GM Jed Hoyer: Cubs plan to be in the market for more pitching

GM Jed Hoyer: Cubs plan to be in the market for more pitching

ST. LOUIS – Tyson Ross hasn’t thrown a pitch for the San Diego Padres since making his Opening Day start – in a 15-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers – and going on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.

Carlos Carrasco has already been sidelined for a month with a strained hamstring, though the Cleveland Indians are above .500 and have enough pitching to think they could compete in the American League Central.

The Oakland A’s are starting to look like they could become sellers. But Sonny Gray just went on the disabled list with a strained right trapezius – and a 6.19 ERA – and it’s unclear how willing Billy Beane would be to give up an asset with three more seasons of club control. 

All these supply-and-demand forces mean the Cubs could find themselves in a difficult position if they’re looking for another frontline starter this summer. 

“We’ll keep evaluating where we are and what we need,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Monday at Busch Stadium. “As far as the starting-pitching market, there are a lot of things that are going to happen. Teams are going to fall out of contention. Teams are going to get into contention. So I don’t think it’s quite the time yet where that’s crystallized at all. 

“But obviously we’ll keep monitoring it, keep studying it. We’re aware that pitching in general is something that every team needs around the deadline. And I’m sure we’ll be in that group. 

“We’ll keep working hard to figure out where it’s going to come from.”

The answers probably aren’t going to come from within, at least not by the trade deadline and not for the rotation, because as good as the Cubs have been at finding hitters and building major-league staffs, the farm system doesn’t have high-end pitching talent at the upper levels yet.

But the Cubs began the season by getting at least five innings from their starter for 40 straight games – a streak snapped over the weekend at AT&T Park – and headed into this three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals with dazzling rotation numbers (23-10, 2.51 ERA, 1.02 WHIP).

The Cubs aren’t going to overreact to Sunday night’s 1-0 loss to San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner on national TV.

“We’re going to score runs,” Hoyer said. “We’re in a small slump right now, (but) we’re going to score runs. If we can keep pitching like this, we put ourselves in a position to win almost every night.”

It’s not only about sustaining this level of performance and taking out insurance against injuries and upgrading for October. 

Stephen Strasburg’s recent seven-year, $175 million extension with the Washington Nationals removed the top pitcher from a weak crop of free agents. And the Cubs, in essence, already spent their money this past offseason by combining two winters into one. 

This could be an opportunity to also improve the 2017 and 2018 teams, but the price to acquire pitching will skyrocket again around the trade deadline. 

“Everyone has discussed this year’s coming free-agent class,” Hoyer said. “In general, that’s going to be a class that’s not as robust (as) it has been in some years. Everyone knows that. Both with the deadline and over this next winter, I think that’s going to have an impact on people’s behavior.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.