Who's the odd man out in Cubs roster crunch once Jason Heyward returns?

Who's the odd man out in Cubs roster crunch once Jason Heyward returns?

Barring unforeseen circumstances, Jason Heyward will rejoin the Cubs Saturday afternoon at Wrigley.

But whose spot will he take on the Cubs' 40-man roster?

The apparent choice is Tommy La Stella, who has already been sent down to Triple-A this season as part of the ongoing roster crunch at the big league level. La Stella intially refused a demotion to the minors late last season but has taken a different stance this year, playing in 12 games during his last stint with Iowa.

A week ago, Ian Happ would've been the easy call to go back down to Triple-A once Heyward returned. But the rookie — one of the game's top prospects — has been turned heads in his first week in The Show.

Happ has started six straight games since being recalled, hitting second twice before moving to the cleanup spot and providing protection to Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in the lineup.

But would it be best to send the 22-year-old switch-hitter back down to the minors to play every day?

"Not if he's playing regularly in the majors...," Joe Maddon said Friday, smirking. 

Maddon conceded Happ is definitely not the kind of player the Cubs want to sit around with only 26 Triple-A games under his belt. But when the guy entered Friday's game with a .353/.500/.824 slash line, it's not hard for Maddon to find playing time for Happ.

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"Of course, [the roster decision] is very tough," Maddon said. "That's what happens when you're good — you have tough decisions. You have a lot of different options.

"The fact that Ian's come up and done so well makes it even more difficult. We'll try to figure it out and make our best guess."

However, it's not like La Stella is struggling, either. In a part-time role, the left-handed hitting infielder boasts a .318 batting average and 1.028 OPS, both the best numbers on the Cubs after Happ.

Heyward has been out since May 6 with an injured finger, but made a brief rehab stop in Class-A South Bend Thursday night and felt fine — "[the finger is] good enough."

Heyward went through pregame warm-ups and batting practice Thursday before singling home a run. It was also the first time he didn't wear a splint on his finger since first suffering the injury.

On the season, Heyward is hitting .253 with a .697 OPS, three homers and 17 RBI while continuing his run of stellar outfield defense.

Message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 
The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (left wrist inflammation), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (left hand abrasion) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

Whether or not the big trade for a frontline pitcher happens, there are still five-plus weeks left until teams feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said over the phone before an 11-1 win at Marlins Park. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

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“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”  

The Cubs (37-35) aren’t booking Schwarber’s trip to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell just missed hitting for the cycle while rookie Ian Happ (this year’s Schwarber) also went 4-for-5. Young catcher Willson Contreras blasted his seventh home run.

More importantly, Jake Arrieta looked more like himself, limiting the Marlins to one run across seven innings.

“Interesting, isn’t it?” manager Joe Maddon said. “The biggest thing for us to really do well is to pitch well, because you can’t anticipate scoring a ton of runs without this group involved. You shouldn’t. That’s a bad assumption on my part. So you probably have to take more chances defensively. Your pitching staff – you really got to try to draw out of them as much as you possibly can.”  

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”