The Cubs entered the 2012 offseason knowing that they had to improve their rotation by leaps and bounds. After finishing a horrific 2012 season with the likes of Justin Germano, Jason Berken and Brooks Raley in their rotation, the Cubs appear poised to enter spring training in 2013 with eight legitimate candidates to start games.
Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, Travis Wood and Arodys Vizcaino all will go to camp as potential starters and the Cubs are waiting on results of a physical from Carlos Villanueva as they finalize a deal for the former Toronto Blue Jays right-hander. The contract is expected to be finalized in the next 24 hours and is worth 10 million over two years.
In addition, sources have confirmed to me that the Cubs are in prime position to land right-handed starter Edwin Jackson who is close to agreeing to a 4-year deal worth 52 million.
The Christmas holiday could delay an official announcement for a few days. However, Jackson loved playing in the city of Chicago when he pitched for the White Sox and he is very open to signing a long term deal with the Cubs.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer spoke with me last week regarding the Cubs thoughts as they look to improve on a 61-101 record in 2012 and he was very clear on the Cubs' plan going forward.
It is very difficult to improve a team dramatically through free agency in one off season no matter how much money you have to spend," Hoyer said. "The supply of talented players isnt always there, you have significant competition to beat to land the player or players that you want, and in todays game most teams are locking up their young stars with long-term deals so they dont get to free agency.
We are looking to improve our team incrementally and strengthening our pitching staff is one area we are focused on."
It appears that with an agreement in place for Villanueva and a deal with Jackson close, the Cubs' pitching staff just got a whole lot stronger. However, their offense looks to be a long way away which will keep them from taking a big a leap in the standings in 2013.
Jon Lester didn't make any sort of statement by missing Monday's White House trip with his Cubs teammates. But at a polarizing moment in a divided country, a high-profile player on a World Series team felt the need to respond on social media and explain his absence from the championship ceremony.
President Barack Obama name-checked Lester during his East Room speech – both for his spectacular pitching performance and beat-cancer charitable initiatives – as the Cubs continued their victory tour off the franchise's first World Series title since Theodore Roosevelt lived in the White House.
Lester stood behind Obama when the 2013 Boston Red Sox were honored on the South Lawn. During that 2014 ceremony, Lester stood next to John Lackey, another Cub who missed this Washington trip. Lester also toured George W. Bush's White House with Boston's 2007 championship team.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day – and with the specter of Donald Trump's inauguration looming – Obama used his administration's final official White House event to draw a direct line between him and Jackie Robinson and highlight the connective power of sports.
"The best part was the president talking about how sports brings people together," All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "how no matter what's going on in this country and the world, three or four hours of any one particular game can just rally so many people together."
This team couldn't have created so much joy for generations of fans without Lester, who signed a $155 million contract with the last-place Cubs after the 2014 season, a transformational moment during the long rebuild that led to the White House trip that Obama never thought would happen.
"It was a thrill and an honor for all of us," team president Theo Epstein said. "It means so much more with his roots in Chicago and his final days in office. It couldn't have worked out any better. It's something we'll all remember for our whole lives."
Plenty of Cubs fans surely were star-struck to meet Addison Russell at Cubs Convention last weekend. But the 22-year-old All-Star shortstop has a shortlist of people he would be amazed to meet, too.
Russell reveres President Barack Obama, on Friday the outgoing Commander-in-Chief's work in the community when talking about getting to visit the White House. So on Monday, Russell got to check off meeting one of the people on his list. "There's probably about three people that I would be star-struck by, and (Obama's) one of them," Russell said.
One of those three spots is "open," Russell said. The other member of that list is former Ohio State and Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George.
Russell wears his No. 27 because of George, who wore that number during his career in which he made four Pro Bowls and rushed for over 10,000 yards and 78 touchdowns. Prior to the 2016 season, George sent Russell and autographed Titans helmet inscribed with good luck message.
After the season, Russell said George texted him seeing if the newly-crowned champion had time to chill. Few things rattled Russell last year — he became the youngest player to hit a grand slam in the World Series when he blasted one in Game 6 against the Cleveland Indians last November — but getting a text from George did. "I couldn't text back," Russell said. "It was nuts. I waited four days because I was thinking of what back to say."
Even the most famous athletes still get star-struck. Russell's been lucky enough in the last few months to meet and hear from two of the people who bring out that sense of awe in him. "Just to come in contact with people like that, it just makes me smile," Russell said. "It definitely gets me in the mood of getting better, and that's the goal this year, is getting better."