Cubs

Cubs dont appear to be thinking big right now

607024.png

Cubs dont appear to be thinking big right now

DALLAS Theo Epstein has the luxury of a five-year contract, a mandate from ownership to build from within, all without having to worry about getting headlines or selling tickets.

Epstein has moments of anxiety after he signs a free agent. Almost by definition, he knows he overpaid, because those deals usually close with the highest bid. Thats the backdrop as the Cubs remain quiet so far at the winter meetings.

Theres a winners curse associated with that sometimes, Epstein said Wednesday. That moment when youre at the press conference and youre holding up the jersey, youre sitting there thinking this could be a great moment in franchise history.

And then theres a big voice in the back of your head saying: I might be regretting this for the next six years.

You cant get away from it. And that voice is louder than the one that says: This could be a great thing for the team going forward. Because just look at the history of long-term free agent contracts. They tend not to work out.

Not long after general manager Jed Hoyer told MLB.TV that the coverage of the Cubs interest in Prince Fielder was overblown, Epstein said that were not close to anything big.

While Albert Pujols apparently leans toward returning to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs are focused on small, incremental moves.

Epstein met with the agency that represents Kerry Wood and again said that bringing back the franchise ambassador is a priority: Our bullpen looks a lot better with him in it, so does our clubhouse.

As expected, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena declined arbitration, meaning the Cubs will pick up one or two draft picks as compensation. Ramirez has drawn some interest from the Los Angeles Angels and Milwaukee Brewers and will not return to the North Side.

The Cubs continue to have a dialogue with Penas camp. But as a left-handed power hitter who plays Gold Glove defense and is a good clubhouse influence, Epstein thinks Pena could get a bigger multiyear deal that doesnt fit in their plans.

The Cubs are going to be linked with Fielder, because thats how this game works. Scott Boras, the industrys most powerful agent, emerged late Wednesday night to hold court with the media for the first time this week at the Hilton Anatole.

This is a negotiation that is really one of its own because hes 27 years old, Boras said. He has a different place in the market and the demands for his services are broader because you have teams that are not as playoff-ready that are interested. You have clubs that are very veteran that are interested. So you have a whole variety of teams that are involved.

He asked me to take an open view and collect all the information here from each club. I didnt meet with too many teams that said that they were three years away. Thats not something you hear too often.

The Cubs are not a team built to win now, which is why Pujols doesnt make sense. Fielder doesnt fit neatly into their box either. Big moves or small, Epstein says no one really knows for sure until five or 10 years later.

Epstein pointed to his first winter as general manager of the Boston Red Sox, 2002 into 2003.

We signed a released player for a million bucks, who turned out to be David Ortiz, Epstein said. We signed a previously injured third baseman who couldnt hit for power in Bill Mueller, who ended up winning the batting title. (We) claimed a guy off waivers who was headed to Japan that no one wanted in the States (named Kevin Millar).

Those are the types of moves, to be honest, that were focused on. Thats what fits where we are right now and fits the picture with our resources and our roster to try to get incrementally better.

Ozzie Guillen wishes Epstein the best with this patient plan. But the new Miami Marlins manager had one warning.

Chicago people, they forget pretty quick, Guillen said. Its a very tough town. I live (there) and Im a Chicago fan (and) they need some great stuff out of there. I think this man has great, great, great ideas and theyre going to do fine. But remember that one: I hope they love him in two years the way they love him right now.

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Expecting Jason Heyward to carry a team offensively would be thought as foolish just a few short months ago. But here in the middle of July, Heyward has turned into the offensive firestarter the Cubs have been seemingly missing since Dexter Fowler left. 

Heyward walked away from Thursday night's 9-6 win over the Cardinals tallying three hits, two RBI, two runs scored and his first stolen base of the year, as the 28-year-old outfielder continued to poke holes in the Cardinals defense. 

Twice Heyward was able to slip a ball between the 1st and 2nd basemen that off the bat looked like neither had a chance to make it through the right field side. Later, Heyward would battle through a lengthy at-bat, finally being rewarded with an opposite-field hit that drove in the game-tying run. 

"It just happened," Heyward explained. " [Carlos Martinez] is not going to give you a whole lot to do damage on throughout the game. I was able to get one pitch there and get a guy home." 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon mentioned Heyward and his ability to move the ball around the field and how it's helped him become an effective piece to this Cubs offense. So effective Heyward's batting average crept up to .290 after today's three-hit performance. 

Heyward credits his quick hands as the major tool he's utilized to create so many successful at-bats lately, which has allowed him to take advantage of certain pitches and punch them through for hits.

He's certainly not driving the ball for consistent power, but the approach has put Heyward on pace to match the 160 hit total he amassed with the Cardinals in 2015. 

"I feel like Joe's mindset on moving the ball is putting the ball in play when you got guys on base," said Heyward. "It keeps the line moving, regardless of the result." 

It might be crazy to think that Heyward's incredible turnaround this season might simply be attributed to putting the ball in play. But even just taking a look at Heyward's contact rates shows he's increased his contact on pitches outside the zone by roughly three percent.

Not a massive difference, but if Heyward's hands are truly giving him an edge at the plate, making contact with pitches that may not be a strike but are hittable pitches could explain the increased offense we are seeing now. 

"That's kinda the biggest thing," said Heyward. "The more good swings you take, the more hits you have a chance to get." 

Shooters shoot, and Heyward continues to shoot his shot and keep the Cubs offense chugging along.