Chicago Cubs: Interview with David Kaplan of NBC Sports/ESPN 1000

David Kaplan of NBC Sports Chicago and ESPN 1000 joins to give some thoughts and insight on how he sees the 2020 Chicago Cubs.

The Chicago Cubs are one of the more interesting teams in Major League Baseball as far as projecting their chances in 2020. They are a team that can win the NL Central if all goes well or come in third place if all goes wrong. Nobody really knows exactly how these next few seasons are going to pan out for them but there are reasons to believe it will be okay.

One man who might know a thing or two about that is NBC Sports/ESPN 1000’s, David Kaplan. He does a great job covering all five of the major sports teams in the city of Chicago but he makes it very clear that the Cubs are his number one favorite. David was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time to talk about these Cubs. I asked David some questions about them to see what he thought about certain players’ contracts, their performances on the field, and the pitching rotation. This is what he had to say:

Q: So let’s start with the new guy, David Ross. How do you think he is going to positively impact the Cubs’ clubhouse this year?

Well, I look at a guy like David Ross as a guy who comes in and is a totally different type of leader than Joe Maddon, but he is also an unproven commodity as a Major League manager, because Joe Maddon was a guy who had taken a team to the World Series when he showed up in Chicago, the guy who had consistenly been in the playoffs when he arrived in Chicago, David has never done anything. He has never made one decision in game as a Major League manager so again, he’s intense, he’s driven, he’s a wonderful person and I think he’ll be a good manager but it is going to take time. It’s not a plug and play situation.

Q: So he’s (David Ross) worked with these guys in the past, one of them being Kris Bryant who just lost his arbitration case a couple of weeks ago. How do you see him panning out as far as his contract situation, status with the Cubs, and eventually his production on the field once baseball comes back?

Look, Kris Bryant is a superstar, he’s a great baseball player. He’s an even better person. They don’t make them better as a guy, than Kris Bryant. That said, I just don’t believe that the Chicago Cubs are willing to give him an eight year contract at 35 million dollars a year, which is what the top guys at his position get. That means you’re talking about 250 million or more dollars, a full no trade clause, and every dollar guaranteed, until age roughly 35 or 36. I don’t believe Theo Epstein’s philisophical plan involves Kris Bryant or anybody getting a deal of that magnitude that takes you to to that age, and hamstrings the team from ever being able to trade said player so that’s where I’m at on it. Kris is a great player, any organization would want him, I’m not sure the Chicago Cubs philosophically are going to pay him in line with what he and Scott Boras think he deserves.

Q: So the other superstar on the team, Javier Baez. This is a guy who came within an arms reach of an MVP. What do you see his contract looking like and what do you see him bringing to the Cubs once baseball is back.

I think they love Javy. I think they would love to hang on to Javy. I think they are going to pay Javy commensurate with what the top shortstops in the game are going to get. Again, I don’t believe that Theo Epstein wants to hamstring himself with full no trade clauses so if Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, wanna sign eight year deals and have absolutely everything in their favor – opt outs, no trades, I’m not sure if Theo is going to co-sign that. He might roll the dice on one guy, and I think if he was rolling the dice on one particular guy, it would be Javy Baez. But again, another great player. You got him for two more years of team control, if we even play this year. You certainly have him for another after that and I think you’re going to see players – and again we couldn’t have predicted Corona was gonna do to our world what it has- but if you’re a player and you see whats going on, and you know that the financial reverberations of what has happened are going to continue for the forseeable future. I mean, there has been billions of dollars lost and will continue to be lost while we’re not playing. I really believe that you are going to see guys more willing to take long term deals for less money that might not have all the bells and whistles that they want because they want some security for their families going forward.

Q: You have Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana as the big four in the rotation. Nobody has been announced to have won that fifth spot in the rotation yet, but how are you with that as the base of the rotation?

Look, Jon Lester has to prove that he can be the Jon Lester that we know and love. He’s 36 years old, he doesn’t have the same stuff that he used to have at 28-31. He is also one of the rock solid leaders, not only in that locker room but in the game. I love Kyle Hendricks. I think Yu Darvish has great stuff, he is never really put together a full season over the last five years. A full season, he has had half seasons where that made you think he looked really good. He has also had injuries, Tommy John, he had a surgery during his first year in Chicago, so the stuff is there but he has to prove he can stay healthy long term. I’m not a Jose Quintana fan but I never was, nice guy but not a very good pitcher in my books, very pedestrian and they overpaid for him because of his contract. Then, I think Tyler Chatwood had won that spot, I really do. I thought he was going to get that spot, he’s got great stuff and it’s the last year of hs contract. They’re gonna have some financial flexibility after this season because you’re gonna see Lester off the books, your’re gonna see Chatwood off the books, there is a handful of guys on a one year deal in the bullpen, you’re gonna have well north of 40 million dollars off the books. They should have an opportunity to FINALLY be able to go out and spend in the offseason.

Q: Is there anybody in the offseason, based on everything you just said, that you would like to see the Cubs go after?

Well, it’s got to be starting pitching. They have to go out and add more starting pitching. It is essential for them to be successful. They’ve got to start doing a better job developing pitching. That is an understatement because they’ve developed zero, zero pitching since Theo arrived in Chicago in 2012. That’s probably the most dissapointing about this whole deal for me. I love Theo Epstein, I’m a big Theo Epstein guy. Jed Hoyer, love that guy and they brought us the World Series. That all said, they’ve done a horrific job developing pitching. Horrific. That has to get fixed and I mean fixed quickly. We’ll see where all of this heads. They’re going to have to spend their money on pitching, has to be.

Q: So pitching development hasn’t gone the way it should but is it fair to say that developing everyday position players has worked up since Theo and Jed showed up?

I would beg to differ with you in terms of the development side. Look, they made a great trade for Anthony Rizzo. That will go down as one of the best trades in the history of the franchise but that wasn’t a draft and develop. Kris Bryant went second overall, if you miss on the second overall pick, shame on you. Javy Baez was drafted and developed by Jim Hendry, Willson Contreras was signed and developed by Jim Hendry, they don’t really have a second baseman that they drafted and developed unless Nico Hoerner makes it this year and I think he has a chance to. Go to the outfield, Kyle Schwarber has been a good player but he hasn’t been a star. He was the fourth pick overall, has his best yet to come? Maybe. In the centerfield spot, Albert Almora Jr 6th overall, that’s been a back pick. You’re right fielder, they overpaid grossly for a guy that they would never do that deal again in Jason Heyward. Victor Caratini was not drafted and developed, he was acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Braves. While there is this perception that they have developed position players, but when you do a deeper dive you can see that they’ve been great traders, not great developers.

Q: You brought up Nico Hoerner. They have to hit on this guy right?

Yeah, absolutely. He was a first round draft pick, now he was 26th overall which means there is a bigger shot that he doesn’t make it than a guy drafted 3rd overall at the same position, like Nick Madrigal of the Chicago White Sox. We’ll see how Nick Madrigal pans out on the south side, I like what I’ve seen from Nico Hoerner. I’ve gotten to know him a little bit from interviewing him and I’ve found him incredibly awesome to deal with. Really quality dude, so let’s see how this all shakes out, let’s see what Nico Hoerner becomes but they have to do a good job in drafting and developing because they’re overpaying to get guys to fill holes that they missed on.

Q: Do you feel they did some of that overpaying because they felt that they could have won multiple titles with this core?

Yeah, they felt like after they won that they can do this again. The problem is that they used all of their assets trading for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson, that didn’t work out. They gave up assets for Jose Quintana, that certainly didn’t work out, they only have him for one more year. The savings you got on a cost controlled Jose Quintana, you spent on Brandon Morrow, Tyler Chatwood, and Yu Darvish. So far to this moment, none of that has worked out. Then they were offered at the trade deadline in 2017, he begged to be a Cub,  Justin Verlander. We saw how he pitched in Houston and they said no thank you. Again, they have done amazing things. I love them, I would hire them to run my front office. They have also made thier share of mistakes.

Q: With all of that put together, the Cincinnati Reds got better, the Milwaukee Brewers took a step back, and the St. Louis Cardinals are always there. Where do you see the Cubs stacked against the rest of the division?

They can win this division. There is no question about it. They can absolutely win this division. We don’t know what the season will look like if we have one. It’s not going to be 162 games so they have to get off to a quick start just like everybody else and they’ve got to keep thier older players healthy. Rizzo can’t be on the DL with a back injury. Jon Lester can’t go down. Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish can’t go down. The team is starting to get more veteran like, it’s not this young vibrant group from 2016. Let’s see how this all shakes out but if they stay healthy, there is no reason they can’t win the division.

It sounds like Kaplan is confident that the Cubs have the ability to do some damage in the National League if baseball is played in 2020. They certainly have a good enough starting lineup to score some runs. The most important variable is going to be pitching. The starters need to stay healthy and be at their best while the bullpen proves some people wrong and hold leads for them.

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David Kaplan sure knows a lot about his Cubs and is as plugged in as any local Chicago media personality. He was so kind with his time and gave me every answer as thoughtful and candid as I could have asked for. Once again, I thank David from the bottom of my heart for the interview. Make sure you check him out on NBC Sports Chicago and listen to his radio show on ESPN 1000.

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