Cubs

Let’s make a deal: Cubs will be open-minded at GM meetings and ready to trade for pitching

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AP

Let’s make a deal: Cubs will be open-minded at GM meetings and ready to trade for pitching

Any Cubs players who might have gotten a little too comfortable during the World Series victory tour should feel a little more on edge this offseason, because Theo Epstein’s front office sounds willing to make big changes that would shake up this team.

The bookends to a second straight division title and a gutsy playoff-series win over the Washington Nationals became an unfocused 43-45 first half and a disappointing National League Championship Series where the Cubs looked checked out and ready to go on vacation.

Whether that can just be written off as a bad World Series hangover – or says something more about the clubhouse dynamics – the Cubs already understood this would be a difficult offseason.

Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Wade Davis becoming free agents means replacing 40 percent of a championship rotation and an All-Star closer – while all this cheap labor is about to get expensive through the arbitration system and the farm system still isn’t producing impact homegrown pitching yet.

The underlying risk to betting so heavily on hitters – a good long-term strategy – is that one year you might not be able to piece the pitching staff together and stay healthy. Any big contract handed out this offseason will have to be weighed against next winter’s superior class of free agents.

All this means the Cubs should be rethinking The Core this week at the general managers meetings in Orlando, Florida, finding out the true value of their young hitters and if it makes sense to flip one or two in another big trade for pitching.

“We have to be open-minded,” GM Jed Hoyer said. “We’re loyal to the guys that have won with us. And we’re loyal to the guys that have been drafted and developed and gotten here, no question. But they’re talented and we’re going to be asked about them.

“Our No. 1 loyalty has to be to the Cubs and to the Cubs fans and making sure that we can try to put ourselves in position to win another title, so I think we have to be open-minded.

“Certainly, I’d love to have an offseason where we didn’t have to do anything like that. But in order to get better and make improvements in certain areas, we might.”

From the 2015 trade deadline where they didn’t make a splash by moving Javier Baez for a frontline starter, to making Kyle Schwarber off-limits while he recovered from knee surgery during a World Series season, to not touching the big-league roster this summer while making the Jose Quintana deal with the White Sox, the Cubs have repeated different versions of: These are our guys.

But from Epstein’s end-of-season autopsy after the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the NLCS to Hoyer’s media rounds to the clumsy way manager Joe Maddon handled a coaching-staff housecleaning, the Cubs don’t sound too attached or sentimental now.

It’s Epstein not dismissing a question about whether Baez should displace All-Star shortstop Addison Russell and admitting the Cubs frequently have those internal discussions.

It’s the 24/7 nature of Twitter and MLB Trade Rumors and the Cubs being a big-market team that moves the needle.

It’s Chris Bosio, John Mallee and Gary Jones getting fired after three straight trips to the NLCS – Brandon Hyde got promoted to bench coach after Dave Martinez took Washington’s manager job – and Jim Hickey, Chili Davis and Brian Butterfield getting hired.

“I wouldn’t assume anything based on the coaching changes,” Hoyer said. “Each one, we felt strongly about to help us get better. People overuse, I think, a ‘different voice’ and ‘different message.’ That’s something people say a lot as a kind of catch-all when they let someone go. In this case, it really was accurate.

“This group of players, they’ve been together for three years. They’ve had a lot of success. I think they’ve done some things really well. Some of the things we felt like we could improve upon as a group – situational hitting, using the whole field, sort of becoming a little bit less pitch-able as an offense – that was important. Chili Davis was perfect for that at that moment.

“Our overall base-running, at times, has not been as good as certain other areas of our team. We felt like that was something we could improve upon. This was really about addressing with our current player group some of the things we haven’t necessarily done as well as we’d hoped.

“As a front office, and working with Joe, I do think it’s our job to think about: ‘What can we do to help this group of players improve?’ Those were the moves we made to do that.”

At some point, the Cubs will come to this conclusion: “Different players.” That doesn’t necessarily mean wholesale changes. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras will be in the middle of the lineup for years to come. Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Quintana should be a Big Three at the top of next season’s rotation. It’s hard to imagine the Cubs actually breaking up the Russell-Baez double-play combination this quickly and leaving themselves exposed at shortstop.

“All in all, one of the things I really like about this group is this group is going to be together for a while,” Hoyer said. “Fans like seeing the same faces, and when people are at the home opener next year, I think that our position-playing group will look pretty similar.”

But this could be a test of the organization’s man crush on Schwarber. Imagine what center fielder Albert Almora Jr. could do for a rebuilding team with a 150-game runway. Ian Happ can be marketed as an infielder/outfielder and a switch-hitter with potential 30-homer power. If Victor Caratini had come along several years ago, we would all be hyping him as the next catcher at Wrigley Field. Let the wild rumors begin Monday at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

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AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.