Cubs go big with World Series rings and remember the goat, Ernie Banks and Ron Santo

Cubs go big with World Series rings and remember the goat, Ernie Banks and Ron Santo

Jon Lester thought of the championship bling before Theo Epstein could even start his bender, yelling out a suggestion during the World Series trophy presentation inside Progressive Field's visiting clubhouse. After 108 years, Lester told Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, "It better be big!"

"Something along those lines," Lester said with a smile before Wednesday night's ring ceremony at Wrigley Field. "There may have been a few other words thrown in there."

This team doesn't do subtle. More than five months after that epic Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians, the Cubs unveiled a Jostens creation made from 14-karat white gold. The traditional Cubs logo on the top features 33 red rubies surrounded by 72 round white diamonds, all within a circular perimeter framed by 46 blue sapphires.

The design includes 108 symbolic round white diamonds and "an image of the infamous goat representing a supposed franchise curse" on the inner band, according to the team press release.

"I'm definitely going to wear it sometimes," veteran catcher Miguel Montero said. "It's like buying a Ferrari and putting it in the garage, right? You want to drive it. You want to show it off. It's something that you earned and you want to be able to enjoy it."

Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper became the pregame emcee, introducing the Ricketts family, baseball executives Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, manager Joe Maddon and his coaching staff, and Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Billy Williams. Twenty contest-winning fans became the ring bearers for the players.

In total, the Cubs plan to distribute 1,908 rings and pins to everyone from front-office associates, ballpark staff, sponsors and Cooperstown alumni, including posthumous rings for Ernie Banks and Ron Santo that will be saved in the Wrigley Field archives.

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"I'll wear it just occasionally, when I got a suit on, if I want to rub it in some people's face," said Jake Arrieta, who transformed the team when he blossomed into a Cy Young Award winner. "I'm not a big ring guy, but who knows? I'll put that thing on and I might change my mind."

One side of the ring displays the player's name atop the W flag with silhouette images of the bricks and ivy around the player's number. The other side shows the year 2016 above the Wrigley Field marquee — "CUBS WIN!" — and a silhouette of the World Series trophy.

The Los Angeles Dodgers aren't just The Other Team during this week's festivities. The design elements also include the opposing logos and series scores from last year's three playoff rounds and the local date and time the World Series ended: "11-3-16, 12:47 a.m."

"I'll be curious to see which guys wear it, which guys don't, which guys put it on a necklace," pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. "The guys are all unique, so they're going to do their own thing with it."

Maddon predicted stylish, high-energy reliever Pedro Strop would be the Cubs player who rocks his ring the most: "He'll wear it in his sleep. He'll wear it in the shower. He'll wear it everywhere, man."

After breaking one curse, Epstein gave his 2004 World Series ring to his father, Leslie, and he doesn't wear his other ring from the 2007 Boston Red Sox. Maddon also doesn't show off the 2002 championship ring he earned as an Anaheim Angels bench coach.

"Never have," Maddon said. "I gave it to my mom right afterwards, and Beanie still has it somewhere. I'm not a jewelry guy in regards to wearing it. I really absolutely love the concept or thought of having it. But I've not worn it one time."

What about this one?

"No, I just don't wear jewelry," Maddon said. "I will put it in a special spot. I'll give it to Jaye, and then whenever (my wife) wants to move it along, she will."

After raising a once-in-a-lifetime banner — and getting the most exotic jewelry in professional sports — it's time for the Cubs to move it along and focus on defending their World Series title.

"The best part about last year was we all got to be a part of something bigger than ourselves," Epstein said, "and feel connected to each other and the fans and the organization and the city. They say all glory is fleeting — and it is — but the flag will fly forever and that feeling of being part of something bigger than ourselves will last forever, too."

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

The Cubs are looking for bullpen help this offseason. Enter Astros free agent right-hander Will Harris.

Harris has quietly been one of the game’s best relievers since 2015. In 309 games (297 innings), the 35-year-old holds a 2.36 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. Over that same period, his ERA ranks third among relievers with at least 250 innings pitched, trailing Zack Britton (1.89) and Aroldis Chapman (2.16).

