Cubs

Scott Baker has something to prove with Cubs

939821.png

Scott Baker has something to prove with Cubs

Updated: 8:30 p.m.

Scott Baker is on the long road back from Tommy John surgery. He believes he will be ready to go in spring training and part of the Opening Day rotation. Those are the mile markers in his mind.

Virtually every day is mapped out from here until the morning pitchers and catchers report to the Cubs complex in Arizona. Baker wasnt going to be told what to do in his rehab program he wanted to know the how and why. Being flipped at the trade deadline isnt a concern.

Thats kind of a far stretch, Baker said Tuesday at Wrigley Field. Well just have to see how things work out. First and foremost, I want to be healthy and productive. And I feel like that would be getting a little ahead of myself trying to think about contenders and all that.

The Cubs began to address their biggest offseason need with a low-risk, short-term commitment. It exactly fits the profile of what Theo Epsteins front office is trying to do this winter.

Baker will get 5.5 million with built-in incentives that could be worth an additional 1.5 million as well as the platform to prove himself again on the North Side. The 31-year-old right-hander had spent his entire career with the Minnesota Twins, going 63-48 with a 4.15 ERA and working almost exclusively as a starter.

This is the blueprint the Cubs used last winter with Paul Maholm, who was shut down late in the 2011 season with a shoulder issue. The veteran left-hander got 4.25 million, plus a 6.5 million club option for 2013.

Maholm (13-11, 3.67 ERA in 2012) had only pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates and benefitted from a change of scenery, embracing the game plans designed by manager Dale Sveum, pitching coach Chris Bosio and their staff.

Maholm wound up getting traded to the Atlanta Braves in a deadline deal involving Arodys Vizcaino, whos recovering from Tommy John surgery and could be a factor in the Cubs rotation at some point in 2013.

Baker doesnt think hes Maholm 2.0, and Epstein allowed for the possibility of an extension, that hes more than a four-month rental.

If we catch some breaks and Scott manages to stay healthy, Epstein said, were going to look up and hell have outpitched some guys who signed for a lot more money than he did. I think theres a chance that Scott likes it here in Chicago, and we like what we have in him and we can talk about making this a longer-term relationship at a point down the road.

Baker went 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 2011, but missed last season while recovering from the Tommy John procedure and rehabbing his right elbow. He has posted 770 strikeouts against 224 walks in 958 innings in the big leagues.

Epstein thinks Baker can take his career to the next level here. Baker can use the advanced scouting the same way Maholm and Ryan Dempster did last season, when they became two of the hottest pitchers in baseball.

Scott Baker is a pitch-maker, Epstein said. Hes somebody that can go out and execute a game plan against the best lineups. When hes commanding and healthy, hell have a lot of success in this division.

For his part, Baker took a leap of faith. He said he didnt have any existing relationships with anyone in the clubhouse, the front office or on the coaching staff that helped convince him to sign here. He wasnt scared away by the rebuilding project after a season in which the Cubs lost 101 games.

That doesnt necessarily concern me, Baker said. With the new front office, were going to put a good product on the field and give us a chance to win some ballgames. Being in an organization like this, there are obviously a lot of expectations. I can guarantee you that everybody they put out there is going to be giving it everything they got.

As long as theyre healthy

I have every intention of being a competitive pitcher next year, right away, Baker said.

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

1117_kris_bryant.jpg
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

jakearrieta.png
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.