, which is good to see considering he seems to be the poor man’s Javy Baez replacement. Schwindel was also doing a good job of catching all of those throws—if a ball was hit to the infield today, the Cubs were able to get the out.

Manuel Rodriguez allowed two more Reds runs in the 8th inning, allowing big outfield hits that the current Cubs outfield couldn’t make plays on. The homer happy Cubs got two solo dingers in the bottom of the 8th from Rafael Ortega and Happ to make the score 4-3, but it wouldn’t be enough as the Reds took this one.

September 8, 2021
Cubs 4, Reds 1 (F/10)
WP: Heuer (7-2) LP: Brach (1-2)
Box Score

For the first four innings of this game the only runs to be had were solo dingers, one for each team: Ian Happ and Joey Votto, respectively. Other than that, it was for the most part a pitchers’ duel between Alec Mills and Vladimir Gutierrez. Mills was able to stay in for six innings and allowed four hits and a walk with three strikeouts. This is compared to Gutierrez, who despite only going five innings had twice as many strikeouts and half as many hits. Once again, our starting pitching has a long way to go to get to playoff contention.

Once Mills’s time was done, Rowan Wick allowed two hits but no runs in two innings pitched, and then Codi Heuer stepped to the mound to allow no hits and two strikeouts in his winning performance. His pitches are really something to watch; many of them never look like strikes because they’re always so inside, but whenever a player swings at those inside pitches they almost never make contact.

The unlikely hero of this game was Jason Heyward in the bottom of the 10th inning—everyone knew the ball was outta here seemingly as soon as the ball left his bat. He knocked in Contreras, the runner who had started on second base, and Patrick Wisdom, who hit a bloop to left field and ended up stealing second base soon after.

The Cubs are off today and then return this weekend to face the Giants and Kris Bryant, who is having the time of his life away from the Ricketts family and all you can do is wish him the best. Bryant was out on Tuesday for the Giants with an injury (shocker) but is supposed to make a quick return by the time this series tees off. Psst — remember Jake Jewell? Did you miss that he got picked off waivers when we tried to send him to the minors? (You wouldn’t be at fault if you did.) He’s now with the Giants’ AAA affiliate, which is where Jake Jewell is supposed to be when employed by a team with actual MLB-caliber players.

As for the Giants themselves, they still lead the MLB with 90 wins of this writing and will likely find themselves in the first-place playoff spot, as long as they keep the Dodgers an arm’s length away, which is what the Dodgers deserve. Wins will be hard to come by, and I’m not sure if Happ’s season in a can performance over the past month will be enough to fool this team. We’ll see what happens. Go Cubs go!

Baseball

Though the series started on a positive note, things sort of ended with a flop as the Cubs continue to struggle offensively, along with rolling out shaky starters who you can never completely trust to hold it together for a quality 5-6 innings. I’m not sure what exactly I expected out of this series, but I was certainly hoping for at least a split — obviously that didn’t happen as the Dodgers starters were able to shut down the Cubs offense for the most part. Let’s break these games down.

June 24, 2021
Cubs 4, Dodgers 0
WP: Davies (5-4) LP: Buehler (7-1)
Box Score

I must say, I was not confident in Zach Davies’ abilities at the posting of the last wrap, but he was finally able to put up a good game today — a combined no-hit game, in fact — against the Dodgers, and against Walker Buehler, whose ERA was over 1.00 points higher than Davies. However, he gave us a quality start of 6 innings, being a big part of the no-hitter tonight and striking out four batters. He also walked five people, something he definitely needs to work on, but it was all in all a solid outing for him.

Meanwhile, on the offensive front, our home-run-happy Cubs continued to hit some home runs, if you can believe that. Javier Baez started things off on the right foot in the 1st with a solo dinger, and then in the 6th Willson Contreras hit a home run of his own, scoring Bryant, who walked to start the inning off.

An offensive rally began in the 7th inning when Jason Heyward was able to hit a single, dashing to second base after an ugly Dodgers throwing error. He had two hits this game after being quite invisible offensively for most of the season.

Eric Sogard, the king of singles, was able to send Heyward to third base. And once again, the pinch hitters put up a hit, as Jake Marisnick hit for Davies and was able to poke one to the outfield, scoring Heyward. Pederson was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but after that a Bryant strikeout and a double play against Baez ended the inning.

Teamwork makes the dream work, as Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin both threw an inning each to keep the team no-hitter intact. Once again we were all blessed to watch a Craig Kimbrel save unfold before our very eyes, and there was a celebration abound as the Cubs threw the first combined no-hitter in MLB since 2019. Congrats to all.

June 25, 2021
Cubs 2, Dodgers 6
WP: Treinen (2-3) LP: Tepera (0-1)
Box Score

This game didn’t go nearly as well, as Jake Arrieta starts are wont to go these days. However, it wasn’t Arrieta on the hook with the loss this game, and he was able to stay in the game for 5.0 innings, which is…progress? He allowed five hits, three walks and two runs in his time on the mound, however, which can definitely be improved upon. He allowed a single in the second inning, and a steal and two groundouts that advanced a baserunner made it 1-1 at the bottom of the 2nd. (Kris Bryant hit a solo dinger during the second at-bat of the game.) Then Arrieta allowed a homer to start the 3rd inning to make it 2-1 Dodgers. A walk and a double put runners in scoring position, and an intentional walk loaded the bases with two outs, but he was able to lineout to end the inning.

Arrieta allowed no more runs in his time on the mound, but tonight the bullpen was not as sharp as it usually is. Keegan Thompson and Andrew Chafin combined to allow no hits in the 6th and 7th innings of the game, but it was Ryan Tepera and Tommy Nance who collapsed in the 8th inning, allowing two homers and four runs total between the two of them. Definitely a forgetful ending to this game, for sure.

June 26, 2021
Cubs 2, Dodgers 3
WP: Price (3-0) LP: Thompson (3-2)
Box Score

It was Alec Mills’ time to start in the rotation, and he only threw four innings, giving up hits almost immediately and wracking up eight total on the night. Two doubles in the bottom of the 1st put the Dodgers ahead immediately, and a wild pitch by Mills advanced Max Muncy to third base. It just took another single for the Dodgers to make it 2-0.

