Cubs

Cubs sold on Edwin Jackson as a building block

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Cubs sold on Edwin Jackson as a building block

Cubs executives have used parallel tracks as a talking point so often that it began to lose meaning.

But on the same day team president Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts made a presentation to Anibal Sanchez at a Miami restaurant, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum were meeting with Edwin Jackson in Newport Beach, Calif.

It wasnt completely by design, though both players will be 29 years old on Opening Day and could help the Cubs win now and win later. Thats just how everyones schedules happened to fall into place last month.

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Zack Greinke, the top pitcher on the board, kept others waiting and didnt sign his six-year, 147 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers until after the winter meetings. Jacksons getting married on Saturday and had been busy with wedding preparation. Theres also the natural momentum for free agents who want to be settled before Christmas. Hoyer admitted that the Cubs probably wouldnt have signed both Jackson and Sanchez.

After Jackson buttoned up a white, pinstripe No. 36 jersey during Wednesdays news conference inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse, Hoyer laughed and said: We did a better job hiding.

Jackson heard the recruiting pitch from Hoyer and Sveum on Dec. 13 inside The Legacy Agencys Orange County offices. It didnt bother Jackson when word leaked out that the Cubs were making a strong push to sign Sanchez, and he has to understand that this is a business after being traded six times and pitching for seven teams across the past eight seasons.

I figured if they were taking the time to fly out and talk to me regardless of what happened they definitely had a strong interest, Jackson said. The only thing I could control was that conversation we were having at the time. Thats all I was worried about.

A national writer incorrectly tweeted that the Cubs had reached an agreement with Sanchez, though it certainly forced the Detroit Tigers to pay attention. The Cubs knew it was a long shot and set their limit at five years and 77.5 million. They werent surprised when the Tigers stepped up with a five-year, 80 million offer and a chance to win a World Series ring in 2013.

Jackson didnt want to get into why he left super-agent Scott Boras last year, only saying there were no hard feelings. But this must have been what he was looking for when he chose Greg Genske as his new representative.

The Cubs were attracted to Jacksons age and durability. He has made at least 31 starts in each of the last six seasons. Hes thrown 180-plus innings and notched double digits in wins in each of the past five seasons.

Jackson and his fiance, Erika Zanders, loved the city after spending parts of two seasons with the White Sox (2010 and 2011). He was born in West Germany and used to moving around because his father, Edwin Sr., is a retired U.S. Army Sergeant First Class. He bought into the rebuilding plans and agreed to a four-year, 52 million deal on Dec. 20, one week after the meeting in Newport Beach.

From what I was told, Dale was Dale, Jackson said. He definitely had an influence on my fiance. She knows a little about baseball, but shes learning. She was like: I like him, even though he didnt say much. We had a good aura with those guys and it was a pretty good feeling walking out of the room.

The Cubs did background checks with former coaches and ex-teammates, including Matt Garza, who played with Jackson on the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that made a shocking run to the World Series.

MORE Garza helped lure Jackson to Chicago

We did all the digging we could do, Hoyer said. The reasons for him moving around certainly werent (because) he wasnt a good teammate or didnt work hard. It was kind of more contractual.

As Jackson said with a smile: Everyone likes me.

Jackson might not be slamming shaving cream pies into teammates faces during postgame interviews. But Hoyer got a scouting report on someone who can get loud and bring energy: No ones quite Matt Garza on the bench, but I guess he does a close imitation.

Hoyer said Garzas been making good progress as he begins throwing again and continues to recover from the stress reaction in his right elbow. If Garza and Scott Baker are healthy, and Jeff Samardzija takes another next step, the Cubs should have an interesting rotation, especially with Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva, Travis Wood and Arodys Vizcaino creating depth.

Convinced Jackson would be a good clubhouse guy, and a big part of a team that could truly contend in 2015, the Cubs made their biggest investment in a free agent since Epstein and Hoyer came to the North Side.

You cant really go out and just like snap your fingers: OK, now were ready. Now were going to spend money, Hoyer said. You have to look at it as a gradual process with each offseason. Looking at the free-agent markets going forward for starting pitching, it was really attractive. There (arent) many (proven) guys that come out (at) 29 years old.

After helping the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series in 2011, Jackson signed a one-year, 11 million pillow contract with a Washington Nationals team that would win 98 games last season. Those experiences made the Cubs comfortable with the commitment.

We have no concerns whatsoever about him living up to the contract, Hoyer said. Hes seen and hes been part of building efforts that worked out very well. We feel like he can do the exact same thing here. His best years are ahead of him.

Jackson didnt get a no-trade clause, per club policy, but that doesnt mean hes an asset to be flipped. The Cubs view him as a building block, an investment that might even outperform Sanchez.

Its an organization that has upside, Jackson said. Its just a matter of getting the right pieces in order and having everyone play on the same page. Its definitely a team that can go out and win a lot of ballgames, regardless of what anyone says.

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.

If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.

Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:

NUTS: Home cooked?

The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.

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Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.

“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.

“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”

What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.

“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”

BOLTS: Taking the fifth

All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.

He hadn’t started anywhere in a month — and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).

No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”

He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.

“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen — just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”

CHATTER: The mask at hand

“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”

—Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.

“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”

—Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.

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2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

Imagine it’s late September. The Cubs have already hosted the White Sox for three unforgettable games at Wrigley Field — fans packed the rooftops (at 25 percent capacity) around the ballpark. Now, it’s time to head to the South Side for the final series of the season, rife with playoff implications.

If the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t derail the 2020 MLB season, that scene very well could become a reality.

The Cubs regular season schedule, which MLB released Monday, features six Crosstown Classic games. The first of two series between the Chicago teams runs Aug. 21-23 at Wrigley Field. The second is penciled in for Sept. 25-27 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Both three-game series include Friday and Saturday evening games, and end with a Sunday afternoon game.

The Crosstown rivalry consumes 1/10 of the Cubs schedule this shortened season.

“It’s exciting, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said.

And quite convenient. That’s the point of a regionally-based schedule, which has the Cubs facing only NL Central and AL Central teams. While trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, that convenience becomes especially important.

“We get to sleep in our own beds at night,” Ross said of the Crosstown Classic. “We can set up things where if we need to we can work out here and drive over like you would in an Arizona spring training. There’s a lot of options that we have for us that we can do with an in-town team. I feel like that’s definitely a luxury.”

Some of those same advantages apply to the Cubs’ games at Milwaukee as well. As is the case with all their division rivals, the Cubs are scheduled to play the Brewers 10 times, including opening day at Wrigley Field on July 24.

As for their mid-September series at Milwaukee: “Players have the ability to drive up day of the game, drive back afterwards or get a car back,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of freedom and comfort in sleeping in your own bed, especially in the scenarios we’re in this year.”

The Cubs’ setup with the White Sox is mirrored over in Missouri between the Cardinals and Royals; they will also play each other six times. The Cubs will play three or four games against each of the four other teams in the AL Central. The White Sox are expected to be a stauncher opponent than the Royals, automatically giving the Cubs a tougher route through their interleague schedule.

But that’s a small price to pay for six rivalry games in Chicago.