Cubs sold on Edwin Jackson as a building block

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Cubs sold on Edwin Jackson as a building block

Cubs executives have used parallel tracks as a talking point so often that it began to lose meaning.

But on the same day team president Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts made a presentation to Anibal Sanchez at a Miami restaurant, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum were meeting with Edwin Jackson in Newport Beach, Calif.

It wasnt completely by design, though both players will be 29 years old on Opening Day and could help the Cubs win now and win later. Thats just how everyones schedules happened to fall into place last month.

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Zack Greinke, the top pitcher on the board, kept others waiting and didnt sign his six-year, 147 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers until after the winter meetings. Jacksons getting married on Saturday and had been busy with wedding preparation. Theres also the natural momentum for free agents who want to be settled before Christmas. Hoyer admitted that the Cubs probably wouldnt have signed both Jackson and Sanchez.

After Jackson buttoned up a white, pinstripe No. 36 jersey during Wednesdays news conference inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse, Hoyer laughed and said: We did a better job hiding.

Jackson heard the recruiting pitch from Hoyer and Sveum on Dec. 13 inside The Legacy Agencys Orange County offices. It didnt bother Jackson when word leaked out that the Cubs were making a strong push to sign Sanchez, and he has to understand that this is a business after being traded six times and pitching for seven teams across the past eight seasons.

I figured if they were taking the time to fly out and talk to me regardless of what happened they definitely had a strong interest, Jackson said. The only thing I could control was that conversation we were having at the time. Thats all I was worried about.

A national writer incorrectly tweeted that the Cubs had reached an agreement with Sanchez, though it certainly forced the Detroit Tigers to pay attention. The Cubs knew it was a long shot and set their limit at five years and 77.5 million. They werent surprised when the Tigers stepped up with a five-year, 80 million offer and a chance to win a World Series ring in 2013.

Jackson didnt want to get into why he left super-agent Scott Boras last year, only saying there were no hard feelings. But this must have been what he was looking for when he chose Greg Genske as his new representative.

The Cubs were attracted to Jacksons age and durability. He has made at least 31 starts in each of the last six seasons. Hes thrown 180-plus innings and notched double digits in wins in each of the past five seasons.

Jackson and his fiance, Erika Zanders, loved the city after spending parts of two seasons with the White Sox (2010 and 2011). He was born in West Germany and used to moving around because his father, Edwin Sr., is a retired U.S. Army Sergeant First Class. He bought into the rebuilding plans and agreed to a four-year, 52 million deal on Dec. 20, one week after the meeting in Newport Beach.

From what I was told, Dale was Dale, Jackson said. He definitely had an influence on my fiance. She knows a little about baseball, but shes learning. She was like: I like him, even though he didnt say much. We had a good aura with those guys and it was a pretty good feeling walking out of the room.

The Cubs did background checks with former coaches and ex-teammates, including Matt Garza, who played with Jackson on the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that made a shocking run to the World Series.

MORE Garza helped lure Jackson to Chicago

We did all the digging we could do, Hoyer said. The reasons for him moving around certainly werent (because) he wasnt a good teammate or didnt work hard. It was kind of more contractual.

As Jackson said with a smile: Everyone likes me.

Jackson might not be slamming shaving cream pies into teammates faces during postgame interviews. But Hoyer got a scouting report on someone who can get loud and bring energy: No ones quite Matt Garza on the bench, but I guess he does a close imitation.

Hoyer said Garzas been making good progress as he begins throwing again and continues to recover from the stress reaction in his right elbow. If Garza and Scott Baker are healthy, and Jeff Samardzija takes another next step, the Cubs should have an interesting rotation, especially with Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva, Travis Wood and Arodys Vizcaino creating depth.

Convinced Jackson would be a good clubhouse guy, and a big part of a team that could truly contend in 2015, the Cubs made their biggest investment in a free agent since Epstein and Hoyer came to the North Side.

You cant really go out and just like snap your fingers: OK, now were ready. Now were going to spend money, Hoyer said. You have to look at it as a gradual process with each offseason. Looking at the free-agent markets going forward for starting pitching, it was really attractive. There (arent) many (proven) guys that come out (at) 29 years old.

