How the Cubs are going to make their free agency pitch


How the Cubs are going to make their free agency pitch

Going after Dan Haren shows that the Cubs will look into everything. They have money to burn, but dont want to commit long-term, and arent opposed to rental players.
With Haren now a free agent, the Cubs are going to have to reboot their search for the (at least) two pitchers they need to plug into their rotation. That will be the focus when general managers begin gathering on Tuesday for their meetings at an Indian Wells, Calif., resort.
Cubs executives declined to comment on why talks with the Los Angeles Angels broke down late Friday night and the Haren-for-Carlos Marmol trade collapsed. But it did make you wonder: Why would a free agent want to sign with the Cubs?
"Ive heard this over and over again -- players want to be part of the solution here, team president Theo Epstein said the day after a 101-loss season ended. They want to be part of the club that ultimately wins the World Series here."
OK, but every indication is that the Cubs dont want to pay retail and will wind up with more placeholders than future core players.
And the clubhouse is going to feel a real sense of urgency in April and May next season, because the players know that if they dont get off to a good start, the front office is going to start selling off pieces in July and bracing for a last-place finish.
As a blueprint, Epstein uses Paul Maholm, a former first-round pick with health questions looking for a change of scenery. Last winter, Maholm agreed to a 4.25 million salary, with a 6.5 million club option for 2013. By the time Maholm was flipped to the Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline, the left-hander was one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, going 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his final seven starts for the Cubs.
We can sell opportunity, Epstein said. I think Paul Maholm would tell people hes really glad he signed here, that he got a little bit of help. He got an opportunity and his career took the next step here. Even though he was traded, I think he feels good about his Cubs experience and would come back here in a second if he had the opportunity.
Across the industry, demand will outpace supply, but several pitchers fit that profile: Brandon McCarthy; Scott Baker; Shaun Marcum; Francisco Liriano; Jeremy Guthrie.
Epstein also believes the word gets out quick among players. They text each other all the time. Theyre part of the same union. They share the same agents. They give each other man hugs during batting practice. They want to play for certain managers.
So even after 101 losses, Epstein thinks free agents will know that Dale Sveum is a players manager, someone whos been there before and runs a good, professional clubhouse.
Ryan Dempster got stuck going to the Texas Rangers at the deadline and left on bad terms (even though general manager Jed Hoyer wouldnt automatically dismiss the possibility of a return if several things broke right this winter).
But it was telling -- when asked on July 31 if Epstein and Sveum have what it takes to build a winner here -- that Dempster praised the manager: Hes going to eventually lead this team to a World Series.
Dempster embraced the game plans and worked well with pitching coach Chris Bosio, putting together a scoreless streak that lasted 33 innings and posting a 2.25 ERA in 16 starts with the Cubs.
So did Maholm, who grew up a Braves fan in the South, went to Mississippi State University and wound up in an ideal spot.
But when the Cubs are negotiating against players with more leverage, how do they recruit someone who could have more attractive options, or at least a better sense that another team wont become sellers at the deadline?
Its really expressing interest early, Hoyer said, and being sincere and telling the players why you have interest and what you hope to be like as an organization while theyre here.
Paul was at a point in his career where he was looking for the best situation for him to have success -- and he found that. We have to be able to convince them that this is a place they can come in and have success and -- in Pauls case -- sort of re-establish himself as a really good major-league pitcher. Hopefully, there will be other guys we go after that already are established.
But its nice to be in a place like Chicago, with an organization like the Cubs. Playing at Wrigley Field, living here -- theres a lot of huge positives. We need to do a really good job convincing them of our direction as a baseball team, but a lot of the other things certainly sell themselves.
No doubt, its good being a Cub: Just look at the hometown discount Kerry Wood once gave the team, or how closely players (Dempster, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano) guarded no-trade clauses during lost seasons.
Theres shopping on Michigan Avenue, getting wined and dined in River North and hanging out in Wrigleyville. Plus, all the day games free up your nights.
Money talks, but a free agent is going to have to trust Epsteins vision (and those two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox). Hoyer mentioned McCarthy in this context: The Oakland As have done a good job landing this type of free agent.
McCarthy didnt reach an agreement with the As (1 million plus incentives) until the middle of December 2010, after spending time on the disabled list in each of the previous four seasons.
When McCarthy signed there, he probably felt like: OK, this is a good organization. They like me as a pitcher. I can pitch well here, Hoyer said. But Im sure part of why he went there, too, was: Hey, listen, this is a good front office. This is a good organization and I think theyre doing the right things.
McCarthy went 17-15 with a 3.29 ERA in 43 starts for Oakland before getting hit in the head with a line drive during a scary moment in September.
Hoyer wouldnt confirm that the Cubs have interest, only saying that McCarthy (age 29) has done a remarkable job the past two seasons, helping the As win the American League West at a time when the Angels and Rangers act like economic superpowers.
Hoyers takeaway on McCarthys decision: Very quickly hes pitching in a pennant race.
If the Cubs are going to experience that kind of turnaround, they will have to be right on two pitchers who will be taking a leap of faith.

