Mooney: Cubs facing a Giant offseason

306538.jpg

Mooney: Cubs facing a Giant offseason

Friday, Nov. 5, 2010
6:10 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The San Francisco Giants were 41-40 on the Fourth of July and by the beginning of September there were strong odds that they wouldnt even make the playoffs.

The Giants hadnt won a World Series in 56 years or since moving to the West Coast and as soon as they clinched Monday night five of their players became free agents.

Thousands upon thousands flooded downtown San Francisco on Wednesday for the championship parade and within hours the Giants had declined their 2011 option on World Series MVP Edgar Renteria.

You could argue that there is no baseball offseason. The Cubs completed their organizational meetings on Friday in Mesa, Ariz. The free-agent market opens Sunday at 12:01 a.m. EST. And in three-plus months pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training.

Like the Giants, the Cubs may have their regrets. Combined Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand, Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome will cost around 370 million spread across 24 contract years and not one is still really viewed as a core player.

Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth could each command a nine-figure contract across the next few weeks. Philosophically and with a push from new ownership the Cubs are moving away from those types of reactionary signings.

It did not go unnoticed that the Giants leaned on four homegrown starters Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez who were responsible for eight of their 11 postseason wins.

This was not a marquee group (of hitters), Cubs manager Mike Quade said. The whole group (just) lived on that pitching and they did enough offensively (to) get things done. (The) pitching can take you a long way.

The Cubs could use another starter, and will need a first baseman, preferably someone whos left-handed. Aubrey Huff remained unemployed through the middle of January before the Giants made a minimal commitment one year at 3 million and he wound up leading the team in almost every offensive category.

The Cubs could try to find similar value and flexibility. Speculation will center on Adam Dunn, but any team looking for a first baseman will have options: Huff; Carlos Pena; Lyle Overbay; Lance Berkman.

Someone will pay for Derrek Lees leadership and Gold Glove defense and hope he gets healthy and again produces at a high level. Any team would improve with Paul Konerkos bat and clubhouse presence. Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder should hit free agency after the 2011 season.

There is also depth to the pool of free-agent relievers. Reuniting with Kerry Wood would play well at the press conference, but he will be 34 next year and went on the disabled list last summer with a 6.30 ERA.

But Wood dominated once he was traded to New York, and the Yankees are constantly trying to ensure that their bridge to closer Mariano Rivera is secure. Will another team ask Wood to close? Could he get a multi-year deal somewhere? What will be his priorities?

Teams are always searching for bullpen help, and this winter you can find former closers (J.J. Putz, Frank Francisco, Brian Fuentes), relievers from playoff teams (Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Jesse Crain) and pitchers who have done it in the American League East (Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Grant Balfour).

That could be the quickest way for the Cubs to improve. The Giants blended their bullpen pieces through the draft, trades and free agency. They finished 66-6 when leading after six innings in the regular season, and went 8-1 during the playoffs in that situation.

The Cubs went 22-32 in one-run games. Eighty-three of their games were decided by two runs or less. What if a stronger bullpen could reverse the outcome in two close games each month? That would mean 12 more wins, a total of 87, which definitely makes you a factor in a weak National League Central.

For the Cubs, payroll projections are fuzzy, beyond the expectation that it will be lower than the approximately 145 million allocated on Opening Day 2010.

Its not an issue for us, general manager Jim Hendry said. We feel like whatever number (it) is, were going to have a successful offseason and be able to add a few pieces for Mike and his staff.

Thats all part of the job. Its not a question of how much money you get to spend. Were not going to need an overhaul here. I think we all felt a lot better about the club at the end of the year, the way some of the kids progressed.

Whether or not the Cubs are overestimating their 24-13 finish, the roster will have a similar look next season. But the players on the margins can make a huge difference.

The team that holds up the trophy in any sport its whos playing the best at the end and (the Giants) were really one or two games from not getting in. So it can change that quickly, Hendry said. They had a bunch of guys that just played well together and got hot at the right time. And once you get in its like we always said if you can get in often enough then sooner or later you can knock that door down.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

As the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings outside Washington, D.C., their messaging might as well be: It’s the pitching, stupid.

This is an arms race that will never end, the Cubs trying to defend their first World Series title in 108 years, build out a bullpen that looked pretty thin by November and target the kind of young starter who could help anchor their rotation for years to come, ensuring Wrigleyville remains baseball’s biggest party.

Major League Baseball’s owners and the players’ union avoided a foolish labor war by crafting a new five-year collective bargaining agreement that should spur some action next week. As executives, scouts, agents and reporters begin to flood into National Harbor on Sunday, the Cubs will intensify their search for pitching, everything from headliners to insurance policies to prospects.

“That’s been the significant bulk of our efforts,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “trying to identify those kind of starting pitchers and those kind of relief pitchers and how to match up with them. It’s definitely not going to be through lack of trying on our part to make that kind of deal. That’s now. That’s at the deadline.”  

