Cubs didn't consider themselves serious players for Justin Verlander

Cubs didn't consider themselves serious players for Justin Verlander

Regardless of where Justin Verlander ultimately hoped he'd end up, the Cubs didn't consider themselves to be serious players in the veteran pitcher's market this August.

The waiver deadline passed Thursday with the Cubs only making one move - acquiring outfielder Leonys Martin as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement type of guy.

Verlander, meanwhile, went to the Houston Astros, with the Detroit Tigers receiving three prospects in return.

The Cubs have been one of the teams linked to Verlander in rumors for months and while they did check in on him even after the nonwaiver trade deadline passed on the first day of August, GM Jed Hoyer said they never even got to the point where they discussed untouchable prospects with the Tigers.

"Houston was pretty aggressive early on," Hoyer said Friday morning at Wrigley Field. "They didn't make a big starting pitching deal at the deadline, so I think they were aggressive with their offer right away.

"Detroit kinda liked that offer all along. I think they were pretty focused on Houston all along. Because of that, because they had a deal they liked that they sat on for a bunch of weeks, we never got deep into it. In the end, I think it worked out for Detroit and for Houston. But I think that was gonna be the result for almost the entire month."

At best, Hoyer described the Cubs' interest as a fallback option.

"Early on, they had a deal on the table that was really appealing to them that their process was run with that in mind," Hoyer said.

The 34-year-old veteran has rebounded after a rough start to the season and is now 10-8 with a 3.82 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 176 strikeouts in 172 innings. He finished second in AL Cy Young voting last year with a 16-9 record, 3.04 ERA and league-leading 1.00 WHIP. 

Verlander also has two full years and around $60 million left on his current contract with a vesting option for his age-37 season in 2020. 

The Cubs are in a totally different position now than they were a month ago when the Verlander rumors were hot and heavy. 

The starting rotation has keyed the second-half surge with Kyle Hendricks regaining health and production while Jake Arrieta once again looks like his Cy Young self. John Lackey has also been better since the All-Star Break, tossing seven shutouts in Friday's 2-0 win over the Braves. 

Even the Jon Lester injury proved to be minor as the Cubs ace makes his return Saturday against the Atlanta Braves. Assuming Lester's start goes off without a hitch, the Cubs are at the point where they're seriously considering keeping Mike Montgomery as a starter (he'll get the ball Sunday) and rolling with a six-man rotation.

And with the Jose Quintana deal coupled with the prior trade with the Tigers for Justin Wilson and Alex Avila, the Cubs don't have much in the way of enticing prospects left to deal, even if the Verlander talks with Detroit never advanced to that stage.

So Verlander wound up with the team with the best record in the American League over the defending World Champs, even if the Cubs were his first choice.

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

“Who will be the Cubs’ 2018 team MVP?”

Jason Heyward: “Me!”

No hesitation, no pause. Just an honest answer from a confident 28-year old with a $184 million contract.

Nobody wants to succeed more at the plate than the Cubs’ two-time Gold Glove award winner, but the offense has been downright ugly (.243, 18 HR, 108 RBI in 268 games).

Despite not performing up to a megadeal, Heyward has no problem talking about his contract:

“It is what it is, I earned it," Heyward said. "I earned that part of it. For me, it’s awesome. To be where I want to be, that’s the most important thing.”

After spending time talking at Cubs Convention speaking with Heyward, his manager and six of his other teammates, it’s no surprise that it was Heyward who delivered the now-famous Game 7 “Rain Delay Speech.”

His teammates adore him.

Question to Ben Zobrist: “Who’s your favorite teammate of all-time at any level?”

After a 10-second pause: “Jason Heyward.”

That definitely says something coming from a 36-year-old, three-time All-Star and World Series MVP.

For the true blue Cubs fans that can’t stand Heyward and his untradeable contract, sorry, his teammates and manager have nothing but good things to say. 

By all accounts, Heyward is a quality human being despite his shortcomings in the batter’s box the last two seasons.

And his goals for an offensive renaissance in 2018 are simple and basic:

“Just being in the lineup every game.”

His teammates will be behind him 100 percent, even if the fans are not.