Cubs

How Cubs will make their sales pitch to Shohei Ohtani and attack this offseason

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AP

How Cubs will make their sales pitch to Shohei Ohtani and attack this offseason

The video of what it would look like when the Cubs finally won the World Series resonated with Jon Lester, because he grew up around the Boston Red Sox, understood the players on that 2004 team got treated like kings and felt enough sense of history to choose No. 34 as a tribute to Kerry Wood, Walter Payton and Nolan Ryan.

Lester didn’t take the most guaranteed money when he signed a six-year, $155 million megadeal with a last-place team after the 2014 season. Players like Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward felt the same pull the following winter, turning down bigger offers elsewhere for the chance to make history in Chicago.

Mission accomplished. Now what? Will the new recruiting pitch work on Japan’s Babe Ruth?

“Yeah, I can’t comment on him,” general manager Jed Hoyer said this week on NBC Sports Chicago’s Cubs Talk Podcast. “Obviously, it’s still sorting out.”

Shohei Ohtani is a baseball unicorn, the 2016 MVP in Japan’s Pacific League after using his 100-mph fastball to go 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and his left-handed power to hit .322 with 22 homers and a 1.004 OPS. Given his age (23), elite skills and low acquisition cost under this collective bargaining agreement, the idea of Ohtani is a perfect fit for just about any big-league team.

The updates keep trickling out in reports: Ohtani hiring an agent (Nez Balelo of CAA Sports) to help clear his path to the United States; a tentative transfer agreement between Nippon Professional Baseball, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association; and the Nippon-Ham Fighters announcing their star player will be made available through a posting system (which would presumably mean a $20 million fee).

The current labor deal caps the Cubs at a $300,000 maximum bonus for an under-25 international free agent during this signing period. The Associated Press reported the Texas Rangers ($3.535 million), New York Yankees ($3.25 million) and Minnesota Twins ($3.245 million) would be able to offer Ohtani the most money between now and June 15, 2018.

Does that really matter to someone who’s apparently unwilling to wait two more years for a $200 million contract, because he wants to play in the majors now?

The Cubs can’t discuss Ohtani yet – there are enough information gaps that some media reports also spell his name “Otani” – or answer those questions now.

But the Cubs have thought about how to market themselves at this time of year – when coaches and employees are seeking permission to interview with other teams and agents are taking calls about their clients – without the lure of 1908.

“I always joke that losing forever was a great thing, because no one ever wanted to leave before we won,” Hoyer said. “Now – and I give the Ricketts family almost all the credit on this – what you’re selling is just a first-class organization in a great city with a great fan base and a great ballpark.

“I think we do everything first class – and the fact that we do that is kind of known throughout the league now. The renovations are awesome. You come here and there’s a new clubhouse and you see all the (improvements around Wrigley Field with) the office and hotel and you realize this is a really vibrant place.

“If you’re going to play on a Tuesday night in May against a last-place team, you’re going to play in front of a sold-out crowd. I think players want that. We have been to the NLCS three years in a row, and I think they want to win as well. That’s what you’re selling. It’s a different sales pitch.

“We can’t sell, you know, the seventh-biggest gathering of humans for a parade anymore. ‘The Curse’ is over and that part’s gone. But I think what we’re now selling is still really good. It’s not unique. But it’s still really positive.”

The championship-drought angle didn’t really work on Masahiro Tanaka, who listened to that recruiting presentation inside a Beverly Hills mansion when the Cubs were coming off a 96-loss season in 2013. Tanaka processed the pitches in Southern California and ultimately grabbed a seven-year, $155 million offer from the Yankees that blew away the Cubs.

The Tanaka sweepstakes dragged into January 2014 and essentially kept the Cubs in a holding pattern where they made a new mascot their big offseason addition (Clark the Cub!) and set up a savings account for Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department. The leftover Tanaka money helped finance Lester’s contract and that remains a lesson in how the Cubs do business.

“We have some flexibility,” Hoyer said. “It’s important as we think about our financial flexibility – and every team does this – you have to look at multiple offseasons and multiple (trade) deadlines as far as how you’re going to allocate your money.

“It’s not just about ‘I have X to spend this winter’ and spending that amount to try to get better. And then you look up and you’re like: ‘Wait, I don’t have any flexibility next winter.’

“You constantly have to think through those issues as you’re spending money, as you’re making trades. Our goal is to be really good in ’18. But our bigger goal is to be really good during this entire window and try to make sure we have multiple bites at the apple.”

So the Cubs should put the full-court press on Ohtani and see what happens, reach out to Yu Darvish’s camp to keep the lines of communication open and stay in touch with Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis just in case. Epstein and Hoyer should keep an open mind during next week’s GM meetings in Florida and listen to any trade ideas involving their surplus of hitters.

But the Cubs also know next winter’s class of free agents will be bursting with so much more talent, their young core should be motivated this offseason and report to spring training with a renewed sense of hunger and this division is filled with retooling teams that may or may not be ready to compete.

“Having won that World Series, it does allow you to take that perspective a little more than it might have in a city that was starved to finally break ‘The Curse,’” Hoyer said. “There are other teams I won’t name – they’ve got to win one and every single year is the ultimate quest: ‘This is the year.’

“That’s not how we see it. I think 2018 is really important, but so is ’19 and so is ’20. That’s always been the case. But it’s easier to say that now – and easy to do that now – having won a World Series.”

NBC Sports Chicago to deliver a Chicago baseball Thanksgiving Day marathon

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NBC Sports Chicago to deliver a Chicago baseball Thanksgiving Day marathon

15-straight hours of “Classic” Cubs and White Sox full game replays from the 2017 season gets underway at 9:00 AM CT

NBC Sports Chicago live stream available 24/7 on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive  or via the NBC Sports app

Chicago, IL (November 21, 2017) -- NBC Sports Chicago, the multi-platform home for the most games and most comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox, will provide its viewers with a special 15-hour Thanksgiving Day marathon featuring four, thrilling “Classic” games from this past Cubs & White Sox season beginning this Thursday, November 23 at 9:00 AM CT. 

NBC Sports Chicago will also live stream this Classic games marathon to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers on NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive or via the NBC Sports app.  NOTE: MLB game replays will only be made available to those viewers within NBC Sports Chicago’s regular MLB viewing territory.

Note NBC Sports Chicago’s Thanksgiving Day Cubs & White Sox “Classics” game marathon line-up below (all times Central Time):

THANKSGIVING DAY - THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23

9:00 AM“White Sox Classics: White Sox vs. Houston (from August 10) – The future most certainly looked bright on the southside in this match-up as the White Sox defeated the eventual World Series champs, thanks in part to some 9th/extra-inning heroics from team’s highly-touted future cornerstone, Yoan Moncada.

12:30 PM“Cubs Classics: Cubs at Milwaukee (from September 21) – In one of their most exciting victories of the season, the Cubs were down 3-2 in the top of the ninth (not to mention being down to their last strike), but second baseman Javy Baez came through with a clutch RBI single to force extra innings, which was then followed by reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant crushing the Brew Crew’s hopes for division contention with a two-run blast in the 10th.

4:30 PM“White Sox Classics: White Sox at Detroit (from September 14) – The bats were indeed alive as the White Sox belted out 25 hits (a White Sox personal best total since 1981) featuring some impressive firepower courtesy of its top three stars: Avisail Garcia (5-5, HR, 7 RBI), Yoan Moncada (4-5, HR), and Jose Abreu (4-5, 2 RBI).

8:00 PM“Cubs Classics: Cubs at St. Louis (from September 27) – The Cubs clinched their second-straight NL Central Division title with all five of their runs coming in the 7th inning, which included shortstop Addison Russell’s GW three-run shot.  NOTE: Immediately following this “Cubs Classics” game (approx. 10:55 PM), fans can look forward to a replay of “Cubs Postgame Live” that featured the team’s NL Central Division-clinching locker room celebration.

REMINDER: NBC Sports Chicago/NBCSportsChicago.com/NBC Sports app will carry live coverage of all eight Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Football State Championship games this weekend (all in HD) beginning with the Class 1A title game Friday morning (Nov. 24) at 10:00 AM and all the way through to the Class 8A battle between area preps powerhouses Lincoln-Way East (13-0) vs. Loyola Academy (12-1) on Saturday night (Nov. 25) at 7:00 PM on NBC Sports Chicago+.  Fans are urged to visit NBCSportsChicago.com/preps for full coverage and precise channel location/live streaming details.    

Cubs officially hire Jim Hickey as pitching coach, fill other coaching vacancies

Cubs officially hire Jim Hickey as pitching coach, fill other coaching vacancies

Joe Maddon's 2018 coaching staff came into focus Tuesday, with the Cubs officially announcing three moves.

The Cubs made Jim Hickey the team's pitching coach, making official what has been assumed for a while, that Maddon's former pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays would take over for Chris Bosio on the North Side.

Additionally, Brandon Hyde was moved from his role as the team's first base coach to become Maddon's bench coach, taking over for Dave Martinez, who is the new manager of the Washington Nationals.

And the Cubs announced that Will Venable will be the new first base coach after he was recently named a special assistant to president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Hickey, a Chicago native, spent the past 11 seasons as the Rays' pitching coach, presiding over a litany of young arms during and after Maddon's tenure as the manager there, including James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb. Hickey was the pitching coach for a pair of World Series teams: the 2005 Houston Astros and the 2008 Rays.

Hickey's relationship with Cobb could be of particular interest this offseason, as the free-agent pitcher could be a target for the Cubs' front office.

Hyde has served as the Cubs' bench coach before, filling the role on Rick Renteria's staff in 2014. He spent the past three seasons as Maddon's first base coach, part of a staff that appeared in three straight National League Championship Series and won the 2016 World Series.

Venable spent nine seasons in the major leagues, wrapping up his playing career in 2016 after playing for the San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers.

In addition to these moves to lock in Maddon's coaching staff, the Cubs also announced the addition of Jim Benedict as a special assistant. Benedict was most recently the vice president of pitching development for the Miami Marlins and has also worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees.