Cubs Mailbag: Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Bryce Harper, trade rumors and more


Welcome to our final Cubs mailbag of 2018! 

A heartfelt thank you to everybody who read, watched or listened to any of NBC Sports Chicago's Cubs content this year and we hope you all have a fantastic and joyous holiday season.

Now, onto the questions about Javy Baez, Bryce Harper, Addison Russell, Daniel Descalso, future trades and more:

What is the plan with Javy start at second or SS? — hola (@buck3y31)

Mr. Mago will start at shortstop for the Cubs in 2019. There is no question about that with Russell suspended for the first 28 games of the season and his future beyond that very much in doubt. Even if Russell does complete his redemption tour and make it back to the field in a Cubs uniform (which may be tougher now that even more disturbing details about his past have surfaced publicly this week), he still hasn't been a very valuable overall player the last couple seasons. Meanwhile, Baez was the runner-up in NL MVP voting last season and is certainly more than capable of playing shortstop over the long haul.

Until proven otherwise, Baez is the Cubs' answer at shortstop both in the short-term and long-term.

Everyone expects Javy to take a step backwards this year after having a breakout season. However I expect him to take even another step forward this year and solidify himself as a top 5 player in the MLB. Agree or disagree?  Sterling Clay Temple (@TheLillyBros)

I disagree, but that doesn't mean I'm not high on Javy for 2019 or beyond. It's just that becoming the Top 5 player in the league on an annual basis is an awfully lofty goal to meet. If I was starting a franchise from scratch, I'd probably rather have a few guys over Javy, including Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich and Paul Goldschmidt, just to name a few.

Javy still has a lot of holes in his game/swing as he still hardly walks, chases a ton of pitches out of the zone, swings-and-misses a lot even in the zone and often gets himself out. He was fantastic in 2018, proved he's made some serious strides in his game and very well may continue to develop, but it's also totally possible he takes at least a small step back in 2019. 

Is Addison on the team when Spring Training starts?  Ted Gruber (@tedgruber)

I don't know. A week ago (or even a few days ago), I would've said yes for sure because they tendered him a contract and seemed intent on providing him aid and support. But the information that came out publicly this week is jarring, though it's also possible the Cubs already knew those details. They talked to Russell's ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, in depth about the situation and how they can improve as an organization in lending support to wives, girlfriends and families in the future. Reidy also cooperated with Major League Baseball on the investigation this fall, which resulted in the 40-game suspension, so it's very likely these disturbing details were divulged in that process.

I'm going to say he is on the team when the Cubs report to Mesa, Ariz., but I know most fans are hoping that's not the case, which is totally understandable.

Why descalso and who gets traded now?  pd (@FlipWilkesBooth)

Descalso is known as a quality clubhouse guy and can potentially grow into a role as leader and trusted/valued voice within the locker room. That was one of the main areas the Cubs wanted to address this winter and they handed Descalso a multi-year deal (two years with an option for a third season) at a very affordable rate, so it doesn't hurt the budget and allows the veteran utility guy the security/stability to earn his new teammates' trust and find his voice. He also checks a lot of boxes as a left-handed bat who can play all over the field.

As for trades, there is absolutely no reason to think a trade is coming because Descalso is on the roster. If the Cubs do trade anybody this winter, it will not be directly correlated to signing the veteran. Descalso essentially takes the roster spot of Tommy La Stella, and there is no current roster crunch for position players.

What’s does the Cubs signing of Descalso mean for Addison Russell? — Joey Huberts (@_thejhub)

Nothing. Strictly from a baseball sense, Descalso signing doesn't change anything with Russell given that Descalso isn't really a shortstop anymore and is only going to keep aging. Even if Russell makes a return to the Cubs, Descalso can play every position but pitcher and catcher and will be more of a reserve anyways.

The only thing that means anything for Russell is his therapy/rehab and how the Cubs view the steps he's taken in an effort to improve significantly as a person, father and husband.

So how likely is it the @Cubs will move Zobrist or Heyward or Chatwood or Russell...  John barger (@Jbarger1967)

I don't think it's likely at all for any of the guys, but we'll break down each individually.

Heyward: His contract is immovable at this point with five years and more than $100 million remaining. Plus, he's still a valued voice in the clubhouse, provides Gold Glove defense and showed some signs of life with the bat in 2018.

Chatwood: He led the entire league in walks last year despite hardly pitching in the final two months of the season. Nobody wants to pay $25.5 million over the next two years for a guy with that profile, thus he's basically impossible to trade unless the Cubs ate a bunch of that money or included a top prospect to help get the contract off the books.

Russell: The Cubs tendered Russell a contract for 2019 a few weeks ago and have made a lot of statements this winter about how they feel the need to support him and continue to help him get the therapy and help he needs to turn his life off the field around. Even with the disturbing details that have come out this week, it would seem awfully hypocritical if the Cubs opted to then deal the embattled shortstop for any assets in return. If the Cubs get rid of Russell, it basically has to be via a straight release and not a trade.

