A winter mission to transform his body was just the beginning. Everyone who has seen the Cubs this spring agrees: Schwarber is ready to do big things.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Yu Darvish looked as though he would stumble on the mound, yet still managed to unleash a pitch that struck out Drew Robinson of the Texas Rangers.

"I got off-balance," Darvish said through a translator. "I thought of not throwing it, but I ended up getting a strikeout. I think that was my best pitch of the day."

The whole day was rather awkward for Darvish, who faced Texas for the first time since signing a six-year, $126 million contract with the Chicago Cubs last month. The four-time American League All-Star spent his entire major league career with the Rangers until he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer. He became a free agent after losing Game 7 of the World Series.

"I drove myself here today and, as I got closer to the stadium, it's nice seeing the scenery I'm used to watching," Darvish said. "There were a lot of familiar hitters. I heard some heckles from the opponents' side and that got me relaxed and I had fun out there."

Darvish limited the Rangers to three hits, including Juan Centeno's home run, over six innings. He struck out seven and walked none as the Cubs prevailed 5-1. Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber homered for the Cubs.

(Read full post)

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Major League Baseball made game-calling more difficult for catchers this winter when it changed the rules governing mound visits. For backstops with the Tampa Bay Rays, things got even trickier when the club announced plans for a four-man rotation to open the season.

Pitching coach Kyle Snyder had an idea to help, and catchers Wilson Ramos and Jesus Sucre were eager to hop on board -- quarterback-style wristbands loaded with information designed to help with pitch calling.

The Rays are joining the Indians, Mets and some others as teams arming their catchers with data-filled forearm sleeves. Tampa Bay hasn't decided precisely what will be on the wristbands, though it will mostly include information on signs and strategies for attacking opposing hitters. The cards will have a flap to make sure opponents and cameras can't catch what's been written down.

"If you have all that on the wristband, it's going to be a lot easier for you," Sucre said.

Catchers like David Ross, Evan Gattis and Yasmani Grandal have used the wristbands to manage information in baseball's big data era, but Rays manager and former catcher Kevin Cash downplayed the effect of that information on pitch calling.

(Read full post)


This story appears in the 20th anniversary issue of ESPN The Magazine. Subscribe today!

Behold our unassailable list of the most dominant champions of the past 20 years, headed by one very recent, very dominant basketball team. And by unassailable, we of course mean: Let the arguments begin!

To get to our list, we looked at the same collection of sports as our Dominant 20 athletes, then we adjusted data twice, once to normalize teams from a given sport across time and again to put top teams across different sports on a common baseline. This means all sports and all years can be considered equal.

In the final results, one Dominance Share equals one standard deviation of performance beyond that sport's average title team.

For example: The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors scored 115.9 points per game and allowed 104.3. After controlling for pace of play and quality of opponents, they were 11.35 points, or 2.71 standard deviations, above the NBA average that season. Among all NBA champions since 1997-98, that figure of 2.71 SD is 2.40 standard deviations above average.

There is one team that would have scored 3.60 SD, a result we would expect to see about once every 488 years. But that team is the 2007 Patriots, whom we could not include. Only teams that won championships could make our list. That's the one time the postseason matters in these comparisons. You can't truly be dominant if you lose your last game of the season.

1. 2016-17 Golden State Warriors (NBA)

Keating's score: 2.40

Key stat: Went 16-1 in the postseason, the best showing in a single NBA postseason, ahead of that of the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers (15-1) and 1983 Philadelphia 76ers (12-1).

(Read full post)


Cole Ross, David Ross' son, captures the attention of every player while telling jokes and leading the club in a round of "Happy Birthday" to his dad who turned 41 on Monday.

Royals sign reliever Justin Grimm to $1.25M deal

March, 18, 2018
Mar 18

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Royals signed right-handed reliever Justin Grimm to a $1.25 million, one-year deal Sunday that includes up to $300,000 incentives after he was released by the Chicago Cubs last week.

The 29-year-old Grimm was 1-2 with a 5.53 ERA in 50 appearances last season.

