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.

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looks ready for prime time

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looks ready for prime time

SAN DIEGO – Within 24 hours at Petco Park, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras handled the wild movement of Jake Arrieta’s pitches and framed the edges of the strike zone for Kyle Hendricks, showing the dexterity to handle a playoff rotation.

Contreras looked ready for prime time on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, helping shut down the San Diego Padres and complete a three-game sweep where two National League Cy Young Award candidates found a rhythm while throwing to a rookie catcher.

“Everything’s a lot easier,” Contreras said after a 6-3 victory. “I’m way more comfortable right now, because my first week everything was speeding up on me. But now I’m able to slow down the game and do my job.” 

The day after Arrieta fell one inning short of a two-hit, complete-game shutout, Hendricks credited Contreras for calling more curveballs and getting him through a stretch where the Padres put the leadoff man on base in each of the first four innings. 

“From the get-go, I wasn’t shaking him off,” Hendricks said. “We’ve been rolling for the last five, six starts, at least. It’s been easy.” 

Contreras has now caught Arrieta twice, and got one-start exposure to Jon Lester, while developing chemistry with Hendricks, John Lackey and Jason Hammel, which means veteran catcher Miguel Montero might not have a spot on the postseason roster if this continues.

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Contreras is a dynamic presence, launching his eighth home run on Wednesday afternoon and keeping the Padres stationary after Tuesday night’s laser throw to pick off a runner at third base. 

“I was waiting for somebody to run,” Contreras said. “But they didn’t run, so I’ll have to save it for another game.”

The Cubs are nearing the point where a 24-year-old player who didn’t make his big-league debut until June 17 could be behind the plate for the biggest games in franchise history.

“In this clubhouse, we are like a family,” Contreras said. “Once you get here, you start feeling comfortable the first day. You don’t even know that you are a rookie who just came up.”

Kyle Hendricks keeps rolling as Cubs sweep away Padres

Kyle Hendricks keeps rolling as Cubs sweep away Padres

SAN DIEGO – Kyle Hendricks reported to spring training as a fifth starter, leads the majors in ERA in late August and could pitch Game 1 in a playoff series. That gradual evolution from possible question mark at the back of the rotation into a National League Cy Young Award candidate highlights how the Cubs have transformed from a team that won the offseason to one that owns the summer and maybe this fall. 

In his own understated way, Hendricks smashed any perceptions of that ceiling, performing at a level and with a consistency that matches the franchise’s young hitting stars, mirroring their baseball IQ and grounded nature, without the billboards and flair for social media. 

Hendricks kept rolling on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon at Petco Park, knocking the San Diego Padres off-balance and finishing the three-game sweep with a 6-3 victory. That pushed the Cubs to 36 games over .500 for the first time since finishing their 1945 pennant-winning season at 98-56. The best team in baseball could play a little over .500 (19-17) down the stretch and still reach 100 wins.

A Dartmouth College graduate with an Ivy League degree in economics helped create all this momentum – and certainly knows what he wants to do on the mound – but Hendricks as an ace still seems beyond the wildest internal preseason projection.

“I thought he ended really well last year and that there was a lot to look forward to,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s just taken it to another level right now. He’s in that 26-27-year-old range where a young pitcher who’s had some major-league experience can really find his next level. And I think that’s what’s going on. He’s such a wonderful student. The difference between last year and this year is the confidence thing: ‘I belong here. I can do this. I’m one of the best.’ 

“A lot of our guys are going through that moment right now. And I think that’s what you’re seeing out of Kyle. I’ve talked about the couple tweaks he’s made regarding the four-seam fastball and curveball usage. That makes him a little bit different. But more than anything, I think he believes he’s among the best right now.”

The Padres (53-74) looked a little checked out and didn’t really put much pressure on a Cubs team that should get an adrenaline boost this weekend at Dodger Stadium. Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant opened the game with back-to-back doubles before Ben Zobrist lined a two-run triple into the right-center field gap. Within six minutes of Paul Clemens’ first pitch, Jorge Soler’s sacrifice fly made it 3-0.

Hendricks hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a start since May 17, a run of 17 straight outings that has sliced his ERA from 3.51 to 2.19 while pushing his record to 12-7.

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Hendricks hides his emotions and didn’t get flustered when the Padres put the leadoff man on base in each of the first four innings, working around the traffic to limit San Diego to two runs and finish with eight strikeouts. 

Hendricks made it through six innings – he’s now gone at least five in each of his 24 starts this year – after beginning the day with a FanGraphs soft-hit rate (26 percent of batted balls) that led the majors and would be the highest mark in the last five seasons.

Hendricks has to pitch a different game than Jake Arrieta, but with an 8-1 record and a 1.38 ERA in his last 13 starts, he might be this year’s breakthrough performer who helps carry the Cubs into October.

“I’m just trying to stay where I’m at and keep the consistency,” Hendricks said. “Keep my pitches feeling good, keep my command. It’s just staying in my routine and really not doing too much – not doing less – just kind of riding it out until I feel something change.”

How soon before Cubs make Javier Baez an everyday player?

How soon before Cubs make Javier Baez an everyday player?

SAN DIEGO — The airtight defensive alignment for October would have to include Javier Baez, a game-changing force moving in all directions. The Cubs have seen Baez make barehanded plays and laser throws, take charge on bunts and frustrate hitters with an uncanny ability to improvise and make split-second decisions.

Baez and Addison Russell are two of the best athletes in the entire game, Jake Arrieta said after Tuesday night’s win over the San Diego Padres, so put the ball in play and let those two middle infielders take over.

There could be playoff lineups where Baez starts at second base and bumps Ben Zobrist to the outfield. But manager Joe Maddon isn’t about to hand Baez an everyday job, sticking with the super-utility formula and versatile philosophy that’s helped the Cubs become the best team in baseball.

“It depends on how we morph as a group over the next couple years,” Maddon said Wednesday at Petco Park. “Right now, I like the way it’s working out. I like the fact that (Javy’s) getting rested (and) not playing every day. Look at his at-bats — they have gotten better, too. He is making adjustments or adaptations during the at-bat. He’s not just out of control every swing.”

Baez has channeled his aggressiveness, hitting .276 with 13 homers, 47 RBIs and 83 strikeouts through 343 plate appearances, becoming a more mature and well-rounded player at the age of 23.

“You’re seeing a lot of progress,” Maddon said. “Who knows if by playing sporadically this is becoming more part of who he is? As opposed to playing every day, maybe getting caught in the trap of not hitting well, whatever, and all of a sudden he takes it on defense. It’s natural progression. He’s an everyday player, there’s no question, in maybe a couple years.”

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The Geek Department and scouting reports will ultimately influence where Baez plays, because Maddon wants him wherever the ball will most likely be hit most often. When Jon Lester pitches, that can mean Baez starting at third base and Kris Bryant moving to the outfield.

The Cubs promised Zobrist the second-base job when he signed a four-year, $56 million contract, agreeing the focus on one position would help reduce the wear and tear on his body at the age of 35. The Cubs still need Zobrist’s switch-hitting skills and World Series experience in the lineup.

Maddon also wants to keep Jorge Soler involved — because he’s a presence other teams have to account for — and maybe that will mean sacrificing Jason Heyward’s Gold Glove defense in right field at times.

But Baez is the type of defender the Cubs will want to see out there in one-run, low-scoring playoff games.

“He’s unbelievable,” Bryant said. “Any ball hit his way — whether it’s in the air, on the ground, on line — you kind of just expect him to make the play and make it look good. That’s what he’s been doing all year. I certainly think he’s Gold Glove worthy, but he plays all over. I feel like there should be a utility man Gold Glove, because he definitely (deserves it).”