Cardinals move on from Lackey, Heyward by signing pitcher Mike Leake


Cardinals move on from Lackey, Heyward by signing pitcher Mike Leake

The Cubs not only bolstered areas of need on their own team by signing John Lackey and Jason Heyward this winter, but it was a combo punch in that it also took the best starting pitcher and position player away from the rival St. Louis Cardinals.

The offseason hasn't gone the way the Cardinals would have liked, but they're now moving forward by signing starting pitcher Mike Leake to a reported five-year, $80 million deal that could be worth up to $94 million with a mutual option.

[RELATED - Cardinals don't appreciate Jason Heyward's reason for signing with Cubs]

That's an average of $16 million a year for a pitcher with a 3.88 ERA and 1.271 WHIP over his career, further illustrating the price of pitching nowadays.

Leake, 28, is a solid pitcher, having made at least 30 starts in four straight seasons and posting a 36-30 record and 3.59 ERA over the last three seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants. And the Cardinals have a knack for getting the most out of pitchers.

The Cardinals also needed help in their rotation with Lackey gone, Lance Lynn slated to miss the 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and veteran Adam Wainwright returning from an Achilles injury.

Wainwright pitched out of the bullpen toward the end of the 2015 season, but should be ready to resume his role atop the Cardinals rotation at the start of 2016. Beyond him, manager Mike Matheny can slot in Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, with Leake filling out the rotation.

Young left-handers Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzales provide rotation depth for the Cardinals.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Leake has had success against the Cubs in his career, going 9-2 with a 3.15 ERA and 1.135 WHIP in 19 starts.

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

Willson Contreras' bat-flip game is already in midseason form

The MLB regular season is still 13 days away, but Willson Contreras is ready for the swings to count.

The Cubs catcher hit an absolute bomb of a homer Friday afternoon off White Sox pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, but it wasn't just a homer.

Contreras put an exclamation mark on the dinger (his third of the spring and the second this week) with an A+ bat flip:

I'm not sure what's more majestic: The 450-foot shot or the 45-foot bat-flip.

Either way, Contreras is ready for those 2018 NL MVP votes.

Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback


Cubs opposition research: It's an even year, so count on a Giants comeback

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

San Francisco Giants

2017 record: 64-98, last place in NL West

Offseason additions: Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco, Tony Watson, Julian Fernandez

Offseason departures: Michael Morse, Matt Cain, Matt Moore, Denard Span, Kyle Crick, Christian Arroyo

X-factor: Brandon Belt

The trades for Longoria and McCutchen are going to get all the attention, but the Giants are sort of acquiring Belt, too. 

Their sweet-swining lefty first baseman only appeared in 104 games in 2017, missing the last few weeks of the season with a bad concussion. When he was on the field, he led the team in both homers (18) and walks (66) despite just 451 plate appearances. 

Belt has turned into one of the most patient hitters in the game and if he is able to stay healthy for a full season, would slot in perfectly in the 2-hole ahead of McCutchen, Longoria and Buster Posey. 

Projected lineup

1. Joe Panik - 2B
2. Brandon Belt - 1B
3. Andrew McCutchen - RF
4. Buster Posey - C
5. Evan Longoria - 3B
6. Hunter Pence - LF
7. Brandon Crawford - SS
8. Austin Jackson - CF

Projected rotation

1. Madison Bumgarner
2. Johnny Cueto
3. Jeff Samardzija
4. Ty Blach
5. Chris Stratton


The Giants tied for the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2017, surprising many around the league. Absolutely nothing went right for the team, from a lack of power on the field (Belt missed a third of the season and still led the team in homers), injuries (Bumgarner only made 17 starts) and general ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon).

But the Giants are a team that excels in even years, though the Cubs may have broken that juju by knocking San Fran out of the NLDS in 2016.

Still, between the return to health of key players and some big moves that improved the lineup, this team is primed for a return to form.

Watson is a nice piece at the back end of the bullpen and bet on a rebound from Melancon, who was one of the best late-inning relievers in the game from 2013-16 (1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 147 saves).

Expect more out of the rotation with Bumgarner and Cueto a dynamic 1-2 punch. Cubs fans are familiar with what Samardzija can do if he gets on a role, too.

It seems crazy to pick the Giants to finish higher than the Diamondbacks, but they still have the same core of players from the championship years and have a much-improved roster.

Prediction: Second place in NL West, wild-card team

Complete opposition research

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Franciso Giants