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World Series? Megadeal? Jake Arrieta ready for encore with Cubs

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World Series? Megadeal? Jake Arrieta ready for encore with Cubs

Jake Arrieta made the Cubs feel invincible, bringing a sense of swagger to a young team that needed it and now gets a $272 million upgrade with Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey.

That’s a Gold Glove outfielder who’s still only 26 years old, the game’s premier super-utility guy and a big-game pitcher with two World Series rings all added to a 97-win nucleus.

Arrieta could come across as cocky when he was a Triple-A pitcher in a last-place organization still trying to prove he could make it in The Show. The National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner certainly isn’t going to run away from expectations now.

“It’s hard to look at those three guys right there and feel like we’re not the favorite,” Arrieta said during Thursday’s Cubs Caravan stop at Jahn Elementary School on the North Side. “I know that’s only on paper. You have to go out there and perform and show you’re the team to beat. But right now, it looks like we are.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs bringing back Ryne Sandberg as ambassador]

Forget 1908. The Cubs should feel a sense of urgency because they only have a two-year window before Arrieta can hit the jackpot in free agency.

By the 2018 season, $155 million lefty Jon Lester will be 34, Zobrist will be nearing his 37th birthday and Lackey will be around retirement age. Plus, no-longer-rookies Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell will get expensive in a hurry through the arbitration system, the Cubs don’t plan to be picking near the top of the draft anytime soon and no one knows if Theo Epstein’s front office will be able to throw around new TV money at that point.

Don’t bet on a surprise Arrieta extension announcement during this weekend’s Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. That would mean Epstein buying at an absolute high point and super-agent Scott Boras completely changing his open-market philosophy before Friday’s deadline to formally exchange salary numbers.

“I don’t think either side wants it to draw out,” said Arrieta, who should come close to tripling last year’s $3.63 million salary. “Just get it done."

When a reporter mentioned that Epstein has talked about locking him up with a long-term contract, Arrieta said: “Um, he hasn’t called me ...”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

As Arrieta put together an unbelievable second half (12-1, 0.75 ERA), the head-to-head comparison became eventual Cy Young runner-up Zack Greinke, who opted out of his contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and signed a six-year, $206 million megadeal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“You know what type of money is out there,” Arrieta said. “You know what the market is. But that doesn’t mean that things won’t happen.

“I’m going to be a Cub for the next two seasons, which I’m very excited about. And if it goes longer than that, then that would be nice, too.”

Arrieta obviously doesn’t have the same resume as Greinke, but it’s another data point as the price of pitching skyrockets. Arrieta really only has one wire-to-wire season in the majors, and he will have to deal with the year-after effect from throwing almost 250 innings in 2015 (including the playoffs).

Stay tuned to see how much lightning this Texan has left in right arm, if the Cubs can get lucky/stay healthy again and whether or not this group can withstand the pressure of being the hunted.

The same question facing Arrieta goes for the 2016 Cubs: What do you do for an encore?

“The numbers are something that’s really hard to control,” Arrieta said. “Certain aspects of your season, you need a lot of good fortune, great things to happen for you on defense, and you got to be really good.

“I anticipate having a very good season. Whether I go under a 1.70 (ERA) or (have) 22 wins remains to be seen. I think it’s possible. And that’s kind of how I (plan to) attack the upcoming season.”

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 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.”