The Cubs, who have always been bullish on Kyle Schwarber, continue to spurn inquiries for the slugger, Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets. Still only 25 years old, Schwarber just turned in a 3.2-fWAR season in which he batted .238/.356/.467 (115 wRC+) with 26 home runs in 510 plate appearances and unexpectedly received positive marks in left field (two DRS, 9.8 UZR). Schwarber will play his first of three potential arbitation seasons in 2019, when he’s projected to earn just $3.1MM.
The Cubs announced their 2019 coaching staff Thursday, including the hiring of three new additions: pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, assistant hitting coach Terrmel Sledge and quality assurance coach Chris Denorfia. Rounding out manager Joe Maddon’s staff are bench coach Brandon Hyde, hitting coach Anthony Iapoce, third base coach Brian Butterfield, first base coach Will Venable, bullpen coach Lester Strode, associate pitching/catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello. The Cubs added that staff assistants Juan Cabreja and Franklin Font will also return, as will bullpen catcher Chad Noble.
It’s the first MLB coaching assignment for each of Hottovy, Denorfia and Sledge. Hottovy has been in the Cubs organization since 2015, working as a scouting coordinator and assisting in developing gameplans with the coaching staff and strategies with the team’s pitchers. He’s a somewhat outside-the-box promotion, given his lack of coaching experience and the prominent nature of his role, but he’s clearly a known commodity for president of baseball ops Theo Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer and Maddon. Hottovy spent a decade as a pitcher between the Majors and minors, including MLB appearances with the Red Sox and Royals.
Denorfia not only played for the Cubs but was at one point in his big league career a frequent platoon partner for Venable while the two played for the Padres. He’ll now be teammates with Venable once again in a much different capacity.
Sledge, who has previously served as the Cubs’ hitting coach with Class-A Eugene, is rejoining the organization. The 41-year-old spent parts of four seasons in the Majors, parts of seven seasons in the Minor Leagues and also enjoyed a productive five-year run in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball to close out his playing career. From 2017-18, he worked as a hitting coach in the Dodgers’ minor league ranks.
TODAY: Johnson has denied any recent meetings with Harper, leading to a significantly revised Yahoo report. It’s not entirely clear from the current version of the story whether the Dodgers have or will send a contingent to meet with Harper at all.
YESTERDAY: The Dodgers have held a sit-down with free agent superstar Bryce Harper, according to a report from Tim Brown and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. It’s a must-read update on the still-developing market for one of the winter’s marquee free agents.
Of particular note, the Los Angeles behemoth has now made a notable foray into the Harper market — a possibility that was never quite clear but always tantalized. Minority owner and NBA legend Magic Johnson led a delegation to Harper’s home town of Las Vegas, suggesting at a minimum that pursuing Harper is a serious consideration for an organization that has not generally chased top free agents under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
At the outset of the offseason, we did predict that Harper would land with the Dodgers, and score a massive contract in the process. But that was anything but a high-probability prediction, as the outfielder’s market was then and remains difficult to assess in the usual manner. Harper, after all, is a rather unique commodity. Like fellow free agent Manny Machado, he’s an established star who only recently turned 26 years of age. Both players also have their blemishes, to be sure, but the talent ceilings and volume of potentially prime seasons are, in both cases, immense.
Thus it is that, as the Yahoo duo report, “upward of a dozen” organizations across the league have or likely will follow Magic in a Vegas road trip to chat with Harper. The Yankees are among them, despite a litany of reports suggesting they won’t pursue this particular opportunity, while the Phillies are an unsurprising club in the market as well.
We’ve heard plenty about the White Sox to date, of course, but the seriousness of their pursuit has been tough to gauge. According to Yahoo, the South Siders have dispatched Jim Thome and others to help woo Harper to a rebuilding situation. Other possibilities abound, with the Cubs, Padres, Astros, and Cardinals all tabbed as teams with at least speculative potential interest. (That’s all in addition to the incumbent Nats, of course.)
The report cautions that these early visits don’t necessarily signal an all-in commitment to chase the market on Harper. Certainly, it’s worth bearing in mind that the teams are still assessing their respective levels of interest. Still, it seems promising for Harper that he has drawn this much focus from nearly half the teams in baseball — particularly given that they’re all already aware that he reportedly turned down a $300MM offer to stay in DC.
