Chicago Cubs

Cubs wave goodbye to Albert Pujols

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Cubs wave goodbye to Albert Pujols

DALLAS The other night Theo Epstein referred to Albert Pujols as The Big Kahuna.

Out of nowhere, the Los Angeles Angels emerged as the mystery team on Thursday morning, landing Pujols with a reported 10-year deal worth more than 250 million.

One day the Angels may wake up with a huge hangover, but they are now understandably giddy over the prospect of adding an iconic player to create must-see television and keep the turnstiles moving.

At this moment, the Cubs dont seem to have the appetite for that kind of megadeal. They were quiet at the winter meetings and left for the DallasFort Worth International Airport looking at incremental moves.

From a Cubs perspective, the Pujols decision could be looked at through two different prisms: Either the future Hall of Famer would leave the division, or force the St. Louis Cardinals to spend way beyond their means and cripple the payroll for years to come.

Epstein was asked about Pujols on Wednesday night, when the perception was that hed be returning to St. Louis and getting his statue outside Busch Stadium.

If he left, it would probably be a good thing for us in terms of developing young pitching, Epstein joked. You get a young pitcher up there and hes working on his third pitch and working on his fastball command. Youre telling him to get ahead, strike one, and then all of a sudden instead of a Triple-A hitter hes got Albert Pujols there.

(When) he can execute a pitch and it leaves the yard 420 to right-center field, its probably not good for his confidence.

Pujols hammered the Cubs over the years, generating 53 homers and 135 RBI in 174 games. In a surreal moment, Pujols created national news by hugging former general manager Jim Hendry behind the batting cage at Wrigley Field last season.

But it wouldnt have been a great fit on the North Side, where the Cubs are still trying to get out from under the huge contracts given to Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano.

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, who was hired only a few weeks ago, also handed out a five-year, 77.5 million contract to pitcher C.J. Wilson. Dipoto disputed the idea that Pujols is a player in decline.

I see Albert Pujols as the most consistent offensive player of his generation, Dipoto said. If a decline still places you in the top five MVP (vote, then go ahead). We understand that players will go through peaks and valleys. Albert has spent many years operating at the peaks. If you want to call a decline going from superhuman to just greatI dont think youve seen the last great days of Albert Pujols.

Pujols will turn 32 in January, but Dipoto wasnt worried about whispers that the slugger could actually be older than that.

Albert Pujols age, to me, is not a concern, Dipoto said. Hes an honorable man. I think hes a very respectful man and Im not a scientist. (I) can tell you he hits like hes 27.

The Cardinals have been a model of stability, but now Pujols is gone and Tony La Russa has retired. They got 11 great years out of Pujols, who became an institution in St. Louis. During that time, they finished under .500 only once, made the playoffs seven times and won two World Series titles.

The National League Central appears to be wide open, especially with Prince Fielder unlikely to return to the Milwaukee Brewers. Still, the Cubs arent expected to suddenly shift gears.

In this bizarro world, the Miami Marlins had reporters shadowing them while they walked through the Hilton Anatole toward the next possible blockbuster. In terms of buzz, the Cubs didnt exactly dominate the lobby.

At some point, the Cubs are going to need a bigger boat. But Epstein is committed to drafting well, signing international players and developing them in the system. That approach could eventually lead to a huge splash.

The most valuable commodity in the game these days is not dollars, Epstein said. Its prospects you project to be regulars or better, and good young players under control. Thats the swagger, because then the whole universe is open to you if you have those players to work with.

Jon Lester hits disabled list as back-to-back Octobers start catching up to Cubs

Jon Lester hits disabled list as back-to-back Octobers start catching up to Cubs

Typically, you wouldn’t expect there to be anything wrong with playing deep into the month of October in back-to-back seasons.

Indeed only the back-to-back world-championship campaigns in 1907 and 1908 have produced a better two-season stretch of Cubs baseball than what the team has done the past couple of years. A run to the National League Championship Series in 2015 was followed up by last season’s curse-smashing World Series win, which still has much of Lakeview in a pretty euphoric state.

But not every effect is a positive one, as the 2017 edition of the Cubs are finding out.

The debate over a so-called “World Series hangover” aside, the Cubs were hit with a more tangible detriment from playing so many postseason games Friday, when Jon Lester was placed on the disabled list with what was described as left lat tightness and general shoulder fatigue.

The news on Lester, of course, could’ve been far worse. In fact, many were expecting far worse, making Friday’s news qualify as a sigh of relief for a team that will need every one of its weapons to battle through an extremely tight division race. Lester, according to the Cubs, has no structural damage and is getting put on the shelf mostly to rest up after back-to-back seasons of deep playoff runs.

