Cubs to sign Glenbrook North grad Jason Kipnis to minor-league deal

The two-time All-Star, who has struggled since helping the Indians reach the World Series in 2016, could provide a left-handed option at second base.

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MESA, Ariz. — If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em — four years later?

As the Cubs opened spring training Tuesday, they were finalizing a minor-league deal with Chicago-area native Jason Kipnis, a two-time All-Star who has struggled since helping the Indians reach the World Series in 2016 — before losing to the Cubs.

Kipnis, who turns 33 in April, is expected to compete for playing time at second base. He’d be a left-handed option as a starter or a platoon player.

The Glenbrook North graduate and childhood neighbor of Steve Bartman hit .245 with 17 homers and a .715 OPS in 121 games for the Indians last year, suffering a broken right hand in September.

Team president Theo Epstein said he expected to make such non-roster, minor-league moves during camp.

The Cubs worked out right-hander Taijuan Walker at their spring facility Monday. Walker is looking to rebuild his value after pitching just 14 innings the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a subsequent shoulder injury.

The budget-strapped Cubs — whose projected payroll would exceed the luxury-tax threshold for the second consecutive year — have added only two players on major-league contracts this winter: outfielder Steven Souza Jr. and reliever Jeremy Jeffress, both on one-year deals ($1.85 million combined).

Stable lineup genius?

Among the changes new manager David Ross might bring to the job, the most dramatic might end up being the look of his lineup.

Asked about whether he planned to move guys around the field and in the lineup as much as his predecessor, Joe Maddon, did, Ross said he’ll look at matchup stats daily and probably use late-inning defensive replacements.

Beyond that?

“There’ll be a little bit of movement, but traditionally I like a standard lineup as much as I possibly can,” he said. “The flow of a normal, consistent lineup is important to some of the players. It’s a real thing as much as we don’t measure it. Finding the balance there is one of the things I’m focused on.”

Leading men

Ross said he’s still mulling leadoff options and has not talked to any of the potential candidates about it.

“I’ll wait and see how some of the at-bats go in spring, for sure, just see how some of these guys look,” he said. “I’ve got a couple guys in mind, but I’m not ready to publicly announce [who]. There’s a handful of guys you can speculate on.

“I think Rizz is definitely a viable option if I want to go with a professional at-bat to lead it off,” he added of high-on-base, low-foot-speed first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

That’s how they role?

Ross inexplicably was asked separately about whether he had talked to Kris Bryant about any different roles this year and whether he had any thoughts about closer Craig Kimbrel no longer being a traditional ninth-inning guy.

The answers were simple.

On Bryant: “I don’t expect Kris’ role to change drastically. I think he’ll pretty much be our third baseman and hit somewhere in the top of the order. . . . I don’t [have] some big idea I have to move Kris around.”

On seven-time All-Star Kimbrel: “I see Craig Kimbrel as our closer. . . . I’ve known Craig a long time and seen him have a lot of success. And knowing who he is mentally, I trust him in that ninth inning.”

Marquee attraction

The Cubs’ new Marquee Sports Network announced the hiring of former Cubs first baseman Mark Grace to its roster of on-air talent.

Grace has been an analyst for Fox Sports Arizona since 2017 and will keep that job, as well, according to a news release announcing the hire.

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