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.

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."