Chicago Cubs

Michael Young is not the answer for Cubs

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Michael Young is not the answer for Cubs

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Posted: 8:00 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

PHOENIX Michael Young is a six-time All-Star, but at this moment he represents virtually everything the Cubs are trying to move away from: Hes 34 years old and owed 16 million annually through the next three seasons.

You saw the future on an 80-degree afternoon at Phoenix Municipal Stadium: Starlin Castro at shortstop, Tyler Colvin in right field and Andrew Cashner on the mound.

The Cubs want financial flexibility and expect those three homegrown players to be performing near an All-Star level before Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2014.

Cashner hadnt heard that his name was mentioned in unfounded internet trade rumors, nor does he really care. Hes as close to untouchable as anyone in the organization. His accelerated growth is key to putting the team over the top.

Cubs sources insist that theyre not talking with the Texas Rangers about Young, and emphasize that they are comfortable with using Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt at second base. Besides, Baker already has a plan in place to take the job from DeWitt.

Every day when he comes to the park, Baker said, I try to slash his tires.

Your 2011 Cubs are built upon pitching, and Tuesdays 8-1 victory over the Oakland As was another test run for the 24-year-old Cashner, who is virtually guaranteed a spot on the major-league roster. The only question is whether he makes the rotation.

Cashner felt like he had his best stuff all spring, but quickly ran his pitch count up to 70 and was removed with one out in the fourth inning. He gave up one run on two hits, struck out two, walked three and hit a batter.

Over in Mesa, Randy Wells continued to make his case for the rotation, extending to five innings and giving up three runs, two earned, in a 4-2 split-squad loss to the Colorado Rockies. There could be room for both Wells and Cashner as the fourth and fifth starters.

Through four games, Cashner hasnt blown everyone away (3.97 ERA), but he also hasnt done anything to lose a job or make anyone second-guess the decision to stretch him out. Hes a first-round pick the organization believes in fully.

He enjoys starting and hes put his heart and soul into it, manager Mike Quade said. I dont think theres something in the back of his mind, saying: Im really a reliever. I think hes bought into this completely and hell continue to get better.

Cashner is willing to work and he has so much potential upside that the Cubs want to use him for 150 to 200 innings each season, not 70. He just needs to learn how to do it consistently for 100 pitches a night, not 25.

Its not my decision, Cashner said. Id love to start, but the only thing (Im) trying to do right now is prepare myself for the season, whether Im starting or relieving.

The other day Cashner broke down some video with Greg Maddux, the front-office assistant who watched Tuesdays start from the dugout. After each inning Cashner spoke with the future Hall of Famer about pitch selection, what to throw hitters in certain counts and what to look for in swings.

Its pretty mindboggling, Cashner said. You just got to be always listening whenever hes talking, because hes quiet and you never know what youre going to get.

Until Young demanded a trade out of Texas, he had built an excellent reputation as a total professional and clubhouse leader. But the Cubs already like their mix of personalities, so Young wouldnt be a huge net gain there. Kerry Wood is said to have already improved the teams chemistry, plus hes made himself available to all the young pitchers.

Cashner a laid-back Texan who has drawn comparisons to Wood didnt ask to be put out front in Cubs marketing campaigns. He didnt hype himself as the next big thing. He goes where hes told and keeps it simple.

To be honest with you guys, I dont read anything yall write, Cashner said. I think I can be a good pitcher. I just need more experience. The more I pitch, the better Ill throw.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

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USA TODAY

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

Javier Baez flicked his bat and watched the ball rocket in the direction of Waveland Avenue, the last of the back-to-back-to-back homers against Cincinnati Reds starter/Cubs trivia answer Scott Feldman.

That quick strike came during a four-homer fourth inning on Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where the offense looked explosive and the pitching looked combustible in a 13-10 loss that left the Milwaukee Brewers one game out of first place, the St. Louis Cardinals right behind them and the Cubs awaiting a diagnosis on Jon Lester’s lat injury.

“I know the talent we got,” Baez said. “When they come to play a team like us, we know they’re going to come play hard and obviously play good baseball. They’re going to come to compete, and that’s what we got to do.”

Whatever happens from here – the Cubs are 2-2 so far during a 13-game stretch against last-place teams – you know Baez will be in the middle of the action as the No. 8 hitter with 19 homers this season and a power source with Willson Contreras (strained right hamstring) injured.

This is the starting shortstop until Addison Russell (strained right foot/plantar fasciitis) comes off the disabled list and the unique talent you couldn’t take your eyes off during last year’s playoffs.

“He’s not afraid of anything,” manager Joe Maddon said. “So I don’t care how big or small the game is, he’s going to play the same way. He’s going to do everything pretty much full gorilla all the time.

“Sometimes, he’s going to make a mistake. And that’s OK, because with certain people – with all of us – you got to take the bad with the good. Everybody wants perfection. He’s going to make some mistakes. But most of the time, he’s going to pull off events.”

The night before against the Reds, Baez led off the ninth inning with a line-drive double and scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch. Last week, Statcast clocked him at 16.11 seconds for his inside-the-park homer off the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Over the weekend, he launched another home-run ball 463 feet against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

There are so many different ways Baez can help the Cubs win a game at a time when they don’t have anywhere close to the same margin for error that they did during last season’s joyride into the playoffs.

“I know we often talk about the strikeouts or the big swings,” Maddon said. “But look at his two-strike numbers. Look at his OPS (.808). Look at the run production in general (his 55 RBI match Kris Bryant). It’s been outstanding. And you combine that with first-rate defense.

“Now he’s going to make some mistakes. I’ve talked about that. That’s going to go away with just experience. As he gets older, plays more often, he’s going to make less of those routine mistakes. And the game’s going to get really clean and sharp.”

Until then, Baez will keep taking huge swings, making spectacular plays and trying to cut down on the errors (10 in 334 innings at shortstop, or one less than Russell through 729 innings), because he knows what he means to this team.  

“Javy’s very important,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “He’s one of our best defensive players, one of our most athletic players on the team.

“Javy’s got a really big swing, but he’s got a great eye and he handles the bat really well. For as big as his swing is, he still manages to make really good contact. I don’t want him to approach the game any other way than he does right now.”

Should the Cubs pursue Justin Verlander after Jon Lester's injury, and what would they have to give up?

Should the Cubs pursue Justin Verlander after Jon Lester's injury, and what would they have to give up?

The Cubs may be in some trouble, with the injury bug hitting them at an inopportune time.

First it was Addison Russell (strained right foot), then it was Willson Contreras, arguably the best catcher in baseball and one of the hottest hitters on the planet before going down with a hamstring injury, and now it's Jon Lester who may be on his way to the disabled list after suffering a strained left lat muscle in Thursday's 13-10 loss to Cincinnati.

All of this occurring during a time Joe Maddon's club is looking to pull away from the pack in the National League Central and capture their second straight division crown, which appears to be the only way the North Siders can control their own destiny.

So what should the Cubs do if Lester is sidelined for an extended period of time?

One option could be re-opening trade discussions surrounding Justin Verlander, who cleared revocable waivers in early August. But what would it take to get him, and how much salary would they have to take on for it to happen?

The SportsTalk Live panel weighed in on that possibility in the video above.