How the Cubs are going to make their free agency pitch

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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.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."