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Javier Baez led the Chicago Cubs with just 11 stolen bases in 2019 and one way for the team to get better is to steal more bases next season.
In a boom or bust offense the past couple of years, the Chicago Cubs have struggled to consistently score runs. in 2018, they finished tied for dead last with the Baltimore Orioles in games scoring 1 or fewer runs. The team finished with the fourth-highest OBP (0.333) but couldn’t get the runs in, outside of hope and a prayer for a long ball.

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Flash forward to 2019 and it looked eerily similar, which makes sense given that the only notable roster change was the addition of Daniel Descalso. The Cubs, as a team, posted the eighth-highest OBP (0.331) but finished with just 45 stolen bases, which was second-worst in baseball ahead of the American League leaders in home runs in the Minnesota Twins.

And while I look back to the 2016 season in which the team finished with just 66 stolen bases, the same number as 2018, a good argument can be made that the World Series roster had a more dynamic offense. That team was capable of manufacturing runs in nearly every way other than just the home run. Also looking back to the 2016 season, the St. Louis Cardinals finished with the second-fewest stolen bases (35) and finished with an 86-76 record, just two games better than the 2019 Cubs. Interesting.

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In an offseason that should finally see some changes, one area that the Cubs should look to improve next season is swiping more bases. Javier Baez led the way with 11 stolen bases, followed by Jason Heyward and Anthony Rizzo with 8 and 5, respectively. That’s pretty bad and while the offensive woes go way beyond just stolen bases, getting runners closer to scoring position would take less pressure off each hitter.

The problem is the current roster doesn’t have the makeup for a team that will be successful in stealing 70+ bases in 2020. There’s no rhyme or reason why 70 was chosen, it’s just a number I would like for them to target. If Nico Hoerner becomes the everyday second baseman, he certainly has some speed on the base paths, as he stole 8 of them in 75 games with Double-A Tennessee, which projects to approximately 17 over 162 games. But Theo Epstein is going to have to take a long look at this roster and likely have to sacrifice some home run power for contact hitters.

A couple who rented their Arizona home to Theo Epstein during spring training in 2015 has filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Cubs president, alleging his dog’s excessive urination damaged their home, according to the Phoenix New TImes.

John and Mary Valentino rented out their Paradise Valley, Arizona, home to Epstein in February and March 2015, when the Cubs were at spring training. Epstein, his wife, two children and 10-pound dog, Winston, stayed at the home.

With the league championship series now underway, we are inching closer and closer to the true beginning of the offseason. Shortly after the World Series ends, player movement begins. The Cubs are likely to use every possible avenue to find players they think can help them a championship over the two remaining seasons of Theo Epstein’s leadership, which of course includes trades.

What’s different about this year is that the Cubs could actually trade major league talent for more major league talent. Then again, they could also use their minor league system to acquire both short- and long-term assets. Yes, you heard that correctly. Despite what you may have been told, the Cubs do actually have enough depth in the system to make deals.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be looking to part with guys like Brailyn Marquez, Brennen Davis, or Miguel Amaya, but there are plenty more who could be moved in the right deal. In fact, if we break it down by position, the Cubs have three very strong position groups in the minors from which they could move players without affecting the system that much.
Right-handed starting pitching

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From Triple-A all the way down to Eugene, the Cubs have plenty of depth with righty starters. While they technically do not have what might be seen as a top-of-the-rotation guy just yet, there are several big arms they’ve taken in the past two years that other teams might see as an asset to their organization.

A few weeks ago, I tried to figure out which starting pitchers were going to each affiliate for 2020. It was a cluster[bleep] of a thought process. There were so many guys that I just gave up after like 10 minutes. When you draft 27 arms in the 2019 draft class, that will happen.

Catchers
Pardon my French, but the Cubs have catchers coming out their ass. They could deal two or three and still have enough backstops throughout the system. When the Cubs protect a few top prospects for the 40-man roster next month, expect to see Miguel Amaya and PJ Higgins on that list.

The Cubs are just loaded with defensive backstops beyond those two, including Luis Sojo, Jhohnny Pereda, and Erick Gonzalez. Then there are two very young and highly touted catchers they acquired last summer in Ethan Hearn (draft) and Ronnier Quintero (international free agency). Both will be in the lower levels of the system next year.

