Cubs

What's next for Cubs after Jason Heyward signing?

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What's next for Cubs after Jason Heyward signing?

Everybody wants to know what's next for the Cubs.

It's only natural given how active and aggressive Theo Epstein's front office has been this winter, following up on a 97-win season and trip to the National League Championship Series by keeping their foot firmly on the gas.

But no more moves are guaranteed. The Cubs could easily head to spring training with this current roster and expect to contend.

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Before the Jason Heyward signing Friday, the Cubs still needed a centerfielder, but they feel confident with their new 26-year-old prize manning the gaps at Wrigley Field for the 2016 season.

After committing $272 million to a trio of free agents (Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist), plus Trevor Cahill's $4.25 million deal for one year, the Cubs have already gone over their initial payroll estimates for 2016.

Epstein addressed the media after Heyward's introductory press conference at Spiaggia's in Chicago Tuesday and admitted there might not be any more moves coming for the Cubs while also commending chairman Tom Ricketts and the business side for finding a way to free up some money to stay aggressive this winter.

"There's always a chance, but we've committed a lot of resources this offseason, mainly money," Epstein said. "... It's easy sometimes to sit back on the heels of a surprising 97-win season and be content with what you have and try to go out and do it again and contend again.

"But there was a real effort to go from good to great this winter and to capitalize on a moment in time when we have a lot of young, cost-controlled position players and Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in their primes.

"The business side really stepped up, trying to find some creative ways to push some of the postseason money onto this year's budget. We came up with some creative contract structures to allow us to add now, but this is the right time, strategically, with next year's free agent market not being quite as deep as this year's."

The Cubs essentially viewed Heyward as the right guy at the right time, deciding to go all-in now rather than play the long game. It also helps that they were able to defer a large chunk of Heyward's salary and signing bonus until the Cubs can cash in on a new TV deal following the 2019 season.

[MORE CUBS: Theo Epstein feels like Cubs are selling themselves now]

2015 was a surprising season for the Cubs, but getting swept out of the NLCS by the New York Mets also exposed weaknesses within the young roster - namely outfield defense, situational hitting and pitching depth.

The Cubs addressed all of those issues, as Heyward helps solve the outfield defense issue (whether he plays center or right) and he and Zobrist add contact, situational hitting and a patient approach to help lengthen the lineup.

In order to sign Zobrist, Epstein's front office had to make a "bank shot" move to trade Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees, but they received 28-year-old pitcher Adam Warren in return. Warren and Cahill provide rotational depth while also serving as proven arms out of the bullpen.

Lackey also adds a veteran presence that can take the ball every fifth day and the Cubs feel they were able to jump the market on signing the former St. Louis Cardinals ace before the price of pitching soared around the game.

The Cubs have done all this without dealing away any of their prospects or core players (apart from Castro) and they still hold all their trade chips if they want to add another young, top-of-the-rotation starter down the road.

[MORE CUBS: Why Jason Heyward chose Cubs over Cardinals]

"That does allow us - whether it's this winter or the trade deadline or next offseason - to be a threat to make significant trades that can help the ballclub going forward," Epstein said. "It doesn't necessarily have to happen in the next couple months.

"We feel great about the team as it constitutes right now. Let's go play. You always learn a lot more by watching your team play. You see how pitchers are going to show up, what you're going to get out of your starting rotation, who's going to stay healthy, how guys adapt to different positions, what holes emerge on your club that you have to fill, who's maturing and taking their game to the next level.

"None of us are smart enough to figure out exactly what our ballclub is going to look like at the end of the season, let alone at the trade deadline. ... I think we're well positioned to adjust."

Epstein admitted that he doesn't feel the Cubs are a finished product, but understands not every team will feel that way in December.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

He also again cautioned that "winning" the offseason is a dangerous tag to place on a team, even one with an arrow pointing straight up and a window of contention just starting to fully break open.

"There are a lot of things in this organization to be excited about," Epstein said. "At the same time, we haven't accomplished that much yet. We did have a special year in a lot of ways. We finished in third place. We didn't advance to the World Series; we certainly didn't win the World Series.

"Just about all the hard work still remains in front of us. I think it's important that we stay humble and hungry as an organization. I don't worry about our players in that regard at all.

"... Normally, with an offseason like this, you worry about the players being complacent or suffering because of the pressure that's on them. But I don't. I know our guys and how hungry they are and how much they want this. We're just excited to go play and we recognize that we haven't accomplished anything yet."

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

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USA TODAY

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: