The Rundown: Tough to Blame Former Core for Current Futility, Wisdom Gaining in ROY Race, Orioles Nearing Historic Losing Streak, Godspeed Charlie Watts

“You can put me out on the street. Put me out with no shoes on my feet. But put me out, put me out, put me out of misery.” – The Rolling Stones, Beast of Burden

Instant Replay

The Cubs and Rockies were rained out, so they’ll play two seven-inning games today whether you like it or not and weather permitting, of course. We’ve had one of the more violent storm seasons this summer, and I lost power yesterday for the third time in five days. We live in strange times.

Even stranger is the narrative that Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez,  and Kyle Schwarber are responsible for where the Cubs are now. I’ve done my best to silence myself on social media whenever the topic is raised — and it’s raised quite often — but it may be time for everybody to step back a little and think about what actually happened. Let’s look at the big four, first:

  • Bryant – He’s been better than league average every year since 2016 except last season, and though he didn’t get a single MVP vote, 2019 may have been his best. Injuries cost him counting stats and fans really ripped into the third baseman every time he got hurt, but he’s been worth 28.5 WAR in 6+ seasons and was Chicago’s MVP this season up until the trade deadline.
  • Rizzo – From 2014-19 he was one of the most consistent players in baseball. You could count on Big Tony to get you 25-30 home runs, 100 or more RBI, and 30+ doubles every season. Age and injuries have limited him the last two seasons, but he’s had a bit of a power resurgence since being traded to the Yankees. He’s been worth 36.6 WAR in 10+ seasons.
  • Báez – It would be tough to argue that El Mago wasn’t the best player in the National League in 2018, but a late-season slump and a torrid September by Christian Yelich gave the Milwaukee right fielder the league MVP. Nobody will deny the high strikeout and low walk rates, but when Báez is on, he’s the most exciting player in baseball. Though intangibles aren’t quantifiable, he is a fiery leader who finds ways to beat down his opponents even when he’s slumping, whether it’s a big hit, a defensive gem, or by wreaking havoc on the bases.
  • Schwarber – The hulking outfielder is the most inconsistent of the group, but when he manages his fitness and is matched up properly against opposing pitchers he just mashes. Schwarber was also at his best in 2019 and was well on his way to an even better year this season until injuries derailed him.

Where have the Cubs failed? When the front office has complemented their big four with contact hitters, the Cubs have been one of the better teams in baseball. The problem is that other than signing Ben Zobrist, the front office has tried to nickel and dime its way to finding good, professional at-bats to supplement their lineups.

In 2018, they traded for Daniel Murphy, who was basically at the end of his career. In 2019 they acquired Nick Castellanos, a late bloomer who brought big energy to the Cubs’ lineup. As for role players, they hurt themselves with acquisitions like Daniel Descalso, Carlos González, and Tony Kemp. It didn’t help that Albert Almora Jr. got the bulk of starts in centerfield, either.

The Cubs’ impact acquisitions last year were Steven Souza Jr., Jason Kipnis, and Josh Phegley, so no recap is necessary. This year, Hoyer struck gold with Matt Duffy and Rafael Ortega, but once Duffy and Nico Hoerner got hurt and Jason Heyward got better, the team slumped badly and fell from a tie for first to 22.5 games behind the Brewers in about 40 days.

Through the post-championship years, the front office also failed to properly address their rotation, missing badly on Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow while overvaluing José Quintana. On top of all that, they allowed Joe Maddon to basically phone it in during his last two seasons with the club.

It’s probably true that the Cubs needed to move on from their big four, as age and regression are more likely to occur than any of those players earning the contracts they’ll receive this winter. The same could be said of any free agents, though, as most don’t get that type of freedom until they are approaching their age-30 seasons. The Heyward contract has certainly been an albatross, but the Cubs had the money to build a better roster infrastructure and spent poorly.

After mostly striking out in free agency and never providing the help that the core truly needed in trades, the checkbook was closed. Bryant, Rizzo, Báez, and Schwarber are hardly to blame for the team’s current mess and should not be held accountable because the Cubs could easily have built around them if they truly wanted to.

Hoyer will probably spend as much, if not more, in free agency this winter than it would have cost to retain his stars. Time will tell if that is the right thing to do.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Can you feel me, Cubs fans?

Climbing the Ladder (Stairway to Heaven Edition)

No game yesterday, but how about a tribute to Charlie Watts? The Rolling Stones’ drummer, and one of the most underrated in the history of modern music, passed away yesterday at the age of 80. Here are five of his best songs with the band.

  1. Get Off My Cloud (1965)
  2. Paint it Black (1966)
  3. Honky Tonk Women (1969)
  4. Sympathy for the Devil (1968)
  5. Miss You (1978)

As for non-Stones stuff, you can’t go wrong with Take the “A” Train, Night Train, and If it Ain’t Got That Swing.

How About That!

Brewers outfielder Avisaíl García is approaching a milestone that would give him some say over whether he remains with Milwaukee beyond this season. He is 67 at-bats away from triggering an option that will pay him $12 million next season if he decides to exercise it.

Diamondbacks’ starter Caleb Smith has been suspended for 10 games for using illegal substances while pitching.

Yadier Molina has agreed to a one-year contract worth $10 million to remain with the Cardinals in 2022. The catcher indicated he will retire after next season.

A labor war is looming between the league owners and the players association, as a number of topics will need to be addressed to prevent a work stoppage. Gabe Lacques of USA Today proposes some radical ideas to help both sides, including the elimination of the luxury tax.

With 19 straight losses, the Orioles are on the brink of making major league history. They’re just three losses away from breaking the record of 21, held by the 1988 Baltimore squad. The O’s play the Angels tonight and tomorrow afternoon before starting a weekend set with the Rays.

Despite the futility, Maddon says Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde is the right man for the job.

Savannah Bananas head coach Tyler Gillium was named the Plain Coast League’s Coach of the Year after guiding his team to the CPL Petitt Cup Championship. I guess you could say Gillium is now the Top Banana. Don’t hate.

Tuesday’s Three Stars

  1. Nathaniel Lowe – The Rangers first baseman went 5-for-5 with three RBI last night and belted his 13th home run of the season.
  2. Brandon Belt – San Francisco’s first baseman paid tribute to his late grandmother with two taters and three RBI on a 4-for-5 night as the Giants continued rolling, beating the Mets 8-0, to improve to 81-44 on the season.
  3. Hunter Renfroe – The slugging outfielder led the Red Sox to an 11-9 win over the Twins with two home runs and five RBI.

Extra Innings

O Death, where is thy sting?

They Said It

  • “[Charlie Watts] is unique, he’s irreplaceable. There’s only one guy with that sound. You can try and figure out on paper, what made that sound. You could say his kick drum was leading the charge but his backbeat snare was just a little hair behind the beat, and that combination… You can describe that, but there’s only one guy who can do it.” – Stewart Copeland
  • “Everybody thinks Mick & Keith are the Rolling Stones. If Charlie wasn’t doing what he’s doing on drums, that wouldn’t be true at all. You’d find out Charlie Watts IS the Stones.” – Keith Richards

Wednesday Walk-Up Song

Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones – Godspeed, Charlie Watts

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