Chicago Cubs

Sveum isn't buying into the CubsFielder hype

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Sveum isn't buying into the CubsFielder hype

Dale Sveum doesnt have to walk into the living room of Prince Fielders Florida home and sell him on the future.

This isnt big-time college football recruiting. This is a dance between the highest levels of the Cubs organization and the Boras Corporation.

There are several market forces at work here, but it sounds like the personal relationship between the Cubs manager and the big free agent hasnt come into play yet. The rumors about Fielder coming to Wrigley Field wont stop until theres a press conference somewhere.

At this point, I think its a lot of media talking more than us doing anything, Sveum said Friday. We havent had any talks with Prince and I havent had any conversations with him. So I think its more of the media and other people bringing this to the table than what were doing right now. We havent initiated any kind of contact at all.

This certainly doesnt rule out Theo Epstein continuing a dialogue with Scott Boras, the games most powerful agent. But Fielder was the question to ask on a teleconference after the Cubs officially announced their 2012 coaching staff.

Sveum doesnt have the same clout as Lou Piniella or Terry Francona, but he will be consulted on player personnel. Sveum may not be a dynamic media presence, but he has a reputation of being straightforward and telling it like it is. This was about as good as it gets within the cone of silence.

Sveums six seasons as a Milwaukee Brewers coach coincided with Fielders first six full seasons in the big leagues. So Sveum can tell Epstein all about how Fielder was a great teammate and played every day with maximum effort.

More than one person has described Epsteins approach to the big-tickets items like this: What would it take? How could this work? General manager Jed Hoyer has used this talking point: A major-market team will look into every possibility.

There is no denying that at the age of 27 Fielder can seriously think about the possibility of Cooperstown. This left-handed bat would be a perfect fit at Wrigley Field.

But there is a clear disconnect between what the national media perceives and what the beat writers have turned into the narrative incremental moves with a focus on pitching and defense. There is enough gray area to stake out almost any position.

Outside of Chicago, there has been talk that Epstein wants a signature move as the new president of baseball operations. They think the Cubs need star power and a box-office attraction. (Conversely, the teams finances have also been called into question on Twitter.)

Those whove watched Alfonso Soriano play every day and seen what age and injuries have done to his game doubt the organization is eager to make a huge long-term commitment right now.

The Cubs have been waiting for years to get the Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome contracts off the books. Theyre finally getting some flexibility. Epstein has said he has zero interest in making a splash.

Looking more broadly at the industry as a whole, there is a new collective bargaining agreement that will limit how much a team can spend on amateur talent, as well as begin a new era of testing, and who knows how that will impact front offices.

Brewers star Ryan Braun could be facing a 50-game suspension to start the season after a reported positive test that will be appealed.

It took everybody by surprise, Sveum said. Its just an unfortunate thing thats come about. Hopefully, he gets exonerated and there was some kind of mix-up.

A National League Central without (possibly) Braun and Fielder and Albert Pujols shouldnt dramatically change the thinking at Clark and Addison.

The New York tabloids and the Boston media love playing the Yankees and Red Sox against each other, but the Cubs wont be making reactionary moves in this division. Epstein knows how much ground the Cubs have to cover before they get back into contention.

Are the Cubs in or out on Fielder? It sounds like theyre content to be around. Its almost impossible to see them doing a Pujols deal (254 million over 10 years). But they can let the game come to them.

Realistically, what other options are out there? The Seattle Mariners? The Texas Rangers? The Miami Marlins? A mystery team?

Remember that negotiations are fluid. No one really saw the Los Angeles Angels coming and then everything changed during a 48-hour window at the winter meetings.

But the Cubs dont have to compete with the Dodgers for market share and chairman Tom Ricketts likely wont make the aggressive push Angels owner Arte Moreno did for Pujols. And thats not a knock on Ricketts, whos vowed to be hands-off and leave the baseball decisions to Epstein.

Last week at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Epstein sat in his suite and described the feeling when the new free agent holds up the jersey at the press conference.

With the flashbulbs popping, part of you thinks that this could be a great moment in franchise history. The louder voice in the back of your head says this could be a huge regret for the next six years.

Until that moment approaches, Sveum isnt buying into the Fielder hype: Thats just a lot of the media bringing that out right now.

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

MILWAUKEE – Teammates swarmed Kris Bryant in Miller Park’s visiting dugout late Thursday night, flinging sunflower seeds and forming a mosh pit around the National League’s reigning MVP.

Are you not entertained? The Cubs haven’t always played with this urgency or made it easy while nursing a World Series hangover. But they can feel it now, how close they are to October and how much they learned last year while making history.

