Cubs lose out to Tigers in Anibal Sanchez sweepstakes

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Cubs lose out to Tigers in Anibal Sanchez sweepstakes

Updated: 10:45 p.m.

The Cubs identified Anibal Sanchez as the game-changer, the rare free agent they thought could help them win now and win later and wouldnt make them regret the long-term investment.

Quietly, the Cubs pursued Sanchez for about a month, and they were willing to buy high. Team president Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts met with Sanchez, his wife and his agent at a Miami restaurant on Thursday, trying to sell them on the teams baseball and business plans for the next several years.

Sanchez wanted to play for a winner, and felt comfortable with the Detroit Tigers, who had reportedly opened with a four-year, 48 million offer. The Cubs appealed to the ego, saying this was the chance to be the main building block, and not just another pitcher after Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

That night, the Cubs reached their ceiling: Five years, 77.5 million.

That certainly grabbed Detroits attention. By Friday morning, Cubs executives heard the answer: Sanchez agreed to a five-year, 80 million contract with the Tigers.

The decision came after Thursdays wave of conflicting reports on Twitter, which had the Cubs closing in on Sanchez, then securing a five-year, 75 million deal (which never happened), then waiting to see how the Tigers would counter. The Cubs expected Sanchezs agent, Gene Mato, to go back to the Tigers, though they probably didnt expect the negotiations to play out so publicly across cyberspace.

Whats clear is that a pitcher with a losing record in the big leagues (48-51) and a career 3.75 ERA has just made a fortune.

But the Cubs went after Sanchez thinking hed take a leap forward, because hed only be 29 years old next season and could still perform at a high level when Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro reach their prime. By then, the next wave of talent Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora could be crashing into Wrigley Field.

A difference-maker like Sanchez could have accelerated the rebuilding process, making 2013 an interesting summer on the North Side and setting up high expectations for 2014. But this was really about 2015 and beyond.

At one point, the Cubs sensed Sanchez and his wife were coming around to the idea and envisioning themselves in Chicago. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer surely must have thought Sanchez could handle the weight of the contract and the pressure inside this market. They once knew him as a prospect in the Boston Red Sox system.

That was before Hoyer acting as Bostons co-general manager with Ben Cherington around Thanksgiving 2005 when Epstein briefly left the organization packaged Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez in a megadeal with the Florida Marlins to get Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.

All those factors mean its very unlikely the Cubs would just shift that kind of 75 million investment to the next pitchers on the board. Kyle Lohse, for example, is 34 years old, making it harder to put him on the same timeline. They dont see any other big-tickets items worth that kind of money still on the market. But clearly theyve shown they can surprise with these stealth operations.

If the Cubs really wanted a pitcher, they probably would have already signed him by now. They filled out their rotation with two modest signings last month Scott Baker and Scott Feldman on one-year deals worth 11.5 million combined in guarantees. They were checking in on Brandon McCarthy last week before he accepted a two-year, 15.5 million offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks. They figure to be tracking players who had been non-tendered, or free agents falling to their price range and willing to take one-year deals.

At last weeks winter meetings, Epstein sequestered himself in a suite at Nashvilles Opryland Hotel and talked about the 2013 rotation in these terms: We can kind of relax and pick our spots and dont necessarily have to be desperate.

The Tigers felt that sense of urgency.

Sanchez proved he could pitch in the American League by posting a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts after last summers trade with the Marlins. The price only went higher after he looked like a big-game pitcher, going 1-2 with a 1.77 ERA in three postseason starts and helping the Tigers get to the World Series.

Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who is 83 years old, desperately wants to get back there and win a title for his city. Those impulses drove Ilitch toward Prince Fielder last winter, and any team built around Verlander and Miguel Cabrera will be thinking about October.

After nearly coming to Chicago and trying to dig out of a 101-loss season Sanchez appears to be a big part of those plans.

This figures to be an interesting reference point for Matt Garza as he recovers from an elbow injury and enters the final year of his contract. Hes 29 years old and playoff-tested with similar career numbers (57-61, 3.84 ERA).

The Garza question has hung over the organization since Epstein took over at Clark and Addison some 14 months ago. The entire philosophy there is turning short-term commodities into long-term assets. It cant be answered until Garza who recently began throwing again proves hes healthy.

Garza was fired up on Thursday night, just like last month, when word spread across Twitter that Carlos Marmol had agreed to a trade to the Los Angeles Angels and it looked like the Cubs were adding Dan Haren to their rotation. That deal fell apart, while this one went in another direction.

Heres how Garza put it on his Twitter account: I'm not welcoming anyone, anymore to the cubs organization! puzzled.

Perhaps the Cubs walked away from the Sanchez deal breathing a sigh of relief, because they know all the data behind long-term contracts and what the completely unnatural act of throwing a baseball 90-plus mph over and over again can do to the human body. But this clandestine pursuit showed players, agents and rival executives that they are willing to get serious about big-time free agents, even if theyre going to have to wait until next winter to find the right player at the right time.

John Lackey roughed up as Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

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AP

John Lackey roughed up as Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs have scored zero runs through 18 innings at Dodger Stadium this weekend and still haven’t faced Clayton Kershaw yet. Neither game got tense enough for star closer Kenley Jansen and the sound system blasting “California Love.”

