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Happy Monday and happy last week of August, folks.
The Cubs are headed up north to take on the Blue Jays, and they’re leaving a couple of starters behind. Later in the week, they’ll head to St. Louis with a couple of extra faces when rosters expand, and I’m sure there will be plenty of speculation over the next few days as to who might take up those spots.
It should be an eventful week with at least a couple of players making their MLB debuts, plus it’ll be the last time Cubs fans have to see Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina playing in Cardinals jerseys on their TV screens. But first, we have to talk about what’s happening in Toronto.
So let’s get into it. Here’s the first international edition of the Monday morning Cubs thoughts.
The Cubs left for Toronto last night. Justin Steele and Adrian Sampson didn’t leave with them.
Because of Canada’s laws on visitors not vaccinated against COVID-19 entering the country, neither Steele nor Sampson is allowed into the country. Instead, manager David Ross said, the two will head back to Chicago for the next few days and throw bullpens, and they’ll rejoin the team to head to St. Louis this weekend.
I’m not here to go on some rant about getting or not getting the vaccine. As I’ve stated in previous Monday thoughts posts, this is not a place where I want to get political. I won’t be giving those kinds of opinion on here. So instead, here are Steele and Sampson on their reasoning for not getting the vaccine.
Steele: “Just for me, it was just a personal decision, as I believe it is for everybody. I talked with my friends and family, and the final decision was I just felt like I didn’t need to get it. So that’s kind of what we went with.”
Sampson: “It just was like a personal decision the whole time, just kind of waiting to see as more info came out. And then the season comes along, and it’s just like the last thing you kind of want to think of. But it’s just like a personal decision for me. I think the timing of it worked out, just because I’m pitching today. If I was lined up to pitch in Toronto, it would’ve been worse for the guys. Someone’s got to bear the load a little bit. I think people should be [able to] choose what you want to do and that kind of thing, and hopefully, just get some appreciation from one another and not looking down on someone just because of the decisions they made.”
What I will say is that this seems like a big improvement from if the Cubs had gone to Toronto this time last season. Remember, they were one of six teams who didn’t meet last season’s 85 percent vaccination threshold to loosen protocols around the team. Even just last week, Jed Hoyer said the Cubs would be missing 3-4 players on the international trip. The overhaul of the roster going into this season made it tough to know how many more (or less) players that joined the club were vaccinated and would be able to make the trip. Had it been last August, maybe the Cubs would’ve been closer to the 10 Royals who couldn’t make the trip earlier this year.
Like Ross said Sunday, you’d rather have it be none. But at least the number of players the Cubs had to leave behind wasn’t any higher.
Another thing I will say? The Cubs are playing chess, not checkers.
Prior to Sunday’s game, we were told Sampson, who was pitching that day and thus wasn’t in line to pitch in Toronto, couldn’t be replaced on the active roster. Only Steele, who could’ve been in line to pitch that Wednesday series finale had low back tightness ended his start early on Friday, could be replaced as he and Sampson went on the restricted list. Which means the Cubs were going to be down an arm as they went to Canada.
That is, until Sampson was taken out from the game an out into the fourth inning. Ross said he’d noted a pocket of four straight lefties coming up, so he went with lefty Sean Newcomb, who immediately gave up three singles and a home run to put the Cubs down for good. I guess without context, that makes sense (besides the fact that Sampson was only 61 pitches into his start). But here’s the kicker: because Sampson didn’t pitch four consecutive innings in this start the Cubs, by rule, will be able to add a second pitcher to replace Sampson on the roster.
Now, they’ll never admit that’s what happened, and maybe it actually isn’t. But to me, that’s a big-brain move to try to take make the best out of a situation that comes out of a pitcher making a personal decision.
With Sampson and Steele needing their spots on the roster filled for the three-game series, it looks like a couple of new faces will be getting the call to the big leagues.
After the game, both Brendon Little and Jeremiah Estrada were sitting in the Cubs’ clubhouse. No roster moves were made as of this writing, but it appears those will be the two who make the trip. Both are intriguing prospects.
Little was the Cubs’ first-round pick in the 2017 draft. Opponents are batting .233 against him, and despite a 4.15 ERA, he holds a 9.46 strikeouts-per-nine rate and a 62.6 percent ground ball rate. He may not be a top 30 prospect, but he’s certainly someone who could use a look at the major league level.
Estrada, however, is the one people probably already know. A few weeks back, vice president of player development Jared Banner gave me Estrada’s name as someone to keep an eye on. At that point, Estrada had just gotten moved up to Triple-A Iowa after flying through stints with High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee. And since then, Estrada has pitched six times for Iowa, walking just one batter, allowing no runs and striking out 12. On the year, Estrada has a 40.4 percent strikeout rate, a 10.4 percent walk rate and a 1.30 ERA over 48 1/3 innings.
Both are Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason, neither are currently on the 40-man roster and the Cubs won’t have to risk losing either of them to send them back to the minors, so this is the perfect opportunity for the Cubs to get a look at these two. In my gut, I’d have to say Estrada is a lock to get protected this offseason, and he may even stay up when rosters expand to 28 later this week. For Little, this is an opportunity to show the Cubs there’s a reason to make sure he’s still in the system next year. I’m really intrigued to see what these two are able to do in Toronto, and if they’re here longer than one series, what they can do at the big-league level.
I talked to pitching coach Tommy Hottovy this week about some rehabbing pitchers, and one of the things we talked about was how they plan to manage recoveries and workloads for pitchers dealing with different ailments.
Kyle Hendricks is done for the year and is pushing forward with his rehab in hopes that he’ll be ready to go next year. Steele and Keegan Thompson are both dealing with low back tightness (Thompson is still on the 15-day IL because of it), and the Cubs will be very cautious with how their workloads down the stretch (more on that to come). But for Wade Miley, well, they’re taking a different approach.
Miley said it himself when he asked what this season has been like for him following his 28-pitch bullpen in Milwaukee over the weekend: “Personally, it’s been pretty shitty.” He’s pitched only four times for the Cubs this year as he’s battled multiple injuries. His still on the IL because he can’t seem to recover well enough after throwing. He knows that isn’t where he wants to be, and with so little time left in the season, there’s certainly reason to think he could just shut it down and get ready for ’23 as well.
Except he doesn’t see it that way.
“I ain’t got no choice. I can’t shut it down,” Miley said. “If I want to keep playing baseball after this year, I need to prove to people that I’m not broke. I don’t feel like I’m broke by any means. Everything structurally looks good. I just need to clean a few things up.”
Hottovy was sort of in the same boat as far as what they want to do with Miley moving forward.
“He wants to prove that he’s feeling good and healthy and can finish the season strong,” Hottovy said. “I think that that means a lot, not only for him or for the organization, but what he wants to do next year as well. So it’s not something we absolutely want to rush, but we also want to give him the freedom to know that if he feels good, we want to get him back and see what he can do.”
I don’t think that definitely means Miley isn’t in the Cubs plans for next year, but it also feels like things are leaning toward no. The Cubs have a lot of starters who could use a spot in the rotation next year, and as great as Miley is in the clubhouse, I don’t know that I see a return to the club in his future. But that’s also why I’d say it’s a good thing the Cubs are still trying to get him some starts at the end of the year. When you’ve got a guy who’s brought such a positive presence despite not being able to pitch for most of the year, you should try to reward that.
Even if Miley isn’t pitching for the Cubs next year, maybe there’s someone out there who could use him. And if it takes a few healthy starts at the end of a year in which the Cubs aren’t competing anyway to help him land another job, I think that’s a respectable thing to do. No, they shouldn’t rush him back and risk another injury just to say you got him pitching again. But if he’s good to go with a few turns left in the rotation, it would only make sense to let him ride.
In case you missed them, here are some Cubs articles from the past week:
- Cubs need to be cautious with Justin Steele moving forward
- What’s next for the Cubs’ top two 2022 draft picks?
- Cubs have time to look at a load of arms the rest of the season
- With his ’22 over, ’23 becomes even more critical for Kyle Hendricks
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