Cubs know the best free agents are already off the board

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Cubs know the best free agents are already off the board

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. Imagine if the Cubs were staring at Cole Hamels and Matt Cain and wondering which one to build their rotation around.

Maybe Theo Epsteins front office would wait until after the 2013 season to grab the finishing piece to their lineup, a Joey Votto or a Ryan Zimmerman.

But when Cubs executives check into a resort here outside Palm Springs, Calif., for the general manager meetings that formally begin on Wednesday, they will know that the best players are already off the board.

The biggest challenge in free agency today is that all these guys are signing these contracts to lock them up, general manager Jed Hoyer said recently. You look at the free-agent list and so many of those guys are already in their 30s and thats the thing that we want to be really aware of not ending up with a bunch of decline years on our books because we were sort of eager to do something right now. The prime years usually start with a 2.

The Philadelphia Phillies have become another Northeast superpower, right there with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. With two World Series titles in the past three years, the San Francisco Giants are thinking dynasty.

Hamels and Cain never made it to free agency this winter. Combined, the Phillies and Giants committed some 270 million to two pitchers taken eight picks apart in the first round of the 2002 draft.

Seven months ago, the Cincinnati Reds found a way to give Votto a 10-year, 225 million extension, rewarding the National Leagues MVP in 2010. Back in spring training, the Washington Nationals made sure Zimmerman the face of the franchise will remain under club control through 2020.

Ryan Braun has already signed two extensions with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Pittsburgh Pirates control Andrew McCutchen through 2018. Epstein recognized this trend in Boston and extended Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

There are no signs of slowing down: Beginning in 2014, each team will receive an extra 25 million a year from the new national television deals.

When you look at the free-agent market, Hoyer said, theres a lot of teams that formerly were probably smaller markets that wouldnt have been able to sign their guys long-term that now have cable money or other sources of revenue that (enable them) to keep their guys.

We always do the exercise: You have your free-agent market going three, four years out. And its amazing to watch how that market sort of gets eroded as these guys get picked off on these long-term deals. It makes (it) more shallow this time of year.

Which makes you wonder how much will still be there by the time the Cubs cash in with a new television contract after their WGN deal expires at the end of the 2014 season.

The macroeconomics of baseball right now are interesting with some of these cable deals, Hoyer said. Its created some very big markets from what used to be just kind of large markets and its propped up some teams that used to flood the trade market and the free-agent market. Those teams are now holding onto their own players.

The macroeconomics of baseball are at an interesting point. Its hard to predict exactly what were going to be staring at in 2015.

By then, will the Cubs just be grabbing leftovers? This is a primary reason why the front office talks about building The Foundation for Sustained Success.

Executives here this week will have a chance to meet face-to-face and discuss potential trades. Agents will try to sell their clients to general managers and begin laying the groundwork for deals.

For 2013, the Cubs have around 40 million committed to just four players Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol, Starlin Castro and David DeJesus plus arbitration raises for Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija.

Thats close to a blank canvas, but as the Cubs evaluate their needs two starting pitchers, a third baseman, an outfielder, bullpen help they likely wont go beyond two or three years. They want to keep their options open.

We have pretty significant flexibility, Hoyer said. Were going to be aggressive in free agency, but we arent going to do things that we feel (will) limit us going forward where we feel were hindered by a certain contract.

Willson Contreras: King of the bat flip

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AP

Willson Contreras: King of the bat flip

Willson Contreras oozes swag.

The Cubs' fiery catcher has always worn his emotions on his sleeve and Friday was no exception.

Contreras hammered Carlos Martinez's 2-2 offering into the basket in left-center to give the Cubs an early 2-0 lead and his bat flip/reaction was incredible:

Here's a closer look:

It's funny that Contreras even reacted that way given the ball just *barely* got out, but hey, a homer's a homer.

Contreras has been flat-out raking since the All-Star Break, going 10-for-23 with five runs, three doubles, three homers and nine RBI. That's a .435/.480/.957 slash line and 1.437 OPS in the six second-half games he's played in.

That's boosted his season line to .276/.341/.496 (an .837 OPS) with 14 homers. He's on pace to drive in 85 runs, second only to Anthony Rizzo on the Cubs.

Yes, this truly is becoming "Willy's" team.

Jose Quintana admits trade rumors have affected him negatively this season

Jose Quintana admits trade rumors have affected him negatively this season

Jose Quintana emerged from the third-base dugout, taking in Wrigley Field for the first time in a Cubs uniform.

But he quickly snapped back to Earth as he realized he and the other Cubs starting pitchers were to take batting practice and he forgot to bring his bat out.

Ah, the life of an American League pitcher.

It was no big deal, obviously. And minutes later, Quintana's new teammates were marveling at his swing. Even Jake Arrieta — who has five career homers (all during the last three seasons) and sported a .720 OPS last year — was impressed.

Quintana doesn't start until Sunday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, so he has two days to acclimate to Wrigley Field.

Which is good, because Quintana showed up for work today — he took Lake Shore Drive in (better known as LSD to Chicagoans) — and didn't even know where the players' entrance was:

But once he figured that out, he was all smiles, learning the lay of the land from Cubs traveling secretary Vijay Tekchandani.

It's also good for the 28-year-old left-hander to get some consistency in his life.

Everything will be easier from this point on after he admitted the trade rumors had been bouncing around his head all season.

"It was my first time [being mentioned in trades]," Quintana said. "I never heard anything about trades [before]. It was on my mind all the time. 

"[Until I realized] it's because I'm doing something good and teams want me. I just try to do my job in season. It's really hard when you have trade [rumors] around you, but for me, it's over now and I'm excited for that and really happy to be here."

The White Sox organization was all Quintana had known since 2006 and after watching as teammates Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were shipped out of town over the winter, it is easy to see how it would've been tough dealing with the uncertain future. 

Quintana entered this season with a career 3.41 ERA, but that mark sat at 5.60 through the first two months of the season as the trade rumors swirled.

But the veteran southpaw eventually figured it out — just like he said — and has been on fire since then, posting a 2.30 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 47 innings since the start of June.

His first game as a Cub — Sunday against the Orioles in Baltimore, still with a DH — resulted in 12 Ks across seven shutout innings.

Quintana is excited for his first start in a Cubs uniform at Wrigley Sunday night (so much so that he used the word "excited" at least seven times in his five-minute media session) and just recently got a few bats to put that BP prowess into action in a game.

He was pushed back a day, so he will completely miss the Crosstown series next week and will not pitch against his former mates. 

That might be the right move, as he admitted it would've been very difficult with the trade just over a week old by the time Monday's Crosstown opener comes along.

"It was difficult for me because I played there for six seasons," he said. "It wasn't easy when I heard [I was traded]. It was a little hard for me, but I understand it's part of business and this is the best for me, too.

"Trades happen for a reason and I'm really happy to be here with these teammates, this organization; they were champions last year. We have a really good chance this year. I'm excited to be here."

As for the trade rumors, Quintana is content now. Especially since he and his family don't even have to move.

"As my wife said," Quintana stated, "'You can sleep now.'"