UPDATE....As expected the Chicago Cubs have non tendered Addison Russell making him a free agent ahead of his arbitration. The Cubs can resign him to a new contract but all signs seem to indicate his time in Chicago is at an end.
The annual major league baseball winter meetings will be in San Diego starting December 8th and running until December 12th, and while the Chicago White Sox Rick Hahn and Ken Williams will be exploring the best places for fish tacos, since their work is mostly done, the Cubs Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will be busy trying to fix what is broken on this team for 2020.
So, what's happened since the end of the season? Not much really.
That Joe Maddon guy quit as manager to do the same thing for the California Angels and the Cubs replaced him with David Ross, world series hero, and, a guy with zero managerial experience. This will be the 16th time the Cubs have hired a former player as their manager and only eight of the previous fifteen have gone on to have a winning record for the beloved.
Even more concerning, only three of the eight had a significant winning record. Cap Anson was 1282-932, Charlie Grimm was 946-782, and Frank Chance was 768-389, nobody else had more than a 31 game differential. This does not mean David Ross won't become a great manager, but history is not on his side. I have two words for you, Denis Savard.
Coming off a not so stellar 84-78 season, where they finished third in the Central division, they have some work to do to get back to being relevant once again. In terms of pure baseball skills they need to be better defensively, they need to improve their baserunning, and they have to figure out how to be better hitters situationally. All three areas were sub average in 2019 and teams don't win titles by being sub average in these key areas.
Key roster moves are at hand as talks between the Cubs and Javier Baez have already begun on extending him, and rumors persist that the Cubs are shopping Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, and Kris Bryant. This trio accounts for 93 home runs and 233 RBI's, and oh, by the way, are the two, three and five hitters in their line-up. Additionally, Addison Russell is likely to be non tendered Monday night, another key component of their world series winning defense and offense.
On the pitching side they are losing one of their starters in Cole Hamels, and like most new seasons, expect their bullpen to look completely different in 2020. Craig Kimbrel will have a full spring to get himself back in shape but he did not look like the closer of old in 2019. The rest of the pen includes the household names of Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan, Brad Wieck, and of course the great Charles Thomas. I know I feel good about this staff.
There will be a new Chicago Cubs television network, in partnership with the journalistically loved Sinclair Broadcasting Group, called the Marquee Network. You will not be able to see the Cubs anywhere else but here, unless they are part of the national broadcasting schedule on ESPN, FOX, TBS, or MLB Network. So far cable providers have been flocking to sign up. Direct TV, Mediacom, and Charter are the only three with deals as of today. If you live in Iowa and Indiana you are golden, however, local Chicago fans will love watching the new look White Sox in 2020 since the Cubs and Comcast are miles apart right now.
So those are the highlights for what is different for 2020, but what should we expect team Theo to be focused on at these meetings to improve the team?
Look for the Cubs to announce the new coaching staff for David Ross either this week or next. Andy Green is the new bench coach, Will Venable will move from first base coach to third base coach, Chris Young replaces long time coach Les Strode in the bullpen, and Craig Driver will be the new first base coach.
Remaining from the Maddon era will be Anthony Iapoce as hitting coach, Tommy Hottovy as pitching coach, Mike Borzello associate pitching coach and catching and strategy coach, Terrmel Sledge assistant hitting coach, Chad Nobel bullpen catcher, Mark Johnson catching coordinator, and Chris Denorfia as quality assurance guru.
Look for them to get closer to finalizing a deal for the Kansas City Royals Whit Merrifield to solve their lead-off hitter and center field issue. Don't be surprised if either Kris Bryant or Kyle Schwarber are part of the deal going back to KC. Schwarber, more likely than Bryant, unless his lawsuit is resolved and the Cubs are the winners.
If they trade for Merrifield you can say good-bye to Ian Happ and Albert Almora Jr. who will be moved in separate deals. Happ for sure and Almora for maybe. While Happ seems the more valuable of the two, his September tryout proved he is not big league ready. Almora could still be a player, especially under Ross who will be more patient with him than Maddon was.
Theo and Jed also need to figure out if Nico Hoerner is for real or not. I believe he is ready for prime time and in my mind he is the starting shortstop and Baez moves to third base while David Bote handles second base. Kris Bryant, if not traded, moves to left field and Jason Heyward goes back to right field where he belongs.
I also expect them to pick up some small potato pitchers for both the bullpen and another guy to compete with Alec Mills for the fifth starter slot. Their bench needs help too and some lifetime second stringers will be signed most likely.
It should be an interesting week for baseball in general and the Cubs specifically. The winter meetings have become the starting point for deals in January and you get the occasional major free agent signing. It is unlikely that the big boys will be signed next week but teams will be meeting with them and their agents and deals will be discussed.
ODDS & ENDS
A couple of things I've been saving and this seems like a good time to share them. First, I will be reporting from Spring Training in 2020 where I will be spending a few days getting my very first taste of Spring games. Keep your eyes peeled for those reports.
All eight teams that made managerial changes have now hired one. The Cubs signed David Ross, as we've discussed earlier, and the Angels got Joe Maddon. The Phillies hired Joe Girardi, someone many Cubs fans were hoping would have come to the Northside. For some inexplicable reason the Giants have angered their fan base by signing Gabe Kapler who the Phillies couldn't get rid of fast enough.
The Mets went the same route as the Cubs by signing Carlos Beltran, another ex player with no experience on the bench while the Royals are giving Mike Matheny another shot to manage. The Pirates signed Derek Shelton and the Padres inked Jayce Tingler, two long time coaches to their first mangerial chances. The Padres win the best name game for headline writers. They have also gone back to their brown and yellow uniforms for 2020.
Finally, if you haven't already done so you really should go to MLB.com and vote for the 2019 All-MLB team. It's fun and interesting and it gets you thinking. Voting ends Tuesday afternoon so time's a wastin.
I selected: Freddie Freeman - 1B, DJ LeMahieu - 2B, Tim Anderson - SS, Anthony Rendon - 3B, Willson Contreras - C, Nelson Cruz - DH, Cody Bellinger, Mike Trout, and Christian Yelich - OF, Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, Jack Flaherty, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Justin Verlander - SP, and Josh Hader & Kirby Yates - RP.