What’s next for Cubs after missing on Zobrist and Papelbon?


What’s next for Cubs after missing on Zobrist and Papelbon?

The Cubs don’t have the same win-now window as the Kansas City Royals, or the high-end pitching prospect the Oakland A’s wanted for essentially two months of Ben Zobrist, an ideal fill-in-the-blanks player.   

The Cubs didn’t have the financial muscle to outbid the Washington Nationals and end Jonathan Papelbon’s misery with the Philadelphia Phillies, another aggressive move that would have strengthened their bullpen with an elite/eccentric closer.

The Cubs pursued Zobrist and Papelbon but didn’t make a splash on Tuesday, waiting for the right deal as big names kept coming off the board. Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department now has less than $5 million to play with – and less than 72 hours until Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Being realistic, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Cubs only upgrade in one of their three main areas of need, grabbing a starter, a reliever or a veteran left-handed hitter.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs bullpen will take another hit if Neil Ramirez goes down]

Someday, the Cubs hope to be in the same position as the Royals, adding a Johnny Cueto and a Zobrist to make it back to the World Series and win it all. The Cubs just don’t have that sense of urgency, or the fully developed lineup, or a blue-chip pitching prospect to match Sean Manaea, the headliner in the Zobrist deal.

Remember, the Cubs had considered Manaea for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft before his junior season at Indiana State University. Kris Bryant went out and had a monster year at the University of San Diego, while injury concerns dropped Manaea to the Royals at No. 34.

It didn’t cost the Nationals as much in terms of talent to get Papelbon, the homegrown Boston Red Sox closer when future Cubs executives Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod won their 2007 World Series rings.

The Nationals gave up Nick Pivetta – a fourth-round pick from the 2013 draft who had been pitching at their Double-A affiliate – and used their deep pockets to spring Papelbon from the worst team in baseball.

Papelbon agreed to rework his 2016 option, getting it guaranteed at $11 million instead of $13 million, according to The Washington Post, with $3 million deferred to 2017 and the Phillies kicking in $4.5 million to cover the rest of his 2015 salary.

Jon Lester had promised his buddy from Boston (342 career saves) would be on good behavior and fit right into the clubhouse – besides giving Cubs manager Joe Maddon a no-doubt answer for the ninth inning.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs like to go with that they know and had tried to trade for Zobrist over the winter, but couldn’t make a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Zobrist is one of Maddon’s all-time favorite players – at least now the super-utility guy can’t be tagged with a qualifying offer and the attached draft-pick compensation. 

For now, there is a do-it-yourself feeling around the Cubs. 

“I’m always good with that,” Maddon said. “If you look at our group right now, the big thing there is to get more out of what we have. And there is more. If we had been offensively at the top of our game to this point – and be in this particular position, which is a good position – I’d be a little bit more concerned. There’s a lot left in the tank offensively for us over the next two months.”

Maddon, of course, put a positive spin on it, pointing to Miguel Montero, Javier Baez and Tommy La Stella getting healthy, hoping they can add another dimension to the team.  

“There’s a lot of in-house acquisitions to be made, too,” Maddon said. “A lot of times the answers do lie within. You just got to get more out of the group that is here.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey


Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”