However, Mills gave up no more runs for the next three innings, thanks in part to Willson Contreras making one of a few highlight-reel plays for him this game. In the 2nd inning, he was able to catch Chris Taylor stealing third, getting the ball to Patrick Wisdom to throw him out. This inevitably saved the Cubs a run that would’ve put them in a 3-0 hole, as a groundout right after this ended the inning.

The rest of his start, Mills walked two pitchers and allowed three singles. It was once again Contreras keeping the Cubs in the game, picking off Chris Taylor yet again at third base in the 4th inning. Anthony Rizzo hit a solo homer the half-inning before, and it was Contreras’s defensive ability to allow the Cubs to tie the game just a half-inning later on two doubles from two players who’ve been a mess offensively all year: Jason Heyward and Ian Happ.

Heyward continued to produce, even hitting a solo homer in the top of the 7th to give the Cubs the lead…or did he? Not according to the officials, who decided to overturn the call on the field with no evidence that the ball went foul, and when the video review was similarly inconclusive, the overturned call stayed. Umps explaining calls to fans when?

That didn’t keep Heyward from being productive that at-bat, though, although the single he hit was much less than productive than the go-ahead homer would’ve been. The Cubs weren’t able to score in this situation, though, and it ended up being a game-deciding call, as the Dodgers walked it off in the 9th inning with a solo home run. This was definitely a game stolen in part by umping, and those are always tough ones to swallow.

June 27, 2021
Cubs 1, Dodgers 7
WP: Kershaw (9-7) LP: Alzolay (4-7)
Box Score

This game wasn’t stolen by umping by any means. Unfortunately, Adbert Alzolay had a tough night, as the game went off the rails in only the 2nd inning, when he loaded the bases through only walks and hit-by-pitches and then let Zach McKinstry hit a grand slam to make it 4-0. Javy Baez made a fielding error to allow Mookie Betts to reach after his at-bat and then Cody Bellinger hit another two-run homer in the same inning to make it 6-0 Dodgers. Alzolay was pulled after just three innings.

Baez tried to make up for his fielding gaffe by hitting a solo home run in the 4th inning, but by that time it didn’t seem feasible that the Cubs could come back from this. It would be the Cubs’ only run during the game, and one of only four hits—the other three came from Joc Pederson, Eric Sogard and Patrick Wisdom.

Tommy Nance and Rex Brothers came out of the bullpen to give guys like Tepera and Chafin some time off. Nance pitched three innings, allowing only three hits and striking out five batters. He gave up a run in the 6th inning to make it 7-1 Dodgers after allowing a Mookie Betts triple, but other than that he had a pretty good outing all things considered. Brothers pitched the other two innings and allowed no hits for the Dodgers.

The Cubs’ next couple of games couldn’t be more important as far as late-June baseball is concerned; they’re heading to Milwaukee to start the week with three games against the Brewers. Since the Cubs have been sliding, the Brewers are now 2.5 games ahead in the standings with a 43-33 record, first in the Central. If this team has a prayer of winning the division, they need to win AT LEAST two out of three to stay in the mix. Otherwise, the Brewers could easily pull way ahead of the entire division. (The third-place Reds are already 6 games back.)

From what I’ve seen, unfortunately, I just don’t think the Cubs can do it — not with this rotation and the offense in the freezer, falling back down to 28th in the league with a .224 team batting average. The Brewers have won five in a row (granted, against garbage teams like Arizona and Colorado), and they have solid pitching to go with it. Not only do they boast starters like Brandon Woodruff with a 1.89 ERA for the year, but they also have two other pitchers, Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes, who have a better ERA than Kyle Hendricks, who leads Cubs starters with a 3.84 ERA. Plus, the Brewers have Josh Hader, another incredibly talented closer like Kimbrel. It will be a tough test for the Cubs — let’s see if they survive. Go Cubs go!

Baseball

It’s drought or deluge offensively with this team, and it seems like we can’t keep the offense going for many games in a row before it completely dries out. The 15-2 win was fun, especially after the 16-run game last series, but once again even somewhat-competent pitching and fielding held the Cubs off the scoreboard and the win sheet for the most part. Here come the game recaps.

April 23, 2021
Cubs 15, Brewers 2
WP: Hendricks (1-2) LP: Anderson (2-2)
Box Score

Phew, this game was blown wide open real quick. The bottom of the 1st inning saw a Kris Bryant double, an Anthony Rizzo double to score Bryant, a Javier Baez single, a pitching change, a David Bote single to score Rizzo, a Jason Heyward walk, a Jake Marisnick double to score Baez, Bote, and Heyward, a Nico Hoerner double to score Marisnick, and then two strikeouts. It was a wild one, putting the Cubs up 6-0 faster than I could’ve written in more detail.

Brewers starter Brett Anderson left the game officially in the 2nd inning after tweaking his knee. His replacement, Josh Lindblom, just couldn’t stop allowing hits. The bottom of the 2nd was just as head-spinning as the 1st, with back-to-back solo homers from Rizzo and Baez, a Bote walk, a Heyward triple to score Bote, a Marisnick RBI, a Hoerner walk…and then Kyle Hendricks struck out for the second inning in a row, ending the fun.

Jake Marisnick had himself a day, with 2 hits (one a solo homer in the 4th inning), 2 runs, and 5 RBIs. The Cubs utility players continue to shine, which is impressive because offensively they seem to almost regularly be better than the starters they occasionally replace. Something to keep an eye on.

Meanwhile, on the defensive end of things, Kyle Hendricks had a solid outing, especially compared to his less-than-stellar last outing. He had 6 strikeouts, 6 hits, 2 runs, and 1 walk. He allowed two back-to-back solo Brewers homers in the 6th, but the Cubs had already run away with the game. The Cubs also assisted by giving Hendricks four insurance runs in the bottom of the inning thanks to two walks, a double, and a three-run Contreras homer.

Even after Hendricks was pulled in the 7th inning, the bullpen did a good job of limiting runs. Together, Kyle Ryan and Dillon Maples combined for 0 runs, only 1 hit, 1 walk, and 3 strikeouts. Other bullpen outings later on in this series would not have numbers this pretty.

