Sunday Rundown: Redbirds Demote Contreras, Cubs Have No Room for Morel, Hendricks Nearing Return

The Sunday Rundown is supposed to be about the Cubs and nothing else, but we’re going to talk about Willson Contreras today. In case you haven’t heard, the Cardinals are moving the ex-Cub to DH and outfield. His catching days are apparently over unless St. Louis has an emergency.

This is a stunning move considering Contreras is still in the first year of his $87.5 million contract. The Cardinals called up catcher Tres Barrera on Saturday, with Barrera and Andrew Knizner expected to split time behind the plate. You’ve got to give kudos to Jed Hoyer because he wouldn’t extend the backstop last season at the going rate for the position.

“It’s tough, but I’m an employee,” Contreras told reporters. “I know my primary position is catching, but if they want me to DH more, I can do nothing about it except by being the best hitter I can be.”

Contreras never said anything close to that when he played for the Cubs.

The deal seemed like an ill-conceived effort to smooth the transition away from Yadier Molina, but the Cardinals are 10-24 and fading fast. Over the course of his Cubs career, which admittedly includes some very good teams, Chicago was 203-129 (.611) in games Contreras did not start.

St. Louis won’t have trouble finding at-bats for Contreras, but they do have a logjam at DH/OF. Nolan Gorman is the team’s primary designated hitter and he’s sporting an OPS+ of 139. Expect Contreras to get the bulk of his playing time in left field, where he’ll replace weak-hitting Alec Burleson. That should make for some fun and interesting interaction with the bleacher crowds this week.

Contreras, who turns 31 this Saturday, thinks fans will be torn when he makes his return to Chicago. Wait until he sees how fast things will head south if he’s playing left field. I’m betting few fans will give Contreras the reception he deserves as a former champion and three-time All-Star.

“I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a lot of fans that are going to be happy to see me,” Contreras said. “And there’s going to be a lot of fans that think I betrayed them because I’m playing with the Cardinals.”

Okay, then. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds. Don’t forget, Contreras burned a few bridges when he bolted for St. Louis. In fact, it’s almost as if he wants Cubs fans to hate him.

“For me, I like this better,” he said after signing. “It’s a better organization. Old-school way, which I love…The Cardinal way.”

Midwest Farm Report

David Ross sounds like a guy who believes Christopher Morel will be eventually traded. The Cubs have four healthy outfielders and a stable infield. There are allegedly no ample playing opportunities for Morel, who is batting .343 with 11 home runs, 28 RBI, and a 1.232 OPS in 117 plate appearances at Triple-A Iowa. Patrick Wisdom is slumping, but there is no reason to replace him with Morel. At least that’s how Rossy sees it.

“All three of our outfielders are going to play every day,” the skipper said. “Our middle infield feels pretty set. We’ve got depth at both corners and he doesn’t pitch or catch. So I think, just continue to let him develop and get better at baseball. And that’s just not offensively, that’s every area. Those moments will come when we’re going to need someone [from Iowa]. If he’s swinging the bat like he is now, he’d definitely be the guy.”

If you read anything into that, it should be that Ross has chosen Nelson Velázquez over Morel as his fourth outfielder and Nick Madrigal will get any utility opportunities at third base or second. That means Morel has to wait until one slumps badly or he could be trade bait. If the Cubs contend this year, and it certainly looks like they will, Hoyer is going to have to find a dependable closer. We all love Morel, but I’d rather see him traded than one of Owen Caissie, Brennen Davis, or Alexander Canario. The latter two make just as much sense, though.

