Cubs

Why Cubs see Jose Quintana as a game-changer

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USA TODAY

Why Cubs see Jose Quintana as a game-changer

BALTIMORE — It might have been the red wine talking when reporters spotted him in a San Diego hotel, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon called it winning the baseball lottery when Jon Lester decided to sign with a last-place team during the 2014 winter meetings.

Just as that $155 million megadeal symbolized a franchise on the rise, this Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox becomes a shot of adrenaline for the defending World Series champs.

“It’s definitely an injection,” Maddon said before Friday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles. “There’s definitely energy involved. It’s more believable with him around here right now.

“You can’t do this without pitching. You cannot win for consecutive games for a period of time unless you pitch really well for a period of time. He gives us a much better chance of doing that on a consistent basis.

“He’s almost like the perfect acquisition right now.”

Quintana’s presence alone in the visiting clubhouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards won’t magically fix a sub-.500 team or close the 5.5-game gap against the Milwaukee Brewers. But another All-Star lefty to pair with Lester in this pennant race — and potential playoff rotations in 2018, 2019 and 2020 — made this an offer the Cubs couldn’t refuse. Especially when Quintana’s combined salaries as a Cub will roughly be the equivalent of Lester’s signing bonus.

“That’s the whole thing about it,” Maddon said. “With him, it’s not just about this year. It’s about down the road a little bit also. When you look at his body of work, where he’s at, his age and what’s also left on the contract, he’s the kind of guy you probably wanted to pick up this winter, anyway. And you get to do it now and give you a chance to help you win the second half and get back to the dance.”

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Quintana hugged Lester, met with Maddon and smiled throughout his media session. Quintana looked forward to his debut on Sunday against the Orioles and looked back on his time with the White Sox after hearing so many trade rumors that linked him to teams like the Houston Astros and New York Yankees.

“I watched the Cubbies a lot,” Quintana said. “I’m so happy to move to the other side of the city and stay in Chicago. I think it was the best trade for me.

“It was my first team and they gave me an opportunity to make the big leagues and I have a lot of friends there. But I know that’s part of the business. And now I’m going to go a different way. I’m happy with that.”

At the age of 28, Quintana is in position to notch his fifth straight season with at least 32 starts and 200 innings and become part of the star-studded cast that already includes Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant under club control through the 2021 season.

“When you look at Jose’s track record, he’s as consistent as they get,” Rizzo said, “one of the most underrated left-handers in all of baseball. And he’s with us now for a while. That’s great for us — to have that certainty that he’ll be part of this.

“He’s a young player. And he’s an amazing player that I think will get a chance to shine over here more than over there with Chris Sale going every fifth day for the White Sox for so long.”

Maddon’s message to Quintana in welcoming him from an off-the-radar rebuilding situation to a traveling circus: Be yourself.

“He’s got a great opportunity to impact this team in the second half,” Maddon said. “When you say that, some guys give you the wrong look. He was very good with that thought. He was very comfortable with that thought.”

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.