Chicago Cubs

Cubs keep hunting with Keppinger off the board

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Cubs keep hunting with Keppinger off the board

NASHVILLE, Tenn. The Cubs have been locked inside their suite here at the Opryland Hotel. They arent going to do anything for show or on someone elses timeline.

As general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday: I dont think you have to walk out of here with deer antlers.

This was the day after manager Dale Sveum shrugged off his Dick Cheney Moment quail hunting with Robin Yount in Arizona and hours after the Cubs lost out on Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez. Even if neither player was a huge trophy, theyre still looking for a third baseman.

Keppinger has bounced around six teams the past nine years and is recovering from a broken right fibula after falling down the stairs at his house. The Cubs still had confidence that he would be ready to go by spring training. He wound up taking a three-year, 12 million offer from the White Sox.

Chavez who was more of a secondary target grabbed a one-year, 3 million deal from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Its unclear where the Cubs will go from here. Kevin Youkilis isnt a fit. Yunel Escobar didnt want to move from shortstop to third base. There doesnt appear to be interest in Casey McGehee or Yuniesky Betancourt.

Its a super-charged market in a lot of different areas, Hoyer said. Were still on the lookout. We have a number of irons still in the fire when it comes to third base and were confident well land someone we feel good about. But its certainly a position of scarcity. Theres no question.

The Cubs flew into Nashville, Tenn., having already signed two starting pitchers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman and a potential closer in Kyuji Fujikawa, who could be introduced later this week. They have offers out to other free agents and are waiting for answers. Nate Schierholtz agreed to a one-year deal on Wednesday night and looks like your new rightfielder.

The Cubs have roughly 60 million committed to 10 players for next season, plus arbitration figures for Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, which still leaves a lot of open space in the budget.

Were certainly going to spend all the money we have to spend, Hoyer said. If we cant find wise ways to spend money, well hold it, and find wise ways in the next 12 months. I thought the Dodgers were a really good example of that in some ways. They had their offseason in August. Were not going to go on a binge just because we have money to spend.

The Cubs remain in contact with Ian Stewart, who was non-tendered last week and is exploring his options as a free agent. The third baseman fell off the radar after undergoing wrist surgery last summer and stayed away from the team while doing his rehab. That shouldnt be an issue now.

We feel like we have a good relationship with him at this point, Hoyer said. He went through a tough time with his wrist and I can understand that. We have no issues with how he comported himself.

Theres been a lot of talk this week about recruiting free agents to Chicago, whether or not they want to be part of rebuilding a 101-loss team. The city, the stadium, the restaurants, the nightlife thats all nice. But the bottom line is almost always years and dollars.

You try to be patient, Hoyer said. Its not a sexy thing to talk about being patient but Ill feel a lot better about that than I will about making a big splash on someone (youre not sure) about. Youre probably going to regret that move more than you will keeping your powder dry a little bit and maybe finding a more prudent way to spend it.

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Joe Maddon looked back on the perfect baseball storm that hit the Tampa Bay Rays and played all the greatest hits for local reporters, waxing poetic about the banners hanging inside Tropicana Field, stumping for a new stadium on the other side of the Gandy Bridge, telling Don Zimmer stories, namedropping Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and riffing on sabermetrics and information buckets.

But the moment of clarity came in the middle of a media session that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon sitting up on stage in what felt like the locker room at an old CYO gym: “We only got really good because the players got really good.”

There’s no doubt the Cubs have the talent to go along with all the other big-market advantages the Rays could only dream about as the have-nots in the American League East. Now it looks like the defending champs have finally got rid of the World Series hangover, playing with the urgency and pitch-to-pitch focus that had been lacking at times and will be needed again in October.    

Maddon essentially admitted it after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory, watching his team beat Chris Archer and work together on a one-hitter that extended the winning streak to seven games and kept the Milwaukee Brewers 3.5 games back in the National League Central.