April 24, 2021
Cubs 3, Brewers 4
WP: Suter (2-1) LP: Chafin (0-1)
Box Score

Baez got the day off today as Nico Hoerner makes his season debut at shortstop and Eric Sogard starts at second base. Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain were out for the Brewers, and with Adbert Alzolay starting for the Cubs, it was written on the wall this would be a dicey game on both sides.

The Brewers led off the game with a double and a walk, and the base runners were able to advance to second and third after a lineout in the outfield. However, the Cubs were able to get out of that one-out jam and started producing offensively in the 3rd inning. After a few Cubs singles, Nico Hoerner was able to double to score both Jason Heyward at third base and Eric Sogard at second base, starting to cement himself as one of the few Cubs players that can consistently bat in runners at the moment. Although this series constituted his first three MLB appearances of the year, he has stellar numbers so far: .700 OBP, 1.000 SLG, 1.700 OPS.

The pitchers essentially dueled through the 4th inning. By the 5th inning, Alzolay allowed a double and then a walk on two outs. He got switched out for Rex Brothers, and then it was time for the Cubs bullpen to blow the game. Brothers allowed three straight walks to have the Brewers tie it up 2-2 with two unearned runs.

Brothers was yanked immediately following that inning, which is good because two walks and a hit by pitch on two outs to allow the other team to tie the game should be an unacceptable situation. He was replaced by Brandon Workman, who got out of the inning with no runs added. Andrew Chafin, who up until this game had a respectable 3.24 ERA, pitched the 7th and allowed a two-run homer to give the Brewers the lead. After a fielding error, he was replaced by Tepera who gave up a single but then struck out Jackie Bradley Jr.

Meanwhile, the Cubs couldn’t generate any offense or bat any runners in from scoring position. Jason Heyward was able to solo homer in the 8th inning to put the Cubs within one, and it all came down to the bottom of the 9th inning, where Brewers closer Josh Hader was able to end the game quickly and easily. He walked Hoerner, getting him to first base, and after an egregious strike call by the umpire, David Ross got ejected. Marisnick was obviously elsewhere from a mental standpoint for the rest of the at-bat, as he whiffed on the next two pitches and got struck out. Happ was then struck out, and Willson Conteras, the usual big hitter on the team who went 0 for 4 today, flied out to end the game.

April 25, 2021
Cubs 0, Brewers 6
WP: Woodruff (2-0) LP: Arrieta (3-2)
Box Score

Arrieta got into a 1st-inning jam that the Cubs couldn’t recover from. He only allowed one run and was able to get out of a dangerous bases-loaded situation, but with Woodruff pitching for the Brewers, the Cubs couldn’t muster up enough offense to even make it an interesting game.

Even after Arrieta’s 1st-inning, 27-pitch blunder, he was pretty good for the rest of the game, getting out of one other jam in the 6th but overall getting 8 strikeouts and allowing no other runs. The bullpen, however, continues to be a weak spot for this Cubs team, as Alec Mills couldn’t find the zone for the life of him, not being able to strike anyone out. He allowed 2 hits and no walks, however, which was enough to keep the Cubs in it, even if their offense didn’t follow through.

Things unraveled quickly in the 9th inning when Adam replaced Mills and gave up a double, two walks, a single and a double back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Maples replaced him in a no-out, bases loaded situation and got two strikeouts, but also walked a guy and hit a guy which forced two more runners to score, giving us the final score of the game, 6-0 Brewers.

Additionally, Hoerner looked pretty good this game, being a part of a big double play in the 8th inning and generally playing good defense. He had no hits today, but that is how it went for most of this team. People justified Ross sending him down because he was still young and perhaps not yet ready for the MLB, but he seems plenty ready to me, and injecting a new young player into this team might just be what these guys need to feel more invigorated and maybe try to string together a few more wins in a row.

Next team up in the never-ending barrage of baseball games come the Atlanta Braves and the start of a 7-game road trip for our Cubbies. The Braves continue to not live up to their preseason expectations, as they are still a sub-.500 team who just got trounced today by the Arizona Diamondbacks, allowing the Diamondbacks’ pitcher to get an unofficial 7-inning no-hitter against them. The Diamondbacks blanked them yesterday, too, to the tune of 5-0.

That’s right everyone: the Braves have one (1) singular hit over the past two games. Despite this, the Braves still technically have a better team slash line than the Cubs: .228/.323/.424 vs. .213/.308/.395. This upcoming series will likely be the Battle of Bad Offense, as we will watch to see whose bats will break through first. See you then, unless you’d rather be tuned into late-season hockey, in which case I wouldn’t blame you.

Everything Else

It started out a complete disaster, but the Cubs were able to figure it out against the Pirates to start 2-1 on the year. The bullpen went from looking atrocious to making me feel cautiously optimistic. The hitting went from non-existent to being shouldered by the World Series champions who couldn’t be found offensively last season. We were able to rebound, so I’ll take it for now. Let’s look at each of the games:

April 1, 2021
Cubs 2, Pirates 3
WP: Howard (1-0) LP: Hendricks (0-1)

There is truly nothing better than starting the season off the Cubbie Way—playing like inexcusable garbage. Kyle Hendricks allowing a 2-run homer in the top of the 1st inning just for laughs. Throwing only three strikeouts in four innings. All Cubs fans were given a grim reminder of how bad our pitching could look like without Yu Darvish at the helm.

Joc Pederson had a great chance to show all Cubs fans what he could do with a bases loaded situation in the 1st, whacking the ball to left, but unfortunately the wind was not with him and he only ended with a sacrifice fly. Additionally, Willson Contreras had a very nice double steal play, and Anthony Rizzo was able to sac fly him home. Rizzo was responsible for one of two (2) total hits today for the Cubs, BUT WHATEVER YOU DO, RICKETTS FAMILY, DON’T RE-SIGN HIM.

By the 4th inning Hendricks was pulled, meaning we got to see a whole plethora of bullpen pitchers, which was a horrible experience. Brandon Workman started us off for the first time this season, where he was throwing 91-93 mph fastballs. And balls that hit the ground in front of the plate. And wild pitches. Eventually he got switched out for Rex Brothers because he couldn’t throw any strikes, but Brothers certainly didn’t look any better.