There was never any doubt, of course, that he’d be heavily pursued. But there are relatively few big-spending teams with clear-cut needs in the corner outfield, making it tough to guess at interest based upon team need and even historical spending patterns. It seems, though, that there are at least quite a few teams that are willing to assign significant resources to assess whether Harper is enough of an asset, on and off the field, to warrant not only an enormous outlay but also some roster maneuvering to fit.
It’s not entirely clear why the Cubs decided to pick up Torreyes days ago, only to set him free. It could be, though, that the club wanted the added insurance while deciding what to do with Addison Russell, who was tendered earlier today. And several other teams have done the same with certain players, so it’s hardly a one-off situation. It seems clear the utilityman could end up in the Chicago organization, though perhaps only if he is willing to sign a minors deal.
The Cubs announced today that they have tendered a contract to embattled shortstop Addison Russell. Like any other standard arbitration situation, it’s a non-guaranteed deal.
Russell’s status with the Chicago organization was (and to some extent still is) in doubt. He is slated to sit out the first month of the 2019 campaign as he finishes serving a 40-game suspension under the MLB-MLBPA Joint Domestic Violence Policy. That punishment was handed down following allegations from Russell’s ex-wife, Melisa Reidy. (She spoke with ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers about the situation recently, for those unfamiliar with the details.)
Many wondered whether the Cubs would trade or non-tender Russell as a result of the troubling allegations, which involved conduct during his time with the organization. Instead, the club will take at least a partial step toward retaining the shortstop, though certainly he could still be cut loose or traded. Russell and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein each issued statements through the team’s Twitter feed. Russell is projected by MLBTR to earn $4.3MM via arbitration; his salary has yet to be determined, so far as is publicly known.
The Angels announced today that they’ve acquired infielder Tommy La Stella from the Cubs in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. To clear a spot for La Stella on the 40-man roster, the Halos requested unconditional release waivers on outfielder Jabari Blash.
The trade of La Stella to the Angels comes one day after the Cubs acquired infielder Ronald Torreyes in a trade with the Yankees. The pair of moves seems to indicate that Chicago is content to move forward with Torreyes as their primary backup infielder headed into the 2019 season. The swap will also likely save the Cubs a slight bit of money; La Stella is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn $1.2MM next season, while Torreyes was projected at $900K. The latter is more of a true utility option anyhow, given his ability to play shortstop — a position that La Stella has never played in the Major Leagues.
From the Angels’ perspective, adding La Stella is a sensible move. His composite .274/.360/.396 batting line through 512 plate appearances over the past three seasons fits general manager Billy Eppler’s preferred mold of an OBP-driven offensive profile, and La Stella provides the Angels with a much-needed left-handed bat. La Stella, 30 in January, can give the Angels some cover at both second base and at third base next season, and the Angels have enough right-handed bats to comfortably platoon him if they desire. Then again, while La Stella was always shielded from left-handed pitching in Chicago, he does have a solid .278/.366/.383 batting line against lefties in his career — albeit in a tiny sample of 133 plate appearances.
Blash, also 29, has displayed light-tower power in the minor leagues but managed just a .186/.306/.307 slash in 324 plate appearances between the Padres and Angels to this point in his MLB career. He’s a lifetime .274/.394/.606 hitter in nearly 1300 Triple-A plate appearances, however, so he could draw interest elsewhere on a minor league contract or, speculatively speaking, from a club overseas.
3:53pm: The Cubs have announced the signing.
3:31pm: The Cubs have agreed to a Major League contract with free-agent left-hander Kyle Ryan, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (on Twitter). The 27-year-old southpaw, who is represented by Frontline, spent the 2014-17 seasons with the Tigers and was with the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate in 2018.
Ryan amassed 128 innings of Major League experience in his four-year run with the Tigers, working to a 3.87 ERA with 4.9 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.77 HR/9 and a strong 54 percent ground-ball rate. Ryan didn’t excel against either lefties or righties but was similarly effective against both (.725 OPS against righties, .728 for lefties). He’s averaged just 88.9 mph on his fastball in the Majors and managed only a 7.9 percent swinging-strike rate, however.
