Cubs in the market for pitching, but Dempsters a long shot

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Cubs in the market for pitching, but Dempsters a long shot

The Cubs have already targeted free agents and contacted their representatives to express interest. Jed Hoyer believes they will have spoken with executives from every other team before general managers check into an Indian Wells, Calif., resort for their meetings next week. They are getting ready for some action.

The Cubs are in the market for at least two starting pitchers they can plug into their 2013 Opening Day rotation, and they havent yet ruled out Ryan Dempster, who still looks like a long shot to return to the North Side.

I wouldnt over-characterize it and have it be the lead story, Hoyer said Thursday. But listen, he pitched well here for a long time. People in Chicago really respect what hes done here, and they should. Obviously, theres mutual respect there.

The two sides have made preliminary contact and apparently dont have bitter feelings about how it all ended. After a potential deal with the Atlanta Braves collapsed, Dempster waived his no-trade rights minutes before the July 31 deadline and approved a deal to the Texas Rangers.

Not at all, Hoyer said. That was an interesting week in the history of the Cubs and the life of Ryan Dempster, for sure. But at the same time, theres no hard feelings at all. That wouldnt preclude us from bringing him back at all.

There are many other reasons why Dempster probably wont be coming back. He will turn 36 next year and made 14 million last season, when he had his heart set on the Los Angeles Dodgers at the deadline. We probably dont need to start another Dempster Watch.

The Cubs are believed to have an interest in Shaun Marcum, whos coming off an injury-plagued season with the Milwaukee Brewers. But he proved himself before pitching in the brutal American League East and knows the coaching staff here.

Hoyer wouldnt comment on Dan Haren as the Los Angeles Angels explore potential trades other than to say it is an alternative avenue for teams looking for a starter. The Angels have until Friday to decide on a 15.5 million option (with a 3.5 million buyout) on the 32-year-old pitcher.

Philosophically, the Cubs arent opposed to a rental pitcher. They flipped Paul Maholm near the deadline for Arodys Vizcaino, a potential future rotation piece who was one of the top prospects in Atlantas system before Tommy John surgery. As they did with Maholm last winter, they can offer opportunity to a free agent looking to revive his career.

Hoyer said its unlikely the Cubs would wind up settling at four years on a contract this winter. The front office may value a player at those terms, but if thats the case, he may find a more desperate team to make a bigger commitment and drive the price higher.

That pretty much eliminates the top tier of free agents in whats already regarded as a weak class. Anibal Sanchez whos made 30-plus starts in each of the past three seasons and will be only 29 next year probably pushed himself toward the front with a strong playoff performance for the Detroit Tigers.

Were not against long-term deals, Hoyer said. Were not opposed to spending a lot on a player. Its just given where we are, we want to make sure that when we have all our young talent at the major-league level (and) were really ready to go on what we think is going to be an extended run, we dont want to have a bunch of guys that are past-prime that we signed in the past sort of hindering what we want to do.

Were not against committing to a player. We committed a lot of years to Starlin Castro (and) Jorge Soler. We just want to be smart with contract length because so many times you see these players (at) 32, 33 years old and (teams) buying ages 35 and 36.

If youre about to win a title or youre one or two players away at those first couple years of that deal that makes a lot of sense. But if you think your window might be more like those back two years, it does give you a little bit of pause.

The Cubs believe Jeff Samardzija can evolve into a No. 1 starter for October. Theyre optimistic Matt Garza whose right elbow will be examined again later this month will be ready to go by spring training. Theyll also be searching for a third baseman and an outfielder, but whether this winter is a success or a failure will depend on what else they do with the pitching.

How Indians regrouped and reloaded after losing unforgettable Game 7 to Cubs

How Indians regrouped and reloaded after losing unforgettable Game 7 to Cubs

MESA, Ariz. — As Major League Baseball officials responded to an unbelievably timed rain delay, Cleveland president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti huddled in a suite beneath Progressive Field and recognized what he saw in Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer after nine innings in a World Series Game 7.

"(We're) trying to figure out: Hey, what's going to happen here? How long are we going to have to wait? Are we going to have to pick up this game tomorrow?" Antonetti said. "I remember the look on both Jed and Theo's faces — it was the same as mine — just like exhaustion and fatigue and angst."

Soon enough, Epstein would be standing in the visiting dugout, his black suit completely drenched, winging it through a CSN Chicago postgame show interview: "Jed's in charge. I'm going on a bender."

However Cleveland fans processed the 10th inning — at least LeBron James had already delivered the city's first major sports title since 1964 — the Indians regrouped and reloaded as one of the favorites to win the 2017 World Series.

Danny Salazar — who hadn't built himself back up to full strength by the Fall Classic — threw two scoreless innings during Sunday afternoon's 1-1 tie in front of a sellout crowd at Sloan Park in Mesa. The Indians also survived and advanced into early November without frontline starter Carlos Carrasco (broken right pinkie finger) throwing a single playoff pitch or All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley (right shoulder complications) playing beyond May.

But the Indians didn't just sit back in their comfort zone this winter and simply hope for good medical reports and assume their young core players would improve. Sensing an opportunity, Cleveland swooped in around Christmastime and made a three-year, $60 million commitment to Edwin Encarnacion, who put up 42 homers and 127 RBIs last season for the Blue Jays, weakening the team that lost the American League Championship Series.

