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The Cubs just finished the toughest stretch of the season (though a three-game set in Arizona this weekend isn’t much easier), and it’s time to catch up. We enlisted Corey Freedman, Cody Delmendo and Kyle Williams to discuss some of the hot topics surrounding the Cubs right now.
Is Willson Contreras playing himself out of Chicago? Should Keegan Thompson move into the rotation full-time? Does Alfonso Rivas deserve to play every day?
All that and more have been answered by our CHGO Cubs group in this newest roundtable discussion.
Let’s get into it.
1. The Cubs just ended a run of 14 games against potential playoff teams, going 4-10 over that stretch. Looking back on it, did that go better, worse or about as you expected?
Corey Freedman, CHGO Cubs podcaster: I think about as expected, overall. I definitely was not surprised to see them swept by the Dodgers, but was pleasantly surprised by how quickly they were able to shake that off and put together a solid series win in San Diego. The stretch featured a mix of games in which the Cubs got blown out and games that could have gone either way, which I think aligns with what my expectations were going in. Looking back at how everything ended up playing out, I think those White Sox games end up stinging a bit. Both of those games were winnable at home, decided by two runs and one run respectively. Had the team been able to take one, or both, of those games, I think you would have ended up feeling pretty good about how that stretch went. At the end of the day, however, it’s hard to ever be pleased with a 4-10 record in any stretch, no matter how difficult the competition.
Cody Delmendo, CHGO Cubs content creator: It definitely went worse than I expected. The Cubs offense was the biggest disappointment of that stretch, but the lack of consistent starting pitching really showed. With Adbert Alzolay and Wade Miley on the Injured List to start the year, you knew those losses would show at some point.
Kyle Williams, CHGO contributor: I think it went as I expected it to be. The Cubs aren’t a good team and the moves, or lack thereof, showed that this was going to be a long season. Especially dealing with injuries to Stroman, it’s not a total shock that the team struggled against quality competition.
2. Willson Contreras has been arguably the best hitting catcher in all of baseball this year, but there’s been no clarity on what his future holds. Do you think he’s playing his way into a new contract with the Cubs, or is he just building his value for a better trade package?
Freedman: My read on the situation is that he is building value to ultimately be traded. Obviously this is just my opinion from the outside, but the lack of engagement in extension talks from the front office, the constant rumors surrounding him, and the Cubs heading to an arbitration hearing with him just scream to me that this front office is not interested in a long term extension. Whether that’s the correct direction to talk is an entirely different discussion that would largely hinge on what exactly Willson is looking for in terms of an extension. As we’ve discussed a lot on the podcasts, I think there are sound arguments to be made on either side, but ultimately we have seen Jed be willing to draw a line in the sand with regard to the types of contracts he’s willing to give out. I think Anthony Rizzo’s situation serves as the best frame of reference we have as it relates to Willson. Jed DID offer Anthony a contract that ended up being worth more guaranteed money than Tony got from the Yankees, but it was not enough to get the deal done on Rizzo’s end. Jed didn’t budge, and Rizzo isn’t a Cub anymore. So while Anthony and Willson are not the same player/situation, I would guess this plays out in a similar manner. Willson will want to be paid like one of the best catchers in the league (which he is), and Jed will not be willing to go over certain terms that he is comfortable with for a 30 year old playing a physically demanding position that has yet to put together a full season with offensive numbers that look like they currently do.
Delmendo: At the end of the day, Contreras is doing anything he can to make the most money. That’s not to say he doesn’t want to be part of the Cubs organization beyond not only the July trade deadline, but also in 2023 and beyond. With how much money the Cubs have available, they should be in negotiations with him and his agent. Contreras has gone on record saying he did not want to resume negotiations until the season is over. If the Cubs plan to be better in 2023, barring an offer Jed Hoyer can’t refuse, the Cubs should hold on to Contreras through this season.
Williams: I think he’s just building up his trade value. Despite his strong performance, I’d be surprised if the All-Star catcher is a member of the Cubs after the trade deadline. Willson Contreras is performing at an incredibly high level offensively. He’s striking out less, getting on base more, and his 8.2 offensive WAR shows just how stellar of an offensive season he’s having. The front office and Contreras are headed to an arbitration hearing in June. If they’re disagreeing over minuscule amounts of money, then I find it unlikely that they agree to a contract extension.
3. Keegan Thompson didn’t look as dominant in his first start of the year Wednesday as he had out of the bullpen, but he did enough to put the Cubs in a position to win. The question is, do you want to see him get another shot as a starter, or should he stay in the ‘pen?
