The Rundown: Morel Stumps for Contreras, Thompson Shelled in Loss, Angels Fire Maddon, Home Run Rates Climbing,

“I’ll reach out my hand to you. I’ll have faith in all you do whenever you need me.”Michael Jackson, I’ll Be There

In yesterday’s Rundown, I mentioned the effect Willson Contreras has had as a mentor to Christopher Morel and some of the other young players. The catcher’s leadership is unquestioned and he has the support of most, if not all, of his teammates. Now Morel is going to bat for the pending free agent. The versatile rookie thinks Contreras is somebody that Jed Hoyer should build his next championship team around.

“From my perspective, he’s someone that a team could build around, even during a rebuild,” said Morel through translator Will Nadal. “He’s someone who’s always there to help everyone out. He’s there to provide advice. I can say that he’s been there for me. He’s helped me out when I’ve needed it, and he’s just a great personality and a great teammate to have around. I definitely think he could be a key part of any organization.”

If he keeps producing the way he has through his first 21 games in the majors, Morel’s words will carry some heavy weight. He led off last night’s 9-3 loss to the Orioles with a first-pitch home run and the rookie has been a revelation of sorts at the top of the order. He also had a triple and continued his streak of getting on base in every game of his professional career. It won’t last forever, but it sure has been a fun ride.

Contreras also homered in last night’s game, though Baltimore was just too much offensively for Keegan Thompson, who struggled for the first time this year. The veteran catcher has been oft-mentioned in trade rumors, particularly to the Astros, and is a pending free agent. The Mets would love to acquire Contreras, too, according to MLB Insiders Jeff Passan and Jim Bowden.

More than his ability to lead the team, it is sheer numbers that will be the focus during this week’s arbitration hearing between the team and its starting catcher. The two sides are $1.25 million apart at the negotiating table and Contreras, who is having a monster season, has become the most valuable offensive catcher in all of baseball. No other catcher comes close to the .933 OPS he’s put up this year. Once that’s settled, the August 2 trade deadline will quickly follow.

Barring an unprecedented slump by the catcher or an unimaginable turnaround by the Cubs, it’s expected that Hoyer will trade his two-time All-Star and then try to maintain a peaceful enough relationship to have salary discussions once Contreras hits free agency. If you watched Sunday night’s game between the Cubs and the Cardinals, ESPN painted the relationship between Contreras and Hoyer as unfavorable in comparison to the synergy between Yadier Molina and the St. Louis front office. Molina will retire a Cardinal, but all bets are off in Chicago.

Hoyer says all the right things, though even that comes across as a bit patronizing at times because his answers seem formulaic and rehearsed, if not slightly condescending.

“I love the way he’s playing,” Hoyer said. “To me, the biggest thing is our relationship is good. I get asked about it every single time I do [inetrviews]. I give the same boring answer. That will probably just continue.”

The best thing the president of baseball operations can do is extend Contreras. He may recoup a fantastic return for the 30-year-old backstop in trade, but Contreras is the type of player that is practically impossible to replace.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

This shot of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Billy Martin makes me want to rewatch Billy Crystal’s wonderful 61* today.

Climbing the Ladder

“It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear.” – The Rembrandts, I’ll Be There for You

Morel was 2-for-5 last night and has made it impossible for Ross to remove him from the leadoff spot. Despite the 9-3 loss, the Cubs had only two fewer hits than the Orioles and struck out just six times. Leaving 11 men on base and going 0-for-7 with RISP kept Chicago from getting back into the game.

  • Games Played: 56
  • Total Plate Appearances: 2,130
  • Total Strikeouts: 486
  • Strikeout Rate: 22.81%
  • Team Batting Average: .244

How About That!

The badly-slumping Angels lost their 13th consecutive game Tuesday, a new single-season franchise record, and tied with the 1985 Cubs for the longest skid by a team that was 10 games above .500 when the streak began.

Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune just told White Sox fans to shut up and stop focusing on the fate of manager Tony La Russa.

Justin Verlander is now the game’s active strikeout leader, jumping ahead of Max Scherzer, and he passed John Smoltz for No. 17 on the all-time list.

It’s almost Bobby Bonilla Day, which should be a work holiday in New York. The Mets will be paying Bonilla $1.19 million annually through 2035.

The Dodgers are the best-positioned MLB team for the next five years. The Cubs did not make Bleacher Report’s top 10.

The home run rate is back up, but in an unusual way.

Entering his start on June 8, 1968 against the Phillies, Don Drysdale had six straight complete games and a scoreless streak of 54 innings. Philadelphia finally got to the ace in the 5th inning.

Bob Gibson had a pretty good season that year, too. He threw 13 shutouts, pitched 28 complete ganes, and struck out 268 batters. His 1.12 ERA and 11.2 WAR helped him earn the NL Cy Young Award (and MVP) that probably would have gone to Drysdale in any other season.

Tuesday’s Three Stars

  1. Verlander – He now has 3,086 career strikeouts. He had 12 punchouts in last night’s 4-1 win over the Mariners.
  2. Jazz Chisholm Jr. – The Marlins’ shortstop had two home runs, including a grand slam, and plated six runners in a 12-2 win over the Nationals.
  3. Yu Darvish – The former Cub two-hit the Mets over seven innings with six strikeouts.

Extra Innings

Morel has given Cubs fans a reason to stay tuned all game, every game, win or lose.

Tuesday Morning Six-Pack

  1. The Bears broke the rules recently, the NFLPA got involved, the union reprimanded head coach Matt Eberflus, and the league forced the team to give up one of its final OTAs. Despite all that, it’s nothing overly egregious.
  2. Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks recently signed with the Buccaneers, but the ex-Chicago standout had some parting words for his former employers.
  3. If you have been following my Minor League IPA column, I spoke with one of my Cubs Insider bosses yesterday and we are going to make it a Monday-Wednesday-Friday effort rather than a daily one. I may dabble in some feature writing instead. We’ll see.
  4. Sony and Honda have formed a partnership in the electric vehicle space that could breed a new brand of automobile. If we’re shipping the two iconic companies I say we call it the “Shonny.” That’s “schmackin’.”
  5. More supply chain issues, you say? Yeah, high gas prices aren’t just an issue with oil supply; it’s refinery capacity, too. Gas prices are expected to surge again. I hope you’re long oil stocks and own a bicycle or a good pair of sneakers.
  6. Paramount is being sued for copyright violation by the family who authored the story used in the original version of the movie “Top Gun.”

They Said It

  • “[The Cubs] have a good track of guys coming here, having success and then going on to sign multi-year deals. It’s a formula they have going here now. Especially the guy who maybe had an injury or had a tough year. Get him on a decent deal here, then they work their way out of it and find their old rhythm.”David Robertson
  • “Trying to find areas where we feel like we can improve players, good players even. To have that reputation is a good thing. It’s about us doing our research, the coaches and front office. They’re doing their research to find out if someone is a fit and if we can help them improve. And then we’re able to deliver that message when we talk to them. It’s part of the recruiting process, here’s how we feel we can help you. Whether it’s something you’re on board with or not, it’s something we want to know before you come here. So it’s a two-way street.” – Ross

Wednesday Walk-Up Song

Celluloid Heroes by The Kinks – I really hope Morel is here to stay and that the Cubs keep Contreras. That 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup is the most exciting thing to happen to this ballclub in years.

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