"It certainly has a positive impact on the momentum that we established and revenue heading into the following season," Antonetti said. "But I still think beyond that, it's been a big leap of faith by our ownership to really step out beyond what may make sense, just looking at where our projections might be.

"It's really a belief in our fan base that they'll continue to support our team and build on the momentum from last year."

Cleveland already paid the price for Andrew Miller — the Yankees wanted Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez from the Cubs as a starting point last summer — and now control the game-changing reliever for two more pennant races. The Indians also invested $6.5 million in Boone Logan — a reliever the Cubs had monitored closely — when the lefty specialist lingered on the open market until early February.

Between the future Hall of Fame manager (Terry Francona), a Cy Young Award winner (Corey Kluber), the young All-Star shortstop (Francisco Lindor) and the dude from Glenbrook North (Jason Kipnis), Cleveland has way too much talent to be consumed with what could have been in Game 7.

"Hopefully, our guys learned from all of their experiences," Antonetti said. "They went through a lot last year. But I think at the same time, we have an appreciation and realize how hard it is to win, and how hard it was to get to the postseason.

"Continuing that mindset — and remembering what helped us get there — will benefit our guys the most. They'll reflect back and realize we didn't just show up and end up in the postseason and in the World Series. We started that work on Day 1 of the offseason and Day 1 in spring training."

What if… Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s takeaways from epic World Series Game 7

What if… Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s takeaways from epic World Series Game 7

MESA, Ariz. – Imagine the vibe here if the Cubs had lost Game 7, what Miguel Montero might have said to the media and how anxious the fan base would be now.

Instead of the World Series trophy on display, the sellout crowds at Sloan Park could see flashbacks to the biggest collapse in franchise history. Joe Maddon’s press briefings, regularly scheduled stunts and interactions with the players wouldn’t be quite so carefree. A rotation already stressed from back-to-back playoff runs would only have a one-year window with Jake Arrieta and John Lackey positioned to become free agents. 

“I do think about that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s just not a thought I try to keep in my head for very long, because, yeah, it is a scary thought.

“Obviously, we would be super-hungry. But there’s a daunting nature when you go that deep in the playoffs. Going through six weeks of spring training, going through a six-month regular season, going through a month of the postseason and getting back to that point is unbelievably difficult.

“It is daunting, sometimes, when you lose really late in the season, thinking about the length of time it takes you to get back to that. I’m sure that’s what Cleveland’s dealing with right now.”

The Indians crossed off Game 2 on their Cactus League schedule with Sunday afternoon’s 1-1 tie in front of 15,388 in Mesa, the beginning of the long journey they hope will finally end the 69-year drought.

Hoyer remembered looking around Progressive Field during the World Series and noticing the banners, thinking about the lineups built around Kenny Lofton’s speed, the explosive power from Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez and two-way players like Omar Vizquel and Sandy Alomar Jr.

“We were talking about it on the field before Game 7,” Hoyer said. “There’s no doubt we’re built – especially from a position-playing standpoint – to have the same players for a long time. Hopefully, we can have a lot of really great Octobers going forward. But you can never take that for granted. You have no idea what the future holds.

“You know when you’re playing in Game 7 how important it is to win in that moment, because you never know if you’re going to get back there. There are some good teams that have gotten bounced in the playoffs early or never quite got over that hump. There are some great teams that have never accomplished that.”

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In theory, this is just the beginning of a long runway for Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. But there is an element of luck involved and maybe the matchups won’t be quite as favorable in 2017 or 2019 or 2021. Injuries happen, priorities change, players underperform and the next impact homegrown pitcher in Chicago will be the first for the Theo Epstein administration.  

“You look at those mid-90s Indians teams,” Hoyer said. “Those teams were as loaded as you’re going to get from an offensive standpoint and all that young talent. They got really close in ’95. They got really close in ’97. They were never able to win that World Series.

“Look at that position-playing group – it’s incredible – and they never won a World Series. So being a really good team and having really good regular seasons – and actually winning a World Series – those are very different things. And there’s no guarantee that because you’re a good team you’re going to win the World Series.”    

Epstein fired manager Grady Little after the 2003 Red Sox lost a brutal American League Championship Series Game 7 at Yankee Stadium. That search process led to Terry Francona, the future Hall of Fame manager who led the Red Sox to two championship parades and guided the Indians to the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7. 

Hoyer, the former Boston staffer, spoke briefly with Francona last month at the New York Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner. Hoyer showed up at the New York Hilton to support Bryant, the National League MVP, while Francona collected the AL Manager of the Year award.

“Honestly, there’s some awkwardness there,” Hoyer said. “We won and they lost. And no one wants to hear a lot about it. We chatted about the game for five minutes or so, mostly talking about what a great game it was.

“Forget about the victor, that was just an incredible baseball game. We’ll always be part of history. People will always mention that game among the top five or 10 games of all-time.

“But I don’t think they want that game brought up over and over. Nor would I in the same situation. I don’t love talking about Game 7 when Aaron Boone hit the home run in ’03. It’s not my favorite topic. I think it’s probably that times a hundred when it comes to Game 7 last year for the Indians.”