During frozen offseason, question isn't whether Cubs will get a starting pitcher, it's when ... and what kind


During frozen offseason, question isn't whether Cubs will get a starting pitcher, it's when ... and what kind

Baseball’s offseason is moving about as freely as the ice-packed Chicago River.

That frozen water, all too visible from this weekend’s Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, is an all-too-apt metaphor for a frozen-solid hot stove. Free-agent signings and trades that typically define baseball’s offseason have been scarce.

And while the Cubs have made moves to address needs in their bullpen and fill one hole in the starting rotation, there’s still work to be done before the season begins at the end of March.

For Theo Epstein’s front office, that means bringing in a starting pitcher of to help make up for the departures of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. The addition of Tyler Chatwood made four, teaming with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana. But there’s one spot left, and even if it ends up going to the under-contract Mike Montgomery, Epstein wants to add someone to provide depth. Because past Montgomery, there ain’t much.

“We’re not done,” Epstein told reporters Friday before the convention’s opening ceremonies. “We have confidence in this group if this is the 25 we end up taking to spring training. But realistically we’d certainly like to add another pitcher.

“I like the talent that we have right now, but I think we could certainly add to the depth. And you could do that through depth moves or through adding another real quality pitcher and bolster the depth even more that way.

“Look, we’d make a move tonight if we could, but it’s not there for us. So we’ll be patient and keep working on it. We’ve made moves in spring training before, if it comes to that. I hope for everyone’s sake things happen in an orderly fashion before spring training so players can get settled and everything. But I’m done predicting this winter. It’s kind of taken on a life of its own. We’ll see what happens.”

As Epstein mentioned, adding someone during spring training is less than ideal. But it’s looking more and more realistic as the days move along and the wealth of starting pitching remains on the free-agent market.

The Cubs have been tied to all the big names, making it seem like they’d prefer to go the route of adding a pitcher the caliber of Arrieta near the front of the starting staff. That list is well known to Cubs fans at this point, featuring Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb and Arrieta himself.

At times this offseason it’s seemed like Arrieta pitching anywhere but the North Side was an essential certainty. But Arrieta and his agent Scott Boras haven’t closed any deals with any non-Cubs teams, meaning the best way to fill that Arrieta-sized hole in the rotation might end up being with Arrieta.

“We’ve never ruled anything out with him,” Epstein said before launching into a not exactly ringing endorsement of Arrieta’s return. “He’s earned that right to be a free agent, so he gets the ability to talk to 30 teams. I’m sure he has a number of suitors. This is a special time for him, so of course he’s going to take his time and find just the right contract and just the right place. We wish him well. It’s not as if we’ve closed the door to him at all, but we’ll see where the offseason takes us.

“I haven’t heard anything from Scott that (Arrieta) wouldn’t want to come back if the deal were right. So I feel the door’s open on both sides.”

The Cubs could also swing a trade for a top-of-the-line starting pitcher. That obviously would cost more than just money, bringing back the offseason speculation that’s thrown the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez out there as potential trade bait. Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer was tied to the Cubs earlier this winter. A juicy new report that the Cubs have talked with the division-rival Pittsburgh Pirates about Gerrit Cole created a Friday-afternoon buzz, even if it’s hard to see either team conceding to their high-valued assets going to another National League Central squad.

In the end, an option that has eluded most of the conversation might be the way the Cubs go, and that’s adding someone who can pitch at the back of the rotation in an emergency situation. With few internal options behind Montgomery, just having someone in the bullpen that could slide into the rotation if need be would be valuable, even if it wouldn’t be as flashy as signing Darvish or trading for Cole. Heck, it’s the role Montgomery played in each of the past two seasons.

“We’re looking to add another pitcher just to possibly improve the options in the starting rotation and especially the ripple effect that will add depth,” Epstein said. “The best way to build a championship team is to mitigate all the risks that sink teams and prevent them from being championship teams. And with us right now, we’re very well protected on the position-player side. But there’s legitimate risk for injury or underperformance to our pitching staff that we’re going to be scrambling midseason. You don’t want to be scrambling.

“So we need to continue to add quality and depth and try to mitigate as many of the risks as we can. You never eliminate all the risks, otherwise you’d win it all every year. But eliminating as many of those risks as you can is our job.”

The Cubs have at least set themselves up with options as spring training nears. Perhaps the Opening Day rotation is set, though replacing Arrieta and Lackey with Chatwood and Montgomery would likely strike many fans and observers as a sizable downgrade. Until all those free agents find new homes, though, the Cubs will have an opportunity to land a big fish. And while convention time figured to be a good time to introduce the shiniest new toy — or even welcome back Arrieta — this unbelievably slow-moving offseason still has plenty of dominoes left to fall.

So what breaks up first: the offseason logjam or all those hunks of ice on the Chicago River? Be careful if you're waiting to find out. It's cold out there.

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

Jason Heyward predicts he will be the MVP of 2018 Cubs

“Who will be the Cubs’ 2018 team MVP?”

Jason Heyward: “Me!”

No hesitation, no pause. Just an honest answer from a confident 28-year old with a $184 million contract.

Nobody wants to succeed more at the plate than the Cubs’ two-time Gold Glove award winner, but the offense has been downright ugly (.243, 18 HR, 108 RBI in 268 games).

Despite not performing up to a megadeal, Heyward has no problem talking about his contract:

“It is what it is, I earned it," Heyward said. "I earned that part of it. For me, it’s awesome. To be where I want to be, that’s the most important thing.”

After spending time talking at Cubs Convention speaking with Heyward, his manager and six of his other teammates, it’s no surprise that it was Heyward who delivered the now-famous Game 7 “Rain Delay Speech.”

His teammates adore him.

Question to Ben Zobrist: “Who’s your favorite teammate of all-time at any level?”

After a 10-second pause: “Jason Heyward.”

That definitely says something coming from a 36-year-old, three-time All-Star and World Series MVP.

For the true blue Cubs fans that can’t stand Heyward and his untradeable contract, sorry, his teammates and manager have nothing but good things to say. 

By all accounts, Heyward is a quality human being despite his shortcomings in the batter’s box the last two seasons.

And his goals for an offensive renaissance in 2018 are simple and basic:

“Just being in the lineup every game.”

His teammates will be behind him 100 percent, even if the fans are not.

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

Addison Russell doesn't have time to think about whether or not Javy Baez is coming for the starting shortstop gig.

Russell is too busy making sure he's able to perform at his physical peak for as much of 2018 as possible after a rough few years in that regard.

The soon-to-be-24-year-old only played in 110 games last year as he missed more than a month with a foot injury. He also has a history of hamstring injuries (including the one that kept him out of the 2015 NLCS) and a sore throwing arm that has cropped up at times throughout the last few years (though whether the arm is an issue or not depends on who you ask).

Russell admits his arm has been an issue and he has a new plan of attack this winter that will carry into the spring.

"I've been doing a throwing program," Russell said. "I feel like in the past, with my arm, I started throwing a little bit too early in spring training.

"This year, in the offseason, just kinda ease into it a little bit. In the offseason last year, I feel like I threw a little bit too much. Once midseason hit, it was all the downward effect of me throwing too early in the offseason.

"Having that in mind, taking things easier in the offseason and then going into spring training and then once the season's here, maybe around a quarter of the way through the season, start revving it up and that way, I'll be able to last with both my foot and my arm."

Russell had a bad case of plantar fasciitis last summer that also affected his ability to throw the ball to first base.

He joked he feels like an old man because he is happy he can now wake up without any pain in the foot, but still makes sure he rolls his foot on a golf ball to keep things loose.

With regards to his offseason workouts, Russell is prioritizing quality over quantity and he's taken full advantage of the longer offseason that featured far less distractions than a year ago when the Cubs were coming off the first World Series championship in 108 years.

"I'm getting a little bit older and I think a little wiser when it comes to training and knowing my body," Russell said. "With that being said, it's just kinda being in tune to my body more than pounding out weights.

"Definitely running and cardio is something that has been beneficial to my career in the past. I'm keeping up with that."

Between the foot and arm modifications to his training regimen, Russell is hoping to cut down on some of his throwing errors that plagued him in 2017 and try to get back to the hitter he was when he clubbed 24 homers and drove in 108 runs in 168 games between the 2016 regular season and postseason.

"Definitely I want to be in the All-Star Game this next year," Russell said. "I feel like with the type of skillset that I have and the type of guys around me, I think that could be a goal that I could hit.

"Smaller goals as far as staying consistent with my workouts. Remaining flexible is a huge goal that I wanna hit this year. I see a lot of veteran guys after ballgames stretching and they've been playing for quite a while, so it definitely works out for them.

"Just taking something from veteran guys and kinda incorporating it into my game and picking their ear and listening to how they prepare and how to keep your body in shape is beneficial, for sure."

To make the All-Star Game, Russell would need to get out to a hot start, which is something the Cubs and their fans would love to see. His steady presence in the lineup and as a defensive anchor contributed to the inconsistencies of the 2017 Cubs.

Entering a pivotal season in his development, Russell has emerged as one of the biggest X-factors surrounding the Cubs entering 2018. 

The entire Addison Russell 1-on-1 interview will air Friday night on NBC Sports Chicago.