Stone's mailbag: Howry's return, Beckham's struggles

Stone's mailbag: Howry's return, Beckham's struggles

Friday, May 28, 2010
7:08 PM

Steve Stone dives into his mailbag to answer some of your questions about Bob Howry, Freddy Garcia, and more!

Question from Kendra - Morris, IL: Steve....why in the world would the Cubs ever re-sign Howry? Are they looking to really get the bullpen's ERA to explode?
Steve Stone: I believe sometimes organizations will take a shot on a veteran pitcher who also happens to be a pretty good guy who was well liked the first time around with the team, and figured their other guys weren't getting the job done. They will take a shot, if it doesn't work out, most of what he is being paid is being paid by Arizona, and for them its a no-lose situation. You cant trust a pennant chase which is the way the
Cubs see this year playing out to rookies like Samardzija and they would rather add a veteran. There is no doubt his stuff is not what it once was, they are just hoping what he can give is better than what they have.

Question from David - La Grange, IL: Steve, do you think it's a good idea to bring up Andrew Cashner and pitch him as a setup guy?

Stone: So far the Cubs fancy him as a starter; I believe he would be very effective at the tail end of the bullpen. He will get to the majors, as far as the role is concerned, I am sure he would be as good a right handed setup man as they have. Bear in mind he has been used in the minors as a starter.

Question from Chris - Chicago, IL: Steve, a two-part question. First, do you see Freddy Garcia continuing to have quality starts through the rest of the year, and second, if Garcia does falter, can Daniel Hudson step in and be okay?
Stone: I think Freddy's stuff is a little short but he is long on heart and not afraid of anything. That being said, your 5th starter is usually there for a reason and cant throw as consistently well as the first 4 guys ahead of him. I cant tell if he will last all year but I think he is still a good addition. Over the long haul, I don't see his stuff stepping up. As far as Daniel, he is throwing it as well as he has all year and certainly will be one of the alternatives turned to if and when the situation dictates.

Question from Mike- Naperville, IL: Steve, should the White Sox consider sending Gordon Beckham to Triple-A?

Stone: If you have been watching, he has been hitting a whole lot better. He will be a very good player, but currently he is going through the growing pains that all but a select few go through. Mauer and Pujols didn't go through any, and are part of a small club who had big first years and continued on without any bumps in the road. He is a good
solid player, will hit a lot better than he does now, and I don't think sending him to the minors when he is getting every day bats in the majors would help him at all.

Question from Jay - Batavia, IL: Steve, what's your opinion on Sabermetric stats? Do you buy them at all?
Stone: I really believe that computers have a place in baseball and all of the stats currently employed by the computer people have some validity to them. One of the things a computer will never be able to do is tell you the size of a guys heart, quantity of intestinal fortitude he has, and will he be the same player for a contending team as he will be for a 4th, 5th, or 6th place team. There are a lot of players who thrive on teams that wont win. Put them on teams that can and will win and you will find that they just don't seem to play the same. When you look at the stats, they can only tell you what a player has done, what he has done in certain situations, what he has done against pitchers and other things computers do. It cant tell you if this guy is a pitcher, will he beat the Yankees in September if he is traded to the Rays or Boston?

The computer can only speculate on how a player will respond which is why very good scouts with experienced eyes should always have a place in the game and always be counted on heavily while evaluating a player. During my major league career, I played on some very bad teams, some very mediocre teams, some teams who were in it for a while who fell out and some exceptional teams, and I can tell you there are a lot of players that excel on those teams that end up 3rd 4th and 5th and because of that their stats look good, many of the Sabermetric categories, they are traded to teams that are in the race and they suddenly dissolve. That is where good old fashion scouting, knowing backgrounds, understanding his nightlife habits, which types of pitches he cant hit if he is a hitter, how difficult it is to get out quality hitters in a key situation; all of those things are difficult. A mixture of all the tools we have at hand now in baseball makes, to me, the most sense. There are a lot of young baseball executives raised with the idea that Sabermetrics is absolutely the way to go. I prefer a combination of good old world baseball evaluations along with the new world of computers. That combination seems to be able to get it done. Taking a look at good scouts sees what it does when the Twins have 5 everyday players that they developed for their own system and brought them to the major leagues.

Joe Maddon's prime-time message: 'Help or die'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon's prime-time message: 'Help or die'

Joe Maddon gave an unforgettable shout-out to his blue-collar hometown during his first press conference as Cubs manager at The Cubby Bear, promising to buy the first round of drinks at the bar opposite the Wrigley Field marquee.

Maddon dropped the microphone for a moment, and then picked it back up to make a final announcement before exiting stage left: “That’s a shot and a beer! That’s the Hazleton way!”

The faded city from Pennsylvania’s coal-mining region that Cubs fans first heard about in November 2014 – and became a go-to reference point during so many of Maddon’s daily media sessions – will get a national spotlight on NBC News’ “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly.”

NBC correspondent Harry Smith shadowed Maddon and traveled to Hazleton for a magazine-style piece that will air Sunday at 6 p.m., just before the Cubs play the rival St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Maddon – who has visited the White House twice within the last six-plus months and sat down with Charlie Rose while the team was in New York in June – wants a focus on his Hazleton Integration Project and how that community organization is creating educational opportunities and trying to help the next wave of immigrants assimilate.       