The club also announced that pitchers Miguel Almonte, Sam Gaviglio and Trevor Oaks, catcher Cam Gallagher and infielder Ramon Torres have been optioned to Triple-A Omaha.

The roster moves leave the Royals with 46 players in major league camp.

(Read full post)

Ross D. Franklin/AP PhotoSome agents continue to believe long-term deals dont make sense for everyone. If the player appears to be an upper-echelon talent -- like Francisco Lindor -- then it still makes sense to foster a bidding war in free agency.

After seeing too many peers leave money behind during this harsh free-agency period, more players might grab guaranteed dollars when they're offered.

Schwarber to receive $604,500 salary from Cubs

March, 14, 2018
Mar 14

MESA, Ariz. -- Kyle Schwarber has a $604,500 salary in the major leagues as part of the one-year contract the Chicago Cubs announced last weekend.

The outfielder's salary would drop to $271,150 while in the minor leagues as part of the split contract. It represents a slight raise from last year, when his contract was for $565,500 in the majors and $261,000 in the minors. Schwarber is on track to be eligible for salary arbitration next winter.

He missed most of the 2016 season after tearing his left ACL during an outfield collision with teammate Dexter Fowler. Schwarber returned for the World Series and helped the Cubs win their first title since 1908.

Schwarber slumped to a .211 average with 30 homers and 59 RBIs last year and was demoted to the minors for 11 games in late June and early July. He earned $542,205.

(Read full post)

The Philadelphia Phillies and free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta have agreed to a three-year, $75 million contract.

The Phillies announced the deal on Monday.

Arrieta can opt out of the deal after two seasons, but the Phillies can void that opt-out clause if they first trigger a two-year extension to make the pact a five-year deal, according to FanRag Sports.

That two-year extension would start at $20 million per season but could be worth up to $30 million based on the number of starts Arrieta makes in the first two seasons of the deal and Cy Young Award finishes in those seasons, FanRag Sports reported.

The news of the agreement was first reported by NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Arrieta is the second major free agent added by the Phillies this offseason. The team signed first baseman Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million contract in December.

Arrieta, 32, had a strong second half of 2017 leading into free agency, as he compiled a 2.28 post-All-Star break ERA. That kind of production was reminiscent of his historic second half in 2015, when his ERA was a minuscule 0.75. That helped garner him a Cy Young Award and a reputation as a big-game pitcher who gets better as the season progresses.

Arrieta's career 3.08 postseason ERA is also a good indicator of his big-game potential, as he has a wild-card win and Game 6 World Series victory on his résumé. He has been durable and effective since he was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2013, though sometimes it takes time for his unique, cross-body delivery to lock in.

(Read full post)

Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY SportsIan Happ has homered four times this spring, twice from each side of the plate.

The No. 1 spot in the order has been a revolving door without Dexter Fowler, but one Cub is showing he might have what it takes to thrive in the role.

Now that the Houston Astros are starting the defense of their first World Series title, the question will be whether the team suffers a hangover from its remarkable run.

But staff ace Dallas Keuchel said he does not expect a dip in the Astros' form in a declaration that might ruffle a few feathers at Wrigley Field.

"We're not the Cubs," Keuchel told The Washington Post when asked about the Chicago Cubs' returning almost the same team from their 2016 championship and winning 11 fewer games. "I firmly believe we have better players."

The Cubs repeated as NL Central champions but lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. The Astros then beat the Dodgers in the World Series. 

Only one franchise has repeated as World Series champions in the past four decades: the New York Yankees, who pulled off a three-peat from 1998 to 2000.

Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who started the decisive Game 7 in L.A., offered his take on why teams have a disappointing encore performance.

"I think that demand on your time is more of the quote-unquote hangover than anything else. It's just the time you didn't get to devote to preparing for the season," McCullers said. "I did all the media stuff, all the requests -- sometimes two, three times a day -- which plays into it as well. That's not an offseason. That's a media tour."

Astros second baseman and defending AL MVP Jose Altuve

(Read full post)

Patrick Gorski/USA Today SportsThe market did not materialize for Jake Arrieta, who is part of a trio of impact starters who remain available three weeks from Opening Day.

