- With Jake Arrieta and John Lackey scheduled to become free agents after the season, the Cubs could dangle second base/outfield prospect Ian Happ for pitching help, says FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (video link). On the other hand, Rosenthal notes that Happ’s versatility likely means he isn’t as expendable to the Cubs as now-Royal Jorge Soler was. Happ, Law’s 46th-best prospect, has begun the year with a red-hot .293/.356/.683 line and five home runs in 45 plate appearances at Triple-A.
Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago tells the interesting tale of how Kyle Schwarber put himself on the Cubs’ radar — with a big assist from longtime scout Stan Zielinski, who unfortunately passed away recently. Zielinski drew quite a picture of Schwarber upon seeing him in person, invoking none other than Babe Ruth and calling Schwarber “the best college bat I’ve seen in a long time” — adding, “and remember I’m so old I’ve seen a lot of them.” It’s an interesting read that’s well worth your time.
Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta handled the Brewers on Sunday in a seven-inning, 10-strikeout showing, after which he downplayed concerns about his diminished velocity. “Where I’m at now in my career, I don’t worry about it, because I know that I’m smart enough to work around that,” Arrieta told reporters, including Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. “The velocity’s still good enough to get it by guys and to do certain things in certain situations with it.” The 31-year-old is clearly confident in his current stuff, but he does expect to regain his lost velocity. “When the 95-to-97 comes back, it’s going to be tough for teams. And it still is,” declared Arrieta, who has posted sterling numbers through two starts this year as he continues to make his case for a massive contract. Arrieta stands as arguably the majors’ top soon-to-be free agent.
- Although there has been skepticism toward Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward’s remade swing, the early returns on his offseason work have been promising, writes Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com. Heyward picked up a pair of hits, including a triple, in five at-bats Sunday, and he managed to put the ball in play with 95 mph-plus exit velocities in each trip to the plate. “I like his hands,” observed manager Joe Maddon. “I like his hands more involved right now. He’s getting started sooner, staying through the ball longer.” Heyward’s previous swing yielded a highly disappointing .230/.306/.325 line in 592 PAs last season, which came as a shock after the normally solid hitter inked an eight-year, $184MM contract in free agency.
Ben Zobrist started the majority of the Cubs’ regular-season games at second base in 2016, but Javier Baez is now in the process of becoming the team’s everyday option at the keystone, writes Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. Baez started all 17 of the Cubs’ playoff games at second last fall and has opened 2017 by lining up there in four of five contests, which has pushed Zobrist into a super-utility role. Manager Joe Maddon isn’t ready to declare Baez the Cubs’ starter at second, largely because of “all the versatility” the team’s position players possess. However, he admitted that “pretty much what you’ve seen to this point, I think, is like a good indicator of what we’re going to be able to do with everybody being healthy.”
In an appearance on the podcast hosted by C. Trent Rosecrans and Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer, Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams shared some interesting thoughts on his team and possible areas for innovation. (You can find a writeup of Williams’ comments and a link to the podcast right here.) Williams spoke in particular about the notion of “breaking down the barriers between roles,” both for pitchers and position players. Especially for a small-market team, he said, it’s necessary to question traditional thinking. While it’s hardly clear that the Reds will be tinkering just for the sake of experimentation — Williams says that creative approaches will be attempted “in the context of the talent we have coming” — he did note that it’s intriguing to imagine the possibility of a staff made up mostly of multi-inning pitchers who aren’t strictly classified as starters or relievers. It’s a fun and worthwhile listen.
Here’s more from the NL Central:
- Cardinals GM John Mozeliak expressed some displeasure with recent comments from second baseman Kolten Wong, as ESPN.com’s Mark Saxon writes. Wong had stated rather forcefully that he was uninterested in sharing time at second — a possibility that has been discussed (externally, at least) due both to his continued struggles at the plate this spring and the presence of Jedd Gyorko. Though Wong softened his initial statement, making clear he wants to remain in St. Louis, Mozeliak said he felt the “comments were a little tough given the fact we have other players playing well.” The veteran executive took a measured tone, but made clear where the organization stands. “Starting Sunday, we’re playing to win,” he said. “Whenever a player is trying to accomplish something in spring training, that can’t be an excuse for why things aren’t going well.”
