Cubs

Cubs still finalizing a plan for Jake Arrieta this weekend and beyond

Cubs still finalizing a plan for Jake Arrieta this weekend and beyond

Jake Arrieta will not take the ball Sunday for the Cubs in the final regular season game of 2017.

The Cubs have officially announced Mike Montgomery as the starter for the final regular season game, opting to give Arrieta some rest instead of pushing his hamstring in game action. That also means he may not pitch again until Game 3 or 4 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals and the Cubs have no concerns at the moment that Arrieta won't be ready to go in the postseason.

The Cubs locked up the division Wednesday night in St. Louis, so this weekend's three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field has a very spring training feel to it.

Arrieta admitted he came back a little too soon on Sept. 21, when he helped the Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers with five innings of one-run ball. That was just over two weeks after he walked off the mound in Pittsburgh clutching the back of his right leg.

"I wanted to be out there as soon as I could," he said Friday morning inside the Cubs Wrigley Field clubhouse. "I was able to go out there, but a couple more days would've been nice for recovery. We were in a spot where we needed to win some games and I wanted to be out there to do everything I could to help that out."

Arrieta is planning on throwing a simulated game at some point this weekend and the Cubs will go for a bullpen day Sunday after Montgomery, manager Joe Maddon said.

Arrieta said his mechanics are good, his arm feels fine and his strength is there, so he's not really focused on needing more time in bullpens. He wants to face hitters, but do it more in a controlled environment of a simulated scenario rather than in a live game.

He's still not 100 percent, though he's close.

"Really the only time I feel [the hamstring] is max effort on the mound," Arrieta said. "So it's good to get a couple extra days off, especially in the situation we're in — we're already in the playoffs. 

"Any time you're in the game, put a hitter in there, it's hard to take a step back. Especially at the time, we were still fighting to kinda secure our playoff spot. It's nice now to have a few days just to completely do nothing, work with the trainers, do some stuff for recovery, do some cryo, some hyperbaric chamber, all these different laser lights we have that promote healing and regenerate cell growth. 

"That's kinda what we're gonna focus on the next couple days and then get out there for a sim game and get everything tightened up. But other than that, I feel great. When my time comes, I'll be ready, regardless of when that is."

Arrieta isn't worried about his max effort, knowing he's in control of his body and has enough strength and knowledge to know how to back off his hamstring if need be and rely more on his arm. Like he said, it's not like he's trying to throw the ball through a brick wall.

By taking the rest route, the Cubs also have ruled out Arrieta to start Game 1 of the NLDS in Washington. In fact, the way things are shaking out now, he wouldn't get his first postseason start until Games 3 or 4 back in Chicago on Oct. 9 or 10.

"Part of the deal that we're doing would be to gain more time to make Jake well and then push him in the latter part of the rotation," Maddon said. "So it would not impact the front part of it."

Maddon didn't announce who his Game 1 starter would be in D.C., but Kyle Hendricks may be emerging as the favorite, especially after throwing five shutout innings Thursday against the Cardinals in his final start of the regular season.

However with Arrieta, there is no concrete plan beyond just making sure he gets some rest and back as close to 100 percent as possible.

That will mean at least the one sim game over the next week before the NLDS begins.

"You gotta exert yourself a little bit to make sure that it's well," Maddon said. "That's the tricky part of it - you have to push it a little bit. We're trying to extend the rest period before he does it again.

"And then when he does it again, he's gotta actually go out there and pitch. We'll see. Listen, I don't have any solid answers other than that's what we're thinking about doing right now. 

"We'll see how it all plays out. And then if it plays well, everything's cool. And if it doesn't, then you have to make another plan."

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

1020_albert_almora.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below: