Cubs

Whether or not David Price is right, Cubs need more pitching

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Whether or not David Price is right, Cubs need more pitching

David Price doesn’t have to be sold on the idea of Chicago. The biggest free agent on the market this winter is intrigued by the chance to make history and be part of the Cubs team that finally wins the World Series after more than a century of losing.

Price won’t have to take the same leap of faith Jon Lester made last December when he signed up with a last-place team for six years and $155 million.

The Cubs won 97 games during the regular season, beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in an emotional wild-card game and eliminated the hated St. Louis Cardinals in the divisional round before slamming into the New York Mets and getting swept out of the National League Championship Series.

To go on a longer run in October, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein understands the Cubs will need to add at least one frontline starting pitcher to the 2016 team.

But simply signing Price at any cost won’t be a slam-dunk decision for a franchise with a checks-and-balances system, some financial restrictions and a stockpile of position players to trade from this winter.

“I’m not sure what direction we’re going to go,” Epstein said during Thursday’s year-end news conference at Wrigley Field. “Free-agent pitching is a necessary evil at times. And it’s only evil because it’s inherently risky. But it’s necessary because you can make such an impact with your starting staff right away by fishing in those waters.

“We did it last year. We’re glad we did. We’ll certainly take a hard look at all the free-agent starters this year. We’ll just have to balance our short-term interests, our long-term interests, our financial picture, our roster and payroll strategy going forward.

“I’m not going to rule anything out or rule anything in, except to say that whether it’s through trade or free agency, we’d like to add at least one quality starting pitcher this winter.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs will explore long-term deal for Jake Arrieta]

The Cubs could try to rekindle trade talks from the July 31 deadline with the San Diego Padres (Tyson Ross) and Cleveland Indians (Carlos Carrasco) and move a talented middle infielder like Starlin Castro or Javier Baez to reinforce the rotation.

Maybe Jeff Samardzija wants to come home and work with pitching coach Chris Bosio after such a disappointing season with the White Sox. And since the Cubs love their old Boston Red Sox so much, how about John Lackey switching sides in the rivalry with St. Louis?

The Cubs also know this class of free-agent pitchers is so much deeper than just Price. Jordan Zimmermann — a two-time All-Star with the Washington Nationals who grew up in Wisconsin and has strong Midwest roots — will be a person of interest.

The Cubs aren’t a superpower yet and probably can’t compete financially if the Los Angeles Dodgers decide they want Price and blow past $200 million.

Remember, the Cubs needed the Masahiro Tanaka savings to help finance Lester’s megadeal, rolling over $20 million into this year’s payroll, which left them with middle-of-the-pack spending power, or roughly $120 million.

“We have not sat down as a group and finalized our budget or what this all means,” Epstein said. “But what the team accomplished this year should help. We all have an aggressive mindset. And we’re even hungrier now after getting close — but not getting all the way there.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Price — who will start a must-win Game 6 against the Kansas City Royals on Friday in the American League Championship Series — cannot be tagged with a qualifying offer after a midseason trade from the Detroit Tigers to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Price loves Joe Maddon, who managed him while he won a Cy Young Award with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. Derek Johnson — the minor-league coordinator who once helped recruit Price to Vanderbilt University — is leaving the Cubs organization to become the pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Relationships and connections help, but these deals usually come down to years and dollars. The Cubs saw surging TV ratings, almost three million in attendance, four home playoff games and new revenue streams at the under-renovations Wrigley Field.

“We’ve talked about how we hope to someday become must-see TV and a really entertaining product,” Epstein said. “I don’t want to sort of get ahead of ourselves, but I think there’s a lot of interest in seeing this team play, whether it’s at Wrigley Field or on TV.

“That can only help with the TV deal down the line. But we just don’t know exactly what those numbers are yet. We hope to get a better idea as we all sit down together as an organization.

“Obviously, the 2016 payroll is not going to be as big as the 2020 payroll as we look at it because of the TV deal and everything else.

“Whether it’s (chairman Tom Ricketts) and the business-side guys — or us in the front office — we want to do everything that we can to improve the club.”

So even after an unbelievable season that surpassed everyone’s expectations, the Cubs are still in a sense right back where they started, making a No. 1 starter the No. 1 priority and trying to find the missing pieces to a World Series team that would live forever in Chicago.

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

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USA TODAY

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 Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

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.”