Cubs TV: Search for Brenly's replacement coming into focus

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Cubs TV: Search for Brenly's replacement coming into focus

The search for Bob Brenlys replacement is coming into focus. Their next television analyst might have more name recognition and staying power than any free agent the Cubs will sign this offseason.

With interviews scheduled to begin this week, sources have identified five contenders for the job: Dan Plesac; Rick Sutcliffe; Eric Karros; Todd Hollandsworth; and Gary Matthews.

Plesac was considered a frontrunner from the moment Brenly announced he was returning to the Arizona Diamondbacks to work a reduced schedule on Fox Sports Arizona and national games for Fox Sports.

Before joining the launch of MLB Network, Plesac made a favorable impression as a pre- and postgame analyst for Cubs broadcasts on Comcast SportsNet. He also played with future Cubs manager Dale Sveum before spending two seasons on the North Side (1993 and 1994).

The issue is that Plesac recently signed an extension with MLB Network, though the Northwest Indiana native could be interested in returning home.

Sutcliffe is a big personality who recently told the Chicago Tribune that hes under contract with ESPN for one more year. Hes viewed as a real long shot, because the sense is that he would have to do more work and travel for less money after making national appearances on ESPN.

Sutcliffe the National Leagues Cy Young Award winner in 1984 also enjoys going to Cubs camp in Arizona as an instructor for spring training.

While working the World Series, Karros told the Chicago Sun-Times that hes not blocked contractually, and revealed that he was once approached about replacing the late Ron Santo on WGN Radio after No. 10s death in December 2010.

Karros wasnt interested in the job that went to Keith Moreland, but this is a different story. Karros only spent one season on the North Side, but 2003 was an unforgettable year, and hes still remembered as a go-to guy for the media in that clubhouse.

Karros went to UCLA and does television work around the Los Angeles Dodgers and national games on Fox.

Hollandsworth the pre- and postgame analyst on Comcast SportsNet has kept up his profile nationally with MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM. Hollandsworth has filled in for Brenly before, around the All-Star break, when Brenly would go watch his son Michael play for a Cubs affiliate in the minor-league system.

As a color commentator for the Philadelphia Phillies, Matthews already knows the day-to-day demands of the job. Sarge played for the Cubs (1984-1987), and coached on Dusty Bakers staff (2003-2006), so he also understands the market.

Brenly was a WGN employee and drew praise for the way he mixed in music, pop culture, in-game strategy and pointed criticism while developing a real chemistry with play-by-play man Len Kasper across the last eight seasons.

WGN is expected to take the lead in this round of negotiations, with the Cubs having their say and Comcast SportsNet giving input.

The Cubs will be looking to cash in once their television contract with WGN expires after the 2014 season. Last year that didnt prevent Kasper from getting an extension through 2016, and they would presumably want to build their broadcasting team for whatever shape their next television deal takes.

Wade Davis' impact on Cubs goes far beyond his eye-popping numbers

Wade Davis' impact on Cubs goes far beyond his eye-popping numbers

Wade Davis may not light up the radar gun like Aroldis Chapman, but the veteran closer has still had a similar impact shortening games for the Cubs.

Davis is 10-for-10 in save opportunities in his first year in Chicago, providing Joe Maddon and the Cubs with peace of mind as an anchor in a bullpen that has thrown the eighth-most innings in baseball (and ranks No. 8 in ERA with a 3.45 mark).

Davis just surrendered his first runs of the season Wednesday night on a Mac Williamson homer that snuck into the right-field basket.

Yet Davis still wound up preserving the victory by buckling down and turning away the Giants in the ninth. It was the first homer he's allowed since Sept. 24, 2015 and only the fourth longball he's given up since the start of the 2014 campaign, a span of 201 innings.

Even with Wednesday's outing, Davis boasts a microscopic 0.98 ERA and has allowed just 14 baserunners in 18.1 innings.

With 24 whiffs on the season, Davis is striking out 34.8 percent of the batters he's faced in a Cubs uniform, which would be the second-highest mark of his career (he struck out 39.1 percent of batters in 2014 as the Kansas City Royals setup man).

The 31-year-old nine-year MLB veteran is showing no ill effects from the forearm issue that limited him to only 43.1 innings last season.

[RELATED: How Wade Davis transformed into an elite pitcher by simply not caring]

But his impact isn't restricted to just on-the-field dominance. In spring training, Justin Grimm said he spent as much time as he could around Davis in an attempt to soak up all the knowledge he could.

"It's the stuff that you see — obviously he's really good," Maddon said. "He knows how to pitch, he's a very good closer, he's very successful. But he's a really good mentor to the other guys.

"Oftentimes, I'll walk through the video room and he'll be sitting there with a young relief pitcher or a catcher. There's a lot of respect. A lot of guys come to me and say, 'Listen, Wade's really great to be around.'"