It’s too early to pop champagne bottles, but the Cubs won a huge swing game in the NL Central race, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning when Bryant blasted Oliver Drake’s 92-mph fastball off a beam underneath the gigantic video board.

The Cubs watched it ricochet back onto the right-center field grass for a go-ahead two-run homer, bumping up the division lead to 4.5 games while cutting the magic number to clinch the division down to six.

After a head-spinning 5-3 victory that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes and ended at 11:08 p.m., Bryant didn’t sound surprised or overexcited, the same way he didn’t overreact when the Cubs struggled to gain traction before the All-Star break and the Brewers swept the defending World Series champs two weekends ago at Wrigley Field.       

“We’ve done that so many times,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a nice run with that. I guess it is experience. The heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game’s on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.”

So did the Brewers pushing their bullpen so hard this week trying to catch up that Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have to admit “their A-listers were not available,” meaning Corey Knebel, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader. Classic response from Bryant, who has 28 homers and likes to think of pitchers as nameless, faceless opponents: “I didn’t find out their top three guys were down until after the game was over.”

Maybe that changes the ninth-inning rally against Jeremy Jeffress where Ian Happ sprinted for a “Respect 90” single and scored the game-tying run when Javier Baez delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. But the Cubs are in their element now, playing games that matter, not what-if.

“I just think we like loud,” Maddon said. “I think we’re a little bit like adrenaline junkies with the fact we’re used to 40,000 people a night.”

Just look at the stone face Wade Davis made in the ninth inning, escaping a bases-loaded jam by striking out Domingo Santana swinging at an elevated 95-mph fastball and forcing Orlando Arcia to chop a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. The All-Star closer who’s 32-for-32 in save chances went back out for the 10th inning and struck out the side to notch the win. That is a five-out playbook Maddon can use in October.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said of the playoff atmosphere in a road stadium filled with Cubs fans. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the moment itself instead of having to create it yourself. You feel that.”

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

MILWAUKEE – This was the type of game Jake Arrieta visualizes, a loud atmosphere with 35,114 fans on their feet and an opponent that really doesn’t like the Cubs at all.

This one would ultimately be out of his hands, lasting 10 innings and almost 4 hours on Thursday night at Miller Park, but Arrieta looked like a Game 1 starter as the Cubs roared back for a 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Those playoff plans are coming into focus, the magic number to win the National League Central title down to six and Arrieta managing the Grade 1 right hamstring strain that has been one of the biggest question marks hanging over the defending World Series champs.

“It’s just good to be back out there,” Arrieta said. “These are big games, and I want to be a part of as many as I can, especially to try and clinch the division as quick as possible and then kind of line things up for us in October. But we got to get there first.”

Arrieta threw his first real pitch in 18 days at 7:16 p.m., firing a 92-mph fastball toward Brewers leadoff guy Eric Sogard and giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline. That always wears off, but the Cubs are a different team when Arrieta sticks his chest out and triggers his perfect posture into a crossfire delivery.

Arrieta looked sharp in his first real action since Labor Day, even as his five-inning, 71-pitch limit exposed how fragile this pitching staff might be right now. If it’s not Jon Lester laboring at the top of the rotation, it’s the softer spots in the middle of the bullpen, or questions about how much wear and tear the Cubs can take after a deep playoff run in 2015 and last year’s World Series madness stretched into early November. 

But Arrieta basically picked up where he left off as the NL pitcher of the month for August, realigning his unique mechanics and generating enough power from his right leg, restarting the momentum in a second half where he’s shown the flashes of dominance you saw during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. 

Arrieta exited this game with a 2-1 lead – before it spun out of control – and passed one test by hustling to cover first base to complete an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the fifth. He walked just one of the 20 hitters he faced and could really only regret one pitch in the fourth inning, the 92-mph fastball Domingo Santana drilled off the batter’s eye in center field.

“I felt OK,” Arrieta said. “I can tell that something happened. I think it’s just the residual feeling of something like a hamstring strain. But no pain, really no discomfort. That’s a good sign.

“Tomorrow is the biggest indicator moving forward of how we’ll be able to approach this. I don’t see any reason that I won’t feel good tomorrow.”

Arrieta is scheduled to make two more regular-season starts, but this dramatic comeback means the Cubs might be able to treat those as controlled experiments instead of must-win situations.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” Arrieta said. “This is a really awesome time to be in an organization like this, in a division like the NL Central, where there’s a couple teams that have playoff aspirations in mind. If we take care of business here over the next few days, we get a couple steps closer.”