Pittsburgh Pirates

Could Gerrit Cole be the answer in Cubs' search for starting pitcher?

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USA TODAY

Could Gerrit Cole be the answer in Cubs' search for starting pitcher?

Things going nowhere with the best starting pitchers on the free-agent market? Why not make a trade?

The Cubs — connected all offseason to free-agent starters Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb — might be looking to improve their rotation in some other fashion, as according to a report they’ve talked with the division-rival Pittsburgh Pirates about superstar hurler Gerrit Cole.

Now that would be some kind of blockbuster.

Cole, a 27-year-old right-hander, is under control for two more seasons and would be quite the addition to a starting rotation that already features Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and the recently signed Tyler Chatwood. Arrieta’s departure to free agency means the Cubs have a big hole to fill on that starting staff, and boy would Cole fill it.

Cole’s pitched five major league seasons in Pittsburgh, owning a 3.50 career ERA. He’s coming off a less-than-fantastic 2017 in which he turned in a career-high 4.26 ERA in a National League best 33 starts, but he also racked up 196 strikeouts, the second highest total of his career. His 203 innings of work were just five off his career high.

He’s just two years removed from a sensational 2015, in which his 2.60 ERA and 202 strikeouts put him fourth in NL Cy Young voting and sent him to his lone All-Star appearance.

Of course, the likelihood of acquiring Cole might not be as high as Twitter users would like.

The Houston Astros and New York Yankees are also said to be talking with the Pirates about Cole, and as Heyman noted, both teams have farm systems better than the Cubs’, loaded with talent that could speed along a rebuilding effort in Pittsburgh. The Pirates also would figure to be wary about trading Cole to a division rival.

The Cubs, though, have seen some of their young position players mentioned in trade speculation regularly this winter. If the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ or even Javy Baez be enough to land Cole? Would the Cubs even want to go down that road with a division rival?

It’s just the typical hot-stove chatter for now. But the Cubs’ pursuit of a top-of-the-line starting pitcher continues.

Anthony Rizzo keeps building impressive legacy with Roberto Clemente Award

Anthony Rizzo keeps building impressive legacy with Roberto Clemente Award

The same competitive nature and unique leadership qualities that made Anthony Rizzo a World Series champion drove the Cubs first baseman toward winning the Roberto Clemente Award.  

Rizzo does so much publicly with this stage, and quietly behind the scenes, that it felt like a matter of time, a face of the franchise getting Major League Baseball’s prestigious award that recognizes sportsmanship, community involvement and positive contributions on and off the field.

The formal presentation happened Friday at Minute Maid Park, before a World Series Game 3 between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers that Rizzo would obviously rather be playing in now. But this is a well-deserved honor for someone who is remarkably comfortable around sick children, with sharing his experience as a cancer survivor and the idea of building a legacy in Chicago and South Florida.

“This is amazing,” Rizzo said. “It’s the greatest award you can win, and I will be forever appreciative of this. This will go front and center (with) anything I’ve ever done on the baseball field.”

The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation has raised more than $4 million since its inception in 2012. This year, the foundation made a $3.5 million commitment to Lurie Children’s Hospital, the downtown Chicago facility where Rizzo makes regular appearances, with or without the cameras.

Rizzo also recently granted $250,000 to the University of Miami Health System and the hometown cancer center where he received treatment while battling Hodgkin's lymphoma. Those physical, mental and emotional tests as a Boston Red Sox prospect shaped the superstar he would become years later in Chicago.  

“It means a lot to me when I go into a hospital room and say hello to a kid and they light up like a Christmas tree for five minutes,” Rizzo said, “escaping the reality, because they’re going through treatment. They’re battling for their lives, and I’m just grateful to be able to go in there and say hello to them and make them escape reality for a second.

“It’s not easy to go and see a lot of kids, but we really enjoy it. And the work that we do, hopefully we’re just scratching the surface.”

Clemente, a Hall of Fame outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, died on New Year's Eve 1972 during a relief mission to earthquake-damaged Nicaragua, when a plane delivering relief supplies exploded shortly after takeoff and crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Rizzo made a side trip to The Clemente Museum while the Cubs played in Pittsburgh this season. Previous Clemente Award winners within the last 10 years include Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Beltran, Paul Konerko and Curtis Granderson.

“Don't get me wrong, I want to be known as a great baseball player when it's all said and done,” Rizzo said, “but I also want to be known as someone who was fortunate to have a big platform and do things with it in a good way."

Cubs essentially ruling out Jake Arrieta for Cardinals showdown

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USA TODAY

Cubs essentially ruling out Jake Arrieta for Cardinals showdown

Jake Arrieta will have to wait a little longer to put the Cubs on his back once again.

Arrieta threw from flat ground for the second time Tuesday and while he felt good recovering from an injured hamstring, the Cubs have yet to schedule an official bullpen for their dynamic veteran right-hander.

That means Cubs fans shouldn't expect Arrieta to get the ball in the all-important showdown with the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field this weekend.

"There's still some time involved here," Joe Maddon said.

The Cubs woke up Tuesday morning clinging to a two-game lead over the Cardinals in the National League Central and up 2.5 games on the Milwaukee Brewers, who just came into Wrigleyville last weekend and swept the defending champs.

The Cubs are currently tossing their three southpaws (Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, Mike Montgomery) against the New York Mets this week and John Lackey is penciled in for Friday's opener against the Cardinals. After that, the Cubs rotation has not yet been announced, though Kyle Hendricks will certainly slot in either Saturday or Sunday.

That led to a reporter wondering aloud during Maddon's pregame session Tuesday if Arrieta could possibly return for the weekend.

But it's a tricky situation given this is Arrieta's back leg, where he pushes off the mound to start his motion toward homeplate. And the Cubs want him to throw a full bullpen first and since that wasn't even scheduled yet on Tuesday, the likelihood of Arrieta pitching this weekend is pretty slim.

"I don't know," Maddon said. "We're running out of time for this time [through the rotation]. So maybe the next time through. I really don't know.

"In my mind's eye, I'm playing it like he won't. I think you have to do that first of all. And then if he can, wonderful."

The 2015 NL Cy Young winner wasn't quite turning in another superhuman second half for the Cubs when he went down with a hamstring injury last week in Pittsburgh, but he was in the midst of a dominant stretch. From the All-Star Break until he limped off the mound against the Pirates Sept. 4, Arrieta had gone 6-2 with a 1.98 ERA in 10 starts.

Arrieta's injury put the Cubs in a hole in that one game in Pittsburgh as he lasted just 2.1 innings in a game they were eventually routed 12-0. Had he not gotten injured, Arrieta would've been slated to start against the Brewers last weekend and on track to get the ball against the Cardinals this coming weekend.

In his stead, Montgomery will continue to find an opportunity in the starting rotation. 

But even if Arrieta can return shortly after the Cardinals series, will his complex mechanics be near the run he was on pre-injury or will the time off have affected him?