Cubs GM Hoyer putting pieces of the puzzle together

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Cubs GM Hoyer putting pieces of the puzzle together

Its getting harder to see the Cubs making any made-for-TV moments or generating much controversy this winter, which is exactly how this front office likes to operate.

For all the marketing and image-making that will take place when the Cubs Convention opens on Friday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, general manager Jed Hoyer is going to stick with the disciplined plan.

It really doesnt sound like the Cubs are going to pull out a surprise and sign outfielder Michael Bourn, who would cost them their second-round draft pick and part of their signing-bonus pool. Nor are they actively looking to add another closer-type into the ninth-inning mix.

One year ago, the Cubs were locked in a standoff with a franchise icon, while their All-Star shortstop had to deny sexual assault allegations. The new executives who had generated so much buzz were still feeling out the fans, the media and the leftover employees in the front office.

No one knew if Anthony Rizzo was going to be a total bust or a superstar, or if Jeff Samardzija could back up all that talk about being a starter. Even if there are no definitive answers yet, the Cubs are in a different place now: Year 2 of their rebuilding project.

Kerry Wood is not walking through that door.

Roughly 90 minutes after team president Theo Epstein said that you cant make baseball decisions based on public relations, the Cubs announced their new deal with Wood, who magically appeared on the balcony at last years convention and soaked in all the cheers inside a hotel ballroom.

Starlin Castro who was wanted for questioning last January now has generational wealth and the security of a contract that could keep him on the North Side through 2020.

The Cubs showed they were willing to spend money on the right players. They certainly had their reasons for pursuing Anibal Sanchez who turned down a five-year, 77.5 million offer and returned to the Detroit Tigers and signing Edwin Jackson to a four-year, 52 million deal.

But it also didnt hurt that those upside pitchers on the right side of 30 werent attached to the one-year, 13.3 million qualifying offers made under the new collective bargaining agreement. That was central to the offseason plan of attack.

We talked about all the free agents, Hoyer said on Chicago Baseball Hot Stove on Tuesday. Where we are as an organization, we want as many draft picks as possible. We want as much money in the draft as possible. So we would have given up a pick, theoretically, for the right player, the right fit.

And we will going forward. But right now, I think holding onto our picks is something that makes sense and were looking to build as much talent in the minor leagues as possible. We need a lot going forward.

While Bourn and pitcher Kyle Lohse sit on the market, super-agent Scott Boras sold the Washington Nationals on another one of his high-profile clients. Rafael Soriano got a reported two-year, 28 million deal on Tuesday to close for a team with World Series ambitions.

There are still interesting names left Brian Wilson, Jose Valverde, Francisco Rodriguez and Matt Capps to name a few though Hoyer said its unlikely the Cubs would add another late-inning reliever with experience as a closer to compete with Carlos Marmol and Kyuji Fujikawa.

Well probably go forward with what we have now, Hoyer said. Of course, if theres just a bargain or a player that we feel like is at an incredible price we might add him. But at this point, we feel really good. There also is a point at which were full on the roster were taking a spot away from somebody. We really do like the way our bullpen and our rotation fit together now.

That puzzle should include Matt Garza, who wished Marmol good luck in November when it looked like the closer would be traded to the Los Angeles Angels before the Dan Haren deal fell apart. Garza whos recovering from a stress reaction in his right elbow is throwing from about 150 feet out and progressing toward working off the mound.

Right now, hes following the normal pitching progression, Hoyer said. He feels really good and we dont see any reason hes going to be restricted going into spring training. At this point, hes gotten over some of those early hurdles in the rehab and we feel like hes just going to be a normal pitcher, a healthy guy in spring training ready to go. Hes excited. I always joke: You can see how hes doing. He talks about it on Twitter all the time.

Like Garza, Alfonso Soriano will have to answer questions about the trade rumors this weekend, though only one player has the power to accept or reject any potential deal. The Cubs were said to be in tire-kicking mode at the winter meetings, and the Philadelphia Phillies were rumored to be one team that might be a fit, given their need for a power bat in the outfield.

Soriano who once considered Philadelphia before signing his 136 million megadeal with the Cubs likes the idea of playing in a big market for a contender on the East Coast and has no-trade rights. Hes scheduled to attend the convention and should get an audience with the front office.

No one was more different than his reputation than Sori, Hoyer said. I know the fans were frustrated with him and we wondered what we were walking into. He was the ultimate professional in the clubhouse. He really has taken Castro under his wing.

His preparation is off the charts. I think a dozen players in baseball went 30 homers and 100 RBI (last season). What we got in our first year was terrific. He knows how we feel about him. Weve had communication with him over the course of the winter. Well keep having that communication.

But all of our thoughts on Sori are positive. He was so good for us last year, both on (and) off the field. (It) wasnt necessarily exactly what we expected going in. (It) was just a wonderful revelation for us.

The work on the 2013 team isnt done yet. Garza, Samardzija and reliever James Russell have filed for arbitration. CBSSports.com reported that the Cubs have been in contact with outfielder Scott Hairston, and theyre quite good at going into stealth mode, so maybe there will be a surprise or two this weekend.

But after a 101-loss season, this group is getting ready for their close-up, and maybe well begin to see if this city will have the patience for another one.

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

CINCINNATI – From top to bottom, the Cubs now have all the pieces in place to make October baseball at Wrigley Field a reality, year after year, with family ownership, rock-star executives and blue-chip players.

“It’s nice to keep the band together,” manager Joe Maddon said, reacting to Friday’s announcement that general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod had finalized contract extensions, matching up their timelines with team president Theo Epstein’s new monster deal through the 2021 season.

Those architects constructed what’s already a 102-win team, a division champion and the National League’s No. 1 seed, making the Cubs right now the biggest story in baseball, if not professional sports.

The lineup for a 7-3 win over the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds featured two MVP candidates (Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo), a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell) and marquee free agents (Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler). The last two games of the regular season at Great American Ball Park will feature Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks making their final cases for the Cy Young Award. 

“It always starts with ownership and then it goes into the front office and eventually gets to us when you have that kind of stability,” said Maddon, who led a stunning turnaround with the Tampa Bay Rays despite all the uncertainty that came with small-market payrolls, a charmless domed stadium (Tropicana Field) and speculation about relocation and contraction.

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“We have a great product on the field,” Maddon said. “We have the best ballpark in the world. Our fans are spectacular. The city itself – there’s no more interesting place to live than Chicago. All those factors play into the success.

“I know in the past the Cubs haven’t been as successful as they wanted to be. But I don’t know that all the different ingredients have been put into place this well.

“So looking ahead, you just want to build off what you’ve done. Last year was a good building block coming into this year. And we want to keep moving forward. Of course, our goal is to play the final game of the year and win it. Under these circumstances, I think it becomes more believable on an annual basis.”

Since Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod reunited in the fall of 2011 – updating their World Series blueprints with the Boston Red Sox – the Cubs are just the third team in major-league history to win at least 100 games within four years of a 100-loss season. The Cubs have now qualified for postseason play in consecutive seasons for only the third time in franchise history.

“We had some good pieces,” chairman Tom Ricketts said. “But the organization itself was not in a position where you could believe that there was sustainability and consistency and success on the field. Obviously, Theo and the guys that he brought with him five years ago kind of took the organization down to the studs and started rebuilding.

“The time and energy to do it the right way has paid off with a team that should be successful for years to come.”

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