Catching up on Cubs news and notes as season approaches

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It has been a long and winding road, there have been several times when I didn't believe we would reach the goal, but the start of the 2020 MLB season is now within sight. I don't know how I feel about it (we'll get to that later), and I do expect we will see more players choose to opt out before the season kicks off, but I no longer see anything able to stop the league from kicking off the season even as COVID cases shoot up across most of the country.

Quintana to resume throwing today

Alec Mills

Alec Mills

We'll start off with the most positive news on the injury front. Jose Quintana, who has missed all of camp after slicing a finger on his pitching hand just prior to the reporting date, has had his stitches removed and is scheduled to begin throwing today. It is still way too early to determine when he will return during the season, but assuming his finger is fully healed and does not affect his pitching in any way, we could see him in a Cubs uniform a couple of weeks into the season. That seems like a best case scenario however, as I would expect he will need to ease into throwing these final weeks of camp. It may take him a bit of time to regain the necessary feel for the ball.

In his absence Alec Mills will be the Cubs 5th starter. Slated to be the swingman after a strong spring, Mills has continued to throw well this month according to reports, although he did get roughed up a bit as the lineups turned over in his latest intrasquad outing (as did Tyler Chatwood). Starting pitching depth will be an issue if the Cubs lose anyone else, but I feel confident in Mills as an adequate replacement assuming Q misses no more than the first month of the season.

Rizzo still out

An MRI taken on Tuesday revealed inflammation along the ribs on Anthony Rizzo's left side which is causing his back to spasm. Most fans will know this is not the first time back spasms has kept Rizzo out of action. In fact, it has been almost a yearly occurrence. Up to this point it has usually been just a once-a-year problem, and usually resolves itself inside a week or two, but Rizzo is aging so it needs to be monitored closely. Judging by previous experiences he has endured, there is still enough time for him to get right before Opening Day.

Concerns regarding his back have long been on my mind when the subject of a long-term contract extension for the slugging first baseman is brought up. Signing any 30+ year old veteran at his position involves risk, but doing so with a player known to have a back condition is borderline insane to me. At the very least the Cubs will be wise to wait until they've burned through his remaining team option year before seriously engaging in extension talks.

Even the potential for the DH to remain in the NL does not mitigate the risk in this scenario. This isn't his legs or some other nagging injury that would cripple his defense more significantly than his offense. A bad back affects any player's ability to swing the bat effectively.

Catchers providing power

David Bote and Victor Caratini (Photo by Stephanie Lynn)

David Bote and Victor Caratini (Photo by Stephanie Lynn)

While Willson Contreras and Josh Phegley battle it out for the camp home run title, we've received confirmation that the Cubs intend to keep the tandem of Vic Caratini and Yu Darvish together as battery mates this season. I think we can now assume at this point that the two pivot points in the Cubs catcher rotation will be Caratini with Darvish and Contreras with Lester. Beyond those two tandems, I think the Cubs can mix-and-match, go with the hot hitter, or play both (with one shifting to DH or 1B).

The team also announced the signing of veteran Jose Lobaton to a Minor League deal yesterday. The way I read this move is they want to make sure they have enough catchers on hand to work with all of the pitchers in camp, while also providing veteran insurance in case they need to remove Phegley from the 40-man roster at some point. He will need to go through waivers to do so, and the team might lose him. If so, they may not feel comfortable with P.J. Higgins serving as the 3rd catcher in a pennant race.

I become more convinced every day Phegley will be added to the 40-man roster so that he can be a part of the 30-man roster come Opening Day. Not only has he performed well in ST and now in camp this July, but the combination of Rizzo's back spasms and the addition of the DH to the NL for the coming season, means the Cubs need to remain flexible in their ability to deploy Caratini at 1B.

Once roster sizes decrease over the first month, the need for insurance at the position should be lessened. Not only will Rizzo hopefully prove to be at full strength, but the Cubs will be able to see how effective hitters like Albert Almora, David Bote, Steven Souza, Jr. and Jason Kipnis are in the early part of the season. The Cubs could find they have plenty of other options to fill the DH role and the need to deploy one of Contreras or Caratini there on a regular basis will not be there.

Editor's Note

I would like to apologize for the continued lack of consistent output on the site. I had hoped to ramp coverage back up beginning last weekend, but my grandmother died on Sunday, and so my focus was pulled toward her funeral services the past several days.

It goes without saying that we are in unprecedented and uncertain territory right now, not only in terms of baseball but as a nation. It has been difficult for me to focus on baseball and stir up enough passion to write about it on a regular basis. All contributions here at Cubs Den are on a volunteer basis. We receive no income, we do it because we love baseball and we love writing. But I have to admit it has been difficult for me to love baseball over the past few months.

Not only were the negotiations between the league and the PA toxic, but it became clear early on that whatever baseball we got this season would be focused completely on ensuring postseason revenue and nothing more. The Minor Leagues and even MLB regular season games would be sacrificed. And not for health concerns, which I could support, but for purely financial reasons. It has left me somewhat cold about the sport and that isn't the best frame of mind to approach writing about it.

Readers here know my interest has always been more on the Minor League and prospect side rather than at the MLB level. With the cancellation of the Minor League campaign, and expectation that once play resumes next year that they will likely be forever altered, sapped much of my enthusiasm. One of the things that has separated Cubs Den from other sites is our focus on the Minors through our daily recaps. That obviously will not be possible this summer. On the one hand that should free me up for other duties at the MLB level, but on the other it isn't what I am most passionate about. I would like to believe I can rise above those feelings, but I simply can't answer that at this time.

