Jon Lester is the Cubs Opening Day starter, and other Spring Training notes

Jon Lester

Jon Lester

Now that I've wrapped up the prospect series for the time being, and Spring Training games are in full swing, let's see if I can get into a groove of providing some updates regarding the Major League club on a regular basis.

First up, we've confirmation of what we all surely anticipated: Jon Lester will be the Cubs Opening Day starter. It's been business as usual with Lester so far this spring. His stuff looks the same as it has for the past two years. His approach looks the same. He may be 35, but the guy has made at least 30 starts in 11 consecutive seasons, so until Lester gives us a reason to worry I see no reason to expect anything but a steady season from him.

He will not be the Opening Day closer, but Brandon Morrow is beginning to build up his arm strength:

Yu Darvish feels his stuff is now better than it ever has been in his career. He's touched 96-97 in his two spring appearances while mixing in his wide array of offspeed pitches. His start on Sunday was cut short due to the long wait as the Cubs plated 8 runs in the second inning against the White Sox.

Some other notes:

  • The Cubs announced the signing of all 17 of their pre-arbitration players. All must signed to at least the minimum MLB salary of $550K (which they only earn while on the 25-man roster or MLB IL). Major League teams can set these players salaries at whatever they want above that threshold. The highest salary was awarded to Willson Contreras at $684K.
  • Dillon Maples has yet to walk a batter in three appearances. He did surrender a two-run homer over the weekend, but as long as he is limiting free passes he has a chance to capitalize on his immense talent.
  • Dakota Mekkes continues to do what Dakota Mekkes does: throw scoreless innings.
  • The Cubs are also beginning to work some of their veteran relievers into the mix and after bringing them along slowly early in camp. Steve Cishek, Tony Barnette and Junichi Tazawa all made their first appearances. Pedro Strop and Brad Brach should make their 2019 debuts soon. Recent signing Xavier Cedeno has been slowed by a minor injury and is currently behind schedule.

 

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  • I'm wary of the preseason hype that is a part of every Spring Training, but the news from Arizona keeps getting better. There are a lot of positives this year, signs that bode well for the Cubs chances to go deep in the playoffs. The biggest factor, IMO will be whether the team's newfound "urgency" really permeates the lineup or is simply another ST catchphrase.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Cliff1969:

    I agree on not getting too excited about pre-season hype. How many times have we read that "[Player A] arrived at camp 'in the best shape of his career'" Or a pitcher "throwing better than he ever has." I still believe that the main purpose for Spring Training is to "get a look" at some of the young kids, AVOID INJURY, and, for veterans to "get their work in." Whether it is trying a different grip on a pitch, or taking the ball the opposite way. Or simply "getting in game shape" and "getting their timing back" that's what I look for. For this reason I always chuckle in ST when a young player "gets the best" of a veteran. To be sure these are athletes and are competitive the fact is that the veteran might have been simply trying something rather than striving with all his effort to achieve the best result in the short term.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Absolutely, but the flip side to the "trying something new" scenario is when the player tries out something he's been working on all winter and it WORKS. SSS and all that, but maybe some of it sticks...

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Yes, I’m with you. The proverbial “chip” is back on their shoulders. I’m always a glass half full guy for the most part, but KB back to himself, Darvish throwing 97 & feeling great, bullpen looking good, Morrow on track with Maples & Chatwood throwing strikes is what everyone was hoping for.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Maples with control and command is an awesome achievement. He can be nasty.

  • Since all 17 pre-arb players are signed, BCB's Yellon did an updated payroll estimate. For those who don't want to read the article the salary cap hit payroll is a smidge below 230 million as of right now and no players being signed. This will allow the team to spend 10 - 15 million on upgrades at the July deadline. This will keep the team under the 3rd luxury limit of 246 million.

    https://www.bleedcubbieblue.com/2019/3/4/18249714/another-updated-look-at-the-cubs-2019-payroll-and-luxury-tax

  • In reply to John57:

    Cool! I assume that includes Russell's projected salary?

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Yep he has Russell on his list of players.

  • To me, the most interesting piece of news is Darvish getting healthy, Chatwood finding some control and Hamels wanting to pitch to 45.

    What I am waiting for is the vaunted and difference-making 6-man rotation. The difference is how it relates to a rotation of 35, 35, 32, 30, and 29 yr old starting pitchers with another 29 yr old. This would drop the starters 5 games over the course of a year without skipping.

    The projection is that it would keep the top of the rotation fresher for the final push and also make for a perfect L-R-L-R-L-R rotation where no series or team would face the same plane.

    The whole plan is to extend the IP'd by starters to an extra inning into the 7th. This then lines up the bullpen for Maddon's crew 1 and crew 2.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    I could see a 6 man in the dog days, maybe, mid July thru end of August but not in the beginning of the year & not by mid September. You want your playoff rotation in top form around then. Also you want to make sure you get in the playoffs. Pitching your 6th starter in meaningful games could be too much of a gamble...

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    Who knows, could be possible if Chatwood pitches like the FO thought he would last year. Joe may like this. He is always in the resting players mode to keep them fresh for the stretch run.

  • In reply to John57:

    There's always the possibility of injury, too. A starting rotation that stays completely healthy all year is pretty rare. If Chatwood turns out to be the pitcher the FO thought they were signing, he could slide right into the rotation if someone goes on the DL, er, IL. That would be a big help to the team.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    good point.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    DL stints are inevitable for a rotation with this much experience. I have been dreaming on a six man rotation too but what happens when someone goes down? Do you switch back to a five man? Would that screw with old man Lester’s rhythm? Or maybe you bring Montgomery into the mix and someone from AAA takes over the long man?

  • The players don't like a 6 man rotation, the pitching coach doesn't like a 6 man rotation. I'm not sure why posters want their best pitchers pitching less and introducing a bad pitcher into the mix. Players and coaches like a routine and this is not a great solution.

  • If Darvish actually is and can stay healthy, and Chatwood actually has gotten rid of the worst of his BB-problem,.... add that to (hopefully) healthy years from Lester, Hendricks, Quintana and Hamels in the rotation,... that's a good place to be for a season. That's potentially 6 deep not including Montgomery or any of the potentials that are going to no-doubt be starting the season in Iowa.

  • How many of next years FA's will not
    be back. Lots of money for FA's?

    tstsyts

  • How many of next years FA's will not
    be back. Lots of money for FA's?

    tstsyts

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to emartinezjr:

    Depending on how they do I could see Zobrist and Hamels being gone OR signed for less money than they are getting this year. Cishek, Duensing, and Kintzler will likely sign elsewhere.

    We'll see though.

  • Noooooooo, I wouldn't start lester and his declining velocity and peripherals in the rangers park yikes.

  • In reply to bolla:

    I would. He’s the leader of the rotation.

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    I'm trying to resist feeding the trolls this year.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    *yawnsssss*

    It’s funny how everyone is a “troll” when they aren’t group thinking like the rest of you grumpy old men.

    It’s hard to “Resist feeding the trolls” with this passive aggressive garbage you’re doing

  • In reply to bolla:

    Nope, it's not "funny" at all.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Greg Simmons spams this site with anti cub/pro cardinals rhetoric and habitually says nonsense and people entertain him.

    Me I say a factual comments about lester,Bryant,arrieta(the golden boys)and get lambasted & the pitchforks are out. To hell with this hypocritical blog y’all are too old and uptight for me. There’s a million sites to post on you can keep this corny sh*t

  • In reply to bolla:

    Factual comments about Lester, Bryant and Arrieta? I have not once seen a factual comment on any of those 3 guys from you. Does this mean you are leaving the site?

