The winter meetings, Fujikawa and where the Cubs go from here


The winter meetings, Fujikawa and where the Cubs go from here

The Cubs arent going to overreact to the empty green seats at Wrigley Field. The business of baseball is booming. The bailout money will be coming soon enough with the new national and local television deals.
And of course nobody is untouchable. The Cubs can lose 101 games with or without them. But that doesnt mean theyre about to trade Starlin Castro.
It almost certainly wont stop the rumors from bouncing around the lobby of the Gaylord Opryland and getting recycled in cyberspace. Castro for Giancarlo Stanton? Justin Upton? Mystery Player X? What about Josh Hamilton on a short-term deal? But the Cubs have a very clear idea of what they want to accomplish at next weeks winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
Nothings changed philosophically, general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday. Were still trying to build to a point where we have a ton of young talent and a lot of available money to spend to really have that team (with) sustained success.
How the Cubs find the middle ground for 2013 will be the big question. Kyuji Fujikawa recently visited Wrigley Field, and the Japanese closer was believed to be most interested in the Cubs and Los Angeles Angels (with the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers lurking as a wild card).
The Angels just signed Ryan Madson, which could eliminate the opportunity to close in Anaheim. Hoyer confirmed a meeting with Fujikawa we came away very impressed but wouldnt comment on the state of negotiations or an anticipated timetable for the decision.
Before Friday nights deadline, the Cubs non-tendered third baseman Ian Stewart, who could still return as a free agent. Four arbitration-eligible players were tendered contracts: pitchers Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and James Russell; and infielder Luis Valbuena.
Pitchers Zach Putnam and Jaye Chapman who were not eligible for arbitration were not tendered contracts while Casey Coleman has cleared waivers and been assigned outright to Triple-A Iowa, leaving the 40-man roster at 37.
Some pitchers cut loose elsewhere Jair Jurrjens, Mike Pelfrey and John Lannan could be intriguing options for the rotation. But the front office also wants to impact the endgame.
Fujikawa is 32 years old and has notched 220 saves during his time with the Hanshin Tigers. The right-hander has posted a career 1.77 ERA, with 914 strikeouts against 207 walks, the kind of ratio you wont get with Carlos Marmol.
Fujikawa has competed in the World Baseball Classic, as well as the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Marmol was nearly traded to the Angels four weeks ago until the Cubs had concerns about Dan Harens medicals. Assuming Marmol makes it to camp, the Cubs would like to see someone push him.
Whenever you build a bullpen, you want as many guys that have a chance to pitch late in the game as possible, Hoyer said. Carlos had a great second half (1.52 ERA). He struggled in April. He lost the job and to his credit he worked really hard to get it back and pitched really well. If we bring in someone that has closing experience or a number of guys that have that kind of experience thats no knock on Carlos.
Every team in baseball wants to have an assortment of guys back there that if the need arises can pitch in the ninth inning. Hopefully, we can do that. Our bullpen put too much pressure last year on (Shawn) Camp and Russell and Marmol and we have to avoid that. We need to bring in a really good number of arms to make that goal a reality.
Team president Theo Epstein has said that the Cubs have very narrow fits for possible trades. They will listen to just about anything, and would have no problem moving a short-term asset like Marmol, but they are planning to stockpile core players like Castro, Samardzija and Anthony Rizzo.
We lost 101 games last year, Hoyer said. I dont think were in a position to say we have enough talent or to say that any one player on the rosters untouchable. We certainly have several players that we would have a hard time parting with, and it would take a heck of a package to make it happen.
So far, the Cubs have been largely quiet, signing pitchers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to one-year deals while continuing to look for possible rotation pieces. But most of the big names are still on the board.
Hoyer talked about the cascading effect once a certain player signs. With the entire industry gathering in the Music City, all it could take is one powerful agent or one bold front office to get everything flowing.
The Cubs wont be setting the market, but they realize they need a veteran outfielder. Brett Jackson is already ticketed for Des Moines. Junior Lake has gone to the outfield in winter ball, and the Cubs think his superior athleticism could play well there, but hes far from a finished product. Albert Almora and Jorge Soler are nice prospects, but they will probably start next season at Class-A Kane County.
It is always a balancing act when you have prospects you like a lot and theyre (that) far away, Hoyer said. You cant really think too much about those guys. You have to think about your team now. The idea of blocking when a guy is in the low minors is kind of ridiculous.
Well look to improve our outfield. We know thats an area we need to improve upon and theres a number of players that well be talking to across the next few weeks.
The Cubs will keep selling their vision for the future, but they still need something for the here and now.

