Cubs

Cubs GM Hoyer putting pieces of the puzzle together

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Cubs GM Hoyer putting pieces of the puzzle together

Its getting harder to see the Cubs making any made-for-TV moments or generating much controversy this winter, which is exactly how this front office likes to operate.

For all the marketing and image-making that will take place when the Cubs Convention opens on Friday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, general manager Jed Hoyer is going to stick with the disciplined plan.

It really doesnt sound like the Cubs are going to pull out a surprise and sign outfielder Michael Bourn, who would cost them their second-round draft pick and part of their signing-bonus pool. Nor are they actively looking to add another closer-type into the ninth-inning mix.

One year ago, the Cubs were locked in a standoff with a franchise icon, while their All-Star shortstop had to deny sexual assault allegations. The new executives who had generated so much buzz were still feeling out the fans, the media and the leftover employees in the front office.

No one knew if Anthony Rizzo was going to be a total bust or a superstar, or if Jeff Samardzija could back up all that talk about being a starter. Even if there are no definitive answers yet, the Cubs are in a different place now: Year 2 of their rebuilding project.

Kerry Wood is not walking through that door.

Roughly 90 minutes after team president Theo Epstein said that you cant make baseball decisions based on public relations, the Cubs announced their new deal with Wood, who magically appeared on the balcony at last years convention and soaked in all the cheers inside a hotel ballroom.

Starlin Castro who was wanted for questioning last January now has generational wealth and the security of a contract that could keep him on the North Side through 2020.

The Cubs showed they were willing to spend money on the right players. They certainly had their reasons for pursuing Anibal Sanchez who turned down a five-year, 77.5 million offer and returned to the Detroit Tigers and signing Edwin Jackson to a four-year, 52 million deal.

But it also didnt hurt that those upside pitchers on the right side of 30 werent attached to the one-year, 13.3 million qualifying offers made under the new collective bargaining agreement. That was central to the offseason plan of attack.

We talked about all the free agents, Hoyer said on Chicago Baseball Hot Stove on Tuesday. Where we are as an organization, we want as many draft picks as possible. We want as much money in the draft as possible. So we would have given up a pick, theoretically, for the right player, the right fit.

And we will going forward. But right now, I think holding onto our picks is something that makes sense and were looking to build as much talent in the minor leagues as possible. We need a lot going forward.

While Bourn and pitcher Kyle Lohse sit on the market, super-agent Scott Boras sold the Washington Nationals on another one of his high-profile clients. Rafael Soriano got a reported two-year, 28 million deal on Tuesday to close for a team with World Series ambitions.

There are still interesting names left Brian Wilson, Jose Valverde, Francisco Rodriguez and Matt Capps to name a few though Hoyer said its unlikely the Cubs would add another late-inning reliever with experience as a closer to compete with Carlos Marmol and Kyuji Fujikawa.

Well probably go forward with what we have now, Hoyer said. Of course, if theres just a bargain or a player that we feel like is at an incredible price we might add him. But at this point, we feel really good. There also is a point at which were full on the roster were taking a spot away from somebody. We really do like the way our bullpen and our rotation fit together now.

That puzzle should include Matt Garza, who wished Marmol good luck in November when it looked like the closer would be traded to the Los Angeles Angels before the Dan Haren deal fell apart. Garza whos recovering from a stress reaction in his right elbow is throwing from about 150 feet out and progressing toward working off the mound.

Right now, hes following the normal pitching progression, Hoyer said. He feels really good and we dont see any reason hes going to be restricted going into spring training. At this point, hes gotten over some of those early hurdles in the rehab and we feel like hes just going to be a normal pitcher, a healthy guy in spring training ready to go. Hes excited. I always joke: You can see how hes doing. He talks about it on Twitter all the time.

Like Garza, Alfonso Soriano will have to answer questions about the trade rumors this weekend, though only one player has the power to accept or reject any potential deal. The Cubs were said to be in tire-kicking mode at the winter meetings, and the Philadelphia Phillies were rumored to be one team that might be a fit, given their need for a power bat in the outfield.

Soriano who once considered Philadelphia before signing his 136 million megadeal with the Cubs likes the idea of playing in a big market for a contender on the East Coast and has no-trade rights. Hes scheduled to attend the convention and should get an audience with the front office.

No one was more different than his reputation than Sori, Hoyer said. I know the fans were frustrated with him and we wondered what we were walking into. He was the ultimate professional in the clubhouse. He really has taken Castro under his wing.

His preparation is off the charts. I think a dozen players in baseball went 30 homers and 100 RBI (last season). What we got in our first year was terrific. He knows how we feel about him. Weve had communication with him over the course of the winter. Well keep having that communication.

But all of our thoughts on Sori are positive. He was so good for us last year, both on (and) off the field. (It) wasnt necessarily exactly what we expected going in. (It) was just a wonderful revelation for us.

The work on the 2013 team isnt done yet. Garza, Samardzija and reliever James Russell have filed for arbitration. CBSSports.com reported that the Cubs have been in contact with outfielder Scott Hairston, and theyre quite good at going into stealth mode, so maybe there will be a surprise or two this weekend.

But after a 101-loss season, this group is getting ready for their close-up, and maybe well begin to see if this city will have the patience for another one.

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

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USA TODAY

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

Set your alarm, there are only three more months till baseball is back.

The Cubs announced their spring training schedule Monday, getting folks all amped up for the 34 exhibition games in February and March.

Spring game action gets started Feb. 23 out in Arizona, with the Cubs taking on the Milwaukee Brewers to kick off Cactus League play. The Cubs' first home spring game at Sloan Park in Mesa comes the next day, Feb. 24.

In addition to a 32-game Cactus League slate, the Cubs will take on the Cleveland Indians in a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas. That 2016 World Series rematch comes March 17 and 18.

And of course, there will be three meetings with the White Sox, as both Chicago teams play their spring schedule out in Arizona. Those "Cactus Crosstown" games will be played Feb. 27 and March 10 in Mesa and March 16 in Glendale.

Here's the full schedule:

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.