The Rundown: Cubs Should Turn to Anthony Rizzo for Inspiration, Saying No to Bryce Harper, Michael Brantley Free Agent Profile

A pay-per-view streaming service is televising Rocky movies for free all month and I’ve been watching nightly. A quick breakdown: Rocky and Rocky II are great movies, III and IV are adequate, V is awful, and then the reboot and Creed movies get progressively better. But every time I hear that theme song I keep thinking of Anthony Rizzo’s rallying cry when the Cubs went down three games to one in the 2016 World Series.

Others say that Rizzo danced sans said boxers. Some things you can’t un-see, even if you never saw them to begin with.

Rizzo wanted inspiration, and Rocky was definitely the right choice. Cubs president Theo Epstein is looking for some inspiration heading into 2019, so maybe he should enlist his first baseman to rally the troops again. No moment in Cubs history has ever needed an injection of hope the way the Cubs did going into Game 5 in 2016. Rizzo and his teammates most certainly answered the bell that night and made history a few nights later. Yo Adrian, we did it!


Free Agent Profile: Michael Brantley

Finally we’ve ventured into free agent territory that may match a Cubs need. They don’t need any more outfielders you say? Why all the push for Bryce Harper then? What Brantley brings to the table, and what the Cubs desperately need, is a contact hitter. Brantley hardly swings at anything outside the strike zone, and when he does get something to hit, he makes contact on 97 percent of the pitches he swings at.

Finally healthy in 2018, he hit the way he has been expected to throughout his career: a .364 OBP with 89 runs, 36 doubles, 17 home runs, and 12 stolen bases. That’s downright Dexter Fowler-ish, as long as we’re talking the 2016 version of the former Cubs outfielder. How many times have we heard someone say the Cubs really miss that type of presence in the lineup?

That OBP comes without a lot of walks, which just goes to show you how good a hitter Brantley is. But he doesn’t play center and is entering his age-32 season with a history of injuries that limited him to 11 games in 2016 and just 90 games in 2017. A long time ago, Brantley played for the Brewers, who would probably sign him again if they could move Ryan Braun. The left fielders’s expected contract of three years and $45 million per MLBTR is right in Milwaukee’s wheelhouse. A big caveat: he rejected the qualifying offer from the Indians’ front office.

There aren’t a lot of teams looking for outfielders, so perhaps Brantley needs to find a dual LF/DH role. Most teams don’t need him, but would like to have him. Re-signing with Cleveland seems unlikely and having compensation attached may limit his opportunities elsewhere. It’s difficult to fathom where Brantley eventually lands. Maybe Philadelphia, since the Phillies are seemingly in on everybody right now.

Handicapping Brantley:

  1. The Field
  2. Phillies
  3. Braves
  4. White Sox

Cubs News & Notes

  • While all eyes remain on Bryce Harper, AJ Pollock is a player who could be exactly what the Cubs need. Like Brantley, Pollock rejected a qualifying offer. If the Cubs were to sign either, they would have to give up their pick after Competitive Balance Round B in the June draft and $500,000 of their international bonus pool money.
  •  When the front office decided to pick up Cole Hamels’ $20 million option for 2019, Epstein also sent a message indicating that the starting rotation is as close to a finished product as any group on the roster.
  • Willson Contreras offered an homage of sorts to Sammy Sosa on Twitter yesterday evening:

Wednesday Stove

The Orioles are expected to name Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias the team’s new general manager.

Major League Baseball said Tuesday that it will investigate claims of racial discrimination in the Mariners organization made by former employee Lorena Martin on Monday.

Oakland Manager Bob Melvin was voted American League Manager of the Year after leading the Athletics to the playoffs despite the lowest opening-day payroll in the major leagues. Brian Snitker of the Braves won the National League award following a surprising first-place finish for Atlanta.

Rays’ ace Blake Snell was named the winner of this year’s Warren Spahn Award, given each year to baseball’s top left-handed pitcher.

The Yankees, White Sox, and Astros match up well on a potential James Paxton trade with the Mariners.

Dellin Betances would like the Yankees to sign Manny Machado.

Joe Kelly kinda-sorta doesn’t want to be a free agent. He had too much fun in Boston this year.

Extra Innings

Having been inspired by our own Jeff Burdick, I’ve decided I am passing on Bryce Harper.

According to a column by Jessie Rogers last week, he’s seeing a distinctly different tone being set at the beginning of this MLB offseason compared with the last one. Money seemingly is going to flow back into the game — and into players’ pockets — one year after one of the slowest markets since the advent of free agency.

Hello! Attendance is down significantly this year. That’s why Scott Boras immediately attacked tanking teams. They’re not likely buying his players and at his asking prices, maybe nobody is. So, I’m going to disagree with Rogers. I think baseball front offices are happy exercising fiscal responsibility, and I think they see that the drop-off from a $400-$500 million player like Bryce Harper to an arb-eligible player like Kyle Schwarber is not significant enough to warrant the expenditure.

Let’s break it down. They both hit .249 last season. Schwarber finished with a 1.5 WAR, Harper with a 1.3, though he did take a big ding defensively. Schwarber hit a home run every 19.7 plate appearances, Harper one every 20.4. Schwarber finished 17 runs above replacement level, Harper 16. The former Nationals outfielder is looking for an historic free agent contract that may pay him upwards of $35 million per year. War Bear will likely make $3.1M after his arbitration raise. There’s certainly more to it statistically, but there is enough here to give pause.

Once Theo Epstein said that his goal is to never pay a player strictly for his past performance. Why would he start now? Harper was a 10 WAR player in 2015. Minus that season, he has averaged 3.1 WAR per season. Which savvy GM is going to write that check for half a billion dollars? My money is on Andy MacPhail and all those old-school guys running the Phillies.

After last season, where whispers were heard that ownership may have been colluding to stifle contract years and dollars, do you really believe they are going to break the bank this year just for Harper, Manny Machado, and about a dozen decent players? There are probably better options available in trade. Young, controllable players are the new MLB currency, and you can’t use those assets to buy free agents. God, I sound like Brian Kenny.

Wednesday Walk Up Song

Eye of the Tiger by Survivor. Maybe Rizzo needs to turn to Rocky IV for inspiration. My Corgi turned into a wolf after I played this.

Ed. note: As Mike mentions in the comments, this epic training anthem actually came from Rocky Balboa’s tilt with Clubber Lang in Rocky III. The fourth installment, which I believe to be one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces this side of Citizen Kane, prominently features No Easy Way Out and Hearts on Fire.

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