Cubs

Scott Boras knows what 20 wins could mean for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

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Scott Boras knows what 20 wins could mean for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

PITTSBURGH — Roughly 48 hours before Jake Arrieta threw a no-hitter, Scott Boras sat in his Dodger Stadium luxury suite with a smirk on his face.

The super-agent raised both his hands in the air and made the “W” and “L” signs with his fingers, preparing to answer a question about what 20 wins could mean for the Cubs and Jake Arrieta.

“Hi, Mr. Owner, how are you?” Boras said. “Is your last name going to begin with ‘W’ or ‘L?’ Because those are the only two alphabets of owners. So, 20 wins, thank you very much.”

Arrieta will go for No. 20 on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park (6:05 p.m. on CSN), trying to reduce his team’s playoff magic number and make his case for the National League’s Cy Young Award.

The win means different things to different people, whether you are a card-carrying member of SABR — or someone who views the analytics crowd as helicopter heads — or a regular baseball fan who doesn’t get into random arguments with strangers on Twitter.

[MORE CUBS: Long-term deal for Theo Epstein can wait with Cubs in playoff race]

Or the game’s most powerful agent. As Boras launched into his sales pitch — Arrieta isn’t positioned to become a free agent until after the 2017 season — he noticed one of the two Chicago reporters sitting on the couch.

“You’re laughing at me because you understand I’ve been through these (before),” Boras said in late August. “These guys sit on the edge of their chair (when) you get down to it and the (difference between) 93 vs. 88 (wins).

“You’ve got to figure out a way to get your team to the win. So when people say to me an evaluation of value — it may not be the final metric — but I’m telling you: (For) the people that own these teams, it is the metric.”

In a long and winding conversation, Boras also stressed the idea of a pitching odometer. Arrieta is at 199 this season and will reach the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career.

Boras compared Arrieta to Max Scherzer, who reportedly turned down a six-year, $144 million offer to extend with the Detroit Tigers before getting a seven-year, $210 million megadeal from the Washington Nationals last winter.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs shouldn’t take their window to contend for granted]

Jon Lester, a three-time All-Star, won two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox, but even he didn’t have a 20-win season on his resume when the Cubs handed him a six-year, $155 million contract.

“All these pundits have said it’s a false read, this and that, whatever,” Boras said. “The reality of it is, if a guy goes to the ballpark (and) knows the 34 times that guy’s pitching, our team’s going to win 28 of ‘em — whether or not he gets the win — I want him on the mound.

“Because I got that — what? — I got that feeling. And I think that’s what Jake brings to the ballpark now. The Cubs all of a sudden are sitting there going: ‘Wow!’

“Now the components of Jake on the mound and this team and the management of the game — you put those three things together, and they’re turning (it around) and getting that done. That’s what owners look at.”

The Cubs don’t need to be in a rush and will probably prioritize allocating their resources toward another frontline pitcher, someone to go 1-2-3 with Arrieta and Lester in a potentially devastating playoff rotation. Boras likes to steer his clients onto the open market anyway.

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The Cubs are 21-8 in games started by Arrieta and have around a .539 winning percentage for the rest of this season.

“I go in and (say): ‘Hey, this guy hits the post,’” Boras said. “Boom! He’s an 80-percent guy. I don’t talk wins. I talk — what? — your team’s winning 80 percent of the time he hits the hill. Now everybody else is 52 percent. Why are you paying him money? Because he’s going to do that.

“Granted, there’s offense coordinated with that. There’s defense, so many factors that are unrelated to the starter. But it’s the general theme of the team and your fan base. Because you’re selling tickets.

“If your fan base knows that they’re going to come to the ballpark and watch him pitch — and they got a good chance to win — that’s a good day for a fan. I’m buying a ticket that day. Because I want to go watch my team win.”

Arrieta (1.99 ERA) and Boras both recognize Chicago is where all this natural talent finally clicked into place — to go along with intellectual curiosity and an obsession with physical fitness — after that franchise-altering trade with the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season.

Now 20 wins is within reach.

“It’s hard to do,” Arrieta said. “There’s so many variables that have to kind of add up for that to happen. You have to pitch well. Your team has to get you runs. You got to play good defense. You can’t have many off nights. It means that consistently you’re going out there and you’re doing things the right way.

“It speaks of consistency, of a competitive nature, not giving in regardless of the situation and trying to win for the team. That’s the mindset — and it’s worked out to where I’ve gotten quite a few of them.”

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”