That’s all-consuming. The Cubs are preparing for Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta will probably be in a different uniform after signing his megadeal, John Lackey might be kicking back in Texas and enjoying retirement and Jon Lester will be 34 years old with maybe 2,300 innings on his odometer. 

The Cubs have unwavering faith in their pitching infrastructure at the major-league level, from the scouting and analytic perspectives that identified the right sign-and-flip deals during the rebuilding years to the coaching staff that helped mold Kyle Hendricks into a Cy Young Award finalist and a World Series Game 7 starter.

Mike Montgomery notched the final out against the Cleveland Indians and the Cubs see him as their next big project. The lefty checks so many of their boxes, from age (27) to size (6-foot-5) to pedigree (former first-round pick/top prospect) to the change-of-scenery confidence boost/mental reset.

Forget about the White Sox trading Chris Sale to the North Side and don’t just think about obvious names or trade partners. Maybe it’s making a deal for a guy you never heard of before and sifting through the non-tender bin. 

Remember how team president Theo Epstein framed the Montgomery trade with the Seattle Mariners this summer – comparing him to All-Star reliever Andrew Miller – and that gives you an idea of how they can address their pitching deficit this winter. 

“If your scouts do a good job of identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction – and you’re willing to take a shot – sometimes there’s a big payoff at the end,” Epstein said.   

While the Cubs did Jason Hammel a favor by cutting him loose and allowing him to explore the market as one of the best pitchers in an extremely weak class of free agents, Montgomery has only 23 big-league starts on his resume. 

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

The Cubs had five starters make at least 29 starts this year, while four starters accounted for 30-plus starts in 2015, a remarkable run that led to 200 wins.

“As we’ve talked about so many times,” Hoyer said, “we do have an imbalance in our organization – hitting vs. pitching – and we’re trying to make sure we can accumulate as much pitching depth as possible. 

“We were very healthy this year, which was wonderful and a big part of why we won the World Series. I don’t think you can always count on that kind of health every single year. Building up a reservoir of depth – preferably guys you can option (to the minors) – is something (we’re trying) to accomplish.”  

The Cubs have Jorge Soler stuck in a crowded outfield plus the types of interesting prospects who appear to be blocked – catcher Victor Caratini, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder/outfielder Ian Happ – to make relatively painless trades for pitching (if not the kind of blockbuster deal that dominates coverage of the winter meetings).

The Cubs figure to add a lefty reliever, someone like Boone Logan or Jerry Blevins. The New York Post reported the Cubs were among the teams in pursuit of Brett Cecil, who got a four-year, $30.5 million deal and no-trade protection from the St. Louis Cardinals, another sign of how shallow this free-agent pool is for starting pitchers and a reflection of a postseason where the bullpen became a major storyline. 

The idea of Kenley Jansen intrigues the Cubs – and Aroldis Chapman made a favorable impression during his three-plus months with the team – but Epstein’s front office already made the major upgrades for 2017 by spending nearly $290 million on free agents after the 2015 playoff run. Philosophically, the Cubs also see smarter long-term investments than trying to win a bidding war for a guy who might throw 70 innings a year. 

With that in mind, the Cubs could get creative and have looked at free agent Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals who didn’t pitch this year after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  

Remember that Chapman left the New York Yankees and joined a team that had a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. If Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. can’t handle the late shifts, then the Cubs could always go out and trade for another closer in the middle of a pennant race.    

The Cubs have the luxuries of time, zero pressure from ownership, their fan base or the Chicago media and a stacked, American League-style lineup. 

“Right now, we could go play from an offensive standpoint and feel very good about our group,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to still continue to look to improve the depth in our bullpen, improve the depth in our starting rotation. Those are things that probably never go away. You probably never stop trying to build that depth.” 

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

LeBron James is coming to town, and he will be all decked out in Cubs gear.

The Cavs are in Chicago to take on the Bulls Friday night at the United Center and it's time for LeBron to pay up on his World Series bet with Dwyane Wade.

The two former teammates made the wager during the World Series as LeBron's hometown Indians took on Wade's hometown Cubs, with the loser wearing the winning baseball team's gear when they showed up in the opposing city. This is LeBron's first trip to Chicago this season.

Wade and LeBron already acknowledged they're having fun with this and have a whole spectacle planned with a national TV audience.

LeBron told the Akron Beacon Journal he's not going to try to take the easy way out and just toss on a Cubs jersey. He is planning socks, hat, pants and possibly more. But he won't wear cleats or bring a glove with him.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

When the Cubs won it all a month ago Friday, Wade posted an Instagram photo of LeBron wearing a Cubs uniform:

And ESPN had a cutout of LeBron sporting a No. 23 Cubs road gray jersey outside the United Center Friday morning:

CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill wonders whether LeBron will don signature Joe Maddon glasses, too.

This is gonna be fun, you guys.