Cubs

Cubs keep hunting with Keppinger off the board

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Cubs keep hunting with Keppinger off the board

NASHVILLE, Tenn. The Cubs have been locked inside their suite here at the Opryland Hotel. They arent going to do anything for show or on someone elses timeline.

As general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday: I dont think you have to walk out of here with deer antlers.

This was the day after manager Dale Sveum shrugged off his Dick Cheney Moment quail hunting with Robin Yount in Arizona and hours after the Cubs lost out on Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez. Even if neither player was a huge trophy, theyre still looking for a third baseman.

Keppinger has bounced around six teams the past nine years and is recovering from a broken right fibula after falling down the stairs at his house. The Cubs still had confidence that he would be ready to go by spring training. He wound up taking a three-year, 12 million offer from the White Sox.

Chavez who was more of a secondary target grabbed a one-year, 3 million deal from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Its unclear where the Cubs will go from here. Kevin Youkilis isnt a fit. Yunel Escobar didnt want to move from shortstop to third base. There doesnt appear to be interest in Casey McGehee or Yuniesky Betancourt.

Its a super-charged market in a lot of different areas, Hoyer said. Were still on the lookout. We have a number of irons still in the fire when it comes to third base and were confident well land someone we feel good about. But its certainly a position of scarcity. Theres no question.

The Cubs flew into Nashville, Tenn., having already signed two starting pitchers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman and a potential closer in Kyuji Fujikawa, who could be introduced later this week. They have offers out to other free agents and are waiting for answers. Nate Schierholtz agreed to a one-year deal on Wednesday night and looks like your new rightfielder.

The Cubs have roughly 60 million committed to 10 players for next season, plus arbitration figures for Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, which still leaves a lot of open space in the budget.

Were certainly going to spend all the money we have to spend, Hoyer said. If we cant find wise ways to spend money, well hold it, and find wise ways in the next 12 months. I thought the Dodgers were a really good example of that in some ways. They had their offseason in August. Were not going to go on a binge just because we have money to spend.

The Cubs remain in contact with Ian Stewart, who was non-tendered last week and is exploring his options as a free agent. The third baseman fell off the radar after undergoing wrist surgery last summer and stayed away from the team while doing his rehab. That shouldnt be an issue now.

We feel like we have a good relationship with him at this point, Hoyer said. He went through a tough time with his wrist and I can understand that. We have no issues with how he comported himself.

Theres been a lot of talk this week about recruiting free agents to Chicago, whether or not they want to be part of rebuilding a 101-loss team. The city, the stadium, the restaurants, the nightlife thats all nice. But the bottom line is almost always years and dollars.

You try to be patient, Hoyer said. Its not a sexy thing to talk about being patient but Ill feel a lot better about that than I will about making a big splash on someone (youre not sure) about. Youre probably going to regret that move more than you will keeping your powder dry a little bit and maybe finding a more prudent way to spend it.

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

It was never going to be perfect.

But Major League Baseball’s coronavirus testing system needs to be good enough.

That may not seem like an especially high bar to set.

But so far it has been a difficult one for baseball to clear.

In fact, the latest example of baseball's biggest challenge in pulling off a 60-game season played out at Wrigley Field on Monday. That's when the team that by all indications has done the best job of establishing and following safe practices had its manager and five other “Tier 1” members of the organization sit out activities “out of an abundance of caution” because their latest COVID-19 tests, from Saturday, remained “pending.”

Tier 1, by the way, comprises the 80-something members of the organization with the highest access, including players and coaches.

The results had been analyzed. But as pitching coach Tommy Hottovy explained, they appeared to be in a batch of samples that included at least one positive test, the batch involving multiple teams. So they were retested. Five of those retested samples, including manager David Ross’, were negative, the team said late Monday, with the sixth considered “compromised” and another test done.

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The sixth did not belong to a player.

Give the Cubs another gold star for getting through yet another round of tests — and yet another glitch in that process — without having a player test positive.

But give MLB another kick in the ass. The testing issues don’t seem to be as bad as they were throughout the league that first holiday weekend of processing. But it hasn’t fixed this thing yet, either.

Whether it’s a lab-capacity issue, a quality issue or a shipping issue, it’s not even close to good enough.

Not for 30 teams barely a week from leaving their individual training-site bubbles to start playing each other for two months. Not when more than one-third of those teams play in locales considered hot spots for the pandemic. Not in the world’s most infected country.

“We do feel comfortable in this bubble that we’ve kind of created here,” said Hottovy, who was hit hard by the virus for a month before camp started. “When the season starts though and we start traveling and we start putting ourselves in some different circumstances, we just don’t know what to expect with that.

“We’re still taking this day-to-day for sure.”

