Waiting on Edwin Jackson, Cubs close in on Carlos Villanueva

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Waiting on Edwin Jackson, Cubs close in on Carlos Villanueva

The Cubs did not simply have money leftover after losing the Anibal Sanchez sweepstakes.

Those were unique circumstances for the right player. The Cubs just didnt feel the same sense of urgency as the Detroit Tigers, who were willing to go to 80 million on a five-year deal.

As the Cubs remake their rotation, they will continue with the lower-risk investments. An industry source confirmed on Wednesday night that they were finalizing an agreement with Carlos Villanueva, to add depth and create some competition.

The financial details werent immediately known, but this will almost certainly fit into the sensible, cautious approach team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have taken this winter. It was harder to gauge their true interest in what would be a bigger catch: Edwin Jackson.

The Cubs acted decisively in November before the market accelerated and signed Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to one-year deals that combined included only 11.5 million in guarantees.

Villanueva figures to at least get a shot in the rotation, considering Baker is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and Matt Garza will have to answer questions about his right elbow.

But versatility has to be part of the appeal. Villanueva is only 29 years old and has made 56 starts and 245 appearances out of the bullpen during his big-league career with the Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays (33-35, 4.26 ERA).

In the Milwaukee organization, Villanueva overlapped with Cubs manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio. Perhaps they can tap into the starter who appeared to be rolling last season in July (4-0, 1.93 ERA) and August (1-4, 3.41 ERA) before fading in September (0-3, 8.10 ERA) with the Blue Jays.

If you were a swingman looking for the chance to prove yourself as a starter, would you sign with the Cubs if they were about to add Jackson?

Baker and Feldman were sold on the opportunity to showcase themselves on the North Side. The uncertainty surrounding Garzas health would seem to eliminate the possibility of an offseason trade.

Jeff Samardzija could be the Opening Day starter. Travis Wood is an option as a No. 5 starter. Arodys Vizcaino will be taking it slow after Tommy John surgery, but team officials are hoping that he can join the big-league rotation at some point in 2013 and show why he was once one of the top prospects in the Atlanta Braves system.

You can only sell so many spots in the rotation, right?

Of course all together now you can never have enough pitching. And there are enough red flags within this group not to mention the general rate of attrition to make you think the Cubs will never quite feel like theyre done.

Jackson turned 29 in September, which makes him almost six months older than Sanchez. Jackson has made at least 31 starts in each of the last six seasons, proving hes durable. That begins to fit the profile for Epstein and Hoyer, who didnt sign Jackson when he was a free agent last winter.

Jackson took a one-year, 11 million deal with the Washington Nationals the seventh team hes played for in the big leagues and went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA. That just about falls in line with his career numbers (70-71, 4.40 ERA) as a talented, mid-rotation guy who hasnt quite put it all together yet.

Jackson was involved in the three-way trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the New York Yankees, Ian Kennedy to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Max Scherzer to the Tigers (December 2009).

The White Sox got Jackson from Arizona in the Daniel Hudson trade (July 2010). And the St. Louis Cardinals fortified their bullpen for a run to the World Series title by packaging Jackson in a deal with the Blue Jays (July 2011).

Its worth noting that people whove known Jackson say hes a good guy in the clubhouse, that moving around so much shouldnt be viewed as a mark against his personality.

The Cubs, Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians are among the teams rumored to be in on Jackson, who could be looking for a home after pitching for six teams in the past five seasons.

Jackson would have to take a leap of faith with this front office, which refuses to give out no-trade clauses, views no one as untouchable and wont be afraid to sell off pieces at the deadline if it fits their long-term vision.

The Cubs have no doubt analyzed the numbers and decided how Jackson could provide value and where it no longer makes sense. They wont feel desperate or be forced into doing something. The Sanchez negotiations last week again showed they know how to walk away.

Preview: Cubs host Mariners today on CSN

Preview: Cubs host Mariners today on CSN

The Cubs take on the Seattle Mariners on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m.. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (10-4, 3.09 ERA) vs. Hisashi Iwakuma (11-6, 3.96 ERA)

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Are Cubs done dealing? ‘Wouldn’t put anything past’ Theo

Are Cubs done dealing? ‘Wouldn’t put anything past’ Theo

Are the Cubs done dealing? Theo Epstein might be the baseball executive you’d least want to play poker against, and his team didn’t stop after winning 97 wins last season – committing almost $290 million to free agents – or hold onto the organization’s top prospect when the New York Yankees wanted Gleyber Torres in the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade.

“I wouldn’t put anything past him,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said.

That win-now impulse led the Cubs to Chapman, who instantly raised the energy level at Wrigley Field on Thursday night just by walking in from the bullpen, wowing more than 40,000 fans with his 100-mph heat and getting a four-out save to close out a 3-1 win over the White Sox.

“As fans of the game, you always see what Aroldis does,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “If he’s pitching, and you’re flipping through the channels, you stay on him just to see what he does, because he’s that type of player. What he does for our bullpen now is just incredible.”

This is the blueprint for October with enough timely hitting, a quality start from John Lackey, Pedro Strop working the seventh inning and manager Joe Maddon calling for Chapman to replace Hector Rondon with a runner on third and two outs in the eighth. Chapman threw Melky Cabrera six straight fastballs that registered between 98.6 and 102.3 mph on MLB.com’s Gameday, striking him out swinging.

“I was ready,” Chapman said through temporary translator/catcher Miguel Montero said. “I’m pretty pumped to be part of it.”

