Cubs

Cubs have options with David Price heading to Red Sox for $217 million

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Cubs have options with David Price heading to Red Sox for $217 million

A rival executive who knows the Cubs and their organizational strengths and weaknesses said signing David Price would have been a no-brainer this winter – if they didn’t already have Jon Lester locked up through at least the 2020 season.

But president of baseball operations Theo Epstein closed the deal with his signature free agent at last year’s winter meetings in San Diego, giving the All-Star lefty six years and $155 million guaranteed and a full no-trade clause to accelerate the rebuild at Wrigley Field.  

This time, the Cubs simply wouldn’t have the same bandwidth or sense of desperation, no matter how much Price made it sound like he wanted to play for Joe Maddon again and win big in Chicago.

The Boston Red Sox made Price an offer he couldn’t refuse. That would be the largest deal ever for a pitcher – seven years and $217 million – plus a reported opt-out clause after three seasons.

The Boston Globe first reported the agreement on Tuesday afternoon, setting off a potential feeding frenzy leading up to next week’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs continue to be linked to the next tier of free-agent pitchers – John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake – with Zack Greinke expected to choose between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.

With a lineup anchored by young hitters, the Cubs also keep being mentioned as a potential match for the rebuilding Atlanta Braves and their stash of young pitchers.

While there are still big-picture questions about the franchise’s short-term financial flexibility and when baseball operations will have a big-market payroll, there is no denying the fact that the Cubs are built to win now and ready to compete for a World Series title.

Start with a rotation fronted by Jake Arrieta, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, and Lester, a two-time World Series champion, and there will be sky-high expectations when pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Arizona, in February.  

Coming off a 97-win season that saw a talented young core grow up and win two playoff rounds, the Cubs aren’t building an entire offseason around one player, the way they once did with Masahiro Tanaka.  

When the New York Yankees blew them away and won the bidding war for the star Japanese pitcher in January 2014, the Cubs rolled over the savings and used it to help finance the Lester megadeal, the richest contract in franchise history.  

[MORE: Another big free agent splash coming for Cubs?]

The Cubs never would have gotten their shot at Lester if Boston’s ownership group hadn’t made its homegrown ace such a lowball offer before Opening Day 2014.

That led to Lester getting traded to the Oakland A’s at the July 31 deadline, and an offer to return capped at roughly $135 million last December, the Red Sox clinging to philosophical ideas and warning against the history of 30-something pitchers.

Whatever. This has been a complete ideological shift after three last-place finishes wrapped around that 2013 World Series title at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox hired Dave Dombrowski to be their president of baseball operations in August, with general manager Ben Cherington stripped of his power and ultimately walking away from the job.

Dombrowski is an aggressive, decisive executive who first acquired Price from the Tampa Bay Rays at the 2014 deadline for the Detroit Tigers. One year later, Dombrowski flipped Price to the Toronto Blue Jays and tried to reboot Detroit’s aging, expensive core – only to get fired by Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.   

All these forces put a blockbuster deal in motion. So much for Price having reservations about playing in Boston or with Red Sox icon David Ortiz. The Cubs are an attractive destination now, but these contracts almost always come down to years and dollars.

[ALSO: Cubs bolster bullpen with addition of Brothers]

Price went to Vanderbilt University, developed into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft and won a Cy Young Award while pitching for Maddon’s Rays in 2012.

Price is 30 years old, 6-foot-6, left-handed and battle-tested in the American League East. His postseason numbers aren’t great (2-7, 5.12 ERA), but he’s regarded as an excellent teammate and clubhouse presence.

At least the Cubs won’t have to watch Price pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals, who reportedly finished second to Boston in the sweepstakes and could still become major players this offseason.

The bottom line is the Cubs don’t feel like they’re one player away, knowing it might be smarter to make smaller bets and diversify their roster to get ready for next October.  

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: