Joe Maddon joined Casey Stern and Jim Bowden during the last hour of Friday’s Inside Pitch (MLB Network Radio) and the Cubs’ skipper had plenty to say about his new team and one of his former pitchers.
The convention really left an impression on Maddon and he’s looking forward to the team and fan base pulling on the same end of the rope. Maddon has watched a lot of video of his players and is impressed with the talent on the roster. And it sounds like Arismendy Alcantara is penciled in as a super-utility player.
Maddon also answered questions about James Shields and admitted that he’s had conversations with Theo Epstein about Shields.
And like everyone associated with the team, Joe Maddon is excited to get started and is looking forward to Spring Training and the upcoming season.
Joe Maddon is in Tampa and after finishing a bike ride he jumped on the radio and talked baseball with Stern and Bowden. Maddon discussed his wife’s new business, his restaurant and the Tampa Bay Rays, before the segment shifted to the Chicago Cubs.
On the additions the Cubs have made to the roster this off-season in Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Miguel Montero, Chris Denorfia, David Ross and Dexter Fowler and the team trending in the right direction that should be relevant this season.
“Agreed. It’s ever since I got there with the opening press conference and getting to meet the Ricketts family and of course getting to talk to Theo [Epstein] more and Jed [Hoyer] more, you really become enthused just by those conversations. Riz, Anthony [Rizzo] came up to our restaurant, Ava. He and I sat down one night and just had dinner and had a great conversation. Something you got to check out one of these days is Cubs fest, pretty phenomenal and exciting event. I got to meet a lot of the players there. You just mentioned all of the acquisitions. There is a lot of positive energy brewing within the entire group. Getting to Spring Training relatively soon and getting a chance to be in the dugout, be in the clubhouse with all of these people. I am excited. I think everybody is, but then it’s about us putting it together properly, getting everybody really working, pulling from the same end of the rope and believing in the same cause. The thing I really want to get done is to really have the fan base buy into and stay positive with us all year and really be a big part of our success because this fan base is spectacular.”
“I love it. I mean, actually I did love it. We’re in Chicago for the fest and I’m sitting up on front of this, in a big ole hotel ballroom and there’s probably 1500 people there, I was with the coaching staff and that was brought up. I said I’m going to back up my big Italian first baseman because why would you not want to aim high. What do you want him to say? ‘We are just going to try and compete this year and finish .500.’ I much prefer what he said. I believe what he said is true and that we can do that. I believe that we will do that. I want all of our players to believe that, so when a guy like Anthony comes out and makes that kind of comment, I don’t even think it puts any pressure on you. It really just opens your eyes a little bit to belief that we can and the belief that the players believe that you can really matters the most.”
On if Theo Epstein has asked him about James Shields and if there have been any conversations with Epstein about Shields.
“Yeah, we’ve talked. Of course we’ve talked about, from day one I’ve been talking about James [Shields]. Wouldn’t that be a nice prize or present? Shields is a tremendous competitor. You’ve heard me talk about him in the past. But, yeah, even back when we first, when Jon Lester came on board, we were talking even prior to that.”
On how surprised he is that James Shields has not signed and is still available. And has too much emphasis been put on all of the innings he’s pitched and his performance last October?
“James, if you remember a couple of years ago had a tough season with the Rays and he had really bad luck. Batted balls in play number was pretty severe against him but even when that happened, James Shields showed up every day. James Shields pitched. His stuff was really good, little bit of bad luck. Here’s a guy that’s actually put in a ton of innings and has pitched deeply into seasons and games and now he’s almost getting penalized for it for the fact that he’s done everything right. That just speaks to his work ethic, how much he cares. All of those different items speak to the fact that James has pitched that much and has not missed starts. So in a way he’s almost being penalized for being as good as he’s been. It’s almost like the mindset has shifted a bit regarding how you handle starting pitching and it’s got to be the kid’s glove kind of a situation. James is a little bit of the old school kind of a dude and in some ways the fact that he’s been so productive and so consistent is working against him.”
On Arismendy Alcantara and if he can be his Ben Zobrist with the Cubs
“Well, I thought he played really well against the Rays last summer. I didn’t know who he was and he played really well against us last summer. And then I went up, like I said for the Cubs’ fest. I spent a week and actually watched a lot of video with the minor league coordinators. This guy [Alcantara] is really impressive on film. Easy, easy kind of approach. Easy kind of a swing where the ball comes off hot. He plays a variety of positions and plays them well. Any time you get a guy that can play the middle of the infield and the middle of the outfield, that’s exciting to me. Yeah, you know he’s got Zobrist’s qualities or tendencies. In a National League situation it helps you expand your roster, ability to move around during the course of the game, the fact he hits from both sides of the plate and he can play shortstop. That really is a super-utility man so I’m really eager to get working with him.”
On the countless number of catchers he had with the Rays and how much he’s looking forward to working with the tandem of Miguel Montero and David Ross.
“It’s kind of neat. I got to really visit with [Miguel] Montero during the Cubs’ fest. He was there. David [Ross] could not make it but I’ve talked to Ross on the phone and we had a fun conversation. I’m telling you it is kind of nice to have the left-handed hitting catcher who plays often and you combine that with the right-handed catcher with all of this experience and you want to spot him in the right moments against left-handed pitchers and of course try to get him in there with [Jon] Lester as often as possible. There is so many fun components with these different things that we have to think about, consider, talk to our people about that have seen them both in the past. But I’m really excited about it. That’s not to denigrate anybody that’s ever played for the Rays. It’s just Montero, very offensive catcher that has good receiving skills and David Ross, among the best at receiving, throwing and calling a game.”
On using different lineups, mixing and matching to get the best results and if he thinks he will able to use more of a set lineup with the Cubs over the next three to four years if players like Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Addison Russell reach their projections.
“I’ve always been eager to have that particular lineup. And normally you’re talking about some either young players that have grown up and they really are every day kind of players that can handle both right- and left-handed pitching or a lot of the teams you’ve seen, whether it’s the Yankees or the Red Sox through free agent acquisition that have been able to buy that kind of a player. It is an everyday player that can play against both sides. You start growing this and you start looking at it, if there is an absent need for a matchup or a platoon in a different position we will do that. But when you get young players like you’re talking about, didn’t even mention Javy [Javier] Baez, who I went down to see in Puerto Rico, these guys are the kind of guys that handle both sides of the pitching rubber well. That’s where you get to the everyday lineup, maybe just tweaking a little bit versus a left or a right. But I really prefer, it’s always nice when you just write the same names down in the same spots on a nightly basis.”
On if Kris Bryant will be with the Cubs on Opening Night and how much will the business side play into the team’s decision with Bryant? Or if he’s ready will he be at third base and in the middle of the Cubs lineup from day one?
“I don’t know. Again, that’s a lot to put on a young guy like him. I’ve met him, really a nice fella, really mature. You look at what he’s done in the minor leagues. I’ve watched the video tape. Real, a real strong right central kind of a hack where he lifts the ball to that side of the field. I hear he’s got a great arm. Not just a good arm, a great arm. So there’s a lot of things to consider. I don’t know enough about him in a dugout or in a bench. I need to go through a Spring Training with a guy like that to give you my full opinion of him. But just watching him on video tape he’s a really exciting player. Of course he’s an impact of our future for many years to come, when that’s going to begin, I’m not 100 percent sure yet.”
On how good he thinks Jorge Soler can be
“Real good. Gosh, isn’t it crazy. I was sitting in this meeting with the rovers [minor league coordinators and roving instructors] and we’re going over these guys on video. I’m watching them play and their swings, etc. and I’m hearing their ages. And it’s like you’ve got to be kidding me. Soler is a lean, long guy with some tremendous ability at the plate, good outfielder, fine arm also. It’s just staggering to see that many young players again between 20 and 25. I think Rizzo is the gray-hair among the whole group and that’s incredible. I met Addison Russell, what a nice kid he is also. It’s just a really interesting group and it’s incumbent upon us as a staff to really put this together properly and really incorporate and setup where they earn all that they’re going to get and take the entitlement away from the whole situation. I know they’re good, they’re young, they’re good, but they still have to earn their stripes on a Major League level and that’s stuff we have to make very clear during Spring Training.”
On what he sees the Cubs doing in left field and will he start with a platoon of Chris Coghlan and Chris Denorfia in left field?
“Yea, big make-up guys, both of them. [Chris] Denorfia, I got to meet him during the fest also, just one of those eager guys that runs through walls and plays it hard and sets examples and is really good. So, I’m really, yeah I’m really going to get on the two of them. And then [Chris] Coghlan, he played great against the Rays last year. We played up there three games. I just talked to, he came down, he was in the restaurant too not too long ago. I said, ‘Man, you had one bad at bat in that entire three-game series, made a great catch in left field.’ He’s a wonderful young man. These are really nice issues or situations to have to deal with. You are talking about quality people that play the game hard, play the game right and are very talented and they’re still young. I don’t know how that’s going to figure you’ll probably going to see the platoon working right there, but to have guys of that kind of quality to go out there and either start the game or come off your bench is really exciting.”
On if there’s a chance, the way he see it, if the Cubs’ lineup on Opening Night could consist of Arismendy Alcantara, Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Miguel Montero?
“I can’t say it’s not. Honestly Jim, I’ve told this to the writers. I’ve not written down one lineup yet. I think I’ve told you that in the past, also the writers down here with the Rays. I’ve just been trying to suck up information. Biggest thing I’ve got to do right now, walking in the door is to build relationships with these guys and earn their trust. That’s my main priority and once that happens all of this other stuff will fall in place whether it’s how the lineup is going to play out or if somebody has something to work on their defense or hitting or the pitching with command issues. That’s all wonderful and good, or cut offs and relays. I’ve got to get to know them. They’ve got to get to know me and I’ve already told them they’ve got my trust. I’ve got to earn theirs and so when we go to Spring Training this year that is the MAIN objective that I’m going to have on a daily basis is to talk to as many guys as I can, get to know them and get this thing going on so at that point they will then really receive and accept any kind of constructive criticism we may have to throw their way.”
On defensive shifts and if there is enough offense in the game, does he think it’s more of a case that the hitters should be taught to find a way to beat the shifts or should there be changes to allow more offense in the game?
“I just think it needs to be organically done. Meaning when you draft or sign a player and he’s going up through your system, you’re going to see that he’s going to pull the ball. We’ll talk about a left-handed power guy. He’s going to hit the ball a lot on the pull-side. Now you have two choices to make right there. Is that going to be good enough and productive enough and is he going to hit enough in your mind’s eye to go to the big leagues and have to play against the shift constantly, have singles taken away from him. Or, if you don’t like that thought, if you think he can’t be that guy, then on the minor league level teach him to utilize the opposite field. For me a lot of the adjustments need to be done in the minor leagues. I’ve done enough time there to know that that’s where they can be done also. So when you get a guy in the big leagues by the time he gets there it’s really difficult for a guy that is there to all of the sudden stay inside the ball more, hit the ball more toward the middle, the opposite field to be more productive if he’s always been a pull hitter. I think the organic nature. I think quite frankly with the way the shifts are working power is kind of going backward. Pitching is dominating. A lot of the pitching domination also has just been through data and analytics. I think the next thing to do also is, what is the next level of aid or help to the offensive player or the hitter. To me, I think maybe vision would be the thing that you really want to get into in regards to expanding a player’s ability to pick up a ball sooner possibly. But to really regulate shifting where guys can play, I don’t agree with that.”