Maddon was the manager with the Tampa Bay Rays when Davis first made his big-league debut in 2009 and the now-Cubs skipper credits the Rays organization with teaching Davis the right habits.

Davis also began his career as a starter before moving to the bullpen full-time in 2014 and reinventing himself as one of the best pitchers on the planet.

"He's grown into this," Maddon said. "He was raised properly. He comes from the organization with the Rays — really good pitching, really good pitching health regarding coaching. And then some of the veteran players that were around him to begin with.

"He's passing it along. The obvious is that he's got a great cutter, slider, fastball, curveball, whatever. He's very good with everybody else around him."

Davis needed 34 pitches to work around a couple jams and get the save Wednesday night. That's his highest pitch count in an outing since June 2, 2015.

Wednesday was also Davis' first time working in a week as the Cubs have not had a save situation in that span.

Maddon said he sees no link between the week off and Davis' struggles in Wednesday's outing and the Cubs manager also has no hesitance going to his closer for more than three outs.

However, Maddon doesn't see a need to extend Davis at this point in the season and would prefer to keep the Cubs' best reliever fresh for the stretch run and what the organization hopes is another shot at a World Series title.

Joe Maddon explains how Cubs young players can handle trade rumors

Joe Maddon explains how Cubs young players can handle trade rumors

Two weeks ago, it seemed Ian Happ was at the top of the list of Cubs potential trade bait.

Now, there are some circles of the fanbase that would rather see Javy Baez or Kyle Schwarber traded than Ian Happ.

Roughly two-and-a-half hours before Eddie Butler started for the Cubs in the series finale with the San Francisco Giants Thursday afternoon, the conversation with Joe Maddon turned to the neverending search for pitching and how young players can handle being a part of trade rumors.

"I think a lot of times when people are mentioned in a trade, sometimes it's perceived that they're not going well, people want to push them to the front of the line," Maddon said. "All of a sudden, [Baez is] going well, so I expect him to go to the back of the line relatively soon."

After a stretch where he went 1-for-18 from May 10-17, Baez entered play Thursday with eight hits in his last 13 at-bats, including two homers and eight RBI. He's raised his OPS 104 points in the process to .798.

[RELATED - Another reminder that Javier Baez is a game-changer — not trade bait — for Cubs]

Happ, meanwhile posted a 1.240 OPS in his first eight games in The Show, including seven extra-base hits (four doubles, two homers and a triple). 

Schwarber's batting average hasn't climbed over .200 since the last day of April.

Of course, part of the discussion with all three is the positional versatility — Baez and Happ can play all over the field while Schwarber is a left fielder and rare catcher.

"Another part of the trade narrative is based on depth, obviously," Maddon said. "So if you have other pieces like that, then you promote somebody within that group. I think Javy's gonna be in that position for a bit regardless — no intent on our part.

"However, he's still going to be mentioned in those moments because of what I just said — he's gonna go good or bad. And when he's going great, you're never gonna trade him. But right now, he's playing really well. That was a good game he had [Wednesday]. He's in the .270s now [average], better at-bats, he's not chasing pitches, the defense is obviously showing up.

"I just think the nature of our team, the young guys, you're gonna hear that. If you're gonna attempt to get pitching, you're gonna hear the typical names mentioned. And just from our players' perspective, I just would hope they won't take it to heart too often.

"But if they hear it enough and they're asked about that question often enough, of course it's gonna leave a mark. But [Baez] is impactful. Listen, none of these guys that you like aren't even nearly as good as they're gonna be in a couple years. Just be patient."

The Cubs are always going to be searching for pitching as their farm system has had much more success producing young hitters than arms.

The Cubs are still looking for some consistency from the fifth starter spot this season and looking further down the road, both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are only under contract through 2017. As of right now, only Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are penciled into the Cubs' 2018 rotation.

Of course, given the surplus of quality, young position players, the Cubs could deal from a position of strength to acquire impact, controllable pitching.

But it's hard to see them ever trading Baez or Schwarber — who are both in the midst of their first full season in the big leagues and will forever be entrenched in Cubs lore with their postseason heroics last fall.

Baez is also particularly important for his impact in the field, as an elite defender at three infield spots and the Cubs' only depth at the shortstop position after Addison Russell.

In Thursday's lineup, Maddon gave Russell a day off and inserted Baez at shortstop, a move that gives the Cubs manager peace of mind from a defensive standpoint — "It's a beautiful thing."

There's no way Happ will keep hitting like he has in his first two weeks in the majors, but his performance after only 91 minor-league games above Class-A ball could serve as a showcase for other teams looking at trade options from the Cubs system.

"I can't emphasize enough—- if you like our kids, just wait a little bit," Maddon said. "Continue to fertilize them, nurture them and they're gonna keep getting better."