Patrick Mooney

Scott Boras unveils sales pitch for Jake Arrieta: Welcome to 'Playoffville'

Scott Boras unveils sales pitch for Jake Arrieta: Welcome to 'Playoffville'

ORLANDO, Fla. – Right from the beginning of these high-stakes negotiations, Scott Boras so obviously wants to play one free agent against another, implicitly contrasting Jake Arrieta’s big-game experience as a Cub with Yu Darvish’s awful World Series performance for the Los Angeles Dodgers.   

“I don’t want address a specific franchise,” Boras said. “But in the law, we call it ‘res ipsa loquitur.’ It speaks for itself. I said earlier in the season that while we can’t talk about nuts with the exception of squirrels and trees, I just say this: Jake Arrieta, he’s a big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.”    

Rocking a bright blue sport coat, a white dress shirt and jeans, the super-agent stood outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando on Wednesday afternoon and delivered a State of Boras Corp. address for roughly 45 minutes, dropping all sorts of metaphors about the gated community he calls “Playoffville.”

Boras spun it like this at the general manager/ownership meetings in Florida: To move to a better neighborhood – and get improved services, a new sense of security and a higher overall net worth – you have to pay more property taxes.  

That sales pitch will go nowhere with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who have overseen a renaissance at Wrigley Field, take the long-range view and understand the luxury-tax implications in the collective bargaining agreement and how that limits ways to acquire more talent.

“First of all, you have to give Theo and Tom a great deal of credit,” said Boras, who routinely criticized Cubs ownership during the rebuilding years. “They may have increased their franchise value by a billion dollars in three or four years. They have a new TV contract coming up. And they have this amazing group of everyday players that are young, gifted. They have all these choices.

“This isn’t the Windy City. This is the economic hurricane in Chicago of what the Cubs have done. It is something where with the value of the franchise, the amount of money rolling in, the revenues annually, in the future, the Cubs can do whatever they choose to do in this free-agent market and the next one. To not have championship pitchers on your team – there aren’t many of them.”

Well, the Cubs still have Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, who combined already own four World Series rings, but this stump speech wasn’t really for a Chicago audience, anyway. Boras needs to appeal to the type of team the Cubs used to be, desperate to finally win a World Series and convinced this will be the year. Boras can also market Arrieta as a Lester-like presence worth the nine-figure investment for the rotation, around the clubhouse and in October.

“There is no one with the championship-caliber numbers of Jake Arrieta in this market,” Boras said. “We know that. We have seen what great talents do in the postseason. Some do really, really well and they take that environment and win with it. And others in that environment with great ability do not do anywhere near that.    

“The goal is to win now with this team. I don’t think there’s any general manager, manager, anyone that doesn’t want a guy that’s going to win World Series games for you and elimination games.”

It’s different when Arrieta has already done it for you – from winning the 2015 National League wild-card game to beating the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in last year’s World Series – and will be 32 next season.  

[MORE: How the Jose Quintana deal changed everything for the Cubs

But Boras – who could slow down the entire winter when his clients also include J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – will find a team that believes it’s one pitcher away from winning the 2018 World Series.     

“I go back to Cleveland,” Boras said. “If Jake Arrieta doesn’t win Game 6, they don’t win. And there’s a lot of pitchers who do not win Game 6s or 7s and their teams lose and they don’t become world champions.

“Other organizations are seeking that. When you have a guy like that out there, I don’t know why you would not want him – and want him long-term – because he brings a dimension to you that few teams have.”  

The Dodgers just lost a seven-game World Series where Darvish – a heralded trade-deadline addition and the other top-of-the-rotation talent now on the open market – got 10 outs combined in two starts against the Houston Astros.

The Dodgers haven’t won a World Series since 1988 and Boras obviously rolled with a question about moving from “Playoffville” to “Championship Town.”

“There are lessons about who pitchers are in the postseason,” Boras said. “There is that defined group of stellar pitchers, Cy Young types who have won the award, been in the voting for two or three years. They are really, really good at performing at high levels during the season, and that’s a great value to a franchise.