After helping the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series in 2011, Jackson signed a one-year, 11 million pillow contract with a Washington Nationals team that would win 98 games last season. Those experiences made the Cubs comfortable with the commitment.

We have no concerns whatsoever about him living up to the contract, Hoyer said. Hes seen and hes been part of building efforts that worked out very well. We feel like he can do the exact same thing here. His best years are ahead of him.

Jackson didnt get a no-trade clause, per club policy, but that doesnt mean hes an asset to be flipped. The Cubs view him as a building block, an investment that might even outperform Sanchez.

Its an organization that has upside, Jackson said. Its just a matter of getting the right pieces in order and having everyone play on the same page. Its definitely a team that can go out and win a lot of ballgames, regardless of what anyone says.

Preview: Cubs host Mariners today on CSN

Preview: Cubs host Mariners today on CSN

The Cubs take on the Seattle Mariners on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 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.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (10-4, 3.09 ERA) vs. Hisashi Iwakuma (11-6, 3.96 ERA)

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

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Are Cubs done dealing? ‘Wouldn’t put anything past’ Theo

Are Cubs done dealing? ‘Wouldn’t put anything past’ Theo

Are the Cubs done dealing? Theo Epstein might be the baseball executive you’d least want to play poker against, and his team didn’t stop after winning 97 wins last season – committing almost $290 million to free agents – or hold onto the organization’s top prospect when the New York Yankees wanted Gleyber Torres in the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade.

“I wouldn’t put anything past him,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said.

That win-now impulse led the Cubs to Chapman, who instantly raised the energy level at Wrigley Field on Thursday night just by walking in from the bullpen, wowing more than 40,000 fans with his 100-mph heat and getting a four-out save to close out a 3-1 win over the White Sox.

“As fans of the game, you always see what Aroldis does,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “If he’s pitching, and you’re flipping through the channels, you stay on him just to see what he does, because he’s that type of player. What he does for our bullpen now is just incredible.”

This is the blueprint for October with enough timely hitting, a quality start from John Lackey, Pedro Strop working the seventh inning and manager Joe Maddon calling for Chapman to replace Hector Rondon with a runner on third and two outs in the eighth. Chapman threw Melky Cabrera six straight fastballs that registered between 98.6 and 102.3 mph on MLB.com’s Gameday, striking him out swinging.

“I was ready,” Chapman said through temporary translator/catcher Miguel Montero said. “I’m pretty pumped to be part of it.”

While the Cubs unveiled grand plans to construct a future World Series winner, Bosio became the no-nonsense foreman supervising a crew of veterans, short-timers and sign-and-flip guys.

Ex-manager Dale Sveum and coaches like Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode installed the game-planning system and did the grunt work to build up Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, putting in all that effort only to see them shipped off to playoff contenders in trade-deadline deals.

That roster churn yielded Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Strop, Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr., Addison Russell, Hammel returning as a free agent and a trade chip (minor-league outfielder Billy McKinney) used in the Chapman deal.

“To be able to get a guy like him is a big step for the organization,” Bosio said. “It definitely sent ripple effects to everybody who’s a Cubs fan. I got so many phone calls and text messages.

“This one got a lot of people’s attention. Not just in baseball, but all over the world. He’s a headline guy coming to a headline city.”

Like virtually everyone else, the Cubs are looking for younger starting pitchers who come with years of club control, because right now only Hendricks and Jon Lester can be penciled into the 2018 rotation (when the $155 million lefty will be 34 years old).

The Cubs also can’t ignore the offense, even after pouring so much capital into their lineup, because Jason Heyward’s .632 OPS ranks 151st out of the 157 qualified major-league hitters, Montero is hitting .198, Willson Contreras will be making rookie adjustments and Kyle Schwarber’s left-handed presence will be missed even more against elite pitching in October.

