Catching Up With Cubs Broadcaster Jim Deshaies

Catching Up With Cubs Broadcaster Jim Deshaies

Now in his third year as Chicago Cubs color man, Jim Deshaies has had a front row in witnessing the rebuilding process of the Chicago Cubs. As the team apppears to have turned a corner in its search for relevance in the division and in the majors, we thought it would be good to catch up with Jim for his perspective on things.

In this, the first of a two-part interview, JD talks missing pieces/pieces in place, Joe Maddon, Hector Rondon and the closer role, where Starlin Castro and Kris Bryant fit into the team’s future and batting the pitcher eighth. Speaking of pitchers, he also shares his prediction on Jon Lester’s first career base hit.

 

How much does David Ross, or any catcher really, mean to a rotation?

It’s always hard to quantify the value of a catcher. If you catch a pitcher in an honest moment, you usually get a pretty good idea. Generally, pitchers always have good things to say about catchers until the catcher is traded or has moved on.

In general, David Ross brings a lot of things to the table. He’s never been a great hitter, besides a brief period in his career, but there is still value there.

 

What pieces are missing to get this team to a true contender status?

I don’t know that there’s a lot missing, other than some of the young guys need to continue to develop. Any general manager will tell you that when they’re in that “go for it mode,” they’re always looking to upgrade, but I think it’s mostly about getting the pieces in place and getting everybody firing on all cylinders.

I don’t know that that [Jed and Theo] have been able to identify any piece out there. I know they talked about adding more pitching, be it at the trade deadline or in the off-season, to add a top-flight arm to the rotation.

It’s a matter of watching these kids play and hoping they take it to a high level sooner rather than later. Guys like Soler, who has been OK, but the expectation has been that he will be more of an impact player than he’s been so far, or Addison Russell cutting down on strikeouts, or ultimately when Javy Baez gets here, what kind of fit he will be.

There are areas where they can upgrade, but I don’t see any significant holes.

 

Do you think there is a player on this team who is unfairly overlooked?

If anyone, it’s Anthony Rizzo, because there has been so much emphasis on the young kids—Bryant, Russell and Soler—who have gotten so much attention. Rizzo, who is having an MVP season, probably isn’t getting enough love.

 

Where do you see Kris Bryant settling in defensively with this team for the long haul?

Two options are in play. I think he could stay at third base for the rest of his career, and he’d be fine. I don’t think he’d ever win a Gold Glove, but he’d be fine there. If I’m the Cubs, because of his versatility and his ability to play the outfield, that becomes a better option.

It becomes an even better fit when Javy Baez comes up and you need to realign the infield. It all really comes down to the makeup of the club, but to me, I think Kris Bryant can stay at third for a long time.

 

Does Starlin Castro offer the Cubs more as a Cub or as a trade piece?

It depends on the market. If there is someone out there who is a good fit, and if you can get the right piece or pieces in return, I think there could be value there, just because of the depth [in the infield]. I think Russell ultimately will become the shortstop on this club. I don’t know what that means for Starlin; if it’s change or if it’s a trade.

If you can get a decent return, then that may be a deal you have to be willing to take. If not, you think about moving him to a different position or about moving one of the other infielders.

 

Is Hector Rondon closer material?

I think any number of guys are closer material.

The closer position is kind of overrated. It’s really important to have a good bullpen to finish off teams late, so you need talented arms out there for the 7th, 8th and 9th. I believe the way the modern-era closer is used, it’s a little easier to do that than back in the Goose Gossage era, where guys pitched multiple innings.

Rondon’s second half of last year was really good. He’s a little shaky now, no doubt, but I think he’s capable of doing the job, but other guys are too. If Rondon were to go through a real rough patch, and they needed to go with a plan B, there are other options.

That will be one of the interesting things to watch going forward: how he responds to this and if Joe decides at some point to make a change.

 

How do you grade Joe Maddon so far? Have you questioned any of his in-game decisions?

I have always been of the mind it’s almost always grey with in-game managerial decisions. Rarely is it black and white. It’s easy post-game to say “that was the wrong move,” but if you can’t first-guess it at the time, then I don’t think it’s good to second-guess it.

I love the fact Joe is willing to take chances. Maddon brings a culture of “Let’s go play. Use your instincts. Trust yourself,” and I think guys will be better because of it. Look at the David Ross pickoff [to end the game in Washington]. Some managers might be afraid to do something a little daring like that.

Managing the club in the clubhouse and how he deals with people is also off the charts.

 

What do you make of  Maddon tinkering with the lineup? Have you seen an advantage to the pitcher batting 8th?

I think [the pitcher batting eighth] is multipronged.

Joe is just curious. Let’s watch this play for a while and see what happens. I’m sure there is a lot of computer modeling on it from the stats guys.

I’m not sold on it, but I’m not opposed to it. I think lineup construction is kind of overrated. You have a bunch of good hitters, you’re going to score a lot of runs, regardless of where you put them in the batting order.

One of the other reasons behind it is he likes kind of a soft landing at the big league level, such as for Addison Russell. By putting him in the nine hole, without great expectations, without pressure and he probably sees a lot more pitches. If he batted in front of the pitcher, they could pitch around him.

As far as moving guys in and out of the lineup and up and down the order, I’m all over that. You look at every single game as a separate event depending on the pitching matchup and how you want to deploy your hitters. Bat them leadoff one day, third the next and cleanup after that; I’m good with it.

He probably put Castro in the cleanup spot for longer than a lot of guys would have, but his hands are a little bit tied because guys like Soler haven’t delivered yet.

 

Jon Lester is 0-for-career at the plate. When will he get his first hit?

In his very next at bat! (laughs)

I don’t know when he will get one, but I am sure he will, and he will probably collect a handful of them before the season is over.

We’ve talked about it a lot on the air, and I think people thing we’re nuts, but he’s got a pretty good swing. At the end of the day, when Jon has done his time with the Cubs, he’s not going to be Travis Wood, but he will be adequate relative to the rest of the pitchers in the league.

As far as when it’s going to happen, who knows. Hopefully soon.

I’ll go with a solid single up the middle.
Later this week from Jim:

  • Being a rookie with the same number of wins and lower ERA than teammate Nolan Ryan
  • What frustrates him about today’s game as a former player?
  • Transitioning as a broadcaster from one longtime team relationship in the Astros to the Cubs
  • His on-air chemistry with Len
  • Domestic creativity to battle his offseason boredom

 

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