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
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
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.
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.
Filed under: News and Notes