Chicago Cubs

Alfonso Soriano wants to be part of it when Cubs win

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Alfonso Soriano wants to be part of it when Cubs win

Alfonso Soriano managed to rehabilitate his image, even while the Cubs lost 101 games last season. Telling the front office to not bother pursuing a trade with the San Francisco Giants, the team that would win the World Series, didnt stick with him either.

Everyone loves Sori around the Cubs clubhouse. He didnt change as much as the perception of him shifted. Even if theyre never going to put up his statue at a renovated Wrigley Field, theyve developed a grudging respect for the 136 million man.

As the Cubs Convention opened on Friday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, there was Soriano, with two years still left on his contract, full no-trade rights and a big smile on his face.

I want to stay here and finish my career here and try to win before I retire, Soriano said. I signed here to be a World Series winner in Chicago. Its a long time (since they won it). Thats my thing. I hope to stay here, and when they win, I want to be a part of it.

Soriano didnt seem to have any regrets about missing out an opportunity with the Giants, because the weather in San Francisco is not good for my body, especially with my knee.

Soriano also got a call about playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, but didnt pursue it. At the age of 37, he feels he needs to take it slow during spring training and get ready for the season.

Im ready to play hard, here or (with) another team, Soriano said, because this is my job and this is what I like to do.

The rumors will not go away, but the most likely scenario is that Soriano will be reporting to Mesa, Ariz., next month. The Cubs are always willing to listen, but theyre not desperate.

Hes our left fielder, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Im quite sure Dale (Sveum) is going to pencil him in batting fourth. Everything about Sori has been terrific since we walked in. Hes a 30 (homers) and 100 (RBI guy). He took (Starlin) Castro under his wing, showed a lot of young players the way to be a veteran (and) worked hard on his defense with Dave McKay. Everything Soris done has been positive.

What happened between John Lackey and Anthony Rizzo in Cubs dugout? 'None of your business'

What happened between John Lackey and Anthony Rizzo in Cubs dugout? 'None of your business'

Nothing to see here, the Cubs insisted after a TV camera caught John Lackey and Anthony Rizzo arguing in the Wrigley Field dugout on Tuesday afternoon, a scrap overshadowed by Kris Bryant’s ejection and the White Sox getting eye-for-an-eye retribution.

It still became the pregame story on the South Side, even if it somehow didn’t immediately go viral on Twitter, or really register on the Cubs-Sox Richter scale that shook for Carlos Zambrano and Ozzie Guillen, Lou Piniella vs. Steve Stone and Michael Barrett vs. A.J. Pierzynski.

So what happened?

“None of your business,” Lackey said Wednesday with a big smile and the chuckle that punctuates most of his answers to the media. “It’s in that dugout.”

Minutes later, on the other side of the visiting clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field, Rizzo joked: “It was almost kind of like Zambrano and Derrek Lee.”

This wouldn’t have even come up during the anger-management sessions the Cubs forced Zambrano to attend after that incident here in 2010. Big Z showed up for spring training the next year and pronounced: “I’m cured. I got approval from the psychologist that I can be by myself.”

“It wasn’t a big deal at all,” Lackey said. “Like I said, none of your business.”

Frustrated by a potential double-play ball that found a hole with Tim Anderson running and shortstop Addison Russell covering second base, Lackey bumped into Rizzo in the dugout after a second inning that also saw White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon hit a two-run double. Rizzo’s eyes widened and the franchise first baseman gestured toward the field with both of his hands. A muttering Lackey turned his back and started to walk away from Rizzo.

“Like I said, none of your business,” Lackey said. “Just two men talking.”

The Cubs are used to Lackey Being Lackey, which means glaring at hitters, jawing with umpires and sometimes showing up teammates for perceived lapses on the field (even when last year’s 103-win team played defense at a historic level).

“We won the game,” said Lackey, who also became the first Cub to hit four batters in a game since Moe Drabowsky in 1957. “Let’s move on. You guys are trying to stir s--- up.”

Everything all right with you and Lackey?

“Yeah, as far as I know,” Rizzo said. “We’re just talking, making sure he knows we’re going to give him some more runs, not to worry about it. That’s really it. It’s pretty funny I have to talk about this the next day.”

Either way, this probably won’t end well for Lackey, who is 38 and has a 4.97 ERA in the final season of a two-year, $32 million contract. But clashing with Rizzo during a 96-loss season contributed to manager Dale Sveum getting fired in 2013. And burying Miguel Montero during Rizzo’s WMVP-AM 1000 gig foreshadowed the veteran catcher getting DFA’d last month.

“I think it’s just a lot of uneducated speculation, to be honest, about our team,” Rizzo said.

Well, educate us then, a reporter said.

“I don’t need to educate you guys on in-house matters,” Rizzo said. “Lackey’s one of my probably best friends on this team. That’s the good part about this team. When you have friends, you can talk to them, and it’s nothing more than just friends talking to friends.”

Manager Joe Maddon – who has known Lackey since he was a rookie on the 2002 Anaheim Angels team that won a World Series – sounded like a press secretary during the pregame briefing.

“Not at all (unusual),” Maddon said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen it before. The thing is, I’ve heard about this and it’s really kind of funny. Really innocuous to the point where I had no idea.

“First of all, there’s two things: There’s really nothing to report. Second of all, if there is a little bit of that that ever occurs, there’s nothing wrong with it. Nothing wrong with guys calling BS on somebody else in the moment. But that’s not what happened yesterday.”

The truth is we will miss Lackey when he goes home to Texas and disappears. This is a great cartoon villain/media foil/old-school curmudgeon with three World Series rings. The Cubs-Sox rivalry needs more of those characters.  

“He’s a competitor,” Rizzo said. “It’s really, really good for us. He does bring a lot of intensity every single start, and he expects the best out of everyone. That’s good for a team like ours with young guys. Five, six, seven years from now, they’re going to be talking about how Lackey used to play, and what he used to do to the younger guys coming up, and how he was locked in for every one of his starts.”

Cubs can live with Javy Baez being out of control

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AP

Cubs can live with Javy Baez being out of control

Even after a five-strikeout game, the Cubs have no intentions of toning down the Javy Baez roller coaster.

It's just the latest chapter in the Javy being Javy story.

On Tuesday, Baez became the first Cubs player to whiff five times in a game since Ted Lilly in 2008 and first position player to do so since Geovany Soto (also in '08):

After the game, Joe Maddon just laughed, compared Baez to golfer John Daly again and said, "Javy must've tied some sort of record today."

The Cubs know this is part of the package with Baez.

Even with that albatross of a game, Baez's strikeout percentage of 27.8 is still slightly below his career average (29.3 percent). That number is bloated a bit since Baez struck out 41.5 percent of the time during his rookie season in 2014.

Baez is striking out more in 2017 than he did last year (24 percent), but is also walking more (5 percent compared to 3.3 percent in 2016).

When Maddon was filling out Wednesday's lineup before Tuesday's game, he had already penciled in a day off for Baez, even before the five-strikeout game made it apparent a day of mental and physical rest was needed for the 24-year-old.

"He was just swinging a bit too hard," Maddon said. "...Most of the time, for me, when a guy comes out of his zone a lot, it's because he's a little bit mentally fatigued. So let's get him off his feet."

Maddon said before the game he wouldn't shy away from using Baez in Wednesday's contest if the need arose. The Cubs manager also was not worried about the five-strikeout game getting the enigmatic young infielder down.

"He's fine," Maddon said. "He's done that a lot in his career. So he knows how to bounce back. It's not gonna impact him. I watch him run out to defense after the strikeouts, and he's running out there. I love that about him. He's ready to play.

"A lot of guys have that moment, historically, but the difference with Javy — two things — he'll play his defense and he'll bounce back.

"He's his own toughest critic, also. I have a lot of faith in him, I have a lot of faith in hitting coaches. He'll be fine. I really am not concerned. ... He's young, he's done it before, he'll do it again. I promise you — that's gonna happen again. In the mean time, just continue to support him."

Including Tuesday and Baez's recent 1-for-11 stretch, he's still hitting .321 with an .863 OPS in July and is on pace for 20 homers, 28 doubles and 64 RBI in addition to his usual highlight reel of defensive plays.

Baez will always come with ups and downs and the Cubs know that. They aren't trying to coach that out of him.

They'll take the five strikeout games along with the hot stretch, like when he hit .415 with seven extra-base hits in a 13-game stretch from July 2-21.

After all, this is the guy who was named co-NLCS MVP last fall.

"Javy continues to show a lot of improvement," Maddon said. "In spite of the John Daly hack on occasion, you look at his two-strike numbers, they're outstanding. [Baez is hitting .215 with a .568 OPS with two strikes, but does have five homers and 22 RBI.]

"So it's like, you gotta be careful what you wish for. I've already talked to [Cubs hitting coach] Johnny Mallee about this. You wanna tone somebody down, but then if you do, does this good thing go away? You wanna morph into it more slowly here as he gradually understands and creates a different method as he gts into the latter part of counts, runner on third base, just try to score one, not two or three."

In 15 at-bats with a runner on third and less than two outs, Baez has 11 RBI, but he's also struck out six times.

Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff are working on a lot of the same things with both Baez and 23-year-old shortstop Addison Russell, who has also had an up-and-down offensive season.

"That takes time," Maddon said. "I know that sounds crazy, but it does. And so, be careful what you wish for, be careful how you approach a young player. 'Cause you could absolutely — I've talked about not coaching instinctiveness out of a player.

"Javy's got his own way. I think you're eventually going to see him settle into it, but yes, they're being developed. They both have to adjust to game situations.

"Next year, you're gonna see an improvement. Two years from now, you're gonna see a pretty nice finished product."