Imagine Chris Archer playing for a big-market team like the Cubs


Imagine Chris Archer playing for a big-market team like the Cubs

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Picture Chris Archer performing with Wrigley Field as the backdrop – the one Joe Maddon compared to a computer-generated scene from “Gladiator” – instead of a dumpy building off Interstate 275.      

Archer could see, feel and hear the Cubs fans who took over Tropicana Field on Tuesday night, a crowd of 25,046 saluting Maddon and watching the defending World Series champs play a sharp all-around game in a 2-1 win over a Tampa Bay Rays team that has a less than 1 percent chance of making the playoffs now.  

“It’s weird,” Archer said after the tough-luck loss, comparing the scene to last week’s games relocated to New York in the wake of Hurricane Irma. “I didn’t know we had that many people from Chicago, Illinois, Midwest area, in Tampa, but I guess we do. It was just weird for their players to come out and get announced and get so much love. It was strange.

“It felt like we were in Citi Field playing the Yankees, honestly. I’m not being critical. It was just crazy how much royal blue there was out there. When Willson Contreras went out there to warm up the pitcher, he had a standing O.

“I’ve been here for however long – and seen some really good players come – and I’ve never seen anybody get as much love (as they did when) they ran out of the dugout to warm up.

“It was just kind of crazy.”  

Archer pitched in the Before Theo farm system, at a time when the Cubs were scrambling to try to pry their window to contend back open after winning back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008. Maddon became the beneficiary when the Cubs packaged Archer – who had 13 Double-A starts on his resume at that point – in the blockbuster Matt Garza trade in January 2011.

Archer, who worked last year’s World Series as an ESPN analyst, has pitched in only two playoff games, making two relief appearances out of Maddon’s bullpen when the Boston Red Sox handled the Rays during a 2013 first-round series.   

Archer lost 19 games last season while putting up a 4.02 ERA and 200-plus innings. He earned his second All-Star selection this year and will turn 29 later this month. Wonder what the good-but-not-great numbers in 2017 – 9-11, 4.02 ERA, 32 starts, 241 strikeouts – would look like on a contender.       

“He is among the elite pitchers, there’s no question about that,” Maddon said. “I don’t watch him enough to know when he goes into these bad moments what exactly is going on. (And) I don’t even know how much certain years luck plays into it or not.

“But the thing about him in a big-city market that would intrigue me is him. He’s really bright. And he’s very socially engaged. For him to be in more of an urban kind of a setting with a greater audience, he could make quite an impact.”

Archer is locked into a team-friendly contract that will pay him roughly $14 million in 2018 and 2019 combined, plus the Rays hold bargain club options for 2020 ($9 million) and 2021 ($11 million). Meaning it would take an unbelievable offer just to get Tampa Bay’s attention.

Archer is also a face of the franchise, a two-time Roberto Clemente Award nominee who visits young men and women in the Pinellas County Juvenile Detention Center and stays involved with Major League Baseball’s RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities).

“Beyond being a pitcher who is very, very good, I would be curious if he was in a larger situation,” said Maddon, who has an offseason home and a restaurant in Tampa and sat with Archer during a Buccaneers game last season. “Just because socially, in a community, he’s already done it here. But you put him in a large city with more of an urban situation – he could really be impactful in that city. He’s really engaging when he speaks. He’s very bright. He’s really well-thought-out.”

Archer has come a long way from the Mark DeRosa salary-dump trade with the Cleveland Indians on New Year’s Eve 2008. Stan Zielinski, the beloved scout who died in January, lobbied then-general manager Jim Hendry, insisting the Cubs shouldn’t do the deal without Archer, a Class-A pitcher who went 4-8 with a 4.29 ERA that season.

While closing the Garza deal, the Rays actually pushed for another pitching prospect, but the Cubs wanted to hold onto Trey McNutt. Other players bundled in that trade became useful major-league pieces (Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld), but the headliner was supposed to be Hak-Ju Lee, a South Korean shortstop already blocked by Starlin Castro who never made it to the big leagues.    

“There was a lot of good players that came the Rays’ way at that time,” Maddon said. “I didn’t know what to expect (from Archer). I saw him in camp. Great arm. Didn’t really have a good feel for command at that time.

“But when you talked to the kid, you couldn’t help but really like him a lot. He and I connected on more of an intellectual level regarding books and stuff, because he’s really well-read. He’s a lot smarter than I’ll ever be. I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with him. And then all of a sudden, he started finding the plate. And that slider’s electric.”

Maddon has already seen what the Cubs brand and Chicago platform can do for his baseball legacy, bank account and off-the-field interests.

Do you want Archer back?

“I didn’t say that,” Maddon said. “That’s something I cannot (say).”

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Are the Mets back in contention?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Are the Mets back in contention?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

New York Mets

2017 record: 70-92, 4th place in NL East

Offseason additions: Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez, Anthony Swarzak, Jason Vargas, Jose Lobaton, A.J. Griffin

Offseason departures: Neil Walker

X-factor: Pitching health

For everybody.

The Mets pitchers are suddenly not-so-young and they have zero World Series rings to show for it. In major part because they haven't all been healthy at the same time since that 2015 season in which they shut the Cubs right down out of the NLCS.

Will they ever be healthy again? Who knows? But if — somehow — Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Robert Gsellman are all healthy at the same time and pitching like they're capable of, it's gonna be tough to keep this Mets team at bay (even with an aging lineup).

Of course, expecting that to happen is probably foolish, but it's definitely within the realm of possibility.

Projected lineup

1. Brandon Nimmo - CF
2. Yoenis Cespedes - LF
3. Jay Bruce - RF
4. Todd Frazier - 3B
5. Adrian Gonzalez - 1B
6. Asdrubal Cabrera - 2B
7. Travis d'Arnaud - C
8. Amed Rosario - SS

Projected rotation

1. Noah Syndergaard
2. Jacob deGrom
3. Steven Matz
4. Matt Harvey
5. Zack Wheeler


We've already discussed the starting pitching health. The Mets also have a solid bullpen that will be improved with Jeurys Familia avoiding suspension and Swarzak's arrival after a breakout 2017 with the White Sox and Brewers.

This lineup has been productive in the past, but it's very old. The 2-through-6 hitters are all on the wrong side of 30 and on the bench, Jose Reyes is 34. 

Rosario (22), Nimmo (24) and Michael Conforto (25) inject some youth into this club, but Conforto is hampered by a shoulder injury and doesn't expect to join the team until at least a few weeks into the 2018 season.

Still, if they can stave off Father Time, this lineup should score some runs, even if they're a station-to-station bunch of slow-footed fellows. 

If the rotation is spinning the way they are capable of, the lineup should score enough runs to win a decent amount of ballgames. Thanks to depth on the bench (Reyes, Wilmer Flores, Juan Lagares), the Mets should be OK even if one or two of their old guys hit the 10-day DL.

But this all hinges on pitching. Syndergaard and deGrom are a dynamic 1-2 punch, but MAJOR question marks follow. 

The Mets will probably be a part of the wild card race in the NL, but ultimately won't be playing come October. Too many "ifs".

Prediction: 2nd in NL East, no playoffs

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Miami Marlins
Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
New York Mets

As Opening Day approaches, Cubs roster comes into focus


As Opening Day approaches, Cubs roster comes into focus

With less than a week until Opening Day, the Cubs' roster is all but set.

Joe Maddon told reporters in Arizona Friday the Cubs will roll with eight relievers to open the season, which doesn't come as any surprise. 

Left-handed pitcher Randy Rosario was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, leaving Eddie Butler and Shae Simmons as the two most likely guys to take the final bullpen spot.

Butler, 27, is out of minor-league options, which means if the Cubs do not keep him on their big-league roster, they risk losing him on waivers. Simmons still has two options remaining.

Butler also represents more starting pitching depth for the team beyond their five-man rotation and Mike Montgomery. Theo Epstein's front office likes to enter a season with 8-10 starting pitching options in case of injury, so it'd be hard to see the team getting rid of their No. 7 guy on that depth chart.

This spring, Butler has pitched 10 innings over five games with a 4.50 ERA and five strikeouts. He made 11 starts and two bullpen appearances with the 2017 Cubs, posting a 3.95 ERA and 1.43 WHIP.

Simmons, 27, signed with the Cubs as a free agent Feb. 16 and pitched nine games with the Seattle Mariners last year. He's appeared in four games for the Cubs this spring, pitching to a 2.45 ERA with five strikeouts in 3.2 innings.

In carrying eight relievers, that only leaves one position player spot available (backup catcher). Outfielder Peter Bourjos is expected to start the season in the minor leagues.

Veteran backstop Chris Gimenez will probably get the nod on the big-league roster over youngster Victor Caratini.

Gimenez comes with experience and a knowledge and relationship with Yu Darvish and we do have confirmation Darvish is making the Opening Day roster:

The Cubs really like Caratini and he's arguably their top position player prospect, but at age 24, he needs to play every day and see regular at-bats, which he wouldn't get backing up Willson Contreras in Chicago.

With that, here's the projected Cubs' Opening Day roster:


Willson Contreras
Chris Gimenez


Anthony Rizzo
Kris Bryant
Addison Russell
Javy Baez
Tommy La Stella
Ben Zobrist


Ian Happ
Kyle Schwarber
Albert Almora Jr.
Jason Heyward

Starting pitchers

Jon Lester
Kyle Hendricks
Yu Darvish
Jose Quintana
Tyler Chatwood


Brandon Morrow (closer)
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Justin Wilson
Steve Cishek
Brian Duensing
Mike Montgomery
Eddie Butler