Cubs

Cubs have a long way to go to catch up with Cardinals

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Cubs have a long way to go to catch up with Cardinals

Agents used to love playing the Yankees against the Red Sox and getting that huge markup from New York or Boston.
But now the Yankees are working to get under the 189 million luxury-tax threshold by 2014, while the Red Sox hit the reset button with last summers blockbuster trade with the Dodgers.
So the winter meetings that begin Monday could become the battle for Los Angeles, with the Dodgers and Angels fighting over Zack Greinke.
Cubs fans have put their faith in Theo Epsteins Red Sox model. Theyre jealous of the 6 billion television contract the Dodgers could be getting from Fox Sports. But really their focus should be some 300 miles southwest of Wrigley Field.
The Cardinals wont be major players on the lobby scene inside the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn. But quietly they have already built the scouting and player development machine the Cubs like to talk about, and they have flexed their financial muscles with a payroll around 110 million last season.
A lot of people always think working in St. Louis: Eh, its not Chicago, New York or L.A., Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. But there is pressure to win, to do it right. I think thats a great thing about St. Louis.
One year ago, the Cardinals had already lost one franchise icon (Tony La Russa), and were bracing for the possibility of losing another (Albert Pujols). They were hoping they made the right hire with a rookie manager (Mike Matheny).
This is The Cardinals Way. They defended their 11th World Series title by winning 88 games, and were one victory away from clinching the National League pennant.
Mozeliak pointed to chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., who led the group that purchased the team in 1996. Between 1996 and 2011, La Russa won two World Series rings and endured only three sub-.500 seasons. Mozeliak who replaced Walt Jocketty in October 2007 joined the organization after the 1995 season.
Its been a very stable environment, Mozeliak said. You can have that when youre having success, but I think now its sort of grown and become expected.
I always say to people (that) St. Louis is a wonderful place to be in baseball, because our fan base expects to win. Actually, they demand it. And I think thats a great compliment to them, because they show up. Were drawing three million fans. And as long as we put an entertaining product out there, they support it.
Ownership instability handcuffed Jim Hendry, who was never able to build off the 2008 team that won 97 games and a second straight division title. The Cubs went all-in trying to win one for the Tribune Co. after a last-place finish in 2006, but for years there had been issues with draft budgets and the ability to make international investments.
Clearly, the Cubs have a long-range plan now. But its not like the rest of the baseball world is going to stand still. In late October, Hall of Fame writer Rick Hummel wrote a 2011 Cardinals obituary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. An authoritative voice told you whats coming next.
Never, in my 40 years covering this team, have I been so entranced by the number of good arms the Cardinals have as potential starters, Hummel wrote. Most of those plus-90s spent the postseason in the bullpen, with Lance Lynn emerging for two starts, but the Cardinals never have had as many hard throwers as they have now, with right-handers Lynn, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly, and Carlos Martinez lurking in the minors.
Then there is Trevor Rosenthal, who is the first Cardinal in my memory to hit 100 miles an hour consistently. Rosenthal also seems to have a working knowledge of a breaking ball but, for my money, I dont want to see somebody throwing 100 mph pitching two innings out of the bullpen. He seems ready for much more and is the most exciting young pitcher to come along here since Rick Ankiel, with Alan Benes and Matt Morris before that. But none of those could throw 100 miles an hour, and you see how interested the San Francisco and Washington hitters were about facing that kind of heat.
The Cubs once felt that way about Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano. What could possibly go wrong?
The organizations that youre certainly envious of are the ones that seem like they have young pitchers all over the place, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Granted, those can be fleeting. Certainly, the 2003 Cubs looked like they were in the catbird seat and soon enough they were all injured and thats what happens. Thats the nature of pitching.
(But) look at the Cardinals right now and its a pretty nice position to be in when theyve got guys like Shelby Miller and Rosenthal coming out of the bullpen in the LCS. Thats having some organizational depth when a guy like (Jaime) Garcia goes down and you (dont) miss a beat. Thats when you know youve drafted well, developed well and made good trades. Thats the position we need to be in.
The last time the Cardinals lost 101 games in a season was 1907. The Cubs have so many needs that pitching will drive several key decisions, from the starter they could sign to join Scott Baker and Scott Feldman in the rotation, to the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, to next summers trade deadline.
From Day 1, Hoyer said, weve been staring at the same picture. Its a minor-league system that was devoid of pitching prospects. Its upper levels arent producing the depths that we need.
Its not a problem were going to fix this offseason. Were going to do our best and spend our money as wisely as possible this offseason to improve it, but organizationally its a three-, four-, five-year project. Its drafting pitchers. Its trading for pitchers. Its signing pitchers. I guess you never feel like you have enough pitching depth.
Epstein and Hoyer made their bones in the American League East by taking down the Evil Empire. This isnt the frenzy of Yankees-Red Sox, but if the Cubs are going to matter, they will have to find a way to respond to the Cardinals.

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two reported transactions Tuesday may not have drawn much attention from Cubs fans, but both directly impact the North Siders.

First, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reported the Angels are trading third baseman Zack Cozart to the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. Soon thereafter, free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius agreed to a one-year deal with the Phillies, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported.

