Cubs' offseason moves just beginning


Cubs' offseason moves just beginning

The Cubs are far from done as they continue putting their roster together for 2013, while Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer also work on completely overhauling an organization that was in far worse shape than they realized when they accepted the Cubs challenge.
From talking with a collection of agents and baseball sources over the past few days, the Cubs left Nashville and the annual Winter Meetings with a handful of short term needs on their shopping list. They are hoping to add a veteran center fielder who can play regularly. This would allow them to put David DeJesus back in his more natural position of right field which is where they originally intended on playing him when he was signed in November 2011.
The Cubs are also hoping to add another starting pitcher, but most agents I spoke with believe they will not spend significant money unless they are adding a definite upgrade after adding Scott Baker and Scott Feldman early in free agency. The candidates still on the market that have been on the Cubs' list include Shaun Marcum, Jair Jurrjens, John Lannan, Joe Saunders and Francisco Liriano. The Twins were hopeful of bringing Liriano back but reports today out of Minnesota seem to indicate that the two sides are at a stalemate.
Ryan Dempsters name has been linked to the Cubs on a number of occasions, but unless he is willing to accept a short term deal the Cubs have no interest in giving him the three-year contract he is seeking. Sources tell me they have not had substantive talks since the end of the 2012 season. He has already rejected a two-year, 25 million offer from the Red Sox as he holds out for a third guaranteed year.
But those offers do not seem to be coming his way. He will probably have to accept a two-year deal with an option for a third year, with the Milwaukee Brewers in hot pursuit along with a handful of other clubs.
Consider that the Cubs were able to land both Feldman and Baker on one-year deals for very modest salaries compared to the money that is now going to other mediocre starters. Joe Blanton landed a 15 million deal over two years and Kevin Correia, who signed with the Minnesota Twins for 10 million over two years, are examples. Todays market makes it imperative to strike early when going after pitching before the supply dries up and the demand sends contracts skyrocketing.
In addition to another starter, the Cubs are looking to add a right-handed bat that can play third base but the options there are extremely limited in free agency. Forget reports that had the Cubs linked to Placido Polanco, as his lack of power has the Cubs looking elsewhere. Other names they have at least explored include what it would take to land Texas Rangers prospect Mike Olt, Jack Hannahan and former Cub Casey McGehee.
The Cubs have already re-signed Ian Stewart to a one-year deal that will only become guaranteed if he makes the Opening Day roster, but that signing cannot be putting much confidence into the Cubs' fan base after Stewarts abysmal 2012 season that ended on the Disabled List. Its hard to believe that there was no better option available than a guy who appears to be a former first round bust.
Olt is ranked as one of the better third base prospects in baseball, along with Tigers minor leaguer Nick Castellanos, but the price to acquire either one appears to be prohibitive. The irony of trying to acquire Olt is that he would probably already be a Cub had Matt Garza not gotten injured last summer, which derailed the Cubs plans to trade him to Texas in a blockbuster deal.
The Cubs are also hoping to upgrade their bullpen with another move, but before they can add another significant arm they have to figure out what they are going to do with Carlos Marmol. They considered trading him to the Los Angeles Angels in a deal for starter Dan Haren, but backed away after becoming squeamish about Harens medical history and significant price tag. Marmol had a solid 2012 season when he was reinstalled as the Cubs closer after an early season demotion, and still has value pitching at the back end of games.
Most scouts that I spoke with believe that his high-wire act will scare off many teams when they look at his 9.8 million salary, but they also believe that some teams will take a chance on him if they are moving a high salary back in the deal. The Yankees, who are looking for bullpen insurance as Mariano Rivera tries to come back from ACL surgery have no interest in Marmol despite having former Cubs' pitching coach Larry Rothschild on their staff.

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The Cubs felt so nervous just before a 7:09 first pitch on Saturday night that Javier Baez found the camera looking into the home dugout, waved with a big smile and started pumping his fist, hamming it up for the video board as Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” blasted through the Wrigley Field sound system.

The Cubs then ran out onto the field and systematically destroyed the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending this National League Championship Series in six games with a 5-0 win that featured almost no tension or suspense, obliterating for now the narrative around this franchise.

The old stadium still kept shaking, from Kris Bryant’s RBI single in the first inning to the clapping to Anthony Rizzo’s “Intoxicated” walk-up music to a standing ovation for Kyle Hendricks, who outpitched the supposed best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw.

“We don’t care about history,” Bryant said. “This is a completely different team, different people all around. It doesn’t matter. This is a new Chicago Cubs team. And we are certainly a very confident group.”

Sure, 1908 will hover over the entire World Series, which begins Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. But this is the new normal for Bryant, who within two years has won 200 games, four playoff rounds, a Rookie of the Year award and probably MVP hardware.

This team isn’t going away, either. With a chance to win the pennant for the first time since the Truman administration, the Cubs started two rookies who began this season at Triple-A Iowa – catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Albert Almora Jr. – in a lineup that featured Bryant (24), Rizzo (27), Baez (23), Addison Russell (22) and Hendricks (26).

Contreras caught a shutout and posed for a moment at home plate watching his line-drive homer off Kershaw fly into the left-field bleachers in the fourth inning. Rizzo – who had looked overmatched earlier in the playoffs – became the first left-handed hitter to homer off Kershaw during this calendar year.

And when Rizzo tried to wave off Baez for the ball Josh Reddick popped up to the right side of the infield in the fifth inning, Baez cut right in front of Rizzo to catch it, continuing a long-running gag among the Cubs infielders.

“I don’t think they’re oblivious, because that’s sort of insulting in some ways,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They know the history. I just don’t think they care. They think they’re a good team and they love to play. And we have some guys that definitely shine on the big stage.”

Baez – a September call-up last year who couldn’t get an everyday spot during the regular season – showed off his bat speed and unbelievable defensive instincts and emerged as the NLCS co-MVP along with big-game pitcher Jon Lester. Sold on the idea of all this young talent someday coming together, Lester joined a last-place team after the 2014 season, taking a leap of faith, even at $155 million.

“I don’t feel like there’s pressure at all in our clubhouse,” said Almora, the first player Theo Epstein’s front office drafted here in 2012. “There’s just hunger and excitement and desire to win.

“None of us were around in 1945…so we just got to write our own history.”

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This is what the Cubs have been talking about since the New York Mets swept them out of last year’s NLCS, since the Ricketts family invested almost $290 million more in free agents, since unconventional manager Joe Maddon made “Embrace The Target” the theme of spring training.

Whatever your preconceived notions of the old Cubs are, know that this group has an amazing sense of balance. They are youthful and experienced. They play as a team and with individual flair. They have style and get dirty. They are analytical and sort of oblivious. They are loose and intense. And the ending hasn’t been written yet.

“We still got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “We’ll enjoy tonight – don’t get me wrong – we’ll have a celebration. We’ll have a good time. We’ll smile, we’ll hug each other, probably get drunk a little bit…but we got some work to do.”

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities] 

The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”