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.

RELATED: Cubs sold on Edwin Jackson as a building block

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.

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

CSN will also carry the live audio call of Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully during Sunday's game as the SportsNet LA audio feed will be featured during the third inning.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester vs. Kenta Maeda

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Cubs: Jason Hammel still fuming after Joe Maddon’s quick hook at Dodger Stadium

Cubs: Jason Hammel still fuming after Joe Maddon’s quick hook at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – Even from the upper levels of Dodger Stadium, inside the Vin Scully Press Box, you didn’t need binoculars or a lip reader to tell that Jason Hammel wanted nothing to do with Joe Maddon. 

Not this early on Saturday afternoon, not when the Cubs pitcher came into a possible playoff preview with a 13-6 record and a 3.07 ERA. An animated Hammel gestured toward home plate and walked off the mound in the middle of the third inning, continuing a sometimes awkward/usually productive relationship with the star manager that dates back to their time together as Tampa Bay Rays.    

The media waited several extra minutes outside the visiting clubhouse after a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers while Hammel met with Maddon in his office. Maddon’s postgame press conference then lasted almost eight minutes, giving Hammel time to shower and change into his street clothes. Hammel was still fuming by the time reporters wandered over to his locker.

“That’s between me and Joe,” Hammel said. 

Hammel – who normally enjoys the back-and-forth exchanges and gives insightful answers, even to uncomfortable questions – declined to get specific about the meeting, the decision-making process or how to work with Maddon.  

“That’s a conversation for me and him,” Hammel said. “There’s no reason for that to be in the papers. It’s a professional way of working through it. We’ll leave it there.” 

No, Hammel doesn’t get much latitude, even during his 11th year in the big leagues and a strong individual season that had so far answered questions about a second-half fade. But Maddon didn’t like what he saw against a stacked left-handed Los Angeles lineup.

Maddon walked out from the dugout with two runners on and one out in the third inning. Adrian Gonzalez loomed next, trying to extend a 3-1 lead with one big swing. Maddon summoned Rob Zastryzny from the bullpen and watched the rookie lefty get two groundball outs.  

“I didn’t even pitch today in my mind,” Hammel said. “I barely threw 40 pitches, so this is a side day for me.”

Zastryzny looked extremely impressive, retiring 11 of the 12 batters he faced, eight days after getting called up from Triple-A Iowa and making his big-league debut, showing that he could become an X-factor for October.

“He was not happy with me taking him out that early,” Maddon said of his conversations with Hammel. “I can understand why, because it’s happened in the past. But I just didn’t see the game straightening out.

“Watching them one time through, it looked like they were on him a little bit. And I thought that was a great lineup for ‘Rob Z.’ One of the things with bullpen arms – I want to put them in a meaningful spot. 

“I didn’t see it happening for ‘Hammer’ today, and that’s cool, because he didn’t throw that many pitches. He’s going to be very well-rested for his next start. But it also illustrates ‘Rob Z’ and what he can do for us in the future.” 

No, Hammel didn’t look all that sharp, giving up five hits to the 12 batters he faced, including a first-inning homer to Corey Seager and three consecutive hits to begin the third. But Hammel is also a respected veteran teammate who helped the Cubs transform into a playoff team last year and build baseball’s top-performing rotation this season. 

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Who cares? The Cubs are still 36 games over .500 and began the day with huge leads over the St. Louis Cardinals (14) and Pittsburgh Pirates (16.5) in a watered-down division. 

Well, Hammel is a guy who feeds off confidence and positive reinforcement. The Cubs might need him in October, especially if John Lackey (shoulder) experiences a setback before coming off the disabled list or another starter gets hurt down the stretch.  

“It is what it is,” Hammel said. “The guys fought hard. ‘Z’ did a hell of a job coming out of the ‘pen.”

Then again, the Cubs already think Mike Montgomery could develop into a good big-league starter – the lefty swingman got a longer leash given this particular Los Angeles matchup on Friday night – and thought enough of Zastryzny to make him a second-round pick out of the University of Missouri in 2013.

But for now, Maddon allowed Hammel to take advantage of his open-door policy and vent.

“I want them to be able to do that,” Maddon said. “I have a reason why I did it. I’m not going to hide about anything. It’s not like I just picked that out of the hat and chose to do it today. 

“You just got to shoot them straight back. And hopefully they can deal with it. There’s a great line: ‘Honesty without compassion equals cruelty.’ So at some point, you got to understand your audience, too.”

Joe Maddon defends bunt decision after Cubs can’t knock out Dodgers phenom Julio Urias

Joe Maddon defends bunt decision after Cubs can’t knock out Dodgers phenom Julio Urias

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs had Julio Urias and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the ropes, but couldn’t knock out the young lefty from Mexico who’s drawn comparisons to franchise icon Fernando Valenzuela and could be the next star to burst from this pitching-rich pipeline.  

The Cubs created their “you go, we go” sense of momentum on Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium with Dexter Fowler drawing a leadoff walk and MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hitting back-to-back singles into right field to generate the game’s first run.

Urias had already thrown 17 pitches in the first inning when manager Joe Maddon instructed cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist to try to bunt for a hit. It became an easy out for Urias, who then struck out Addison Russell and Jorge Soler looking and began to find his rhythm during a 3-2 victory in front of 49,522 at Chavez Ravine. 

“Second and third was kind of a nice spot to be,” Maddon said. “(Zobrist) could have hit into a double play. He’s the one guy who’s heavy groundball against that particular pitcher. 

“I actually like the bunt for the hit right there, (because) we had (already) scored (and) Addison’s been a pretty good RBI dude. I thought it was a nice move right there (to) at least get one (run) out of that. 

“You got him and Soler coming up versus a left-hander who’s a little bit shaky right there – I kind of liked it.”

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The Cubs had roughed up Urias during his second career big-league start on June 2 – or two-plus months before his 20th birthday – by hitting three homers and scoring six runs off him in five innings at Wrigley Field.   

But Urias – who pitched at four different minor-league levels last season – clearly has an accelerated learning curve. He managed to last six innings this time and didn’t allow another run after that early flurry, finishing with eight strikeouts against two walks.  

Urias has gone 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his last six games (four starts), helping bail out a $250 million team and a fragile rotation that’s used 14 different starting pitchers. If the Dodgers (72-57) can get Clayton Kershaw back to full strength, keep Rich Hill healthy and continue to bring along Urias, then the Cubs might have some matchup nightmares in October. 

“(Urias is) all of what they think he is,” Maddon said. “The kid was outstanding. He knows how to elevate against the guy you’re supposed to elevate against. He knows how to throw the ball down against the guy you’re supposed to throw the ball down to. He’s got a nice move to first base. He handled himself well at the plate. And he’s 20 years old. That’s pretty good.”