Youkilis not looking like the answer for Cubs at third base


Youkilis not looking like the answer for Cubs at third base

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. Theo Epstein envisions the Cubs grinding out at-bats like those Boston Red Sox teams that stretched games past the four-hour mark and played deep into October.

The president of baseball operations has mentioned how the biggest negative surprise hes found in the organization since taking over almost 13 months ago was the embedded and institutionalized lack of plate discipline on the North Side.

But the player once hyped in Moneyball as The Greek God of Walks is not viewed as a match right now.

The Cubs are interested in Kevin Youkilis, but expect him to go beyond their price range and ultimately sign with a team much closer to contention, according to a source familiar with the organizations thinking.

Youkilis certainly noticed how the White Sox played second fiddle in Chicago, even as a team that hung onto first place well into September.

The Cubs sold almost three million tickets during a 101-loss season and wont have trouble filling up the bandwagon again if they can rebuild at Wrigley Field. They need some veteran leadership and have a huge hole at third base. But that doesnt make them unique among the teams huddled up on Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency resort in Indian Wells, Calif. The general manager meetings are about sorting through options and there arent many good ones at third base.

Its a challenging position to fill in this day and age, general manager Jed Hoyer said. We really are excited about our third-base depth in our system.

So the Cubs feel good about Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Christian Villanueva, Jeimer Candelario and, maybe, Javier Baez if hes ultimately blocked by Starlin Castro at shortstop. But they need a short-term solution while waiting for one of those players to break through.

Casey McGehee who had his best season (23 homers, 104 RBI) in 2010 while working with Milwaukee Brewers hitting coachfuture Cubs manager Dale Sveum could be a buy-low free agent.

McGahee wasnt the same player last season, hitting .217 with nine home runs and 41 RBI in 114 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees, but the Cubs are looking for guys who could have bounce-back seasons.

Hoyer said the Cubs could go with a platoon at third base, and Sveum is high on Luis Valbuenas overall game. They continue to gather more medical information on Ian Stewart, who hasnt started baseball activities yet after undergoing wrist surgery last summer. They likely wont make a decision until the Nov. 30 tender date, and its hard to imagine Stewart getting a guaranteed contract.

Youkilis is the biggest name out there among third baseman, and hes being marketed as someone who can also play first base, which doesnt do much for the Cubs with Anthony Rizzo stationed there for the next decade.

Youkilis wound up finishing with 19 homers and 60 RBI after a midseason trade from Boston to the South Side. He won two World Series rings with the Red Sox and knows how to handle playing in a big market.

Youkilis is said to be on good terms with Epstein after their time together at Fenway Park. But a contending team that sees Youkilis as a finishing piece will almost certainly be more aggressive than the Cubs this winter.

A season that began with Bobby Valentine questioning Youkilis physical and emotional investment in the game ended with the Red Sox manager getting fired. It will lead into an offseason where the third baseman should cash in and get the last laugh.

Jason Heyward surprised Cubs fans didn’t boo Rajai Davis more

Jason Heyward surprised Cubs fans didn’t boo Rajai Davis more

MESA, Ariz. – The Cactus League crowds are different than the ones packed into Wrigley Field. It was only a meaningless split-squad game on a Saturday afternoon in the Arizona sunshine. Finally winning the World Series must have somewhat dulled the edge.

But Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward still thought Rajai Davis would hear it from the sellout crowd of 14,929 at Sloan Park, the what-could-have-been anxiety bubbling up when seeing the Oakland A's leadoff guy who nearly changed the course of baseball history.

"I was surprised he didn't get booed more, but that's just how our fans are," Heyward said. "They're fun like that. They have fun with the game. They acknowledge it. That's pretty cool for Cubs fans to boo you. If anybody boos you from last year, that's kind of an honor, I would say. To be on that side of things, it means you did something great."

As Alfonso Soriano liked to say, they don't boo nobodies. With one big swing, Davis almost unleashed a miserable winter for the Cubs and ended the Cleveland Indians' 68-year drought.

