Notes: This Cub emerging as legit DH option

Epstein agrees with KB, Báez that now is not the time to talk contracts

July 11th, 2020

CHICAGO -- When Major League Baseball announced that the designated hitter was coming to the National League this season, the quick assumption for Cubs fans was that slugger Kyle Schwarber would have a home in that role. New manager David Ross sees another intriguing possibility.

Since the early days of the original Spring Training, Ross has raved about catcher 's abilities in the batter's box. While Schwarber and others will surely cycle through the DH slot, the Cubs' manager also likes the idea of having both Caratini and catcher Willson Contreras in the lineup at the same time. That might also open the door for Josh Phegley to make the Opening Day roster as a third catcher.

"I've told you guys that multiple times. I like Vic's bat," Ross said on Friday. "Josh is a nice insurance on the bench, if Vic does play or Willy DHs or Vic DHs. I've said it numerous times, I like Vic's bat, and he's in the DH mix. I know everybody wants to stick Schwarb in the DH spot, but like I've said, we'll move some things around."

Last season, the switch-hitting Caratini turned in a .266/.348/.447 slash line with 11 homers and 34 RBIs in 95 games for the Cubs. He posted a 10.4 percent walk rate to go with a 21.1 percent strikeout rate, while posting a 108 weighted runs created plus overall (8 percent above MLB average as a hitter). He also had relatively even splits (110 wRC+ against lefties and 107 wRC+ against righties).

Contreras, who has started behind the plate for the NL All-Star team in each of the past two years, hit .272/.355/.533 with 24 homers and 64 RBIs over 105 games in 2019. He had a 9.3 percent walk rate, a 24.9 percent strikeout rate and a 127 wRC+ (161 wRC+ against lefties and 118 wRC+ against righties).

Behind the plate, Contreras boasts the better arm, but Caratini gets higher marks in framing (1.6 framing runs in 2019, compared to minus 8.9 framing runs for Contreras). Given their defensive profiles, Ross could go in either direction for slotting one catcher at DH and putting the other behind the dish. Caratini, for example, tends to catch Yu Darvish, while Contreras is usually paired with Jon Lester.

What is clear is that Ross would like to see Caratini at the plate more than a traditional backup catcher.

"Every time I see Vic get in the box, it's the same swing, it's the same at-bat," Ross said. "You can really rely on a quality AB when he gets in the box. So that's great to have as a manager. As far as the DH is concerned, we have a ton of options."

Theo: Talking contracts 'inappropriate' right now
In recent Zoom conversations with Chicago reporters, both and expressed that it did not feel appropriate to discuss contract extension talks, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Bryant, in particular, emphasized his desire to remain with the Cubs, even hinting that he may be even more open to an extension now as the past few months have brought on a new perspective.

On Friday, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein agreed, however, that now is not the time to consider contract situations. His focus is centered on the season at hand and keeping everyone around the team safe and healthy.

"It's a fool's errand, I think, to try to predict what next year would look like or the next five years," Epstein said. "That's just the reality of the world we're in. But look, honestly, I appreciate Kris' comments. I know he loves being here, and he knows that we love having him as part of the organization. But ... we're at such a critical juncture that, as we sit here today on July 10, 2020, the currency of the game truly is health and safety.

"And soon, we'll incorporate wins and losses as a secondary consideration and secondary form of currency. But, dollars and cents, to delve too deeply into that and discuss contractual situations, it gets to a point where it's just, if you talk too much about it, it becomes inappropriate given the realities of everything going on in the world and where our focus truly is right now."

Schwarber homers, Chatwood and Mills keep building
Starters and , who are leading candidates for the Nos. 4-5 spots in the Cubs' rotation, continued to build up their innings in an intrasquad game on Friday night at Wrigley Field.

Chatwood logged 4 1/3 innings, in which he unofficially allowed five runs on five hits, ending with four strikeouts and one walk. Chatwood surrendered a solo homer to Schwarber in the fourth and had his outing ended with a two-run double by Schwarber in the fifth. Mills gave up two runs on four hits in three-plus frames, finishing with three strikeouts, no walks and a solo homer allowed to Josh Phegley.

Worth noting
• Epstein noted that two unidentified members of the coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the intake process, and one unidentified front-office member tested positive during the intake screening. They are "doing well" but they have not been cleared to join the team yet. To date, no Chicago players have tested positive.

"The fact that all our players have tested negative so far is a great starting point for us," Epstein said. "We're certainly proud of them. That said, we can't allow the good results thus far to create the illusion for us that we're in control, because we're not. The virus is the only thing in control right now. We're taking every safeguard that we possibly can, and I'm proud of the way the players have been responding. But we can't let our guard down."

• The Cubs' workout on Friday was pushed back to later in the day due to a slight delay on getting the results of Tuesday's COVID-19 testing. But Ross said he has been pleased with how the process has been improving in recent days.

"Things are already moving smoother, and I would believe that's going to continue," Ross said.

• Not only is there more game-to-game urgency in a 60-game season, but the 2020 rules include placing an automatic runner at second base in extra innings. That could make fleet-footed outfielder (eight steals in 17 Cactus League games) an even more intriguing roster possibility for the Cubs.

"Yeah, Ian brings that element of speed that we don't have much of on the roster," Ross said. "That dynamic would be unique for us -- and with the extra-inning rule, speed is definitely a luxury in this season, and we'll weigh all those factors as we make this thing out."

• The Cubs selected power-hitting outfielder Jordan Nwogu out of the University of Michigan in the third round of the MLB Draft, but he remains unsigned. Epstein said the Cubs "still fully expect" Nwogu to sign, but that process is ongoing.