Cubs send message in signing Edwin Jackson

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Cubs send message in signing Edwin Jackson

We interrupt all the drama surrounding the Bears at Halas Hall and Jabari Parkers episode of The Decision.
The Cubs have just sent a message to the citys skeptical press corps and fan base: Theyre willing to spend big on free agents again.
It just had to be the right player. Remaking their rotation, the Cubs signed Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva on Thursday, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. Both deals are pending physicals, and neither contains a no-trade clause, per club policy.
In essence, Jackson represents the first big-time free agent to sign up for team president Theo Epsteins rebuilding project. But given the way the price of pitching has skyrocketed, the Cubs are no doubt hoping that Jacksons four-year, 52 million deal looks reasonable as more television money pours into the game.
This comes one week after Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts met with Anibal Sanchez and his people in Miami before the Detroit Tigers finally realized the Cubs were actually serious and stepped up with a five-year, 80 million offer.
The Cubs werent crushed when they found out that Sanchez had decided to chase a World Series ring in Detroit. Its not unreasonable to think that Jackson who turned 29 in September could wind up being a better investment.
The career numbers arent off the charts (70-71 with a 4.40 ERA), but Jackson did develop into an All-Star with the Tigers in 2009 before earning a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011.
One game might sum up Jacksons mix of potential, strength and inconsistency: He managed to throw a no-hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 25, 2010 inside Tropicana Field, despite walking the Tampa Bay Rays eight times. He struck out six and pushed himself to 149 pitches.
A few weeks later, Arizona traded Jackson to the White Sox in the Daniel Hudson deal, so he knows the city, and how to adjust to a new environment.
Jacksons father, Edwin Sr., retired as a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army. The son was born in West Germany and went to high school in Columbus, Ga. The Los Angeles Dodgers actually took him as an outfielder in the sixth round of the 2001 draft before fully realizing whats in his right arm.
The Cubs appear to be betting that staying in one place will help, that manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio can get Jackson to pitch to a game plan and tap into all that potential.
This is a power arm. Only seven pitchers in the majors averaged a higher velocity with their fastball than Jackson (93.5 mph) last season, according to the online database at Fangraphs: David Price; Jeff Samardzija; Matt Moore; Justin Verlander; Max Scherzer; Jordan Zimmerman; and Edinson Volquez.
People whove been around Jackson say hes a good clubhouse presence, suggesting that being traded six times doesnt mean hes a problem child. Its more that the stuff is so intriguing, and pitchers who can throw 200 innings dont come cheap.
The Cubs are willing to pay that price. Jackson accepted a one-year, 11 million pillow contract from the Washington Nationals last winter and parted ways with super-agent Scott Boras during the middle of a season in which he went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA for a 98-win team.
The last time Jackson didnt make at least 31 starts was 2006. This is a sturdy piece to slide into the rotation alongside Samardzija.
The Cubs are hoping for full recoveries from Matt Garza (elbow) and Scott Baker (Tommy John surgery) by April. Arodys Vizcaino will take it slow in his Tommy John rehab, with projections putting him in the big leagues sometime in 2013. But they wont have to rush anyone with the depth provided by Villanueva, Scott Feldman and Travis Wood.
Sources indicated Villanueva has agreed to a two-year, 10 million contract. The 29-year-old right-hander has been a swingman with the Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers (33-35, 4.26 ERA). There were signs that the Cubs could just continue making those kinds of modest moves.
In what seemed to be turning into a running joke on Twitter, Garza had been burned welcoming Dan Haren and getting his hopes up for Sanchez when he thought those pitchers were coming to the North Side.
So Garza must have enjoyed posting this message on Thursday for his former teammate in Tampa Bay: Like I said last night, EJax is my boy! I heard it from a cubs horse last night!! That horse being EJax! Nice to have another in the stable!
This doesnt completely accelerate Epsteins timetable. The Sanchez deal was outlined with 2015 in mind. Jackson is still young enough that he can be a factor when the Cubs project theyll really start being contenders. But this at least makes the next two bridge years more interesting.
On a day where Simeons high school star announced hes going to Duke University, and it continued to be the Bears against the world, the Cubs made you pay attention.

