Steele's Best Start, Alcantara and Bote, Caring for Minor Leaguers, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Steele’s Best Start, Alcantara and Bote, Caring for Minor Leaguers, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

The useless, detestable, never-root-for-them-again Twins decided to blow their game late against the Tigers, thus keeping the Cubs’ only remaining meaningful Magic Number at one. The Cubs have to lose at least one more game (against the Cardinals), or the Twins have to win at least one more game (against the Royals) for the Cubs to clinch the seven. Truly, I hate the Twins for not giving me a completely clear weekend where I can root for a Cubs sweep with no cognitive dissonance! I will never forgive you!!!

OK, now it’s time to root for [checks notes] … the Twins. Right. Right. Yes. Go Twins! I love the Twins! I have always loved the Twins! Beat up on those nasty Royals! Maybe jump out to a huge early lead so I can just chill tonight during the concurrent Cubs-Cardinals game?

•   Justin Steele was fantastic last night*, allowing just four hits and one walk over his 7.0 scoreless innings. He netted seven strikeouts and nine groundouts, which is a killer combination. Most incredibly, he required just 76 pitches to cover those 7.0 innings – credit his ability to use all four of his pitches really well for maybe the first time this year. He definitely got away with some four-seamers middle-middle, but elite spin (top five in baseball after the sticky stuff enforcement) and good extension will help with that. You’ll notice that, for the most part, when Steele has gotten into trouble this year, it’s been because of wildness (i.e., walks and hitters’ counts letting guys cheat for dingers). He’s not a guy who simply gets hammered in the zone for a lack of top-tier stuff. He’ll be able to get away with some mistakes if he’s not falling behind too often.

•   *And yes, you do have to mention the obligatory “but the Pirates!” thing (third worst offense in baseball after the Trade Deadline). To my eye, Steele LOOKED really good, which combines with the results to tell me he was legit fantastic. But, sure, the same performance against a top-tier lineup might not have become what was ultimately one of the Cubs’ best starts this year.

•   Huge game last night for Sergio Alcantara, with a homer and two singles. The night took his slash line from .198/.297/.314 (66 wRC+) to .209/.305/.336 (73) on the year, over 244 PAs. Still not what you’d want to see from a guy you’d consider your primary middle infield bench option, but also really not that bad from a guy with plus defensive value at shortstop. Without any minor league options remaining after this year, it’ll be interesting to see what the Cubs opt to do with Alcantara’s 40-man spot this offseason (i.e., you might be slightly less inclined to keep a guy on all offseason if you know there’s a decent chance you’re going to have to expose him to waivers at the end of Spring Training anyway). He’s right there on the border of a guy you’d say, yeah, pretty decent bet to make the bench, so keep him on … or maybe he would clear waivers, so pick a transaction-heavy week and try to sneak him through.

•   Of note, David Bote – whose shoulder took him out of last night’s game – has hit just .199/.276/.330 (64) this year, and doesn’t play shortstop on the level of Alcantara. You could certainly make the argument that Alcantara is actually the guy to keep around, but Bote likely has more upside offensively, and also has those three years left on his extension (which shouldn’t really matter, but we all know that it does). Perhaps also worth noting, though, that Alcantara’s expected wOBA is a dreadful .275, while Bote’s is .310 (he rates as the second “unluckiest” hitter in baseball by that metric, though he’s been unlucky for a sufficiently long time over the years that you wonder whether xwOBA is just missing something).

•   Treating minor league players MUCH better remains a topic at the fore, and it’s good to see members of the MLBPA helping to push the issue:

•   The referenced ESPN article is another must-read on the horrifying state of the minor leagues, even after modest salary and travel improvements over the last year. It’s just unconscionable to me that teams operate this way with “employees” they purport to care about, to say nothing of what a competitive disadvantage they’re creating for themselves. This is just one small slice/anecdote to underscore how little these guys make (all while training up year round and trying to find places to live as they bounce all over):

Shane Kelso, 24, was playing for the Low-A Inland Empire 66ers in San Bernardino, California, another Angels affiliate, when he abruptly retired in the middle of this season. Kelso was losing $1,000 a month from his savings and would have been broke before the end of the season, owing more in rent than his $1,600 monthly salary would allow. Kelso says four of his teammates were bunking in a camper van, while others were living out of their cars.

An individual can’t meet basic needs earning less than $26,225 a year anywhere in the United States, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator. In 2021, most minor leaguers will make between $8,000 and $14,000 from April to October, according to the uniform player contract. The U.S. federal poverty guideline for one person in most states is $12,880 in annual income.

“People don’t understand the mental strain that comes along with that — that you don’t know how much money you’re going to have at the end of each month and not knowing how you’re going to make ends meet,” Kelso says. “I was a late-rounder. I didn’t sign for a lot of money. The vast majority of players are in my position.”

•   This doesn’t yet include Tyler Payne, who is with the team on the taxi squad, but would be activated only if there were a further need (so I’m not necessarily ROOTING for it, but nine catchers would be all the more wild):

•   Even if it were only the rookies dressing up, the Cubs had to buy a whole lotta costumes:

•   Congrats to Anthony Rizzo on number 250:

•   Dusty Baker made some history:

•   This doesn’t bode well for DISH getting back into the RSN-carrying business anytime soon:

•   Recall, DISH dropped almost all Regional Sports Networks a couple years ago (and did not carry Marquee), so if they had an out on the remaining ones and dropped them, too? Yeah, I think they’ve simply decided to be out of that business completely. Another long-term step in the direction of a la carte, over-the-top streaming of RSNs, in my opinion.

•   Still waiting on the resolution of this BS, but it doesn’t sound good:

•   We can all see it:

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.