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Clayton Kershaw stands between Cubs and World Series: ‘To be the best, you got to beat the best’

Clayton Kershaw stands between Cubs and World Series: ‘To be the best, you got to beat the best’

Clayton Kershaw stands between the Cubs and the World Series, a possibility that left veteran catcher David Ross thinking about Ric Flair inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse late Thursday night: To be The Man, you got to beat The Man. 

“Woo!” That’s how the Cubs like to punctuate their postgame celebration routine, channeling the professional wrestling legend in a ritual with so much sensory overload that the fog machine set off fire alarms throughout the underground Wrigley Field lair…after a win in the middle of August. “Woo!” 
The Cubs left Los Angeles one win away from their first National League pennant since 1945, and with two chances to pull it off this weekend at Wrigley Field, beginning on Saturday night in Game 6. So imagine how this crew would trash the Party Room if they beat Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. 

“The guy competes,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s pretty much like mechanics be damned, it’s just about me beating you somehow. 

“He’s got a good fastball that he locates. He doesn’t walk people. He’s got a dynamic curve and slider. And he’s got deception. He’s a little bit funky, and that’s got to be hard to pick up. The ball gets on you pretty quickly, and then he commands it. 

“So there’s nothing you could possibly ask for that he doesn’t already have.”

Now we’ll see if something clicked while the Cubs turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 NLCS lead – handling rookie starters Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda and the softer parts of the Los Angeles bullpen – or if those 18 runs combined in Games 4 and 5 were a mirage.

In 16-plus innings so far, the Cubs still haven’t scored a run off Kershaw, if-necessary Game 7 lefty starter Rich Hill or dominating closer Kenley Jansen, who got this review from Maddon: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera. He’s the bigger man with the same kind of stuff.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Why are the Cubs so confident? Remember, this offense scored 808 runs during the regular season, more than every NL team except for the Colorado Rockies. This lineup knocked out October legend Madison Bumgarner after five innings in the divisional round (though pitcher Jake Arrieta delivered the three-run homer in a game the San Francisco Giants would win in extra innings). 

The Cubs should at least have a better idea of what to expect after getting that up-close view during a 1-0 loss in Game 2, the end of a 10-day period where the Dodgers used Kershaw for three starts and a division-series save against the Washington Nationals.  

Ben Zobrist – a veteran of 11 postseason series – explained: “His heater – as straight as it is – (comes from) the deception of his funky windup. You think you’re there, and it’s right above your barrel.”

“We’ll all be ready to go,” All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Any time you see a guy back-to-back, it’s always to our advantage as hitters. We just have to go out there and play our game and have good at-bats off a left-handed pitcher. 

“I know it’s Clayton Kershaw, but we really got to just focus in on having good at-bats.” 

The Dodgers still have to beat a leading Cy Young contender (Kyle Hendricks) and last year’s award winner (Arrieta) on back-to-back nights in a building that will be shaking if the Cubs take an early lead with a Kris Bryant home run. And until this October, Kershaw had a reputation for underachieving in the playoffs.

“We got to battle,” Bryant said. “We know Kershaw likes to keep his pitch count down, because he wants to pitch the whole game. He’s a competitor, so we got to find a way to work counts and not swing at the pitches that he wants us to.

“Any time you got the best in the game going at you, it’s a challenge. And it’s going to be fun.” 

That’s exactly how the Cubs have approached everything this year, with an Embrace-The-Target attitude and all this Flair for the dramatic. 

“To be the best, you got to beat the best,” Rizzo said.