  • In reply to bolla:

    We'll do our best to understand your need for a forum that appreciates your style of discourse. Don't let the door hit ya where the Good Lord split ya.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to bolla:

    [Steps onto soap box]

    Some of your comments are factual. I have even read insightful things from you, bolla. My problem is that so many of your comments seem needlessly provocative. And anyone who disagrees with you is engaging in "group think."

    There are some areas where I disagree with the consensus on here. But I don't automatically accuse them of engaging in group think but, rather, ask them to justify their beliefs/comments. And then listen to them. THAT was the legacy of John, IMO. That was the beauty of this board for years. On almost all issues there was "consensus" but there was a not ineffective resitance to "the consensus" on whatever the topic at hand is.

    Believe it or not sometimes that consensus changes. For instance, I remember for a couple of years people were excited at scouting reports that forecast Soler to be an above average defender. That was "the consensus" view on the site. The "group think" if you like it. Someone, I don't recall who, finally pointed out, "You know, Soler is NOT a very good defender." I remember people coming down on him hard but he kept pointing to facts (bad routes, mostly IIRC). He didn't plead for people to stop disagreeing with him. He just said, "I am just posting my opinion." Then people started looking more and more at Soler's CURRENT defense and now how they could imagine him playing in the future. By the end of the season Soler was seen as a BELOW AVERAGE defender (and pretty much stayed there).

    Another example is Schwarber's defense. He has had some epic fails in his career and will never win a GG. But last year he was actually a solid LF. He would not do well in CF. No one is claiming he was an elite defender. But there was an argument to be made he wasn't awful out there last year. We'll see if he is just an "under-rated defender" or if last year he just did well in some of the things that the metrics value.

    My point is that there IS a place for dissent on this board. It keeps the conversations lively. What rubs people the wrong way is when someone disagrees with you that too often you accuse them of "not looking at facts" and engaging in "group think" and calling out support for players with strong track records as support for "golden boys." It is these comments--which are needlessly inflammatory--that lead to people referring to your posts as "trolls."

    FWIW I think your original point was a solid one. Lester may not be the best choice to pitch in TEX (since this is the one time every year where we literally can choose who we want to pitch in a given game). It is something worth looking into for me. I don't consider it an outlandish/trollish post at all. In fact, please expound on it. Which peripherals do you see as being problematic for Lester in TEX? If you respond with facts to back up your position rather than, "Me I say a factual comments about lester,Bryant,arrieta(the golden boys)and get lambasted & the pitchforks are out. To hell with this hypocritical blog y’all are too old and uptight for me. There’s a million sites to post on you can keep this corny sh*t" you will get FAR further on this board. If you want to keep responding like that you will continue to have trouble here.

    [Steps down from soap box]

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    especially with kids practicing ageism

  • In reply to bolla:

    Bolls, Lester had the best year of the rotation. He earns the opening game. Hamels was great upon joining the Cubs last summer, no question, but it’s a small sample up against Lester’s full body of work. Hendricks is close, but Lester’s ERA & 18 wins says he’s the man.

    Now make your case...

  • In reply to Milk Stout:

    Lester had his lowest k %, highest walk % in 6 years, his fip was 4.39, which was the highest since his rookie year I think he gave up more fly balls than grounders last year too(have to fact check that).Jon lester was helped significantly by the cubs defense his advanced numbers weren't encouraging and showed decline.I would of started hendricks on opening day personally.

    and the rangers park allows the most runs in mlb and 3rd most hr's.I rather have a pitcher who generates swings and misses or weak contact(hendricks) starting opening day.I know hendricks allowed a career high in hr's last season but I believe he only allowed 4 post asb 18 pre asb.

    that being said it's just an opinion lester could go 7 scoreless

  • In reply to bolla:

    Ok, we disagree. I think Lester is the leader of the rotation as well as having the slightly better ERA & thus far a slightly better career. Both are great choices. They’ll probably go1-2 unless Joe wants Darvish &/or Hamels, both ex Rangers, for the series opener.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to bolla:

    I think you make a compelling case to NOT start Lester.