Brett Anderson’s main takeaway from Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio

Brett Anderson’s main takeaway from Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio

MESA, Ariz. – The pitching section of The Cubs Way manual might not be spelled out this way, but it can be summed up in five words: Have 'em work with Boz.

Or at least that's how it sounds whenever the Cubs add another fading prospect or injury case, rolling the dice on raw stuff, change-of-scenery psychology and the wizardry of pitching coach Chris Bosio.

While the Theo Epstein administration is still waiting on the drafted-and-developed pitchers to put around the Wrigley Field marquee next to the images of sluggers Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs already have the infrastructure in place that helped turn Jake Arrieta into a Cy Young Award winner and transform Kyle Hendricks into an ERA leader.

One of Bosio's ongoing projects is Brett Anderson, who underwent surgery to repair a bulging disc in his lower back last March, yet another injury in a career that hasn't lived up to his own expectations.

"It's one of those things where he's not trying to reinvent the wheel," Anderson said. "It's more trying to limit the pressure on my back and mild mechanical adjustments where I don't land on my heel as much and kind land on the ball of my foot or my toes, so it's not such a whiplash effect.

"He's had a good track record with health, especially the last couple years, and hopefully I can fall in line there, too."

Anderson made it through his first Cactus League outing, throwing a scoreless first inning during Monday's 4-4 tie with the White Sox in front of another sellout crowd at Sloan Park in Mesa. The Cubs are taking a calculated risk here with a one-year, $3.5 million that could max out with $6.5 million more in incentives if Anderson makes 29 starts this season.

[MORE CUBS: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic]

The Cubs can put the best defensive unit in the majors behind a lefty groundball pitcher and don't need to make a dramatic overhaul with a guy who grew up around the game. Anderson's father, Frank, is an assistant at the University of Houston and the former head coach at Oklahoma State University.

"I've been going to the field since I could walk and talk and annoy college kids," Anderson said. "I could take that one of two ways: I could get burnt out quick and kind of shy away from baseball. Or I could eat it up. Fortunately for me, I've eaten it up all the way through."

The entire question with Anderson revolves around health. He won 11 games for the Oakland A's in 2009 – finishing sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting – and hasn't topped that number since. There's been a Tommy John surgery and disabled-list time for a stress fracture in his right foot, a broken left index finger and a separate surgery on his lower back.

"If you dwell on the negative, you're going to worry yourself sick," Anderson said. "Pitching's fun – good, bad or indifferent – (so) you have to have a positive outlook, because otherwise you just walk around with a black cloud over your head."

The only other time Anderson hit the 30-start mark would be 2015, when he threw a career-high 180.1 innings, put up a 3.69 ERA and led the majors with a 66.7 groundball percentage. He couldn't repeat that performance with the Los Angeles Dodgers, accounting for 11.1 innings last year and not making the roster in either playoff round.

The "hybrid" fifth/sixth starter idea manager Joe Maddon floated sounds good in theory and we'll see how it works with Anderson and Mike Montgomery and a veteran rotation with strong opinions and clear ideas about routines. But the Dodgers needed 15 different starting pitchers to survive the 162-game marathon last year and seemed to run out of gas by the time the National League Championship Series returned to Wrigley Field.

"You can't have too much depth coming from where I was last year in L.A.," Anderson said. "We used so many starters. Obviously, that wasn't really the case here, which you can't really bank on year in and year out. But if I'm healthy, everything else will work itself out and I'll take my chances.”

Cubs: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic

Cubs: How Ryan Dempster wound up on Team Canada for World Baseball Classic

MESA, Ariz. – During an escalating prank war, Ryan Dempster once arranged for a camera crew to shadow Will Ohman in spring training and sell the journeyman reliever on being the star in a TV special.

But Dempster isn't trying to punk anyone by playing for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic – even though he's almost 40 years old and hasn't pitched in a competitive environment since Game 1 of the 2013 World Series at Fenway Park.

