Chicago Cubs

Cubs looking at next moves after Edwin Jackson

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Cubs looking at next moves after Edwin Jackson

Three weeks ago, Cubs executives worked on two fronts, roughly 2,800 miles apart.

Team president Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts traveled to Miami and met with Anibal Sanchez, his wife and his agent. They laid out the organizations baseball and business plans for the next several years.

Three time zones away, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum made a sales pitch that same day to Edwin Jackson and his fiance in Newport Beach, Calif. Greg Genske the agent Jackson selected after splitting with Scott Boras last year hosted in his Orange County office.

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If that sounded like a full-court press from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans then the rest of this winter could be a Four Corners offense.

A little more than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, impact players like Michael Bourn, Rafael Soriano, Kyle Lohse and Adam LaRoche have been dragged down by the one-year, 13.3 million qualifying offers made under the new collective bargaining agreement.

Sanchez became exempt once he was traded midseason from the Miami Marlins to the Detroit Tigers. The Cubs already have their No. 2 overall pick protected, but would have to give up their second-round pick and part of their signing-bonus pool to sign a free agent like Bourn.

Epstein didnt sound eager to make that trade-off while speaking broadly Thursday night on WEEIs Hot Stove Show.

There arent multiple paths into the amateur marketplace anymore, Epstein told the Boston radio station. In the past, you could give up a high pick and realize you were going to overpay someone later on. You could give up a couple draft picks and realize that youd just go out and try to dominate international free agency that year. You just dont have the ability to do those things anymore.

So when you surrender a draft pick and the pool space that goes with it, youre really admitting that youre not going to have as impactful a draft that year as you would otherwise, and thats something thats really hard to do, given the price of free agents these days and just how meaningful it is to develop your own talent and have that player under control for six years.

Its really hard to say: Hey, were trying to build a healthy organization, but were going to do it while admitting our draft is not going to be quite as impactful this year.

Youre seeing a real premium placed on the draft picks and the pool space that goes with it for good reason. But I think its a little bit unfortunate the effect its had on certain free agents when theres no rhyme or reason to it. I feel like the single best thing that can happen to a prospective free agent in his platform year is getting traded, because it removes the burden of the draft-pick compensation.

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The labor deal has handcuffed teams looking to spend big on amateur talent, while slashing the overall number of compensation picks. So Epstein will value that second-round pick as what would have been a high sandwich pick under the old system, but wouldnt reveal how the Cubs will allocate it.

I dont want to talk specifically about the remaining free agents or our plans in general, but Ill say you cant be dogmatic about it, Epstein told WEEI. Clearly, there are major-league free agents who are talented enough to justify surrendering a first-round pick and certainly a second-round pick. Youre acquiring the asset.

It all depends on not just the player but the contract and then potentially what you could get out of the player in terms of contributions on the field or a potential trade down the road.

Hoyer wouldnt speculate about whether the Cubs would be willing to make that sacrifice. But Hoyer acknowledged that it didnt hurt the case for Jackson, who never received a qualifying offer from the Washington Nationals and welcomed the security of a four-year, 52 million contract.

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It certainly was an attractive thing, Hoyer said. If you look at the trend of the market, a lot of the players that didnt have draft-pick compensation have gone off the board already. It wasnt the reason we were attracted to him, but it was certainly a nice factor.

Of course, the Cubs will continue working on more deals. They need another outfielder and a utility guy and could upgrade the bullpen. Sure, theyre always willing to listen on Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol. Theyre not viewed as having a match for Rick Porcello, the 24-year-old pitcher who became expendable when Sanchez signed a five-year, 80 million deal with Detroit.

Hoyer indicated nothing (is) close as he spoke with a small group of reporters near the end of Jacksons introductory press conference on Wednesday at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs arent going to feel desperate or trick themselves into thinking theyre one piece away. Bourn, Soriano and Lohse are Boras clients, and the super-agent preys upon those impulses.

The Cubs are searching for offense, and willing to see which players could fall to them in January. Bourn can play Gold Glove defense in center, but remember that hes 30 years old, his game is built on speed and he reportedly began the offseason looking for something close to a 100 million contract.

It wasnt quite Lovie Smith and the Bears saying Rex is our quarterback. But Hoyer was asked a straightforward question: Do you look at Nate Schierholtz as your regular right fielder?

Yeah, right now, Hoyer said. Hes certainly going to play a ton for us. We feel like hes a guy thats been undervalued, a guy that with more at-bats can really thrive. (After) playing in the NL West, playing 100 games in tough hitters ballparks I think he can certainly thrive out of that environment. As we look at our roster today, hed play in right, probably in some kind of platoon.

The Cubs arent expected to make any more big investments in pitching this winter. Once Carlos Villanuevas two-year, 10 million deal becomes official, they could have as many as eight options for the 2013 rotation (though they realize they were talking up their depth last January before it got shredded).

Hoyer laughed after being asked for an update on Matt Garza (elbow), who has vowed to be ready for spring training.

Just got to follow him on Twitter, Hoyer said. Its all been good so far. He seems really happy and in some ways Im relying on his moods and how he feels about it. And hes been excited about his progress.

MORE: Cubs' Garza guarantees he'll be ready by Opening Day

Garza and Jackson were part of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that went from worst to first. Its almost certainly going to be a more gradual process for the Cubs. But this is the time of year where Epstein and Hoyer are going to look at finishing touches and see whats possible.

You look at the team on paper, theres a lot of potential, Jackson said. Ive been on a lot of teams (where) nobody expected you to do anything and you end up going to the World Series. (This is) definitely one of those teams where (youre) a few pieces away from being where you want to be. With the additions (weve made), the team that we have right now, we can go out and win ballgames and have fun and definitely have the city of Chicago behind us.

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.”