Cubs

Josh Hamilton signs 125 deal with surprise team

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Josh Hamilton signs 125 deal with surprise team

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- Josh Hamilton is heading to the Los Angeles Angels, lured with a 125 million, five-year contract that steps up the migration of high-profile stars to Southern California.The Angels persuaded the free-agent outfielder to leave the Texas Rangers with their third big-money offseason signing in as many years. Hamilton heads to Anaheim after first baseman Albert Pujols came West for 240 million last December along with pitcher C.J. Wilson -- Hamilton's Texas teammate -- for 77.5 million.Still, the Angels failed to make the playoffs for the third straight year.They had bulked up their pitching staff earlier in the offseason with the additions of pitchers Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson, along with relievers Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson.General manager Jerry Dipoto had said Wednesday that he didn't think a major move was "imminent or required."But owner Arte Moreno pulled off another coup by getting Hamilton. The 2010 AL MVP, Pujols and AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout combined for 103 home runs and 316 RBIs last season."It's a great day to be an AngelAngel fan!" Wilson said on his Twitter account.Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said Hamilton had reached a deal with the AL West rival Angels. Two people familiar with the talks disclosed the amount and length of the contract, speaking on condition of anonymity because the agreement was not yet final.Hamilton's 25 million average salary matches Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard for the second-highest in baseball, trailing only Alex Rodriguez's 27.5 million average with the New York Yankees.Since the contract wasn't final, the Angels didn't comment publicly. The team said in a statement, "We continue to look for ways to improve our team. As soon as we have something formal to announce, we will do so."Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia didn't immediately respond to phone messages.The Angels allowed free agent outfielder Torii Hunter to sign with Detroit, and he reacted to his former team's latest move on his Twitter account."I was told money was tight but I guess the Arte had money hidden under a Mattress. Business is business but don't lie," Hunter wrote.He followed up with the comment, "Great signing for the Angels. One of the best players in baseball."Texas had hoped to re-sign Hamilton, who led the Rangers to consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011. They made a 13.3 million qualifying offer at the Nov. 2 deadline, ensuring the team draft-pick compensation if Hamilton signed elsewhere. The Rangers will receive an extra selection immediately following the first round of June's amateur draft. The deal cost the Angels a first-round selection in the draft.Speaking Thursday after a Rangers' holiday luncheon, Daniels said he had just been informed of the decision by Hamilton's agent, Michael Moye.Daniels said he was disappointed "to some degree," especially since the Rangers never got a chance to match any offer during the process, as they had expected. Or at least get contacted before Hamilton agreed with another team."I never expected that he was going to tell us to the dollar what they had, and a chance to offer it. Our full expectation, the phone call was going to be before he signed, and certainly not after," Daniels said. "Everybody's got to make their own calls."He's a tremendous talent and I think that they've shown they're going to be in on a lot of the best players out there. No sugarcoating it, we wanted the player back. And he signed with the Angels. They're better," Daniels said.The agreement came days after the Los Angeles Dodgers added pitchers Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-jin, boosting their payroll over 200 million. Greinke, another offseason target, said he chose the Dodgers over the Rangers.Hamilton's addition to the Angels outfield means Mark Trumbo could be moved to third base or traded. Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells also are among the outfielders competing for time unless a trade is made.Scioscia will have an interesting decision to make on where in the batting order to slot in Pujols, Trout and Hamilton, a five-time All-Star. He has a .260 career average at Angel Stadium with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 150 at-bats.Daniels met with Moye last week at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., and had talked about the parameters of a new contract along with numbers. While Daniels wouldn't get into any specifics, he said his understanding is the deal with the Angels "is certainly more guaranteed money."The move keeps Hamilton in the same division with plenty of opportunities to play against his team -- the first one coming fast next season. After the Rangers open with three games at new division foe Houston, they play their first home series April 5-7 against the Angels.The 31-year-old slugger was considered a risk by some teams because of his history of alcohol and substance abuse, which derailed his career before his surge with the Rangers over the past five seasons."Josh has done a lot for the organization, the organization has done a lot for Josh, a lot of things that aren't public and things of that nature," Daniels said. "I'm a little disappointed how it was handled, but he had a decision to make and he made it."Hamilton had a career-high 43 home runs with 128 RBIs in 148 games last season, when the Rangers struggled down the stretch and lost the division to Oakland on the final day of the regular season.Texas then lost in the winner-take-all wild-card game against Baltimore, and Hamilton was lustily booed by Rangers fans while going 0-for-4 -- twice striking out on three pitches, including an inning-ending out in the eighth with a runner in scoring position when it was still a 3-1 game.That came two days after Hamilton dropped a routine popup in the regular-season finale, a two-out tiebreaking miscue that allowed the A's to score two runs and go ahead to stay. He missed five games on a September trip because of a cornea problem he said was caused by too much caffeine and energy drinks -- and had one homer with 18 strikeouts in the final 10 regular-season games after returning.Hamilton hit .304 with 161 homers in his six major league seasons, the first with Cincinnati. In May against Baltimore, he became only the 16th major league with a four-homer game as part of a 5-for-5 night that included a double."Josh had indicated recently ... told us that he felt it might be time to move on, but that we were still talking," said Daniels, who wouldn't elaborate on the reasons. "We had additional conversations this week that I thought had moved it along in a positive direction, but apparently not."

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.