Cubs

John Lackey isn't riding off into the sunset just yet, but is a Cubs reunion in the cards?

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USA TODAY

John Lackey isn't riding off into the sunset just yet, but is a Cubs reunion in the cards?

John Lackey is not riding off into the sunset just yet.

The veteran cowboy/pitcher/haircut-non-getter has always said he wouldn't announce his retirement and just march quietly back to his Texas home with nothing close to a David Ross-esque farewell tour.

Lackey — who just turned 39 last month — is not ready to call it quits, according to Jon Heyman:

Lackey went 12-12 with a 4.59 ERA in 2017, while giving up a league-high 36 homers. But he was hardly the only pitcher directly affected by the home run explosion in baseball in 2017 and he made 30 starts for the ninth time in his career.

It is curious that Lackey's sources have already said he'll be back in 2018 after his good buddy Jon Lester toasted to what was "probably" Lackey's last regular season start in St. Louis in late September:

The day the Cubs were eliminated from playoff contention last month, reporters crowded around Lackey's locker in an effort to interview him before he rode off into the sunset, but he shut that down immediately, waving off the Chicago media.

So if he does return to professional baseball, is a reunion in the cards for the Cubs and Lackey in 2018? 

The Cubs have two openings in their starting rotation and Lackey is a guy that can eat up innings as a quality No. 5 starter — he went 6-2 with a 3.82 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 8.3 K/9 in his last 12 starts of 2017.

But Lackey's year was also rocky, though that's probably to be expected of a guy who is ridiculously competitive and never hesitates to speak his mind.

He had an issue with Anthony Rizzo in the dugout in late July and was ejected in an epic tirade in mid-September. He also gave up the walk-off homer to Justin Turner in Game 2 of the NLCS and surrendered four runs on five hits and a pair of walks in 3.2 postseason innings as he was relegated to the bullpen.

At this point in his career, a move back to the American League would be at least a little head-scratching and the only two National League teams he's pitched for are the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. It would make sense that he would prefer to return to a team, situation and city he's already familiar with, so the Cubs and Lester may have the inside track at retaining Lackey's services if they so choose.

But the Cubs also may want to get some fresh blood in the starting rotation rather than a quick fix that would probably only be for the 2018 campaign.

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

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AP

Cubs adding catching depth that may help them out in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes

Chris Gimenez, come on down.

The 35-year-old catcher isn't exactly a household name, but he's been signed by the Cubs to add backstop depth, according to Chris Cotillo and Ken Rosenthal:

The Cubs didn't have much depth in the catching department beyond Willson Contreras and inexperienced rookie Victor Caratini and while Gimenez doesn't light up the stat column, he's a link to Yu Darvish that could give the Cubs a unique advantage in that domain:

Darvish and Gimenez played together with the Texas Rangers in 2014-15 (though Darvish was hurt in 2015) and Gimenez has been shedding some light on what the free-agent pitcher may be thinking this winter. Is this Part II of a David Ross-Jon Lester personal catcher situation?

That may be reading a bit too much into things, as the Cubs were always going to sign a veteran catcher to provide depth beyond the unproven Caratini. They saw how important that was in 2017 when Alex Avila spent roughly a month as the starter when Contreras was hurt.

The link between Gimenez and Darvish is real, but the frontline starter has also made 48 starts over the last two seasons while throwing to a catcher not named Gimenez. And the free agent catching market is pretty thin beyond Avila and Jonathan Lucroy, both of whom should earn starter's money or close to it.

Gimenez has played 361 games in the big leagues over the last nine seasons as a journeyman, with stops in Cleveland, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Texas, Cleveland (again), Texas (again), Cleveland (again) and then Minnesota last year. He played for Cubs manager Joe Maddon and new pitching coach Jim Hickey while in Tampa Bay.

Gimenez turned in a career season in 2017 with the Twins, notching new highs in games played (74), at-bats (186), runs (28), hits (41), homers (7), RBI (16) and walks (33).

He has a career .218 batting average with a .309 on-base percentage, .345 slugging and .654 OPS. 

But Gimenez isn't just a catcher. He's made nine appearances as a pitcher over the last few years, including six in 2017, where he allowed four runs on seven hits in five innings.

Gimenez will probably compete with Caratini for the backup catcher role in Chicago and can lend a veteran presence. He's also the best bet to take for first position player to pitch in a game in 2018.

The Brewers have emerged as a darkhorse in the race for top starting pitchers

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USA TODAY

The Brewers have emerged as a darkhorse in the race for top starting pitchers

The Milwaukee Brewers are making sure nobody forgets about them in the National League Central.

While the St. Louis Cardinals continue to make trades and the Cubs remain linked to the top starting pitchers on the market even after signing three pitchers, the Brewers have been rather quiet. All winter, the only noteworthy moves from Milwaukee came in the form of under-the-radar pitcher signings — starters Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo plus reliever Boone Logan.

Beyond that, the Brewers have added a bunch of other low-leverage players — catcher Christian Bethancourt and relievers J.J. Hoover, Ernesto Frieri, Michael Brady and Erik Davis. (Nobody would blame you if you haven't heard of any of those players before.)

But maybe the Brewers have just been saving their cash for one of the big guys, with Ken Rosenthal confirming a report Sunday night Milwaukee is not only one of the teams in on Yu Darvish, but they've even made a formal offer:

The Brewers securing Darvish or one of the other top pitchers — Jake Arrieta or Alex Cobb — would be a huge development in their effort to keep pace with the Cubs and Cardinals in the division.

Milwaukee was a surprise contender in 2017 before they faded down the stretch. The main reason they hung around the top of the NL Central all year was a shockingly-effective pitching staff.

However, the Brewers have some serious pitching questions long-term that need to be addressed. Beyond Chase Anderson and Zach Davies in the rotation, there are no sure things. 

Jimmy Nelson underwent shoulder surgery last fall and it's currently unknown when he can be counted on again, though things are progressing ahead of schedule. Junior Guerra — the 33-year-old right-hander formerly of the White Sox — went 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 20 starts in 2016 but followed that up with some serious struggles in 2017 (5.12 ERA, 1.48 WHIP).

Chacin, 30, was good in 2017 (13-10, 3.89 ERA, 1.27 WHIP), but struggled with health and inconsistent performance in the five seasons prior. Gallardo, 31, has a 5.57 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over the last two seasons. 

All that adds up to a staff that doesn't inspire much confidence behind a high-powered offense led by Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw, Domingo Santana, Eric Thames plus up-and-comers Lewis Brinson and Orlando Arcia.

Adding Arrieta or Darvish would certainly go quite far in improving the Brewers' biggest weakness and even Cobb could be a serious game-changer in Milwaukee.

As an interesting footnote to the whole Darvish rumor, the minute after Rosenthal confirmed the report, the Brewers official Twitter account took a shot at the Cubs:

Cubs Twitter — never one to back down from a good-natured social media spat — responded Monday morning with a sick comeback: