The Rundown: Praising The Professor, Injuries Impacting Roster Decisions, Baseball’s Opener in Seoul, Boras Chastises MLBPA

Kyle Hendricks has pitched for the Cubs for 10 seasons and he’s approaching two milestones this year: 1,500 innings pitched and 100 wins. That’s not bad for a guy who barely hits 90 mph in an era where high-end velocity and elite breaking stuff have become the norm. The Professor was 6-8 last season, but 3-7 in games when the Cubs lost by two runs or less. It would be nice to see him inch closer to both benchmarks with a win against the Rangers on March 30.

Hendricks was a 26-year-old third-year starter when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. He was 16-8 that season and led the league in ERA (2.13) and ERA+ (196) while helping Chicago break its 108-year championship drought. He beat Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers 5-0 in Game 6 to give Chicago’s North Side Baseballers their first NL championship since 1945 after dropping two of the first three games. Hendricks pitched to a 1.42 postseason ERA that season and started Game 7 of the World Series.

Believe it or not, Hendricks has more wins in a Cubs uniform than Rick Sutcliffe, Ken Holtzman, Kerry Wood, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and the guy he was traded for, Ryan Dempster. Few soft-tossing righties have carved up opponents the way The Professor does when he’s on. He’s often compared to Greg Maddux, but that’s because of his cerebral approach to pitching. New Cubs manager Craig Counsell had a front seat to it all during his nine years leading the Brewers.

“Kyle is just so unique,” Counsell said. “How he does it is rare. He doesn’t have any peers almost in how he’s going through it. He’s a teacher for that reason. We all learn from it. He’s quiet, but open to talk and when he does, people learn from him.

“He’s really good at what he’s good at. It’s as simple as that. He trusts [himself] and he’s just incredibly solid mentally. There’s clarity to his competitive mode, and that’s a great thing. … He’s always exploring something a little new without letting [it] throw off what he’s really good at.”

Since his debut in 2014, only 11 pitchers have accumulated more than Hendricks’ 1,449.2 innings. He’s also 20th all-time among Cubs pitchers with 24.1 wins against replacement. That’s not bad for an eighth-round draft pick who came to the Cubs because Dempster vetoed a trade to the Braves in 2012. At 34, Hendricks is entering the final year of his contract on a team that has playoff aspirations for the first time since 2020. He and Carl Edwards Jr. are the only remaining — used loosely — players from that ’16 team, assuming the latter makes this year’s squad. Nothing would be better than seeing Hendricks cap his Cubs career with a repeat performance.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

There’s that “C” word again. I’ve hinted at it several times this winter, but this is a straight-up accusation.

Climbing the Ladder

When Counsell was hired, many of us thought the Cubs were going to build a dominating roster via free agency. That wasn’t the case, and it’s now obvious that he was hired to be an extension of Chicago’s player development program. The team’s clearest path to turbocharging its roster is to get maximum production at the big league level from its prospects and pre-arbitration players.

When you look at the organization from that lens, Jed Hoyer’s plan, which started by trading Yu Darvish for Owen Caissie and others, is coming full circle. Five years from now, Counsell will have failed or succeeded based on the major league careers of Amaya, Busch, Brown, Caissie, Canario, Shaw, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Jordan Wicks, Cade Horton, Kevin Alcántara, Daniel Palencia, Luke Little, and possibly Brennen Davis. Am I missing anybody? Yes, this is a pivotal season for Christopher Morel, too.

I’d even go as far as to say that Hoyer felt a lot more comfortable trading Jackson Ferris for Busch because Counsell signed with the Cubs.

Central Intelligence

  • Milwaukee: Freddy Peralta is ready for his new role as the Brewers’ ace, and “He’s starving for that limelight.”
  • Cincinnati: MLB Insider Jon Morosi said the Reds have the best starting rotation in the NL Central. Let’s revisit that this September.
  • Pittsburgh: The Pirates have hit 46 Grapefruit League home runs this spring, one short of the league record with a week of games remaining.
  • St. Louis: Cardinals fans are not happy with president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. Among his biggest criticisms are extending manager Oli Marmol, adding aging starters Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson, and failing to find a solid No. 2 starter. I still believe St. Louis is the worst team in the division and that only a scorched-earth rebuild can fix prevent that franchise from years of middling baseball.

Spring Training News & Notes

The 2024 regular season kicked off this morning with the Dodgers beating the Padres 5-2 in Seoul, South Korea.

The opening series is a matchup of two extraordinary teams.

Chan Ho Park, MLB’s first Korean baseball player, threw the ceremonial first pitch.

South Korean police investigated a bomb threat a few hours before the start of the game.

Baseball’s offseason was so chaotic that it hasn’t quite ended yet.

Scott Boras called dissension within the MLBPA a “coup d’état” and said the union should keep its issues behind closed doors.

The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is no longer among the top five in baseball. The Cubs and Cardinals have enough history to make the list, but Counsell’s exodus from Milwaukee to Chicago will add quite a bit of spice to that rivalry.

Extra Innings

Like the Pirates, the Cubs have been homer-happy this spring. They’ve hit 36 big flies in 24 games and are 15-9 in Cactus League action.

They Said It

  • “[Amaya] has that calm demeanor that is very helpful for a pitcher. That’s a real thing, for sure. You have to be calm but at the same time show them you’re really invested in them. That’s the challenge for a catcher. [Right now], I have to rely on what others are saying from last year. That has been echoed pretty strongly. Pitchers aren’t shy about saying the other thing when it’s not there.” – Counsell
  • “That’s my guy. That’s who I wanted to play with [and] the guy that I want to emulate…and look up to. So it originally kind of started off with Báez. I was like, ‘I can play that position, as well.’” – Rojas
  • “Busch has shown both patience and power up through Triple-A, with most of the power coming against right-handed pitching. I think it’s 20+ homers in a full season, likely with 60 or so walks and a .250/.335/.430 line.” – Law
  • “If you have issues with the union and you want to be involved with the union, you take your ideas to them. You do not take them publicly, you do not create this coup d’état and create a disruption inside the union. If your goal is to help players, it should never be done this way.” – Boras

Wednesday Walk-Up Song

Let’s dedicate today’s walk-up song to the anti-establishment MLBPA and its anti-hero, Mr. Boras.

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