    And I think if it were just another April (or March) game you'd get support from a lot of people. But for many baseball fans--rightly or wrongly--Opening Day is different. And a pitcher like Lester would likely be offended if he were not given the ball on Opening Day. I know. EVERY game is important as we found out last September. But I do think that it being Opening Day trumped all in the decision making process.

    Just my opinion.

  • In reply to bolla:

    Not sure of your point. No starter except Yu throws any harder than Lester. Sad but true.

  • In reply to veteran:

    Hamels throws harder and Quintana probably does to.

  • The keys to this season are really quite simple, IMHO. It's Bryant on offense and Darvish in the rotation. If these guys are who they can be this a very good team. Like most of us I wanted a bat to hedge our bets but that was not to be. When healthy and effective Darvish is a number 1 type pitcher, not an ace as I believe there are only a handful of those in the game, but a number 1. Kris Bryant is a superstar coming off the only injured year in, not just his professional career, but in his life. The competitive nature of this kid is such that I don't doubt him at all. I get spring training hype and all that but when these guys talk right now it's clear they are on a mission. they don't like hearing that computer projections have them winning 79 games. they don't like hearing that the Cardinals are hot on their heels and they're going to do something about it. As fans all we can do is hope it's enough. I think it just may be.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Bryant and Davish might be keys, but I expect improvement or at least more consistency from Schwarber, Almora, Contreras, and Happ as well.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Yes, 2nd half run production will also help to that end if those 4 guys are better.

  • In reply to TC154:

    I agree that Darvish and Bryant are huge, but there is always the possibility of injury and some of the other Cubs need to step it up from last year. I think Chatwood could end up playing a huge role. Schwarber, Happ, Almora, Contreras need to be better for the whole year. Descalso could be huge - or not. It's gonna be an interesting season. This team competes for a championship or we'll see massive changes next offseason - and possibly at the trade deadline.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to TC154:

    Last year only Baez had a good year (maybe Cishek?). Others were "same" at best and several were noticably worse...and the team STILL had the best record in the NL after 161 games.

    If Bryant is back to 25-35HR and a .290/.400/.500+ slash line or Darvish returns to dominance it will obviously help. But if Contreras can do .280/.350/.490 or Schwarber can do .250/.360/.500 that will also take the team a long way WITHOUT Bryant nor Darvish doing much at all. Last year the team was just lost all year it seemed. Occasionally someone would get hot but it was seldom more than 1 guy (and it was usually Baez) and the team just couldn't ever put things together.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I think Schwarber and Zobrist had good years too.

  • everyone needs to prove themselves every year. What have you done for my lately?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to SFToby:

    To some extent I disagree. I am going to be more patient if Zobrist struggles to open the season than if, for instance, David Bote struggles. If a player has a strong track record I am more willing to let them "fight through a cold stretch" than I am with someone with less of a track record.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I think (or hope) this is what Theo was referring to when he said they needed to evaluate based on performance rather than potential.

  • me, typo

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Hello Typo.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to KJRyno:

    I love it when a long-time poster who usually only reveals a "handle" lets us know his name. Especially when it is an unusual one like "Typo."

  • I think this whole season, as far as the young Cubs are concerned (Contreras, Schwarber, Almora, Happ, Bote), can be summed up by the shirt Contreras was reported to be wearing earlier in spring training.

    I don't remember the exact phrase, but the gist of it was "No more talk. It's time for action on the field." I'm not saying this is make-or-break year for these young guys, but this is a bit of a crossroads for them. Less reliance on potential, more on production.

    I'm kind of excited for these young guys. I believe they are chomping at the bit to make good on this year, no excuses. We already know that KB, Baez, and Rizzo are becoming stars, I think at least one more will be added to that group this year.

  • Chatwood just went another 3 innings without a BB . Maybe he’s figuring it out.

  • In reply to stix:

    The secret pitching lab is helping to get him to reach his potential. That lab was probably not cheap but if it can fix just one pitcher, it will be worth it.

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