Despite the advent of Sunday alcohol sales in Indiana, I’m writing this post stone sober. I may, however, have to raise an obligatory toast to the end of that particular facet of our draconian booze laws. Next up: cold beer at gas stations.
Word reached me via telegram that Mike Canter plans to be back on the grid soon, so you’ll get your regularly-scheduled Rundown back as of Monday. That’s perfect for me, since I’m headed to Lost Wages for a couple days, after which I’ll become an honorary Phoenician for a the rest of the week.
The plan for now is to have a booth at Sloan Park on Thursday and Saturday for both of my fans to get pictures and buy Cubs Insider merch that I will autograph for a nominal fee. I will also be allowing interested parties to buy me beer before, during, and after the games. Please contact my personal assistant to schedule a time and ensure you get a chance to be in my presence.
And now, on with the show.
Willson Contreras living and playing in fear for his brother
There are a lot of things I take for granted, a fact that was cast in stark relief when I read Gordon Wittenmyer’s column about Willson Contreras’s brother Willmer. The elder Contreras is still living in Venezuela, where there is a very real possibility that he could end up the victim of a kidnap-for-ransom plot.
I can’t even imagine living with that as a constant threat, one that is so much a part of reality that you’re willing and able to talk openly about it. That’s maybe not the best way to put it, but we all have these fears with varying degrees of irrationality. Those things aren’t often discussed because they’re personal and may not have much merit.
But the issue of kidnapping is all too real for Venezuelan athletes with friends and family back home. I only hope Contreras can find a way to get his brother out of there, since it doesn’t appear as though the situation will get any less tenuous in the near future.
As we continue through the early slog of spring training, it’s looking more and more like Ian Happ is the clear frontrunner for the leadoff spot. Jason Heyward, who wasn’t among the initial group of four possibilities, will get his second start there Sunday afternoon and could also be in the mix.
Regardless of how exactly it all shakes out, it’s unlikely that any one player will get a lion’s share of the at-bats in the No. 1 spot. But one of either Happ or Heyward should be in the lineup nearly every day, thus giving Joe Maddon a greater measure of consistency.
Albert Almora Jr. has been hitting in the bottom half in his last two starts, and I think that role suits him a little better at this point. He can certainly grow as a hitter, it’s just that his skillset isn’t that of a leadoff man. Ben Zobrist is another who could spend time at the top when he’s in the lineup, though we haven’t seen him in action this spring.
On that last note, the 37-year-old utilityman is expected to see his first action Tuesday against the Dodgers. That’s also when Yu Darvish will make his first start for the Cubs after a minor illness saw him scratched from his earlier scheduled outing. Brandon Morrow is also set to pitch for the first time as a Cub in that same game.
So of course that it’s all going down the day before I get to town. It also means that I won’t get to see Darvish pitch at all, since his subsequent start should come as I’m 36,000 feet over the Midwest.
I had known that the Cubs opened on the road, but hadn’t really given much thought to exactly how long they’d be away from Wrigley to open the season. As the legendary Pat Hughes told me from the broadcast booth Saturday afternoon, this 10-game road stretch is the most the Cubs will play at the start of a season since 1899. That’s well before Wrigley Field was even a thing. Like, at all.
When it comes to things that aren’t yet in existence, many of the top free agent pitchers are still without teams. Hell, most of them don’t even have real offers out there.
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that the Cardinals have more interest in a comp pick than they do in bringing back Lance Lynn, so that’s telling. The Phillies aren’t willing to go more than three years on anyone, and the Brewers don’t seem willing to spend any of the massive CBT surplus they’re sitting on.
Then there’s this note from Tom Haudricourt, which incited a few interesting comments and conversations.
Free agent pitchers Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb still looking for homes but baseball people tell me they'll need to sign before end of this week to be ready for opening of season, no matter what they're doing on their own. Opening day three weeks from Thursday.
— Tom (@Haudricourt) March 4, 2018
Sunday walk-up music
By the Time I Get to Arizona, Public Enemy