Cubs

In new world for Cubs, Ben Zobrist explains why he wasn’t trolling Cardinals  

In new world for Cubs, Ben Zobrist explains why he wasn’t trolling Cardinals  

ST. LOUIS – Ben Zobrist is too diplomatic to completely troll the St. Louis Cardinals – and too honest to pretend that celebrating at Busch Stadium wouldn’t mean something for a Cubs organization that for so long had been Little Brother in this lopsided rivalry.

Zobrist gave the Cardinal clubhouse bulletin-board material – and moved the needle for the St. Louis media – heading into the last week of the regular season when he said: “We intend to clinch there. And I think for a lot of the guys that have been around here for a long time, it’s going to be very satisfying.”

First reaction: Wow. Second reaction: Obviously (when the Cubs are about to play a four-game series against their archrivals and the magic number to eliminate both the Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers from the division race had dropped to two).

But Zobrist gets it as someone who grew up in downstate Illinois. This is a self-made, super-utility player with a World Series ring from the 2015 Kansas City Royals and a 50th anniversary edition convertible Camaro for last year’s World Series MVP performance. Between his age (36) and his natural personality, Zobrist doesn’t treat each interview like a chore and suspiciously view every question as a trap.

“It’s really nothing personal,” Zobrist said Wednesday night amid the champagne-and-beer celebration, just before Jon Lester toasted John Lackey and broke the retirement story. “I would have said that no matter where we were going.

“But I do think it’s extra special to be able to do it here – for a lot of Cubs fans (who) for a long, long time haven’t experienced a lot of winning in this particular city. For those guys that have been in the organization for a long time, too, I know it means a little bit more.

“I’ve only been here for two years, so I can’t quite understand that the way those guys can. But they’ve expressed that to us. And this means something extra special for those people.”

Zobrist is also the type of guy who shook hands, signed autographs and took pictures with the fans who swarmed his North Center home and lined up around the block – hours after the Cubs flew back from Cleveland after beating the Indians in last year’s epic World Series Game 7.

“We know that the fans are even more pumped, I’m sure, about (clinching in St. Louis) than those of us in this room,” Zobrist said. “We appreciate our fans. We know that they’re very loyal and very passionate about this ballclub. Definitely we know that some of them are celebrating just as much as we are today.”     

Going for a personal three-peat, Zobrist’s regular season reflected the 2017 Cubs as a whole, from the slow start to the nagging injuries to the strong finish to the enormous sense of confidence heading into October.   

“We feel excited for another opportunity to make a push in the postseason and to defend our title,” Zobrist said. “But we’re going to celebrate this. This is a huge accomplishment, a big step. It’s a very, very long season, and we’re going to celebrate this tonight because it needs to be.

“It’s a lot of work just to get to this point. And a lot of teams haven’t been able to do that after winning the previous year. But now it’s just adrenaline, baby. Let’s get it going.”

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.