Why Kyle Hendricks is excited to have Tyler Chatwood in the Cubs' starting rotation

Why Kyle Hendricks is excited to have Tyler Chatwood in the Cubs' starting rotation

Everyone wants to know when the Cubs are going to add another starting pitcher. Fewer folks want to talk about the one they've already signed this offseason.

Kyle Hendricks, though, is happy to talk about Tyler Chatwood.

Chatwood might not be a big name like Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish or Alex Cobb, and the former Colorado Rockie wasn't brought on to fill the Arrieta-sized hole in the Cubs' rotation, instead projected to slide behind the current top three of Jon Lester, Hendricks and Jose Quintana.

But whether he's the fourth starter or the fifth starter — depending on what kind of starting pitcher the Cubs add to the roster before spring training — how Chatwood performs could go a long way in determining what kind of season it is for the Cubs.

Hendricks, talking Friday during the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, thinks Chatwood will thrive on the North Side.

"Chatwood, I think, is going to be really big for us," Hendricks said. "We grew up in the same area, so I played summer baseball with him senior year, and he wasn't even pitching then, he was a shortstop, great hitter. But he's just a baseball guy, baseball mind, and that's kind of what this team's about. It's a bunch of guys who love playing the game, love being together. I think he's going to fit in great, personality-wise.

"And the stuff he has, I know it's going to play really well. He's only had a couple starts at Wrigley, but he's obviously pitched well there. That's going to bode well for him in the future. And being able to pick guys' brains, like Lester and these older guys that have been around. I think they're going to help him like they've helped me."

Depending on how much they trust Hendricks' scouting eye, that might ease the concerns of Cubs fans nervous about the prospect of replacing Arrieta and John Lackey with Chatwood and Mike Montgomery in the starting rotation. Last season, Chatwood's 15 losses were the most in the National League, and he finished the season with a 4.69 ERA. But the numbers were dramatically different thanks to Coors Field being his home ballpark. In Denver, his ERA was 6.01. On the road, it was a far more respectable 3.49.

"It's not easy. I'll leave it at that, it's not easy," Chatwood said Friday of pitching in the Mile High City. "I enjoyed my time there, but I'm excited to be here."

As Hendricks mentioned, Chatwood's transition to Wrigley seems promising. Chatwood has started a pair of games on the North Side and fared really well, surrendering just one run with 11 strikeouts in his 13 innings of work.

The Cubs have made it to three straight NL Championship Series — and won that curse-smashing World Series championship in 2016 — thanks to elite starting pitching. Arrieta was the Cy Young winner in 2015. Lester and Hendricks were Cy Young finalists in 2016. And Quintana has extraordinary promise if he can replicate what he did on the South Side in a Cubs uniform. If Arrieta lands anywhere but the North Side by the time this slow-moving offseason finally wraps up, Chatwood will be leaned on to help keep the Cubs' starting staff among the most formidable in the game. If he does, then 2018 could end like 2016 did. And that's what Chatwood wants.

"Obviously it's a great organization and a great team that I want to be a part of. I want to be on a winning team, so it was a pretty easy decision," Chatwood said. "I want to win one of those and be a part of that parade they had two years ago. I'm excited and hoping we've got a chance to do that."

Kyle Schwarber downplays physical transformation, but mental game might be key to resurgence

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AP

Kyle Schwarber downplays physical transformation, but mental game might be key to resurgence

Kyle Schwarber may be 25-30 pounds lighter, but he's still the same ole Schwarber.

Carrying a drink into the media scrum at Cubs Convention Friday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, Schwarber got up in his ill-fitting sport coat looking svelte (he admitted he needs a new wardrobe now).

Yes, he lost weight. A lot of it.

Yes, he was asked about it. A lot.

Like usual, Schwarber hit all the right notes as he spoke in front of cameras for around 10 minutes, explaining he wants to be quicker on the basepaths and in the outfield and would like to become more agile overall as a player.

He also understands getting in The Best Shape of His Life doesn't automatically mean he'll have a better season than 2017.

"I want to be the best player I can be and I think it starts there," he said. "It's not gonna go out there and help me hit .500. You just gotta control what you can control and this is one thing I can control.

"People are making it out to be a big deal. It's just part of the job for me and I just want to keep getting better."

Overall, Schwarber downplayed his physical transformation, saying he wasn't just worried about getting into better baseball shape or to lose weight, instead striving to be healthier overall.