“They’re going to save our town,” Maddon tells NBC. “You have two options right here. Either you get on board and help us as we’re moving this thing along or you’re going to die. And when you die and go away, then you’re going to get out of the way. You’re not going to be part of the problem anymore. So, it’s either help or die.”

This is becoming Willson Contreras' team, whether or not Cubs add Alex Avila or another veteran catcher

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USA TODAY

This is becoming Willson Contreras' team, whether or not Cubs add Alex Avila or another veteran catcher

This is slowly becoming more like Willson Contreras’ team, whether or not the Cubs add a veteran catcher like Alex Avila before the July 31 trade deadline. Yadier Molina took the in-game, All-Star photo of Nelson Cruz and Joe West, but Contreras is coming for moments like that, too.

In a Cubs clubhouse filled with calm, serious young players who were fast-tracked to Wrigleyville, Contreras is the one who got left exposed in the Rule 5 draft at the 2014 winter meetings and spent parts of eight seasons in the minors before making his big-league debut.

As much as the Cubs needed that ice-cold demeanor from guys like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell to end the 108-year hex, they will use Contreras’ fire to try to win the World Series again.

“I feel like I’m in the heart of the team,” Contreras said. “I’m behind the plate. I just want to play with my energy, no matter if I hit or not. We need that energy for the second half. And it’s going to be there.”

The Cubs flipped a switch after the All-Star break, sweeping the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves and moving to within one game of the Milwaukee Brewers, their play screaming at Theo Epstein’s front office to keep buying. Contreras caught the first 45 innings of that six-game winning streak where the rotation finally clicked and hit .409 (9-for-22) with two homers, three doubles and seven RBIs on that road trip.

Contreras is a power source when a 49-45 team talks about going on a run and the defending World Series champs point to all this room to grow in the future. The model will be staring at Contreras this weekend at Wrigley Field when the Cubs try to keep the St. Louis Cardinals down (46-49) and give their front office something to think about (sell?) between now and July 31.

“We look at Yadier Molina,” catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello said. “We know that he’s just an intelligent baseball player. I always try to remind Willson: 'That’s what we’re trying to accomplish, making you not only a threat offensively and defensively, but with your mind.'

“He’s always listening. He wants to learn. He plays with high intensity, high emotion. I always challenge him to be a smart player. That’s the best compliment you can get.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

After a disappointing first half where it looked like the vaunted pitching infrastructure might collapse — and veteran catcher Miguel Montero went on an epic rant that could have foretold a divided clubhouse in the second half — Contreras seemed to be in the middle of everything.

With Contreras behind the plate, Jake Arrieta began his salary drive toward a megadeal, Jose Quintana dazzled in his Cubs debut, Jon Lester recovered from the worst start of his career and John Lackey pitched well enough to delay any awkward conversations about going home to Texas instead of going to the bullpen.

“It was never tough,” said Arrieta, who has chopped his ERA from 5.44 to 4.17 since the middle of May. “It was just a matter of him getting to understand what we like to do as starters.

“He’s learned really quickly. He’s a tremendous athlete back there. I’m very confident that I can bury a curveball, or I can throw a changeup in the dirt, and I know that guy’s going to block it, even with a guy on first or second base. There’s not a ton of guys around the league that you can feel that much confidence in.

“Willson’s been great, and he’s only going to get better.”

Quintana, who breezed through seven scoreless innings against the Orioles (12 strikeouts, zero walks) after that blockbuster trade with the White Sox, gave this review of Contreras: “We were on the same page really quick, believe me. We talked before the game about how we want to go, how we want to call our pitches. He called a really good game, and I appreciate that.”

The Cubs will still be looking for a more-PC version of Montero, whether it’s someone like Avila, who works for his dad, Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila, or circling back to an old target like Texas Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy (essentially off-limits to a division rival when the Brewers shopped him last summer). Dropping Montero in late June forced Victor Caratini up from Triple-A Iowa, making Contreras the senior catcher with a World Series ring at the age of 25.

“It’s almost like a quarterback in the NFL — there’s so much for them to absorb,” manager Joe Maddon said. “When you come from the minors to the major leagues as a catcher, most of the time in the minor leagues, you’re just developing physical abilities, physical tools, blocking, footwork, throwing, maybe pitcher/catcher relationship.

“But understanding the calling of a game — it’s hard to really develop that on the minor-league level. You have the manager, then maybe a pitching coach and there’s a lot going on. You don’t have that time to put into the game plan or to sit down and talk to this guy. It’s a little bit more superficial. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way — it’s just the way it is.”

Whatever the Cubs do next, it will be with the idea of preserving Contreras in mind. Of the six big-league catchers qualified for the batting title, only two other catchers — World Series winners Buster Posey (.917) and Salvador Perez (.824) — have a higher OPS than Contreras (.822) so far this season. Among National League catchers, Contreras also has the most errors (13) and runners thrown out (19). Outside of Bryzzo, Contreras has the highest WAR (2.6) on the team.

If you think Contreras is emotional, energetic and entertaining now, just imagine what he will be like when he really knows what he’s doing.

“He asks all the right questions,” said Borzello, who won four World Series rings as a New York Yankees staffer. “We go over every game, and between every inning, we talk. We’re working in the right direction. I think he wants it as much as anyone I’ve ever been around.”