Don't let the Harry Caray/Will Ferrell impersonations fool you. Dempster always had a different side to his personality, an edge that allowed him to recover from Tommy John surgery, transition from 30-save closer back to All-Star starter and throw nearly 2,400 innings in The Show.

Still, it sort of felt like a reality show or a time machine or a spin-off from a Kris Bryant Red Bull ad on Monday at Field 1, the most secluded spot to throw live batting practice at the Sloan Park complex. On a cool, gray day, Dempster looked the same with his reddish beard, glove waggle, white pinstriped pants and blue Nike cleats.

Before stepping into the batter's box, Cubs president Theo Epstein tried to talk a little trash with Dempster: "I know I can't hit big-league pitching, but I'll see if I can hit you."

Besides Epstein, the eclectic group of hitters included Tommy La Stella and minor-leaguer Todd Glaesmann. Dempster threw roughly 50 pitches to Lance Rymel, a former farm-system catcher who will manage a Dominican summer league team this year. The audience included one reporter, six fans, a group of curious Cubs staffers and reliever Jim Henderson, who is in camp on a minor-league deal and will also pitch for Team Canada.

"I'm not going to be disrespectful to the whole process," Dempster said. "I'm not just like playing in a beer league and then decide: 'Eh, I'll throw against the Dominican team. The U.S. looks like they're pretty stacked, but I'll be all right.' I know what it entails going into this.

"At the end of the day, I'm not so worried about velocity. I'm worried about command and my ability to change speeds. It has been pretty funny to see the reactions, and I can understand why people would see it as far-fetched. But I always liked a good challenge."

Dempster first hatched this idea during a Fourth of July vacation, somewhere around Sequoia National Park in California. The group included Ted Lilly – another pitcher who got by with guts and became a special assistant in Epstein's front office – and former bullpen catcher Corey Miller.

"I just said: 'For old times' sake, why don't I throw a side?'" Dempster recalled. "I thought for sure when I woke up the next day I wouldn't be able to lift my arm up. And it felt really good."

Dempster continued with a throwing program – even through a trip to Hawaii after the World Series – and contacted Greg Hamilton, the head coach and director of Baseball Canada. As a Cub, Dempster had been the one leading runs up Camelback Mountain and showing younger pitchers like Jeff Samardzija how to train for 200 innings.

"I wasn't sure if he was serious or not," said Epstein, who did make contact against Dempster. "And then when I figured out he meant it and had a plan, I knew he'd be fine, because he's such a hard worker and he's really smart. If he's going to put the time in to get ready, I knew he'd be fine. He'll be competitive, for sure."

Dempster understood how to put together his own program with a focus on his legs, strengthening his core and shoulder exercises. To be clear, this isn't setting the stage for a comeback, the way game-over closer Eric Gagne is hoping to use Team Canada as a launching pad (after not pitching in the big leagues since 2008).

"This is just a chance to represent my country," said Dempster, who grew up in British Columbia and played on junior national teams in the 1990s. "Sometimes – I'm not bored – but a challenge in life or an opportunity presents itself. (And) it's a good lesson to teach my kids: If you work hard at something, you can do (it) and hopefully it pays off."

Dempster went out on top as a World Series champion, walking away from $13.25 million rather than pitch for the Boston Red Sox in 2014. He signed on with MLB Network and rejoined the Cubs as a special assistant in baseball operations. If he had to pick a lane, it would probably be entertainment and building off his Cubs Convention late-night format and sketches like "The Newlywed Game" with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

But Dempster still needs a fix. The star-studded cast from the Dominican Republic – Robinson Cano, Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre, Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz – will be waiting on March 9 at Marlins Park.

"Major League Baseball, professional sports aren't a normal job," Dempster said. "How do you go from that extreme high, the adrenaline rush of going out there and pitching in front of 40-grand every day to…now what do you do that satisfies you? I'm trying to find that, make my way towards that. I feel like I will eventually get there."