Cubs: Theo making his pitch to free agents

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Cubs: Theo making his pitch to free agents

NASHVILLE, Tenn. The Cubs sell themselves.

That was the message from team president Theo Epstein, who insists that the organization isnt having issues recruiting free agents to a long-term rebuilding project, where the possibility of a sell-off at next summers trade deadline exists if things dont break right.

The winter meetings kicked off on Monday at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn., where the Cubs will monitor everything, but not feel the same urgency as those teams in win-now mode. Someone else will win the Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke sweepstakes. Dont expect any megadeals on the North Side yet.

But Epstein believes manager Dale Sveum has become a draw, besides the obvious advantages of playing in a great city and for a franchise that has opportunities.

Dales making a name for himself as a manager that players want to play for, Epstein said. Free agents recognize that we had a good clubhouse last year, despite the difficult season that we had. I think generally free agents believe in the positive direction were going.

Elite baseball players are really competitive and I think they like the thought of being part of the solution here. Being a member of the team that finally wins a World Series for the Cubs is really appealing. Ive had a number of players tell me that directly. We have not had to sell our situation much at all.

When we express interest, weve been hearing back: Oh, thats a place weve had our eye on. Which you dont often hear coming off a 101-loss season.

Sources indicated that the Cubs are not after Michael Bourn, whose options could be shrinking now that Angel Pagan (San Francisco Giants) and B.J. Upton (Atlanta Braves) have signed for a combined 115 million. With players coming off the board, the Cubs could be in position this week to sign their outfielder, possibly someone to play right because David DeJesus can shift to center.

Its starting to come into focus a little bit, Epstein said. As much as any other market, the outfield market this year is kind of tiered a little bit, so theres a domino effect with each move. With each passing day, it becomes a little more clear.

The Cubs will continue looking for starting pitching after adding Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to the rotation, though Epstein admitted we can kind of relax and pick our spots and dont necessarily have to be desperate.

Baker and Feldman were signed to one-year deals, but the Cubs are willing to make a bigger commitment to the right outfielder.

That was based on asking prices, the supplydemand dynamic, Epstein said. We felt those were the best values. In an ideal world, we would have gotten options like we did with (Paul) Maholm, but because the markets a little different this year we werent able to. But if the right multi-year deal were there for a pitcher, we would have acted. Same with the outfield.

We might end up with a one-year deal somewhere. We might end up with a multi-year deal. We might end up with a trade for an under-control player. We just dont know where things are going to take us, but we havent ruled anything out or in. You cant be like so dogmatic about a plan that you cant look at all options, especially when your plan involves acquiring talented young players. Those arent available in free agency.

So the Cubs are going to have to be creative. Epstein is comfortable with the idea of having a platoon in center field andor at third base. They continue talking with Ian Stewarts camp after non-tendering the third baseman last week and havent ruled out re-signing him. They think Luis Valbuena could be in the mix. They could move a middle infielder to the corner, or find a power bat and hope he catches the ball at third base.

Kevin Youkilis is going to go to a much higher bidder, especially now that the New York Yankees need to do something with Alex Rodriguez heading for hip surgery. There are no obvious solutions at third base.

As Epstein said, It would be good to be Mike Schmidt right about now.

John Lackey roughed up as Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

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AP

John Lackey roughed up as Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs have scored zero runs through 18 innings at Dodger Stadium this weekend and still haven’t faced Clayton Kershaw yet. Neither game got tense enough for star closer Kenley Jansen and the sound system blasting “California Love.”

Of course, the Cubs survived a 21-inning scoreless streak last October and came back to eliminate the Dodgers and win their first National League pennant in 71 years.

But the Cubs have to keep saying this is a new year, even as a grueling schedule approaches the Memorial Day mile marker for a 25-23 team. And you could see the frustration during Saturday’s 5-0 loss in front of 48,322 and a national TV audience.

John Lackey walked off the field and down the dugout steps after the fifth inning and slammed his glove to the ground. A one-run game had turned into a 5-0 blowout as Lackey walked pitcher Brandon McCarthy and Chris Taylor then drilled the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats. Lackey screamed into his glove after Chase Utley knocked a two-out, two-run single into right field and Dodger Stadium got loud.

Lackey is now 4-5 with a 5.18 ERA for a team that had been built around reliable starting pitching. The Cubs will try to avoid the sweep on Sunday afternoon in what should be a must-see Kershaw vs. Jon Lester matchup.

