The Cubs peculiarly designated Steven Souza Jr. for assignment in between games of their doubleheader with the Cardinals on Saturday night.
As if the Chicago Cubs needed any more bad vibes during a doubleheader sweep at the hands of their most notorious historical rivals. The team made one of the strangest moves at one of the strangest times in recent memory- they designated reserve outfielder Steven Souza Jr. in between games of a doubleheader.
It’s not that the DFA of Souza Jr. is that big a surprise given the fact that he has been terrible as a Cub this season, albeit in a tiny and irregular small sample size (He’s 4-for-28 on the season).
What is surprising is that the club decided to make this move in the middle of a crucial doubleheader against their biggest rival and nearest challenger in the division after Souza Jr. started in the first game. Against a right-handed pitcher, no less. And why wasn’t Kipnis or Caratini taking that bases-loaded at-bat in the second inning?
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Knowing that Tyson Miller was already in Chicago and at the park to be available in game two of the doubleheader. The only real questions are: did Theo Epstein know he was going to cut Souza Jr. loose after the first game and did David Ross realize it as well?
Perhaps game one of the doubleheader served as a last chance of sorts before his ultimate reckoning. Maybe it didn’t even matter what he did. Perhaps there was a contingency plan if Souza Jr. had shown a sign of life in the first game.
I can’t help wondering what would have happened had Souza Jr. gone 3-for-3 with two bombs in the first game. Would this have forced Epstein’s hand into keeping Souza Jr. on the team and releasing someone else? If so, it’s worth wondering who that mystery man could have been. Probably a pitcher who had pitched in the first game so as not to leave the bullpen short a man in what was already going to be a “bullpen game.” So, Jason Adam or Dan Winkler, I guess.
The other piece of this I keep coming back to is the human side of the baseball business we all tend to forget about to varying degrees. I’m struck by the possible conversations that must have occurred in between games and how that could have affected a team that liked their not-so-productive bench outfielder.
Just hours earlier, Souza Jr. was seen merrily involved in the Wheelbarrow Race Seal Dance along with flying seal partner Jason Kipnis. Others on hand nearby for the merriment and clapping included Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish, Willson Contreras, David Bote, and even new Cub Cameron Maybin.
Souza Jr. was part of a close-knit clubhouse that many players and the media have lauded throughout the season. It’s also worth noting that the kind of culture exhibited by the first-place Cubs so far, and in general, is even more critical without fans in the stands and given the bizarre nature of baseball and life itself in this country during the pandemic. Souza Jr. was one of the players railing against others engaging in activities that put the season in danger.
Again, this is not to say that Souza Jr. didn’t deserve to go (he did) or that the Cubs should have kept him around solely to help choreograph snazzy new dugout dances with Kipnis (they shouldn’t have). It’s just totally bizarre that this move came between games of a doubleheader, and you can’t help but be curious about how everything went down. Moral of the story: don’t do the Wheelbarrow Race Seal Dance (and be a bad hitter) or you might be on the chopping block.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall for this one. “Uh, hey guys… so um Theo just told me they’re uh cutting me, and I’m no longer part of the team, and I have to leave the clubhouse now. Needless to say, I can’t be part of the dance routine anymore, so hopefully, Cameron or Yu can be the baseman going forward. Umm, good luck, I guess, and bye guys.”