Cubs

The story behind the Cubs drafting 49ers quarterback Kaepernick

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The story behind the Cubs drafting 49ers quarterback Kaepernick

If this late-season fade continues, Bears fans might remember Colin Kaepernicks star turn on Monday Night Football as a tipping point toward major changes at Halas Hall.

But in an alternate universe, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback actually could have been a piece of the puzzle at Clark and Addison.

Tim Wilken watched parts of that 32-7 beatdown at Candlestick Park. (To be honest, hes more of a Green Bay Packers fan.) He may not have been totally tuned in on Nov. 19, but those text messages would keep popping up on his phone: Theres your boy!

Thats an exaggeration, because the scouting director only had a fuzzy vision of what Kaepernick might become when the Cubs picked him in the 43rd round of the 2009 draft. National crosschecker Sam Hughes whose buddies in Reno helped tip him off about the University of Nevada quarterback has gotten similar reactions.

Ive been getting hit up by the Bay Area writers, Hughes said. Theyre all like disappointed that Ive actually never seen him throw a baseball.

Standing in the main lobby of Nashvilles Opryland Hotel last week, Hughes smiled and laughed at the kind of stories told during the winter meetings.

There were reports that Kaepernick had an easy delivery and threw 92 mph at Pitman High School in Turlock, Calif., which is about two hours inland from San Francisco. He was listed at 6-foot-6, 180 pounds on MLB.coms draft database, while the NFLs website now has him at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. Whatever the frame, the Cubs saw upside as a potential pitcher, not a franchise quarterback.

When we went to our NFL sources, they thought he was just going to be a CFL guy, so I said: Hey, lets take a run at (him), Wilken recalled. Our football guys said that he had a sling in his arm action and they didnt think that was going to work in the NFL. They thought his release was long. This was like three different organizations telling us this.

They thought he was going to be more of a CFL guy because he wasnt really big then, either. Hes still really thin and they were a little bit worried. You know, they ran that pistol offense at Reno. Even as well as he played the next two years, we thought: Hey, maybe we got a shot here.

As a special assistant to team president Theo Epstein, Wilkens portfolio has now broadened beyond just amateur scouting. But Wilken made his bones with the Toronto Blue Jays, helping sign future Cy Young Award winners Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter out of high school.

The Cubs were prepared to offer Kaepernick in the range of 30,000 to 50,000 to come to their Mesa complex for a few weeks, throw some bullpens and play in the Arizona rookie league.

Hughes made the recruiting pitch, speaking with Kaepernick and his father several times. Hughes had played quarterback at Louisiana Tech University and even bounced around the Arena League.

This is in his bloodlines: His father is Gary, the former special assistant to Jim Hendry, a legendary scout who once signed a Stanford University quarterback named John Elway for the New York Yankees.

But Kaepernick took his leadership responsibilities seriously and felt like he couldnt ditch his teammates. He wanted to work out with his wide receivers. He was in the middle of a college career in which hed account for 140-plus touchdowns, throwing for more than 10,000 yards and running for more than 4,000 yards.

I was still trying to be pretty persuasive, Hughes recalled. Im like: You got a chance to make some money. This could be a pretty good summer job for you. Save your coaches a scholarship. He never even wanted to get into the money.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, the old Bears quarterback, rewarded that confidence and put his faith in Kaepernick, making him the 36th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft and sticking with him even after Alex Smith passed concussion tests and was cleared to play.

Nothing personal, no hard feelings: Hughes still stays in contact with Kaepernick, shooting him a random text message here and there, and the 49ers quarterback responds right away.

What bothered and confused Hughes was the perception that Kaepernick could not be a true leader because hes covered in tattoos. A backward-thinking Sporting News column set off that firestorm.

Thats just judging a book by its cover, Hughes said. Why dont you get to know the guy? You talk to him for two minutes and you realize hes a solid dude from a solid family.

The Cubs got to know Kaepernick and maybe it wasnt such a reach in that draft. They took Trey McNutt the pitcher the Boston Red Sox would want in the Epstein compensation negotiations in the 32nd round. They grabbed Nick Struck the organizations minor league pitcher of the year last season in the 39th round.

The No. 1,310 pick in that draft is now heading into a Sunday night showdown against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. In a business where so many players fail, and the price of pitching keeps soaring, you have to take these chances, even if the kid develops into the quarterback for a Super Bowl contender.

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

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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

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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.