Jackson aiming to bring winning tradition to Cubs

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Jackson aiming to bring winning tradition to Cubs

At a charity event in December, Cubs Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins said he thinks he would earn 30 million a year if he was in his prime during today's crazy free agent market.

Edwin Jackson isn't quite worth that -- 52 million over four years, to be exact -- but he was still one of the main draws at the 2013 Cubs Convention.

As Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer look to build the Cubs into a serial contender, they settled for making incremental moves in free agency to help improve the club. But then Jackson came along and the front office felt he was the right player at the right time.

For Jackson, a guy who has put on six different uniforms in the last five seasons, the appeal of a four-year contract was too much to pass up.

"It's always a pleasure knowing you have a chance to have stability," Jackson said Saturday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. "You don't have to worry about moving around, and also, you get to gel with guys for a long period of time. That definitely helps you guys learn each other and it's imperative to a winning team. It helps you play better."

Jackson, who doesn't turn 30 until September, has already been traded six times in his career and granted free agency twice.

He's been on so many different teams in such a short time that in a Saturday panel with fans, new Cubs TV broadcaster Jim Deshaies actually likened Jackson to "the Kevin Bacon of baseball. But instead of six degrees of separation, you only need three to find a guy who played with a teammate of Jackson's."

Jackson says he has a "collage of jerseys," but may have finally found a home here in the Windy City.

"Chicago is a great city," Jackson said. "For us to be able to come out and try to change the tradition around the Cubs organization, I think it could be a lot of fun.

"My family and I, we love Chicago. Being on the North Side, playing at Wrigley, I can definitely picture myself being here for a long time, having a lot of success and helping bring this organization up to a winning tradition."

Of course, most baseball fans know Jackson has already spent parts of two season in Chicago, pitching for the White Sox at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011, sandwiched in between a pair of trades.

But there's no question as to where Jackson's loyalty lies.

"I'm definitely looking forward to pitching on the good side," Jackson said Saturday, much to the delight of the fans. "I'm coming from the bad side -- the dark side -- and now I'm on the North Side. This is one of the greatest fan bases in the game and you see the turnout this weekend.

"It's been one of the greatest fan fests that I've been to...I feel great. There's a lot of energy. I'm excited to get the season started and experience it from the home side of things, instead of the visiting side where everybody is heckling me."

Jackson made the All-Star team in 2009 and already has one no-hitter to his name -- which he called the best and worst game of his career, as he also walked eight batters in the process. He carries a 70-71 lifetime record with a 4.40 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over more than 1,200 innings.

He brings gritty playoff experience to a team in the midst of rebuilding, having already won one World Series with the Cardinals in 2011 and appearing in another with the Rays in '08. Jackson was also a key part of last year's Washington Nationals team that led Major League Baseball with 98 wins in the regular season.

But that doesn't mean Jackson's going to be giving any rah-rah speeches in the locker room anytime soon.

"I'm not coming into a situation assuming I have to be a leader," he said. "You don't necessarily have to be vocal to be a leader. You can lead by actions and I'm definitely one of those guys. I'm not necessarily the most outspoken guy, unless I need to be.

"When there comes a situation to provide information, I can definitely fulfill that role. I'm just coming to play and have a lot of fun with these guys and try to win a lot of ballgames."

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Kyle Schwarber might have been the most dangerous hitter in a World Series lineup that featured the National League MVP plus four more All-Stars. After spending more than six months recovering from major knee surgery. Against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dominant Cleveland Indians bullpen.

“He’s not going to play winter ball,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said with a perfect deadpan delivery. “We felt like he proved he can hit major-league pitching.”

The Cubs spent Monday at the winter meetings inside the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, continuing their search for pitching on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The Cubs are so stacked with hitters that manager Joe Maddon could write out a 2017 Opening Day lineup tomorrow and Theo Epstein’s front office would still have Jorge Soler left over as trade bait.

Schwarber could hit second for the defending World Series champs, and his presence would mean more than any player the Cubs could sign as a free agent. The Cubs expect him to be at full strength by spring training, though it’s unclear how much work, if any, he’ll get as a catcher.

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“That’s the hurdle we haven’t really gone over yet,” Hoyer said. “Can he do it? There’s no question he’s going to want to do it. I think he can do it. I think that we have to have discussions about how heavy a workload we put on him in that regard.

