Chicago Cubs

Theo doesnt expect blockbuster trade

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Theo doesnt expect blockbuster trade

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- The names are going to be passed around the Hyatt Regency lobby, hallways and hotel bar and blasted out from here onto Twitter.

Justin Upton? Chase Headley? Felix Hernandez? Dont look for the Cubs to be a Mystery Team.

As expected, Day 1 of the general manager meetings brought way more speculation than actual news. But as the trade rumors heat up, the Cubs will probably be sitting on the sidelines.

The Cubs arent looking to package prospects to get a difference-maker, like they once did for Matt Garza. They missed an opportunity when the Carlos Marmol-for-Dan Haren deal with the Los Angeles Angels collapsed late last week. They dont have a surplus of talent in one particular area. They dont expect to be part of any blockbusters.

Kaplan: Medical concerns killed Marmol-Haren deal with Angels

Well try to identify possible trade fits, team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday. But I dont think its the type of offseason where we have potential fits with 25 of the 29 other clubs. Well pursue everything, but realistically I think our fits might be narrower this year. Well try to use that as a strength, turn it into an advantage and focus on the free-agent market.

Were going to have a pretty well-defined trade market really quickly, because we dont have unlimited assets to deal. We dont necessarily have redundancies at positions in the big leagues or at the upper levels.

The Cubs could have interest again in Haren if he somehow fell to them at their price, but they are looking at other options to fill the two spots in their rotation.

Trying to stamp out the injury speculation, Harens agent, Greg Landry, told reporters that his client is healthy after going on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a back issue last season. Haren felt good enough to make 30 starts for the Angels, who bought him out for 3.5 million rather than pick up a 15.5 million option.

To close the Haren deal, the Cubs were said to be ready to chip in around 3-plus million, or less than half of Marmols 9.8 million salary in the final year of his contract. They viewed Haren as a more attractive trade chip if the 2013 season goes south.

Marmol has limited no-trade protection and told at least one outlet back home in the Dominican Republic that he had agreed to go to Anaheim. That caught fire on Twitter while the Angels faced last Fridays deadline to make a decision on Haren.

We never had a done deal, general manager Jed Hoyer said. To me, thats every part of the deal is done -- you send out a press release and obviously we never got to that point.

With Carlos, we got to the point where we were close enough and we needed to go to him and ask if hed waive his no-trade to the Angels. Once we involved the player, it leaked out and then everyone ran with it like it was a done deal. It was unfortunate. It was a miscommunication.

Carlos just ran with it that he had been traded, even though the deal wasnt complete. I guess thats one of the negatives of no-trade clauses. You start involving external entities when youre trying to finalize a trade and thats not the best thing in the world for keeping stuff quiet.

The Cubs have spoken with Marmol and will be better prepared the next time they bring something to their closer.

I think if I had to word it (again), it would be a little different, Hoyer said. Some of that blame might be ours, that we should have made it more clear to him: Hey, listen, hold tight, this is a theoretical. Would you do this? As opposed to: Its a done deal. So maybe we deserve some blame for that.

Thats what sort of started The Frenzy.

Marmol has shown signs of being a dominant closer again (1.52 ERA, 12-for-13 in save chances after the All-Star break). He regained a feel for his slider and trusted his fastball, which ticked back up to 94 mph.

But Marmol is still a short-term asset on a team looking at roughly a five-year window. So is Garza, though the Cubs wouldnt even consider trading him until he proves his right elbow is healthy.

Look for the Cubs to load up on some mid-range free agents, signing two starting pitchers and reconstructing their bullpen, trying to put a decent product on the field and avoid becoming big sellers again at the next trade deadline.

Get off my lawn: Jon Lester breaks down big Cubs win

Get off my lawn: Jon Lester breaks down big Cubs win

ST. LOUIS – Jon Lester went into get-off-my-lawn-mode, tired of math nerds and people being famous for no reason and the questions about whether or not he will be ready for the playoffs.   

Lester is actually a great talker when he gets going, introspective, self-deprecating and a voice of authority after winning three World Series rings with the Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

But Lester didn’t exactly sound ready to pop champagne bottles after Monday night’s 10-2 win at Busch Stadium eliminated the St. Louis Cardinals from the National League Central race and guaranteed at least a tie with the Milwaukee Brewers for the division title.  

Whether it was Lester’s brutal honesty, simmering frustration or high expectations for himself, he downplayed a quality start against a team still battling for a wild-card spot. He also took a subtle jab at the team’s sophisticated game-planning system and ripped the culture that brought us “Nacho Man.”

“I got to get back to being me,” said Lester, who had given up 27 hits and 12 walks in his previous four September starts since coming off the disabled list with what the Cubs termed left lat tightness/general shoulder fatigue. “I got to get back to putting the hitters on a defensive mode, as opposed to trying to pitch to a scouting report from pitch 1.

“That was a conscious effort going into tonight, and I felt a lot better with everything, based off of that.”

Lester attacked the Cardinals with fastballs, working with 4-0, 5-0 and 8-1 leads across six innings. Once again, he found his rhythm later, giving up two walks in the fourth, getting his only 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and sixth and maxing out at 103 pitches.

The Cardinals scored their only run off Lester in the second inning when Jedd Gyorko launched a ball 410 feet out toward left field and “Big Mac Land” – in the same at-bat where shortstop Addison Russell almost made a Derek Jeter catch and turned “Nacho Man” into an instant celebrity.   

