Cubs

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.

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

1020_albert_almora.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below: