Cubs

Cubs send message in signing Edwin Jackson

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Cubs send message in signing Edwin Jackson

We interrupt all the drama surrounding the Bears at Halas Hall and Jabari Parkers episode of The Decision.
The Cubs have just sent a message to the citys skeptical press corps and fan base: Theyre willing to spend big on free agents again.
It just had to be the right player. Remaking their rotation, the Cubs signed Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva on Thursday, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. Both deals are pending physicals, and neither contains a no-trade clause, per club policy.
In essence, Jackson represents the first big-time free agent to sign up for team president Theo Epsteins rebuilding project. But given the way the price of pitching has skyrocketed, the Cubs are no doubt hoping that Jacksons four-year, 52 million deal looks reasonable as more television money pours into the game.
This comes one week after Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts met with Anibal Sanchez and his people in Miami before the Detroit Tigers finally realized the Cubs were actually serious and stepped up with a five-year, 80 million offer.
The Cubs werent crushed when they found out that Sanchez had decided to chase a World Series ring in Detroit. Its not unreasonable to think that Jackson who turned 29 in September could wind up being a better investment.
The career numbers arent off the charts (70-71 with a 4.40 ERA), but Jackson did develop into an All-Star with the Tigers in 2009 before earning a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011.
One game might sum up Jacksons mix of potential, strength and inconsistency: He managed to throw a no-hitter for the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 25, 2010 inside Tropicana Field, despite walking the Tampa Bay Rays eight times. He struck out six and pushed himself to 149 pitches.
A few weeks later, Arizona traded Jackson to the White Sox in the Daniel Hudson deal, so he knows the city, and how to adjust to a new environment.
Jacksons father, Edwin Sr., retired as a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army. The son was born in West Germany and went to high school in Columbus, Ga. The Los Angeles Dodgers actually took him as an outfielder in the sixth round of the 2001 draft before fully realizing whats in his right arm.
The Cubs appear to be betting that staying in one place will help, that manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio can get Jackson to pitch to a game plan and tap into all that potential.
This is a power arm. Only seven pitchers in the majors averaged a higher velocity with their fastball than Jackson (93.5 mph) last season, according to the online database at Fangraphs: David Price; Jeff Samardzija; Matt Moore; Justin Verlander; Max Scherzer; Jordan Zimmerman; and Edinson Volquez.
People whove been around Jackson say hes a good clubhouse presence, suggesting that being traded six times doesnt mean hes a problem child. Its more that the stuff is so intriguing, and pitchers who can throw 200 innings dont come cheap.
The Cubs are willing to pay that price. Jackson accepted a one-year, 11 million pillow contract from the Washington Nationals last winter and parted ways with super-agent Scott Boras during the middle of a season in which he went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA for a 98-win team.
The last time Jackson didnt make at least 31 starts was 2006. This is a sturdy piece to slide into the rotation alongside Samardzija.
The Cubs are hoping for full recoveries from Matt Garza (elbow) and Scott Baker (Tommy John surgery) by April. Arodys Vizcaino will take it slow in his Tommy John rehab, with projections putting him in the big leagues sometime in 2013. But they wont have to rush anyone with the depth provided by Villanueva, Scott Feldman and Travis Wood.
Sources indicated Villanueva has agreed to a two-year, 10 million contract. The 29-year-old right-hander has been a swingman with the Toronto Blue Jays and Milwaukee Brewers (33-35, 4.26 ERA). There were signs that the Cubs could just continue making those kinds of modest moves.
In what seemed to be turning into a running joke on Twitter, Garza had been burned welcoming Dan Haren and getting his hopes up for Sanchez when he thought those pitchers were coming to the North Side.
So Garza must have enjoyed posting this message on Thursday for his former teammate in Tampa Bay: Like I said last night, EJax is my boy! I heard it from a cubs horse last night!! That horse being EJax! Nice to have another in the stable!
This doesnt completely accelerate Epsteins timetable. The Sanchez deal was outlined with 2015 in mind. Jackson is still young enough that he can be a factor when the Cubs project theyll really start being contenders. But this at least makes the next two bridge years more interesting.
On a day where Simeons high school star announced hes going to Duke University, and it continued to be the Bears against the world, the Cubs made you pay attention.

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Remember that one time Sammy Sosa threw out his back while sneezing? Well, Brandon Morrow may have topped that on the Cubs all-time list of wacky injuries.

The 33-year-old closer was placed on the 10-day disabled list prior to Wednesday's game after hurting his back while taking his pants off upon returning from the team's road trip to St. Louis. It's being labeled as "lower back tightness."

"It's frustrating any time you can't get out there, and especially when you can't go because of something stupid like taking your pants off," Morrow told reporters on Tuesday.

And that's put the Cubs pitching staff in a tough spot for the rest of the week, given Wednesday's series finale against the Dodgers is the third game in a little more than 24 hours for the Cubs.

"I don't want to downplay anything," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Obviously he had back spams, he had the same thing in spring training. We'll start treating it the same way we did in spring training; I think he was out about a week to 10 days. If things go as we hope, I think it'd be the kind of thing where he'd probably be able to be throwing before the 10 days is up.

"But we felt like it wasn't going to be something where he was ready this weekend and if he's not going to be ready all weekend, we can already backdate it three days so it made sense to put him on the DL."

