Mark Gonzales covers the Cubs for the Chicago Tribune. In the past, Mark has covered the White Sox and Diamondbacks, and has covered three separate World Series titles over the course of his career. He chatted with The Big Lead about his experience as a reporter in Chicago, the 2001, 2005, and 2016 World Series, and his final outlook for the Cubs’ season.
Liam McKeone: Hey Mark, thanks for taking the time to chat today. Let’s start with the biggest discussion topic in Chicago this week. What are your thoughts on the Addison Russell situation and reports of the Cubs pressuring media members to lay off him?
Mark Gonzales: It’s a very, very strange landscape right now. I say that because there so many parts to all this. There’s many ways it’s been reported. One thing that gets overlooked is that there’s a victim or victims in this. So… I just really wonder about how this was interpreted by the person or persons that decided this was a threat. I say that because this thing kind of spread like a brushfire, but I can tell you- to my knowledge, I’ve never been intimidated or threatened by an organization telling me I should write something this way. It’s been suggested, but never with any intent of a threat.
I do want to mention that I’m not questioning that someone was asked to tone [it] down, I’m not questioning that. I just think it’s a delicate issue, and people better be careful about how they interpret things, because once again, there’s people involved in all this whose lives were affected.
McKeone: Let’s move on to this year’s Cubs team. One guy that Cubs fans are really excited about is Nico Hoerner. Do you think there’s any chance he comes up to the majors this year?
Gonzales: They’ve been pretty firm about saying no, he’s not going to be called up. I think it has more to do with what’s going on with the 40-man roster, his development, and of course, teams are very careful about starting a young player’s service time clock. He’s certainly a guy they see as a big-time prospect, a big piece of their future, but there’s always financial considerations involved when you’re talking about a prized prospect like him and you project a high ceiling for him.
McKeone: There have been a lot of comparisons between Hoerner and Kris Bryant, especially as far as how the Cubs have handled their rise through the minors. What do you think of that comparison?
Gonzales: It’s pretty interesting how Bryant was one of the first guys affected by the service time clock issue. You go back a few years earlier, the Giants didn’t care [about that] with Buster Posey. When he was ready, they called him up and gave him a big-time contract later. As far as Hoerner goes, there’s really not a huge rush to get him up here because they have so many good middle infielders that play his position… Nico was a first-round pick and a very talented player, but not as touted as Bryant, who was the big man coming out of the University of San Diego and was the second overall pick.
McKeone: While we’re on Bryant, do you think the Cubs will give him what he wants right away in terms of his new contract, or will it be more drawn out?
Gonzales: I see it as a drawn out situation here. He got off to a slow start, but he’s starting to warm up. At the same time, the team wants to see how things pan out this season. They certainly want him to be a big part of their future, but there’s financial considerations involved. They have a lot of big-ticket guys on the books for several years, a guy like Jason Heyward. They also have guys like Javier Baez, whose having an All-Star year and an MVP-caliber year, so there’s a lot of balls they’re juggling right now.
I think their preference would be to tie up Kris long-term, but he seems willing to go year-to-year if that’s the case. He is willing to listen to a multi-year offer but his agent, Scott Boras, is going to do what he sees as best for his client.
McKeone: How long would Bryant go year-to-year, if that was the case?
Gonzales: I can see him taking it all the way to his free agency [in 2021]. He seems very, very comfortable where he’s at right now, he’s paid handsomely for a guy that’s still got two years left before hitting free agency. He’s making $12.4 million. That’s pretty good money for a kid right now who’s 27. He’s in no rush right now. Certainly he likes it here, but he’s going to be very deliberate with this whole process.
McKeone: Ian Happ is another young guy that Cubs fans are asking about. Will he get called back up to the big leagues this year?
Gonzales: I think he comes up to the majors later this season, but a lot depends on whether he can cut down his strikeout rate and put more balls in play. He can point to the fact that he hit 39 home runs in the last two years. That was very impressive, that .850 OPS, but the strikeouts were alarming, especially from the left side. He was caught in a position this spring where they had a couple of choices to go. Last year that wasn’t case, and now they had choices to rearrange their roster and go in a different direction, and it was kind of eye-opening for him. But I think he’s better served down there right now.