SportsMonday: Vacate This Lineup

From early February into the middle of the month, my thinking changed regarding whether the Houston Asterisks' 2017 World Series championship should be vacated.

I initially felt that it would be a mostly empty gesture, but as time passed it seemed to occur to everyone including me that the owner and the Houston players going essentially unpunished was untenable. I understand that commissioner Rob Manfred would like to wait for the end of the investigation into whether the Red Sox used technology to cheat in 2018 (to potentially say, "You see, several teams were doing it") but considering the inability of MLB to conduct brisk investigations, that might not happen for months. And even if it doesn't, who cares?

It is time to vacate the title. And if the Red Sox cheated in 2018, vacate that one too.

Speaking of changing my mind, the more I think about Kris Bryant leading off and Anthony Rizzo batting second, the more I have my doubts (despite initially welcoming the move). The big problem, of course, is that if the Cubs do that, who will bat third and fourth?

Javy and Willson and/or Schwarbs? Yikes.

First, Baez and Contreras have to rank among the streakiest hitters in the National League the last few years. And second Kyle Schwarber, despite hitting 37 home runs last year, still hasn't established himself as an everyday player.

Having the pitcher bat eighth will ameliorate this problem somewhat. For one thing, having a 26th player on the roster (a rules change this year) can mean the Cubs have that much more flexibility with late-inning substitutions. Or it can mean another arm in the 'pen, we'll see.

Unfortunately the biggest problem, three years after the Cubs let former leadoff hitter extraordinaire Dexter Fowler go to St. Louis in free agency, is that this team can't seem to draft and develop even one decent on-base guy to insert into the top of the lineup.

And that sort of stagnation, compounded by Theo and his minions' complete failure to make any sort of substantive change to the roster after loudly proclaiming their plans to do so at the end of the last campaign, is more than a little frustrating.

I will be watching one change the Cubs did make very carefully. The hiring of Justin Stone as the organization's director of hitting is a remarkable chapter in a great local success story. Stone had settled into Chicago after receiving his masters in kinesiology from Indiana State more than a decade ago.

Stone, who was an all-conference second baseman for Eastern Illinois in the '90s, has long been known around Chicago youth baseball circles as the best hitting instructor you could hope to find in this cold weather market.

Stone put his career on fast forward in 2018, when he first signed on to work with Cubs prospects. Ian Happ was one of the Cubs hitters to work with him in the offseason before the 2019 campaign and Happ's improvement last year was a major feather in his cap.

Now he has been hired to coordinate hitting assistance for all of the organization's prospects. I say hitting assistance because Stone is setting the system up to help minor league hitting coaches rather than to try to replace them.

The Cubs could use the help. Stay tuned.


Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.

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