Players across baseball, including Cubs star Kris Bryant, said they were upset and surprised at how unprepared MLB’s testing system appeared to be when camps opened. Two weeks of testing later, and just enough issues persist to make the league’s entire 2020 undertaking look more tenuous than ever.

The season starts July 23. That’s not much time to get it “good enough” — never mind to get it right. But, again, we're not asking for perfection.

The league protocols require testing thousands of players and other team personnel every other day through the end of the season.

Imagine sitting a manager and three or four players from a single team on a game day because of “pending” or “compromised” test results. Imagine that happening two or three times a week to various teams. Or worse — imagine a given team doesn’t exercise “an abundance of caution” and puts the players or staff in question on the field or in the dugout and clubhouse anyway.

“The only concern that I have right now is how long the test will take to get the results back,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said on Thursday. “Other than that, I don’t think I am at risk inside of the ballpark because the Cubs have been doing the best they can to keep us safe in here."

“I don’t have any concerns about my teammates, because I trust them. I know we all are doing our best to keep [each other] safe, and that way we can have a season this year.”

Contreras expressed tolerance with the system so far and was reluctant to point a finger at MLB or anyone else.

“But how can that get better?” he said. “I have no answer for that.”

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is as much as it matters that an answer is found quickly.

Players, staff and their families already have taken on the daily stress and anxiety of this health risk and the every-other-day process of holding your breath until the next result comes in.

“You get that test day coming up when you might get results, and it’s a little bit of that unknown, a little bit of anxiety of, ‘Have I done everything right?’ “ Ross said. “You start running back the day since you’ve been tested and what you’ve done, where you’ve gone, who you’ve been in contact with, just in case something bad may come back on your test. It’s real.”

Thirteen players, including Giants star Buster Posey, already have declined to play this season, all but one without a pre-existing condition that would qualify as “high risk” under the agreement between players and management.

Angels superstar Mike Trout heads a list of several more who have talked openly about opting out at some point, depending on how things look as we get closer to games.

That includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish, who said Sunday, “I still have concerns” and that he has not ruled out heading home if he doesn’t feel it’s safe anymore for him or his family to keep playing.

Maybe Trout, Darvish, Posey and the rest of those players have the right idea.

In fact, maybe we’d all be better off if baseball rededicated its testing capacity to a general public that suddenly is facing shortages again in a growing number of hot spots.

But if baseball is going to stick to its plan and try to pull off this season, then it needs to get this right. Right now.

Nobody’s expecting anything great at this point. Maybe not even especially good. But good enough? In the next week or so?

Would that be too much to ask?

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How Cubs' Jon Lester just got 126 innings closer to returning to Chicago in 2021

How Cubs' Jon Lester just got 126 innings closer to returning to Chicago in 2021

One more year of Jon Lester?

A few months ago that looked uncertain at best — figuring to come down to a $25 million decision for the Cubs to mull at the end of this season (or a $15 million decision, given the $10 million buyout on the option clause).

But the vesting part of Lester’s hefty seventh-year option on his original six-year, $155 million contract suddenly looks tantalizingly within reach for the longtime ace.

Major League Baseball and the union have finalized an agreement on multiple details for calculating contracts in 2020, including vesting contract options, according to documents obtained by NBC Sports Chicago.

Performance thresholds for vesting options will be prorated for the 60-game season and rounded up to the next out. 

So that 200-inning threshold Lester needed to reach to assure the additional $25 million year — a threshold he hasn’t reached since 2016, when he was 32?

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In a season only 37.04 percent as long as normal, that means 74 1/3 innings earn the extra year.

It’s still roughly the same average of innings for 12 projected starts (6.17) this year as it would have been for 32 (6.25) in a full season.

But that’s a lot fewer potential aches, pains and injuries to navigate for two months compared to six months — and a stretch that doesn’t include the bone-chill cold of April and weather volatility of May.

Lester, who ranks eighth on the all-time list of postseason innings pitched, said when spring training opened in February he “obviously” wanted to finish his career as a Cub.

“Hopefully, I have a good year, and it’s null and void, and we don’t have to talk about it,” Lester said then of trying to vest the option.

“I signed here hoping that the option was kind of going to take care of itself and [I’d] finish out the seventh year. After that, I can’t predict tomorrow, let alone what’s going to happen two years down the road.”

Lester pitched in his first intrasquad game of the restarted training period on Sunday and looked strong enough to get sent out to face two more batters after finishing his scheduled two innings — retiring seven of nine, with one reaching on an error and another on a 15-foot tapper in front of the plate.

“He was commanding all of his pitches,” catcher Willson Contreras said. “From what I saw, he’s looking in good shape.”

Monday's agreement between MLB and the union also included details on calculating awards bonuses, roster bonuses and contract escalators. And unlike the normal injured list, players won't lose "active time" on the roster while on the COVID-19 IL.

The Athletic was first to report Monday's agreement.

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