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After pursuing Sanchez, would Cubs go all-in with Samardzija and Garza?

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After pursuing Sanchez, would Cubs go all-in with Samardzija and Garza?

The Cubs dont have a true Plan B after losing out on Anibal Sanchez, in that they dont see any other free agent on the market worth that kind of commitment.

But those negotiations which for team president Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts ended last week at the walkaway point of five years, 77.5 million must have gotten the attention of the players already inside the clubhouse. The meter is definitely running for Jeff Samardzija and Matt Garza.

While the Detroit Tigers rolled out Sanchez for Mondays news conference announcing a new five-year, 80 million contract (plus a club option for 2018), the Cubs continued with their incremental moves.

MORE: Cubs lose out on Anibal Sanchez

The Cubs confirmed the signing of Chang-Yong Lim to a two-year, minor-league contract. While rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, the right-handed reliever gets a 100,000 signing bonus, and then monthly minor-league salaries (unless his contract is purchased). This is a low-risk investment in someone who has pitched professionally the last 17 seasons in Korea and Japan.

MORE: Taking a small risk, Cubs closing in on Chang-Yong Lim

The Cubs also made third baseman Ian Stewarts one-year, 2 million deal (plus incentives) official, while designating left-handed reliever Jeff Beliveau for assignment.

But as the Cubs try to build a rotation for October, the major decisions on the horizon will involve Garza and Samardzija.

Garza, who recently turned 29, is only three months older than Sanchez and entering the final year of his contract. In the past, general manager Jed Hoyer has said that the Cubs want more Matt Garzas, not less Matt Garzas. Its hard to distinguish the career numbers from Sanchez (48-51, 3.75 ERA) and Garza (57-61, 3.84 ERA).

But the options trade, extend, let the season play out appear to be on hold while Garza begins throwing again and lets the stress reaction in his right elbow heal.

The Cubs put a potential Samardzija extension on their offseason agenda, though there were indications a deal is unlikely this winter. That shouldnt set off any alarms, because Samardzija is a Chicago guy who has repeatedly said that this is where he wants to be. Epstein and Hoyer agree that he checks off many of their boxes, from raw talent to body type to makeup.

Just remember that All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro was in a different place last summer when he signed a team-friendly, seven-year, 60 million extension that contains a club option for 2020.

Samardzija has already made millions and likes to bet on himself. He did that when he decided to play baseball, turning down the NFL after an All-American career at Notre Dame. He did it again last offseason, lobbying Epstein for a chance in the rotation after he had established himself in the bullpen.

Samardzija recently went golfing in Arizona with manager Dale Sveum and Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney. Samardzija is expected to embrace a bigger leadership role, especially since Ryan Dempster wont be around to push the younger pitchers and take the ball on Opening Day April 1.

Obviously, its a little early to announce our No. 1 starter, but hes ready to go, Sveum said during an interview at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. The biggest thing is he can go into this season knowing that theres not that 165th inning coming up soon.

Technically, Samardzija threw 174.2 innings last season, which ended for him with a dominant complete game on Sept. 8 at PNC Park, where the Cubs will coincidentally begin their 2013 schedule against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Samardzija didnt feel like he had to be shut down, and wants to be unleashed for 200-plus innings.

The swagger and confidence Cubs officials saw years ago is back. Some were said to be on the sidelines in South Bend, Ind., during the 2005 Bush Push Game against USC. Before Reggie Bush shoved Matt Leinart into the end zone for a 34-31 win, they loved hearing Samardzija scream at the defensive secondary and talk trash while notching six catches for 99 yards and one touchdown against the nations No. 1 team.

Hes such a competitive guy, Sveum said. Hes that horse. Hes that guy you want on your staff and now he can just go out and relax. He doesnt have to do anything except be Jeff Samardzija. He learned a tremendous amount about starting pitching. We all witnessed that.

What will that cost the Cubs if Samardzija continues on this trajectory? Hes eligible for arbitration the next three years, so theres no rush. But look beyond his 9-13 record and 3.81 ERA last season and youll see that he averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and posted a 2.58 ERA in 11 starts after the All-Star break.

Theres no question pitchers will benefit from the rapid inflation and the new television money flooding the game.

Zack Greinke got his six-year, 147 million megadeal from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who should be bankrolled by a potential 6 billion television contract with Fox Sports. Questions about how Dempster will perform in the American League East didnt stop the Boston Red Sox from giving him a two-year, 26.5 million contract, even though he will turn 36 in May.

The Cubs took a shot on Sanchez, even though they knew their interest would probably get leaked to the media. They braced for a second-place finish. They understood there was a strong preference to return to the Tigers, but thought it was important to send a message. It will be interesting to see if they have go-for-it urges with Garza and Samardzija.

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.

If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.

Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:

NUTS: Home cooked?

The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.

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Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.

“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.

“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”

What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.

“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”

BOLTS: Taking the fifth

All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.

He hadn’t started anywhere in a month — and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).

No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”

He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.

“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen — just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”

CHATTER: The mask at hand

“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”

—Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.

“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”

—Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.

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2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

Imagine it’s late September. The Cubs have already hosted the White Sox for three unforgettable games at Wrigley Field — fans packed the rooftops (at 25 percent capacity) around the ballpark. Now, it’s time to head to the South Side for the final series of the season, rife with playoff implications.

If the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t derail the 2020 MLB season, that scene very well could become a reality.

The Cubs regular season schedule, which MLB released Monday, features six Crosstown Classic games. The first of two series between the Chicago teams runs Aug. 21-23 at Wrigley Field. The second is penciled in for Sept. 25-27 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Both three-game series include Friday and Saturday evening games, and end with a Sunday afternoon game.

The Crosstown rivalry consumes 1/10 of the Cubs schedule this shortened season.

“It’s exciting, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said.

And quite convenient. That’s the point of a regionally-based schedule, which has the Cubs facing only NL Central and AL Central teams. While trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, that convenience becomes especially important.

“We get to sleep in our own beds at night,” Ross said of the Crosstown Classic. “We can set up things where if we need to we can work out here and drive over like you would in an Arizona spring training. There’s a lot of options that we have for us that we can do with an in-town team. I feel like that’s definitely a luxury.”

Some of those same advantages apply to the Cubs’ games at Milwaukee as well. As is the case with all their division rivals, the Cubs are scheduled to play the Brewers 10 times, including opening day at Wrigley Field on July 24.

As for their mid-September series at Milwaukee: “Players have the ability to drive up day of the game, drive back afterwards or get a car back,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of freedom and comfort in sleeping in your own bed, especially in the scenarios we’re in this year.”

The Cubs’ setup with the White Sox is mirrored over in Missouri between the Cardinals and Royals; they will also play each other six times. The Cubs will play three or four games against each of the four other teams in the AL Central. The White Sox are expected to be a stauncher opponent than the Royals, automatically giving the Cubs a tougher route through their interleague schedule.

But that’s a small price to pay for six rivalry games in Chicago.