Albert Almora Jr., pitching and the "W" flag are among the topics in this week's Cubs Inbox.
What moves do you see the Cubs making in the outfield this offseason? Do you think Almora will have a bigger role next season?
-- Edward G., Sunrise, Fla.
Giving Almora more playing time might be the biggest move the Cubs make regarding the outfield. Almora has proven to be dangerous against left-handed pitching, batting .342 this season. He has to show that he can produce consistently against right-handers. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein pointed out that Almora spent time in the batting cages with a slider machine to train his eyes to recognize not so much how to hit it, but what lanes to expect the slider to come out of, especially with runners on or in two-strike counts.
"He put himself in position to get favorable counts and get fastballs or get mistake pitches he can drive," Epstein said. "Man, he made a lot of strides."
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During their exit meeting, Epstein told Almora that he couldn't promise he'll be an everyday player next year.
"[I did tell him] 'You'll have more responsibility, you'll have more of a role, and we'll see how much more that is and what you can grow into,'" Epstein said. "He's excited. He's moving closer to our Spring Training facility in Arizona to ready to get to work."
With Jonathan Jay most likely leaving via free agency, there should be opportunities for more playing time for Almora.
Could we see Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ or even Javier Baez depart for a starting pitcher or a bullpen arm? If so, who could be the pitchers? Also, what is the likelihood the Cubs can resign both Wade Davis and Jacob Arrieta?
-- Chandler D., Ona, W.V.
The Cubs may have to part with one of their young players in a trade to acquire more pitching, and Epstein hinted that may be the case.
"Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club," Epstein said. "There's no deadline to do that, but I think we're entering the phase where we have to be open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and the organization better."
Epstein said there is still plenty of talent in the organization to help them acquire the pitching needed. As for who the pitchers will be, I don't know. They need at least two starters, and they have to find a closer unless Davis returns. Epstein said the Cubs would love to have both Davis and Arrieta back.
We saw a "passing of the baton" from Jonathan Lester to Kyle Hendricks, in a manner of speaking, with how the postseason rotation was set up. Do you think Kyle gets the nod as the Opening Day starter in 2018? How do you see Lester holding up on the back end of his contract?
-- Evan J., Libertyville, Ill.
The postseason rotation was set up that way because Hendricks finished so strong in the second half (2.19 ERA in 13 starts) and because Lester had been bothered by fatigue in his left shoulder. I'll let manager Joe Maddon pick who starts the season opener on March 29 against the Marlins.
As for Lester and the next three years of his contract, the only red flag to me was the high number of hits and walks this season compared to 2016. He's been durable. This year was just the third time in his career he was put on the disabled list -- and the first since '11 (strained lat muscle). The other instance was in '06, when he was diagnosed with lymphoma.
I had never noticed the "L" flag until the Cubs losts to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. What is the origin of the "L" and "W" flags?
-- Matt M., Peoria, Ill.
Philip K. Wrigley put Bill Veeck in charge of creating a better fan experience at the ballpark, and one of Veeck's ideas was to install lights and a flag at the top of the scoreboard to let homeward-bound passengers on the elevated train know whether the Cubs had won or lost that day. According to baseball historian Ed Hartig, the earliest photos of that were in 1938 and the flag was dark blue with a white "W." Anyone heading home on the CTA's Red Line can see the flags on top of Wrigley Field's scoreboard. In August '82, Ernie Banks' No. 14 was retired, and a white flag with blue pinstripes with his name and number was raised on a foul pole. Hartig said that's when the Cubs switched to the current design of a white flag with a blue "W."