Cubs

Scott Boras has a very high opinion of the Cubs — even if they won't hand Jake Arrieta $200 million

Scott Boras has a very high opinion of the Cubs — even if they won't hand Jake Arrieta $200 million

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Scott Boras saved all his money one-liners for other teams like the Miami Marlins and New York Yankees.

The Cubs weren't on the wrong end of any of the super-agent's zingers like they were a few years ago with Boras' "Meet the Parents" comment about how the Ricketts family preferred not to jack up their payroll during a rebuild.

Instead, Boras has completely changed his tune from that timeframe and took several opportunities to give the Cubs rave reviews as he stood on a literal pedestal to deliver his State of the Union Wednesday morning at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort.

"The club, economically, they're $2 billion above where they were five yeras ago, which just says a great deal about the operation with Tom [Ricketts] and Theo [Epstein] and Jed {Hoyer], what they've done," Boras said in a 1-on-1 interview with NBC Sports Chicago's Kelly Crull. "They've really done a remarkable job with the restoration of the franchise.

"The next step — and often the hardest step — is how do you reinvest in your success? How do you continue to give that fanbase their best opportunity?"

Boras, of course, is alluding to money and how the Cubs have to spend money to stay where they are. Because it always comes back to money with the world's most powerful sports agent.

Money is also a major sticking point for Jake Arrieta, the top free agent pitcher on the market and Boras' No. 1 priority this winter.

Arrieta and Boras are reportedly asking for somewhere in the neighborhood of $180-$200 million, though Boras balked at that, claiming he doesn't set the market (c'mon...).

But Boras was also creative in how he sold Arrieta to the media throng of 200+ people Wednesday morning. He could've gotten into the epic 2015 season, Arrieta's Cy Young votes the last few years or his reputation as an elite (or close to it) starter.

Instead, Boras continued to talk about the road to "Playoffville" and how Arrieta has joined the ranks of Madison Bumgarner and Justin Verlander as active October legends.

Boras also continually pointed to Arrieta's lack of wear and tear on his arm, with only 1,161 big-league innings under his belt through his age-31 season.

The Cubs almost certainly won't pay an exorbitant amount for what figures to be Arrieta's only big contract of his life, but that won't stop Boras from keeping Epstein and Co. in the loop publicly.

"There are a number of people who are Jake's age who are 30, 31 and they have 1,700-2,000 innings on their arm," Boras told Crull. "Much like Max Scherzer, who was a similar age when he signed his contract 2-3 years ago, he also only had about 1,200 innings on his arm.

"So [Arrieta is] about 4-5 seasons behind the customary wear and tear you usually see. I think it's part of the fact, but with Jake's conditioning, the rarity of his innings, having Cy Young success, being a big-game pitcher — those are components that you rarely don't find in a free agent market."

Meet the new Kyle Schwarber

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AP

Meet the new Kyle Schwarber

It would be easy to point to Kyle Schwarber's new six-pack as the main reason why he's off to a solid start at the plate.

But Schwarber's offensive prowess is more related to the work he's done inside his own head, not on being in the Best Shape of His Life.

He's out to prove he's more than just a three true outcomes guy.

In the Cubs' 8-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, Schwarber flashed a different part of his game with a pair of groundball RBI singles that helped stake his team to an early lead.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon also pointed to Schwarber's lineout up the middle in the eighth inning as his favorite at-bat, even above the run-scoring hits.

"That's as good as I've seen him in a while," Maddon said.

Schwarber is hitting the ball with authority up the middle and the other way, shortening up his swing with two strikes and finding ways to beat the shift by just sticking his bat out and directing the ball to the left side of second base, where teams only have one defender.

Schwarber is still largely a three true outcomes guy, on pace for 30 homers, 101 walks and 172 strikeouts.

But he no longer looks so stressed/anxious with runners in scoring position. He's been working toward relaxing with guys on base and instead of trying to put every ball out onto Sheffield Ave., he's doing what he can to just put the ball in play.

He insists his thought process with runners in scoring position hasn't changed since last year, but he is definitely getting better results now.

After starting the year 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, Schwarber went 3-for-6 in such situations on the Cubs' recent homestand. Even more impressive: All three hits have come with two outs and went to center or left field.

"I'm not trying to go out there and put a lot of pressure on myself because that's when negative things are gonna happen," Schwarber said. "You just gotta be able to have that same approach you have when there's no one on base."

Since the start of the 2017 season, here are Schwarber's numbers based on runners:

Bases empty: .220 AVG, .831 OPS
Runners on: .206 AVG, .730 OPS

The Cubs are trying to get him back to his 2015 form when he exploded onto the major-league scene to hit .270 with a .914 OPS with runners on base.

There is reason for optimism and the numbers back up Schwarber's progress.

In 2017, 83 percent of his season RBI came on home runs — he only had 10 RBI that didn't come from longballs.

This year, he already has 5 RBI on non-homers and there is still roughly 90 percent of the season remaining. Only 44 percent of his 2018 RBI have come on dingers.

As impressive as anything, Schwarber ranks 17th in baseball in walk percentage (16.9 percent) while also reducing his strikeout percentage slightly from last year's struggles

Schwarber has spent a lot of time working with new hitting coach Chili Davis, but he won't allow himself to ride the daily roller coaster based off recent success, even if it is helping his confidence.

"Yeah, I've been feeling good," Schwarber said. "There's been some tough at-bats here and there, but still taking the walks and also trying to get those guys in when they're on and go from there.

"Not gonna get too high, not gonna get too low when things are going bad. Just stay right in the middle."

When Schwarber is producing like this and Javy Baez is ascending to star status, this Cubs offense won't be struggling to find consistency for long.

"If these two guys keep on doing [this], wow," Maddon said. "Sky's the limit."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Albert Almora Jr. ready for an everyday spot in the lineup?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Albert Almora Jr. ready for an everyday spot in the lineup?

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Connor McKnight (670 The Score) and Phil Thompson (Chicago Tribune) join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Cubs offense comes alive with Albert Almora, Jr. leading off. Is it time to make him the everyday centerfielder? 

Plus Mitch Trubisky says this week’s minicamp is the most he’s been coached in his career. So how long will it take him to master Matt Nagy’s new offense?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: