Dempster overshadows everything else in Cubs' orbit

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Dempster overshadows everything else in Cubs' orbit

You could get whiplash trying to keep up with all the Ryan Dempster drama on Twitter, and how his image appears to have changed for Cubs fans.
Dempster isnt scheduled to throw another live pitch until Tuesday night, or more than four hours after the trade deadline. So that sense of urgency for Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti might not kick in this weekend.
But the trade market isnt going to remain static. The Dodgers could search elsewhere for pitching help. A contender could enter the picture and allow the Cubs to bring Dempster another trade for his approval. The Atlanta Braves might whiff on finding another starter and circle back.
All those scenarios in the run-up to the deadline mean that until this is resolved, it will overshadow everything else around this team, which is exactly what Dempster didnt want to happen.
Remember Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo? The two new faces of the franchise were a spark on Friday, combining for five hits, four RBI and four runs scored, but it wasnt enough on Ron Santo Day.
By the end, St. Louis Cardinals fans were high-fiving each other at Wrigley Field after Fridays 9-6 win over the Cubs. Now back to our regularly scheduled Dempster Watch.
We know its part of the game, manager Dale Sveum said, but I dont care who you are, it gets (old). You want to move on to other questions. Theres no question about it.
With the wind blowing out and facing a Cardinals team (54-46) that has now outscored the Cubs 32-7 in the past week, Travis Wood didnt look like an answer for the post-Dempster rotation.
Wood gave up five homers, including one Yadier Molina put on Waveland Avenue, and tied a club record last set by Carlos Zambrano (the night Big Z packed up all his stuff at Turner Field and told people he was thinking about retirement).
Things didnt go as planned, Wood said. I missed some pitches and they didnt. They ended up hitting them out of the park.
The Dempster negotiations didnt follow the script either. And for all the breathless updates on Twitter, there is still plenty of time for the Cubs (40-58) to try to make a deal.
But once a possible trade to the Braves was leaked through the Atlanta media this week, Dempster didnt want to have to make a decision so publicly while he was weighing family concerns.
After being a model teammate by all accounts for almost nine seasons with the Cubs, Dempster was catching heat from fans and being portrayed as selfish (or worse).
Whether or not that sticks, you could have looked to Dempsters old friend Kerry Wood, who was back at Wrigley Field catching the first pitch from Santos grandson. No. 10 was designed into center field and put on the blue flags on top of the upper deck as part of a day-long tribute to the late, great Hall of Famer.
Wood didnt want to go out in May with the final image being his glove and hat tossed into the stands. Ten days later, Kid K got his perfect ending by striking out the final batter he faced, hugging his young son by the dugout and walking into retirement.
Everyone was over Irrelevant, dude.
Also remember that the reasonable voices usually arent the loudest on social media. If you understand where Dempsters coming from, or respect what hes done for the franchise, then you probably dont need to use ALL CAPS and (expletives).
Fortunately for Dempster, hes got the 10-and-5 rights, Sveum said. People dont know whats going on behind the scenes and all the reasons why you accept and why you dont. So its one of those unfortunate things (where people) jump to conclusions.
Hes one of the most class guys youll ever be around (and) obviously very productive when he goes out there every five days. (Its) a tough situation.
Keeping Dempster (2.25 ERA) past the deadline is viewed as an extreme long shot, though the odds seemed to have slightly increased after the Braves deal fell apart.
The new collective bargaining agreement means that to get draft pick compensation for Dempster, the Cubs would have to offer him a one-year deal worth around 12 million at seasons end (and make sure he doesnt take it). The draft choice might be more useful in terms of the extra money that would funnel into the bonus pool, enabling them to go after more players with sign-ability issues.
But the Cubs wouldnt see any value in that until next summer at the earliest (as opposed to immediately getting a prospect or two into the system and working with them into 2013).
And if Dempster somehow stays in a Cubs uniform for the final two-plus months, no one inside the clubhouse is going to complain.
It would be a nice issue if we have him the rest of the year, Sveum said. Were only going to be a better team with him on the field this year. So as far as issues, theres not going to be any.

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

MESA, Ariz. – Jon Lester couldn't resist when a reporter mentioned the two home runs Willson Contreras launched off Danny Salazar, an All-Star talent who might have changed last year's World Series if he had been at full strength.

"It's about time we got an offensive catcher," Lester said.

Zing! Lester had already seen David Ross on "Dancing with the Stars" by the time he finished up against the Cleveland Indians and met with reporters on Monday night at Goodyear Ballpark. While Lester knew Grandpa Rossy would appreciate that one-liner, there is also some truth behind it.

Yes, Ross became the security blanket for a $155 million pitcher, helped push and encourage young players like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and got carried off the field after delivering his own Game 7 homer. But whatever Contreras may lack now in game-calling experience and pitcher psychology, he can make up for it with his rocket arm, smooth swing and willingness to learn.

