Cubs

How Cubs rebuilt their pitching staff without a David Price

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How Cubs rebuilt their pitching staff without a David Price

The Cubs didn’t make one huge splash this winter, hoping the ripple effect from their smaller moves will create a pitching staff that can win a World Series.

David Price put the word out that he wanted to come to Chicago, play for Joe Maddon again and be part of the team that finally rides down Michigan Avenue for a championship parade. But the Cubs already had five more seasons to go on Jon Lester’s $155 million megadeal and didn’t feel as desperate as the Boston Red Sox.

So much for Price having a problem with David Ortiz and the fans at Fenway Park. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein told Boston’s WEEI that the Cubs finished “a distant third” in the bidding war, or roughly $50 million less than the $217 million the Red Sox guaranteed.

Three seasons of Shelby Miller would have cost the Cubs at least a young, middle-of-the-order hitter (Jorge Soler) and the organization’s best pitching prospect (Duane Underwood), and the Atlanta Braves still would have wanted more.

The Arizona Diamondbacks met Atlanta’s demands at the winter meetings, giving up last year’s No. 1 overall pick (Dansby Swanson), a good pitching prospect (Aaron Blair) and a legitimate big-league outfielder (Ender Inciarte).

[MORE CUBS: Why Cubs spent big this winter (and won't be major players next offseason)]

That same week in Nashville, the Cubs completed the Starlin Castro-for-Adam Warren trade they pitched to the New York Yankees at the July 31 deadline. Even before most of the industry checked into the Opryland, the Cubs had already agreed to a two-year, $32 million contract with John Lackey.

The Cubs wanted to close the Lackey deal before Zack Greinke made his anticipated decision between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants and reset the market. Hours after the Lackey news broke, word leaked out that the Diamondbacks had shocked the baseball world with a six-year, $206 million offer Greinke couldn’t refuse.

“We really came to feel like the price of poker was very high to acquire starting pitching,” Epstein said. “Years and dollars were really significant for starters of note in free agency — and came with a significant amount of risk, frankly, that we weren’t completely comfortable with.

“(In) the trade market, we felt like in a lot of cases we would have had to pay like two dollars on the dollar almost in return.

“I think Lackey on a two-year deal, Warren with three years of control with the ability to start and also be effective (out of) the ‘pen made a lot of sense for us as a reaction to what was going on in the market.”

[MORE CUBS: Adam Warren brings 'World Series or die' mentality from Yankees to Cubs]

Lester kept recruiting Lackey, who had already done a big contract with Epstein when he ran the Red Sox and wanted to win a third World Series ring. Yankee insiders raved about Warren’s guts and unselfish attitude, while Cubs people think this swingman can be sneaky good outside the American League East.

“We believe he can be a starting pitcher — and a good one — in the National League Central,” Epstein said. “But we also think he can be extremely effective out of the bullpen. His ability to do both makes him incredibly valuable to us.”

Whether or not Warren becomes a glue guy for the entire pitching staff, the Cubs bought insurance by bringing back Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill and Travis Wood for less than $13 million combined. Richard has 132 starts and two 14-win seasons on his big-league resume, while Cahill and Wood each made an All-Star team before reinventing themselves as relievers.

Pitching coach Chris Bosio even said Cahill turned down a two-year offer to start for the Pittsburgh Pirates — an organization that’s had so much success with pitching reclamation projects — and took a one-year, $4.25 million deal to return to the Cubs in a hybrid role.

“We have four guys that have really four pitches — some guys (have) five — it depends on a righty-lefty matchup and the numbers,” Bosio said. “But the versatility — teams are starting to try to follow what we’re doing. Other teams coveted guys that we had. But guys wanted to come here because they’re comfortable with what they’re doing.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

The Cubs still have their intricate game-planning system, reigning Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and a manager with a great feel for in-game decisions as well as big-picture concerns about workload and overuse.

The farm system hasn’t come anywhere close to delivering enough pitching talent and matching what’s been an unbelievable run for the organization’s young hitters. But the Cubs still put together a pitching staff that won 97 games and led the majors in WAR (24.2), WHIP (1.152) and strikeouts (1,431) last season.

“You can have impact pitching without necessarily having all household names (or) bona fide top-of-the-rotation guys,” Epstein said. “Knock on wood, we have to go out and accomplish this. But if you have a (really deep) staff where there’s no negative contributors, no replacement-level pitchers, all solid pitchers who throw strikes and can follow a game plan and miss bats and be effective, that can make you one of the better pitching staffs.

“I’d like to think if everyone pitches up to their potential (this) year, we’re getting close to that ideal.”

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.”