Youkilis not looking like the answer for Cubs at third base

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Youkilis not looking like the answer for Cubs at third base

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. Theo Epstein envisions the Cubs grinding out at-bats like those Boston Red Sox teams that stretched games past the four-hour mark and played deep into October.

The president of baseball operations has mentioned how the biggest negative surprise hes found in the organization since taking over almost 13 months ago was the embedded and institutionalized lack of plate discipline on the North Side.

But the player once hyped in Moneyball as The Greek God of Walks is not viewed as a match right now.

The Cubs are interested in Kevin Youkilis, but expect him to go beyond their price range and ultimately sign with a team much closer to contention, according to a source familiar with the organizations thinking.

Youkilis certainly noticed how the White Sox played second fiddle in Chicago, even as a team that hung onto first place well into September.

The Cubs sold almost three million tickets during a 101-loss season and wont have trouble filling up the bandwagon again if they can rebuild at Wrigley Field. They need some veteran leadership and have a huge hole at third base. But that doesnt make them unique among the teams huddled up on Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency resort in Indian Wells, Calif. The general manager meetings are about sorting through options and there arent many good ones at third base.

Its a challenging position to fill in this day and age, general manager Jed Hoyer said. We really are excited about our third-base depth in our system.

So the Cubs feel good about Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Christian Villanueva, Jeimer Candelario and, maybe, Javier Baez if hes ultimately blocked by Starlin Castro at shortstop. But they need a short-term solution while waiting for one of those players to break through.

Casey McGehee who had his best season (23 homers, 104 RBI) in 2010 while working with Milwaukee Brewers hitting coachfuture Cubs manager Dale Sveum could be a buy-low free agent.

McGahee wasnt the same player last season, hitting .217 with nine home runs and 41 RBI in 114 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees, but the Cubs are looking for guys who could have bounce-back seasons.

Hoyer said the Cubs could go with a platoon at third base, and Sveum is high on Luis Valbuenas overall game. They continue to gather more medical information on Ian Stewart, who hasnt started baseball activities yet after undergoing wrist surgery last summer. They likely wont make a decision until the Nov. 30 tender date, and its hard to imagine Stewart getting a guaranteed contract.

Youkilis is the biggest name out there among third baseman, and hes being marketed as someone who can also play first base, which doesnt do much for the Cubs with Anthony Rizzo stationed there for the next decade.

Youkilis wound up finishing with 19 homers and 60 RBI after a midseason trade from Boston to the South Side. He won two World Series rings with the Red Sox and knows how to handle playing in a big market.

Youkilis is said to be on good terms with Epstein after their time together at Fenway Park. But a contending team that sees Youkilis as a finishing piece will almost certainly be more aggressive than the Cubs this winter.

A season that began with Bobby Valentine questioning Youkilis physical and emotional investment in the game ended with the Red Sox manager getting fired. It will lead into an offseason where the third baseman should cash in and get the last laugh.

Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

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Morning Update: Cubs pick up win No. 101, Sale leads White Sox past Rays

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John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

John Lackey sees Cubs lining up for World Series run: ‘It’s all here’

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs have so much going for them, all this blue-chip talent, a clubhouse mix of young players and grizzled veterans, arguably the best manager in the game, an impactful coaching staff and a front office that blends scouting and analytics as well as anyone.

So, no, John Lackey is not at all surprised by the way this clicked into place, 101 wins and counting for the machine built with October in mind.

“Not really,” Lackey said after Tuesday night’s 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I had some pretty good offers from other people, and I chose this one for a reason. It’s all here.”

But to win the World Series — and get the jewelry Lackey talks about — you still need some luck, good health and the guts to perform in those Big Boy Games. That reality of randomness and matchups made a pregame announcement some 250 miles away from PNC Park so telling.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his MVP-caliber season. The National League East champions will lose a .307 hitter with 22-homer power from the middle of their lineup and a veteran presence for a playoff rotation that will likely be without injured ace Stephen Strasburg (right elbow) in the first round.

“That’s a tough one when you lose your catcher, a guy who’s that significant for the pitching staff,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Think about the pitching staff — it’s so different when you know the guy back there is your guy and he knows what’s going on. The communication’s different. The trust factor, all that stuff is different.”

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Within that big-picture context, the Cubs survived as Lackey limited the checked-out Pirates (77-80) to one run across five innings in his fifth start since recovering from a strained right shoulder and coming off the disabled list. Maddon then used six different relievers — staying away from Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman — during a three-hour, 49-minute game that felt more like the Cactus League.

After defecting from the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals team the Cubs bounced out of last year’s playoffs, Lackey finished the regular season at 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA and 188 1/3 innings.

“I’m going to get to 200,” Lackey said.

Beyond wins and losses, Lackey called this season his career best in terms of “those numbers that they’ve made up in the last few years” like WHIP (1.04) and opponents’ OPS (.646) and whatever. And, no, he doesn’t know his WAR, either: “Not even close.”

Yes, the Cubs got the old-school attitude they wanted when they signed Lackey to a two-year, $32 million deal before the winter meetings. For all the talk about the pitching deficit and the New York Mets after their young guns swept the Cubs out of last year’s NL Championship Series, the Cubs are getting their money’s worth with a guy who will turn 38 in October.

The amazing Mets have lost three of those frontline starters — Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (nerve damage in his right elbow) and Steven Matz (bone spur in his left elbow) — and are still holding onto the first wild-card spot, which says something about this playoff field.

This doesn’t guarantee anything in October, but the Cubs are just about as close to full strength as they could reasonably hope now. Instead of the silence that would have come with losing an irreplaceable player like Ramos, the sound system in the postgame clubhouse blasted Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Notorious B.I.G. after their 101st win.

“Yeah, we lost Dexter (Fowler) for a bit,” Maddon said. “We lost (Kyle) Schwarber all year. Otherwise, when a couple pitchers got banged up, whether you’re talking about Rondon or Strop, I don’t think that our injuries have been as magnified because we’ve covered them pretty well.

“We still had our moments, like everybody else has. But when you get to right now, we’re getting well, and hopefully that trend continues. But to lose somebody of that magnitude for them, that’s got to be difficult.”