Cubs

Jon Lester breaks down Jose Quintana trade and where Cubs go from here

Jon Lester breaks down Jose Quintana trade and where Cubs go from here

BALTIMORE – Jon Lester decided to sign with a last-place Cubs team during the 2014 winter meetings, taking a leap of faith while still expecting to be in the pennant race every season on that six-year, $155 million megadeal.

As much as anyone in the clubhouse, Lester understands how team president Theo Epstein operates and what a huge hole there will be in the rotation if/when Jake Arrieta and John Lackey leave as free agents after this season.

That’s why “until 2020” jumped out at Lester after the initial shock from the blockbuster Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox wore off quickly.

“I know Theo,” Lester said before watching Arrieta shut down his old team during Saturday’s 10-3 win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. “I know his track record. I know what he’s all about. That wasn’t going to go unaddressed.

“I was a little surprised that it happened now. Usually, a trade like that happens kind of last minute. So that’s good for us – we get those extra couple weeks with him here and get him comfortable.

“That’s probably a win-win for everybody. You don’t see trades where you don’t have to move houses. He’s pretty well-set and established, knows his way around the city. And now he’s just got to drive north instead of south.”

As much as Epstein made this deal for the future, the 2017 Cubs needed Quintana to: reinforce a rotation pushed through back-to-back playoff runs; protect an overworked bullpen; and change a clubhouse vibe that’s been off. Quintana can finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles – and create a real sense of momentum for a .500 team – when he makes his Cubs debut on Sunday afternoon.

“Any time you make an acquisition, it’s a boost,” Lester said. “It just means that the front office and ownership believe in this team and they want us to go further. They think whatever piece it is (will) make us go.

“Any time you make a trade like that, obviously the belief is there. That just kind of gives you a little shot in the arm to say: ‘Hey, let’s get going and make this mean something.’

“As opposed to making a trade and you waste prospects for nothing, kind of like the (Aroldis) Chapman deal last year. If we don’t win the World Series, you waste prospects for basically nothing.”

Epstein made it clear that how the Cubs respond after the All-Star break will influence how aggressive he will be leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.

[MORE: Joe Maddon knows it's time to start pushing Cubs harder - except Wade Davis

Selling isn’t an option, because the Cubs are still within striking distance of the Milwaukee Brewers in a bad division and have too much on-paper talent. There is real value in all these young players experiencing more meaningful games and building up that competitive culture.

But if the Cubs get hot, then Epstein can look harder at a veteran catcher, another reliever and a starting pitcher – Sonny Gray seems out of reach – instead of sitting out the deal-making frenzy.

“That’s on us to play well,” Lester said. “Whatever he decides that we need, we need. But at the same time, the guys in this clubhouse can’t worry about what’s going on up there and who’s talking about what.

“I was part of those talks for a long time as a young guy. And it can be distracting sometimes when you see your name on the bottom line or they’re talking about it on MLB (Network) saying a team put your name into this trade.

“Nine times out of 10, it’s not even true. I know that’s difficult for a young guy sometimes. But the biggest thing is, like I’ve always said: Man, just stay in your lane. Do your job. It’s not your pay grade to worry about what Theo does.”

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

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USA TODAY

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, MLB.com'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

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AP

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.