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: Arrieta, Cubs return home to face Pirates Monday on CSN

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs return home to face Pirates Monday on CSN

Jake Arrieta and the Cubs return home to battle the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, and you can catch all the action on CSN at 7:05 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.

Starting pitching matchup: Steven Brault (0-1, 3.60 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (16-5, 2.62 ERA)

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

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Cubs close out road trip with narrow loss to Dodgers

Cubs close out road trip with narrow loss to Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon watched John Lackey board the team bus on Sunday morning wearing a Team USA onesie. The Cubs manager later noticed Aroldis Chapman in pajamas in the clubhouse on his way out to the dugout for his pregame media session at Dodger Stadium.

“We’ve created our own little culture, our own little identity,” Maddon said. “I just love the fact that they buy into those moments. Your stars are buying into it.”

The Cubs are in their own world, followed like rock stars on the road, freed from baseball’s unwritten rules and checked out from the daily anxiety and scoreboard-watching stress during a normal pennant race. 

But this afternoon still had a playoff-type atmosphere, with a crowd of 44,745 watching a scoreless game finally pivot in the eighth inning. Cubs reliever Trevor Cahill hit Andrew Toles with a pitch, jammed Howie Kendrick and threw the soft groundball into right field. An intentional walk to Corey Seager loaded the bases, setting up a matchup between Carl Edwards Jr. and the heart of the Los Angeles lineup.

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The rookie unleashed a 97-mph fastball and struck out Justin Turner on a foul tip. Edwards then went right back at Adrian Gonzalez, inducing a chopper toward third baseman Javier Baez, who threw the ball to second base. The Cubs missed escaping the jam by a split second, with Seager’s right foot sliding into second just before Ben Zobrist’s left foot touched the bag.

That would be the difference in a 1-0 loss that again showed the narrow margin between these two big-market, first-place teams. The Cubs needed 10 innings to secure a comeback win on Friday night before Los Angeles won one-run games on Saturday and Sunday at Dodger Stadium.  

The Cubs would still leave Los Angeles with a 14-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, their magic number to clinch the division now 20, ending a West Coast trip with a onesies theme almost exactly one year after Jake Arrieta threw a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, showing this team would be a force in October.

With John Lackey ramping up for return, could Cubs go to six-man rotation?

With John Lackey ramping up for return, could Cubs go to six-man rotation?

LOS ANGELES – John Lackey is ramping up for a return to the rotation and all those “Big Boy Games” the Cubs are supposed to play in October.

The Cubs expect Lackey to test his strained right shoulder and throw two bullpen sessions this week, manager Joe Maddon said Sunday at Dodger Stadium. If everything goes smoothly for the two-time World Series champion, the Cubs will tentatively schedule Lackey’s next start for either the Labor Day weekend showdown against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, or near the beginning of a three-city road trip in early September.     

Lackey (9-7, 3.41 ERA) has accounted for 158-plus innings, making 24 starts and stabilizing the rotation before going on the disabled list on Aug. 15. Jason Hammel should eventually cool off and will be “well-rested” after Maddon’s quick hook on Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium. The Cubs also like what they’ve seen from Mike Montgomery, believing the lefty can develop into a solid big-league starter.

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Could the Cubs go to a six-man rotation down the stretch?

“We haven’t planned that specifically yet,” Maddon said. “I’m not opposed, let me put it that way. We’ll see how it all plays out with Mikey the next time through. Again, to do anything we possibly can to conserve our arms for the end of the year is important. 

“It’s being proven throughout the industry right now. Moving forward, the biggest trick there is to get the sixth guy that you like. Most teams are clamoring to get (No.) 4 and 5. We got five that we like. Now we’re working on 6.”

It’s not like the Cubs are fighting for a wild-card spot or clinging to a one-game lead in the division. The best record in baseball allows them to look at the big picture and get creative in September. The counterargument to keeping starters fresh for October would be keeping creatures of habit like Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in a rhythm. 

“Starting pitchers have always rallied to say that they need to stay on that particular plan,” Maddon said. “But I think it’s kind of been proven – just give them that extra day or two on occasion and it really benefits them. So I just think you’re fighting this old view of specifically how it needs to be done."