Why Cubs didn’t make a last-minute addition and saved up for the trade deadline

Why Cubs didn’t make a last-minute addition and saved up for the trade deadline

MESA, Ariz. – Travis Wood – last seen shirtless raising the World Series trophy above his head at the Grant Park rally – didn't agree to a deal until the day Kansas City's pitchers and catchers reported and the Royals still haven't officially announced that two-year, $12 million contract yet.
 
The Cubs didn't make that kind of last-minute addition because they want to save up for the trade deadline – think this year's Aroldis Chapman – and the player who could help lead to another championship parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue.  
 
The Cubs stayed in contact with Wood's agent, Darek Braunecker, throughout the winter, but didn't push hard enough for the lefty swingman, who had been the longest-tenured player on the team, a popular clubhouse guy and a link to the 101-loss season in 2012.    
 
The Cubs also didn't pounce on Jerry Blevins or Boone Logan, two left-handed relievers who lingered on the free-agent market until early February. Even after an October where closers became stars and the bullpens provided nightly drama, Blevins returned to the New York Mets on a one-year, $6.5 million guarantee while Logan accepted a similar offer from the Cleveland Indians.

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"There were some relievers who became available on shorter deals late that we were interested in early on (with) those types of deals," team president Theo Epstein said Tuesday. "But they weren't really ready to commit yet to the shorter deal. And then by the time it rolled around late in the offseason, we kind of spent our money. 
 
"We really want to be cognizant of leaving some flexibility for in-season moves, leaving a little cushion beneath the CBT (competitive balance tax) threshold for us to be able to operate."
 
So don't expect any surprise appearances at the Sloan Park complex, the way Dexter Fowler showed up in Mesa last year and shocked the baseball world. The Cubs already have a clear idea of the group that will leave Arizona in late March. 
 
Epstein is also looking beyond this season – when Wade Davis, Koji Uehara and Pedro Strop will become free agents – to what he called "the next generation of our bullpen." That means allowing Carl Edwards Jr. to grow into a more prominent role and seeing what they have in Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith. 
 
"Whether it was Travis or some of the other relievers late, we had some self-imposed limitations," Epstein said. "We just wanted to leave some cushion for in-season moves. We saw last offseason how important that can be. 
 
"I'm sure we'll be active again midseason at the trade deadline if needs arise. But we also want to be mindful of not getting too full in the bullpen. We'd like to give an opportunity to younger guys at some point."

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Jake Arrieta is a Cy Young Award winner who won't get the Opening Night assignment. John Lackey is a No. 3 starter already fitted for his third World Series ring. Kyle Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA last year and won't start until the fifth game of this season.  

Do you feel like this is the best rotation in baseball?

"We're up there, yeah," Arrieta said after homering off Zack Greinke during Thursday afternoon's 5-5 tie with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. "I think on paper – and with what we've actually done on the field – it's tough to not say that.

"We like the guys we have. People can rank them, but time will tell. Once we get out there the first four or five times through the rotation, I think you can probably put a stamp on it then, more so than now. 

"But, yeah, we stack up just as well as anybody out there, for sure."  

Arrieta made it through five innings against the Diamondbacks, giving up three runs and eight hits in what figures to be his second-to-last Cactus League tune-up before facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 4. 

The New York Mets blew away Cubs hitters with their power pitching and game-planning during that 2015 National League Championship Series sweep. The Washington Nationals are trying to keep Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg healthy and already watched Tanner Roark deliver for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. 

The Cubs dreaded the idea of facing Johnny Cueto in a possible elimination game at Wrigley Field last October. The Los Angeles Dodgers almost became a matchup nightmare for the Cubs with lefties Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill during the 2016 NLCS.

But slotting Hendricks at No. 5 – five months after he started a World Series Game 7 – is a luxury few contenders can afford. 

"That just speaks to our length in the rotation," Arrieta said, "and being able to keep relievers out of the game, longer than most teams. That's a big deal, especially when you get into July and August. 

"Obviously, Kyle could be a 1 or 2 just about anywhere. Not that he's not here. We've got several of those, which is a good problem to have. It's going to be favorable for us when there's a No. 4 or No. 5 guy in our rotation going up against somebody else's. Our chances are really good, especially with our lineup." 

Arrieta talked up No. 4 starter Brett Anderson as "a little bit like Hendricks from the left side" in terms of his preparation, cerebral nature and spin rate, a combination that makes him an X-factor for this rotation and an organization starved for pitching beyond 2017. 

The if-healthy disclaimer always comes with Anderson, who played with Arrieta on the 2008 Olympic team and has been on the disabled list nine times since then. Coming out of high school, Arrieta initially signed to play for Anderson's father, Frank, the Oklahoma State University coach at the time, before going in a different direction in a career that wouldn't truly take off until he got to Chicago. 

"We're all looking forward to seeing how we pick up where we left off," Arrieta said. "Judging by what we've done this spring and the shape guys are in and the health – I don't see any reason we can't jump out to an early lead like we did last year and sustain it throughout the entire season."
 

Cubs Talk Podcast: The making of Reign Men

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Cubs Talk Podcast: The making of Reign Men

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull sits down with CSN executive producers Ryan McGuffey and Sarah Lauch, the creators of 'Reign Men: The Story Behind Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, which premieres March 27 at 9:30 p.m. on CSN.

McGuffey and Lauch share their experience making the 52-minute documentary as they sifted through hours of sound from the likes of Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and more recapping one of the greatest baseball games ever played.

Plus, hear a sneak peak of 'Reign Men’ as Heyward and Epstein describe their perspective of the Rajai Davis game-tying homer and that brief rain delay that led to Heyward’s epic speech.

Check out the latest Cubs Talk Podcast right here: