Cubs in the market for pitching, but Dempsters a long shot


Cubs in the market for pitching, but Dempsters a long shot

The Cubs have already targeted free agents and contacted their representatives to express interest. Jed Hoyer believes they will have spoken with executives from every other team before general managers check into an Indian Wells, Calif., resort for their meetings next week. They are getting ready for some action.

The Cubs are in the market for at least two starting pitchers they can plug into their 2013 Opening Day rotation, and they havent yet ruled out Ryan Dempster, who still looks like a long shot to return to the North Side.

I wouldnt over-characterize it and have it be the lead story, Hoyer said Thursday. But listen, he pitched well here for a long time. People in Chicago really respect what hes done here, and they should. Obviously, theres mutual respect there.

The two sides have made preliminary contact and apparently dont have bitter feelings about how it all ended. After a potential deal with the Atlanta Braves collapsed, Dempster waived his no-trade rights minutes before the July 31 deadline and approved a deal to the Texas Rangers.

Not at all, Hoyer said. That was an interesting week in the history of the Cubs and the life of Ryan Dempster, for sure. But at the same time, theres no hard feelings at all. That wouldnt preclude us from bringing him back at all.

There are many other reasons why Dempster probably wont be coming back. He will turn 36 next year and made 14 million last season, when he had his heart set on the Los Angeles Dodgers at the deadline. We probably dont need to start another Dempster Watch.

The Cubs are believed to have an interest in Shaun Marcum, whos coming off an injury-plagued season with the Milwaukee Brewers. But he proved himself before pitching in the brutal American League East and knows the coaching staff here.

Hoyer wouldnt comment on Dan Haren as the Los Angeles Angels explore potential trades other than to say it is an alternative avenue for teams looking for a starter. The Angels have until Friday to decide on a 15.5 million option (with a 3.5 million buyout) on the 32-year-old pitcher.

Philosophically, the Cubs arent opposed to a rental pitcher. They flipped Paul Maholm near the deadline for Arodys Vizcaino, a potential future rotation piece who was one of the top prospects in Atlantas system before Tommy John surgery. As they did with Maholm last winter, they can offer opportunity to a free agent looking to revive his career.

Hoyer said its unlikely the Cubs would wind up settling at four years on a contract this winter. The front office may value a player at those terms, but if thats the case, he may find a more desperate team to make a bigger commitment and drive the price higher.

That pretty much eliminates the top tier of free agents in whats already regarded as a weak class. Anibal Sanchez whos made 30-plus starts in each of the past three seasons and will be only 29 next year probably pushed himself toward the front with a strong playoff performance for the Detroit Tigers.

Were not against long-term deals, Hoyer said. Were not opposed to spending a lot on a player. Its just given where we are, we want to make sure that when we have all our young talent at the major-league level (and) were really ready to go on what we think is going to be an extended run, we dont want to have a bunch of guys that are past-prime that we signed in the past sort of hindering what we want to do.

Were not against committing to a player. We committed a lot of years to Starlin Castro (and) Jorge Soler. We just want to be smart with contract length because so many times you see these players (at) 32, 33 years old and (teams) buying ages 35 and 36.

If youre about to win a title or youre one or two players away at those first couple years of that deal that makes a lot of sense. But if you think your window might be more like those back two years, it does give you a little bit of pause.

The Cubs believe Jeff Samardzija can evolve into a No. 1 starter for October. Theyre optimistic Matt Garza whose right elbow will be examined again later this month will be ready to go by spring training. Theyll also be searching for a third baseman and an outfielder, but whether this winter is a success or a failure will depend on what else they do with the pitching.

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Well, it's finally happening, or at least it's going to happen. The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported during the MLB All-Star game that the Baltimore Orioles had agreed to officially move their franchise player Manny Machado. Neither team has confirmed anything at this time, but the deal has reportedly been as close to a done deal for the last day or so, and it would seem Machado is destined for finish his 2018 campaign in Hollywood. 

Of course, with this addition, the reigning National League champions look primed for another deep postseason run. Though, the club is clinging to a half-game lead in the NL West, with Machado in tow the Dodgers are right with the Cubs and Brewers as the elite squads in the National League. It could be argued the Dodgers didn't necessarily 'need' Machado, with an offense that was already in the top 10 in runs scored, but Machado might be the perfect addition for the Dodgers. 

After losing their young star shortstop Corey Seager for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers were in need of a more permanent solution at shortstop. And despite Machado's defensive metrics showing a steep decline in his glove at shortstop, the Dodgers will welcome his robust slash line of .315/.387/.575 while ignoring any shortcomings on defense. 

But what this means for the Cubs, who are only two games off the 2016 World Series club pace, is the path to another championship will likely require another run-in with the Dodgers. The club's biggest threat has been at this point the Brewers, but it's not hard to envision the Dodgers distancing themselves as the clear favorites in the National League with Machado in the heart of the order.

The good news for the Chicago is at least Machado didn't end up in Milwaukee, but that also could mean the Brewers make a more concerted effort to acquire pitching before the July 30th deadline. The Cubs will also see the return of Yu Darvish, who despite only managing to win one game this season in a Cubs uniform, will be a massive upgrade over the scuffling Tyler Chatwood. If the Cubs pitching can start producing like many expected them to before the start of 2018, and guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start to hit alongside All-Stars Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs separating themselves from the pack in the 2nd half of season. 

The Dodgers are no strangers to blockbuster deadline deals, acquiring Yu Darvish in a similar three-month rental situation, but the Cubs getting a bat like Rizzo right and an arm like Darvish healthy would be better than any deal Theo Epstein could make to improve this team. And if it's not enough, the Cubs have a solid track record of grabbing former Dodger rentals in the off-season. The push for the playoffs starts Thursday for the north-siders.