Cubs

Another way to think about Cubs making big deal for pitching at trade deadline

Another way to think about Cubs making big deal for pitching at trade deadline

The Cubs know agents and other teams will sense the desperation if they have to replace 40 percent of their rotation this offseason. Signing at least two frontline starters would be a massive undertaking and a huge financial commitment for a franchise that prefers to make long-term investments in hitters and use a pay-as-you-go plan for pitching.

Now the Cubs see the July 31 trade deadline as a chance to get a jump on that market, so they don’t feel forced to win two bidding wars on free agents or rushed into a lopsided deal for the top-of-the-rotation starter every contender wants.

That one big-picture idea gives more insight into Theo Epstein’s front office than the daily stock reports on a 36-34 Cubs team that’s up after Tuesday night’s 4-0 win over the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. Kicking the can down the road might not make as much sense this time.

“Every transaction season — winter and summer — we’re always going to be looking for pitching,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “That will be our priority here at the deadline. We’re obviously working hard to assess it, making all the contacts and scouting everyone.

“But pitching’s always in high demand. That’s the reality of needing pitching — both in the winter and the summer — it’s always what people are looking for.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

The Cubs got creative last summer and flipped a redundant minor-league hitter (Dan Vogelbach) to the Seattle Mariners for the guy who would get the final out in the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 (Mike Montgomery).

The Cubs don’t believe that moment alone will define the lefty swingman, who continues to look like a short-term fix and a long-range answer for a rotation that will see Jake Arrieta and John Lackey become free agents after this season. Following the game plan, Montgomery (1-3, 2.26 ERA) shut down the Padres for six innings, getting 12 groundball outs and four strikeouts while allowing only three singles and two walks.

Last season’s best-in-baseball rotation needs new blood, but the Cubs aren’t going anywhere if they can’t count on Arrieta (6-5, 4.64 ERA) and Lackey (5-7, 4.98 ERA) from one start to the next. Kyle Hendricks, last season’s major-league ERA leader, doesn’t know when his right hand tendinitis will subside and allow him to be activated from the disabled list.

Beyond the daunting task of trying to handle all their pitching business in one winter, the Cubs are only a half-game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. No team in the National League Central right now can match this combination of on-paper talent, position-player depth, big-market resources and playoff-tested experience.

But even 70 games into the season, Cubs officials still don’t have a great feel for how ultra-aggressive to be (or not) at the end of July and what to make of the defending champs, beyond stressing how much they believe in this group.

“Still assessing,” Hoyer said. “We just haven’t been able to get away from .500 yet. I fully believe we will. I have confidence we will. But it’s just been one of those things where it feels like we’ve had win one, lose one, win two, lose two. Hopefully, we’ll get out of that trend and start getting away from .500 a little bit.

“The division thing is a false sense of security. I try to measure our team way more against .500, against how we look (on the field) than how we look in the standings, because I think how you look in the standings can be a little bit misleading.”

That eye test might take almost six more weeks, as buyers and sellers clearly emerge. Hoyer already noticed how much the trade chatter picked up once the draft ended last week. Nothing this summer will feel quite like the single-minded pursuit of Aroldis Chapman and the mythical 108-year quest. But instead of thinking about it like mortgaging the farm system, maybe this deadline will actually be planning for the future.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Cubs truly the best NL team at the All-Star break?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are Cubs truly the best NL team at the All-Star break?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Hub Arkush, Jordan Bernfield and Fred Mitchell join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel. 

The Cubs have the best record in the National League at the All-Star Break but it doesn’t feel like it. Can they still win the N.L. pennant? And will the Home Run Derby mess up Kyle Schwarber or Javy Baez’s swings?

Plus, Will Perdue drops by to talk about Jabari Parker’s signing. He also shares his surprising prediction for how the Bulls will do next season.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

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USA TODAY

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON, D.C. — How could someone like Kyle Schwarber play the villain?

The fan favorite who’s always quick with a smile — or an Uncle Sam costume on the Fourth of July — Schwarber doesn’t fit the mold of a loathsome target of boos. But he made quite the heel turn in the minds of Washington Nationals fans Monday night, and of course he knew it was coming.

Schwarber went from getting cheered by the legions in attendance at the Home Run Derby to getting booed when he took on, and eventually lost to, hometown hero Bryce Harper in the final round.

“I was down in the tunnel saying, ‘If we get to the finals, Harp, they’re all going to be against me. I think they’re all going to be against me,’” Schwarber said Monday night. “And then I went out there and got booed after they all got pumped up for me. That’s just the beauty of it, and I was happy for Bryce that he won it in front of the home crowd.”

Harper delivered an incredibly memorable baseball moment Monday night, catching up to Schwarber’s 18 home runs with a ridiculous display of repetitive power to win a Home Run Derby for the ages. The format of this event, revamped a couple years ago, made for a dramatic and hugely entertaining evening. Harper smacked nine homers over the final 47 seconds of the final round to tie Schwarber, then bested him in bonus time. Unsurprisingly, the home crowd was going ballistic for their boy.

But earlier in the night, it was Schwarber getting all the cheers, when he made his own last-second comeback to beat Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins in the second round. Schwarber was pumping up the crowd, pumping his fists and screaming while putting on a show of his own to catch and pass Hoskins' 20 home runs and advance to the finals.

How quickly the locals forgot.

By the finals — during which Schwarber looked understandably exhausted — the crowd had turned on him, trying to get every advantage for Harper.

“As soon as I got done with that round, I told myself that he had it,” Schwarber said. “I knew that he had the home crowd behind him, and I knew that he was a very prolific power hitter with a great swing. For him to come in and do that and started getting down to the wire, all of a sudden he started racking them up one at a time. You kind of just accept your fate there.”

Perhaps the night could’ve ended differently for Schwarber had he listened more closely to the advice of his teammates, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras, who were quick with Gatorade, a towel and words of encouragement on Monday. Baez hit 16 home runs in his own first-round appearance, though Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy knocked him out.

“I was just telling him to slow down,” Baez said. “He was kind of rushing a little bit, that’s why he was jumping to the ball.”

“They were actually giving me really good advice that I didn’t take because I was really dumb-headed,” Schwarber said. “‘Make sure you take some pitches and get the pitch that you want.’ At the end, I felt like I was swinging at everything. I was just running out of gas. I felt like I had to put up as many swings just to try to put a couple out.”

Schwarber was totally content with losing out to Harper’s home-field advantage. Though as his homers flew out deep into the right-field seats Monday night, you couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Schwarber was instead taking aim at Sheffield Avenue and getting his own home-field advantage from Cubs fans.

The North Side hasn’t played host to the All-Star Game since 1990, so perhaps Schwarber will still be slugging the next time the Friendly Confines are the site of the Home Run Derby.

“That’d be really cool one day if the All-Star Game’s at Wrigley,” Schwarber said, “and to participate in the Derby, that’d be fun.”