Cubs waiting for the chance to strike it big

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Cubs waiting for the chance to strike it big

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. Step outside the Hyatt Regency and there are palm trees and sweeping views of the mountains set against a blue sky.

Executives rolled their suitcases through the lobby and checked out of the hotel on Friday, ending the general manager meetings. There were taxis and SUVs waiting to take them through the California desert and toward the airport for their flights home.

This luxury resort and spa surrounded by championship golf courses seemed like the perfect symbol for what the Cubs are trying to do this winter. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein views this as a cleansing.

Less than two weeks after the World Series, everyone appeared to be relaxed. But some teams are going to go wild next month at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Maybe theyll wake up one morning with a pounding headache wondering: What were we thinking?

This is all leading up to the moment when the Cubs will be in on every big free agent. Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers who had the same job with the San Diego Padres when Epstein was just out of Yale University working in his department sees it coming.

Hes methodical in the way that hes smart enough to realize where youre at, and when his opportune time will be to win, when he thinks hes got a chance to strike, Towers said. Knowing Theo, hes reviewed his competition within the Central, contracts, where guys are at, when players will be free agents and when hes going to have his chance to attack (and say): This will be the year we go for it.

Sure, the Cubs tried to lay the groundwork for offseason deals by meeting face-to-face with agents and talking to other general managers this week, but they are really looking at a much bigger picture. Even the national media has seemed to pick up the hints, not even bothering to throw out Cubs? in the Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke rumors.

Were looking to get healthier as an organization, and I dont just mean physical health on the medical side, Epstein said. I think healthier means players whose contributions on the field exceed or at least match the contracts that theyre owed.

It means having players who now look like contributors under control for years to come. It means having more assets that you can choose from to decide who you want to end up playing on the field for you and whos a possible trade chip.

It means forget Justin Upton they probably wont swing any blockbuster trades. It means seeing if Jeff Samardzija is willing to sign a long-term contract. It means taking a chance on pitchers like Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy and Francisco Liriano.

Epsteins front office of the future could have some kind of healthcare wing that tries to find an edge by predicting which players wont break down, keeping pitchers off the disabled list. The Cubs have hired P.J. Mainville away from the Diamondbacks to be their new athletic trainer, moving Mark ONeal up to a new position director of medical administration.

The Cubs could take on another reclamation project or two in their bullpen. One week after killing the Carlos Marmol-for-Dan Haren trade with the Los Angeles Angels, general manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged that they could sign someone else with a track record as a closer.

Carlos did a great job (with a 1.52 ERA) in the second half and threw really well, so he certainly comes into camp as our closer, Hoyer said. But, yeah, having depth back there is a great thing. I think a lot of times people are willing to sign with a team if they feel like they have an opportunity.

So some guys might be looking for a very clear, obvious road to the closers role. And some guys might be willing to if the moneys the same (take) a role maybe setting up and close in the future.

Surrounded by reporters, Scott Boras held court in the lobby on Thursday night, drawing a crowd probably bigger than any general manager got here. The super-agent praised the Los Angeles Dodgers and their free-spending ownership group with Magic Johnson the new smiling face of the franchise for understanding Hollywood and the superstar culture there.

Boras talked up the Washington Nationals, which are stocked with his clients, saying the franchise has bloomed: Theres a diamond full of cherry blossoms. He mentioned how each team will pocket an extra 25 million or so from the new national television deals beginning in 2014, so there should be no excuses.

The macroeconomics will drive some deals that could leave you shaking your head, but certain teams will get over the sticker shock.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn put it this way: I dont think any of us should be surprised given the sort of lack of real impact free agents out there that the prices for the top tier of free agents are going to be a little higher than what were used to.

Its not the best time to be a buyer in the free-agent market, so the more needs youre able to fill internally, or via trade, the more efficient youre going to be.

That being said, sometimes the best option is out there in free agency and you got to pay the going rate to get something done.

Anibal Sanchez is a nice pitcher who went on a strong postseason run with the Detroit Tigers. But his career record is 48-51 with a 3.75 ERA. Hes never been selected to an All-Star Game, nor has he received a single Cy Young vote. His asking price reported on Twitter: Six years at 90 million.

Epstein wasnt bluffing when he took over almost 13 months ago and laid out his rebuilding plan. It wont happen this winter, but one day he will be looking around the room during a stadium club news conference at Wrigley Field. Standing next to a 100 million player, maybe hell be wondering: What did we just get ourselves into?

You want to get healthier as an organization to have a better future, both short-term and long-term, Epstein said. Sure, were in talent-acquisition mode more so than we are putting the finishing touches on our club for next year. But all that means is were trying to get healthier and healthier as an organization, so every year when we get to this offseason, there are more opportunities for a big strike in free agency.

Willson Contreras: King of the bat flip

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AP

Willson Contreras: King of the bat flip

Willson Contreras oozes swag.

The Cubs' fiery catcher has always worn his emotions on his sleeve and Friday was no exception.

Contreras hammered Carlos Martinez's 2-2 offering into the basket in left-center to give the Cubs an early 2-0 lead and his bat flip/reaction was incredible:

Here's a closer look:

It's funny that Contreras even reacted that way given the ball just *barely* got out, but hey, a homer's a homer.

Contreras has been flat-out raking since the All-Star Break, going 10-for-23 with five runs, three doubles, three homers and nine RBI. That's a .435/.480/.957 slash line and 1.437 OPS in the six second-half games he's played in.

That's boosted his season line to .276/.341/.496 (an .837 OPS) with 14 homers. He's on pace to drive in 85 runs, second only to Anthony Rizzo on the Cubs.

Yes, this truly is becoming "Willy's" team.

Jose Quintana admits trade rumors have affected him negatively this season

Jose Quintana admits trade rumors have affected him negatively this season

Jose Quintana emerged from the third-base dugout, taking in Wrigley Field for the first time in a Cubs uniform.

But he quickly snapped back to Earth as he realized he and the other Cubs starting pitchers were to take batting practice and he forgot to bring his bat out.

Ah, the life of an American League pitcher.

It was no big deal, obviously. And minutes later, Quintana's new teammates were marveling at his swing. Even Jake Arrieta — who has five career homers (all during the last three seasons) and sported a .720 OPS last year — was impressed.

Quintana doesn't start until Sunday night against the St. Louis Cardinals, so he has two days to acclimate to Wrigley Field.

Which is good, because Quintana showed up for work today — he took Lake Shore Drive in (better known as LSD to Chicagoans) — and didn't even know where the players' entrance was:

But once he figured that out, he was all smiles, learning the lay of the land from Cubs traveling secretary Vijay Tekchandani.

It's also good for the 28-year-old left-hander to get some consistency in his life.

Everything will be easier from this point on after he admitted the trade rumors had been bouncing around his head all season.

"It was my first time [being mentioned in trades]," Quintana said. "I never heard anything about trades [before]. It was on my mind all the time. 

"[Until I realized] it's because I'm doing something good and teams want me. I just try to do my job in season. It's really hard when you have trade [rumors] around you, but for me, it's over now and I'm excited for that and really happy to be here."

The White Sox organization was all Quintana had known since 2006 and after watching as teammates Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were shipped out of town over the winter, it is easy to see how it would've been tough dealing with the uncertain future. 

Quintana entered this season with a career 3.41 ERA, but that mark sat at 5.60 through the first two months of the season as the trade rumors swirled.

But the veteran southpaw eventually figured it out — just like he said — and has been on fire since then, posting a 2.30 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 47 innings since the start of June.

His first game as a Cub — Sunday against the Orioles in Baltimore, still with a DH — resulted in 12 Ks across seven shutout innings.

Quintana is excited for his first start in a Cubs uniform at Wrigley Sunday night (so much so that he used the word "excited" at least seven times in his five-minute media session) and just recently got a few bats to put that BP prowess into action in a game.

He was pushed back a day, so he will completely miss the Crosstown series next week and will not pitch against his former mates. 

That might be the right move, as he admitted it would've been very difficult with the trade just over a week old by the time Monday's Crosstown opener comes along.

"It was difficult for me because I played there for six seasons," he said. "It wasn't easy when I heard [I was traded]. It was a little hard for me, but I understand it's part of business and this is the best for me, too.

"Trades happen for a reason and I'm really happy to be here with these teammates, this organization; they were champions last year. We have a really good chance this year. I'm excited to be here."

As for the trade rumors, Quintana is content now. Especially since he and his family don't even have to move.

"As my wife said," Quintana stated, "'You can sleep now.'"