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.

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

The sports world woke up to some tragic news on Sunday morning.

Former major leaguer Andy Marte and Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura were both killed in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic within an hour of each other, according to multiple reports. A Royals representative confirmed the death of 25-year-old Ventura.

The Cubs and White Sox took to Twitter to give their condolences:

Ventura was a member of the Royals from 2013-16 and won a World Series title in 2015 with Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis, who the Cubs acquired this offseason for Jorge Soler. Ventura also played with White Sox pitcher James Shields in 2013-14.

Marte, 33, played a majority of his seven-year career with the Cleveland Indians. He was teammates with Todd Hollandsworth (Atlanta 2005), Kerry Wood (Cleveland 2009-10), and Miguel Montero (Arizona 2014).

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."