Cubs trying to tap into that Rays magic again

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Cubs trying to tap into that Rays magic again

MESA, Ariz. The Cubs have a pitcher whos been tested in October and went to the World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays. They have to figure out what to do with him now. His name is not Matt Garza.

Andy Sonnanstine emerged as a key piece on that 2008 miracle team, which captured the American League pennant one year after losing 96 games. The Rays didnt care how much money the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox spent. They still found a way.

Theo Epsteins first offseason as Cubs baseball czar resembled the Rays more than any of the big-market splashes he used to make with the Red Sox. There were value signings hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, like this one-year deal.

Sonnanstine even mentioned how he was looking forward to a change of scenery, the buzzwords the front office used in trading for Ian Stewart from the Colorado Rockies.

Sonnanstine won 10 games before the All-Star break in 2008 and crossed the 200-inning mark during the playoffs. He won nine games combined for the Rays the next three seasons.

There was a combination of the scouting report getting out there, people getting a little more familiar, Sonnanstine said. In 2008, there were a lot of teams that had never seen me before and I was switching arm angles, changing tempos and first go-round it worked great. I won five games quicker than anybody else in that organizations history.

I think the hitters made a great adjustment to me the next year and I didnt make as good of an adjustment to counteract that. I still think Im the same guy. Im confident in my ability and I think coming to the National League should kind of help me. (People here) havent really seen me. I can use that to my advantage and exploit some weaknesses.

But Sonnanstine, who will turn 29 in two weeks, couldnt have been all gimmicks. The right-hander was Tampa Bays minor-league pitcher of the year in 2006. He finished the 2008 regular season with a 124 strikeouts against 37 walks and survived in that brutal division.

The Cubs tried to tap into that Rays magic last winter, when former general manager Jim Hendry signed Carlos Pena to a pillow contract and pulled off a blockbuster deal for Garza. They got what they expected from Pena and Garza, but it wasnt enough to save jobs.

Sonnanstine called Pena who liked to write Conquer the now! inspirational messages on the dry-erase board in the clubhouse and went back to Tampa on a one-year deal one of my favorite characters Ive ever met through baseball. The positivity that guy oozes is awesome.

Sonnanstine wondered if Garza still brings in Popeyes fried chicken on the days he pitches. (Yes.)

That, to me, is a great idea, Sonnanstine said. It gives your position guys, your whole team, something to look forward to the day that you need work. So thats an incredibly intelligent chess move.

Sonnanstine faces long odds to make the rotation here, but in 2010 he went 3-1 with a 4.44 ERA in 81 innings, either as a reliever or a spot starter, and the Cubs could use someone like that. His dry sense of humor also wouldnt hurt inside Wrigley Fields cramped clubhouse.

Surely, Epstein remembers that Sonnanstine won Game 4 of the 2008 ALCS at Fenway Park, which helped set the stage for Garza to collect his MVP award. Here Garza has ignored the expectations, looked at this Cubs team and referenced the Rays, saying Why not?

Youd be amazed how many games you can win just with the positive mindset, Sonnanstine said. It (would be) awesome, man, getting back to that World Series. Of course, right now, Im sitting on a 1.000 batting average in the World Series.

Sonnanstine laughed about his 1-for-1 night against the Philadelphia Phillies: But I would gladly take another at-bat in the World Series.

Tyson Ross could be one of the final pieces for Cubs’ offseason puzzle

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AP

Tyson Ross could be one of the final pieces for Cubs’ offseason puzzle

Tyson Ross could be one of the final pieces of the offseason puzzle as the Cubs try to defend their World Series title while still planning for the future.

The Cubs left this week’s winter meetings in Maryland still involved in the Ross talks, sources said, monitoring an intriguing pitcher they had targeted before the 2015 trade deadline.

The San Diego Padres didn’t really buy or sell during that pennant race and made another curious decision last week when they didn’t offer Ross a contract for 2017. MLB Trade Rumors projected Ross would have made $9.6 million during his final year in the arbitration system.

After issues involving his right shoulder wiped out almost his entire season, Ross underwent surgery in October to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

Ross was San Diego’s Opening Day starter during a 15-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but didn’t pitch again, clouding a future that once had him looking like a trade-deadline chip and one of the best pitchers in the free-agent class after the 2017 season.

That’s when Jake Arrieta will be looking for his megadeal and John Lackey might be in retirement and Jon Lester will be turning 34. That’s why the Cubs are so focused on pitching this winter and trying to balance out an organization tilted toward hitters.

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Kyle Hendricks proved he will be a pitcher to build around – and the Cubs believe Mike Montgomery can evolve from a swingman into a fifth starter and maybe something far more valuable – but depth is a real issue.

Ross made 30-plus starts in 2014 and 2015, when he earned an All-Star selection and accounted for almost 400 innings combined. He will turn 30 in April and is seen as a positive force within the clubhouse. He has a 6-foot-6 frame, a second-round-pick pedigree and a Cal-Berkeley education.

Reports have already linked the Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates to Ross and not completely ruled out a return to San Diego. During an offseason where the free-agent market is essentially devoid of reliable frontline starters, there could be sticker shock, even with a rehabbing pitcher.

Trading for Wade Davis meant the Cubs were out of the bidding for Greg Holland, another All-Star closer who helped turn the Kansas City Royals into World Series champions. Holland spent this year recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, but he will still be in position to capitalize after Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman and eventually Kenley Jansen reset the market for closers.

With Ross, the Cubs will have to get a better sense of the medical picture and the price for all that upside.

Beyond a winning culture, the Cubs can sell the pitching infrastructure that helped turn Arrieta into a Cy Young Award winner and transform Hendricks into an ERA leader and keep the rotation remarkably healthy.

“Those really talented pitchers are going to be in demand, even those that are coming off an injury,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said this week at National Harbor. “We’ll stay engaged on some of those guys, but they’ll have to be just the right talent.

“We’ll have to feel good about the medical and the return to play. And the fit on the club would have to be right, too. But the true elite guys have a real market, even if they’re coming off down seasons.”

Cubs' MVP Kris Bryant signs multi-year extension with Adidas

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USA TODAY

Cubs' MVP Kris Bryant signs multi-year extension with Adidas

Kris Bryant just keeps on winning in 2016.

Two months after leading the Cubs to their first World Series title in 108 years, Bryant signed a multi-year extension with Adidas.

"It's a phenomenal time to be partnered with Adidas with all the energy and momentum that the brand has right now," Bryant said via a press release. "Adidas embraced me as part of the family from the start."

Bryant was named National League MVP after hitting .292 with 39 homers and 102 RBIs. He hit .308 with three homers and 8 RBIs in the postseason.

Bryant first signed with Adidas in 2014 after the Cubs made him the No. 2 pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.