Cubs

Will John Lackey be pitching for his job in new-look Cubs rotation?

Will John Lackey be pitching for his job in new-look Cubs rotation?

BALTIMORE – Joe Maddon says the Cubs aren’t discussing the idea of moving John Lackey to the bullpen: “We’re not there yet.” But as Lackey himself said last month after another bad start: “Joe doesn’t have much to do with the pitching.”

A manager who has known Lackey’s quirks and competitiveness ever since he was a rookie with the 2002 Anaheim Angels still gave the vote of confidence before Jose Quintana’s Cubs debut on Sunday afternoon at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

“Just try taking him out of the game, and then trying to tell him something like that,” Maddon said. “Oh my God, exponentially worse.”

The Cubs shut down Lackey (5-9, 5.20 ERA) before the All-Star break because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot and plan to activate him from the disabled list on Tuesday and start him against the Atlanta Braves that night.

Once the Cubs return to Wrigley Field after this road trip, Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) should be slotted back in the rotation, assuming Monday’s rehab start goes well at Double-A Tennessee.

The most likely scenario is the Cubs will move Mike Montgomery back to the bullpen, because the lefty swingman can pick up valuable innings, help keep the other relievers fresh and has an unselfish, easy-going attitude. The positive spin is that Lackey has pitched in 18 playoff series, showed up in a Cy Young Award vote as recently as 2015 and posted a 3.35 ERA last season.

“I believe he’s going to have a really good second half,” Maddon said. “His foot was bothering him a bit. I’m watching him right now. He looks very focused. I think the break helped him a lot, combined with getting well. So for us, there’s no speculation internally right now.

“I do anticipate good. As long as he’s healthy, which I think he is right now, I think you’re going to see a better version than you saw in the first half. He likes this time of the year. He likes being a part of this kind of a moment.”

The negative slant is that Lackey is 38 years old and might be unable to rediscover himself as a starter or reinvent himself as a reliever. Including the playoffs, Lackey’s pitched almost 3,000 innings in The Show and made four appearances as a reliever.

Lackey sort of blamed Maddon for the strained right shoulder that put him on the disabled list for a few weeks late last season, believing that warming up as an emergency reliever in extra-inning games contributed to the injury.  

So even if the Cubs wanted to bump Lackey to the bullpen, those final two-and-a-half months of a $32 million contract would probably wind up being a sunk cost.

“There’s all those little things going on that I think kind of push veteran players this time of the year,” Maddon said. “And you have to be in the race to really push a guy that’s won three World Series. I like it. Directly, we have not talked about that. Indirectly, I really think that from what I’m seeing right now, you’re going to see a really different version.”

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.