- Righty Drew Hutchison was officially removed from the battle for the Pirates’ final rotation spot, with the team announcing that he has been optioned to Triple-A. That leaves righties Trevor Williams and Tyler Glasnow fighting for the fifth starter’s job. Both reached the majors last year after strong showings in the upper minors, though neither established himself at the game’s highest level. The young hurlers have each staked their claim in differing ways this spring, with Williams posting a 2.63 ERA with a dozen strikeouts against just two walks over 13 2/3 frames and Glasnow racking up 23 Ks — but also allowing nine runs on 19 hits and six free passes — over his 14 1/3 innings.
- The Cubs have made their final Opening Day roster decisions, as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella are both slated for reserve roles. Szczur, who’s out of options, had been mentioned as a possible trade candidate had he ended up missing out on the Chicago roster. Meanwhile, lefty Brian Duensing will open the season on the DL after being slowed earlier in camp due to back spasms.
The 25-year-old Smith potentially could have made the Cubs’ bullpen as a southpaw swingman, but they’ll instead go with Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing as their lefty relievers. Smith didn’t see much spring action with the Cubs, having tossed 6 1/3 innings and given up three earned runs on eight hits. Impressively, he struck out seven batters and only issued two walks.
Smith, whom the Yankees chose in Round 14 of the 2013 amateur draft, ascended to Triple-A in 2015, though he has only thrown 4 1/3 innings at that level. In 367 1/3 Double-A frames (94 appearances, 69 starts), he has logged a 3.41 ERA with 8.3 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9. Smith is the second Rule 5 pick the Yankees have gotten back in the past few days – the Diamondbacks returned righty Tyler Jones to them last Friday – and will now head to their minor league camp.
The Cubs have released infielder Munenori Kawasaki, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times was among those to report on Twitter. In addition to avoiding Article XX(B) obligations, the move allows Kawasaki to look for a shot at making another organization’s Opening Day roster.
If Kawasaki isn’t able to find greener pastures, says Wittenmyer, the Cubs would like to bring him back. That’s not surprising given that the veteran utilityman, a noted clubhouse character, accompanied the team on its successful journey to the World Series even though he wasn’t on the postseason roster and had appeared in just 14 regular-season games.
That’s not to say that Kawasaki doesn’t have his uses as a player. He has only seen limited action over the past two MLB seasons, but has taken 738 trips to the plate at the game’s highest level. While Kawasaki has hit just .237/.320/.289 in that span, he is known as a good and versatile defender.
Unlike last season, when he took nearly three weeks to accept a summer demotion to Triple-A, Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella would be willing to head to the minors without incident this year, according to manager Joe Maddon (via Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago). A season-opening role with Triple-A Iowa is a possibility for La Stella, who’s battling outfielder Matt Szczur for the Cubs’ final bench spot. Szczur is the only one of the two who’s out of options, which could bode poorly for La Stella. The Cubs “haven’t decided everything or anything yet,” per Maddon, but he believes Szczur is a major league-caliber player and an ideal teammate.
The Cubs have tabbed left-hander Brett Anderson to open the season as their fifth starter, tweets Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. Consequently, fellow southpaw Mike Montgomery, whom Anderson beat out, will head to the bullpen. At $3.5MM, Anderson received one of the biggest contracts the Cubs handed out during an offseason devoid of free agent splashes for the reigning World Series champions. Given the 29-year-old Anderson’s well-known injury history, though, it stands to reason Montgomery could end up in the rotation this season. “I could see him starting,” manager Joe Maddon told Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com. “Long relief, short relief. All of it.”
Henderson had an opt-out opportunity coming up next Wednesday, but the club had obviously already made up its mind. He struggled through 4 2/3 innings this spring, allowing five runs on seven hits and five walks while recording three strikeouts.
The veteran reliever had shown renewed signs of life last year, when he pitched 35 innings for the Mets. While he ended up with a 4.11 ERA, he showed a 93 mph+ fastball and notched 10.3 K/9 to go with 3.6 BB/9. Henderson also coughed up too many dingers and missed significant time with a biceps injury, though, which helps to explain why he wasn’t able to secure a 40-man spot over the offseason.
Chicago pared back its bullpen group rather significantly today. Other hurlers moved out of MLB camp were righties Jake Buchanan and Alec Mills, who were optioned, as well as non-roster invitees Williams Perez, Dylan Floro, and David Rollins.