Wick’s Health, Maples’ Control, Heyward’s Contract, and Other Cubs Bullets

So the Bulls benched a couple young guys and immediately won, eh? I don’t claim to actually know anything about the Bulls other than being a passive watcher, but that’s gonna get some attention, no?

•   I didn’t intend for the Bullets to get overrun by bullpen story lines, but it definitely happened here at the top. This reads like decently good news to me:

•   To be sure, at this point, Opening Day has gotta be out the door for Wick, but him being up to 105 feet in throwing is a really good sign that he really is finally getting over the oblique/intercostal thing. Now the hope is that he can progress normally from here for a maybe-sometime-in-April debut and then also hope that his mechanics haven’t been mucked up by such a long process. The Cubs have a ton of interesting bullpen options, but they have precious few guys who you would write into the later innings in pen.

•   Without options left, the Cubs are clearly closely evaluating Dillon Maples (and his new delivery) for one last shot to make and stick with the team, lest he get claimed on waivers and break out with another club. From David Ross (Cubs.com): “Some of the issues in the past are long gone,” Ross said. “He’s throwing a lot of strikes. The main thing with Dillon, staying consistent is going to be key for him to help us. I’ve definitely seen the version of him growing every single season to get better and be able to help us. He’s in the mix to be on the team.” Maples, you’ll note, doesn’t have a single walk on the spring. That’s kinda crazy for him. (Rex Brothers, the lefty version of Dillon Maples, has just one walk, and it was Mike Trout.)

•   Elsewhere in the bullpen mix, Ryan Tepera is expected to make his Cactus League debut today (Cubs.com), and Pedro Strop threw live BP yesterday, so he could work into a game soon-ish, too. Given the uncertainties about Craig Kimbrel that linger, the bullpen could be kind of a mess of figuring out roles for the first month+. The Cubs have plenty of guys who can succeed – I don’t doubt that at this point, given how well they’ve done at this – but sometimes it takes a little while to figure out who has it best right now and in what role.

•   People have started asking questions about the lack of spring-available velocity for Cubs, and yes, I’ve noticed it for a while now (hence all the references to Arizona Phil getting in-person velo reads):

•   I’ve thought about this concept for a while, and while it’s not like the final three years of Jason Heyward’s deal are suddenly going to be a steal, they might actually have real value:

•   Normally, when you sign a guy to an eight-year deal – even if he’s only 26 – you’re expecting to get the best years at the front end in exchange for stomaching the later years. That obviously did not happen with Heyward for a variety of physical and mechanical reasons, though at least he did provide the floor of great defense (which was always part of the reason he could get a deal like he got). On the offensive side, after continuously trending better and better since 2016, the 31-year-old Heyward now actually projects to be an above-average bat again in 2021. He’s set to make $21 million this year, and then $22 million each of the next two years. Does a free agent Heyward get that deal right now? No. “Better” free agent outfielders in this year’s class got lesser deals (Marcell Ozuna got four years at a $16.25 million AAV, Michael Brantley got just two years at a $16 million AAV, Jackie Bradley, Jr. got two years and $24 million). But we’re having this conversation about the final three years of Heyward’s deal – how impossible did that seem just three years ago? It is now not at all impossible to imagine a three-year stretch of production by Heyward that leaves us commenting, “You know, that eight-year contract actually wasn’t THAT bad.”

•   Also, just saying: if Heyward hits like he did in 2020 for a full 2021 (.265/.392/.456, 131 wRC+), then, yeah, it DOES become a good contract for the final two years. Just sayin’ …

•   Tools, surge protectors, toys, and much more are your Deals of the Day at Amazon. #ad

•   Would watch:

•   If you need to print out a bracket, we’ve got one here (and it features a promo from our partners at DraftKings, so hey, win-win amirite).

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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