You probably haven’t heard, but the Cubs don’t have Willson Contreras around to play catcher anymore.
Yeah, it’s a real bummer.
Splitting time behind the dish will be veterans Tucker Barnhart and Yan Gomes, which is about as exciting as a pair of 10-year-old cleats. Are they good on defense? Sure, they are. Are they good with pitchers? That’s what everyone says. But Contreras was a star and, as was clear throughout his long goodbye last season, the team’s most popular player.
“Is it a big loss? Absolutely,” Gomes said. “But I think we’ll be OK. We have a tremendous team, and we’re going to focus on our team now.”
Boring might not be such a bad thing for the Cubs, whose defense should be their biggest strength. And a hidden plus for this team will be the very presence of Gomes, 35, who now has an opportunity to step into more of an overt leadership role. A one-time All-Star who was the Nationals’ No. 1 catcher when they won the World Series in 2019, Gomes is interested in managing someday and reminds skipper David Ross of a former Cub who famously made an impact as a positive influence.
“There are moments where I think, ‘Man, Yan reminds me of me,’ ” Ross said. “He does things and I think, ‘Oh, that’s something I would have done.’ “
Gomes isn’t a “Grandpa,” but he should have all the juice he needs with teammates after they heard him introduced to fans at Cubs Convention as a fourth-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Ten years ago, Gomes was early in his career and newly signed to a sponsorship deal with Mizuno when he approached the veteran Ross, a Mizuno brand ambassador, and complimented him on his slick No. 3 cleats as a way of introducing himself.
“I was like, ‘My cleats do not look like that,’ ” Gomes said. “I asked him for a pair of his.”
It arrived the next day in a box at Gomes’ locker — and is displayed to this day with the rest of Gomes’ baseball memorabilia at his home.
“I was just a backup to [the Braves’] Brian McCann at the time,” Ross said. “I appreciated him for that, that he admired my cleats and maybe how I went about my business.”
It just so happens the two men wear the same size, and don’t you know what that means? Gomes can walk in Ross’ shoes if he wants to.
Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images
The Jaguars threw three first-quarter interceptions, committed five first-half turnovers, fell behind 27-0 and won a playoff game.
See? It’s not that hard. The Bears already are perfectly capable of executing the first three of those steps. …
OK, so the Jags’ 31-30 victory against the Chargers was a total stunner. Consider: The last team to turn it over five times before halftime in an NFL playoff game — the 1999 Dolphins, also in Jacksonville — lost 62-7. Slightly different outcomes. …
Has brand-new Cub Trey Mancini homered yet? Because I’m not waiting long to make the first “Boom Boom” crack. …
No pressure on young Dominican prospect Juan Uribe Jr., who reportedly was signed by the White Sox. All the shortstop has to do now is eventually make it to the big leagues and field the final out of a World Series like his pops did in 2005. …
After falling into an 0-3 hole in Big Ten play, Illinois has won three straight and re-established itself as a likely NCAA Tournament team. Northwestern, on the other hand, is 1-2 since beating the Illini in Evanston and might not be long for the middle of the conference pack. …
My latest college basketball AP Top 25 ballot: 1. Houston, 2. Purdue, 3. Alabama, 4. Kansas, 5. UCLA, 6. Texas, 7. Gonzaga, 8. Virginia, 9. Tennessee, 10. Iowa State, 11. Kansas State, 12. TCU, 13. Xavier, 14. Arizona, 15. Clemson, 16. UConn, 17. Miami, 18. Auburn, 19. Baylor, 20. Marquette, 21. Illinois, 22. Michigan State, 23. College of Charleston, 24. New Mexico, 25. North Carolina.
THIS YOU GOTTA SEE
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images
CBB: Purdue at Michigan State (1:30 p.m. Monday, Fox-32): First place in the Big Ten is on the line. That would be a mighty big deal even if 7-4 sensation Zach Edey weren’t involved.
Cowboys at Buccaneers (7:15 p.m. Monday, Ch. 7, ESPN): If an under-.500 division champion led by a 45-year-old quarterback doesn’t scream “Super Bowl possibility,” what does?
Bulls at Pistons (2 p.m. Thursday, NBCSCH, NBA TV): Two of the Eastern Conference’s worst teams meet in Paris. Perhaps they can stay there?
ONLY BECAUSE YOU ASKED
From Raymond, via Twitter: “If the Bills and Chiefs meet for the AFC championship, shouldn’t their neutral-site game be in Chicago? The weather is similar, and we’re midway between Buffalo and Kansas City.”
Late-January football at Soldier Field? Will there be flying pigs, too? We’d better leave this one to Atlanta.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
Tobacco Road: Blue-blood rivals Duke and North Carolina are tied for seventh place in the ACC. In basketball, no less.
Jerry Reinsdorf: Is it too soon to rip him for calling off the 2024 SoxFest?
Asante Samuel Jr.: If the Chargers’ cornerback had any pride, he wouldn’t have stopped at a measly three interceptions against Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars.
Mike McDaniel: Don’t worry, the beleaguered Dolphins coach will have that fourth-down play called any day now.
The NFL: No matter how great the early playoff games are, they’ll never make “Super Wild Card Weekend” not sound ridiculous.