Chicago Cubs

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.

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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.

In thick of tight division race, Cubs add catcher Rene Rivera: 'You can't have enough experience'

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USA TODAY

In thick of tight division race, Cubs add catcher Rene Rivera: 'You can't have enough experience'

If this was 2016, the Cubs might not have bothered to acquire Rene Rivera.

But this isn’t 2016.

The Cubs have a vastly different catching situation than they did a year ago. But even more importantly, they’ve been unable to build any sort of lead in a crowded National League Central race.

Rivera, claimed off waivers from the New York Mets on Saturday morning, almost surely won’t end up being the guy who fuels the Cubs’ pulling away from the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. But with Willson Contreras on the disabled list, Miguel Montero on the Toronto Blue Jays, Alex Avila not even a month into his Cubs tenure and Victor Caratini just 17 games into his big league career, adding an extra veteran presence behind the plate seems like a pretty good idea.

“It’s like you can’t have enough pitching. You can’t have enough experience, depth-wise, especially at that position,” manager Joe Maddon said Saturday. “So I though we were very fortunate to be able to do this right now. Theo (Epstein, team president) told me about the potential yesterday, obviously it happened.”

This time last season, the Cubs had a reliable 1-2 punch behind the plate with Montero and Contreras. And more notably they had a double-digit lead in the NL Central standings. There’s been an awful lot of change since, with Montero’s brutal honesty getting him shipped off to Canada and Contreras injuring his leg in San Francisco.

Fortunately for the Cubs, they invested some of their last remaining minor league capital in acquiring Avila. Avila won’t replicate the kind of offensive production that made Contreras the hottest hitter on the team, but he’s a very capable starting catcher during Contreras’ time on the shelf.

And while Caratini has been fine — in fact, he’s hitting .400 since Contreras went down and collected three hits in Friday’s win over the Blue Jays — the Cubs are no longer about getting guys experience in August and September. The stakes are much higher.

The Cubs might’ve been an unstoppable juggernaut during the 2016 regular season. This year, though, has been a much different story, and a playoff spot is hardly a certainty.

Rivera isn’t going to solve the problems that have made it so the Cubs are stuck fighting for the crown of a middle-of-the-road division. But he’ll bring veteran experience to a playoff race that could last all the way until the season’s final days.

Rivera has been playing big league ball since 2004 but has totaled just nine years of major league service since then, serving in backup roles and just twice appearing in more than 100 games in a season. The Cubs raved about his defensive ability Saturday — as well as the eight homers he hit in 54 games for the Mets this season.

“He’s very good. Saw him with different teams, we’ve all seen him. He’s got a great reputation,” Maddon said. “Nice fella. Very good defensive player, great reputation. And he's got some pop, too. He hit a couple home runs. So that veteran kind of presence, the depth that it provides is all good stuff.”

No announcement has been made about the active roster. Minor league pitcher Aaron Brooks was designated for assignment to make room for Rivera on the 40-man roster. But the general thinking is that Caratini will head back to Triple-A Iowa.

“He’s done really well,” Maddon said of Caratini. “The way he’s blocked pitches in the dirt has been spectacular. I’ve enjoyed watching his receiving and his blocking, too. The pitchers have been really happy with him. … He’s very aware of building relationships with his pitchers, which I like. And it seems as if the pitchers are into him, too.

“There’s a great future for him in this game.”

But right now, the Cubs need all the experience they can get.

The worst seventh-inning stretch performances of all time

The worst seventh-inning stretch performances of all time

Just 14 years ago, Cubs fans heard quite possibly the worst rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" ever. 

Ozzy Osbourne, lead vocalist for Black Sabbath, took the mic that 2003 afternoon at Wrigley and made eardrums bleed. It was that painful. 

It got "In the Loop" thinking, what were some other horrendous singing performances? 

From Da Coach to Scottie Pippen, the video above mashes up the worst of the worst.