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.

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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.

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs turned Theo Epstein’s “Baseball is Better” speech from his first Wrigley Field press conference into a marketing pitch that might distract fans for a moment from an awful big-league product.          

The 2017 “That’s Cub” ad campaign actually uses what started organically years ago within the farm system, two words that recognized a great at-bat or a heads-up play or a defensive stop.    

Business vs. baseball is no longer the dominant storyline it had been during the early phases of the Wrigleyvile rebuild. Business and baseball are booming for what’s become Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.

It’s just interesting that a franchise valued at north of $2 billion has found so much inspiration on the back fields of this spring-training complex, where staffers you wouldn’t recognize get to work before dawn and players you’ve never heard of dream about their big break.

It’s not just drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And trading for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell. And hiring a manager obsessed with T-shirts. Baseball operations became a marketing department, selling prospects to Cub fans, the Chicago media and the gurus putting together the rankings – and trying to get buy-in from players who all think they belong in The Show.

Minor-league field coordinator Tim Cossins gets credit for “When It Happens,” a theme that didn’t simply revolve around 1908 and the championship drought. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, suggested pairing the W flag with that phrase, and it became this ubiquitous idea around the team.   

“We tied everything into it,” McLeod said Sunday at Sloan Park. “When that time comes, when it happens, can you lay the bunt down? When it happens, can you execute a pitch? Can you go in and pinch-run, steal the base when the time comes?

“The big ‘When It Happens’ is when we win, of course, but for us in (player development), it was about everything that we’re going to be asked to do in that moment: Are you going to be ready when it happens?”

Now what? The defending World Series champs are going with: “Where It Happens.”

A bullet point from Epstein’s bio in this year’s media guide references how his first three first-round draft picks with the Cubs “combined to set up the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when Schwarber singled and (Albert) Almora pinch-ran, moved to second on Bryant’s deep fly to center, and scored on Ben Zobrist’s double.”

“We’re never going to forget about the importance of young players,” Epstein said. “There’s definitely a lot of talented, interesting prospects still in the system and sometimes they get a little overshadowed because of the star young players we have at the big-league level and how quickly some of those guys moved through the system. But there’s a lot of talent there.

“We’re going to lean on young players beyond our prospects, not just in trades, but also to provide organizational depth and also to serve as the next generation, the next infusion of talent at the appropriate time.

“But it’s a process. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in development for all these guys. And we have a ton of faith in our player development operation to help these guys along the way.”

So Ian Happ will start the season one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa and see if some combination of injuries and his switch-hitting skills and defensive versatility gets him to the North Side at some point. Or used as a trade chip for pitching, the way third baseman Jeimer Candelario and catcher Victor Caratini appear to be blocked.

Joe Maddon already compared Eloy Jimenez – who can’t legally buy a beer in Wrigleyville yet – to a young Miguel Cabrera or Edgar Martinez. The Cubs are practically begging for someone like Eddie Butler to pitch his way into the 2018 rotation.

By Monday morning, when the full squad reconvenes after a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the Cubs could start making cuts and shaping their Opening Night roster. But the Cubs are going to need so much more than the 25 players who will be introduced next Sunday at Busch Stadium. Maddon used 26 pitchers and 149 different lineups last season. This is “Where It Happens.”

“If this particular group of youngsters were in a different organization that had a greater need right now, you’d probably hear a lot more about these guys,” Maddon said. “But the fact that they’re stuck behind a Bryant and a Russell and a Javy (Baez) and a Rizzo and a (Willson) Contreras and a Schwarber, et cetera, et cetera, it becomes more difficult to really push or project upon these guys.

“But I think these young guys have gone about their business really well. If it’s bothering them or if they’re concerned about that, they’re not showing that. I think they’ve put their best foot forward.”

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs studied all the MRIs and analyzed every pitch Wade Davis threw last season, poring over the information on the All-Star closer. During the winter meetings, Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore even took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to give Davis a physical exam.  

The Jorge Soler trade wouldn’t be announced until athletic trainer PJ Mainville met with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley. The Cubs got another read on the flexor strain in his right forearm that twice put Davis on the disabled list last season.

Davis now has a 19.64 ERA through five Cactus League appearances – and the complete confidence of a manager who isn’t connecting those dots.

“The injury’s really not an issue,” Joe Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “He feels really good right now. He kind of thought that whole thing was a little bit overblown last year, according to (what he told) me. Because even in talking to him in the offseason: ‘I’m fine. I’m good. I feel really good.’”

Maddon managed the Tampa Bay Rays while Davis broke into the big leagues as a starter and began the transition to reliever. Everything clicked in Kansas City’s bullpen, with Davis blowing away hitters and notching the last out of the 2015 World Series.

“I’m watching him,” Maddon said. “He’s throwing the ball really well easily. That’s what’s really encouraging to me. From the side, there’s no bumping and grinding and…” Maddon made a grunting noise to illustrate his point: “There’s none of that. It’s easy. I look up at the gun and I’m seeing 94, 95 and sometimes 96 (mph). It’s like: Wow, I have never seen him do that in camp.”

Across the last three seasons, Davis allowed three home runs while piling up 234 strikeouts in almost 183 innings. This spring, he has twice gotten only one out, like Saturday’s 29-pitch, four-run appearance against the Colorado Rockies. Overall in March, he’s given up eight earned runs, nine hits and five walks in 3.2 innings.  

“Honestly, I’ve known him long enough that it’s not” a concern, Maddon said. “You’re not going to believe this, but he’s actually throwing better than he normally does in spring training. The biggest problem he’s having right now is command.

“Velocity looks good. The break on the breaking ball looks good. He’s just not throwing the ball where he wants it. And this guy is normally the kind of pitcher that can dot it up really well.

“But everything else looks really good to me, (because) I had him back with the Rays and in spring training you always saw him throwing like 86, 87, 88 (mph). I’m seeing easy 94-95. I’m seeing sharp break on some breaking stuff. It’s just bad counts and bad command right now.”

This isn’t the Cubs saying Carlos Marmol or Jose Veras is our closer. A guy with a 0.84 ERA in 23 career playoff appearances doesn’t care about Cactus League stats. As long as Davis is healthy, there should be no doubts about the ninth inning. Check back next week amid the sea of red at Busch Stadium.

“A lot of it’s just an adrenaline rush sometimes,” Maddon said. “A lot it’s just a moment that you can’t recreate here. You can’t do it. It’s impossible.”