Three weeks from Opening Day, a trio of impact starters remain available. We go rotation by rotation to see which staffs could most use a boost.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the book "Try Not to Suck: The Exceptional, Extraordinary Baseball Life of Joe Maddon" by Jesse Rogers and Bill Chastain.

ALL OF JOE MADDON'S EXPERIENCES as a coach and manager would be put to the test in Games 6 and 7 of the 2016 World Series against the Cleveland Indians. Little did he know at the time, but his decisions the next two days would have a profound effect on the outcome. And though he would be the man to lead the team known as the "Lovable Losers" to their first championship in 108 years, he would face an offseason of questions and criticisms about those moves.

The questions would all revolve around his pitching decisions, mostly as they concerned closer Aroldis Chapman. Chapman had thrown 42 pitches in Game 5, normally knocking him out of commission for several days, if not for this being the World Series. Chapman did have a day off between Games 5 and 6 and declared himself ready for whatever was to come. Maddon would lean on him again for the final two games, leading to a lot of raised eyebrows.

(Read full post)

Yu DarvishRick Scuteri-USA TODAY SportsCubs starter Yu Darvish said he's not worrying about tipping pitches in the spring.

MESA, Ariz. -- After throwing two innings against his former team on Tuesday, Chicago Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish was pleased with his velocity. He clocked 95 mph on several fastballs as he struck out four and walked two while giving up one run.

"Because I lost some weight in the offseason, I was worried about my velocity, but it was right up there," Darvish said through his interpreter after his spring debut. "I'm glad it's 95 mph."

Darvish varied his speeds against the Los Angeles Dodgers from 95 mph all the way down to 73 mph as he said he used four pitches in his first game since the World Series last fall: fastballs, curves, sliders and changeups. Both his walks came in the first inning, as did two wild pitches -- though in between he struck out the side. He retired the Dodgers in order in his second inning of work.

"It's the first time [this spring] facing batters in the stadium, so I was a little scared, but that's how I feel every season," Darvish said.

(Read full post)

The best player in baseball over the past five years has been Mike Trout. And if I can go ahead and give something away, I expect that the best player in baseball over the next five years will be Mike Trout. I'm thinking in terms of wins above replacement, or WAR, which is the simplest way to distill overall value into a single number. Sure, WAR has its problems, but it has everything included except the intangibles. I'll leave measuring intangibles to somebody else.

Writing about the best players in baseball over the next half-decade comes down to equal parts math and guesswork. Whenever you're supposed to look forward, it can be instructive to look back. Here are the top 10 players since 2013:

10. Adrian Beltre
9. Andrew McCutchen
8. Joey Votto
7. Paul Goldschmidt
6. Corey Kluber
5. Chris Sale
4. Max Scherzer
3. Clayton Kershaw
2. Josh Donaldson
1. Mike Trout

Out of that group, eight players were terrific in 2012. But with Kluber and Donaldson there was very little warning. Both were late bloomers, with Kluber learning a sinker in Triple-A and Donaldson overhauling his swing. There's simply nothing I can do to be able to predict random breakouts such as those. The same would apply to someone such as J.D. Martinez. Sometimes we don't get indicators, aside from a player being in the majors or the high minors in the first place.

So going forward, I'm trying to think about the best probabilities. I'm not going to pick a non-prospect in Triple-A at random. Instead, we're going with players who have already shown they're good, emphasizing two things: youth and being a position player. Youth because we're focusing on value from 2018 through 2022, and baseball players just don't age very well. Being a position player because as a general rule, don't trust pitcher health. There is one pitcher included in the top 10, but I couldn't bring myself to add another. There's just too much risk, and just about every pitcher's body is a ticking time bomb.

I should note that this is independent of contract status. This is an article about the best players, not the players most valuable to their teams, which is a different question. There are certain players it pains me to leave out: My five honorable mentions are Jose Ramirez, Chris Sale, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado and Ozzie Albies. Those five extremely valuable players narrowly missed the top 10.



Kris Bryant
.295 29 73 111
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 109
RK. Bryant 111
OPSK. Bryant .946
WJ. Arrieta 14
ERAJ. Arrieta 3.53
SOJ. Lester 180