Cubs

Can Cubs land a big-name outfielder at winter meetings?

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Can Cubs land a big-name outfielder at winter meetings?

Can the Cubs accomplish what they need to do on the pitching side and still have enough money leftover to make a significant multiyear commitment to a position player?

“I wouldn’t rule anything out or anything in,” team president Theo Epstein said.

That’s how the Cubs roll into the winter meetings that begin Monday in Nashville, Tennessee, looking to add to their rotation, strengthen the bullpen and find someone to play center field. But after assembling a young core that advanced to the National League Championship Series, the Cubs won’t feel any pressure to walk out of the Opryland with deer antlers (as general manager Jed Hoyer would say).

The Cubs already crossed a major item off their list, agreeing to a two-year, $32 million contract with veteran right-hander John Lackey, a short-term deal that looks reasonable at a time when the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks just guaranteed $423 million combined to David Price and Zack Greinke.

[MORE: Jeff Samardzija’s bets pay off with $90 million deal from Giants]

Epstein’s front office always likes to keep an open mind and kick the tires on everything, but the Lackey deal and a surplus of hitters does create a degree of flexibility.

All the buzz leading up to the winter meetings revolved around big-ticket pitchers, and maybe now the Cubs will get a better idea of whether or not they can really compete for an established outfielder from a group that includes Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon and Dexter Fowler.

“It depends on some other things that take place,” Epstein said. “Sometimes, when you make a trade, it opens up the ability to then sign a free agent. Not all really good players are expensive, especially if you get them through trade and you can get creative with how you structure certain deals.

“We’ve been working with our business side on some ways to create a little bit more room for 2016 within the parameters that we have.”

[MORE: Cubs see center-field possibilities for Javier Baez]

The Cubs have been linked to the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres since the July 31 trade deadline, and maybe that’s where they find another starter like Julio Teheran, Danny Salazar or Tyson Ross.

The Cubs also have nearly $80 million still tied up in infielder Starlin Castro, catcher Miguel Montero and pitcher Jason Hammel. You know Castro’s name will somehow wind up on MLB Trade Rumors this week, but the Cubs believe a healthy Hammel will bounce back next season, and catching isn’t an area where a contending team can cut corners.

The Cubs will probably have to think along those lines – trades to add pitching and free up more funds – if they want something more than a stopgap solution in center field (which actually might make the most sense at this point in The Plan).   

“I don’t feel like if we do something on the pitching end, we won’t be able to do anything with position players,” Epstein said. “It just depends on exactly the type of commitments you’re looking at, and how they’re structured.”    

With the St. Louis Cardinals positioned to spend aggressively and already having a comfort level with Heyward, it’s hard to see the Cubs actually setting the market for a defensive game-changer and a good-enough hitter who’s still only 26 years old.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

If years were an issue in the Jeff Samardzija talks – The Shark got $90 million over five from the San Francisco Giants – then it will probably be problematic with Gordon as he enters his age-32 season after a World Series run with the Kansas City Royals.  

During the season, the Cubs and Fowler gave off vibes that it would only be a one-year rental, though Epstein has kept the lines of communication open with agent Casey Close (who represents Fowler and Gordon and is involved with Heyward’s camp).

If the money is right – and that is usually a question mark in the economic climate surrounding this franchise – the Cubs have so many other selling points to free agents.  

“We’ve become a really attractive destination,” Epstein said. “It’s not just getting to be one of the Final Four this year. It’s the atmosphere at Wrigley Field. It’s our fan base. It’s that we’re still on this tremendous journey to try to win a World Series for the first time in what will now be 108 years.

“It’s (manager) Joe Maddon and the culture that he creates. It’s our ownership and how they treat players like family. It’s our young players and veterans wanting to come here and be part of this surge that we’re having right now.”

Cubs, Bears, Bulls among the top 25 wealthiest sports teams in the world

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USA TODAY

Cubs, Bears, Bulls among the top 25 wealthiest sports teams in the world

What Chicago sports team is worth the most money in 2018?

As reported by Kurt Badenhausen in a Forbes article about the 50 richest teams around the globe, the Cubs are the most valuable organization in the Windy City.

Chicago’s North Side baseball team ranks as the 16th wealthiest team in the world, valued at $2.9 billion, an 8 percent increase from 2017. The Cubs are the third-most affluent franchise in Major League Baseball, behind the New York Yankees ($4 billion) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($3 billion).

This year, the baseball club owned by the Ricketts family surpassed the wealth of the Boston Red Sox ($2.8 billion), who the Cubs were ranked behind last season at $2.68 billion. In the span of a year, the North Siders gained two spots in the top 50 from 18 to 16 on the list.

What could be the reason for this increase?

Could it be that the Cubs are in first place in the NL Central? Or could it be the incredible performances from players like Jon Lester and Javy Baez?

Whatever the reason is for the Cubs’ prosperity, the team is doing something right.

The club also surpassed the Bears on the list this year. In 2017 the Bears (worth $2.7 billion last year) were tied with the Red Sox as the 16th most valuable sports team on Earth. The McCaskey-owned football team has fallen to a tie at 17 with the San Francisco Giants, both valued at $2.85 billion in 2018. The Bears even increased by 6 percent in the last year, making the Cubs’ jump seem greater.

The Bulls, owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, are the last team from Chicago to make the cut. They stand at 23 in the top 50, tied with the Denver Broncos. Both franchises are worth $2.6 billion. Chicago’s NBA team even fell a spot from 2017, but they still increased their value by 4 percent (worth $2.5 billion last year).

The Bears are the seventh richest team in the NFL, while the Bulls are fourth wealthiest in the NBA.

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

The Brewers' best pitcher is in some serious hot water before the second half of the MLB season gets underway.

As he was serving up a 3-run homer in the All-Star Game Tuesday night, Josh Hader's Tweets from 2011 were aired publicly and the result was...not good.

Hader's Tweets as a 17-year-old reflected racist and homophobic remarks, among other issues. (A summary of his Tweets can be found at Deadspin.)

After the All-Star Game, Hader was immediately put in front of reporters to respond to the Tweets and admitted he will accept any punishment that comes his way — including any possible suspension:

He won't be suspended by the league and will instead under go sensitivity training, but this absolutely could affect Hader mentally moving forward. 

Case in point:

He can ask teammate Ryan Braun how to deal when fans turn on you, but it's going to be a lot more difficult for a 24-year-old in his first full big-league season to deal with any hate that comes down. 

Hader has been the Brewers' most valuable pitcher all season, going 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and a ridiculous 16.7 K/9. 

But over the last month-plus, he's been...human.

Ever since Jason Heyward turned on a 98 mph Hader fastball to tie the game in Milwaukee on June 11, the Brewers' relief ace has a 2.84 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 13.5 K/9.

Still great numbers, to be sure, but not the Superman-esque line baseball fans came to expect from Hader after the first couple months of 2018. (Plus, the All-Star Game homer he served up to Jean Segura, but that obviously doesn't count for anything.)

With the Brewers already chasing the Cubs by 2.5 games in the division in the second half, they can't afford Hader's slump to worsen.

Though Cubs fans may be rooting for that...