Cubs arent going to panic with LaHair

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Cubs arent going to panic with LaHair

MESA, Ariz. Cubs reliever James Russell was shagging fly balls at Wrigley Field last September when Dale Sveum approached him with a question: Whos this big left-handed guy?

The Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach had noticed Bryan LaHair swinging away in the cage. The way Russell remembered it on Thursday: Thats as far as the conversation went.

LaHair doesnt have much of a Q rating or a track record in the big leagues (195 at-bats), but hes definitely made an impression on the new people in power. The Cubs manager doesnt say much, but he had a clear message for anyone waiting on top prospect Anthony Rizzo to take over at first base.

Thats the world we live in (theres) competition, Sveum said. Were (not) going to go with Bryan forever and ever and ever. Hes got to play well. As long as he (does), its his job, but its not like anybodys going to panic after a month if hes not playing well or even two months.

Right now its a concrete plan to let Rizzo have another season in Triple-A, and let him be comfortable instead of moving him up and down and all that stuff. Its Bryan LaHairs job and its not his to lose.

The guys earned the right to have it. And hes earned the right for me to have a lot of patience, too, if things arent getting off to a good start.

At the winter meetings in Dallas, while the national media drove the speculation that the Cubs were after the big-ticket items, Theo Epstein sat in his hotel suite and explained that he would be comfortable with LaHair as their first baseman.

The skeptics still thought the Cubs would go hard after Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder (whos tight with Sveum from their time together in Milwaukee). The Cubs president of baseball operations said that he doesnt believe in the concept of 4A hitters.

But this front office also clearly believes in the 22-year-old Rizzo as a future foundation piece in the lineup and the clubhouse.

Two Cubs executives general manager Jed Hoyer and scoutingplayer development head Jason McLeod were instrumental in drafting and developing Rizzo with the Boston Red Sox before bringing him to the San Diego Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal.

Hoyer has repeatedly said that he made a mistake in rushing Rizzo to San Diego last season. Rizzo struck out 46 times in 128 big-league at-bats, while hitting .331 with 26 homers and 101 RBI in 93 Triple-A games.

If Rizzo starts to get on a roll like that in Iowa, the fans and media are going to start wondering when hes coming to Clark and Addison. At this point, Sveum doesnt envision LaHair playing the outfield.

Im not going to put anything in his head that way, Sveum said. Hes our first baseman and thats the bottom line. If anything was to happen somewhere along the line, well cross that bridge when we get to it.

The 29-year-old LaHair, who played winter ball in Venezuela, is coming off a season in which he generated 38 homers and 109 RBI and was the Pacific Coast League MVP. People might start asking: Who is this guy?

(Hes) tearing the cover off the ball no matter where he goes, Sveum said. Some guys whether its something clicks with swinging the bat or somebody tells them one little thing and all of a sudden it all comes together. Unfortunately for some kids, it comes a little bit later, but the fact of the matter is I think its clicked for him right now.

Willson Contreras: King of the bat flip

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AP

Willson Contreras: King of the bat flip

Willson Contreras oozes swag.

The Cubs' fiery catcher has always worn his emotions on his sleeve and Friday was no exception.

Contreras hammered Carlos Martinez's 2-2 offering into the basket in left-center to give the Cubs an early 2-0 lead and his bat flip/reaction was incredible:

Here's a closer look:

It's funny that Contreras even reacted that way given the ball just *barely* got out, but hey, a homer's a homer.

Contreras has been flat-out raking since the All-Star Break, going 10-for-23 with five runs, three doubles, three homers and nine RBI. That's a .435/.480/.957 slash line and 1.437 OPS in the six second-half games he's played in.

That's boosted his season line to .276/.341/.496 (an .837 OPS) with 14 homers. He's on pace to drive in 85 runs, second only to Anthony Rizzo on the Cubs.

Yes, this truly is becoming "Willy's" team.

Jose Quintana admits trade rumors have affected him negatively this season

Jose Quintana admits trade rumors have affected him negatively this season

Jose Quintana emerged from the third-base dugout, taking in Wrigley Field for the first time in a Cubs uniform.

But he quickly snapped back to Earth as he realized he and the other Cubs starting pitchers were to take batting practice and he forgot to bring his bat out.

Ah, the life of an American League pitcher.

It was no big deal, obviously. And minutes later, Quintana's new teammates were marveling at his swing. Even Jake Arrieta — who has five career homers (all during the last three seasons) and sported a .720 OPS last year — was impressed.

Quintana doesn't start until Sunday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, so he has two days to acclimate to Wrigley Field.

Which is good, because Quintana showed up for work today — he took Lake Shore Drive in (better known as LSD to Chicagoans) — and didn't even know where the players' entrance was:

But once he figured that out, he was all smiles, learning the lay of the land from Cubs traveling secretary Vijay Tekchandani.

It's also good for the 28-year-old left-hander to get some consistency in his life.

Everything will be easier from this point on after he admitted the trade rumors had been bouncing around his head all season.

"It was my first time [being mentioned in trades]," Quintana said. "I never heard anything about trades [before]. It was on my mind all the time. 

"[Until I realized] it's because I'm doing something good and teams want me. I just try to do my job in season. It's really hard when you have trade [rumors] around you, but for me, it's over now and I'm excited for that and really happy to be here."

The White Sox organization was all Quintana had known since 2006 and after watching as teammates Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were shipped out of town over the winter, it is easy to see how it would've been tough dealing with the uncertain future. 

Quintana entered this season with a career 3.41 ERA, but that mark sat at 5.60 through the first two months of the season as the trade rumors swirled.

But the veteran southpaw eventually figured it out — just like he said — and has been on fire since then, posting a 2.30 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 47 innings since the start of June.

His first game as a Cub — Sunday against the Orioles in Baltimore, still with a DH — resulted in 12 Ks across seven shutout innings.

Quintana is excited for his first start in a Cubs uniform at Wrigley Sunday night (so much so that he used the word "excited" at least seven times in his five-minute media session) and just recently got a few bats to put that BP prowess into action in a game.

He was pushed back a day, so he will completely miss the Crosstown series next week and will not pitch against his former mates. 

That might be the right move, as he admitted it would've been very difficult with the trade just over a week old by the time Monday's Crosstown opener comes along.

"It was difficult for me because I played there for six seasons," he said. "It wasn't easy when I heard [I was traded]. It was a little hard for me, but I understand it's part of business and this is the best for me, too.

"Trades happen for a reason and I'm really happy to be here with these teammates, this organization; they were champions last year. We have a really good chance this year. I'm excited to be here."

As for the trade rumors, Quintana is content now. Especially since he and his family don't even have to move.

"As my wife said," Quintana stated, "'You can sleep now.'"