After winning Cy Young, Arrieta says Cubs would love to have Greinke


After winning Cy Young, Arrieta says Cubs would love to have Greinke

In the middle of November, Cubs fans can dream about Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke at the top of their rotation next year.

“I would assume that a phone call might be made, at least,” Arrieta said. “We’d love to have him.”

Arrieta punctuated a dream season by becoming the National League Cy Young winner, making the Cubs 3-for-3 during awards week after Kris Bryant (Rookie of the Year) and Joe Maddon (Manager of the Year) took their turns in the spotlight.

But Arrieta might have been the MVP for a 97-win team, going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and putting together the best second half for a pitcher in major-league history.

That convinced the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which released its voting results on Wednesday night, honoring Arrieta over a pair of aces for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

[MORE: Maddon ready to help Cubs recruit free agents]

Arrieta finished with 17 of 30 first-place votes to win by a 22-point margin over Greinke, a pitcher the Cubs have been linked to in free agency after another spectacularly efficient season (19-3, 1.66 ERA) that suggests he will age well over the course of a megadeal. 

“Greinke is a guy that any team would be lucky to have,” Arrieta said. “He’s going to be a commodity that a lot of teams are looking to add to their rotation. Just watching from the other side for a number of years, seeing what he’s been able to do, year-in and year-out, is very admirable. Any team that doesn’t at least make a phone call would be foolish."

The Cubs met with the agents for Greinke (Casey Close) and Arrieta (Scott Boras) during last week’s general managers meetings in South Florida.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein has said the Cubs will test the waters with Boras this winter to find out what it would take to put together a long-term deal for Arrieta, who remains under club control for two more seasons and is projected to make $10.6 million next year (according to MLB Trade Rumors calculations done before the Cy Young victory).

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“It’s a definite possibility,” Arrieta said. “As time goes on, it’s inevitable (we’ll talk about the future). I don’t think that there’s a tremendous amount of angst on my part to get something done immediately. But that doesn’t mean that something can’t happen.

“Really, my focus right now is that obviously I know I’m still with the Chicago Cubs. I couldn’t be more excited and happy for the opportunities that we’re going to have as a team in the future.

“We’ll address it. We’ll talk things over. And if it doesn’t (happen), then I’m still a Chicago Cub, regardless. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see where things go in the near future.”

This underlines what an unbelievable year it had been for pitching in the NL: Clayton Kershaw – a three-time Cy Young winner who went 16-7 with a 2.13 ERA and 301 strikeouts – finished a distant third in the voting.

[RELATED: Boras discusses Jake Arrieta's future with the Cubs]

Arrieta made his mark with a no-hitter on national television at Dodger Stadium, and then showing up for the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie for a Maddon theme trip, all part of an unreal run after the All-Star break (12-1, 0.75 ERA) that finally established him as one of the most dominant pitchers in the game after a rocky start to his career with the Baltimore Orioles.

“I was locked in,” Arrieta said. “My timing and my tempo in my delivery was as close to perfect as I feel like I could have possibly been.

“When you combine that timing and the consistent release point, regardless of the pitch – fastball, slider, cutter, curveball, changeup – (you’re) able to be powerful and be explosive and release from the exact same spot.

“It really, really made it easy on me. There were times throughout the stretch where I expected to go out there and throw a shutout or throw seven, eight scoreless. It got to that point where that was just something – not only myself – but the team expected it. That’s how locked in I really was.”

Arrieta spent time on the Triple-A level during the 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 seasons, needing a change of scenery for whatever reason – the difficulty of pitching in the American League East, some friction between Dan Duquette’s front office and Buck Showalter’s dugout, an awkward clubhouse fit.

That flip deal in the middle of the 2013 season – essentially cashing in 15 Scott Feldman starts and reserve catcher Steve Clevenger for Arrieta and hard-throwing reliever Pedro Strop – will go down as a franchise-altering trade for Epstein’s front office.

“Once I was able to not worry about the moves happening above me,” Arrieta said, “or when I was going to get another opportunity, I understood that the most important thing for me to put emphasis on was just continuing to try and get better.”

The Cubs encouraged Arrieta to throw with his natural crossfire motion, gave him an opportunity to hit the reset button and watched him develop a fanatical workout routine.

Arrieta clicked with pitching coach Chris Bosio, obsessed over his nutrition and absorbed all the scouting reports, allowing him to throw almost 250 innings this year, including the playoffs.

Arrieta is now only the fifth pitcher in franchise history to win this award, joining an elite list that includes Greg Maddux (1992), Rick Sutcliffe (1984), Bruce Sutter (1979) and Fergie Jenkins (1971).

Now that Arrieta has that kind of juice, you figure Greinke will have to listen if the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner calls.

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

MESA, Ariz. — You don’t need to spend long searching the highlight reels to figure out why Javy Baez goes by “El Mago.”

Spanish for “The Magician,” that moniker is a fitting one considering what Baez can do with his glove and his arm up the middle of the infield. The king of tags, Baez also dazzles with his throwing arm and his range. He looks like a Gold Glove kind of player when you watch him do these amazing things. And it’s no surprise that in his first media session of the spring, he was talking about winning that award.

“Just to play hard and see what I can do. Obviously, try to be healthy the whole year again. And try to get that Gold Glove that I want because a lot of people know me for my defense,” he said Friday at Cubs camp. “Just try to get a Gold Glove and stay healthy the whole year.”

Those high expectations — in this case, being the best defensive second baseman in the National League — fall in line with everything the rest of the team is saying about their own high expectations. It’s been “World Series or bust” from pretty much everyone over the past couple weeks in Mesa.

Baez might not be all the way there just yet. Joe Maddon talked earlier this week about his reminders that Baez needs to keep focusing on making the easy plays while staying a master of the magnificent.

“What I talked to him about was, when he had to play shortstop, please make the routine play routinely and permit your athleticism to play. Because when the play requires crazinesss, you’re there, you can do that,” Maddon said. “But this straight up ground ball three-hopper to shortstop, come get the ball, play it through and make an accurate throw in a routine manner. Apparently that stuck. Because he told me once he thought in those terms, it really did slow it down for him. And he did do a better job at doing that.”

But the biggest question for Cubs fans when it comes to Baez is when the offense will catch up to his defense. Baez hit a game-winning homer run in his first major league game and smacked 23 of them last season, good for fifth on a team full of power bats. But arguably just as famous as Baez’s defensive magic is his tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He had 144 strikeouts last season and reached base at a .317 clip. Seven Cubs — including notable struggling hitters Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — had higher on-base percentages in 2017.

Baez, for one, is staying focused on what he does best, saying he doesn’t really have any specific offensive goals for the upcoming season.

“I’m not worrying about too much about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to play defense, and just let the offense — see what happens.”

Maddon, unsurprisingly, talked much more about what Baez needs to do to become a better all-around player, and unsurprisingly that included being more selective at the plate.

“One of the best base runners in the game, one of the finest arms, most acrobatic, greatest range on defense, power. The biggest thing for me for him is to organize the strike zone,” Maddon said. “Once he does that, heads up. He’s at that point now, at-bat wise, if you want to get those 500, 600 plate appearances, part of that is to organize your zone, accept your walks, utilize the whole field, that kind of stuff. So that would be the level that I think’s the next level for him.”

Will Baez have a season’s worth of at-bats to get that done? The versatile Cubs roster includes a couple guys who split time between the infield and outfield in Zobrist and Ian Happ. Getting their more consistent bats in the lineup might mean sacrificing Baez’s defense on certain days. Baez, of course, also has the ability to slide over to shortstop to spell Addison Russell, like he did when Russell was on the disabled list last season.

Until Baez learns how to navigate that strike zone a bit better, it might make Maddon more likely to mix and match other options, rather than considering him an everyday lock like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But like Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, Baez is one of the young players who despite key roles on a championship contender the last few years still have big league growth to come. And Maddon thinks that growth is right around the corner.

“I want to believe you’re going to see that this year,” Maddon said. “They’ve had enough major league at-bats now, they should start making some significant improvements that are easy to recognize. The biggest thing normally is pitch selection, I think that’s where it really shows up. When you have talented players like that, that are very strong, quick, all that other stuff, if they’re swinging at strikes and taking balls, they’re going to do really well. And so it’s no secret with Javy. It’s no secret with Addy. Addy’s been more swing mode as opposed to accepting his walks. That’s part of the maturation process with those two guys. Albert I thought did a great job the last month, two months of getting better against righties. I thought Jason looked really good in the cage today. And Willson’s Willson.

“The natural assumption is these guys have played enough major league at-bats that you should see something different this year in a positive way.”'s Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

USA TODAY's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.