Chicago Cubs

Deshaies leaves Astros to become the next voice in Cubs TV booth

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Deshaies leaves Astros to become the next voice in Cubs TV booth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. After more than two decades with the Houston Astros, Jim Deshaies is heading to the broadcast booth at Wrigley Field.

This hire might generate more buzz than any free agents the Cubs may sign this week during the winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn. The news made its way around the sprawling hotel on Monday and across Twitter before it became official: Deshaies has agreed to a four-year deal with WGN and will be partnered with play-by-play man Len Kasper.

I cant imagine anywhere else Id rather move than with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Deshaies said in a statement. My family and I look forward to meeting the great, passionate fans of the Cubs and were excited at what lies ahead in Chicago.

Deshaies replaces Bob Brenly, who left for the Arizona Diamondbacks in October, and the chance to go back to his Scottsdale-area home and call games for Fox Sports Arizona as well as its national network.

WGN -- in consultation with the Cubs and Comcast SportsNet -- decided to go with an outsider after assembling several candidates who used to play on the North Side: Dan Plesac; Rick Sutcliffe; Eric Karros; Gary Matthews; and Todd Hollandsworth.

Plesac interviewed and withdrew from consideration in the middle of November, deciding to stay with MLB Network, while Sutcliffe was viewed as a long shot from the start, given his national platform on ESPN. Plesac, who grew up in Northwest Indiana, had made a good impression while doing pre- and postgame work around Cubs broadcasts on CSN.

It was very appealing, Plesac said. It was the right job at the wrong time. I signed a new five-year deal here with MLB Network. I couldnt be happier.

One X-factor in any potential negotiation was WGNs television contract, which allows the Cubs to opt out after the 2014 season. Still, in the summer of 2011, Kasper received a five-year contract extension that locked him up through the 2016 season, which puts him on the same timeline as Deshaies.

JD is universally liked and respected throughout the game, Kasper wrote in a text message. Ive always enjoyed his work from afar. He knows the club well having done 15-18 Cubs-Astros games a year and will fit in nicely. I look forward to working with him and I cant wait for spring training.

From the beginning of the search process, Deshaies was considered a strong external candidate. Insiders reminded you that Brenly didnt have many connections to the organization when he joined the broadcast team for the 2005 season. Brenly had only worked in the WGN radio booth with Harry Caray and Thom Brennaman for two years before moving to the San Francisco Giants coaching staff in 1992.

Fans enjoyed listening to Brenly, and he developed an excellent chemistry with Kasper. Brenly was willing to criticize big-money players like Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, but he could also shift gears and talk about music and movies. Brenly and Kasper watched some bad baseball teams over the past eight seasons, but they definitely added entertainment value.

Deshaies has been a color analyst for the Astros since 1997, developing a style that sounded a lot like Brenlys approach to the games.

Deshaies has been described as someone whos comfortable talking strategy as well as pop culture. He knows pitching after throwing more than 1,500 innings during his 12 years in the big leagues, including seven with the Astros.

The Astros are splitting with Fox Sports Houston and will air games on CSN Houston in 2013, part of the sweeping changes that have recently hit the organization, from new ownership to a new front office to new uniforms to a new league.

Deshaies recently told the Houston Chronicle that he was confident he could work out a deal with the Astros if he wanted to and wasnt worried about his future.

To get a measure of how much hes respected there, just check out this headline to a story on the newspapers website, after it was reported that he had interviewed in Chicago: Say it aint so! Deshaies departure would be PR fiasco for Astros.

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Are the Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 against the Washington Nationals?

“I’m not even anywhere near that,” manager Joe Maddon said during Tuesday’s pregame media session with the Chicago media, immediately shifting his focus back to the decisions he would have to make that night – how hard to push catcher Willson Contreras coming off the disabled list, what the Cubs would get out of lefty Mike Montgomery, how the bullpen sets up – against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Players can do that kind of stuff. I don’t think managers can. Honestly, I don’t want to say I don’t care about that. I just don’t worry about that, because there’s nothing to worry about yet. Because first of all, he’s got to be well when he pitches, too.”

Arrieta had just completed a throwing session at Tropicana Field and declared himself ready to face the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. That would be the Cy Young Award winner’s first start since suffering a Grade 1 right hamstring strain on Labor Day. It would set him up to face the St. Louis Cardinals next week at Busch Stadium and start Game 162 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

“The plan is to be out there Thursday,” said Arrieta, who would be limited to 75-80 pitches against the Brewers and build from there, trying to recapture what made him the National League pitcher of the month for August. “The good thing is the arm strength is there – it’s remained there – and I actually feel better for maybe having a little bit of time off.

“The idea is to be able to be out there the last game against Cincinnati – pretty much at full pitch count – and to be ready for the playoffs.”

Five days after that would be the beginning of the NL divisional round and what could be a classic playoff series between the defending champs and Dusty Baker’s Nationals. The Cubs started Jon Lester in Game 1 for all three playoff rounds during last year’s World Series run and their $155 million ace could open a Washington series with an extra day of rest.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about that now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We have a lot of work to do, and those would be the guys that would help get us there in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to get into that situation, you’d just use all the factors. You guys all know – who’s going the best, who matches up the best, the most experienced – and we figure it out and go from there. But we’re still a good ways away from figuring that one out.”

Untouchable: Javier Baez showed why Cubs built around him during takeover at shortstop

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AP

Untouchable: Javier Baez showed why Cubs built around him during takeover at shortstop

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Imagine Javier Baez wearing a New York Mets uniform or playing in an empty Tropicana Field and where the Cubs would be without their backup shortstop.

The trade speculation still lingered into this season, even after Baez blossomed into a National League Championship Series co-MVP and a World Series champion. Maybe it was just out of habit since Theo Epstein’s front office spent years collecting hitters and planning to deal for pitching, or a perception issue for a prospect who wasn’t drafted by this regime and has a “flashiness” to his game that recently got this unfair, narrow-minded label from a Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster: “A difficult player for me to root for.”

But the Cubs never traded Baez to the Tampa Bay Rays for one of those starters who usually seems to be on the rumor mill – Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore – and that decision continues to look better and better in hindsight.   

Baez again showed why he is essentially untouchable while Addison Russell slowly recovered from a strained right foot and plantar fasciitis, starting 41 of 42 games at shortstop between Aug. 3 and Sept. 16 and hitting .282 with eight homers and 27 RBI during that stretch.  

Deep down, Baez still views himself as a shortstop – “yeah, for sure, if I get the (chance)” – while deferring to Russell (who was activated over the weekend) and understanding that the Cubs can again have an elite defensive unit when he moves back to second base.

“When I play short every day, obviously, I’m going to be ready for it and making all the adjustments to be there,” Baez said. “I do my best to help the team. Addie’s a big part of the team.”

Remember how shaky the defense looked up the middle when Russell missed the 2015 NLCS with a hamstring injury and the Mets swept the Cubs out of the playoffs?  

The Cubs created enough depth – and room to grow – to stash an All-Star shortstop on the disabled list on Aug. 4 and go from being a 57-50 team with a 1.5-game lead in the division to running a season-high 17 games over .500 heading into Tuesday night at The Trop.  

Even though Joe Maddon lobbied for Baez to make the Opening Day roster during his first post-Rays spring training in 2015, the manager also made a point to say he didn’t run an entitlement program.

Maddon would not anoint Baez as an everyday player heading into this season, even after he started all 17 games at second base during last year’s playoffs and starred for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

“If you had done that with him two years ago, he would have buried himself,” Maddon said. “Absolutely. I don’t think he would have made the same adjustments at the plate. You would have seen a lot more mistakes on defense. You would have seen a lot more routine plays not handled routinely. You would not have seen the same base running. Even though he had it in his back pocket, I just think that he’s learned how to really pick his moments there, too. He wasn’t ready for all that.”

There is something to the idea of taking the good with the bad with Baez. Except there are no perfect players and so few have his mind-blowing combination of skills, love for the game and sixth sense for highlight-reel moments.    

“You don’t teach those things – that’s just God-given talent,” catcher Alex Avila said. “He’s been able to put it together. You see those plays. But the work that goes into it – as far as being in the right spot, having the right first step, anticipating the ball, things like that – all that kind of gets you the result.

“(It’s not only) making sure he’s making the routine plays, but he has the athleticism and the wherewithal to be able to make the spectacular plays as well.”

Instead of focusing on the tattoos or the hairstyles or a swing that can get out of control at times, remember that this is someone who already has 22 homers and 70 RBI in the middle of September – and a .791 OPS in his age-24 season that represents a 54-point jump from the year before – for an iconic team with World Series expectations.

“You could see there was a lot of stuff for Javy to iron out,” Maddon said. “He’s worked them out. It’s a lot of repetition. It’s a lot of good coaching. But it’s about the player himself, being able to make those adjustments. I honestly think his path has been a good one. And I think the way we did it last year was perfect.

“Everything’s happened as it should organically for him."