Barney, Castro could be anchors for Cubs

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Barney, Castro could be anchors for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. Darwin Barney was talking about The Cubs Way long before Theo Epstein left Fenway Park.

Barney saw the big picture and listened to the plan outlined by the new Ricketts ownership group. He loved playing for Ryne Sandberg in the minors and thought a homegrown core could win big in Chicago.

They would bond by riding buses, playing cards and growing up together. Thats what Barney talked about with good friend Tyler Colvin, whos since been traded to the Colorado Rockies.

One part of this rebuilding phase will be seeing if Barney and Starlin Castro can anchor the middle infield for years to come. Ex-manager Mike Quade thought they could, which is why he seemed much harder on them and singled them out in the media, while usually giving a free pass to the veterans.

I dont look back on it that way, Barney said Thursday. You look back and you remember we had to get better. Someone telling you that is not a bad thing. So I dont look at it negatively at all.

On a July afternoon where the temperature hovered near 100 degrees, Quade sounded out of touch when he blasted Castro and Barney (play with some freaking intensity) for letting a pop-up drop between themin the first inningof a 9-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

I look back at this whole game and look at that play, Quade said that day in the interview room. The suns been in the same damn spot for however long Wrigley Fields been here.

Its no surprise that Barney whos polished and self-aware and speaks in full paragraphs would take the high road. He has won titles everywhere hes been Little League, high school and Oregon State University, where future Boston Red Sox star Jacoby Ellsbury noticed his freshman teammate immediately emerge as a leader.

Barney is 26 years old and bulked up to around 190 pounds this winter, regaining the weight he lost during spring training and across a long, draining season in which he hit .306 before the All-Star break, and .238 after.

You got one shot, he said. You got one window in this game and my thought was: Why not now?

The extra 20 pounds or so made an impression on new manager Dale Sveum, who said Barneys a lot stronger and a lot quicker than I thought.

Hes one of those ultimate professionals thats going to try to make himself a better player every day, and thats what you want on a team, Sveum said.

Can Barney be an everyday second baseman for an entire season?

Hes put himself in (position), Sveum said. (With) the weight and muscle hes put on, I think he realized the grind of it last year, how to handle it a bit differently, especially (mentally) when everythings sped up because its the big leagues. It takes a lot more out of your body than a minor-league game (where) there are 5,000 people in the stands instead of 35,000.

Barney had played shortstop almost his entire life, but was blocked by Castro, so he essentially learned how to play second base at the major-league level. An All-Star shortstop and a steady second baseman both under club control and in their pre-prime years could be building blocks for Epsteins front office.

Starlin and I have good communication, Barney said. Were good buddies and we enjoy playing together. Hes one of the most talented guys Ive ever been around. (We) know how last year shaped up and it was a tough year all around. Were excited to have a clean slate.

Tyson Ross could be one of the final pieces for Cubs’ offseason puzzle

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AP

Tyson Ross could be one of the final pieces for Cubs’ offseason puzzle

Tyson Ross could be one of the final pieces of the offseason puzzle as the Cubs try to defend their World Series title while still planning for the future.

The Cubs left this week’s winter meetings in Maryland still involved in the Ross talks, sources said, monitoring an intriguing pitcher they had targeted before the 2015 trade deadline.

The San Diego Padres didn’t really buy or sell during that pennant race and made another curious decision last week when they didn’t offer Ross a contract for 2017. MLB Trade Rumors projected Ross would have made $9.6 million during his final year in the arbitration system.

After issues involving his right shoulder wiped out almost his entire season, Ross underwent surgery in October to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

Ross was San Diego’s Opening Day starter during a 15-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but didn’t pitch again, clouding a future that once had him looking like a trade-deadline chip and one of the best pitchers in the free-agent class after the 2017 season.

That’s when Jake Arrieta will be looking for his megadeal and John Lackey might be in retirement and Jon Lester will be turning 34. That’s why the Cubs are so focused on pitching this winter and trying to balance out an organization tilted toward hitters.

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Kyle Hendricks proved he will be a pitcher to build around – and the Cubs believe Mike Montgomery can evolve from a swingman into a fifth starter and maybe something far more valuable – but depth is a real issue.

Ross made 30-plus starts in 2014 and 2015, when he earned an All-Star selection and accounted for almost 400 innings combined. He will turn 30 in April and is seen as a positive force within the clubhouse. He has a 6-foot-6 frame, a second-round-pick pedigree and a Cal-Berkeley education.

Reports have already linked the Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates to Ross and not completely ruled out a return to San Diego. During an offseason where the free-agent market is essentially devoid of reliable frontline starters, there could be sticker shock, even with a rehabbing pitcher.

Trading for Wade Davis meant the Cubs were out of the bidding for Greg Holland, another All-Star closer who helped turn the Kansas City Royals into World Series champions. Holland spent this year recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, but he will still be in position to capitalize after Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman and eventually Kenley Jansen reset the market for closers.

With Ross, the Cubs will have to get a better sense of the medical picture and the price for all that upside.

Beyond a winning culture, the Cubs can sell the pitching infrastructure that helped turn Arrieta into a Cy Young Award winner and transform Hendricks into an ERA leader and keep the rotation remarkably healthy.

“Those really talented pitchers are going to be in demand, even those that are coming off an injury,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said this week at National Harbor. “We’ll stay engaged on some of those guys, but they’ll have to be just the right talent.

“We’ll have to feel good about the medical and the return to play. And the fit on the club would have to be right, too. But the true elite guys have a real market, even if they’re coming off down seasons.”

Cubs' MVP Kris Bryant signs multi-year extension with Adidas

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USA TODAY

Cubs' MVP Kris Bryant signs multi-year extension with Adidas

Kris Bryant just keeps on winning in 2016.

Two months after leading the Cubs to their first World Series title in 108 years, Bryant signed a multi-year extension with Adidas.

"It's a phenomenal time to be partnered with Adidas with all the energy and momentum that the brand has right now," Bryant said via a press release. "Adidas embraced me as part of the family from the start."

Bryant was named National League MVP after hitting .292 with 39 homers and 102 RBIs. He hit .308 with three homers and 8 RBIs in the postseason.

Bryant first signed with Adidas in 2014 after the Cubs made him the No. 2 pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.