Of course, the Cubs survived a 21-inning scoreless streak last October and came back to eliminate the Dodgers and win their first National League pennant in 71 years.

But the Cubs have to keep saying this is a new year, even as a grueling schedule approaches the Memorial Day mile marker for a 25-23 team. And you could see the frustration during Saturday’s 5-0 loss in front of 48,322 and a national TV audience.

John Lackey walked off the field and down the dugout steps after the fifth inning and slammed his glove to the ground. A one-run game had turned into a 5-0 blowout as Lackey walked pitcher Brandon McCarthy and Chris Taylor then drilled the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats. Lackey screamed into his glove after Chase Utley knocked a two-out, two-run single into right field and Dodger Stadium got loud.

Lackey is now 4-5 with a 5.18 ERA for a team that had been built around reliable starting pitching. The Cubs will try to avoid the sweep on Sunday afternoon in what should be a must-see Kershaw vs. Jon Lester matchup.

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

LOS ANGELES – Scott Boras waved a Cubs beat writer over toward the VIP section behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Holding a smartphone in hand, the super-agent started rattling off data points on Saturday afternoon, making the case for Jake Arrieta once he hits the free-agent market after this season.

Boras pushed back on the idea that Arrieta is something less than an elite pitcher and compromised by diminished velocity, launching into a defense that lasted roughly 15 minutes and drew in two more Chicago reporters before a security guard told the media to clear the field because it was an hour before first pitch.

Once again, Boras used 2014 Max Scherzer as a reference point, detailing five of six starts between May 21 and June 17 in which a Cy Young Award winner gave up seven runs, five runs, four runs, four runs and 10 runs. That didn’t stop Scherzer from making another All-Star team, going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, leading the Tigers to another division title and jumping to the Nationals for a seven-year, $210 million megadeal.

“I just remember going through this,” Boras said, “because when Detroit came to town, I got the ‘Oh my God, the ship is sinking.'"

The night before, Boras sat in a front-row seat with his entourage watching Arrieta during a 4-0 loss that saw aging Dodgers Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez crush fastballs over the center-field wall. One theory – floated by the media and essentially confirmed by manager Joe Maddon – is that Arrieta (4.92 ERA) will have to learn how to pitch in a new reality where he can’t automatically unleash a 95-mph fastball.

“That is so far remote from the truth,” Boras said. “To create a voice to your fan base to suggest that Jake is not Jake – Jake is throwing at frankly better levels than what Scherzer did. And the reality of it is that Jake has this history.

“He’s got a great history that goes on, like (Clayton) Kershaw does, like (David) Price does, like (Zack) Greinke does. These guys have not done this for one year. He did it ’14, ’15, ’16.”

Here’s how Brooks Baseball’s online database has tracked Arrieta’s average velocities across the last three-plus seasons:

2014

Four-seam: 94.59

Sinker: 94.49

2015

Four-seam: 94.93

Sinker: 95.21

2016

Four-seam: 94.32

Sinker: 94.44

2017

Four-seam: 92.64

Sinker: 92.50

Here’s the Brooks Baseball analysis of Scherzer’s fastball from 2012 through last season’s Cy Young Award campaign: 94.97, 94.46, 93.88, 94.67, 95.23.

[MORE: Scott Boras doesn't believe Jake Arrieta is feeling pressure of free agency]

Boras dismissed a question about Arrieta’s inconsistencies at the beginning of his career as he shuttled between the Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate and how that could impact the perception of a 30-something pitcher.

“I’m looking at a three-year window coming into ’17,” Boras said. “When you’re elite, you have not done it once. You have not done it twice. You’ve done it three times. Jake has had three premium years. He’s in the Cy Young voting three years in a row. That puts him in a class of all these people.

“(One) comment is: ‘Oh my God, he’s dropped in velocity.’ Fair observation. My point is they all drop in velocity. All the elite pitchers drop in velocity, because they come in the league, they’re throwing 96, they’re throwing 95, then they’re down. But what are they all doing? They’re all (within) the ranges, probably close to 92 and 93.5.”

The Boras Corp. pitch to owners and executives this offseason will also revolve around durability, advanced stats and postseason experience. Arrieta has made 25, 33 and 31 starts across the last three seasons, ranking second in the majors in WHIP (0.97) and third in soft-contact percentage (22.6) and pitching in six playoffs rounds.

Where Kershaw and Price have repeatedly had to answer questions about their big-game performances, Arrieta can cue up the highlights from the 2015 wild-card game in Pittsburgh and show off his 2016 World Series ring.

Boras clearly has an agenda, but all this is worth remembering amid all the instant analysis and overreactions to how the defending champs are playing now. It might also reinforce why Theo Epstein’s front office could view this as a bad investment and keep rolling the dice with change-of-scenery guys and trading from their surplus of hitters. 

“We’re going to sit here and evaluate a player on a 60-day moment or a 10-start moment when he has three years of his history?” Boras said. “Don’t do it. That’s not fair. It’s not an evaluation, because all their velocities drop.

“All these guys are all still doing well and all their velocities dropped. The key thing is they were able to do what they did three years running. What does Jake have an advantage over all of them at? What does Jake do better than anybody? He wins big games.”