Jason Adam was next up in our bullpen as he attempted to fastball the ball past any Pirate up to bat. Even with that pitch hitting 95 mph, Jacob Stallings was able to figure Adam out as he was able to rope the ball to left, extending the Pirates’ lead to 4-2. Winkler had some time at the plate as well, surviving the longest out of everyone in the bullpen – a whole 1.2 innings! Chafin, Tepera and Mills also pitched, but at that point the game was literally at the 3-and-a-half-hour mark and you guys are telling me that you weren’t turning the channel to watch Yu Darvish and the Padres?

The Cubs did score another run thanks to the second of two (2) total hits from the Cubs—a Contreras sacrifice fly to send Bote substiution Eric Sogard home, but by that point it was too little, too late.

April 3, 2021
Cubs 5, Pirates 1
WP: Arrieta (1-0) LP: Anderson (0-1)

The Cubs offense looked a lot better Saturday, even without leadoff hitter Ian Happ out of the lineup because apparently, it’s better to shelter Happ from lefty pitchers than give him experience to help him improve against lefty pitchers. Love it.

Javier Baez was legitimately not pulling our leg about his need for crowds cheering and in-game video to help with his play. He had a huge game tonight unlike any we’ve seen from him for at least a year, with two hits, a run, an RBI, and 2 stolen bases.

Jake Merisnick, Happ’s substitute at center field, also had a great game offensively. He had a run, a hit, and a Baez sacrifice fly RBI, ending the day with a .250 batting average.

Heyward made me look like an idiot saying he wasn’t the player he once was, because he had a great game as well: 2 hits (one a home run), an RBI, and a .875 OPS. Finally, let’s even give Kris Bryant a hand because he was our other home run hitter of the game, also responsible for an RBI and leading the team with a 1.042 OPS.

To the pitching! Even though Arrieta was looking a little shaky at first, he was quickly able to bounce back and survived through 6 innings, twice as far into the game as Hendricks stayed in on Thursday. He struck out five batters and ended the game with a 1.50 ERA. He also allowed 6 hits, and though the Pirates would make contact off of him pretty regularly throughout the game, the Cubs defense behind him was solid and kept the Pirates to only one run.

Although Arrieta had a good pitching game, good Lord he is awful at the plate. Watching his first at-bat was an atrocity to my eyes. He was just so behind each swing and both times he put himself in a three up, three down situation. His second at bat he at least took a ball, but he was still so slow to swing, just going through the motions. Both of his strikeouts ended innings and it made me understand why people advocate for a DH.

We saw Workman again out of the bullpen, and he looked much better Saturday than he did on Thursday. He ended the top of the 7th with a wild pitch in the dirt again which bounced away from Contreras, but luckily the throw to first base made it in time, showing once again the Cubs’ defensive prowess against what is essentially a minor league team. Take the wins as they come, I guess.

Andrew Chafin looked better, too. In the 8th, he had 3 strikeouts to end the inning. Additionally, we saw the first appearance of Craig Kimbrel this season, who also had 3 strikeouts to finish the game. Even though the Pirates are projected to be the worst team in the entire MLB, hopefully both pitchers can continue to build off of these good outings.

April 3, 2021
Cubs 3, Pirates 2
WP: Davies (1-0) LP: Keller (0-1)

This game was Zach Davies’ Cubs debut since getting traded to us in exchange for Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini. He survived 5.2 innings and had 5 strikeouts, 3 walks and one home run allowed late in the 6th inning.

The Cubs’ offense continued to be good today, although that doesn’t really mean a ton when you’re playing the Pirates; it’s more like the bare minimum required of you as an MLB team. Kris Bryant RBI’d Ian Happ to score early in the first. Happ also had a nice solo homer in the 3rd. Joc Pederson, now the king of sacrifice hits, RBI’d Anthony Rizzo in the first as well when he grounded out to first base.

Ex-Cub Duane Underwood Jr., who embarrassed us completely on Thursday, collapsed completely by the bottom of the 6th, letting Bryant and Baez hit off of him. The Pirates’ fielders didn’t really help much either. Just like we remember the Pirates being.

Rex Brothers was a bit terrifying out of the bullpen, allowing three hits and a run, but luckily a Bote/Baez/Rizzo double play kept the Cubs in the lead by one run. The other bullpen pitchers, however, were actually fine. Winkler only played a third of an inning after Davies was pulled thanks to looking a little shaky his third time through the batting order. Winkler was able to get the final out of the 6th inning and gave up no hits or walks. Tepera played 1.1 innings and only allowed a walk; although hitters were getting contact on his pitches, the Cubs defense was able to bail him out.

Finally, Craig Kimbrel had another solid outing closing out the game with another three-up, three-down inning and two strikeouts. It gives him something to build on after his tough performance last season.

To wrap it up, I’m not sure what’s going on with David Bote. They made a huge deal about how it was DAVID BOTE’S TURN to play full-time at second base, but he’s only played one of the first three games to completion. Would like to see what happens when he’s in there a full game, honestly. Is Eric Sogard really any better?

With the season in full swing, the Cubs will continue their homestand with a 3-game series against the Brewers Monday-Wednesday. The Brewers just finished opening their season against the Twins, who beat them 2-0 yesterday and stomped them 8-2 today.

Baseball

Ah yes, spring is in the air and the days are getting longer. That means baseball is just around the corner — tomorrow, in fact. The Cubs are opening their season against the Pittsburgh Pirates and the 162-game march to October commences.

Everyone knows the rule that you can’t put too much stock on how players are doing during spring training, but that’s exactly what we’re gonna do here. The Cubs have been busy playing a month’s worth of spring training games to prepare for this season. Some players have looked good, some have looked bad. Some have looked healthy, some have been injured. Let’s break down the starter’s roster so you know what’s going on when the Cubs take the field, assuming you’re watching.

Starting Pitchers
Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies, Trevor Williams, Adbert Alzolay

Ready to watch fastballs that aren’t really fast at all this season? Of course you are, you’re a Cubs fan.