Freedman: I think Keegan’s role is perfect as is. He should primarily be coming out of the pen to be used as a multi-inning weapon, but should also be near the top of the line for opportunities to start when needs arise due to injuries or schedule troubles. The game of baseball has been trending away from lengthy starts for some time now, so having someone like Keegan who can give you 2-3 dominant innings each time he pitches is extraordinarily valuable. His stuff seems to play up in shorter bursts, and he has proven that high leverage moments are not too big for him. Being a starter might be more glamorous, but there is a strong argument to be made that Keegan has been the most valuable pitcher on this team so far in the 2022 season, so why mess with that in the long run?
Delmendo: In my opinion, Thompson wouldn’t have started if Marcus Stroman would have been available. It was a good test for him in terms of getting a shot down the road, but right now, Thompson is really thriving out of the bullpen in the role the Cubs have been using him. It will be interesting to see how the Cubs use him beyond the trade deadline.
Williams: I think Thompson has found his niche as a long reliever. There’s value in having a pitcher like Thomspon coming out of the bullpen for multiple innings. His 55.7 groundball percentage is fairly high and decreases the margin for error that he has. For a team like the Cubs, who are looking for innings at this point in the season, I think it’s better to leave him in the bullpen.
4. The injuries have piled up over the last few days, whether that means players dealing with various ailments or actual IL placements. Which pitcher and which position player’s absences will hurt the Cubs most?
Freedman: If Nico Hoerner has to miss a significant amount of time, that’s definitely my answer, but hopefully that won’t be the case based on the early reports after the game in San Diego. We all saw what happened on defense once he was out of the game, and he had been putting together some really great plate appearances, so being without him for any period of time will be an absence the Cubs certainly feel. Beyond Nico, I would say David Robertson. Robertson has been absolutely lights out for the Cubs at the back end of the bullpen to start 2022. While the Cubs bullpen has been really good on the whole so far this year, the reason I’d say Robertson is because it moves everyone else up in the pecking order. I don’t expect the bullpen to falter too much without Robertson, but losing your closer and someone who has taken a lot of your high leverage innings is naturally a tall order for the rest of the group to pick up.
Delmendo: As of right now, the Cubs have really missed Adbert Alzolay. Whether it would have been in a role similar to Keegan Thompson or if he was inserted back into the starting rotation, Alzolay is a much different pitcher than Kyle Hendricks, Marcus Stroman, and Wade Miley. He would be a nice No. 4 or No. 5 starter in a rotation that’s been inconsistent in his absence so far. As far as a position player, if Nico Hoerner has to miss extended time because of a collision with an umpire, it would undoubtably be a gigantic loss on both sides of the baseball.
Williams: Andrelton Simmons’ absence is felt in the Cubs infield. Villar is not an adequate defensive shortstop at this stage in his career. With Madrigal headed to the IL, Simmons could take over shortstop duties while Nico Hoerner plays second base, arguably his best position. The four-time Gold Glove winner isn’t a threat with his bat, but his glove would tremoundsly help the defense.
5. Alfonso Rivas is an intriguing prospect, but he hasn’t gotten a ton of run with the Cubs yet. Give us your best argument for why Rivas should be starting every game.
Freedman: He’s 25 years old. That’s my argument. Rivas put up an .814 OPS across four minor league seasons and currently sports an .839 OPS in just over 90 plate appearances at the MLB level. He plays great defense and runs the bases well. Frank Schwindel’s struggles to start the season in 2022 opened up an opportunity for Rivas to get more looks, and he has shown that he deserves a longer opportunity to show us what he can do. While I don’t think you need to give up on Frank, it just makes more sense to give Rivas a full, honest look to see if he can be a contributing member of Cubs teams for years to come. Rivas is under team control through 2027, so if he can demonstrate consistency at the MLB level for the rest of the season, you may have found a contributing piece to teams going forward who will be entering the prime year of his career. Rivas may not be a future MVP candidate or anything near that level, but if you find a contributing, solid player that you can count on going forward, that’s one less roster spot Jed and Carter need to figure out heading into the offseason.
Delmendo: According to stat projection websites like ZIPS and Streamers, Rivas has already met his 2022 projections in terms of fWAR. ZIPS predicted a 0.2 fWAR and Streamers predicted a 0.4 fWAR this season. In just 16 games, Rivas has already reached a 0.4 fWAR. He brings much better defense at first base than Frank Schwindel and he currently sports a 151 wRC+. That’s 51 percent better than any league average major league ballplayer. He should be playing every day.
Williams: Why not? The Cubs aren’t going anywhere this season, so play the players who offer the most intrigue to be a part of the ‘Next Great Cubs Team’ that Jed Hoyer talked about after last season’s mass exodus.
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