Sunday Six-Pack

  1. In Person by the Ramsey Lewis Trio – It should be called Live in Chicago because most of the tracks were recorded at the Blue Note on Roosevelt Road between 1960 and 1967. The music spans multiple genres and the arrangements are pristine. This LP still stands the test of time six decades after its original recordings.
  2. TRY! by The John Mayer Trio – Mayer is a far better guitarist than you might imagine, and though he’s not Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi Hendrix, there is no better testament to one’s talent than being selected to perform the Jerry Garcia role in Dead & Co. This blues-driven oeuvre is my favorite album by the singer-songwriter, and it’s a live effort to boot.  Mayer is incorrectly compared to Buddy Guy in many online reviews of this LP. He doesn’t mimic any of those greats, but Mayer is great at what he does.
  3. Soul Brothers by Milt Jackson & Ray Charles – Before I bought this CD I had no idea what a vibraphone was but Jackson, known as “Bags,” plays the shit out of it. The more welcoming surprise is the collaboration with Charles, who plays the saxophone as much as he plays piano. Skeeter Best is the unsung hero, however. The guitarist garnered little work in the 1950s, but his efforts on this album are critically-acclaimed.
  4. Crime of the Century by Supertramp – Floating in an atmosphere that’s equal parts pop and prog, the album provides copious moments of complexity that initially alienated the band’s fans. The LP was a big risk thematically, too. 1973 was a make-or-break year for Supertramp, and the awful Dreamer was the only radio-friendly song they recorded. But, FM was just getting its foothold on listenership, and Hide in Your Shell proved to be the band’s biggest hit to that point.
  5. Gaucho by Steely Dan – Creative differences started to divide Donald Fagen and Walter Becker after the band dropped Aja, and Gaucho ended up being their final release before a 12-year split. It was a labor of love that took three years to complete because Fagen and Becker sought flawlessness. The sheen is there, but there is also an understated griminess that permeates the LP. It’s a suite of seven songs without any burners or fillers. The biggest single was Hey Nineteen, but Babylon Sisters and Time Out of Mind are the best tracks.
  6. The Nightfly by Donald Fagen – Mr. Fagan is one-half of the songwriting duo that is Steely Dan, and I consider this the companion piece to Gaucho. It’s conceptual because it’s a 1960s version of 1980 and was recorded right after the previous long-player. The Nightfly is also one of the first examples of fully digital recording. Albumism writes “[it’s] a sonic vision of a life lived in sci-fi paperbacks and late-night jazz and dreams scented of Ambush perfume and atomic ozone.” That is a perfect description, especially if you reference the lead single I.G.Y., and the final cut New Frontier.

Big League Chew

Kyle Hendricks threw a bullpen session at Wrigley Field, and the veteran starter called it “the most important two days” of his entire rehab.

“You really can’t put an amount of importance on it,” Hendricks said. “There are no words for it. It’s the most important thing.”

He will go back to Iowa to resume his efforts to get back to Chicago and is scheduled to start on Tuesday when the I-Cubs play Indianapolis. He made the trip to Chicago to work with Tommy Hottovy on some mechanical issues. The right-hander is also working on increasing his velocity.

In his most recent rehab outing on Wednesday, Hendricks topped out at 88.5 mph with his sinker and 89 mph with his four-seamer, per Jordan Bastian. His sinker averaged 87.4 and his four-seam averaged 88, a significant jump over last season. When he will be activated is another story because rotation spots are at a premium these days, and none of the current starters seem willing to go down without a fight. Justin Steele, Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly, Jameson Taillon, and Hayden Wesneski lead a rotation that sports a 3.20 ERA.

That’s not to say that Hendricks is in a situation similar to Morel since The Professor will be Chicago’s fourth or fifth starter once he’s healthy. Expect him to perform well, too. He’s in the final year of his contract unless he is a top-3 finisher in Cy Young voting. That’s not going to happen, which is incidentally why the bullpen work was so important. Hendricks is pitching for his next contract, whether it is with the Cubs or another team. That shouldn’t stop any of us from rooting for the last remaining member of Chicago’s 2016 championship roster.

This Week’s Money Quote

  • “I wish I had [Steele’s] stuff. Soft contact and attacking. I’d like to be more like him now in that way. He’s getting after it. It’s so fun to watch his development. Whenever my number is called, I want to come here and give quality and be able to dominate along with all of them, give us a chance to win every time out there. That’s where I need to get to.” – Hendricks

Sunday Funnies

Lou Piniella always made sure to get his money’s worth.

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