On Wednesday night in Chicago, Cubs Manager Joe Maddon celebrated “Thanksmas,” one of his many charity events, by serving a spaghetti dinner at the Catholic Charities.
During the evenings’ events/food, however, he also managed to rifle off more than a couple thoughts on the Cubs’ winter, Spring Training, and upcoming season.
I’ve collected some of his comments alongside thoughts of my own below, but you can find his full comments at Cubs.com (Carrie Muskat), The Chicago Sun Times (Madeline Kenney), The Athletic x2 (Sahadev Sharma, Patrick Mooney), CBS Chicago (Bruce Levine), and the Chicago Tribune (Mark Gonzalez).
- Although Maddon sounds convinced that the Cubs front office has more in store for them before the season is up (agreed), he believes the team could roll with what they have right now and be just fine. To be sure, he’s probably right about that, too:
The last four World Series participants are projected to be the top four teams in 2018. There's still a ton of offseason left, but it's interesting, nonetheless. pic.twitter.com/xJEZZRu0KF
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) January 11, 2018
- But still … the Cubs almost have to do more to the roster before the offseason is over, and my bet is that there’s at least one more significant move made before all is said and done.
- According to Maddon, the two most important things for him to do this summer will be keeping the energy and enthusiasm up after three straight postseason runs. In 2017, Maddon often recalls, the early-summer grind after the 2016 World Series run worked heavily against the Cubs. Fortunately, keeping up enthusiasm and team morale is one of Maddon’s greatest strengths as a manager, and with some fresh blood on the team this year (perhaps some that’s not even on the roster yet), maybe things will feel “new” again.
- Maddon has not been asked to court any free agents this winter – besides Shohei Ohtani back in November – but says for some guys, like Jake Arrieta, it wouldn’t matter anyway: “Jake knows how I feel about him personally. We all do. We would not have had this wonderful run without him.” I think it’s safe to assume that for the remaining potential free agent signings who’d be returning to Chicago (Arrieta, Alex Avila), they already know what it’s like to be a Cub. At some point, perhaps if things get more serious, you might find that Maddon has had conversations with those other free agents, but as of now, it sounds like that hasn’t happened.
- But don’t think Maddon is necessarily only lobbying for Arrieta: “I love Alex Cobb. So does [pitching coach Jim Hickey]. When you get to really work with him, if that happens, you’ll love him, too. This is a man’s man, and he’s very highly accountable, and he’s really good.” In case you missed it, the Cubs initial offer to Cobb was reportedly three years and $42M, though he’s looking for something closer to four years and $70M. For more on Alex Cobb, check out his free agent profile from earlier in the offseason.
- But remember, the Cubs don’t necessarily *have* to sign a free agent starter, with Mike Montgomery hanging around. It isn’t the No. 1 plan, but according to Maddon, “Of course, he’s [Montgomery] in the mix for one of the five starters. And if we happen to acquire another one, he’ll be one of the six.” In all likelihood, if the Cubs add a starter, he’ll be a sure-fire/ahead-of-Montgomery type, but Montgomery is pretty clearly the sixth man. Given how uniquely valuable he’s been in that role, it’s hard to stump for anything else, even as he has expressed a strong desire to start.
- As Brett discussed in the Bullets earlier today, Maddon believes Justin Wilson will get back on track this season and that he could transform the entire look of the bullpen as soon as he does. Maddon also considers Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. the “bedrock” of the bullpen, and believes you could put them anywhere at any time and they’ll succeed.
- On Kyle Schwarber, you can tell that Maddon loves the changes (and the underlying work ethic/hunger), but he’s not going to make any sweeping declarations about how good Schwarber will be in 2018. Maddon believes he went a bit too far with his praise last season and thinks it may have negatively impacted Schwarber on the field. Still, the adoration is quite clear: “Obviously he did not like how last year went down and he did something about it. Did you expect him not to? That’s who he is. He’s attacked it with a verve that’s kind of unmatchable. That’s just who he is.”
- On where Schwarber might hit in the lineup, Maddon is not worried. “He could hit anywhere … Everybody kind of got kind of wrapped up in that moment. It kind of amuses me, honestly. When things are interpreted in a manner that has nothing to do with the outcome. He just had a tough year. When Kyle’s right, he can hit anyone.” Reading that reminds me of the feeling you get when you look at a fight attendant’s calmness during in-flight turbulence. If they’re still smiling, everything’s probably gonna be ok. Maddon has previously indicated that he’s open to the possibility of Schwarber returning to the leadoff spot.
- If you’re looking for more on the Schwarber lineup stuff, check out Sharma’s article at The Athletic – it comes with quotes from Maddon, Theo Epstein, and Jed Hoyer.