If the Yankees decide to sell another rental player – and the Cubs are willing to mortgage their farm system – Carlos Beltran would be a good fit as a switch-hitter with an excellent track record as a playoff performer (16 homers, 40 RBI and a 1.155 OPS in 52 postseason games).

“There’s still a good amount of time before the trade deadline,” Epstein said this week. “So we’re going to engage with every other team and see if there’s an opportunity to get better. Either tweaks to the roster now, but I’d say it’s more focused on getting additional depth for this season and possibly making a move that makes sense for our longer-term picture, next season and beyond.”

The Cubs have until Monday afternoon’s non-waiver deadline to try to complete the World Series puzzle. Why stop with Chapman during an all-in season?

“Now we’re the ones looking to add pieces, whether it be a bat or a pitcher,” Bosio said. “I wouldn’t put anything past ownership or the front office, because they know how much we’ve invested into this year, and how hard it is just to win a major-league game.”

New bullpen clicks as advertised in Cubs victory over White Sox

New bullpen clicks as advertised in Cubs victory over White Sox

The Cubs bullpen has gone from a problem area to a seemingly automatic endgame.

Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman preserved a tight lead as the Cubs beat the White Sox 3-1 Thursday night in front of 41,157 fans at Wrigley Field, evening up the season series between the two Chicago teams.

Manager Joe Maddon got to employ his best-case scenario as John Lackey accounted for six innings before Strop pitched the seventh, Rondon got two outs in the eighth and then Chapman came in for the final four outs.

"It's awesome," Cubs leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler said. "We have what they call the three-headed monster now. Those guys cut the game down."

Rondon got into a little trouble as Tyler Saladino led off the eighth with a double into the left-field corner in a one-run game, but the former Cubs closer struck out Adam Eaton and got Tim Anderson to ground out.

With Melky Cabrera — who has been swinging a hot bat — up next, Maddon came out to replace Rondon with the new 105 mph closer.

Chapman didn't even mess around with offspeed stuff, just blowing the ball right by Cabrera to end the threat.

"He's your guy and if you let that save moment get away ... it's an entirely different moment for him," Maddon said. "So definitely wanted to give him that opportunity to convert the save."

The Cubs tacked on a run in the bottom of the eighth as Ben Zobrist led off with a double, advanced to third on Eaton's error and then scored on Addison Russell's ground out.

Chapman was drama-free in the ninth, retiring all three of the hitters he faced to earn his first save as a Cub.

Maddon said he talked to Chapman pregame about the possibility of a multi-inning save and then broached the topic to the All-Star closer again mid-game.

[RELATED - With Aroldis Chapman now in the fold, do Cubs have a bullpen that rivals world champion Royals?]

Even 37-year-old Lackey in his 14th season in the big leagues can sit by and become a spectator on the edge of his seat when Chapman comes into the game.

"It's been a cool atmosphere, for sure," Lackey said. "Playing [the White Sox] and with him coming in the game last night, that was fun to be in the dugout and check that out.

"It's definitely something you want to tune in to see, for sure."

Fowler was his classic "you go, we go" self, scoring the Cubs' first two runs against Sox ace Chris Sale — first on an RBI double from Kris Bryant on the Cubs' second batter of the game and then later on Zobrist's single up the middle in the third inning.

Lackey allowed only the one run and it came in the first inning when Tim Anderson reached on an infield single and then scored on Cabrera's double into the right-field corner.

It was Lackey's first victory since June 8, but he only threw 84 pitches and he wasn't happy about coming out of the game early.

With the Cubs' new bullpen able to cover the final three innings on most nights, the starters may not be asked to go as deep into games.

When asked about quicker hooks, Lackey said, "We'll see," before adding, "It's definitely lengthened the bullpen for sure with him at the back end. You feel good about Stroppy in the seventh inning; Ronnie as an eighth inning guy is pretty special. I can see that possibly happening."

Maddon doesn't expect his starters to like the quicker hooks, especially the ultra-competitive Lackey.

"There's nothing to sell with Johnny," Maddon said. "Maybe a six-pack. Or a 12-pack might sell. That's about the only chance I got.

"Maybe some new boots. That's all I got. I have no shot."