Baseball

I finally wrap up our Cubs season review, perfectly timed with snow on the ground and the World Series now over and waking up every day from here until March thinking, “Today is the day the Cubs are going to do something stupid, isn’t it?” Anyway, I didn’t feel like giving everyone in the pen or bench a full write-up, so let’s just speed through them and get on with our lives, shall we?

Craig Kimbrel – Jesus God. It was a desperation move, and it played out exactly like one as Kimbrel couldn’t overcome the delayed start to his season, and then the rush job to the Majors. He was bad, he was hurt, and then he was bad. His velocity was down a full two MPH from 2017, the last time he was some galactic creature batters couldn’t handle. He was good in ’18 but the walks had crept up, and that didn’t stop in 2019 either. Perhaps with a full spring training and a clean bill of health, Kimbrel can recover a portion of the lost velocity. He’s never going to be CRAIG GODDAMN KIMBREL again, but there’s little reason to think he can’t be a good to very good reliever. David Ross might want to think about talking to him about moving into something other than a strict closer role so the whole pen can be fluid, but I won’t hop on one foot waiting for that to happen.

Kyle Ryan – Pleasant surprise, of course after I declared he was a new suckbag. Hard to know if he can be counted on again, because he’s the type of reliever that just turns into discarded hygiene products for no reason other than he’s just a reliever. Gets a ton of grounders. Worth taking another look at.

Steve Cishek – Thanks for everything, but remember when you leave your right arm is probably staying here.

Brandon Kintzler – Returned to being the solid reliever he’s been most of his career. Probably worth a one-year deal if he’s willing, but also used earlier in the game and not counted on as a prime set-up guy. Gets lefties out, so hopefully Ross isn’t afraid of using him that way like Maddon was if he’s still here.

Tyler Chatwood – I have this dream where Chatwood and Alzolay are used as multi-inning weapons once or twice a week each, maybe more. That shields the rest of the pen, takes some pressure off the starters, and lets Chatwood come out and blow 97-98 MPH past guys like he was later in the year. It’s probably what he’s best at. The reality is he very well might have a chance at the fifth spot in the rotation. It’s hard not to notice the near 4-to-1 K/BB ratio in the last two months when he became accustomed to the role. It might not be what he wants, but he is good at it.

Rowan Wick – The Pitching Lab’s first success? Probably could have been slotted into a prominent role much quicker than he was. Strikeouts faded laster in the year as he was used more and more, which is a concern. Still gets a ton of grounders. Has a job to lose come Arizona.

David Phelps – Get the fuck outta here with this.

Derek Holland – Great entrance song. Everything else sucked.

Brad Wieck – See, this is really how you’re supposed to find relievers. You find something in a pitcher that his current team doesn’t, or that can be changed or harnessed, you pick him up for nothing and get him firing upon arrival. This big lummox isn’t there yet, but there were signs of hope and is definitely worth another spin. Struck out nearly 17 hitters per nine innings as a Cub.

Dillon Maples – It’s just never going to happen, is it? There is an absolute monster in there somewhere, but it’s buried in fastballs that hit the screen or the mascot. Might be time to wave the white flag on this one.

Duane Underwood Jr. – Yeah sure, let’s see more.

Clearly there need to be upgrades here. You can’t go into next season with questions hanging over Kimbrel and unknowns like the Fabulous Wick-er Boys and some kids. I would say two solid vets, not too expensive, is the prescription here. We’ll get into our shopping list next week.

Everything Else

The Cubs have found themselves in a situation they’ve been in no way prepared for, I think that much we can agree on. So yesterday’s decision to option Addison Russell to Iowa when his suspension is up makes sense in that it buys everyone some more time. What they’ll do with that time, I don’t have any idea and am searching for confidence.

Most of me thinks this is simply a baseball decision, and if anything is beyond that it’s merely trying to put off the unpleasantness of Russell’s return. On a strictly baseball plane, there isn’t room for Russell right now. Javier Baez has proven to be the better player on every side of the ball. And for those dinosaurs who still can’t seem to see past Russell’s projections as a prospect, it’s important to note he’s never come all that close to even putting up an average offensive season. Whereas Javy is working on his third straight of being at least that good if not way better. Yes, Russell’s defense is steadier, but Javy is well on his way this year to matching Russell’s defensive metrics of the past couple years (Baez has been worth 2.0 defensive runs in just one month according to FanGraphs, and Russell was at nine and seven the past two years).

Beyond that, David Bote–who I’m still not convinced will hit for shit when pitchers just stop throwing him fastballs–has been too good to lose the fifth infielder spot, and in fact has forced Bryant to the outfield more often than not recently. Same goes for Daniel Descalso, as much like Bote is putting up offensive numbers Russell has never approached. Who loses ABs here? Essentially, the Cubs are trying to buy time to see if anyone gets hurt.

The only baseball concern is that Javy tires out from playing short every day, though if you ask him I’m sure that’s exactly what he’d want. And Bote could probably make a fist of it once every couple weeks if you really needed him to. It wouldn’t be pretty but he’d get you out of a game.

It’s the asking him part that I have a problem with.

I’m sure this type of thing goes on all the time in a clubhouse. And I’m sure Joe Maddon, who has quickly become the answer to a question no one asked, was just trying to be kind to Javy. But this is the problem with Maddon, is that the more he talks for the sake of hearing himself the more he ends up having to answer for.

Maddon almost assuredly never considered this, and I doubt the front office would have sanctioned it if they’d been asked, but that’s far more weight than Javy or any player should ever be asked. It’s not his job to determine where and how much Russell plays. That’s Maddon’s job. He doesn’t need to ask Javy what he thinks. Javy was given an everyday role last year essentially for the first time, certainly no more than the second, and came up with a MVP-finalist season. He’s playing just as well this year, if not better. You know Javy wants to be in the lineup every day, and he’d like to be at his natural position.

But he’s not going to say that, because no teammate ever does. He’s not going to tell Joe, even in a bunker that’s been swept for bugs and assured total secrecy, that Russell can go fuck himself and spot start at second for all he cares. It seems like Joe is just trying to cover himself and open an avenue for Russell to play short so he can then say, “Javy said this is what he wants, and he wants what’s best for the team because he’s a good teammate.” That’s the only reason you’d make this public.

Second, whether Maddon or the Cubs front office likes it or not (OR NOT), Russell just carries more with him upon promotion and insertion into the lineup. That’s what the Cubs chose to take on and carry, and we went over that yesterday. To put that on Baez is wholly unfair, because he’s not equipped to deal with that, nor is he in a position to have to do so. It would be a near travesty if Baez somehow got blamed for the presence of a player a lot of Cubs fans find detestable and don’t want around in the first place. Baez shouldn’t be sullied in such a way.

Again, the Cubs chose to take this one, and they’re going to have to show their work every step of the way. And they have a lot of the time recent. But dragging another player into it isn’t helping anyone.