CHICAGO -- Trade bait, the leadoff man and the 2018 schedule are among the topics in this week's Cubs Inbox. Happy New Year, Cubs fans.I understand the Cubs may need to part with one or more position players for pitching, but do you think it's worth losing Addison Russell or
CHICAGO -- Trade bait, the leadoff man and the 2018 schedule are among the topics in this week's Cubs Inbox. Happy New Year, Cubs fans.
I understand the Cubs may need to part with one or more position players for pitching, but do you think it's worth losing Addison Russell or Javier Baez? Yes, Javy needs better plate discipline, but their defense and energy are elite.
-- Judson S., Springfield, Ill.
It all depends on what they get in return. If you look at what the Cubs have done so far this offseason, they've been able to add pitchers without losing any of their young talent. That's why president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer are talking to free agents (Yu Darvish, for example) to avoid having to part with Russell or Baez.
By the way, one American League executive told me he thought the Cubs had fared the best of any team this offseason pitching-wise with the additions of free agents Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow.
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There has been a lot of talk about the Cubs' leadoff man. Willson Contreras was working some of the best at-bats in the lineup and getting on base regularly [plus he's an above-average baserunner]. What are the chances that [manager Joe Maddon's] nerds tell him to start his lineup with Contreras-[Anthony] Rizzo-[Kris] Bryant?
-- Phil B., Champaign, Ill.
Contreras did post a .356 on-base percentage last season (Bryant led the team at .409). The reason I'd want to keep Contreras behind Bryant and Rizzo -- and what the Cubs' stat geeks will point out -- is that the catcher led the Cubs with a .363 batting average with runners in scoring position. In 2015, Kyle Schwarber had a .355 on-base percentage. When asked at the Winter Meetings about the possibility of Schwarber leading off again, Maddon said he'd consider it, but he wanted to see the rest of the Cubs' roster before committing to anyone.
The 2018 season schedule has the Cubs starting with 10 games on the road. They started on the road in '17, as well. I don't recall the last time the Cubs opened the season at home, and starting each season with an extended road trip seems to be putting a team at a disadvantage. Does this have any bearing on how MLB makes the overall schedule?
-- Pete V., Xenia, Ohio
I don't think it's a disadvantage to start in Miami as opposed to Chicago in early April. The last time the Cubs opened at home was 2015 against the Cardinals, and it was 44 degrees with the wind blowing in from center field. They reached the National League Championship Series that season. The Cubs also opened at Wrigley Field in '12, when it was 51 degrees with an 18-mph wind blowing in from the east, and again in '11, when it was 41 degrees.
The Cubs may be on the road to begin the season not only because of the weather, but also because of the renovation work underway at Wrigley Field. A few extra days gives the crews a little cushion.
• Cubs' 2018 schedule
Who have the Cubs targeted for backup catcher? Would Rene Rivera or Alex Avila be acceptable, or do they need to go outside the organization?
-- Dale P., Albuquerque, N.M.
Rivera and Avila are more than acceptable, but they're also free agents, and unfortunately for them, backup catchers are usually among the last to find new homes in the offseason. Victor Caratini impressed the Cubs in his brief time with the team, and he may fill that backup role. The only question would be whether not playing on a regular basis would hinder Caratini's development.
Among the top 30 prospects in the Cubs' organization, who has the most promise of coming up next year to the Majors?
-- Matt M., Peoria, Ill.
A few of the top 30 Cubs prospects already have had some big league time. Caratini is ranked No. 6 on MLBPipeline.com's list, and as stated above, he could be the backup catcher in 2018. Pitchers Jen-Ho Tseng (No. 13), Dillon Maples (No. 14) and Alec Mills (No. 20) also could get more innings. Keep an eye on outfielder Mark Zagunis (No. 8), who compiled a .404 on-base percentage in 97 games at Triple-A Iowa.
Right-hander Duane Underwood, 23, could get the call to the big leagues in 2018. The Cubs' No. 17 prospect, who pitched at Double-A Tennessee last season, just needs to show more consistency.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.