Old faithful Kyle Hendricks will get the Opening Day start now that Jon Lester has moved on. While Yu Darvish was getting all the glory last season, Hendricks was another pitcher that the Cubs could rely on. Last season he had a 2.88 ERA, a shutout, and allowed 26 runs, all of them earned. His spring training numbers are a bit uglier; he had a 6.39 ERA but had two wins. He will be our best starter this season.

Jake Arrieta hopes to rekindle what he once was in his glory years with the Cubs, and Ross seems to trust that he will be better this year. He had a pretty average spring training, with a 4.08 ERA over 5 starts, allowing 19 hits and 8 runs during that span. Baseball Reference projects him to have a 4.67 ERA this season; though not stellar, that would likely be an improvement on his 2020 season and look similarly to his 2019 season with the Phillies.

Adbert Alzolay has also been a part of Rossy’s fan club. He has the fastest fastball of anyone at this team, clocking in at an average of 95 mph, which he throws about half the time. He also enjoys his slider, which he throws 40% of the time. This is a big season for Alzolay, as he is going from 4 starts last year (and 2 the year before that) to being one of the more regular starters. Can he hold up having 10, 15, 20, maybe eventually 30 starts a year? We are all about to find out together.

Bullpen
Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Workman, Andrew Chafin, Rex Brothers, Ryan Tepera, Jason Adam, Dan Winkler, Dillon Maples, Alec Mills

We’ve got some injuries in this area, as Rowan Wick and Jonathan Holder will not be ready to start the season. Wick was one of the best relievers on the Cubs last season with a 3.12 ERA across 19 appearances, so hopefully he will feel better soon. He has been working out with the team and “slowly returning to baseball activities.” Holder took some time off for a chest issue during spring training but is also getting back to throwing. He will likely start on the 10-day injured list this season.

If you’ve been kept awake at night this offseason wondering whether or not Craig Kimbrel will be a good closer in 2021, I am truly not sure what to tell you. He was injured/awful for most of last season until he got hot for the last month of it all. Now he’s back to letting 40% of the batters he faces get on base. And he has a 12.15 ERA in 7 games this spring training. But remember, spring training tells you nothing. Let’s try not to put too much stock into it. …Right?

Rex Brothers, a non-roster invitee, has found the good side of Rossy, even with his 8.10 ERA over three games played last season. He has been good during spring training, however. He played in 9 different games and has a 0.00 ERA over spring training. Let’s be cautiously optimistic?

Dillon Maples kind of sucked during spring training, but what else is new? He pitched 10.1 innings and allowed 8 hits and 9 runs, 6 of them earned. He has issues with control and seems to easily go from an 0-2 count at bat to walking the batter thanks to a HBP. In two appearances last season he gave up 1 hit and 3 runs for an 18.00 ERA. Ross says he’s throwing more strikes and will continue to improve.

Fielders
Anthony Rizzo, David Bote, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Joc Pederson, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward

This team needs to be nails defensively thanks to this wacky bullpen we are throwing in front of them. Luckily, defense is what the Cubs do well, most of the time.

I’m honestly not hating this outfield lineup at all. So far, Joc Pederson has been ripping it up offensively in camp, leading the entire team in hits with 17 and home runs with 8. If he continues go off like this during the season, he will be a great Schwarber replacement. Ian Happ also had a nice spring training, with 44 at bats, 14 hits, 15 runs, 2 homers, and a 1.002 OPS. Jason Heyward, not the player of yore, had 10 hits, 8 runs, and a .729 OPS, but hey, maybe those numbers will improve during the season.

Thought you’d be seeing Nico Hoerner at 2nd this season? You are incorrect. IT IS DAVID BOTE’S TIME, so he will be starting the season with the club. Expect Hoerner to come back up from minors regularly if anyone gets injured or things go sideways. The good news is that Hoerner crushed it during spring training, and Bote wasn’t too shabby himself. Hoerner had 16 hits over spring training and 2 homers for a 1.055 OPS. Bote had 14 hits, 3 homers, 7 runs and a .990 OPS. Neither of these numbers are bad. I think we have two great second basemen this season.

For some reason, the Ricketts family is not negotiating with face of the entire damned team, Anthony Rizzo, for a contract extension. Because reasons. Because money. Because the literal billionaire Ricketts family does not have money to sign an extension. Remind me why I watch this team again?

We’re all breathing a sigh of relief that Willson Contreras is still on this team. He is a rare catcher who is productive on offense and defense. He was also one of the better players at the plate for the Cubs last season, leading the team in runs scored and second only to Happ in hits.

Javier Baez is supposed to improve on this season now that he has the all-important video review at his disposal, but so far his spring training results are a little…meh. He did hit 2 homers, but he only had 9 hits in 52 plate appearances, making for a .184 batting average. Hopefully he figures it out and fast, because it’s a contract year, my friend.

I’d talk to you about Kris Bryant but he’ll be dealt by the end of this season anyway.

Bench
Eric Sogard, Jake Marisnick, Matt Duffy, and NEW SIGNING Tony Wolters

With Victor Caratini going the way of the western wind with our beloved Yu Darvish, the backup catcher role became whoever’s for the taking. Austin Romine, the veteran catcher, is currently sidelined with a knee injury (a recurring knee injury, so buckle up, everyone). We all assumed it would be PJ Higgins as the backup catcher while we wait for Romine to get better, but then just hours ago the Cubs announced the signing of catcher Tony Wolters, recently of Rockies fame.

Wolters’ numbers from last season kind of suck, but it seems like most teams are throwing those stats away and chalking them up to a weird year. He only had 10 hits all year with the Rockies for a .230 batting average. However, the rumor is Wolters is pretty good defensively, which is probably why the Cubs snatched him up. We love defense here, don’tcha know. His caught stealing rate is 32.8% lifetime, which is above the 27% league average. We’ll see how he fares as our backup.

Additionally, Jake Marisnick is an outfielder who, though missed some of spring training with an injury, came back and hit four home runs in only eight Cactus League games. Eric Sogard is a utility player who had 12 hits during spring training, along with a homer, for a .375 batting average. Maybe he can continue his hitting so his batting average improves on his abysmal .209 number with the Brewers last season season. Finally, Matt Duffy is another utility player who didn’t even play in the 2020 season. In fact, the 2018 season was his last season with major playing time, where he had a .294 batting average. He also has a track record of reliable defensive prowess, so hopefully that continues with the Cubs.

The season starts tomorrow. Check back to this glorious website after every Cubs series to get my thoughts on what’s going on. And if the Cubs bore you and you want to enjoy some exciting baseball, you can always turn on the Padres and root for Yu Darvish. Go Cubs go!

Baseball

It says something, though I’m not sure what, that in a winter when the Cubs main objective was to lower their payroll there was barely a whisper about moving Jason Heyward. After all, there can’t be a player who’s had more of a disconnect between his production and his paycheck. But some of that view of his production is skewed, by fans and by other teams. Some of it is use. Some of it is that Heyward has been such a mensch even while struggling that some people don’t want to say anything bad. Let’s see if we can’t cut through to the truth and what Heyward can be in 2020.

Jason Heyward 2019

147 games, 589 PA

.251/.343/.429

.328 wOBA  101 wRC+

11.5 BB%  18.7 K%

-1.7 Defensive Runs

1.9 fWAR

Heyward’s 2019 numbers are tempting to reduce to this: .264/.365/.456 for a 115 wRC+. That’s his marks against right-handers only. It’s not dominant, but it’s more than useful. Heyward’s inclusion against lefties was partly down to the failures of others (Almora, Happ for the first four months), and maybe that won’t be necessary now. His defensive mark, the first negative of his career, was due to having to play center more often than ever before in Chicago. Again, that shouldn’t have to happen this year, but still could. Perhaps no player’s worth is going to be more determined by how he’s used, and how he has to be used, than J-Hey’s.

YES! YES! YES!: The optimal outcome is that Happ and Almora and Souza keep Heyward’s appearances against lefties to a minimum. Perhaps this is where the new three-batter rule comes into effect for Heyward, as there will be less and less LOOGYs around to ruin his last one or two ABs of a game. I suppose lineup construction would also come into this, where if Heyward were surrounded by righties it would be even harder to get lefties out of the pen to him. The make-up of the Cubs likely everyday lineup seems to make this likely. He could hit 9th with Bryant behind him, or between Contreras and Bote/Hoerner/whoever in the sixth spot.

Heyward’s production against righties has improved every year he’s been a Cub — 75, 94, 100, and 115 wRC+ marks. I don’t know that he can get up much higher than last year’s, but given his contact-type numbers last year you could also safely say it won’t sink too much either. Meanwhile, his four seasons here have never seen him be any good against lefties, so the Cubs should try and write off that possibility as much as they can.

His defense isn’t as much as a given. Even in just right field, his UZR and UZR/150 has dropped every season he’s been here, and at 31 in August he just isn’t going to be able to patrol center regularly (few in their 30s can, is what we’re learning. That doesn’t mean Cubs fans should expect him to look like Castellanos’s “Attacked By Bees” style out there in 2020, and maybe losing the wear and tear of starts in center helps a bit. He’ll still be a plus out there, he just might not be a force there anymore.

YOU’RE A B+ PLAYER: Again, this has more to do with what goes on around Heyward than himself. If Happ and/or Almora fall on their face again, he’ll have to play more center than is ideal. If Souza can’t form a decent platoon with him in right, he’ll have to play against lefties more often. While he’s only 30 right now, this is still Heyward’s 11th season, and those miles pile up. Restricting his workload a bit is probably key to keeping him fresh and spritely when he is playing. All of these are also dependent on everyone’s health. One injury in the outfield and the Cubs will have someone doing things that are going to be a bit out of water for them–Souza every day, or Almora every day, or Heyward every day and in center. Any of these things weaken the Cubs’ bottom of the order in a hurry, and their outfield defense. And the Cubs don’t have that margin for error.

Dragon or Fickle?: It’s always a bad idea to predict health for a team, especially when Souza has a bionic leg already. An injury or missed time for Souza the Cubs could probably deal with by having Happ slide to right and Almora in center against lefties. Anyone else and it gets tricky. But that’s what the Cubs are counting on.

If they get it, then Heyward will be the solid player he’s been the past two seasons. Reduced time means that 2.0 fWAR is probably what you’re looking at if everything goes well, along with the slowly declining defense (should be noted Statcast still likes Heyward defensively a lot). And you could certainly do a whole lot worse than that.

And hey, if it works, maybe you open up a market for him next winter to avoid having to trade players that are more important. But let’s run that kitten over when we get to it.

Baseball

I don’t know if center field was all that high on the wish list–emphasis on “wish”–of most Cubs fans when this offseason began. That’s before we really came to see how Scrooge-tastic the Ricketts would get this winter. The Cubs definitely needed another pitcher in the rotation (didn’t get it) and they needed an arm or two in the pen (maybe got it? Who the fuck knows?), but center field seemed an obvious hole as well.

And it’s still there.

A lot was focused on Nick Castellanos, which of course didn’t solve much about center. It would have pushed Jason Heyward to center a lot of time, or to the bench a lot of the time. That clearly didn’t happen, which leaves Heyward in right and…well, my only guess here is that the Cubs are wagering (or have been forced into wagering) that Ian Happ will grab the centerfield spot every day. Or that Steven Souza Jr. will light it up in Mesa and claim it, even though he needs a Razor to get around the space.

So that leaves in Happ. In theory, if Happ were to match his numbers from 2019’s cameo-plus appearance for a whole season, you probably wouldn’t notice Castellanos’s absence that much, especially if Heyward is only restricted to facing right-handed pitchers and puts up his 115 wRC+ from last year again. Remember, Happ’s final slash line was .264/.333/.564 for a 127 wRC+. That’s really good!

And defensively, he was actually not bad at all. Even good! If you go by the metrics, that is. +2.9 defensive runs, 32.2 UZR/150. Which we’d seen before, though on a lower scale, in his debut in 2017. It’s not ridiculous to think he could actually handle the position for the majority of the time.

Of course, there’s a caveat with Happ. A lot of his numbers came out of an incredible last week of the season, when the Cubs were already toast. In the last six games of the season, Happ went 10-for-22 (.454), with four homers, with a slugging of 1.136. It’s a nice week, but considering Happ was only up a couple months, it distorts things a bit. Without that week, he hit .228. He slugged .457, which isn’t bad obviously but isn’t near the season-finishing mark. And he still struck out a quarter of the time. That makes the question marks a lot bigger.

Again, the front office has probably been bullied into hopes on Happ. This isn’t part of the plan. They have no other choice. Still, if they were looking for hope, they’re probably looking to the guy who will stand to Happ’s right in left field for most of the season.

Like Happ, Schwarber had partial-season success after being called up, and quickly. Schwarber’s 2015 was over 69 games and Happ’s 2017 was over 115 games, so Happ was up for nearly twice as long. Still, immediate production. When Schwarber did get back into the lineup every day (after a knee injury which probably delayed development even more), he had at least a season and a half of scuffling, including his own demotion to Iowa. Of course, Schwarber’s boom was in the first half of 2018 instead of the second. And it was last year when Schwarber finally “popped,” with a 120 wRC+, including a 151 in the second half of the season. Now, Schwarber is a given.

Happ himself had two seasons of waywardness, and like Schwarber had a demotion to Iowa (which lasted much longer). The hope is that last week of the season was the sign something clicked, and he’s going to have his Schwarber coming out party from center this year. If he does…well, it solves a lot of the lineup questions and probably frees Ross up to bat Rizzo leadoff most of the time. Really it would only leave second base as a guess, and the thing is David Bote has been better than most think and Hoerner may grab it anyway.

But that’s an awful lot riding on one hot week when the chips were already counted. That’s the corner that the Cubs have been backed into by their owners.

Baseball

I guess this is what we Cubs fans have been reduced to this winter. Considering whether or not something that would normally sound like galaxy-brained four-dimensional chess that everyone would  laugh out of the room is actually a thing worth pursuing. Or even based in any kind of reality. But hey, the way things are going with the Cubs, maybe it’s better to just live in a fantasy world.

So here it is: A second report connecting the Cubs to Nolan Arenado. It seems utterly ludicrous, and the kind of thing you wouldn’t get away with in MLB The Show, but here we are. The Cubs won’t pay Kris Bryant but they will pay Arenado the $70M he has the next two years and then the ensuing $199M over the five years after that if he doesn’t opt out in 2021. Say, wouldn’t somewhere around $35M keep Bryant, the better player, around for a while? Well, this is where you have to start moving pieces around in dimensions and methods that don’t exist, so let’s look at the viability of everything suggested here by Brett, Passan, and others.

One, the big flashing light on Arenado. He plays in Coors Field, and if you take him away from that, you’re only getting an above-average offensive player. That has some legs. Arenado’s career slash-lines on the road: .265/.323/.476 for a 109 wRC+ or .336 wOBA. Not exactly Vegas-neon there, is it?

Let’s try and be a little more fair. Last year, Arenado ran a 118 wRC+ away from home. But the year before that it was 104. But in 2017 it was 126. So he’s not incapable away from Coors, it’s just hard to know exactly what you’d be getting, though you’d be sure it would be less than the sum of what you get with half a season amongst the thin air, weed, and every third person in attendance owning a brewery. I would also point out that when not at Coors, Arenado plays most of his road games in San Francisco, San Diego, or LA which are bad hitter’s parks. But that’s a bit of a stretch. Also, as Brett alludes to here, there is a school of thought that bouncing between altitude and not-altitude affects players negatively. Which is true.

Still, Arenado hits the ball really hard, with a 42% hard-contact rate and we’ve talked at length how the only Cub to manage that last year was Schwarber and Castellanos. You’d like to think that would play anywhere, but you can’t be sure. And Arenado doesn’t strike out much and makes much more contact than most of the hitters in the lineup, which the Cubs could certainly use.

Ok, now here is where it starts to get really nuts. The idea is that the Rockies would somehow be slaked by receiving Willson Contreras and Jason Heyward in return, which would free the Cubs up to trade Bryant for ready or near-ready pitching and players from another team. This seems a little backward, as most likely part of the bounty gained from trading Bryant would have to go to prying Arenado loose. Because simply getting Contreras back and Heyward’s contract doesn’t seem near enough for a team’s best player, especially for a team that would be signaling a complete tear-down by moving Arenado. They’d want young players, prospects and such.

Yes, the Rockies would get to save some $28M in real dollars between Arenado’s and Heyward’s salary the next two seasoins, but you’d have to subtract whatever Contreras gets in arbitration and also consider the fact that Contreras is just a year younger than Arenado. Also, the Rockies would be losing the production of, y’know, NOLAN ARENADO, and replacing some of it with the scarecrow production of Jason Heyward. And that’s assuming you get Heyward to agree to this, which is no gimme.

Then, and you’re going to have to stick with me here, the Cubs would take the money saved by not paying Bryant his arbitration award to sign Castellanos, which arguably would be about the same thing. So they’d lose something like $45M in luxury tax dollars but bring back $35M in Arenado, and then basically swallow that up and more by re-signing Castellanos. Which would still leave them over the luxury tax. Everyone got that?

Even if we ignore all that, would the Cubs be better? It’s not clear. Arenado is certainly an upgrade defensively, and the Cubs would have one of the best left sides of the infield of all-time between him and Baez. They’d lose a little in offense, which they would gain back by having Castellanos in right. Though that outfield defense might give all that advantage back. And we still have no idea what Victor Caratini is over a full season offensively and it almost certainly isn’t anywhere near what Willson gives you.

Basically this feels like a lot of running all the way out to come all the way back and pretty much end up where you were in the first place.

The whole thing would hinge on what the return is for Bryant, and how much that helps you starting in March and how far away the rest of it would be. Which we have no idea about, and the packages that have been whispered from DC or Atlanta get a big “FUCK OFF” from me.

What I will say to all of this on the positive side is it’s odd to me that Castellanos remains on the free agent market. Most every other big ticket item has signed, which if you wanted to convince yourself of it could mean he’s waiting for something. He’s not short on suitors, we know that. We know he loved it here, we know the Cubs loved having him here, but the hoops to jump through still seem far too small and far too numerous (other than Ricketts remembering he comes from one of the richest families in the world and not really sweating luxury tax and revenue sharing fees).