“One of the things we talked about even last year before he got hurt was (how) he’s doing full catching drills, running around the outfield, doing stuff hitting. That’s a lot to put on a guy, sort of like playing two ways in football.”

Schwarber, an all-Ohio linebacker in high school, has a run-through-a-brick-wall mentality and doesn’t like to hear about what he can’t do. He wrecked his left knee in an outfield collision in early April and needed a procedure that reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL.

It took only two warm-up games in the Arizona Fall League before Schwarber made his dramatic return as the designated hitter at Progressive Field, batting .412 (7-for-17) with a .971 OPS during the World Series. 

The Cubs appear to be set with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero behind the plate, but Schwarber is the type of baseball gym rat who enjoys breaking down video, giving input for scouting reports and being involved in every pitch.  

“We have to talk through all that stuff,” Hoyer said. “We know what his position’s going to be, so we have to figure out what our position’s going to be. I know he’s going to want to catch.

“But he knows he’s coming in as a left fielder next year. And we have to decide how much of the catching drills (he does).”

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The San Francisco Giants had been three outs away from forcing an elimination game that Johnny Cueto would have started at Wrigley Field – and five different relievers couldn’t protect a three-run lead against a Cubs team that made a stunning comeback.

That October crash reverberated throughout the winter meetings as a $10 billion industry gathered outside Washington, D.C. The Giants bought peace of mind for the ninth inning on Monday and finalized a four-year, $62 million deal with Mark Melancon. For the moment, that will be the biggest contract ever for a closer, at least until Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman shatter that record.

The Cubs have been in contact with Jansen’s camp, sources said, monitoring his market to see if there might be a match as the World Series champs try to upgrade the bullpen this week at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

Theo Epstein’s front office doesn’t necessarily have a singular focus – believe the reports linking the Cubs to Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis – or the appetite to win a Jansen bidding war that will include the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins and perhaps the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals.

But after telling everyone that they did two offseasons in one last winter – and spending almost $290 million on free agents – this is where the Cubs could make a splash.

“It’s safe to say we’re kicking the tires on any pitching that’s available,” general manager Jed Hoyer said during his briefing with the Chicago media. “We’re not spending a lot of time on bats. We’re spending a lot of times on arms. Anyone that’s available, we’re going to sort of be in on and talking about.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon watched Jansen’s cutter up close and gave this endorsement during the National League Championship Series: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera.”

Jansen, a homegrown Dodger, converted from catcher and developed into an elite closer, saving 189 games while putting up a 2.20 career ERA and 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jansen just turned 29 and already showed a willingness to pitch outside the ninth inning and go for more than three outs, something that didn’t come easily for Chapman in an October where former Yankee teammate Andrew Miller became an American League Championship Series MVP for the Cleveland Indians.

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“The postseason was reliever-centric,” Hoyer said. “Bullpens have always been really valuable, but I think the way they were used and talked about – really, not even this postseason, but the last two or three postseasons – people are definitely putting a lot of financial importance on having a good bullpen.”

Kansas City’s blueprint for winning back-to-back pennants and the 2015 World Series featured Davis, who posted a 0.94 ERA during that championship season. But Davis dealt with a strained right forearm this year and will make $10 million in his final season before free agency, at a time when the Royals can begin to see their window to contend closing.

The Cubs haven’t made Chapman a priority – and Epstein’s group has been philosophically opposed to the idea of investing big money in a closer – but they also know they probably don’t get that parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue without that blockbuster deal with the Yankees.

“We see the value of it,” Hoyer said. “Look, we traded a great young prospect in Gleyber Torres to get Chapman, because we felt like that was an area that we were a little bit short. We felt like in order to win the World Series, we had to have that kind of guy at the end of the game. It proved to be right.

“In order to get those really difficult final outs in the postseason, having an elite guy is certainly a huge advantage.”

So if the White Sox become the Chicago team that makes most of the headlines here – and in-house options like Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop disappoint – the Cubs can always reassess at the trade deadline.

“We’ll bolster our bullpen,” Hoyer said. “Whether you do that by adding just a number of good relievers – or whether we do it by adding a guy that’s sort of a known closer – I’m not sure. But we’ll definitely add to our bullpen.”