“His arm is tired, which is understandable,” team president Theo Epstein said. “If you look at the load that he’s carried, pitching seven months the last couple years, taking the ball every fifth day. There comes a time where all pitchers need a breather, and this is his time.

“He’s actually told us he’s been dealing with it for a good bit now, so this was probably inevitable. He’s getting the break before anything serious happens. He’ll be down for a little while, but he’ll come back to finish the year really solid note, pitch a lot of important games the rest of the way.

“It’s a grind. Especially when you pitch through October a couple years in a row, things tend to add up. This hasn’t been a year where we’ve been able to open up any kind of lead (in the division) and proactively give guys as much rest as we would like. Now Jon’s going to get that blow, which in the long run will serve him well.”

After back-to-back seasons of sensational starting pitching up and down the Cubs’ rotation — Jake Arrieta won the Cy Young Award in 2015, while Lester and Kyle Hendricks were finalists last year — this season has seen consistency among those same pitchers be a big issue. It was the team’s No. 1 issue, per Joe Maddon, during that sub-.500 first half.

And while things have picked up dramatically since the All-Star break, Lester’s disastrous outing Thursday wasn’t the first such performance of his season. Four times since late May, Lester has thrown four innings or fewer. Thursday’s nasty 1.2-inning, eight-run shellacking was like a replay of his final start prior to the All-Star break, when he was tagged for 10 runs and recorded just two outs against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In a season when breaking away from a mediocre pack of teams in the NL Central has yet to happen, fatigue is becoming a recurring theme.

“Jon has just pitched a lot,” Maddon said. “He’s pitched a lot over the last several years. And that’s what I keep talking about with a lot of our guys, when you take them out after 85, 90, 95 pitches, sometimes they don’t like it. But it’s a cumulative kind of effect that it’s going to have where all of a sudden it piles up and guys become tired or fatigued or they start doing something differently and all of a sudden they get some tightness.

“He probably was a little bit tired before the break. I think the break helped him a lot, he came out of the break well. Recently he’s felt a little bit of that tightness and just a general malaise. The fatigue is taking over. So we’re a little bit concerned about all of that. Give him a couple days off. I anticipate when he comes back you’re going to see a lot of what you saw post All-Star break.”

Lester’s trip to the disabled list coincides with a pair of other key performers spending time on the shelf. There seems to be no return in sight for injured shortstop Addison Russell, and the only update Maddon had on Willson Contreras was that the injured catcher “feels good.”

The good news for the Cubs is that they don’t expect to be without their ace long. Maybe just one or two missed starts. They’re mighty confident in their stopgap replacement plan, Mike Montgomery. So Lester’s injury doesn’t seem like it could have the same earth-shattering effect as losing the team’s hottest hitter, like they did when they lost Contreras.

Maddon, though, does see one of the team’s major injuries as an issue.

“The thing I’m concerned about is Javy (Baez)’s playing so much at shortstop right now. Among all the injuries, Addison impacts down the road more just because of what it’s doing,” Maddon said. “But Javy’s been playing with a lot of energy.

“I’ve been really watching him more than anybody because the outfielders are all getting breaks. (Kris Bryant) has not, (Anthony) Rizzo has not, but I get them out in a bad game or a good game, giving them some innings that way. So it’s been primarily Javy that I’m most concerned about, only because I’m worried about the latter part of the season. This guy’s played a lot. If and when we can get Addy back in there and get Javy on a more civil method regarding playing, I think that would be the one area that I’m most concerned about.”

Call it a World Series hangover. Call it just being tired. The Cubs’ rise over the past two seasons is having some ill effects as they look to repeat as World Series champs. They’re just hoping this banged-up month of August won’t prevent them from playing in three straight Octobers.

What really happened between Jon Lester and Chris Bosio

What really happened between Jon Lester and Chris Bosio

What really happened between Jon Lester and Chris Bosio?

After Lester's early exit from Thursday's game against the Cincinnati Reds, cameras caught the Cubs southpaw appearing to have a confrontation in the home dugout with Bosio, the team's pitching coach.

CSN's David Kaplan did some investigating and said Friday on his morning radio show on ESPN 1000 that Lester was expressing frustration with the Cubs defense. It was not directed to Bosio.

The Cubs were trailing 8-0 in the second inning when Lester left the game with left lat tightness. The Reds eventually tacked on another run to make it 9-0. It was a frustrating inning — to say the least — for the Cubs, who eventually erased the nine-run deficit but failed to complete the comeback in a 13-10 loss.

Kaplan also said an update on Lester should come some time Friday morning, but he isn't expected to miss a serious amount of time. He will likely land on the disabled list, though.