“You’re really seeing them try to execute in moments,” Maddon said. “When they come back and they don’t get it done, it’s not like they’re angry. But you can just see they’re disappointed in themselves.

“Their mental energy is probably at an all-season-high right now.”

Six days after the Cubs moved him to the bullpen, lefty swingman Mike Montgomery took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay’s No. 9 hitter (Brad Miller) drove a ball over the center-field wall. Maddon then went to the relievers he will trust in October – Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Wade Davis – with the All-Star closer striking out the side in the ninth inning and remaining perfect in save opportunities (32-for-32) as a Cub.       

“We want to go out there and prove every day that we’re the best team in baseball,” said Kyle Schwarber, the designated hitter who launched Archer’s 96-mph fastball into the right-center field seats for his 28th home run in the second inning. “The way our guys are just going out there and competing, it’s really good to see, especially this time of year. It’s getting to crunch time, and we just got to keep this same pace that we’re going at.

“Don’t worry about things around us. Just keep our heads down, keep worrying about the game and go from there.”     

In what’s been a season-long victory lap, Maddon couldn’t help looking back when the sound system started playing The Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations” echoed throughout the domed stadium, a tribute running on the video board and a crowd of 25,046 giving him a standing ovation.

“It was cool,” Maddon said. “I forgot about the bird, the cockatoo, I can’t remember the name. Really a cool bird. I told (my wife) Jaye I wanted one of those for a while. But then again, she gets stuck taking care of them.

“I was just thinking about all the things we did. You forget sometimes that snake. I think her name was Francine, like a 19-year-old, 20-footer. And then the penguin on my chair. You forget all the goofy stuff you did. But you can see how much fun everybody had.

“I appreciated it. They showed all my pertinent highlights. There’s none actually as a player. It’s primarily as a zookeeper.”

But within the last week, you can see the Cubs getting more serious, concentrating on their at-bats and nailing their pitches. There is internal competition for roster spots and playing time in the postseason, when Maddon becomes ruthless and doesn’t care at all about making friends. This just might be another perfect storm.

Montgomery – who notched the final out in the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 – put it this way: “I feel ready for anything after how this year’s gone.” 

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Are the Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 against the Washington Nationals?

“I’m not even anywhere near that,” manager Joe Maddon said during Tuesday’s pregame media session with the Chicago media, immediately shifting his focus back to the decisions he would have to make that night – how hard to push catcher Willson Contreras coming off the disabled list, what the Cubs would get out of lefty Mike Montgomery, how the bullpen sets up – against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Players can do that kind of stuff. I don’t think managers can. Honestly, I don’t want to say I don’t care about that. I just don’t worry about that, because there’s nothing to worry about yet. Because first of all, he’s got to be well when he pitches, too.”

Arrieta had just completed a throwing session at Tropicana Field and declared himself ready to face the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. That would be the Cy Young Award winner’s first start since suffering a Grade 1 right hamstring strain on Labor Day. It would set him up to face the St. Louis Cardinals next week at Busch Stadium and start Game 162 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

“The plan is to be out there Thursday,” said Arrieta, who would be limited to 75-80 pitches against the Brewers and build from there, trying to recapture what made him the National League pitcher of the month for August. “The good thing is the arm strength is there – it’s remained there – and I actually feel better for maybe having a little bit of time off.

“The idea is to be able to be out there the last game against Cincinnati – pretty much at full pitch count – and to be ready for the playoffs.”

Five days after that would be the beginning of the NL divisional round and what could be a classic playoff series between the defending champs and Dusty Baker’s Nationals. The Cubs started Jon Lester in Game 1 for all three playoff rounds during last year’s World Series run and their $155 million ace could open a Washington series with an extra day of rest.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about that now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We have a lot of work to do, and those would be the guys that would help get us there in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to get into that situation, you’d just use all the factors. You guys all know – who’s going the best, who matches up the best, the most experienced – and we figure it out and go from there. But we’re still a good ways away from figuring that one out.”