Cubs

Cubs have options with David Price heading to Red Sox for $217 million

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Cubs have options with David Price heading to Red Sox for $217 million

A rival executive who knows the Cubs and their organizational strengths and weaknesses said signing David Price would have been a no-brainer this winter – if they didn’t already have Jon Lester locked up through at least the 2020 season.

But president of baseball operations Theo Epstein closed the deal with his signature free agent at last year’s winter meetings in San Diego, giving the All-Star lefty six years and $155 million guaranteed and a full no-trade clause to accelerate the rebuild at Wrigley Field.  

This time, the Cubs simply wouldn’t have the same bandwidth or sense of desperation, no matter how much Price made it sound like he wanted to play for Joe Maddon again and win big in Chicago.

The Boston Red Sox made Price an offer he couldn’t refuse. That would be the largest deal ever for a pitcher – seven years and $217 million – plus a reported opt-out clause after three seasons.

The Boston Globe first reported the agreement on Tuesday afternoon, setting off a potential feeding frenzy leading up to next week’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs continue to be linked to the next tier of free-agent pitchers – John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake – with Zack Greinke expected to choose between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.

With a lineup anchored by young hitters, the Cubs also keep being mentioned as a potential match for the rebuilding Atlanta Braves and their stash of young pitchers.

While there are still big-picture questions about the franchise’s short-term financial flexibility and when baseball operations will have a big-market payroll, there is no denying the fact that the Cubs are built to win now and ready to compete for a World Series title.

Start with a rotation fronted by Jake Arrieta, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, and Lester, a two-time World Series champion, and there will be sky-high expectations when pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Arizona, in February.  

Coming off a 97-win season that saw a talented young core grow up and win two playoff rounds, the Cubs aren’t building an entire offseason around one player, the way they once did with Masahiro Tanaka.  

When the New York Yankees blew them away and won the bidding war for the star Japanese pitcher in January 2014, the Cubs rolled over the savings and used it to help finance the Lester megadeal, the richest contract in franchise history.  

[MORE: Another big free agent splash coming for Cubs?]

The Cubs never would have gotten their shot at Lester if Boston’s ownership group hadn’t made its homegrown ace such a lowball offer before Opening Day 2014.

That led to Lester getting traded to the Oakland A’s at the July 31 deadline, and an offer to return capped at roughly $135 million last December, the Red Sox clinging to philosophical ideas and warning against the history of 30-something pitchers.

Whatever. This has been a complete ideological shift after three last-place finishes wrapped around that 2013 World Series title at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox hired Dave Dombrowski to be their president of baseball operations in August, with general manager Ben Cherington stripped of his power and ultimately walking away from the job.

Dombrowski is an aggressive, decisive executive who first acquired Price from the Tampa Bay Rays at the 2014 deadline for the Detroit Tigers. One year later, Dombrowski flipped Price to the Toronto Blue Jays and tried to reboot Detroit’s aging, expensive core – only to get fired by Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.   

All these forces put a blockbuster deal in motion. So much for Price having reservations about playing in Boston or with Red Sox icon David Ortiz. The Cubs are an attractive destination now, but these contracts almost always come down to years and dollars.

[ALSO: Cubs bolster bullpen with addition of Brothers]

Price went to Vanderbilt University, developed into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft and won a Cy Young Award while pitching for Maddon’s Rays in 2012.

Price is 30 years old, 6-foot-6, left-handed and battle-tested in the American League East. His postseason numbers aren’t great (2-7, 5.12 ERA), but he’s regarded as an excellent teammate and clubhouse presence.

At least the Cubs won’t have to watch Price pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals, who reportedly finished second to Boston in the sweepstakes and could still become major players this offseason.

The bottom line is the Cubs don’t feel like they’re one player away, knowing it might be smarter to make smaller bets and diversify their roster to get ready for next October.  

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

With the MLB offseason about to kick off, we run down the boldest predictions for the Cubs winter from around the NBC Sports Chicago Cubs content team. Topics include where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, how much money they’ll get, what the Cardinals will do this winter, Cubs offseason trades and how Theo Epstein’s front office may add to the pitching staff.