“And then there’s the ultimate cherry on top of those pitchers that have the ability to perform in the postseason where they distinguish themselves from all others. That’s winning elimination games.

“You look at (Justin) Verlander. You look at (Madison) Bumgarner. You look at Arrieta. They have separated themselves from the pack. They’ve won the big games. They’ve won the World Series games.

“And I think when owners are looking for not only great performance to elevate them into the postseason – excuse me, ‘Playoffville’ – the theme of it is that those big games, those pivotal games where you’ve got leads, and you know how to keep ‘em, your team is winning those games.

“That, to me, is where value is for an owner. They’re all hunting for the trophy. They’re all hunting for those moments.”

This angle just might work, but it's just so much harder to see it with the Cubs when Arrieta already helped them build their dream house and put down roots in "Playoffville."

How the Jose Quintana deal changed everything for Cubs and White Sox this winter and beyond

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AP

How the Jose Quintana deal changed everything for Cubs and White Sox this winter and beyond

ORLANDO, Fla. – White Sox general manager Rick Hahn didn’t really pay attention to how Jose Quintana performed for the Cubs in the playoffs, the opportunity he desperately wanted during those lost seasons on the South Side.

“Not so much,” Hahn said. “I saw a little bit of it here and there, but my kids are probably the better ones to ask about how he did in the postseason than me.”

Hahn’s kids weren’t made available to the reporters staking out the lobby this week at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, and the White Sox executive wasn’t the same popular media target he’d been during last year’s GM meetings.       

The Quintana trade that shocked the baseball world during the All-Star break changed everything for the Cubs and White Sox, how the two franchises will approach the rest of the offseason after checking out of this resort hotel on Wednesday and leaving Florida. It could also frame the next three, five, maybe even 10 years of Chicago baseball.

Getting top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease from the Cubs – on top of the returns for Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak and Melky Cabrera – positioned the White Sox as a team that can be patient and opportunistic and keep cultivating one of the industry’s best farm systems and methodically building a perennial contender.  

“I had one GM say something to me recently about being cautious for doing deals – with his tongue in cheek – because of how well we did,” Hahn said. “I said: ‘All I did was notice former White Sox players all over my TV screen in October.’ So it works both ways.”

Imagine how desperate the Cubs would feel trying to replace 60 percent of their rotation – without the financial flexibility created by Quintana’s club-friendly contract.

Imagine how a front office that fired multiple coaches from a staff that went to a third straight National League Championship Series might react to not playing in October.   

Imagine how much heat manager Joe Maddon would be feeling if Quintana hadn’t come to the rescue and stabilized the team and energized the clubhouse.

“It was well worth it,” Epstein said. “Without Jose Quintana, I don’t think we make the playoffs, honestly, (after) seeing what happened to our starting rotation. Jonny Lester went down. Jake Arrieta went down. ‘Q’ was a consistent performer for us in the second half. He pitched really well in two of the three playoff games.

“The bottom line: I don’t think we make the playoffs without him. And the biggest factor in that deal was not even 2017. It was 2018, ’19 and ’20 and solidifying a pitching staff and putting us in a position to be able to make a couple more moves and have a really outstanding starting rotation.”  

This is the price to acquire pitching: Hahn played along with a question that compared Jimenez to David Ortiz and suggested he could become the Big Papi-like presence that turned the Boston Red Sox into World Series champions in 2004, 2007 and 2013.  

“That’s possible,” Hahn said. “I don’t like putting too big a name on guys. Let him be the first Eloy Jimenez instead of the next David Ortiz. That said, if he could match him from a ring standpoint, that would be a positive. It would be a nice step or standard to emulate going forward.”

One year later, the GM meetings ended with the White Sox moving in the right direction, no more wondering if they would actually go through with a teardown, now setting their sights on what the Cubs have become on the North Side.

“Honestly, I didn’t watch a ton of the postseason,” Hahn said. “I get a little uneasy watching other teams perform when we’ve been eliminated. But certainly it was difficult to turn on a game and not see a former White Sox player out there doing well and contributing. If anything, that made us hungrier for our fans to experience it with quality players in our uniform.