Zobrist: He's only under contract for one more season and is coming off a fantastic 2018 where he managed to stay healthy and was once again one of the Cubs' most valuable hitters. The Cubs may want to shed salary, but they also want to win and retaining Zobrist is a great way to find success in the W column. Here's what Jed Hoyer said at the Winter Meetings last week about how Zobrist leads by example for this young team:

"This is a perfect example — like this is the kind of at-bat we want. Watch this guy and watch the way he does it and the way he battles and thinks about the at-bat in his preparation before the game, the way he thinks about it in the on-deck circle, the way he executes his gameplan. The way he hits is as professional as it gets. Having those kinds of examples around is really important."

If signing Bryce Harper meant losing Anthony Rizzo 3 years from now would you do it? — Sterling Clay Temple (@TheLillyBros)

This is a great question, Sterling. Really made me think. I believe Rizzo may actually give the Cubs a bit of a discount in a couple years to remain with the franchise for the rest of his career (it helps that his agent is not Scott Boras and he's already given the team a massive discount), but he also may choose to take that as his only opportunity to truly cash in before his career is over. With everything Rizzo has meant to this team as the face of the franchise as they ended the historic drought, any move that means he doesn't finish his career as a Cub is a tough one to stomach.

That being said, if this were just a video game or fantasy baseball or something like that, I would choose Harper now than Rizzo 3 years from now. Rizzo would be entering his age-32 season at that point and his history of back injuries is at least a slight cause for concern, even if they've been unrelated incidents. Either way, these next 3 years is the true window of contention for the Cubs and in my mind, they should go all in to try to win at least another ring in those years. Harper would be a HUGE step toward that goal.

Are the Cubs even a playoff team anymore? — Johnny (@Pcengrat)

Yes. So many things went wrong for the Cubs in 2018 and so many things went right for the Brewers, yet the Cubs still won 95 games and owned first place in the division until Game 163. 

They also haven't lost any core members of the 2018 team, with the biggest subtractions being Daniel Murphy (who played only a little over a month with the club), Tommy La Stella (a part-time pinch-hitter/role player) and a pair of bullpen arms in Justin Wilson and Jesse Chavez, who will still need to be replaced this winter.

The Cubs also have Cole Hamels for all of 2019 and are hoping for a healthier season overall from the roster, but namely Kris Bryant and Yu Darvish.

Any idea what there gonna do about Joe? Extend, play out the deal and move on from him? Very confusing as to how this has been going on  Everything Niners/Cubs (@Ninerfan4Martin)

Honestly, a lot of that has to do with how the 2019 season plays out. If the Cubs underwhelm again, it's much more likely the Cubs choose to cut ties with Maddon and let him walk instead of working out an extension. But even if 2019 is a dream season (meaning another World Series championship), it's still possible this is Maddon's last season as Cubs manager. The front office may want to go in a different direction or maybe Maddon would want to seek another opportunity elsewhere.

For all the crap he's gotten — and still gets — on social media, whenever Maddon does leave Chicago, he'll go down as arguably the best manager in Cubs franchise history and will certainly wind up in the game's Hall of Fame down the line.

What is on the Cubs Christmas Wish List? — Shawn Hairald (@SHairald23)

Bullpen arms (yes, plural), a veteran catcher, more infield depth (namely shortstop) and — maybe most of all — Bryce Harper willing to give the Cubs a ridiculous discount just to play at Wrigley Field alongside his buddy Kris Bryant and potentially win a championship. That last one would take nothing short of a miracle to occur, but hey, 'tis the season, right?

Will the Chicago Cubs promote Will Venable to bench coach or hire someone from outside the organization?  Rowan Campbell (@RustaRow)

That's a good question and Venable may be a good option for the job. The Cubs certainly want continuity within their coaching staff, as they proved by bringing back former organizational hitting coordinator Anthony Iapoce as the new hitting coach and promoting Tommy Hottovy from within as pitching coach. That said, it's probably more likely the Cubs go outside the organization to hire their bench coach, as 2018 was Venable's first year as a coach and it may be a bit of a jump to immediately move to Maddon's right-hand man in the dugout. The Cubs do need a trusted voice for that spot and David Ross isn't coming for that spot, so anything could happen.

Remember when Rizzo started hitting a ton after using Szczur's bat in the '16 playoffs. How about Heyward using a different stick? I had a tall, lanky friend in H.S. who was slumping until he started using my shorter bat.  He got around quicker and started smacking line drives.  Alfio (@AJinLA)

Good question and I don't know if Heyward has ever switched to a shorter/lighter bat while in a Cubs uniform. It's definitely something I will inquire about in spring training or next season. 

But when it boils down to it, I don't think it's the bat that is causing Heyward some trouble. He's better when he gets his hands in the right spot to start and carry that through the hitting zone instead of coming on top of the ball. He made an adjustment in that regard in the middle of last year and then fell back overall. With a full offseason to work on it and some recent success to build off of, maybe Heyward comes back a better overall hitter next year. Of course, Cubs fans have heard that before...

1. What Reliever do you think the Cubs ultimately sign?
2. Bears cover -4 in SF this weekend?
3. Favorite Xmas movie
4. How many suits does @thekapman own?
5. If you were stranded on an island with one Cubs player, who would you hope it was & why?
 Brandon Spinner WAFF (@wxSpinner89)

Holy questions, Spinner. Let's do this lightning round:

1. They're going to look for low-risk/high-reward type bargains, so put me down for a guy like Carson Smith, A.J. Ramos or Brad Brach.
2. Yes, Bears will cover.
3. It's a tie between Christmas Vacation and Elf. I *have* to watch both each Christmas season.
4. Kap probably owns twice as many suits as I have T-shirts. He's the best dressed dude I know and you're second on that list, Spin.
5. Kyle Hendricks. I was tempted to say Kyle Schwarber because he's my favorite guy to talk to in the clubhouse, but Hendricks is a close second in that regard and he's an Ivy League educated dude who probably would be able to engineer some sort of boat for us to utilize or find a way to signal the search parties.

- Is there a legendary Hall of Famer that you'd compare Eddie Jackson to?
- Will the Brewers be the MLB's Jaguars of 2018 and regress after a season where everything came together?
- Which vet is most likely to regress: Lester, Zobrist, Hamels
- N*Sync or Hanson Christmas album?
 Mark Strotman (@markstrot)

Another lightning round!

1. Duh, Strot, Eddie Jackson is very clearly the second coming of Ed Reed. Clown question, bro.
2. I don't think the Brewers will be competing for the No. 1 draft pick next season the way the Jags are this year, but I do expect some regression. It's possible they completely fall off the map, but I'd be shocked if they do. They still have so much talent, a great coaching staff/front office and now feel like they have unfinished business from the way 2018 ended so close to a World Series bid.
3. I'm going to say Hamels here. Lester keeps finding ways to get outs and Zobrist held up remarkably well last year thanks to regular rest. Hamels struggled for years before coming to the Cubs last July and he has a ton of innings on his arm, so a regression is coming at some point. Either way, don't expect Hamels to pitch to a 2.36 ERA all season given the fact he's only turned in a full season with a sub-3.00 ERA twice before in his career (2014, 2011).

What do you think the theme/slogan will be for the 2019 season?  Kathy Kummer (@PrincessKathy)

Great question, Kathy. I don't know, but Maddon said he's already been thinking up a lot of ideas for slogans/messages in 2019. Maybe he goes somewhere along the line of "Mouthwash" because the 2018 season left such an ugly taste in the mouths of everybody within the organization? 

If you mean the slogan Tom Ricketts unveils at Cubs Convention each year as part of the PR ploy, I'm not sure about that. It's usually something very simple and given the Cubs are coming off a disappointing season, how about we go with: "Get after it."

Is "positive regression" a thing??? And since it's not, please tell me why you think it is...  Slavko Bekovic (@SBekovic)

Classic Slav, always hatin'. 

"Positive regression" is a real thing, Mr. Bekovic, but I agree that it doesn't really make sense as a phrase. It's an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp." This is a rather popular term around sports, but particularly within baseball. It means a regression to the mean, but since people take that phrase to indicate a guy falling back to earth after exceeding expectations, "positive regression" was invented and now used to indicate a player rebounding off a tough season or stretch. A perfect example of "positive regression" is Kris Bryant, who I would bet very good money on having a 2019 season much more in line with the rest of his career and 2018 becoming the outlier. 

if the #Bears don't get a playoff bye, who do you want them facing in the first round? do you think the Rams will lose one more and #Bears win out? — Kyle Gore (@Cubsfan122112)

I don't think the Bears will get a first-round bye, as the Rams have an easy schedule remaining and the Bears will have to go into Minnesota next week and beat a team that will likely be playing for their postseason lives. 

As for first-round opponent, I'd probably rather have the Bears host the Eagles than anybody else. The Seahawks are starting to scare me with the way they've been playing the last couple months and it'd be awfully dangerous on the Bears to play the Vikings in Week 17 and then host them again the next week with the season on the line.

Yes, the Eagles just surprising the Rams at home, but Jared Goff and Co. have been broken for a few weeks now and their defense is nothing like the Bears' unit. Philly is also without their franchise QB (Carson Wentz) and at some point, Nick Foles' magic will probably run out.

What is the Bears’ franchise record for rushing yards in a playoff game by a QB? With how mobile Mitch Trubisky is, is he about to set that record come playoff time? — Cubs 2016 Champs (@Spartacus217)

I don't know the answer — that's a question better suited for Chris Kamka. But to answer your second question: YES.

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