 

One topic we could all agree on was David Ross' potential as Cubs bench coach if the incumbent Brandon Hyde ends up taking a job as manager for another team around the league.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here and check out all of our bold predictions below:

 

 

David Kaplan

 

—Anthony Rizzo and his new wife, Emily, will adopt Manny Machado, change his last name and see Manny Rizzo playing third base for the 2019 Cubs.

—Because of the Rizzo move, the Cubs will move Kris Bryant to a full-time outfielder.

—The Cubs will trade away Jose Quintana and sign Patrick Corbin.

—The Cubs will sign a pair of former Indians relievers for the back end of the bullpen in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

—The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber to the Royals for Whit Merrifield, who will start 155 games in the leadoff spot in the order.

—Joe Maddon will be a lot more consistent with the Cubs' lineup and batting order all season.

 

Kelly Crull

 

—Anthony and Emily Rizzo will receive more wedding gifts from Cubs fans than Kris and Jessica Bryan received.

—Anthony Rizzo will train this offseason so he will be able to sing — or play the piano — for the National Anthem at Wrigley in 2019.

—The Cubs will have no money left to remodel the media room at Wrigley Field.

 

Luke Stuckmeyer

 

—The Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley Field is going to be replaced by Kap's Kryo & Keto Korner.

—The Cubs will finally find a solution to the leadoff hitter issue.

 

Tony Andracki

 

—The Cubs sign Bryce Harper for less than $250 million. (He follows 23 people on Twitter)
—Manny Machado does not get a contract for more than $250 million, either.
—The Cardinals will sign Craig Kimbrel and either Machado or Josh Donaldson to play 3B. 

 

Rationale: St. Louis could really use the bat and closer and they have a sense of urgency in the division this winter we haven't seen from them in at least a decade. The Cubs and Brewers have clearly been better for two seasons now and look to have a better chance at contending than the Cardinals in 2019, as well. That can't be sitting well with the "Best Fans in Baseball." 

 

Jeff Nelson, producer

 

—The Cubs will trade 2 of the following players:  Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr.

—The Cardinals will sign Manny Machado to play third base.

—Because of construction delays, the visitors’ clubhouse will not be ready for the home opener, forcing the Pirates to dress at their hotel and come to the ballpark in full uniform.

Mike Piff, social media manager

—Cubs sign Nick Markakis.
—Cubs sign Tyson Ross.

Eric Strobel, producer

—The Cubs 2019 saves leader is not currently on the roster.

Rationale: We saw what happened to the bullpen in Brandon Morrow's absence; it got the job done by and large, but was not longer truly feared. Deep 'pens are the norm in October now with lockdown relievers being counted on more and more. The front office knows they can't truly entrust that kind of workload to Morrow with his injury history - Theo admitted as much in his end-of-season press conference. While they probably will not make a big splash, a huge focus of the offseason will be to surround Morrow/Strop/Edwards/etc. with as many talented arms as possible. The Cubs could very well enter next season without a designated closer, but if they do, it will not be Brandon Morrow.

Scott Changnon, multi-platform producer

—The Cubs will sign Bryce Harper.

Rationale: "I dunno, maybe."

Nate Poppen, producer

—Cubs sign Andrew McCutchen, plug him into CF and make Almora a 4th OF (or expendable)
—Bryce Harper signs with Yankees.
—Manny Machado signs with Angels.

Matt Buckman, producer

Non-roster prediction: The Cubs will welcome Sammy Sosa back to Wrigley Field. Sammy turns 50 this winter, and fueled by our wonderful documentary on 1998, the Cubs will finally mend their broken bond with Sammy and bring him back to Wrigley.

Roster prediction: The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber for a leadoff hitter. Joe has had to get very creative with the top of his order since Dexter Fowler left. Though the front office has downplayed the importance of a lead-off hitter the last two off-seasons, they will look to add one for 2019 so that Joe doesn’t have to be so creative. They won’t have a place to play Schwarber after they sign Harper so they will swap his power for a new “you go, we go” guy. Look at KC or TB as AL teams that need to add power and also have guys who could potentially lead off for the Cubs. Mallex Smith (TB) or Whit Merrifield (KC) would be interesting options.

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No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.