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.

John Lackey roughed up as Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

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AP

John Lackey roughed up as Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs have scored zero runs through 18 innings at Dodger Stadium this weekend and still haven’t faced Clayton Kershaw yet. Neither game got tense enough for star closer Kenley Jansen and the sound system blasting “California Love.”

Of course, the Cubs survived a 21-inning scoreless streak last October and came back to eliminate the Dodgers and win their first National League pennant in 71 years.

But the Cubs have to keep saying this is a new year, even as a grueling schedule approaches the Memorial Day mile marker for a 25-23 team. And you could see the frustration during Saturday’s 5-0 loss in front of 48,322 and a national TV audience.

John Lackey walked off the field and down the dugout steps after the fifth inning and slammed his glove to the ground. A one-run game had turned into a 5-0 blowout as Lackey walked pitcher Brandon McCarthy and Chris Taylor then drilled the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats. Lackey screamed into his glove after Chase Utley knocked a two-out, two-run single into right field and Dodger Stadium got loud.

Lackey is now 4-5 with a 5.18 ERA for a team that had been built around reliable starting pitching. The Cubs will try to avoid the sweep on Sunday afternoon in what should be a must-see Kershaw vs. Jon Lester matchup.

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.”