According to the report, Winston “peed prolifically” in the home, staining the floors, wood door jams, cabinets and furniture while leaving a terrible odor. The Epsteins also allegedly left holes in the drywall, broke cabinet handles, tore a shower curtain and grill cover and more.

Epstein and his family moved out of the home early, per the report, due to a scorpion infestation on the property he claimed the landlords failed to address.

The Valentinos did not refund Epstein’s $5,000 deposit, and reportedly sent Epstein a repair estimate of $51,405 in 2017. They claim they have been unable to rent the property since, and that urine “penetrated through the carpeting and pad to the slab.”

“The Valentinos attempted to re-mediate the premises through major cleaning, power washing the patio and walls, having the carpet cleaned and treated, having the tile cleaned and treated, fumigating the premises and replacing the air cleaners and touching the paint,” the lawsuit said, via the New Times.

Epstein denied the allegations through Julian Green, the Cubs’ vice president of communications, who called the lawsuit “baseless.” Epstein claims his family found the urine stains after moving into the home.

“This frivolous lawsuit would have you believe a 10-pound rescue puppy transformed into a nightmarish Levitan from the 1984 Alice Cooper horror movie and went on a rampage in the rental property,” Green said, via the New Times. “The truth is the real horror story was the house and inhabited creatures that put this family at risk every time they put their children to sleep.”

Whether the allegations are true, Epstein has publicly admitted to having trouble with his dog peeing in the house before.

“Um, I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house,” Epstein told ESPN’s Buster Olney in 2016.

It’s the same logic as when they acquired Nick Castellanos, who is not known for his defense but the Cubs were willing to sacrifice some defense because his bat more than made up for it. And to be honest, he was one of the few bats that was consistently hitting down the stretch.

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So how do they improve this?

Epstein will have to target one or two players in free agency and/or trades that can be useful in improving the dynamic of the lineup. One player that I would personally like to see them go after is Starling Marte of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is under contract, albeit two club options, through the 2021 season and is owed $24 million over the next two seasons. Add to that he would be traded within the division, so Theo would have to get creative to acquire him.

However, the Pirates are, seemingly, now in a full rebuild and under a new manager next season so they could potentially make some veteran players available. Marte finished with a strong 0.295/0.342/0.503 line with 31 doubles, 6 triples, 23 home runs, 82 RBI, and 25 stolen bases. The Cubs have a huge need in centerfield right now with the underperforming Albert Almora and questionable future of Ian Happ.

Happ looked like a somewhat improved player once he returned from Iowa last season as he had a 25 percent strikeout rate in 58 games with the team, which was down from his 36.1 percent in 2018. He doesn’t offer a lot in the stolen base department as he had just 8 over the course of a full season in 2018 and could be moved as part of a trade package.

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Another player that makes a lot of sense and would kill two birds with one stone is Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield, who led the American League in hits as the Royals leadoff hitter. He also stole 20 bases and played in all 162 games which would be a remarkable improvement. He’s extremely versatile as well and could potentially play right field permanently for the Cubs if Castellanos is not retained. Merrifield logged over 630 innings in the outfield this season, so it wouldn’t be a reach either. He’s under contract through the 2023 season at an extremely team-friendly deal of just $4.1 million AAV.

NEXT: Offseason priority of finding a leadoff hitter
As I said, Epstein will have to get creative this offseason to fix the offensive woes. The issues with the starting pitching are known and acknowledged but a slight tweak to the offense could get them back on track.

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As much as we enjoyed the exploits of the record-breaking Bomba Squad, the 2020 Minnesota Twins will not sport the exact same list of players as the 2019 Minnesota Twins. (Obviously.)

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Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will be looking to improve the team throughout the offseason, from free agency, trades, and rising minor leaguers. Part of bringing one player up or in is letting another player go. There are several players from this year’s incarnation of the Twins who, no matter how much we enjoyed or shook our fists at their play, appear to be on the verge of departing from the confines of Target Field. Here are the five who stand out most to me.

Jonathan Schoop
While Schoop was a welcome veteran addition to the clubhouse and provided power from the bottom of the lineup, socking 23 bombas, he put up just a .256/.309/.473 slash line and saw his role supplanted by Luis Arraez during the summer. Schoop spent 2019 on a one-year contract and is entering free agency, so it’s likely the Twins will simply elect to let him walk back to the market.

Kyle Gibson
The longest-tenured Twin, Gibson’s 2019 was marked by such inconsistency (and a team-low minus-1.98 WPA) that he was dropped to a bullpen role, in which he still struggled during the end of the regular season and postseason. Gibson too will be entering free agency and considering it seems the Twins view young starters such as Devin Smeltzer and Randy Dobnak as potential upgrades, a split appears imminent.

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This 2019 season was a very interesting one for the Minnesota Twins for a number of reasons. There are many ways to dissect what went right and what went wrong, but more than anything, this season dished out some crucial lessons that the Twins will need to understand if they plan on having more success going forward. Let’s review the four major concepts that stuck out to me.

1. The position player core is solid
The question of the off-season last year was whether or not Byron Buxton and Miguel Sanó would be a part of the Twins future, and if they were, then to what degree? That question was partly answered as Sanó hit for a career high 137 wRC+ and put up a career high fWAR of 2.7 despite just playing 105 games. His defense at third base remained rough, but there should be no more disputes about his bat playing at the major league level.

Buxton’s answer to the question may not be as murky as split pea soup, but it isn’t as clear as the Twins would like. Buxton’s on-field play was fantastic, as he put up 2.7 fWAR in just 87 games played. But it’s that “87 games played” that again raises concern, considering that this was another season where he struggled to stay healthy. Buxton’s talent level will force the Twins to stick with him, but another injury-plagued season may lead them to look elsewhere.

Beyond those two players there were a few others who were overlooked like I was when they picked teams for dodge ball during gym class. These players put up seasons that were actually better than the two players who were the focus of the off-season. This is where I struggled, because while they had great seasons, I just got nailed in the spleen within three minutes, and you know what? Let’s just forget it.

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Anyways, players like Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, and Mitch Garver sat on the back burner over the off-season with the two former players receiving the spotlight only when they signed extensions during the start of spring training.

Perhaps they should have been focused on more as Kepler broke out with a 4.4 fWAR season, Polanco had a 4.0 fWAR season, and Garver turned into Mike Piazza and put up 3.9 fWAR in just 93 games. Now also armed with Luis Arráez at second base, who looks to be Tony Gwynn 2.0, the Twins have a formidable core of young position players all either in pre-arbitration, just starting arbitration, or already extended for a number of years.

The next step will be to figure out whether Eddie Rosario has a future on the team, as he put up his worst full season fWAR total with his bat and defense both regressing. With Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach looking to make a potential impact soon, Rosario may be on the move as the Twins look to upgrade their starting pitching.

2. A flexible bullpen is a good bullpen
Take a good look at the names in the bullpen to start the season and the names that were there in the end and try not to get a hearty chuckle out of it. Of all the pitchers on the Twins’ ALDS roster, only Taylor Rogers and Trevor May started the season with the major league team.

Players like Zack Littell, Cody Stashak, and Tyler Duffey joined the team from Triple A and made major impacts over the season before eventually finding themselves on a postseason roster. On the flip side, relievers like Matt Magill, Blake Parker, and Adalberto Mejía were on the team during the start of the season but were all victims of the DFA hammer as they were not effective enough in the Twins’ eyes and were shown the door.

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But more than their sporadic effectiveness was the ultimate sin of not having any minor league options remaining. These days, the 25-man roster is stretched to the point where it becomes more of a 28-man roster, as relievers with options are shipped to the minors in return for more relievers with options as teams simply can’t employ enough fresh arms at the same time under the current roster rules. The end result was almost a clean sweep as the Twins rid themselves of arms without options in favor of young relievers. With those new players in the mix, the Twins’ bullpen peaked.

The Twins’ bullpen ranked second in the majors in reliever fWAR from August until the end of the season thanks in part to addition Sergio Romo and great performances from those aforementioned young relievers. Now the Twins have a solid core of Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, Cody Stashak, and Zack Littell with an opportunity to mold their bullpen into something more.

3. The starting rotation is never complete
Perhaps no part of the team in 2019 was more in sync with the general plot of a Michael Bay movie than the starting rotation. At times it was flashy and awe-inspiring, at others it was dull and joyless. In total, it was a decent 5/10 that I would like to never see again.

