Cubs: What we learned at the winter meetings

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Cubs: What we learned at the winter meetings

Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010
1:02 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.- Rolling suitcases in hand, the baseball industry escaped to sunlight Thursday morning, getting out of the bubble. And not a moment too soon for the executives sequestered for days in their hotel suites.

Reporters scrambled around the lobby of the Swan and Dolphin resort late Wednesday night when word spread that Carl Crawford had agreed to a deal with the Red Sox. Instantly heads dropped down to BlackBerry devices to check the terms of the contract - seven years and 142 million.

At least that was real news ( props to The Boston Globe for breaking it) about an impact player. Most of the roughly 96 hours inside the Walt Disney World complex were filled with nonstop Twitter updates on fringe guys. It made you want to order room service.

"A lot of guys aren't going to the lobby and having some social hour late in the evening," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "Guys are going to their rooms because every time you talk to somebody it's on a blog. We all read stuff that we're on this guy or that guy, half the time we're not but I understand (the media) profession's changed, too.

"It's a very aggressive world (and) everyone wants to get in on some stories and sometimes we kind of smile up here. We have a social conversation with somebody or (we're) talking about something not even related to baseball, and by the time we get back to the room we're trading for so-and-so."

So before refreshing MLBTradeRumors.com one more time on your laptop, this is what we learned about the Cubs as they leave the winter meetings and head home to pay tribute to Ron Santo's extraordinary life.

Carlos Pena became the No. 1 target. Multiple sources indicated that the Dodgers had no intention of trading James Loney to Chicago, and the Cubs weren't very high on Adam LaRoche. They wanted a middle-of-the-order presence and a Gold Glove defender and found it in Pena (nevermind his .196 average and 158 strikeouts last season).

As Pena said, "Maybe they overlooked some things because they believe in my strengths, not my weaknesses."

The Cubs and Pena are using each other for a year. After the 2011 season, the Cubs are free to pursue another first baseman (Albert Pujols?) and Pena could be in line for a monster contract if he generates 30 homers and 90 RBI.
Scott Boras is the most interesting man in the world. The powerful agent isn't a Dos Equis spokesman, but he has his own unique language of 'pillow contracts' and 'platform years.' The outlines of Pena's one-year, 10 million agreement were formed with Greg Maddux, Hendry's special assistant, sitting across from his long-time agent.

"It's just very special that a man can do things on his own terms in the game of baseball," Boras said, "because the game itself is the tiger, it's the force, it's the thing that removes you in many situations from the game."

Hendry, who enjoys a good working relationship with Boras, has simply said that Maddux can have any job that he wants in baseball. Boras would never leave it at that. Imagine the conversations when he's selling his clients behind closed doors.

"Greg has so many abilities and so many aptitudes," Boras said. "Every time he is in any facet of the game, teaching, working with the team, growing the game, it allows the game to be its optimum."

Mike Quade is cool with Starlin Castro. The Cubs manager plans to travel to the Dominican Republic in January to visit with the young shortstop. Still months away from his 21st birthday, Castro is playing for Moises Alou's winter-ball team.

The media framed Quade benching Castro for two games as a turning point in his six-week job interview, but looking back the manager doesn't see it that way.

"I felt like a much bigger deal was made out of it than it should have been, but I get it," Quade said. "It had nothing to do with Mike Quade, believe me. I thought it was the right thing to do for Starlin Castro and for the organization. I believed it would benefit him and I just thought it was a good time to try and get his attention.

"You move on. It's the kind of stuff that you do on a regular basis. And you guys never hear about when you're down in Des Moines, when you're in Huntsville, Alabama, or wherever the heck else I've been. But he handled it marvelously."

There's still some money left, just not enough for Zack Greinke. Fans should lower their sights, the lobby buzz made Matt Garza sound unrealistic, as well as their expectations for Brandon Webb. The Cubs remain intrigued about the Cy Young Award winner's potential, and concerned about the health of his right shoulder.

New pitching coach Mark Riggins said he thinks there are already seven or eight rotation options to take to Arizona (the more the better) and the organization continues to discuss the possibility of making Andrew Cashner a starter.

Whether or not Cashner remains in the bullpen, the 24-year-old is a prism through which you can view the entire team. The Cubs aren't writing checks to solve their problems. They're banking on this wave of prospects.

"It's a theme that you just can't get away from, he needs to get better," Quade said. "Hopefully he's had a great winter and comes into spring training just (saying): 'Give me the ball.' That's what I expect from a young guy with that kind of talent."

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

As the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings outside Washington, D.C., their messaging might as well be: It’s the pitching, stupid.

This is an arms race that will never end, the Cubs trying to defend their first World Series title in 108 years, build out a bullpen that looked pretty thin by November and target the kind of young starter who could help anchor their rotation for years to come, ensuring Wrigleyville remains baseball’s biggest party.

Major League Baseball’s owners and the players’ union avoided a foolish labor war by crafting a new five-year collective bargaining agreement that should spur some action next week. As executives, scouts, agents and reporters begin to flood into National Harbor on Sunday, the Cubs will intensify their search for pitching, everything from headliners to insurance policies to prospects.