Manager Joe Maddon kept pushing closer Aroldis Chapman, who fired 97 pitches in Games 5, 6, and 7 combined. Davis timed seven straight fastballs in the eighth inning – the last one at 97.1 mph – and drove a Game 7-tying two-run homer just inside the foul pole and onto the left-field patio. In a now-famous rain-delay speech, Heyward gathered his teammates in a Progressive Field weight room as the Cubs regained their composure.

"They booed him, but only the first at-bat," Heyward said. "The second at-bat and the third, I was like: ‘Eh, they kind of just let him off the hook.' They let him be."

The fans who stuck around until the end got to hear "Go Cubs Go" after a 4-3 win. Davis parlayed that big moment into a one-year, $6 million contract with the A's. The Cubs will see the Indians again on Sunday afternoon in Mesa.

"As players, we're all onto the season and enjoying this ride and a new journey," said Heyward, who went 0-for-3 with an RBI as he worked on his new swing. "All the teams that we played in the playoffs are obviously out here in spring training, so it's just really fun and it's good for the makeup of your team when you compete that way.

"You're thrown right back into the fire when you talk about the competition and remembering things that happened in the postseason. But we don't dwell on it too much."

Cubs envisioning ‘hybrid' roles for Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson

Cubs envisioning ‘hybrid' roles for Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs believe Mike Montgomery will be so much more than just the answer to a trivia question or a cameo appearance in the highlight film.

The symmetry became impossible to miss on Saturday at Sloan Park, where the Cubs put the World Series trophy on display behind home plate and set off fireworks at 1:06 p.m. Three minutes later, the guy who threw the last pitch of 2016 threw the first pitch 2017 pitch in Mesa.

That it came against Rajai Davis added to the moment. Scattered boos greeted Davis when the Oakland A's leadoff guy walked toward the batter's box, a reminder of how he almost turned a dream season into a nightmare when he slammed Aroldis Chapman's 97.1 mph fastball onto Progressive Field's left-field patio just inside the foul pole for a Game 7-tying two-run homer for the Cleveland Indians.

A year that began with Montgomery thinking he might be playing in Japan ended in that mosh pit. A lefty who had been viewed as a low-leverage swingman for the Seattle Mariners notched the final out of the World Series for a franchise that hadn't won one since 1908.

"Be ready for anything," Montgomery said when asked about the "hybrid" job description manager Joe Maddon laid out for him and Brett Anderson, the other lefty in the mix for the fifth-starter job.

"The big thing with both of them (is) neither one has really been stretched out anywhere close to 200 innings over the last couple years," Maddon said before a 4-3 split-squad win over Oakland. "So we're thinking it's almost like a hybrid moment. Maybe fold one back into the bullpen while the other one starts. And vice versa. Or just jump a sixth guy in there now and then to keep the other guys from being overworked too early.

"It's in theory right now. We haven't actually laid it down on paper. We feel pretty fortunate. If everybody stays healthy, you got six guys that you like right there. It's hard for anybody to say that. That's the point. These guys have not been really satisfactorily stretched out over the last couple years.

"How do we keep them both active and helping us? That's going to be our challenge early and through the beginning part of the season."

Anderson (29) is older and more experienced and working on a one-year, $3.5 million deal that could max out at $10 million if he rips off the injury-prone label and makes 29 starts. Montgomery (27) is the more raw talent (23 career big-league starts) the Cubs now control through the 2021 season.

"There's a lot of different possibilities that they could go with," Montgomery said. "For me, it's just continuing to build up my arm strength and getting my timing down, my mechanics down and that way I'm ready to go and do whatever it is that they need me to."

Pitching in front of 14,929 and an All-Star infield, Montgomery walked Davis and Matt Joyce and notched two strikeouts in a scoreless first inning. Montgomery felt the adrenaline rush, but nothing in Arizona can compare to the 10th inning of a Game 7.

"The sky's the limit," Maddon said. "He's like a 10-plus game winner on an annual basis as a starter. I think he definitely has that within his abilities. I've told him that (winning) 10 to 15 games is within his abilities, no doubt. That comes with fastball command and then knowing what to do with his breaking pitches. He's got really high-quality stuff.

"I'd like to think that moment will increase his confidence. But then again, it's a new year. And you have to go out there and pitch."