From a Cubs perspective, the Angels' and Phillies' moves impact a potential Kris Bryant trade market. According to Ardaya, the Giants are picking up the remaining $12.67 million on Cozart’s deal. This clears payroll space for Los Angeles to make a run at a superstar free agent, like third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Phillies inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential Bryant trade, according to multiple reports. However, Bryant’s unresolved grievance case is a holdup in any trade talks, should the Cubs entertain offers. If he wins, he'll become a free agent next winter. If he loses, he'll remain under team control through 2021.

Gregorius will slot into shortstop for Philadelphia, while incumbent Jean Segura will move to second base, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The Phillies are less likely to pursue Bryant — should the Cubs shop him — than they were entering Tuesday. Things can change, but they have less of an infield need as they did on Monday.

On the other hand, the Angels and new manager Joe Maddon suddenly could be a candidate to pursue Bryant. Acquiring him would bring less certainty than Rendon or Donaldson, as Bryant is only under contract for two seasons more, max. Furthermore, acquiring Bryant will cost the Angels prospect capital, while adding Rendon and Donaldson will 'only' entail paying them handsomely as free agents.

In short, Philadelphia is less likely to pursue Bryant than they were entering Tuesday; the possibility of the Angels doing so is stronger than it was entering the day. The Angels haven't been directly connected to Bryant at this point, but that now could change.

Cubs still waiting for their number to be called in baseball's offseason equation

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AP

Cubs still waiting for their number to be called in baseball's offseason equation

SAN DIEGO — Jed Hoyer busted out the fishing and football metaphors to explain how the Winter Meetings have gone for his front office.

The Cubs have so far not made a move of any magnitude on baseball's biggest offseason stage, but that's not really a surprise. Their Opening Day payroll is already projected for about $6 million over the luxury tax threshold and so far, there hasn't been much movement in the trade market. 

Hoyer called the first couple days in San Diego productive in terms of having conversations and laying groundwork. But when asked if he thought the Cubs would make a substantial move before the end of the Winter Meetings, Hoyer wasn't optimistic.

"Right now, we don't have anything that's in the red zone," the Cubs GM said. "That'd be my instinct. But at the same time, there's a bunch of days left. More than any other time of year, things happen quickly at the Winter Meetings. That's the one great thing about the Winter Meetings, where an idea can go from the germination to deal very quickly because we're in the same place and people have a certain level of motivation."

The Cubs leaving San Diego without a big trade or adding impact players to the 2020 roster is certainly frustrating for fans who are still trying to wrap their heads around how this team has gone from a potential dynasty to one that is now likely breaking up the core of players.

It's frustrating to the Cubs, too. As Hoyer put it, "the percentage of times that you cast into the water and get a fish is really rare," while preaching patience on the team's offseason.

In a lot of ways, the winter is out of the Cubs' hands. Because they're not players at the top of the free agent market while they attempt to shed payroll, they have to wait for teams to decide to turn to the trade market to fill their roster needs. When Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon are still out there and require only money — and not a haul of prospects or big-league players — to acquire, it's understandable teams would want to wait that out before resorting to meeting the Cubs' asking price for Kris Bryant.

"The people that are making that decision, they're trying to figure out that calculus," Hoyer said. "In some cases, they want to make a trade because that's easier or they like that player a lot and in some situations, they'd rather just spend the money. That's always the calculus you have this time of year — the teams that are in those markets are making that decision."

So it goes for the Cubs, who are spending another Winter Meetings preaching patience and another offseason operating more at the fringe of the big-league roster than at the top of it. 

That's not to say the Cubs are still figuring out their plan of attack for the offseason. They're aligned in their focus this winter — somewhere in the middle of rebuilding and going all-in for the immediate future. More like retooling on the fly. 

Theo Epstein's front office isn't planning on punting on 2020, even with a rookie manager, a brand new coaching staff and more budgetary restraints. Not when the division is still within reach, as no other team has emerged as a powerhouse within the NL Central.

The Cubs also aren't going to mortgage the long-term future for the next couple of years. Ideally, they would be able to make moves to keep the team competitive during the window of contention in 2020 and 2021 while also ensuring the roster has a better long-term future than is currently constituted.

"The makings of a very, very good team is currently under control on our roster, with a chance to win the division. You do that and you have a chance to have a great October," Epstein said Monday. "That's not to be taken lightly. At the same time, we can't just pretend that we can keep putting off making some important decisions for the future if there's an opportunity to strike that can help ensure a better future, we have to do that. We also have to be very mindful of what's on our roster right now, how we can complement it and how we can put ourselves in the best possible position for 2020. Both things are important."

The Cubs have been having a lot of conversations with various relievers and role players to round out the roster, similar to the moves they've made so far in free agency (right-handed pitcher Dan Winkler), trade (right-handed pitcher Jharel Cotton) and the waiver wire (left-handed pitcher CD Pelham).

"The end of our roster did struggle last year in certain places and we have to do a better job of fortifying that," Hoyer said. "And so those conversations are really important. They're not the names you read in trade rumors and stuff like that, but they are really important and we are having a ton of those conversations."