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The Cubs felt so nervous just before a 7:09 first pitch on Saturday night that Javier Baez found the camera looking into the home dugout, waved with a big smile and started pumping his fist, hamming it up for the video board as Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” blasted through the Wrigley Field sound system.

The Cubs then ran out onto the field and systematically destroyed the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending this National League Championship Series in six games with a 5-0 win that featured almost no tension or suspense, obliterating for now the narrative around this franchise.

The old stadium still kept shaking, from Kris Bryant’s RBI single in the first inning to the clapping to Anthony Rizzo’s “Intoxicated” walk-up music to a standing ovation for Kyle Hendricks, who outpitched the supposed best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw.

“We don’t care about history,” Bryant said. “This is a completely different team, different people all around. It doesn’t matter. This is a new Chicago Cubs team. And we are certainly a very confident group.”

Sure, 1908 will hover over the entire World Series, which begins Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. But this is the new normal for Bryant, who within two years has won 200 games, four playoff rounds, a Rookie of the Year award and probably MVP hardware.

This team isn’t going away, either. With a chance to win the pennant for the first time since the Truman administration, the Cubs started two rookies who began this season at Triple-A Iowa – catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Albert Almora Jr. – in a lineup that featured Bryant (24), Rizzo (27), Baez (23), Addison Russell (22) and Hendricks (26).

Contreras caught a shutout and posed for a moment at home plate watching his line-drive homer off Kershaw fly into the left-field bleachers in the fourth inning. Rizzo – who had looked overmatched earlier in the playoffs – became the first left-handed hitter to homer off Kershaw during this calendar year.

And when Rizzo tried to wave off Baez for the ball Josh Reddick popped up to the right side of the infield in the fifth inning, Baez cut right in front of Rizzo to catch it, continuing a long-running gag among the Cubs infielders.

“I don’t think they’re oblivious, because that’s sort of insulting in some ways,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They know the history. I just don’t think they care. They think they’re a good team and they love to play. And we have some guys that definitely shine on the big stage.”

Baez – a September call-up last year who couldn’t get an everyday spot during the regular season – showed off his bat speed and unbelievable defensive instincts and emerged as the NLCS co-MVP along with big-game pitcher Jon Lester. Sold on the idea of all this young talent someday coming together, Lester joined a last-place team after the 2014 season, taking a leap of faith, even at $155 million.

“I don’t feel like there’s pressure at all in our clubhouse,” said Almora, the first player Theo Epstein’s front office drafted here in 2012. “There’s just hunger and excitement and desire to win.

“None of us were around in 1945…so we just got to write our own history.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This is what the Cubs have been talking about since the New York Mets swept them out of last year’s NLCS, since the Ricketts family invested almost $290 million more in free agents, since unconventional manager Joe Maddon made “Embrace The Target” the theme of spring training.

Whatever your preconceived notions of the old Cubs are, know that this group has an amazing sense of balance. They are youthful and experienced. They play as a team and with individual flair. They have style and get dirty. They are analytical and sort of oblivious. They are loose and intense. And the ending hasn’t been written yet.

“We still got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “We’ll enjoy tonight – don’t get me wrong – we’ll have a celebration. We’ll have a good time. We’ll smile, we’ll hug each other, probably get drunk a little bit…but we got some work to do.”

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities] 

The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”