“I’m certainly happy for the players that were out there and got that opportunity. But at the same time, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that you also think about the missed opportunity where we didn’t have the chance to have them in the postseason while they played for us.”

Cubs targeting Alex Cobb while Theo Epstein says fans ‘absolutely’ should expect a division title next year

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USA TODAY

Cubs targeting Alex Cobb while Theo Epstein says fans ‘absolutely’ should expect a division title next year

ORLANDO, Fla. – Theo Epstein sat in the middle of a hotel suite at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando and pushed back against any idea that the Cubs will lower their sights this winter or take a step back in 2018.

“Should fans expect us to win the division next year?” Epstein said. “Absolutely. Absolutely, they should expect that.”

The president of baseball operations isn’t conceding anything, even as the Cubs begin laying the groundwork to replace 40 percent of their rotation and rebuild the bullpen during this week’s general manager meetings in Florida.

The Cubs have already met with Alex Cobb’s agent, creating a dialogue with Danny Horwits of Beverly Hills Sports Council when there’s obvious mutual interest in potentially making him the next core player at Wrigley Field.  

Cobb trusts Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey – his old manager and pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays – and wants to be in a winning situation with a good clubhouse vibe. This still might take a four- or five-year commitment, even with a guy who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015 and has never come close to throwing 200 innings in a single season.

But Epstein is looking at the glass as more than half full, knowing that the rotation should already be 60 percent complete for 2018, 2019 and 2020 with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. Combined, they have 18 seasons with at least 30 starts while only Lester, a three-time World Series champion, is on the wrong side of 30.

By Tuesday night, super-agent Scott Boras hadn’t yet done his State of Boras. Corp media scrum in the hotel lobby and announced his new Jake Arrieta metaphor, but the sense is the Cubs are at best a safety-net option if the Cy Young Award winner lingers too long on the open market this winter.  

John Lackey isn’t retiring, but he’s more of a last resort than a realistic option to return to Chicago, given his age (39), starter’s ego and bad fit if he had to move to the bullpen.  

If the Cubs go for a higher-end pitcher like Cobb, look for them to pick up more of a buy-low starter and create an opportunity at the back of their rotation. Think of an under-the-radar name like Miles Mikolas, who pitched parts of three seasons for the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers before moving to Japan and going 31-13 with a 2.18 ERA across the last three years with the Yomiuri Giants.

“Fans should be extremely optimistic about this seven-year run that we’re hopefully on,” Epstein said. “By no means do we look at it as a run of three years of contention and then any sort of falloff. But that within a run of that length – seven years, hopefully, at least – there are going to be years that pose more challenges than other years.

“We’ve known for a long time that 2018 was going to pose unique challenges, because it was the year that Jake would be eligible for free agency and it was also the same year that a lot of our best players would enter the arbitration process.

“We did look at 2016 and 2017, for example, as posing unique opportunities, because so many of our best players were not yet eligible for arbitration. We had Jake under control. We had the first half of Jon Lester’s contract, so we wanted to make sure we maximized our club’s chances in those years. Didn’t hold anything back.

“At the same time, right now, the exercise is: How do we maximize the next four years? How do we make sure we have as many bites at the apple?”

A foursome that includes Lester, Hendricks, Quintana and Cobb would maintain a high floor in an underwhelming division and allow the front office to get aggressive at the trade deadline again. The Cubs should have Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant in the middle of a lineup that scored 800-plus runs last season, Addison Russell and Javier Baez at the center of a defense that played at a historic level during the World Series year and a bullpen that will be upgraded with multiple free agents from a strong class of relievers.

“We’re excited about our future,” Epstein said. “We’ve been to three straight (National League Championship Series) with this group largely intact. There are always going to be some changes, but the challenges also represent opportunities to get better.

“We were far from a perfect team last year. We weren’t a perfect team in 2016, either. There’s tremendous opportunity for growth, both with the players that we have and players that we can bring in from outside the organization.

“Our goals haven’t changed at all. We know that some years things are going to line up better than others for obvious improvement in the offseason or tremendous flexibility. And other years there are going to be more obstacles that you have to consider as you operate. But that’s what makes it interesting.”