To get to October, Cubs will have to make pitching No. 1 priority


To get to October, Cubs will have to make pitching No. 1 priority

The Tigers gave Justin Verlander the ball on Wednesday night at AT&T Park. Who else would you rather have on the mound right now?

Game 1 of the World Series didnt go as planned, with the Giants knocking out Verlander in an 8-3 rout, and thats the crapshoot nature of the postseason. If the Cubs are going to play in October year after year like team president Theo Epstein says they will then they have to fix their pitching shortage and identify and develop some elite arms.

The Giants do that as well as anyone, whether its through the draft (Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum) or off the scrap heap (Ryan Vogelsong). Thats why theyre chasing their second World Series title in the past three years.

You wonder about the price of Anibal Sanchez two earned runs in 13.1 innings this postseason if he has another lights-out start for Detroit in Game 3 before hitting free agency.

The Cubs will be in the market for at least two legitimate starting pitchers this winter. But really this search is going on at all levels of the organization.

Adding to our base of young pitching is the No. 1 priority, as far as scouting and player development now, Epstein said, because we do feel pretty good about our position-player group. We just have a long ways to go with our pitching.

It has to catch up. Even when you add major-league pitchers through trade or free agency, if you dont have that strong base of pitching in the minor leagues to support it, its really hard to have any kind of run of sustained success.

With a 6-foot-4 frame and a fastball close to 100 mph, Shohei Otani is an intriguing, complicated case for the Cubs. The 18-year-old has announced that he wants to skip Japanese professional baseball and come to the United States right out of high school.

The new collective bargaining agreement will work against the Cubs. A team that goes 15 percent beyond the 2.9 million international bonus pool is hit with a 100 percent tax, which isnt an issue for the right player. The problem is that the team also cant give out a bonus bigger than 250,000 in the next signing period.

Thats when the Cubs, who are relatively strong in Latin America, will have one of the biggest signing pools. They could want to chase a few million-dollar players. The teams with the best records will have a smaller pool and an incentive to spread the money around anyway. This will put the Cubs at a disadvantage in the Otani sweepstakes, which could reportedly include the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Dodgers.

But theres no question the Cubs are trying to build inventory. After taking Albert Almora, they drafted pitchers with their next seven picks, and eight within the first eight rounds. Trading Ryan Dempster, Geovany Soto, Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker brought five more arms into the system.

The headliner was Arodys Vizcaino, whos 21 years old and entered the 2012 season as the No. 2 prospect in Atlantas organization, but became available as he recovered from Tommy John surgery.

Well take it slow, Epstein said. There will be somewhat of an innings limit for him next year. So even if things are progressing perfectly, were not going to rush him into a full-time load coming out of spring training.

Were probably going to have a pretty structured, pretty regimented routine for him (where he) gets stretched out through the first couple months of the season.

We build the (2013) rotation without him and then we hope that there will be a time that he forces his way into that rotation.

The Cubs have the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, which could change the course of franchise history. They simply have to get it right. Verlander may be a sure thing now, but remember that the Padres took a total bust (Matt Bush) with the first overall pick in 2004.

The Tigers then grabbed Verlander out of Old Dominion University, beginning a run of seven straight pitchers whove been all over the map: Philip Humber (Mets); Jeff Niemann (Devil Rays); Mark Rogers (Brewers); Jeremy Sowers (Indians); Homer Bailey (Reds); and Wade Townsend (Orioles). A Scott Boras client Jered Weaver fell to the Angels at No. 12.

If the Cubs get off to a slow start next season, Matt Garza figures to again be a trade chip for more young pitching, assuming hes healthy. Garzas recovering from the stress reaction in his right elbow but has vowed to be ready for spring training.

Epstein said theres not much news there: The last scan (in mid-to-late September) showed the healing that were looking for, and hes going to have another scan sometime in mid-November.

The Cubs are also looking for the next Jeff Samardzija. The experiment went so well that Samardzija has established himself as part of Epsteins core. Theyre hoping to reinvent another reliever Alberto Cabrera.

(Cabrera) had a great developmental year, to the point where were considering putting him in the rotation, likely at Triple-A, stretching him out again, Epstein said. I know he was a starter previously, but with some of the strides hes made we think theres a chance that we have a real asset on our hands where we could potentially get a big-league starter out of him down the road.

Cabrera posted a 6.16 ERA in 28 games (26 starts) split between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa in 2011. This year he struck out 74 batters while walking only 14 in 55 innings in the minors. He notched 27 strikeouts in 21.2 innings with the Cubs.

Cabrera another player Jose Serra helped sign in the Dominican Republic turns 24 on Thursday and the Cubs believe he may have turned the corner.

Very intriguing arm, Epstein said. Hes got a chance for two-plus secondary pitches, too. This year his slider was really impressive when he first came up, and the year before he had a wipeout changeup.

With the velocity he brings with his heater, (you) got a chance for three-plus pitches on a big frame with a kid whos starting to get it.

Part of the reason Samardzija took (that) step forward (was) all the lessons he learned going up and down. (There were) some of his trials and tribulations and the light really started to go on for him in the second half of 2011. Sometimes it just takes innings. It takes facing adversity.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?


Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant,'s Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers


Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.