John Lackey

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."

Steve Cishek ready to play multiple roles for Cubs, including recruiter

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USA TODAY

Steve Cishek ready to play multiple roles for Cubs, including recruiter

Steve Cishek hasn't yet thrown a pitch in a Cubs uniform, but he has no problem playing recruiter for his new team, including even trying to bring John Lackey back. 

Though that's mostly for his own personal gain.

When he had to choose a new jersey number, Cishek couldn't select No. 23 (Ryne Sandberg) or 31 (Fergie Jenkins, Greg Maddux) since they're retired and many of the other numbers in the 20s and 30s were taken up. So the veteran reliever wound up choosing No. 41 and found out Thursday it was actually Lackey's number the last two years.

"Maybe if he re-signs in Chicago, I can get something good from him for the number," Cishek joked Thursday at the Cubs Caravan Service Day at Kilmer Elementary School on Chicago's far north side.

Towering over a plethora of grade school kids, Cishek finally had his "Welcome to Chicago" moment while walking in front of Sandberg and Clark the Cub.

The 31-year-old right-handed submariner signed with the Cubs on the last day of the MLB Winter Meetings in mid-December, thus ensuring he would not be a casualty of this historically slow offseason.

Cishek isn't keeping his recruiting pitches to just Lackey, however. After playing with Alex Cobb the last few months of the 2017 with the Rays, Cishek has reached out to the free agent starter to see how things have been going on the open market.

Cobb has been linked to the Cubs since before the offseason even officially started and those talks only increased when Cobb's former pitching coach Jim Hickey joined Joe Maddon's staff.

"He's worked so hard just to get to this point in his career, you might as well enjoy it," Cishek said. "He's enjoying it, I think. It's just moving a little slower than we all thought.

"It'd be nice to see him in a Cubs uniform. He's a tremendous teammate, a good friend and obviously a tremendous competitor and someone you want on your team."

That may be as far as Cishek's recruiting prowess goes, but it didn't take him much convincing to join the Cubs and he figures to be a big part of the pitching plan the next two seasons.

Cishek loved the idea of pitching for a contender and a historic franchise like the Cubs. But he also was drawn to all the day games that will allow him to see his family for breakfast and dinner most gamedays.

Cishek - who has 121 career saves - knows he's joining a bullpen that has several arms in the closer mix and Brandon Morrow penciled in as the ninth-inning option as of right now.

He hasn't spoken to the Cubs about a specific role in the bullpen and will be ready for whatever comes his way.

"I genuinely want to do whatever it takes to help the team win," Cishek said. "I signed here to win ballgames. If they want me coming in the fifth inning to get out of a jam - or the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth inning - it doesn't matter to me. I'm comfortable in any situation."

Like Cobb, Cishek is also familiar with Hickey and loves the pitching coach's dry sense of humor and old-school style. 

In 26 games under Hickey's tutelage in Tampa Bay to close out last season, Cishek posted a sparkling 1.09 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, striking out 26 batters in 24.2 innings. He credited a big part of that success to Hickey's style of conveying a scouting report that sets pitchers up for success without overwhelming them with information.

Cishek is about to enter his ninth big-league season and has spent his entire career coming out of the bullpen. He's already made more than $21 million in his time in baseball and while his two-year, $13 million pact with the Cubs isn't the type of money a lot of back-end bullpen options have received on the open market recently, Cishek couldn't pass up on an opportunity to join the Cubs and be a part of something special.

He also knows relievers have never been as important as they are today.

"A lot of position players will argue that we're like the kickers of baseball," Cishek said, "but kickers have a pretty big responsibility in football. A lot of times, the game's on the line for them. I'll take that parallel.

"We're expected to go out there and put a zero up on the board and if we do, no one really notices. When things don't go well, everyone notices. 

"So it makes the job pretty tough... But yeah, that's the way the game's gone now - gotta lock down the last three innings."

The only think Cishek isn't ready for is having his dance moves - which he admitted are seriously lacking - blasted out to the public via the video board and Cubs Twitter. 

But he's got plenty of time to come up with some dance moves before the Cubs' first game at Wrigley Field April 9.

Butterfly Effect: How Evan Longoria helped the Cubs end their World Series drought

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AP

Butterfly Effect: How Evan Longoria helped the Cubs end their World Series drought

Maybe Evan Longoria should've gotten one of the 1,908 World Series rings the Cubs handed out this spring.

After all, he deserves a ton of credit for the end of the 108-year championship drought.

On the day Longoria was dealt from the Tampa Bay Rays to the San Francisco Giants, let's rewind back to Sept. 29, 2011 when he came up to bat in the bottom of the 12th inning to face Buddy Carlyle. 

It was the final regular season game of the season and the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees were deadlocked in a 7-7 tie.

Longoria drilled Carlyle's 2-2 offering just inside the left-field foul pole for one of the most dramatic walk-off homers in baseball history. 

(Check out the shots of Joe Maddon in the Rays uniform in the dugout, sporting his long white locks.)

Amazingly, Longoria and the Rays began the game by falling in a 7-0 hole before clawing all the way back.

With the blast, he handed the Rays the American League wild-card spot and subsequently knocked out Theo Epstein's Boston Red Sox in the process. That completed one of the most epic collapses ever as the Red Sox faded down the stretch in what later became known as the Beer and Fried Chicken Incident (in which Jon Lester and John Lackey were both involved).

Epstein — then the GM of the Red Sox — left Boston in the aftermath, migrating west to join the Cubs front office. 

It was the first domino in the line that led to the end of the longest championship drought in American sports history.

And Cubs fans have Evan Longoria to thank for that...in a roundabout way.