Cubs can stay out of PujolsFielder sweepstakes

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Cubs can stay out of PujolsFielder sweepstakes

DALLAS A pack of reporters trailed the Miami Marlins executives trying to get Albert Pujols to take his talents to South Beach.

Ozzie Guillen was just standing in the lobby on Tuesday when the bosses owner Jeffrey Loria and team presidents Larry Beinfest and David Samson moved through the Hilton Anatole.

Guillen wasnt sure what was going on and looked over both shoulders. Suddenly he was swept up in the group and on his way to a meeting. The doors to elevator No. 5 closed in the medias face.

At that moment, it seemed at least possible that the St. Louis Cardinals could lose their iconic player. At a reported cost of more than 200 million, Pujols could leave the National League Central.

That would be nice, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. I had to witness it over the last six years what he could do and its pretty impressive. Hes definitely the best hitter in baseball right now. What he did in the playoffs speaks for itself. If hes not with us, you hope that hes in another division, no doubt about it.

That logic is seen as a compelling reason for why the Cubs spoke with Dan Lozano, the agent for Pujols (and Rodrigo Lopez), and could see what it would take to sign Prince Fielder (or at least make sure he doesnt return to the Milwaukee Brewers).

This could shift the balance of power in the division, but there is an industry perception that Cubs executives know how much work they have to do before signing a superstar like that.

Sveum is tight with Fielder after their time together in Milwaukee, but he hasnt been involved in a recruiting process yet.

You know there (are) rumors out there and all that, Sveum said, but I dont really see that weve started any talks or anything like that.

If the Cubs do jump in on Fielder, Sveum said, Id probably have a big phone bill to Florida. You got to think if it all came about, (youd) have to find yourself in a pretty decent role (because were very close).

Fielder will turn 28 next season, but hes considered a throwback player who hustles down the line and never wants to be left out of the lineup. Hes the left-handed bat the Cubs crave, and would be a unifying force in the clubhouse.

He should have played in the 1950s and 60s and 70s, Sveum said. They played as hard as they possibly could every single day. They cared about winning. They cared about their teammates and Prince is all of those things. Hes just one of those special guys that come around once in a lifetime.

The problem is matching up the sweet spot of Fielders prime years with a Cubs team that isnt ready to win right now. Even though hes averaged 37 homers and 106 RBI for every 162 games in his career, there would be concerns about how his body type might project.

You want to make sure youre paying for future (performance) and not for past, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Its pretty simple, but if youre going to talk about a long deal, it better be a great player, an elite talent. Otherwise, those are recipes for disaster.

The Cubs president of baseball operations certainly enjoys the perception that the Cubs could be in on everything. Hes content to sit up in his suite and keep everyone guessing.

I dont mind when that stuffs out there, Theo Epstein said, because maybe it hides the ball a little bit from what we really are doing. (I) encourage that type of circus atmosphere in the lobby. Its good to be a little unpredictable.

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

LOS ANGELES – Scott Boras waved a Cubs beat writer over toward the VIP section behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Holding a smartphone in hand, the super-agent started rattling off data points on Saturday afternoon, making the case for Jake Arrieta once he hits the free-agent market after this season.

Boras pushed back on the idea that Arrieta is something less than an elite pitcher and compromised by diminished velocity, launching into a defense that lasted roughly 15 minutes and drew in two more Chicago reporters before a security guard told the media to clear the field because it was an hour before first pitch.

Once again, Boras used 2014 Max Scherzer as a reference point, detailing five of six starts between May 21 and June 17 in which a Cy Young Award winner gave up seven runs, five runs, four runs, four runs and 10 runs. That didn’t stop Scherzer from making another All-Star team, going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, leading the Tigers to another division title and jumping to the Nationals for a seven-year, $210 million megadeal.

“I just remember going through this,” Boras said, “because when Detroit came to town, I got the ‘Oh my God, the ship is sinking.'"

The night before, Boras sat in a front-row seat with his entourage watching Arrieta during a 4-0 loss that saw aging Dodgers Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez crush fastballs over the center-field wall. One theory – floated by the media and essentially confirmed by manager Joe Maddon – is that Arrieta (4.92 ERA) will have to learn how to pitch in a new reality where he can’t automatically unleash a 95-mph fastball.

“That is so far remote from the truth,” Boras said. “To create a voice to your fan base to suggest that Jake is not Jake – Jake is throwing at frankly better levels than what Scherzer did. And the reality of it is that Jake has this history.

“He’s got a great history that goes on, like (Clayton) Kershaw does, like (David) Price does, like (Zack) Greinke does. These guys have not done this for one year. He did it ’14, ’15, ’16.”

Here’s how Brooks Baseball’s online database has tracked Arrieta’s average velocities across the last three-plus seasons:

2014

Four-seam: 94.59

Sinker: 94.49

2015

Four-seam: 94.93

Sinker: 95.21

2016

Four-seam: 94.32

Sinker: 94.44

2017

Four-seam: 92.64

Sinker: 92.50

Here’s the Brooks Baseball analysis of Scherzer’s fastball from 2012 through last season’s Cy Young Award campaign: 94.97, 94.46, 93.88, 94.67, 95.23.

[MORE: Scott Boras doesn't believe Jake Arrieta is feeling pressure of free agency]

Boras dismissed a question about Arrieta’s inconsistencies at the beginning of his career as he shuttled between the Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate and how that could impact the perception of a 30-something pitcher.

“I’m looking at a three-year window coming into ’17,” Boras said. “When you’re elite, you have not done it once. You have not done it twice. You’ve done it three times. Jake has had three premium years. He’s in the Cy Young voting three years in a row. That puts him in a class of all these people.

“(One) comment is: ‘Oh my God, he’s dropped in velocity.’ Fair observation. My point is they all drop in velocity. All the elite pitchers drop in velocity, because they come in the league, they’re throwing 96, they’re throwing 95, then they’re down. But what are they all doing? They’re all (within) the ranges, probably close to 92 and 93.5.”

The Boras Corp. pitch to owners and executives this offseason will also revolve around durability, advanced stats and postseason experience. Arrieta has made 25, 33 and 31 starts across the last three seasons, ranking second in the majors in WHIP (0.97) and third in soft-contact percentage (22.6) and pitching in six playoffs rounds.

Where Kershaw and Price have repeatedly had to answer questions about their big-game performances, Arrieta can cue up the highlights from the 2015 wild-card game in Pittsburgh and show off his 2016 World Series ring.

Boras clearly has an agenda, but all this is worth remembering amid all the instant analysis and overreactions to how the defending champs are playing now. It might also reinforce why Theo Epstein’s front office could view this as a bad investment and keep rolling the dice with change-of-scenery guys and trading from their surplus of hitters. 

“We’re going to sit here and evaluate a player on a 60-day moment or a 10-start moment when he has three years of his history?” Boras said. “Don’t do it. That’s not fair. It’s not an evaluation, because all their velocities drop.

“All these guys are all still doing well and all their velocities dropped. The key thing is they were able to do what they did three years running. What does Jake have an advantage over all of them at? What does Jake do better than anybody? He wins big games.”    

As Cubs search for answers, Scott Boras doesn’t believe Jake Arrieta is feeling the pressure of free agency

As Cubs search for answers, Scott Boras doesn’t believe Jake Arrieta is feeling the pressure of free agency

LOS ANGELES – It’s harder to find perspective when the lights are flashing all around Dodger Stadium and the techno music is thumping and Adrian Gonzalez just launched a two-run homer 429 feet to straightaway center. 

But that’s why Jake Arrieta pays Scott Boras. The super-agent sat in a front-row seat behind home plate on Friday night, watching his client go through another up-and-down start for a Cubs team that needs Arrieta to pitch more like an ace.

It’s easy to lose sight of this during a 4-0 loss where the Dodgers looked more like the team on a mission after getting eliminated from last year’s National League Championship Series.

But Arrieta is someone who has already experienced the low points that made him think about quitting baseball as he shuttled back and forth between the Orioles and Triple-A – and the intoxicating high from ending the 108-year drought and creating so much joy for generations of Cubs fans.

So Boras isn’t buying the idea that Arrieta might be feeling the weight of his upcoming free agency.

“Coming from Baltimore to here and establishing himself in the big leagues was the major arc of his career,” Boras said, “the most difficult moment of illustrating that he is an everyday major-leaguer. The fact that he has the skills, and what he has up here (in his head), the dynamic of winning two World Series games and things like that, I’d say he’s (been) measured. When you win World Series games, that’s the most important thing.

“If you want me to measure pressure, I’d say that’s World Series cojones.”

To get back into October, the Cubs will need more consistency from Arrieta (5-4, 4.92 ERA), who’s still fine-tuning his delivery and not always getting that extra burst of velocity that made him a Cy Young Award winner and unhittable one night at Dodger Stadium.

Two aging Dodgers crushed Arrieta fastballs. Chase Utley – who began the game hitting .204 – drove one over the center-field wall in the third inning. Gonzalez had gone 131 plate appearances this season before notching his first home run with two outs in the sixth inning.

“I understand how difficult this game is,” Arrieta said. “It’s a work in progress. I’m still not exactly where I would like to be. But it’s close. It really is.”

Even as Arrieta worked through command/mechanical issues last season, he still wound up winning 18 games and limiting opponents to a .583 OPS that ranked second in the majors. It took until the middle of last August before he gave up his 10th home run, or where he’s already at through 10 starts this season. 

[MORE CUBS: The ‘friendly rivalry’ between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman with Cubs, Dodgers becoming NL superpowers]

“The one that Utley hit out was on the corner – that’s a good piece of hitting,” Arrieta said. “The one to Gonzalez was too much plate in a 3-1 count. It was elevated. Willson (Contreras) called a changeup. I shook to the fastball. I expected to locate a little bit better than I did. But I feel like if I continue on this progression, I think I’ll be OK.

“I don’t intend to continue to give up as much hard contact, especially balls over the fence. It’s been a little bit of tough luck, but they just flat out beat us.”

There’s some truth to that – Arrieta continued to pile up the strikeouts (nine) and limit the walks (one) – while Dodger lefty Alex Wood extended his scoreless streak to 25.1 innings before handing the game over to a dominant bullpen. But whether it’s an underperforming offense, a defense not playing at the same historic level or those velocity questions, Arrieta doesn’t appear to have the same margin for error anymore.

All those elements could come roaring back, but the Cubs are now a 25-22 team that could be looking to replace 60 percent of the rotation by Opening Day 2018.

“You don’t really think about (it),” Boras said. “When the Cubs come to town, I look at the standings: OK, where are they at? They’re trying to win again. This club’s a good club and you think about what moves they’re going to make to make it better.

“Jake’s total focus has always been about putting himself in a position that few players get to be in – and that is being on a club where you can win more.”

Whatever happens over the next several months, this will be the reservoir of confidence Arrieta draws from, and ultimately his legacy as a Cub.

“When the postseason hits, it’s Jake’s greatest measurement,” Boras said. “I don’t know, I heard winning a World Series in Chicago was difficult.”