Morrow is tied for fifth in the National League with 16 saves and owns a 1.59 ERA is 26 relief appearances this season. Justin Hancock, who served as the 26th man during Tuesday's doubleheader, stayed with the team as a result.

Pants, seat of the pants and sim games: The current state of Cubs pitching

Pants, seat of the pants and sim games: The current state of Cubs pitching

Dominating.

That's how a smiling Theo Epstein described Yu Darvish's simulated game at Wrigley Field Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, in the bowels of the "Friendly Confines," the Cubs' clubhouse was getting used to the idea of closer Brandon Morrow on the disabled list.

Such is life for the current state of affairs for the Cubs pitching staff with their two biggest additions from the winter now on the shelf at the same time.

Darvish threw roughly 50 pitches in his sim game against hitters Ian Happ and Tommy La Stella. He worked in all his pitches and liked the way his fastball and slider felt, but needs to refine his curveball and splitter with more work.

"I feel good," Darvish said through a translator. "There was some anxiety beforehand, but I think it turned out to be better than I expected."

Darvish said the anxiety stemmed mostly from his past elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in 2014.

"Definitly the elbow aspect," Darvish said. "The anxiety came from whether I could throw at 100 percent condition."

This is the second time Darvish has mentioned his past elbow injury is in the back of his mind as he's worked through the current triceps issue. He said the same thing last week in Milwaukee after his first bullpen session.

Remember, too, Darvish was concerned about the possibility of cramps in his arm in his Cubs debut in Miami in late March.

It appears as if he has some mental hurdles to work through with his history of elbow problems, but he hasn't reported pain in weeks now and the MRI showed no structural damage in late May.

The Cubs do not yet have a set plan for Darvish after this sim game and will evaluate how he feels Thursday. If the reports are all good, he could head out on a rehab assignment shortly.

Darvish said he would only need one rehab start before he'd be ready to rejoin the Cubs rotation.

Meanwhile, Morrow's back tightened up on him in the wee hours of Monday morning after the Cubs made the trip back from the night game in St. Louis. He hurt his back taking off his pants, he said, and was unavailable Monday and Tuesday before the Cubs put him on the disabled list Wednesday morning.

"It's just one of those freakish things," Maddon said. "People bend over and hurt their backs all the time."

The Cubs have been uber cautious with Morrow all year with his injury history and now that they're in the midst of a stretch of 14 games in 13 days thanks to Tuesday's doubleheader, can't afford to not have a fresh arm in the bullpen.

"We thought it would be wise to give him a couple days," Joe Maddon said. "It's like a back spasm, back tightness. We just can't go with one less pitcher right now coming off the doubleheader. 

"...It's for him, too. I don't want him to go out there and pitch coming off that right now. There's really no reason to rush it back. Prefer him getting 100 percent well, getting him back out there when it's right and then moving on from there."

In Morrow's absence, Maddon will play matchups with the closing options as he did in Game 1 Tuesday. Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson and Pedro Strop all have experience closing.

The Cubs also don't have an update yet on Carl Edwards Jr. as he works his way back from a shoulder injury. He's been throwing from flat ground and looking "outstanding," Maddon said, but the team doesn't have a finish line yet. Edwards would probably need a short rehab stint before returning, too.

Then there's Brian Duensing, who is currently on the bereavement list due to the passing of his grandfather. The Cubs expect to have their left-handed veteran back by Friday.

All told, the Cubs are without Morrow, Edwards, Duensing, Mike Montgomery (rotation) and Eddie Butler (DL - groin) from their Opening Day bullpen. Only Cishek, Strop and Wilson remain from the group.

In their stead are Luke Farrell, Justin Hancock, Randy Rosario, Rob Zastryzny and Anthony Bass — all 5 of which have been pretty successful during their time in Chicago.

As if there wasn't already enough complications with the Cubs pitching staff, here are three more:

—The weather in Cincinnati this weekend
—Tyler Chatwood's wife is about to have the couple's first child
—Monday's rain/light-out at Wrigley Field pushed Chatwood back a day, so he cannot start Saturday's game

Let's start with the weather. As of Wednesday afternoon, there was a 100 percent chance of rain all day in Cincinnati on Thursday, where the Cubs begin a four-game series. The forecast doesn't look much better for Friday, either.

Even if the Cubs are able to play every game as scheduled, who will start Saturday? It can't be any of the current rotation members given none would be on regular rest. 

Chatwood would be in line to start Sunday's series finale in Cincinnati, but that's only if his wife isn't given birth at the time.

So right now, the Cubs don't know who's going to start either game this weekend. They could call somebody up from the minor leagues or give the ball to Farrell, who is still stretched out enough to give them 4-5 innings or so.

"It's totally by ear," Maddon said. "This is absolutely seat of the pants. We have Farrell, of course. By not using Farrell [Thursday or Friday], he would be a consideration, no question. 

"But other than that, we got a baby on the way, we got all kinds of stuff going on, so we're just gonna have to play that by ear."

With the pitching shortage, it makes what Jon Lester (7 shutout innings Wednesday) and Mike Montgomery (6 innings in Game 2 Tuesday) even more important to the overall health of the unit, eating up innings at a desperate time.

The Cubs' next off-day won't come until July 2, barring any weather delays. So this stretch will be huge for how Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff/front office handles the pitching staff.

But hey, at least it's only June and not October.