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

LOS ANGELES – Scott Boras waved a Cubs beat writer over toward the VIP section behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Holding a smartphone in hand, the super-agent started rattling off data points on Saturday afternoon, making the case for Jake Arrieta once he hits the free-agent market after this season.

Boras pushed back on the idea that Arrieta is something less than an elite pitcher and compromised by diminished velocity, launching into a defense that lasted roughly 15 minutes and drew in two more Chicago reporters before a security guard told the media to clear the field because it was an hour before first pitch.

Once again, Boras used 2014 Max Scherzer as a reference point, detailing five of six starts between May 21 and June 17 in which a Cy Young Award winner gave up seven runs, five runs, four runs, four runs and 10 runs. That didn’t stop Scherzer from making another All-Star team, going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, leading the Tigers to another division title and jumping to the Nationals for a seven-year, $210 million megadeal.

“I just remember going through this,” Boras said, “because when Detroit came to town, I got the ‘Oh my God, the ship is sinking.'"

The night before, Boras sat in a front-row seat with his entourage watching Arrieta during a 4-0 loss that saw aging Dodgers Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez crush fastballs over the center-field wall. One theory – floated by the media and essentially confirmed by manager Joe Maddon – is that Arrieta (4.92 ERA) will have to learn how to pitch in a new reality where he can’t automatically unleash a 95-mph fastball.

“That is so far remote from the truth,” Boras said. “To create a voice to your fan base to suggest that Jake is not Jake – Jake is throwing at frankly better levels than what Scherzer did. And the reality of it is that Jake has this history.

“He’s got a great history that goes on, like (Clayton) Kershaw does, like (David) Price does, like (Zack) Greinke does. These guys have not done this for one year. He did it ’14, ’15, ’16.”

Here’s how Brooks Baseball’s online database has tracked Arrieta’s average velocities across the last three-plus seasons:

2014

Four-seam: 94.59

Sinker: 94.49

2015

Four-seam: 94.93

Sinker: 95.21

2016

Four-seam: 94.32

Sinker: 94.44

2017

Four-seam: 92.64

Sinker: 92.50

Here’s the Brooks Baseball analysis of Scherzer’s fastball from 2012 through last season’s Cy Young Award campaign: 94.97, 94.46, 93.88, 94.67, 95.23.

[MORE: Scott Boras doesn't believe Jake Arrieta is feeling pressure of free agency]

Boras dismissed a question about Arrieta’s inconsistencies at the beginning of his career as he shuttled between the Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate and how that could impact the perception of a 30-something pitcher.

“I’m looking at a three-year window coming into ’17,” Boras said. “When you’re elite, you have not done it once. You have not done it twice. You’ve done it three times. Jake has had three premium years. He’s in the Cy Young voting three years in a row. That puts him in a class of all these people.

“(One) comment is: ‘Oh my God, he’s dropped in velocity.’ Fair observation. My point is they all drop in velocity. All the elite pitchers drop in velocity, because they come in the league, they’re throwing 96, they’re throwing 95, then they’re down. But what are they all doing? They’re all (within) the ranges, probably close to 92 and 93.5.”

The Boras Corp. pitch to owners and executives this offseason will also revolve around durability, advanced stats and postseason experience. Arrieta has made 25, 33 and 31 starts across the last three seasons, ranking second in the majors in WHIP (0.97) and third in soft-contact percentage (22.6) and pitching in six playoffs rounds.

Where Kershaw and Price have repeatedly had to answer questions about their big-game performances, Arrieta can cue up the highlights from the 2015 wild-card game in Pittsburgh and show off his 2016 World Series ring.

Boras clearly has an agenda, but all this is worth remembering amid all the instant analysis and overreactions to how the defending champs are playing now. It might also reinforce why Theo Epstein’s front office could view this as a bad investment and keep rolling the dice with change-of-scenery guys and trading from their surplus of hitters. 

“We’re going to sit here and evaluate a player on a 60-day moment or a 10-start moment when he has three years of his history?” Boras said. “Don’t do it. That’s not fair. It’s not an evaluation, because all their velocities drop.

“All these guys are all still doing well and all their velocities dropped. The key thing is they were able to do what they did three years running. What does Jake have an advantage over all of them at? What does Jake do better than anybody? He wins big games.”