I will say that if by some acid-induced vision the Cubs pulled this off, and the return for Bryant was huge and its impact at least close to immediate (say no player ready later than 2021), then shuffling these chairs to remain stationary actually sets you up better for the future. Right now, other than Hoerner and Alzolay if you squint, what the Cubs will be in ’21 and ’22 (assuming they sign ANYONE) is on the field now (if you want to mention Amaya or Davis or Marquez here, fine, but I bet they would be part of anything for Arenado too). Which…is not ideal. You could swallow it, is what I’m saying.

But the amount of moving parts here, and the amount of things that could go wrong is just kind of mind-boggling. I’m going to go ahead and say this isn’t anything.

Baseball

It’s not the best place to be if you’re like me, where the only respite from the dreariest possible Cubs offseason is the Hawks. If you lean more to the Bulls, well, it’s not much better for you, is it? When was the last time we were envious of White Sox fans? Fuck. What a state. Thank god for Liverpool (HAHAHA Killion you moron!).

In that state, I will reach for any straw I can that will leave me any hope of continuing as a Cubs fan any longer (yes, a Kris Bryant trade simply to save money would probably cause me to turn my card in, and I’ve been consistent about this). I don’t want to have to be something else. I’ve been this all my life. But eventually, there’s only so much you can take. So when I saw this making the rounds yesterday, first saw it on Cubs Insider, it was at least a flash of hope. A brief streak across the sky.

There are caveats of course, and plenty, as Evan mentions within this piece. Clearly whoever David Kaplan is talking to hates Kris Bryant, as the idea that he’s not even a top-30 player in the league isn’t something you’d hear spewed out of the gaping maw of the biggest meatball on a barstool in Bridgeport. Fifth Feather might say it just to piss me off, but he wouldn’t mean it. Second, whoever willingly talks to David Kaplan also must have their own issues, because I’d rather be speedbagged in the face by a werewolf than deal with Kaplan, and I know I’m not alone. Third, David Kaplan can’t count to six.

Now that that’s all out of the way, the idea or report that the Cubs’ asking prices for either or both of Bryant and Contreras isn’t a huge surprise. They should be! One’s a former goddamn MVP who only trails Betts and Trout in WAR since coming into the league and the other is what, the second-best offensive catcher in the league now that Buster Posey can’t bend his knees? Technically he was even better than Grandal at the plate (127 wRC+ vs. 121), and you can take Mitch Garver’s numbers and shove them. Nothing that happened at Target Field last year is real, other than them losing to the Yankees in October. That’s as real as it gets. Also, Contreras is due to make pretty much nothing this year, only upping his value.

So their prices should be in the stratosphere. These players don’t just come on the market, trade or free agent, that often. If you had to trade them, and make no mistake the Cubs most certainly don’t have to, you need to be getting multiple pieces back that help right away to soften the blow of not having a genuine difference-maker anymore. Otherwise, you’re just hurting yourself.

The hope is that Theo Epstein, who must know deep down how stupid this all is and dreams of drugging his boss to get him to see reality as it is, keeps the prices so high the next six weeks that a deal either can’t be done or he gets an actual good baseball trade out of it (Gavin Lux and Dustin May and that’s just for starters, assholes). Given the more likely scenario of the former, then he can go to Ricketts and say, “Look, I tried, but I’m not going to make a bad trade that hurts the team short- and long-term just to save money. That’s not what you hired me for.” That’s the hope, at least.

Because as we all know, and Theo knows, even this team as constructed right now isn’t bad. It’s still got as good of a shot as anyone to win the Central, and that’s with a hole in center, second-base (which might even be filled by Hoerner some point soon), and the bottom of the rotation. Still, all that would require is a bounce-back year from Quintana, and you’re basically a 90-win team as is right now (and Q’s underlying numbers suggest he was way more effective than most realize). The more you think about it, the nearer it gets to impossible that the Cubs could make a trade that Theo would think is acceptable.

Still, there’s the problem of getting under the luxury tax, which seems to be the directive. Right now, the Cubs need to shed about $6M to get there, according to most projections, and probably more to have any flexibility during the season. The elephant in the room is that it should be Jason Heyward’s name being thrown about, because that’s really the only obviously bad contract on the books. Does Darvish’s $22M look so bad after Zack Wheeler just signed for $21.5M? Dear reader, it should not.

The hurdles with Heyward are obvious. You’ll never clear all of his $23M. He has a full no-trade. Even eating half of his salary probably still requires throwing in a non-lottery ticket prospect to sweeten the deal, even if he agreed to go. And yes, he gave the speech that ate the cat that ate the rat in the house that Jim Thome built. I know all that.

But it’s that deal that’s affecting everything. Even with his plus-defense in right, he’s been a one-WAR player during his time here. He hit 20 homers in a year when everyone hit 20 homers. At this point, his power is probably not coming back, because one’s bat-speed doesn’t tend to get better in their 30s and velocity is only becoming more prevalent from pitchers. Even if you can clear $12M off the books, that’s under the luxury tax with minuscule flexibility. Yes, you’d probably have to fill another hole, which might just involve throwing Bryant out to right more often and letting Bote play third. It’s not ideal, but it’s a fuckton better than having Bote play every day because you have Heyward in right and no Bryant.

Who might be interested? Might I suggest the other side of town? Right now, Nomar Mazara is slated to play right, and ladies and gentlemen let me tell you, though he looks the part perfectly he is very much not the part. He didn’t hit in Texas with the juiced ball, so he’s probably not going to. He’s also a butcher in the field. Already with Eloy in left and the glove on his head, the Sox need outfield defense. And with the amount of kids they have, they could always use more leadership which they keep telling us Heyward provides to cover for the fact he’s been going to bat with several sticks of pasta instead of a bat. The Giants are always mentioned, because they need a true hero defensively to cover the Costco parking lot that is right field at Oracle Park (that’s what it is now, right? Who the fuck can keep track?)

Just an idea. But crowbarring Heyward off the roster would be a much less damaging way to shed money than losing actual contributors. Anyway, this is my hope. It’s forlorn I know, but it’s all I have.