As for the other contributors on the site, some have taken a step back or chosen to take the year off. I don't intend to press any of the other writers to contribute more than they what they are willing to volunteer. Sean intends to post Series Previews throughout the season. I know BP is intending to contribute here and there as he has throughout the offseason. Beyond that, my hope is to fill in as much as I can on game previews/recaps, news and notes, etc. throughout the season.

I want to provide as much coverage as you've come to expect from the site, but I want to warn you now, there will be gaps. Not all games will be covered. If I, or others, need a break we are going to take it. Bear with us when that happens. And hey, when the season begins, maybe it will be like a switch gets flipped and we will all realize how much we missed the game and a lack of passion will not be an issue. That is my hope.

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    It's good to be where we are...baseball in a matter of days when it appeared that it may not come back at all. Thank you to all the writers and contributors of this site! It's a strange world out there and I personally look forward to baseball giving me a chance to forget about some of that! Let's get after it and Play Ball!

  • In reply to Scott Tomkiewicz:

    Thanks Scott.

    It has been more difficult than I anticipated. I've been fortunate enough to keep my job (and work safely from home) during the pandemic. I'm more comfortable than most and thankful for it. And I assumed with my extra free time that I would write more, not less.

    That has obviously not been the case though. Writing takes more than time. It is intellectually and emotionally draining as well. Between worrying about my health (and that of my family), my job security (and that of my family), plus all of the political, economic and social turmoil over the past several months... my mind and energies have simply been devoted elsewhere.

    I've been waiting for my passion for baseball to return for months. As yet, it has not occurred, but hopefully with actual games will come actual fun.

  • Thanks for the updates, Michael, and sorry to hear about your grandmother.

    I know everyone loves Rizzo, for good reason, and would like to see him signed to a "career" contract extension. There is no better ambassador on or off the field. Yet I have expressed many of these same concerns, especially after he went public this spring over his frustration about the lack of extension negotiations. He's a big boy, and back issues on someone his size rarely correct themselves. I'm not an expert on his particular problem, but I haven't seen anything about it even being correctable with surgery. He may just have to deal with it, and that doesn't bode well for the future.

  • In reply to Mike Pilbean:

    Michael, sorry to hear about your grandmother.

    You certainly don't need to apologize, or even explain content. My quarter-cent tip, and everyone already knows this, but write about what you enjoy the most, especially in 2020. Write about Cubs younger players/prospects, player development philosophy/strategy, or anything else that gets you excited!

    I have always enjoyed your take on player development/prospects.

    MP "career contract extensions" Outside of the top stars, more and more players are not going to like the contract offered, especially hitters on the wrong side of 30. More teams will look at Jose Abreu deal 3 years in length, and some deferred money to stretch payments over 6 years.

    Rizzo, and the rest of the core Cubs got a wake up call, Cubs want value in order to sign a contract extension. After Heyward's contract, Cubs like most teams will have a real limited appetite for long term deal.

    This past offseason I thought this front office was in a good spot to stretch out the Cubs new tradition of actually winning!!! Exciting time to be in the front office. Trade big name players for prospects, and still have the ability to have one of the largest payrolls in MLB. Cubs will have a lots of flexibility moving forward, even when other teams are not not willing to trade away super stud prospects.

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    Thanks for the updates Michael and condolences to you and your family for the loss of your grandmother. These are indeed trying times in almost every way.

    Stay positive and stay safe.

  • In reply to Theodore Anderson:

    Thanks Theodore.

  • Just watched some video of Rizzo taking live BP. I didn't see the whole session, but I don't know that he even took a full swing. Mostly just tracking pitches, and a couple bunts.

    He's admitted to bring frustrated with the spasms, which is understandable. All we can do is wish him well, as any games missed in this compressed season are magnified.

  • In reply to Mike Pilbean:

    Yeah, backs are tricky, but historically his issues have cleared up relatively quickly. Doesn't mean this one will, but it is at least reason for optimism he will be back soon.

  • Hendricks named Opening Day starter. Darvish to follow.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Darvish finished 2019 with an incredibly strong run, and before all heck broke loose this spring I was writing a piece on how he could be a 2020 Cy Young candidate.

    I love the comfort level Yu seems to have attained here in Chicago. He has been and hopefully will again be a stud and staff ace, but honoring Hendricks has always seemed like the right move to me.

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    Michael, I hope you realize that family comes first. We all understand that. Actually, the saying around my family was FHB (family hold back) which when we had guests over we had to wait to eat until everyone else was eating and no seconds until everyone was fed.
    It will be good to get back to talking about players and young players too. With games about 9 days away it really hasn't stuck me yet, but I told my wife not to plan anything for the evening of the 24th, and I guess this Sunday the Cubs vs Sox is on ESPN. Well, my wife had about 3 months of me not planning anything on any special day because of sports and those days are about to end, and I watch not only the Cubs but Bears, Hawks and lastly, the Bulls.
    Welcome back Michael.
    Go Cubs!!

  • Congrats to Kyle Hendricks for opening day start. He has earned.

    A couple tidbits: Hendricks career ERA 3.14. Only Kershaw, Degrom, Sale and Baumgartner have a lower career ERA.

    Greg Maddux career ERA was 3.15.

    So congrats.

  • ‘Know exactly where you are coming from Michael....no apologies needed. I would say most everyone feels the same. Until this covid is whipped (and I believe it will be eventually) we are all in the same boat. Normalcy is still far down the road but my MLB extra innings subscription isn’t :)

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