“I’m laughing more at the fact that the guy’s taking pictures and signing autographs,” Lester said. “I really don’t know what he did. A guy fell into him and got nacho cheese on his arm and now he’s taking pictures and signing autographs. I guess that shows you where our society is at right now with all that stuff.

“I really didn’t think it was that far foul. I thought it was a pretty routine play that just kept going. And I think it surprised Addie as well. So great effort, but I don’t understand the other stuff.”

Classic Lester, who changed the clubhouse vibe and fundamental nature of this rivalry when he decided to sign with a last-place team after the 2014 season and will be 3-for-3 in playoff seasons as a Cub.

“I don’t know,” Lester said three times when asked if those command issues are rooted in taking more than two weeks off in the middle of the season. “I haven’t had stuff like this before, so figure it out as we go.”

How close are you to where you want to be?

“I don’t know,” Lester said. “I was good tonight, so let’s go with that.”

The Cubs trusted Lester enough to give him $155 million guaranteed and make him their Game 1 starter in all three playoff rounds last year. But the team’s inner circle of decision-makers had to be breathing a sign of relief, knowing that plans will take shape before Lester’s final regular-season start, what should be a meaningless Game 161 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.  

“He’s just been searching, command-wise, (and) I can’t give you an exact reason why,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We just need to get him out of the gate a little bit more on top of his game. Again, I can’t give you a solid reason. He’s well. The numbers on the gun are good. It’s just a matter of executing his pitches and finishing them.”   

Lester always seems to be so hard on himself on the mound, and that competitive fire has made him one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation. The Cubs expect to see that guy show up in October against the Washington Nationals.   

“Everything was just a little bit sharper today than it has been in a little while, so that’s good, moving in the right direction,” Lester said. “There’s a few things in there that I need to clean up. But as far as overall, it’s definitely a positive."

With no more drama left in division race, Cubs-Cardinals turns into Addison Russell vs. Nacho Man

With no more drama left in division race, Cubs-Cardinals turns into Addison Russell vs. Nacho Man

ST. LOUIS – The Cubs played with an all-out intensity that drove Addison Russell to sprint over from shortstop and dive headfirst into the front-row seats beyond the left-field line, kicking a tray of nachos out of some dude’s left hand.

The St. Louis Cardinals have sunk to the point where Nacho Man became their biggest star on Monday night, going viral on social media and getting interviewed by the Chicago Tribune and both CSN Chicago and Fox Sports Midwest during the in-game broadcasts.

Russell didn’t catch that foul ball in the second inning with a Derek Jeter leap that left his right hand covered in cheese. He got booed when the Busch Stadium video board showed the replay of the nachos hitting the ground. He made amends by bringing out another order of nachos and taking a selfie with the Cardinal fan.

“He had a great night at the ballgame,” Russell said. “Initially off the bat, I was thinking that I could make the play. I didn’t see the fence and collided with it and got all nacho-d up.”

No, this didn’t feel like a playoff atmosphere at all, beginning with the 85-degree heat and ending with entire sections of empty seats. Jedd Gyorko actually homered during that at-bat, but it didn’t matter because the Cubs had already given Jon Lester a four-run lead before he threw his first pitch in what was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for October.

The Cubs will be there as the National League Central champions, eliminating the Cardinals from the division race with a low-stress 10-2 victory that sets up the chance for a blowout party late Tuesday night in the visiting clubhouse with another win or a Milwaukee Brewers’ loss.

“Woof,” catcher Willson Contreras said when asked what it would mean to clinch in St. Louis. “It always means a lot.”

Sensing the opportunity to bury the Cardinals, the Cubs jumped St. Louis right-hander Luke Weaver, a talented rookie who came in with a 7-1 record and a 2.05 ERA and lasted only three innings. Russell – who had been such a clutch performer late in last year’s playoff run – started it by driving a two-out, bases-loaded double into the right-field corner in the first inning.

Kris Bryant, the reigning NL MVP, drove Weaver’s 93-mph fastball beyond the left-field wall and into the visiting bullpen for his 29th homer and a 5-0 lead in the second inning. Javier Baez, the No. 8 hitter, launched a three-run homer that traveled 422 feet and slammed off an advertisement overhang above the bullpen in the third inning.

This is like a dream for Cubs fans enjoying this road trip to St. Louis and trolling Cardinal fans this week (with or without taking their nachos).

“I just want to win, honestly,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I understand all that. But I’m so contrary to coming to try to force those kind of thoughts in my methods. It’s about tonight’s game. And whenever we have this first chance to get there, let’s get there. You never want it to drag out. You want to be able to set things up, so it doesn’t matter to me.

“Believe me, man, I just want to win tonight.”

Or, as 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist said: “The testosterone probably raises a little bit this time of year.”

Get your goggles and trash bags ready. The Cubs are the type of team that designed a Party Room into their state-of-the-art clubhouse as part of the $600 million Wrigleyville development and stretched out their World Series victory lap across Disney World, “Saturday Night Live,” and countless talk shows, commercials and ring ceremonies.

Anthony Rizzo – the only player left from the 2012 team that lost 101 games and a consultant on that Party Room project – insisted that celebrating in front of their rivals at a stadium that used to give the Cubs nightmares wouldn’t make a difference.       

“I really would love to be able to do it at Wrigley and use our new facilities even more,” Rizzo said. “But St. Louis is a good baseball city. They appreciate good baseball.

“If it was there, if it was in Arizona, it doesn’t matter where we clinch. Our goal was to win the division.”  

Even if it took until Sept. 26.

“It’s starting to smell like playoff baseball,” Russell said. “I know that these guys are amped up. It’s definitely feeling like playoff baseball."