2019 was one of Harris' finest seasons yet, as he posted a pristine 1.50 ERA and 0.933 WHIP in 68 appearances. Of the 60 innings he pitched last season, 49 2/3 of them came in innings 7-9, an area the Cubs bullpen needs the most help.

Cubs relievers posted a 3.98 ERA last season (No. 8 in MLB), but that number is deceiving. The bullpen was OK in low and medium-leverage spots — as defined by FanGraphs — posting a 3.19 ERA (tied for No. 2 in MLB). But in high leverage spots, they sported a woeful 7.92 ERA (No. 24 in MLB) and a 15.4 percent walk rate (tied for last in MLB).

"It was a real interesting year in the 'pen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "Our inability to pitch in high-leverage situations was a clear problem and was a contributing factor — we had the third-worst record in all of baseball behind just the Tigers and Orioles in combined 1 and 2-run games.

"Our inability to pitch in high-leverage moments kind of haunted us throughout the year, and that’s something that I have to do a better job of finding options for."

Those walks often spelled doom for the Cubs. Fans remember all too well the three-straight free passes Steve Cishek handed out on Sept. 10 against the Padres, the final of which was a walk-off (literally). David Phelps and Cishek combined to walk three-straight Cardinals on Sept. 20, two of whom came around to score. The Cubs lost that game 2-1; there are plenty more similar instances.

Harris, meanwhile, walked 14 batters (6.1 percent walk rate) in 2019 — 15 if you count the one he allowed in 12 postseason appearances. His career walk rate is 6.2 percent.

Four Cubs late-inning relievers are free agent this winter in Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. Cishek and Kintzler had solid 2019 seasons, while Strop had his worst season as a Cub. Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 2018, but he and the Cubs are working on a minor league deal, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. Strop has expressed his desire to return next season.

Harris regressing in 2020 is a concern. Relievers are the most volatile players in baseball, and Harris could see his performance sag in 2020 after pitching an extra month last season. Teams will have to trust his track record and assume a regression isn't forthcoming.

But assuming Cishek, Kintzler, Morrow and Strop all won’t return in 2020, the Cubs have a couple late-inning relief vacancies. Harris is one of the better available options, and he’d help the Cubs cut down on the walks dished out by their bullpen.

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Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move


Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

The Cubs have reportedly made another low-risk gamble on a bullpen arm.

According to MLB Insider Robert Murray, the Cubs have reached an agreement with right-hander Daniel Winkler on a one-year deal.

Winkler, an Effingham, Ill. native holds a career 3.68 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.176 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 in 117 games (100 1/3 innings). He spent 2015-19 with the Atlanta Braves, undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2014 and another elbow surgery in April 2017. The Braves dealt him to the San Francisco Giants at the 2019 trade deadline for closer Mark Melancon.

Winkler posted a 4.98 ERA in 27 big league games last season and a 2.93 ERA in 30 minor league games. His best MLB season came with the Braves in 2018, as he made a career-high 69 appearances and posted a 3.43 ERA, striking out 69 batters in 60 1/3 innings.

The Cubs entered the offseason in search of bullpen upgrades following a rough 2019. That search includes finding pitchers who may not have long track records, but qualities demonstrating their ability to make an impact at the big-league level. In this case, Winkler possesses solid spin rates on his cutter, four-seamer and curveball, meaning he induces soft contact and swings and misses.

“We need to keep unearthing pitchers who we acquire for the right reasons, we work well with and have the physical and mental wherewithal to go out and miss a lot of bats,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference, “which is something we didn’t do a lot of — although we did increasingly in the second half with this pitching group — and find more guys who can go out and pitch in high-leverage spots."

The Cubs were successful in unearthing arms last season, acquiring Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck from the Padres in separate deals. They recently acquired Jharel Cotton from the Oakland A’s in a similar buy low move.

Not every pitcher will be as successful as the Wi(e)cks were last season, but the Cubs must continue making low-risk bullpen moves. At the best, they find a legitimate relief arms; at the worst, they move on from a low-cost investments.

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