5 Questions For Cubs Entering Spring Training

How will Joe Maddon handle his lame-duck status?

Bruce Levine
February 11, 2019 - 2:33 pm
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(670 The Score) As Cubs pitchers and catchers report for spring training Tuesday and ready for their first workout Wednesday before position players join next week, we take a look at five questions that will loom large over camp.

How will Maddon handle his lame-duck status?

Cubs manager Joe Maddon is entering the final season of his contract with no extension talks in play at this time, and curious minds want to know how he'll handle his future's uncertainty hanging above him throughout the ups and downs of a 162-game regular season. He figures to be asked questions about it often.

Maddon has averaged just shy of 97 wins annually over his four years in Chicago and directed the Cubs to the playoffs four times, two National League Central crowns and one World Series championship. 

At 65, Maddon has shown no signs of slowing down, but the shelf life of managers is becoming shorter and shorter in today's era. Maddon has mentioned that staying in a managerial job for seven or eight years before moving on is ideal, as an individual's message can become stale after that. That suggests he'd like an extension to remain in Chicago. 

Already, Maddon has promised to have a more hands-on approach with his players in 2019, including becoming more involved in pregame work.  

We do know this much: Maddon will manage without being scared. He's a resourceful individual, and if he should move on from the Cubs after 2019, he would have ample other opportunities in baseball.

How does Bryant respond?

The Kris Bryant of the first six weeks of 2018 had the look of an MVP favorite, as he posted an OPS around 1.000 in that stretch. His season then took a big downturn after he hurt his left shoulder on a slide. The ailment didn't sideline him immediately but lingered throughout the season, and he landed on the disabled list twice.

Bryant played 102 games and posted career-lows with 13 homers, 52 RBIs and an .834 OPS. He had just five homers after mid-May.

Bryant is a driving force of the offense. When he goes, the Cubs hum. 

What awaits in Russell's future?

Shortstop Addison Russell won't be eligible to play in the regular season until early May as he continues serving his 40-game suspension for violating the league's joint domestic violence policy.

To date, Cubs ownership and management has stood by Russell, but his future with the organization remains uncertain. If he's to have any chance to remain in the Cubs' future, he'll have to make good on his vow to personally rehabilitate himself. Russell is in line to report to camp next week, where he'll have to face questions from the media and publicly explain what he's been doing to improve as a person.

On the field, Russell is a talented defender with great range but is coming off two down seasons at the plate. He hit .250 with a .657 OPS in 130 games in 2018. 

What kind of boost can Darvish provide?

2018 was a disaster for right-hander Yu Darvish, who due to injuries made just eight starts in the first season of a six-year, $126-million deal. He was 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA. He then underwent elbow cleanup surgery in September

Darvish himself and the Cubs have proclaimed him healthy. When healthy, he's been a frontline starter. A return to that form would go a long way to lifting the Cubs to a higher level and championship contention again.

Who will the closer be?

The Cubs have a strong bullpen -- it had the second-best ERA in baseball in 2018 -- but uncertainty over the closer's role persists. Brandon Morrow will likely miss April while recovering from elbow surgery in November, and management has already stated he won't be used three days in a row in 2019.

Morrow missed the entire second half of 2018. In his absence, Pedro Strop did a fine job of handling the ninth-innings duties. He's best suited as a setup man but likely projects to be the closer while Morrow remains sidelined. 

The newly signed Brad Brach has some closing experience and a big fastball. Carl Edwards Jr. must establish his command again before being considered for such a high-leverage role. Steve Cishek remains the workhorse of the bullpen and is a premier setup man.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.​