While the Cubs unveiled grand plans to construct a future World Series winner, Bosio became the no-nonsense foreman supervising a crew of veterans, short-timers and sign-and-flip guys.

Ex-manager Dale Sveum and coaches like Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode installed the game-planning system and did the grunt work to build up Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, putting in all that effort only to see them shipped off to playoff contenders in trade-deadline deals.

That roster churn yielded Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Strop, Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr., Addison Russell, Hammel returning as a free agent and a trade chip (minor-league outfielder Billy McKinney) used in the Chapman deal.

“To be able to get a guy like him is a big step for the organization,” Bosio said. “It definitely sent ripple effects to everybody who’s a Cubs fan. I got so many phone calls and text messages.

“This one got a lot of people’s attention. Not just in baseball, but all over the world. He’s a headline guy coming to a headline city.”

Like virtually everyone else, the Cubs are looking for younger starting pitchers who come with years of club control, because right now only Hendricks and Jon Lester can be penciled into the 2018 rotation (when the $155 million lefty will be 34 years old).

The Cubs also can’t ignore the offense, even after pouring so much capital into their lineup, because Jason Heyward’s .632 OPS ranks 151st out of the 157 qualified major-league hitters, Montero is hitting .198, Willson Contreras will be making rookie adjustments and Kyle Schwarber’s left-handed presence will be missed even more against elite pitching in October.

If the Yankees decide to sell another rental player – and the Cubs are willing to mortgage their farm system – Carlos Beltran would be a good fit as a switch-hitter with an excellent track record as a playoff performer (16 homers, 40 RBI and a 1.155 OPS in 52 postseason games).

“There’s still a good amount of time before the trade deadline,” Epstein said this week. “So we’re going to engage with every other team and see if there’s an opportunity to get better. Either tweaks to the roster now, but I’d say it’s more focused on getting additional depth for this season and possibly making a move that makes sense for our longer-term picture, next season and beyond.”

The Cubs have until Monday afternoon’s non-waiver deadline to try to complete the World Series puzzle. Why stop with Chapman during an all-in season?

“Now we’re the ones looking to add pieces, whether it be a bat or a pitcher,” Bosio said. “I wouldn’t put anything past ownership or the front office, because they know how much we’ve invested into this year, and how hard it is just to win a major-league game.”

New bullpen clicks as advertised in Cubs victory over White Sox

New bullpen clicks as advertised in Cubs victory over White Sox

The Cubs bullpen has gone from a problem area to a seemingly automatic endgame.

Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman preserved a tight lead as the Cubs beat the White Sox 3-1 Thursday night in front of 41,157 fans at Wrigley Field, evening up the season series between the two Chicago teams.

Manager Joe Maddon got to employ his best-case scenario as John Lackey accounted for six innings before Strop pitched the seventh, Rondon got two outs in the eighth and then Chapman came in for the final four outs.

"It's awesome," Cubs leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler said. "We have what they call the three-headed monster now. Those guys cut the game down."

Rondon got into a little trouble as Tyler Saladino led off the eighth with a double into the left-field corner in a one-run game, but the former Cubs closer struck out Adam Eaton and got Tim Anderson to ground out.

With Melky Cabrera — who has been swinging a hot bat — up next, Maddon came out to replace Rondon with the new 105 mph closer.

Chapman didn't even mess around with offspeed stuff, just blowing the ball right by Cabrera to end the threat.

"He's your guy and if you let that save moment get away ... it's an entirely different moment for him," Maddon said. "So definitely wanted to give him that opportunity to convert the save."

The Cubs tacked on a run in the bottom of the eighth as Ben Zobrist led off with a double, advanced to third on Eaton's error and then scored on Addison Russell's ground out.

Chapman was drama-free in the ninth, retiring all three of the hitters he faced to earn his first save as a Cub.

Maddon said he talked to Chapman pregame about the possibility of a multi-inning save and then broached the topic to the All-Star closer again mid-game.

[RELATED - With Aroldis Chapman now in the fold, do Cubs have a bullpen that rivals world champion Royals?]

Even 37-year-old Lackey in his 14th season in the big leagues can sit by and become a spectator on the edge of his seat when Chapman comes into the game.

"It's been a cool atmosphere, for sure," Lackey said. "Playing [the White Sox] and with him coming in the game last night, that was fun to be in the dugout and check that out.

"It's definitely something you want to tune in to see, for sure."

Fowler was his classic "you go, we go" self, scoring the Cubs' first two runs against Sox ace Chris Sale — first on an RBI double from Kris Bryant on the Cubs' second batter of the game and then later on Zobrist's single up the middle in the third inning.

Lackey allowed only the one run and it came in the first inning when Tim Anderson reached on an infield single and then scored on Cabrera's double into the right-field corner.

It was Lackey's first victory since June 8, but he only threw 84 pitches and he wasn't happy about coming out of the game early.

With the Cubs' new bullpen able to cover the final three innings on most nights, the starters may not be asked to go as deep into games.

When asked about quicker hooks, Lackey said, "We'll see," before adding, "It's definitely lengthened the bullpen for sure with him at the back end. You feel good about Stroppy in the seventh inning; Ronnie as an eighth inning guy is pretty special. I can see that possibly happening."

Maddon doesn't expect his starters to like the quicker hooks, especially the ultra-competitive Lackey.

"There's nothing to sell with Johnny," Maddon said. "Maybe a six-pack. Or a 12-pack might sell. That's about the only chance I got.

"Maybe some new boots. That's all I got. I have no shot."