The Rundown: Cubs’ Youth Movement Arrives, Caissie & Shaw Among Non-Roster Invitees, MLB Hopes to Add In-Market Streaming Option

Though free agents remain to be signed, the Cubs are looking a lot like a team focused on its youth movement. Chicago’s front office is counting on Pete Crow-Armstrong, Michael Busch, and Miguel Amaya to make the team. Jordan Wicks and Daniel Palencia are near locks, as is Alexander Canario. Matt Mervis should get a shot to redeem himself, and Cade Horton, Matt Shaw, and even Brennen Davis are waiting in the wings. This is what we’ve been waiting for since Jed Hoyer parted ways with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez, and Kyle Schwarber.

It’s doubtful Craig Counsell will head north with 10 rookies in tow — 11 if you count Shōta Imanaga — but it’s not impossible. It’s easy to see why Jed Hoyer has no interest in signing Cody Bellinger to a contract that exceeds his comfort zone. The Cubs also have reinforcements beyond the ones mentioned above that will be ready in a year or two. Indeed, Hoyer has positioned himself nicely to work the trade market instead of shopping at Boras Corp.

Speaking of trades, what do we think of the Emmanuel Clase rumors? Would you give up Christopher Morel and Owen Caissie for Clase? Count me in if the Guardians include Shane Bieber. I like Caissie a lot, but he plays a position of organizational redundancy and Clase has emerged as an elite closer with his 99.7 mph sinker. Shaw makes Morel expendable if the rookie can play adequate third base. I’m ready to order my “Clase Azul” t-shirt from Obvious Shirts once Hoyer gets him.

That’s not to say that adding Bellinger and/or Matt Chapman wouldn’t boost Chicago’s chances of winning the NL Central. Projection systems like PECOTA favor the Cardinals, but I believe the Cubs are the better team. I see the division playing out as follows assuming current rosters remain intact:

  1. Cubs
  2. Pirates
  3. Brewers
  4. Reds
  5. Cardinals

I mean no disrespect to St. Louis, but I don’t see how PECOTA projects 14 additional wins due to the additions of Sonny Gray, Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn, and Matt Carpenter. The Cardinals still look like a 71-win team to me, if that. They’re more likely to entertain trades for Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado at the deadline than compete for a division title. I’ll bet John Mozeliak also regrets giving Willson Contreras a full no-trade clause through 2026.

The Reds made a lot of moves too, and Harold Reynolds recently called Cincinnati a “juggernaut.” If the Reds are a huge and powerful force, what does that make the Cubs? World beaters? Frankie Montas is the only significant addition to that team, though Jeimer Candelario and Brent Suter are decent upgrades. That said, Cincinnati still plays poor defense and the roster has several regression candidates.

The Brewers traded Corbin Burnes, let Brandon Woodruff go, might trade Devin Williams, and lost Counsell to the Cubs. They’re in a rebuilding year, their front office is listening to offers for Willy Adames, and they’re hoping somebody will take Christian Yelich off their hands. Rhys Hoskins gives them a right-handed power presence, but he may not find a lot of RBI opportunities.

The Pirates are trending upward, but may still be a year or two away. Then again, that’s what most said about the Cubs last year. Paul Skenes is going to be a good one and Pittsburgh has a very deep bullpen after adding Aroldis Chapman. They’ve even got two minor league players whose names will cause you to do a double-take: Iverson Allen and Jesus Lizardo. Keep an eye on Martín Pérez, however. A lot of analysts believe he is going to be very good this season.

I understand that PECOTA is generally accurate, but I think they’ve overestimated the Cardinals. Besides, the Cubs, with so many rookies expected to see playing time in Chicago, are a little harder to gauge. I’m still sticking to my guns and picking the North Siders to win the NL Central, with the Cardinals dead last, and the Reds, Pirates, and Brewers duking it out to be the best sub-.500 teams in the division. I can also live without adding Bellinger, but I’d still like to see Hoyer be a little more aggressive in strengthening his roster.

Cubs News & Notes

  • The Cubs announced Friday that they had extended major-league spring training invitations to 19 non-roster players, including Shaw & Caissie.
  • John Heyman believes the Cubs still have a reasonable shot at signing Bellinger and Chapman.
  • We are two weeks away from Cactus League action. The Cubs and White Sox will meet in Arizona on February 23.
  • That’s it. That’s all the latest news, as sad as it is to say. Maybe Hoyer is busy planning his Super Bowl party.

Odds & Sods

Goosebump alert!

Climbing the Ladder

I’ve always been fascinated by fantasy baseball projections (thank you Bill James and BaseballHQ), so let’s see what the experts think about Chicago’s projected offensive starters, plus one player who remains unsigned. The format will be BA/R/HR/RBI/SB for each player listed, basically 5×5 scoring. I’ll project pitchers in Monday’s Rundown.

A couple of notes: Morel’s projections exceed Hoskins, but pale compared to Pete Alonso, who is considered a top-20 player. Hoerner’s +/- on stolen bases is 13. Bellinger’s statistics drop significantly if he is assigned to the Giants, Dodgers, or Mariners, but tick up ever so slightly with the Yankees. Suzuki’s high range on home runs is 34, and I believe he can hit that mark. Morel projects to a 35.4% strikeout rate as an everyday player. It drops to 26.9% as part of a platoon.

Central Intelligence

Friday Stove

Rob Manfred said he will be disappointed if the Athletics’ new stadium in Las Vegas isn’t ready by 2028.

Manfred also said he is targeting 2025 for a new MLB streaming option that would include in-market games.

Two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber announced he is officially retiring after 13 MLB seasons.

A mere $50 kept Willie Mays and Henry Aaron from playing in the same outfield.

The White Sox would be foolish not to trade ace Dylan Cease before Opening Day.

The Rangers agreed to a two-year extension with Adolis Garcia that buys out his final arbitration years.

The Astros are turning their attention to extending Alex Bregman now that Jose Altuve agreed to his new deal.

Extra Innings

I just don’t understand the infatuation with the Cardinals.

Friday Morning Six-Pack

  1. Three former Bears were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Steve McMichael, Devin Hester, and Julius Peppers.
  2. Super Bowl quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Brock Purdy share baseball lineage as a common trait.
  3. This year’s big game will be played in Las Vegas, but there was a time not too long ago when the NFL wanted nothing to do with the gambling mecca. One day, historians will look back at how websites like Draft Kings changed all professional sports, for better or worse.
  4. A.V. Club ranked the 21 best football movies of all time in celebration of Super Sunday, but Draft Day didn’t make the list. I’d also rank Brian’s Song ahead of Any Given Sunday.
  5. Tucker Carlson released a highly anticipated and controversial interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin last night, making the conservative pundit the first Western media figure to get a one-on-one with Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago.
  6. Australia’s Senate passed a bill yesterday giving workers the legal right to ignore messages from their employers outside official working hours. Does that apply to remote workers, too?

They Said It

  • “It’s a pitching staff as a whole you have to look at. It is different every single season. It changes from the first day to the 60th day of the season, to the 120th day of the season. And probably to understand that – that it’s always changing, that it’s never the same, that there is no one rule you can live by in your bullpen –  is the best way to have a chance to do it successfully each year.” – Counsell

Friday Walk-Up Song

This band popped into my inbox this morning because they’re touring with The Church this summer, and you know how I love to share. Additionally, anything that reminds me of summer is exciting in and of itself, especially concert news.

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