He said several times he was in the best shape of his life at this time last year when he was fully receovered from his devastating knee injury, but the slugging outfielder has taken that "shape" to the next level this winter.

And since it's Schwarber, it's taken off. Because things with Schwarber tend to do that.

But the physical transformation may not be anywhere near as important as the mental evolution Schwarber's gone through after finishing up back-to-back difficult seasons.

"I've seen a lot of stuff, I guess, the last couple years with just the injury and I got sent down to Triple-A," Schwarber said. "I have to work some things out. I guess I wouldn't take anything back from the last couple years.

"Obviously it wasn't where I wanted to be, but I think it's only going to be beneficial moving forward."

Schwarber isn't spending his offseason training his brain all that much differently ithan he has n the past. He's not doing yoga like Kyle Hendricks or spending time meditating.

But he is visualizing things when he's in the cage and you better believe he has a renewed hunger after the roller coaster career he's had already in just the first three seasons. He's seen it all now and can build off that experience moving forward.

This is the same guy who has had stories told about his mental strength and attitude at Cubs Convention the last couple years. His intestinal fortitude has now become legendary in Cubdom.

At this annual get-together a year ago, Cubs personnel could not stop talking about Schwarber. Everybody seemed to have their own great story and it was retold several times how he walked into the meeting with Theo Epstein's front office before the MLB Draft and won everybody over with his desire to prove doubters wrong. There were also plenty of stories about how he made that ridiculous return from a completely torn knee to play World Series hero.

Now, after a season in which he struggled to keep his batting average over .200, turned into a part-time player and was sent down to the minor leagues to work on his swing, he's still dominating the headlines. 

And once again, he's found a way to impress the Cubs front office.

"We were actually getting ready to ask him to [lose some weight] and to have some goals in mind and then he came to see us before we actually had a chance to meet with him and he laid out his goals for the offseason and how he was going to accomplish them," Epstein said. 

"Those are exactly what we had in mind, and we're really supportive of his efforts. We've talked about some of these things in the past: getting a little more flexible, getting in a bit more shape would allow him to be more effective in the outfield.

"And sometimes it takes - as he said - a whole lifestyle change, and you can't be forced into that. That has to come when you're ready for it. And he is really putting everything into this lifestyle change: the way he eats, the way he sleeps, the way he trains, the way he lives his life day to day.

"It's the type of changes that can allow you to have a really long career, maxmimize your career. So we're happy for him and excited to see what happens next."

Cubs avoid arbitration with five players, including a record payday for Kris Bryant

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USA TODAY

Cubs avoid arbitration with five players, including a record payday for Kris Bryant

The Cubs have avoided going to arbitration with a group of key players Friday.

In the hours before the Cubs Convention, the organization reached agreement with Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Hendricks, Justin Wilson and Tommy La Stella.

Bryant received a record figure for the first year of arbitration, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer:

Here are the reported figures for all five players:

Bryant - $10.85 million
Wilson - $4.25 million
Hendricks - $4.175 million
Russell - $3.2 million
La Stella - $950K

MLB Trade Rumors predicted the salary figures for the five players at $8.9 million (Bryant), $4.9 million (Hendricks), $4.3 million (Wilson), $2.3 million (Russell) and $1 million (La Stella).

Bryant receives a huge, well-deserved pay raise for the former MVP and NL Rookie of the Year that has turned into one of the faces of baseball. Russell is aiming to put a rough 2017 season behind him and take another step forward in his development in 2018.

Wilson is in his third year of arbitration and figures to be a huge part of the 2018 Cubs bullpen. The 30-year-old southpaw had a 5.09 ERA and 2.09 WHIP in 23 games in Chicago after coming over at the trade deadline last season. But he was stellar in the first four months of 2017 with the Detroit Tigers, saving 13 games with a 2.68 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 12.3 K/9.

Hendricks just turned 28 this week and emerged as the organization's choice to pitch Game 1 of the postseason last year against the Dodgers in the NLDS. He's in the first year of arbitration and has a career 2.94 ERA, 1.098 WHIP and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2016.

La Stella isn't a starter on the Cubs but he's been a valuable bench bat the last three years, slashing .276/.363/.429 in 395 plate appearances while seeing the majority of his time at second and third base.

As of Friday afternoon, the Cubs still have to reach an agreement with only one other player: Justin Grimm. Arbitration hearings are set up for next month, though the two sides could reach an agreement before then.

Theo Epstein's front office has never gone to arbitration with any player.

MLBTR predicts Grimm will get $2.4 million.