“That’s been the significant bulk of our efforts,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “trying to identify those kind of starting pitchers and those kind of relief pitchers and how to match up with them. It’s definitely not going to be through lack of trying on our part to make that kind of deal. That’s now. That’s at the deadline.”  

That’s all-consuming. The Cubs are preparing for Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta will probably be in a different uniform after signing his megadeal, John Lackey might be kicking back in Texas and enjoying retirement and Jon Lester will be 34 years old with maybe 2,300 innings on his odometer. 

The Cubs have unwavering faith in their pitching infrastructure at the major-league level, from the scouting and analytic perspectives that identified the right sign-and-flip deals during the rebuilding years to the coaching staff that helped mold Kyle Hendricks into a Cy Young Award finalist and a World Series Game 7 starter.

Mike Montgomery notched the final out against the Cleveland Indians and the Cubs see him as their next big project. The lefty checks so many of their boxes, from age (27) to size (6-foot-5) to pedigree (former first-round pick/top prospect) to the change-of-scenery confidence boost/mental reset.

Forget about the White Sox trading Chris Sale to the North Side and don’t just think about obvious names or trade partners. Maybe it’s making a deal for a guy you never heard of before and sifting through the non-tender bin. 

Remember how team president Theo Epstein framed the Montgomery trade with the Seattle Mariners this summer – comparing him to All-Star reliever Andrew Miller – and that gives you an idea of how they can address their pitching deficit this winter. 

“If your scouts do a good job of identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction – and you’re willing to take a shot – sometimes there’s a big payoff at the end,” Epstein said.   

While the Cubs did Jason Hammel a favor by cutting him loose and allowing him to explore the market as one of the best pitchers in an extremely weak class of free agents, Montgomery has only 23 big-league starts on his resume. 

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

The Cubs had five starters make at least 29 starts this year, while four starters accounted for 30-plus starts in 2015, a remarkable run that led to 200 wins.

“As we’ve talked about so many times,” Hoyer said, “we do have an imbalance in our organization – hitting vs. pitching – and we’re trying to make sure we can accumulate as much pitching depth as possible. 

“We were very healthy this year, which was wonderful and a big part of why we won the World Series. I don’t think you can always count on that kind of health every single year. Building up a reservoir of depth – preferably guys you can option (to the minors) – is something (we’re trying) to accomplish.”  

The Cubs have Jorge Soler stuck in a crowded outfield plus the types of interesting prospects who appear to be blocked – catcher Victor Caratini, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder/outfielder Ian Happ – to make relatively painless trades for pitching (if not the kind of blockbuster deal that dominates coverage of the winter meetings).

The Cubs figure to add a lefty reliever, someone like Boone Logan or Jerry Blevins. The New York Post reported the Cubs were among the teams in pursuit of Brett Cecil, who got a four-year, $30.5 million deal and no-trade protection from the St. Louis Cardinals, another sign of how shallow this free-agent pool is for starting pitchers and a reflection of a postseason where the bullpen became a major storyline. 

The idea of Kenley Jansen intrigues the Cubs – and Aroldis Chapman made a favorable impression during his three-plus months with the team – but Epstein’s front office already made the major upgrades for 2017 by spending nearly $290 million on free agents after the 2015 playoff run. Philosophically, the Cubs also see smarter long-term investments than trying to win a bidding war for a guy who might throw 70 innings a year. 

With that in mind, the Cubs could get creative and have looked at free agent Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals who didn’t pitch this year after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  

Remember that Chapman left the New York Yankees and joined a team that had a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. If Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. can’t handle the late shifts, then the Cubs could always go out and trade for another closer in the middle of a pennant race.    

The Cubs have the luxuries of time, zero pressure from ownership, their fan base or the Chicago media and a stacked, American League-style lineup. 

“Right now, we could go play from an offensive standpoint and feel very good about our group,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to still continue to look to improve the depth in our bullpen, improve the depth in our starting rotation. Those are things that probably never go away. You probably never stop trying to build that depth.” 

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

LeBron James is coming to town, and he will be all decked out in Cubs gear.

The Cavs are in Chicago to take on the Bulls Friday night at the United Center and it's time for LeBron to pay up on his World Series bet with Dwyane Wade.

The two former teammates made the wager during the World Series as LeBron's hometown Indians took on Wade's hometown Cubs, with the loser wearing the winning baseball team's gear when they showed up in the opposing city. This is LeBron's first trip to Chicago this season.

Wade and LeBron already acknowledged they're having fun with this and have a whole spectacle planned with a national TV audience.

LeBron told the Akron Beacon Journal he's not going to try to take the easy way out and just toss on a Cubs jersey. He is planning socks, hat, pants and possibly more. But he won't wear cleats or bring a glove with him.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

When the Cubs won it all a month ago Friday, Wade posted an Instagram photo of LeBron wearing a Cubs uniform:

And ESPN had a cutout of LeBron sporting a No. 23 Cubs road gray jersey outside the United Center Friday morning:

CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill wonders whether LeBron will don signature Joe Maddon glasses, too.

This is gonna be fun, you guys.