Chicago Cubs

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.

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

A walk-off win in the middle of a pennant race didn’t dull the edge in Joe Maddon’s voice, the Cubs manager blasting Major League Baseball and expecting to be fined for his rant in the Wrigley Field interview room.    

“That’s asinine,” Maddon said after Wednesday night’s 7-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, fuming over the ninth-inning at-bat where Ben Zobrist showed bunt and got drilled by Wandy Peralta’s 96-mph fastball. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakney signaled for Zobrist to jog to first base, only to have first base umpire Chris Conroy call strike two.

“Listen, I don’t even know what to say about that call,” said Maddon, who stormed onto the field and got ejected for the second time this season. “We’ve had different things happen, and I’ve been playing really good in the sandbox. Really good. And I’m not right now. That call cannot be made under those circumstances.

“I can understand if the guy’s actually swinging, and all of a sudden you get like a check swing. But he’s bunting – and then trying to get out of the way – and you’re going to call a bunt?

“There’s no way any hitter under those circumstances – with the ball coming at his thigh – is going to bunt through it and then get hit in the thigh.

“That really almost did cost us the game. Fortunately, we came back, they made their wild pitch. But I’ve been playing good in the sandbox. That was wrong.”

Zobrist – who called for an electronic strike zone after watching a controversial strike three end Saturday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field – still managed to put the ball in play, move up Javier Baez and Jon Jay and keep the pressure on the last-place Reds.  

“I tried to pull the bat back, but there was nowhere for me to go,” Zobrist said. “It started right at me, and was going down towards my ankle, and I could not physically pull it back and still pull my ankle up at the same time. I tried to pull my ankle up and (Conroy) thought I was offering at it, apparently.”

Imagine the reaction if the Cubs hadn’t regrouped and maintained a 1.5-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

“I know that instant replay is not perfect,” Maddon said. “But all this little minutia needs to be looked at as we move this along, because that impacted the game. That’s bases loaded, nobody out. It’s a different at-bat for (Albert) Almora. It’s a different thought for their pitcher. Everything’s different. The world rotates differently at that point.

“To influence a game like that is wrong. And, listen, the guy’s a good guy. I think he’s a good umpire. But I’m not going to concede consistently to these guys. You can’t make that mistake.”

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

Kris Bryant already has a bromance with Anthony Rizzo, their Bryzzo Souvenir Co. brand and a joint appearance at a downtown Chicago hotel this weekend where Cubs fans can pay $699 for their autographs.

Bryant also has a friendly rivalry with Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals superstar who loves trolling on social media and teasing where he might land as a free agent after the 2018 season. Even their wives had fun with it on Instagram earlier this month when the Nationals came to Wrigley Field for a potential playoff preview.

But the player Bryant patterns himself after now – the one who lives up to “The Science of Hitting” and the principles his father absorbed from Ted Williams and passed down in the family’s batting cage in Las Vegas – is Joey Votto.

“He’s the best player ever,” Bryant said before Wednesday night’s 7-6 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds. “He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain.

“He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Favorite player? Really?

“Besides, you know, people on my team,” Bryant said with a laugh.

The Cubs contained Votto on a night where their bullpen nearly imploded, holding him to a 1-for-4 that stopped him from tying the major-league record Williams set in 1948 by getting on base at least twice in 21 straight games with the Boston Red Sox.

Through Votto, Bryant sees where he can grow after becoming a National League Rookie of the Year and MVP and World Series champion before his 25th birthday.    

“He’s not just doing it this year – he’s doing it his whole career,” Bryant said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant – who has reached base safely in his last 13 games and put up a 1.035 OPS in August – is heating up at a time when the Cubs are trying to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers (1.5 games back) and St. Louis Cardinals (2.5 games back) in a tight division race.

Where Votto famously dismissed old questions about whether or not he was being too selective, Bryant blocks out any talk about an All-Star snub, his batting average with runners in scoring position (.227) or RBI total (54). Bryant is getting on base more than 40 percent of the time and also leads the team in doubles (25), runs scored (78) and OPS (.936).  

“Sometimes it’s almost like you can kind of go up there and force the pitcher to throw the pitch that you want, just by taking pitches,” Bryant said. “My first year, I was kind of just up there swinging at everything. I still felt the approach was good and it could work in the big leagues. And it did. But I think there’s ways to have a better approach up there.

“(Votto’s) a different guy with that. I feel like he’s aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it. And he mentioned that to me, too, when I got to first (on Monday night). He said: ‘Your approach looks a lot better this year.’”

Bryant sincerely thanked Votto, but the reigning MVP isn’t trying to put together a package deal with Harper and turn the Cubs into Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.  

“I already told him before: ‘We already have a pretty good first baseman. He’s not going anywhere,’” Bryant said. “Joey can switch positions if he wants to play for the Cubs.”