This past season with the Cubs’ affiliate in Iowa, Ryan thrived in a bullpen role. Through 66 innings, he put together a 2.86 ERA with 8.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 1.23 HR/9 and a whopping 61 percent ground-ball rate. The Chicago organization presently has Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing and Randy Rosario as lefty relief options, but Ryan will add to that mix in affordable fashion. Though Ryan has seen action in parts of four big league seasons, the up-and-down nature of his time with the Tigers led him to accrue just under two years of MLB service time. As such, he could be controlled for another five seasons, though he’d be arbitration-eligible as a Super Two player next winter if he finishes out the season on the 40-man roster.
The Cubs have acquired recently designated infielder Ronald Torreyes in a swap with the Yankees, per an announcement. Cash or a player to be named later will head to New York in return.
Torreyes, 26, makes his way back to an organization that once had him as a minor-leaguer. (He originally came over in this swap and departed in this one, with numerous trades and claims coming thereafter.) If he can hang onto his 40-man spot, or otherwise remains with the Cubs at the start of camp next spring, he’ll presumably compete for a bench job.
With the move, the Cubs have added a player who’s capable of handling just about any defensive position but hasn’t hit much in the big leagues. In 614 career plate appearances, he’s slashing just .281/.310/.375 with four home runs and four steals.
These sorts of moves on the margins of the 40-man roster don’t always mean much, but it’s reasonably notable to see the Cubs snag a shortstop-capable reserve. After all, the organization is facing at least a partial deadline to make a decision on Addison Russell in the coming days. As the non-tender deadline looms, it’s still not clear what course the club will take.
This offseason has brought quite a lot of coaching turnover, yet we’ve not heard anything regarding Red Sox pitching guru Brian Bannister. That’s not only by design, but is included in his contract with the club, Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston writes in an interesting look at a key figure in the Boston organization. It seems the Red Sox will continue to enjoy Bannister’s services for some time, even if other organizations might have loftier positions to offer.
Here are some of the latest coaching decisions from around the game …
- The Blue Jays have rounded out their coaching staff under new skipper Charlie Montoyo. Former Double-A manager John Schneider is heading up to the big club, though his precise role isn’t yet clear. Other recent hires include Mark Budzinski as first base coach and Shelley Duncan as field coordinator, as Robert Murray of The Athletic reported (Twitter links). The former comes from the Indians’ staff, while the latter had been managing on the Diamondbacks’ farm.
- Tim Laker has been announced as the new hitting coach of the Mariners. He had been in an assistant’s role with the Diamondbacks for the past two seasons. A former MLB backstop, Laker will be tasked with stepping into the shoes of the legendary Edgar Martinez, who shifted to a broader role as organizational hitting advisor.
- The Dodgers have decided to bring on Robert Van Scoyoc as their new hitting coach, according to Pedro Moura of The Athletic (via Twitter). He is also coming from the D-Backs organization. This’ll be Van Scoyoc’s first stint on a MLB staff, and it comes at just 32 years of age. He’s best known for helping to re-launch J.D. Martinez into stardom as a private hitting coach.
- Needless to say, the Diamondbacks have some holes to fill in this area. Eric Hinske will be part of the picture, as he is set to join the team as the assistant hitting coach, per Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (via Twitter). He will work alongside recently hired hitting coach Darnell Coles. Hinske recently held the top hitting coach slot with the Angels and Cubs.
- In another hitting move, the assistant job of the Pirates will be handled by Jacob Cruz. The 45-year-old was most recently the minor-league hitting coordinator of the Cubs and previously worked in the Diamondbacks organization. A former big-league outfielder, Cruz is slated to pair with new hitting coach Rick Eckstein.
The White Sox announced that they’ve claimed left-hander Ian Clarkin off waivers from the Cubs. It’s a quick turnaround move by the ChiSox, who only last week lost Clarkin on waivers to the Cubs.
Clarkin, 24 in February, was the No. 33 pick by the Yankees in the 2013 draft but went from the Yanks to the Sox in the 2017 David Robertson/Tommy Kahnle swap. The 2018 season was an ugly one for Clarkin, however, as he was hit hard in 68 Double-A innings. In 18 appearances (10 starts) at that level he posted a 4.98 ERA and averaged just 4.6 K/9 against 4.1 BB/9.
It remains to be seen if he’ll stick on the 40-man roster throughout the winter this time around, but the White Sox have now acquired Clarkin from outside their organization on two separate occasions, so they clearly see plenty to like in the former first-rounder.