From the start of the season until June, the Twins’ starting rotation was third in baseball with a 3.55 ERA, and while there were some peripherals that suggested regression, it seemed like they had the tools to succeed. There was a lull in the middle of the season and then from August onward the Twins ranked 19th in baseball by starting pitching ERA.

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Reasons for this included the Michael Pineda suspension, the regression of Martín Pérez, and the health issues Kyle Gibson faced. Jake Odorizzi and José Berríos remained anchors in the rotation, but the deck of starting pitching cards shuffled consistently. Devin Smeltzer, Lewis Thorpe, and Randy Dobnak did their best to glue it together down the stretch. Ultimately it was too little too late and the weakness reared its ugly head during the postseason, as Dobnak started Game 2 of the ALDS. It went quite poorly.

The Pineda suspension could not have been anticipated and was possibly the worst-case scenario for the rotation, but it brings us back to the eyebrow-raising decision made when the Twins did nothing before the trade deadline to upgrade a rotation that was starting to show signs of breaking down.

Not only that, but when the draft pick compensation was removed from Dallas Keuchel, the Twins decided to hold their ground. Not too long afterward, a quality starter quickly went from a luxury to a necessity. Going forward, the Twins should act more swiftly in regard to rotation concerns and build depth to handle such events.

4. Clubhouse chemistry is crucial
This one is about 70% speculation on my part simply because I have never been in the Twins clubhouse and have no clue what the personal relationships are like there. From watching the team play, listening to Rocco Baldelli and Nelson Cruz, and seeing how the players responded to adversity, however, it appears the 2019 Twins team was a close-knit bunch who got along quite well.

Contrast that with the 2018 team that employed two notably salty dogs in Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison, who both seemed none too pleased about how their respective free agencies went. Throw on top of that a few trades that saw some favorites leave town and, well, it seemed that the clubhouse chemistry was like oil and water.

This year, however, story after story poured out about how well the group got along and how cohesive they were on a day-to-day basis. From Rocco’s calm stoicism to Derek Shelton and “LAF” to Nelson Cruz’s naps and then to Marwin González facetiming Michael Pineda and Byron Buxton while celebrating the division title, each report indicated that this was a group playing together instead of for themselves and that may have been a major reason for success.

Cooper
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Marwin called Big Mike! This team. #MnTwins

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Wherever this is stemming from, hopefully the team chemistry is systemic and something that continues even as old players leave and new players join.

Now armed with this knowledge, it will be interesting to see how the front office runs the off-season. I’d ask for more but we all know what hope brings us Minnesota sports fans.

Martin Perez
Pérez suffered a similar in-season drop to Gibson, though the start to the ex-Ranger’s year was stronger. From June 1 to the end of the year, Pérez posted a 5.93 ERA, 5.17 FIP, and minus-1.54 WPA, though he never fell out of the starting rotation. As Kyle pointed out earlier this week, Pérez has a $500,000 buyout for the $7 million option year of his contract, and the Twins making that buyout is a move that should be expected.

Kohl Stewart
Appearing in just nine games in 2019, Stewart finished the year with a 6.39 ERA and 6.06 FIP, allowing five home runs and walking eight while striking out 10. Despite the Twins cycling the back of their rotation throughout the summer, Stewart never started a game after May, and the organization moved him into a relief role where he continued to struggle. Although he pitched adequately in 2018, Stewart does not appear to be a player who has a role on the Twins moving forward; and even though he is just 25, it’s not implausible at all that the team moves on from the former fourth-overall pick.

Ryne Harper
Harper’s excellent spring was a wonderful story, his earning a spot on the 25-man roster was even better, and the start to his season appeared the capstone. But as more teams saw Harper’s curveballs, opponents began to hit them, and Harper was eventually dropped from the active roster, before being brought back as part of September call-ups. As Harper has been reassigned to the minors and was 30 years old during his rookie season, it’s arguable that the Twins will move on from him in an attempt to go younger at the bullpen. However, it’s also possible that the team hopes he returns to his spring form. If nothing else, it only costs a 40-man roster spot at this point to see. (Harper is the player on the list I’m least sure about.)