The Rundown: Báez Ranks Among Best Cubs Shortstops of All Time, Souza Wants Full-Time Gig, Jeffress Divulges Culinary Interests

If I had a two-word cap on this column I would simply write the name Javier Báez.

The time has come to include Báez among the greatest shortstops in the history of the franchise, and though the list of Cubs players who might also be included isn’t long, it is very distinguished.

  1. Ernie Banks
  2. Joe Tinker
  3. Starlin Castro
  4. Shawon Dunston
  5. Don Kessinger

With a 16.6 career WAR, Báez easily makes that list — right behind Banks in fact — and he is still just 27 years old. Last year, El Mago was on his way to a second straight season of MVP consideration before getting hurt.

A hairline fracture in his left thumb kept the shortstop sidelined for the majority of September, but it doesn’t sound like there are any current concerns regarding the injury. Báez, who avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $10 million contract in January, hit .281/.316/.847 with 29 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 138 games last year.

The All-Star infielder believes this season will be even better, especially after admitting that he and some of his teammates weren’t fully prepared in 2019. He didn’t blatantly blame it on trickle-down from former skipper Joe Maddon‘s laid-back attitude, but he did say that a lack of dedication before games permeated the clubhouse.

It was enough of an indictment, however, that it drew a rebuttal from Maddon.

Hey, they say breaking up is hard to do. Still, it’s a new day for the Cubs, and the team has a completely different  attitude under the watchful eye of David Ross. As for Báez, he looks ready to roll and has said as much.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I don’t like talking, but I let my talents show up. I want to be one of the top three players [in the game] out there. I’m working for that. Hopefully at the end of the season you [will] see it.”

Cubs News & Notes

  • Ross said there are no lingering issues with Baez’s thumb, Jordan Bastian of reports. “He’s told me no. I’ve asked him that. I asked him that a while back with the training in the offseason, and I haven’t heard anything from our training staff on that subject. So as far as I know, he’s 100 percent.”
  • Steven Souza Jr. is aiming for a full-time role in the Cubs outfield, but Ross knows Souza may have to temper those expectations a little due to the outfielder’s injury history. “We’ve had conversations about where I’m going to play, but I’m just trying to get as many reps as I can,” Souza said. “The question was asked if I can play center field, and I feel very capable going out there.”
  • Great article by Jayson Stark of The Athletic about what it has been like for Ross to manage his former teammates and friends (subscriber content).
  • Quality Assurance Coach Mike Napoli has become a Swiss army knife of sorts, helping out whenever and wherever he is needed.
  • Craig Kimbrel is one of six MLB players primed for a big comeback this season.
  • Chicago fans will love it if Jeremy Jeffress makes the team out of spring training. He plans on bringing his food truck to the North Side. I’ve had JJ’s Bread & Butter here in Milwaukee and the fried shrimp is to die for.
  • Jeffress launched his culinary side project last April at Miller Park, the same day the Brewers held a bobblehead day in his honor. “That’s a passion of mine,” Jeffress said. “Bring good food to people, good smiles, and good excitement.”’
  • The fact that teams are still scouting Kris Bryant as a potential trade piece is really much ado about nothing.
  • The Cubs offense seems to be ready for the regular season. They’ve scored 44 runs in five games – 30 in the last three –  and lead the Cactus League with a +14 run differential.
  • Brandon Morrow may be able to pitch to live hitters soon. The oft-injured reliever said he felt fine after throwing Monday to a pitch-back and believes he could resume his program by the end of the week.
  • The Cubs announced that they have reached an agreement with WOW! Cable to broadcast Marquee this season. The carrier should have the team’s proprietary network available to subscribers in about two weeks.

Odds & Sods

The sobering reality of minor league baseball wages.

MLB Spring Training Notes

Kerwin Danley has been named baseball’s first black umpire crew chief. Frankly I’m shocked and disappointed it took this long. There have been 10 full-time African American umpires in the majors since Emmett Ashford became the first in 1966.

Mets minor league outfielder Tim Tebow will represent the Philippines in the WBC qualifying round. The former Heisman Trophy winner was born in Manila.

The Diamondbacks have considered Vancouver as a potential contingency site should an emergency prevent them from playing at Chase Field.

Yankees outfielder Giancarlo Stanton has a calf injury that leaves him doubtful to start the regular season.

What if Mike Trout had been on the 2017 Astros? It could have happened.

Veteran broadcaster Bob Costas doesn’t think Houston’s sign-stealing scandal is as big as the steroid era or the doping scandals during previous Olympic games.

Apropos of Nothing Something

A big shoutout to my new liver specialist, Dr. Siddesh V. Besur. I was beyond scared entering the transplant clinic alone yesterday, and this wonderful doctor spent an entire hour getting to know me, talking about life in general, and thoroughly explaining where I am at right now, where I am headed, and what I can do to slow the progression of my disorder. We talked about Ireland, Trinity Library, and his affinity for Harry Potter movies. He doesn’t know much about baseball, but asked me to give him insight as to why I love it, and the Cubs, so much.

Here’s the thing: He certainly could have come in, asked me a few questions about my general health, and then signed the consent form for my procedures. In doing so, he could also have seen three patients and billed each patient’s insurance company for three consultations in that same hour. Instead, he made me the focus.

“Your insurance company is paying for a full appointment,” he said to me. “Might as well give them their money’s worth.”

Extra Innings

Things sure were different a century ago.

They Said It

  • “I may have had two good games, but I’m far from where I want to be. I can speak for all the hitters. This is Day 2 of a 200-day marathon, so I just want to stay healthy and have a great mindset the whole time.”Albert Almora, Jr.
  • “Man, I honestly feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world, as far as first-time managers go … because I’ve got guys that believe in me. I’ve got guys that are my friends, and I’ve always told them the truth. I’ve always shot ‘em straight. So as a manager, it’s easy for me, right off the bat, to have expectations of them and tell them how I feel.” – David Ross
  • “I don’t know if half the fans know my real name,. It’s all ‘Grandpa’ when I walk around here. [Fans are shouting] ‘Grandpa, Grandpa.’ Or, ‘Skipper Grandpa.’ Or ‘Grandpa Skipper.’ However you say that.” – Ross

Thursday Walk Up Song

Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears. It’s almost unfathomable to me that yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of Songs From the Big Chair, the album that launched this single and made stars of Tears for Fears. Time sure flies. My new doctor mentioned this is one of his favorite songs of all time, an excellent choice.

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