A camp that began with questions about how Lester would work with Contreras ended with a sincere endorsement.

"Willie's obviously very special, to be serious about it," Lester said. "He's definitely going to add a presence to that lineup as far as protecting ‘Rizz' and ‘KB' to where they're not going to be able to just pitch around those guys. We're going to have some other guys to do some damage in the middle to the bottom of that order.

"He's a special kid, just like anybody else on this team. He's (24), so he'll only get better as time goes on and (he gets) the at-bats and the innings and all that stuff. So I'm excited to see him for a full season and how well he can do back there."

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That's another reason why the defending World Series champs might actually look better on paper than the unforgettable 2016 Cubs. Ross did a "Dancing with the Stars" routine based off Young MC's "Bust a Move," a song released in 1989, or years before Bryant, Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. were born.

Before the Cubs packed up and left Arizona, Ross made a promotional appearance in Mesa this week and caught up with some old friends like John Lackey.

"We got rid of Rossy," Lackey told reporters as the Cubs finished their Cactus League schedule with Wednesday's 15-11 win over the Oakland A's at Sloan Park. "He stinks. And we should be better. Actually, I was just inside talking to Rossy and he said that, so that's from him."

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

MESA, Ariz. – One minute into the media scrum outside the West Wing, a Washington reporter asked Theo Epstein if this season would be considered a disappointment if the Cubs don't win the World Series.

"Oof, I hadn't thought too much about 2017 yet today," Epstein said after President Barack Obama's final official White House event. "But, yeah, I mean, that's our goal. I think the organization has come such a long way and we have this talented young core. We're clearly in a very competitive phase where I think if we do our jobs, we could be as good, if not better, than any team in baseball.

"So if you're going to compete, you set your sights for the world championship. It doesn't always work out that way. But we see it as our jobs to do everything we can to be back at the White House next year."

Whether or not Epstein would actually go through with a Donald Trump photo op is a different story. But with the Cubs signaling their Opening Night roster – keeping outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella while lefty reliever Brian Duensing begins the season on the disabled list – you could make the case that the team breaking camp on Wednesday looks better on paper than last year's World Series winner.

"This is a crazy talented group," All-Star closer Wade Davis said. "There's 10 or 12 players on this team that are some of the best players in baseball."

That doesn't mean the Cubs will develop the same chemistry or sense of purpose, but this team is completely used to the national spotlight, hanging out with celebrity fans and being followed around like rock stars on the road. 

Epstein compared this camp in Arizona with what the Boston Red Sox faced after ending the 86-year drought. 

"I will never forget in '05 spring training, we had 5,000 people the first day, 3,000 fans every day," Epstein said. "I was expecting it to be as nuts. But it's been refreshingly normal, reflecting the personality of our players, taking everything in stride."   

This doesn't mean the Cubs will stay as healthy as they did last year, when the projected rotation made 152 starts combined. But four-fifths of that group returns with Brett Anderson – given his natural ability, pitching IQ and extensive medical file – appearing to have a higher ceiling and lower floor than Jason Hammel.

As Anderson said: "It's not too often that you have a salty veteran with multiple rings (John Lackey) in front of you and a guy (Kyle Hendricks) that led the league in ERA behind you."

The 2016 Cubs won 103 games and scored 800-plus runs: without Kyle Schwarber contributing a single hit during the regular season; and with Jason Heyward finishing with a .631 OPS (or 103 points below the league average).

Manager Joe Maddon said Geek Department projections have this lineup generating even more offense with Schwarber as the new leadoff guy (even with a brace on his left leg), continued growth from young players like Addison Russell and Willson Contreras and Heyward not being one of the worst hitters in the majors.

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The Cubs are also counting on a full season from Davis, instead of a half-season rental like Aroldis Chapman. Where last year's Opening Night bullpen featured three guys who would get DFA'd or traded by midseason (Neil Ramirez, Clayton Richard, Adam Warren), this version features three guys who've already notched the final out in a World Series (Davis, Koji Uehara, Mike Montgomery).

"All the additions are wonderful complements to what this team was already," Schwarber said. "Upgrades. It's going to be really cool to see how it all plays out this season with more guys getting another year of experience under their belt."

Ian Happ raising his profile and hitting around .400 in the Cactus League should help his trade value if the Cubs need to deal for pitching at the trade deadline. The combination of Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in center field should be an improvement over Dexter Fowler for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency last year.

As someone with fresh eyes – and the perspective from being on Los Angeles Dodgers teams that won back-to-back National League West titles – Anderson hasn't see any signs of complacency.

"Not at all," Anderson said. "The young guys are still hungry. And the handful of guys that weren't here last year makes you that much more hungry and itchy to get back where they were last year.

"It's a really good mix – if not a perfect mix – of young guys, veteran guys and a couple fresh faces that are eager to get back to what these guys accomplished last year."