Cubs

Cubs will go big-game hunting in free agency

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Cubs will go big-game hunting in free agency

BOCA RATON, Fla. – The Cubs will go big-game hunting, planning to sit down with the agents for David Price, Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann during this week’s general manager meetings in South Florida.

The Cubs are in information-gathering mode for essentially all the top pitchers in a deep class of free agents and scheduled to meet with Price’s agent, Bo McKinnis, on Wednesday at the Boca Raton Resort and Club.

The Cubs will gradually begin to find out how much Price really wants to come to Chicago, play for Joe Maddon and try to win the franchise’s first World Series since 1908.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein already dismissed the idea of signing two players to nine-figure contracts this offseason. And Price figures to be using Max Scherzer’s seven-year, $210 million contract with the Washington Nationals as a reference point.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Given those payroll restrictions, the uncertainty surrounding the next TV deal and Jon Lester being guaranteed at least $20 million on average across the next five seasons, you have to wonder if the Cubs are worried about having so much money tied up in two pitchers on the wrong side of 30.

“Our job is to deal with now – and then also deal with the future,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. “We have a really bright future for a long time and we’re always thinking about how commitments for today will impact us down the road.

“There’s a natural inclination to sort of look at the top of the free-agent market – and there’s great players there – (but) we have to think about the entire market (and) ways to get better at every tier.

“Because, yeah, I do think there’s a risk of becoming inflexible.”

That’s where Greinke’s athleticism, repertoire and feel for pitching could come into play if the Cubs believe he’s a good long-term bet.

Greinke – who went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA during his age-31 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers – recently opted out of a contract that would have guaranteed him $71 million across the next three years.

The Cubs have also touched base with Jeff Samardzija’s camp, trying to see if a reunion would make sense after Shark rejects the qualifying offer, knowing he will do exponentially better than a one-year, $15.8 million deal, even coming off such a disappointing season with the White Sox.

[MORE: Cubs keeping Montero in 2016 plans at the moment]

The Cubs got many looks at Johnny Cueto when he pitched for the Cincinnati Reds, but they don’t have the right-hander very high on their list after an inconsistent performance with the Kansas City Royals during their World Series run. 

The Cubs could also upgrade their rotation by trading from their surplus of hitters, adding more depth to the pitching staff and shortening the game with extra power arms out of the bullpen.       

“There are going to be guys who get top dollar,” Hoyer said. “But there’s also going to be places where you can be creative and find value. I think we’ve done that really well in the past. And now that we’re a competitive team, we don’t want to get away from that.

“The best teams continue to try to find value in different places and (get) creative in ways to round out their team. If you just get to a point of being competitive – and then rely on the free-agent market for everything – I think there’s a danger in that.”  

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”