Cubs

With time running out at Wrigley, Jake Arrieta chases another World Series ring

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USA TODAY

With time running out at Wrigley, Jake Arrieta chases another World Series ring

The odds of Jake Arrieta coming back next season feel like the kind of lottery ticket the Cubs cashed in when they traded for a pitcher with a 5.46 career ERA and watched that Triple-A guy blossom into a Cy Young Award winner.

Arrieta puts his trust in super-agent Scott Boras to handle the negotiations, understands how team president Theo Epstein runs baseball operations and knows the end is probably near on the North Side.

This will be another draining October, from the physical demands in recovering from a Grade 1 hamstring strain, to the emotional stress in the dugout while watching what could be an instant classic playoff series against the Washington Nationals, to the mental checklist before he goes home to Austin, Texas, to weigh his options as a free agent and map out the rest of his life with his family.   

Splitting Games 1 and 2 at Nationals Park means Arrieta will get another chance to perform in front of 40,000 fans at Wrigley Field. That Game 4 start on Tuesday means Arrieta will be either trying to end this National League Division Series or extend the season for the defending champs by nine more innings.  

“If these are my last experiences in this uniform,” Arrieta said, “I’m just trying to take it all in and really look around a little bit more and kind of get those mental snapshots and those memories for down the road, things that I’ll be able to reflect on in a year, or five or 10 years, however long it is.

“The further you get away from the World Series, I feel like the more you actually think about it. So it’s just being at Wrigley, taking everything in, trying to hear everything the fans are saying, look around as much as I can, because Wrigley’s the best there is.”

Showing no signs of pressure or anxiety, the Cubs did a Sunday Funday at Wrigley Field, with brunch tables and an omelet station set up behind home plate and the Detroit Lions-Carolina Panthers game showing on the huge video board.

First base coach Brandon Hyde and World Series MVP Ben Zobrist played with their sons in the outfield, letting them take batting practice and try to hit balls into the bleachers. The Cubs wore gray T-shirts with No. 41 and John Lackey’s silhouette on the front, framed by the pitcher’s one-liners like “Didn’t come here for a haircut” and “I’m always one more out closer to a beer,” etc.

The Cubs have a unique vibe that Arrieta helped create with his enormous confidence, freethinking approach and fearless attitude. This environment will inevitably change once he is gone.

[MORE: Jose Quintana's plan to combat excitement in postseason debut] 

Arrieta joined a team that would finish with 96 losses in the middle of the 2013 season, way back when the Cubs didn’t really have any idea when they would be able to compete.

It never would have happened this quickly or dramatically without Arrieta. Since that flip deal with the Baltimore Orioles, the Cubs have won the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908 and two division titles while competing in seven playoff rounds.

During that time, Arrieta is 68-31 with a 2.73 ERA and two no-hitters in 128 starts for the Cubs, plus dominating the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2015 wild-card game and beating the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in last year’s World Series.

“If I have to play somewhere else,” Arrieta said, “I’m going to try and remember as much as I can about Wrigley and Chicago. It’s a huge part of my life.”

Arrieta pointed out how much time his 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 4-year-old daughter, Palmer, have spent growing up in Chicago, knowing what he did for this franchise, how much the Cubs meant to his career and that in the end this is still a business.  

Arrieta has also made it clear that he doesn’t want to leave without earning another World Series ring.

“Regardless of what happens, I’m always going to feel like a Cub,” Arrieta said. “At least a part of me is going to feel like a Cub, wherever I end up. It’s just a really special part of our lives."

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.