Cubs

Is Jose Quintana feeling pressure to live up to The Trade?

Is Jose Quintana feeling pressure to live up to The Trade?

Do you feel pressure to live up to The Trade?

“No, no,” Jose Quintana insisted late Wednesday night, surrounded by reporters at his locker inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse after a football-score win (17-3) over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Sometimes, with the bad innings, I feel frustrated, because I want to try to help more. But I’m just focusing (on what’s) next.”

This game looked like it might spin out of control for Quintana, creating more questions about his state of mind, what the Cubs were thinking with that blockbuster trade and how fragile the defending World Series champs could be in October.

Even if the Cubs made that shocking deal with the White Sox while projecting the 2018, 2019 and 2020 rotations, nothing will be guaranteed then, and right now the rest of the National League Central is either conceding the division race or hedging for the future.

The Cubs expect the boom-and-bust periods with their offense, understanding that they earned championship rings with a pitching-and-defense formula. After a rocky first inning that led to scattered boos from the crowd of 36,620, Quintana settled down against the Pirates, looking like someone who could someday front a postseason rotation.

“I feel comfortable here,” Quintana said. “All the coaches and teammates make it easy to be here. Sometimes, it’s new for me. I’ve never been in that (position before). But I feel really good here.

“The game never changes. It’s the same game. I’m here to do my job for one reason: I want to help this team and make the playoffs.”

That is still the biggest takeaway from a wacky night where Javier Baez showed off his new braids and stole home plate: “I went too early. I messed it up. And I don’t know if you call that fixing it, but it worked.” Ian Happ almost hit for the cycle and became the sixth Cub with 20 homers this season, setting a franchise record. Kyle Schwarber blasted two homers and called out Happ for sprinting to third base on a flyball to left field.

Quintana missed those fireworks as a hard-luck pitcher on bad White Sox teams, and it will be interesting to see how he responds in the heat of a pennant race. This is the trade-deadline parallel to Jon Lester signing a $155 million megadeal and needing an entire season to feel more comfortable, except Quintana didn’t ease into this at all with six weeks of spring training in Arizona.

“I think sometimes they apply a little bit of pressure to themselves to live up to the moment,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s just human nature. I think he’s still settling in. He’s such a wonderful young man and he’s so concerned. He wants to do well. But, listen, I know he’s going to be really good for a long period of time.

“We could talk about (how) curveball command hasn’t been as good, or maybe the changeup (wasn’t) utilized enough. But the fastball location hasn’t been what it had been. And that’s what you got to figure out: Why? Things like that are very correctable. Part of it might be just because I’m trying too hard. Sometimes it’s just simple as that.”

Coming off an ugly loss to a Philadelphia Phillies team racing to the bottom for the No. 1 overall pick, Quintana gave up three singles and drilled back-to-back hitters with pitches in the first inning, putting the Cubs in a 2-0 hole.

But from the moment Quintana’s pitch hit Jordy Mercer’s right foot and forced in a run, the lefty retired 14 batters in a row – until Josh Bell drove a ball toward the top of the left-field bleachers – and 16 of his last 17. Quintana – who’s now 5-3 with a 4.50 ERA through nine starts as a Cub – lasted six innings and finished with nine strikeouts and zero walks.

This wasn’t a prove-it start as much as a confidence boost for the pitcher who’s so crucial for a first-place team that’s up 3.5 games on the Milwaukee Brewers.

“He’s just over-amped, man,” Maddon said. “This guy is still trying to make an impression for us and on us and with us. I just love his methods. He’s just such a professional. And hopefully that’s going to be kind of a catapult for him right there to get back into it."

Cubs reportedly interested in adding Yu Darvish to starting rotation

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly interested in adding Yu Darvish to starting rotation

The Cubs aren't expected to bring back Jake Arrieta. But what about adding the other top pitcher on the free-agent market?

According to a Saturday report from The Score's Bruce Levine, the Cubs are showing interest in Yu Darvish, who they recently saw in the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Darvish joined the Dodgers in the middle of last season after spending five and a half years as a Texas Ranger. He pitched Game 3 of the NLCS against the Cubs, holding that unusually cold lineup to just one run in 6.1 innings at Wrigley Field, helping the Dodgers reach the World Series. Darvish pitched twice in the Fall Classic against the Houston Astros, taking losses both times and twice failing to get out of the second inning against his old division rivals, including in the decisive Game 7.

The 31-year-old Darvish has been excellent since coming over from Japan ahead of the 2012 season. He's been named to four American League All-Star teams and finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting in each of his first two seasons. He missed the entirety of the 2015 campaign with an injury.

Darvish has a 3.42 career ERA in his five big league seasons and three times has struck out more than 200 hitters in a season, including a baseball-leading 277 in 2013.

Along with Arrieta, Darvish is expected to fetch a huge payday this offseason. The Cubs' reported interest could show that they're not finished adding to their pitching staff despite signing four arms in recent weeks. Tyler Chatwood was a free-agent addition to the starting rotation, bringing the number of spoken-for spots there to four, with Chatwood joining Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana as rotation locks. Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek were added to the bullpen, while Drew Smyly — who's expected to miss the entirety of the 2018 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery — was signed with eyes on 2019.

After Mike Montgomery's desire to be a starter or go somewhere where he could be was reported during the Winter Meetings, there was a thought he could be the answer at the No. 5 spot on the starting staff. But this reported interest in Darvish — not to mention the team's previously reported connections to free-agent starter Alex Cobb — could mean the Cubs are still looking to add a big name to make the rotation more closely resemble what it looked like in recent seasons with Arrieta in the mix.

The Epstein's front office certainly has options, and the team has frequently voiced its confidence in Montgomery as a starter. But the team, for all its additions, has yet to make a splash this offseason. Stay tuned.

Jon Lester: The most important signing in Cubs history

Jon Lester: The most important signing in Cubs history

Jon Lester became the most important signing in Cubs history when he agreed to a six-year, $155 million contract to be the ace of the Cubs.

He spurned his old team — the Red Sox — along with a handful of other teams ready to pony up the nine-figure deal necessary to acquire the frontline starter. By choosing the Cubs, Lester accelerated Theo Epstein & Jed Hoyer's famous "Plan," legitimizing Chicago as a free agent destination and as an up-and-coming perennial playoff team.

"This signing really marks a transition of sorts for the Cubs, the start of a period where we are clearly very serious about bringing a World Series to the Cubs and the people of Chicago," Epstein said back on Dec. 15, 2014.

Inking Lester to a megadeal was a calculated risk, but all $100 million contracts are. Here's a closer look at the Cubs 100 million dollar men:

Nov. 30, 2006 - The Cubs introduce Alfonso Soriano

Back in 2007, the Cubs needed to make a splash and did so by signing the top free agent hitter on the market.

The Cubs inked Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year, $136 million dollar contract — then, the largest in franchise history. The Cubs had their leadoff hitter — fresh off becoming the fourth member of the 40-40 club — to go along with a new manager in Lou Piniella. Soriano made two All-Star teams for the Cubs in 2007 and 2008 while playing a key role on both division-title winning teams.

However, his time with the Cubs will often be remembered by his offensive decline, his subpar play in the outfield, and his eventual trade to the Yankees. While his overall body of work was statistically respectable, his output did not match the $136 million the Cubs invested in him.

Dec. 15, 2014 - The Cubs introduce Jon Lester

Like the signing of Soriano, the reeling in of Lester to Wrigley Field was paired with the hiring of another new big name manager, Joe Maddon.

Three years into his megadeal, Lester is 43-25 with a 3.33 ERA in 96 starts. The 2016 All-Star and Cy Young runner-up has done some of his best work in the postseason, where he's 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in his last nine postseason appearances — three of which came in the 2016 World Series.

Lester's tireless work ethic off the field and his veteran influence in a young Cubs clubhouse has made this signing a smashing success. 
    
Dec. 15, 2015 - The Cubs introduce Jason Heyward

One year to the day after introducing Lester, Jason Heyward met with the Chicago media after signing an eight-year, $184 million contract — the richest in franchise history.

Heyward was coming off one of his best offensive seasons (.289, 13 HR, 60 RBI with the Cardinals) and his third Gold Glove in four seasons but the prized free agent struggled from the start in Chicago. Taking Heyward away from the Cardinals and signing baseball's top free agent prize ended up creating an outfield log jam in Chicago.

Heyward's speech during the rain delay in Game 7 against the Indians will most likely end up being the highlight of his Cubs career. The post-World Series championship offseason storyline of Heyward rectifying his broken swing was entertaining to follow on social media, but his 2017 slash line of .259/.326/.389 is clearly not worth the $184 million he signed for.

The future is now

"I believe in the plan that they have in place for the future of the Cubs."

That's what Lester said back on Dec. 15, 2014.

That statement still holds true today. Lester remains the anchor of the Cubs staff surrounded by Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana with reinforcements on the way. Regardless of any additions or subtractions, the Cubs will again be one of baseball's World Series favorites entering 2018 and the reliable lefty will be at the center of it all.

Halfway home, the $155 million deal has been "smart money" spent on Lester, the most important signing in Cubs franchise history.