Cubs core: Barney in the running for Gold Glove

927207.png

Cubs core: Barney in the running for Gold Glove

In Theo Epsteins mind, players can be divided into two categories: Those who are part of the core, and those who are not.

Its not always that neat or simple some are marked only by potential, others are contingent upon specific improvements to their game and some could ultimately be used as trading chips once the Cubs are in a win-now mode.

But this has been the big idea during the first year of the Epstein administration, and it will continue that way on the North Side in 2013.

The offseason officially began late Sunday night, when the San Francisco Giants looked like a potential dynasty by finishing off the Detroit Tigers and winning their second World Series in the past three years.

Shaping the nucleus of a team that could go on that kind of run is Epsteins No. 1 goal this winter. The Cubs president already thinks Darwin Barney could be one of those guys.

More validation could come Tuesday, when the Gold Glove winners are revealed at 8 p.m. on ESPN2. Rawlings announced Barney as a finalist on Monday, along with Brandon Phillips (Cincinnati Reds) and Aaron Hill (Arizona Diamondbacks) at second base, as voted by managers and coaches.

Phillips has won two consecutive Gold Gloves at the position as well as three in the past four years and wasnt shy saying this in late September: Everybody knows Im the best defensive second baseman.

While defensive metrics are imperfect, Barney (.997) has the edge over Phillips (.992) and Hill (.992) in fielding percentage. According to FanGraphs.com, Barney (13.1) also outperformed Phillips (8.1) and Hill (4.6) in terms of UZR.

Barney has already won a Fielding Bible Award, as an almost unanimous selection as the best defensive second baseman in the majors, from a panel that included Bill James, Doug Glanville and Peter Gammons. The Fielding Bible calculated that Barney led all second basemen with 28 runs saved, or 17 more than Phillips.

In the future, manager Dale Sveum thinks the Cubs could potentially have an infield anchored by three Gold Glove winners, as Barney develops more chemistry with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo and they enter their prime.

The big hole remains at third base, where the Cubs still have not found a replacement for Aramis Ramirez. Certain segments of the fan base and the media even some inside the organization loved to rip Ramirez, who generated 27 homers and 105 RBI and emerged as a Gold Glove finalist during his first year with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Ramirez didnt go out of his way to be a leader, he had trouble staying on the field and he didnt earn extra hustle points. But he produced when he was healthy, and was perceptive when he turned to Barney one day during batting practice at Wrigley Field late in the 2010 season.

Rami was the guy (in 2010) who said: Look, you have an opportunity to play second base every day next year, Barney once recalled. It was something I never thought about and I kind of was questioning it. He said: Look, you can hit. You can play. And those kind of things people dont get to see.

Already a game-changer defensively, the Cubs expect Barney (.299 on-base percentage) to become more of what they like to call a two-way player. He will turn 27 next month and still has the leadership qualities that made him a glue guy on the Oregon State University teams that won back-to-back College World Series titles.

Now its just a sort of small continued progress offensively, Epstein said. If he gets on base a little bit more, when you look at what he does defensively and his intangibles, he can be a guy that we lean on, too.

Barney grabbed headlines by going 141 straight games without an error at second base, tying Placido Polanco for the major-league, single-season record and making the rest of the league pay attention.

Except for Phillips, who said he didnt know about the streak when a reporter mentioned it before the Reds clinched their division title: Oh, really, thats cool. Thats nice. Honestly, Ive been too busy winning.

With that, here are the National Leagues Gold Glove finalists:

Pitcher
Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds
Mark Buehrle, Miami Marlins
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Catcher
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks
Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies

First base
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

Second base
Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs
Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds

Third base
Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
David Wright, New York Mets

Shortstop
Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds
Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins
Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies

Left field
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves

Center field
Michael Bourn, Atlanta Braves
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Drew Stubbs, Cincinnati Reds

Right field
Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

Cubs preparing to hire new translator after Aroldis Chapman’s rocky start in Chicago

Cubs preparing to hire new translator after Aroldis Chapman’s rocky start in Chicago

The Cubs are in the process of hiring a new translator for Aroldis Chapman, sources said, trying to smooth things over after a rocky introduction to Chicago that left the superstar closer feeling frustrated by his portrayal in the media.

Chapman told Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s Siera Santos that he requested a new translator on Thursday, while a Cubs official said the team had made the offer earlier this week, responding to all the negative coverage from a press conference that made a bad first impression and national headlines for the wrong reasons.

The Cubs understood trading for Chapman – who began this season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy – would immediately spark controversy.

But the Cubs still didn’t seem completely prepared for the moment, or quite as thorough as advertised, watching Chapman look disengaged on Tuesday, not remembering anything specific about what chairman Tom Ricketts had told him over the phone about off-the-field conduct – a precondition that president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sold as an essential part of the deal with the New York Yankees.

With a large group of reporters gathered before a Cubs-White Sox game, Chapman sat in U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting dugout next to Henry Blanco, the quality-assurance coach and former big-league catcher who’s approved under the new joint program between MLB and the players’ union that requires every team to have a full-time, Spanish-speaking translator this year.

Blanco has built-in credibility and communication skills after playing for 11 different teams across 16 big-league seasons, but he found himself in a difficult position, given the sensitive nature of the questions and what’s at stake for a World Series favorite and an image-conscious organization.

Chapman later did a one-on-one interview in Spanish with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez. The team’s public-relations department circulated that transcript, with Epstein saying Chapman had been nervous and something got lost in translation.

But the damage had been done, with a visibly upset Chapman initially refusing to speak to the media on Wednesday night after making a spectacular debut in a Cubs uniform, unleashing 13 pitches from his left arm that registered at least 100 mph on the big Wrigley Field video board.

It became an awkward scene after what was supposed to be a feel-good 8-1 victory over the White Sox, creating a new tension in a laid-back clubhouse. Chapman showered, listened to his associates and ultimately agreed to two minutes of questions, with catcher Miguel Montero becoming his translator.

“What I’m trying to do right now is to really build a relationship with this guy so he starts trusting me,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I believe once that occurs, I’m really going to be able to understand exactly what he’s about and what he’s thinking.

“I know there’s been some reticence or pushback regarding him to this point. However, understand where he’s coming from right now. We don’t know him. He doesn’t know us. And he really doesn’t even know the language.”

Chapman – who grew up in Cuba and is now in his seventh season in the big leagues – should be motivated to acclimate given the possibility of a World Series ring and a big free-agent contract this winter.

“I’ve spoken to him only once, at length, just trying to get him to relax,” Maddon said, “(and) have him understand me and what we’re all about here.

“As we all develop better relationships with him, the conversation’s going to flow a lot more easily and you’re going to maybe get the kind of information you’re looking for. But to put myself in his shoes, coming into a new venue, a new city, new everything, it’s a pretty heavy moment to immediately be scrutinized that way. I can almost understand why it’s been difficult for him.”

With Aroldis Chapman in the fold, do Cubs now have a bullpen that rivals world champion Royals?

With Aroldis Chapman in the fold, do Cubs now have a bullpen that rivals world champion Royals?

Aroldis Chapman firing 103 mph fastballs past hitters is going to send the sellout crowds at Wrigley into a frenzy on a nightly basis in the season's final few months.

It also gives the Cubs bullpen a completely different look, something Joe Maddon has referenced several times since Theo Epstein's front office pulled off the blockbuster for the most dominant closer in the game.

With Chapman slamming the door in the ninth, Hector Rondon and his 1.89 ERA now move up to the eighth inning. Pedro Strop — who is having arguably the best season of his career with a 2.79 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 11.4 K/9 — now slots in as a seventh-inning guy.

It has the look of a trio of relievers that could rival the dominant Kansas City Royals bullpen over the last two World Series runs.

Cubs second baseman/outfielder Ben Zobrist got a firsthand look at the back end of the Royals' bullpen last fall, watching Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson and Wade Davis combine for only one unearned run against the New York Mets in 12 World Series innings.

Zobrist isn't ready to crown the Cubs' bullpen in the same category, but he could see how the comparisons could be made.

"I don't know; it just started," Zobrist said before Thursday's Crosstown finale. "I'm not gonna say it's exactly like it. It's different. It's different guys, but it's the same type of makeup.

"You got really hard-throwing guys that know how to spot their pitches and they're really tough pitchers. That's the way it felt last year in Kansas City. 

"When you get a guy like Strop or a Kelvin Herrera or whatever that's coming in in like the seventh, you're going, 'This guy can be a closer on just about any other team and yet he's coming in this early in the game.'

"That spells doom for other teams. It's tough to overcome that later in the game."

[RELATED - The Aroldis Chapman Show comes to Wrigley]

With all the days off built into the posteseason, teams can roll with their best relievers on a nightly basis. 

Maddon likes to play matchups and ride the hot hand, but come October, he will have three very good options, as Chapman's presence has a domino effect on the rest of the relievers.

"That shortens the game," Zobrist said. "For the other team, when they're going up against that, they know that they only have so much time before the game is over in their minds mentally. 

"If we have a lead going into the sixth, seventh inning, they're in trouble because they're going to have to face some of the best relievers in the game the last few innings.

"What [Chapman] does to our bullpen is just takes it to that next level where the game is at least an inning shorter."

Cubs fans got to see that play out in front of them at Wrigley Field Wednesday night as Rondon came in to throw a perfect eighth before Chapman blew the Sox away in the ninth.

"They just know that it's hard to come back from a game when you're winning late in the game like that," Zobrist said. "Even if it's 3-1 like it was last night [before the Cubs tacked on five insurance runs], it seems like an insurmountable lead when you got a couple guys at the back end of the bullpen like that."

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”