Chicago Cubs

Connecting the dots between Shane Victorino, Brett Jackson

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Connecting the dots between Shane Victorino, Brett Jackson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. What if the Cubs could do what they did on the pitching side and give an outfielder a pillow contract?

Thats what super-agent Scott Boras called the deal the Cubs made with first baseman Carlos Pena two years ago at the winter meetings: 10 million paid out over 13 months, a move to a big city and the chance to jump back into the market.

A new front office has now taken a similar approach with starting pitchers, already landing Scott Baker and Scott Feldman on one-year deals. There was a sense around the Cubs on Tuesday that they were one of several teams in the mix for Brandon McCarthy, though theyre not nearly as desperate for rotation help as they were a few weeks ago.

But a reality check seemed to come when word started spreading around the Gaylord Opryland that the Boston Red Sox were giving Shane Victorino a three-year contract worth around 39 million.

General manager Jed Hoyer wouldnt comment directly on the Victorino deal, but spoke broadly about the going rates as the Cubs shop for someone to play right or center field.

Sometimes you circle players and think: Hey, that guy might be a really good fit for us, Hoyer said. Someone else views them differently and thats why free agency can be difficult. Sometimes the guys you target another team is just a lot more aggressive on him and you lose him.

Thats why you have to value the player, put a number on him and be aggressive and go after him. But you also always have to have your walkaway point because some other team might have a totally different set of numbers.

Again, Hoyer wasnt talking specifically about Victorino or even acknowledging that the 32-year-old outfielder was a real target. Victorino won a Gold Glove and a World Series ring in 2008, and has been an All-Star twice since then. But hes also coming off a season in which he hit .255 with 11 homers and 55 RBI.

That gives you a sense of the market. The Cubs will certainly listen to offers for Alfonso Soriano and are said to be kicking the tires to see if there happens to be a match with a team that could convince him to waive his no-trade rights.

There also appears to be an opening for Brett Jackson at some point in 2013, which may color how the Cubs look at their outfield options.

Jackson recently visited the teams complex in Arizona to work with manager Dale Sveum and hitting coach James Rowson. Sveum said Jackson has made huge, huge strides and completely overhauled his a swing after striking out 217 times last season.

Nobody can sit here and predict anything, Sveum said. But I think hes got a good base to work with going the rest of the winter and in spring training, to understand the art of hitting, so to speak, that sometimes gets lost or sometimes gets taught the wrong way.

Jackson is already ticketed for Triple-A Iowa when the Cubs get to Opening Day. They want him to gain more experience, make the adjustments and come back to the big leagues a more complete player, the way Anthony Rizzo did last summer.

We havent soured on Brett at all, Hoyer said.

The Cubs pressed the issue last August and promoted Jackson, wanting him to see what it takes at the highest level and force him to make changes to his approach. Even though he struck out 59 times in 120 at-bats, he still has an intriguing blend of skills.

Theres no doubt that Brett Jackson could be part of the Cubs big-league team next year, Sveum said. Hell even tell you that it was a huge learning experience. Things obviously didnt go well, but he knows now that sometimes you have to hit that wall to understand: Wow, I really got to make some huge adjustments to play at this level.

The Cubs want to get faster and more athletic in the outfield and have seen Jackson make those highlight-reel catches. At these prices, sooner or later it will be time to give their 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley a chance.

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez broke the code of silence when he mentioned to reporters the latest thing for a Cubs team that designed a Party Room for their state-of-the-art clubhouse at Wrigley Field, turned Jason Heyward’s Rain Delay Speech into World Series mythology and interviews each other in the dugout for pretend TV segments after hitting home runs.

“He doesn’t know how the Italian way works,” Anthony Rizzo said. “There are supposed to be team things that stay with the team.”

Baez let it slip before Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, replaying the dramatic 10-inning comeback victory from the night before at Miller Park. If you see the Cubs instantly disappear from the dugout, or a TV camera shows a shot of an empty dugout…    

“We got this new thing,” Baez said. “I don’t want to be the one saying it. I’ll just let him say it. But it’s really fun. When somebody’s mad, everybody walks in and we do some fun things that get us hyper. You guys ask Rizzo.”

The Godfather gave a cryptic response. Omerta is expected to be part of The Cubs Way.

“It’s a team retreat,” Rizzo said. “It’s not just me. It’s anyone who needs to let out some steam this late in the season. It’s a team thing. It’s a long season and you go through ups and downs. And there’s times where you get to that boiling point where you just want to kill anything in your way.”

Rizzo needed to vent and called his teammates into the visiting clubhouse on Thursday night after striking out with two runners on in the eighth inning of a tie game that could swing the National League Central race.

“Throughout the year, you go back in the tunnel probably 25 times,” Rizzo said. “You got to take it out somewhere. You can only stay sane so long. It’s September. It’s a team (thing) now.

“It’s worked. We’re 3-for-3 on it. But it’s not me gathering. It’s just whoever feels like it’s time – you’ll see the team rushing off the bench and going for a nice little retreat.”

In many ways, Rizzo sets the clubhouse tone with his laid-back vibe off the field and intense competitive streak on the field. Tom Verducci’s book, “The Cubs Way,” detailed a scene before last year’s World Series Game 7 where Rizzo got naked, played “Rocky” music, quoted movie lines and shadowboxed until reliever Hector Rondon joined “in on the hijinks, picked up an aerosol can of shoe cleaner and sprayed it in the direction of Rizzo’s groin.”

“This is strictly in-game,” Rizzo said. “You can’t do it, though, and be selfish and go on a nice little retreat when we’re winning. It’s got to be the right timing. It helps, too, because it’s been fun the last couple weeks since we started doing it.”

One obvious benefit: There are no annoying TV cameras. Like in late July when frustrated pitcher John Lackey bumped into Rizzo in the Wrigley Field dugout and exchanged words with the face-of-the-franchise first baseman.

“We’ve come together now,” Rizzo said. “It’s not about anyone. It’s about us. When things go wrong for a certain individual, we rally around him. And that’s what we got to keep doing from here on out.”

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez tries to use baseball as an escape, but his thoughts inevitably drift toward Puerto Rico and the damage and destruction Hurricane Maria has inflicted on his beloved island.  

“I’ve been doing my best to stay in the game,” Baez said. “But, really, my mind has been over there, trying to find out about family, how they’re doing.”

Baez could compartmentalize enough in the ninth inning to deliver the two-out, two-strike, game-tying RBI single on Thursday night at Miller Park, setting the stage for a dramatic 5-3 comeback victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that created a huge shift in momentum for the Cubs in the National League Central race.  

But several Cubs have been distracted during this nightmare hurricane season, seeing the haunting images on TV and thinking about more than magic numbers. Baez finally made contact with his brother, Gadiel, before Friday’s game in Milwaukee.

“He finally found a spot that has service. Everybody’s disconnected,” Baez said. “It’s been really, really crazy over there. They say there’s no trees in Puerto Rico right now.

“It’s really bad. (But) there are still people smiling and trying to get through it. We got no (other) option. Our whole family is over there. I think if we work together, the process is going to be faster and the help is going to be (stronger). Hopefully, everybody stays together and just tries to help.”

Baez has been using his social-media platforms, asking for prayers and helping raise funds through the GoFundMe page started by catcher Rene Rivera’s family and supported by teammate Victor Caratini.

Known for his flash and highlight-reel moments, Baez is actually more of a low-key personality off the field, close to his family and developing into one of the most important and dependable players for the defending World Series champs.       

“Sometimes, when you are going through difficult moments,” manager Joe Maddon said, “getting out there kind of is that little island that you need just to park your brain for a couple hours.

“You keep reading about it. You’re talking four-to-six months without power. When you read those lines, you know it’s devastating. But live it.

“Again, as an athlete, when you’re going through difficulties outside of your occupation, sometimes it’s the best place to be for those couple hours. And then you go back to reality afterwards.

“Javy has been on the stage. He’s had the bright lights shining on him for a long period of time for a young guy. He’s learned how to handle this pretty well.”

Baez starred for the team that made it to the World Baseball Classic championship game in March. He could feel the pride and energy and what that meant to Puerto Rico during an economic crisis.

“Our whole island, they were there for us,” Baez said. “If we really work together, we can get through it faster, and everything’s going to be OK over there.”