Cubs still shaping offseason plans as potential lockout looms

Cubs still shaping offseason plans as potential lockout looms

After a World Series that beat the NFL’s “Sunday Night Football” in head-to-head TV ratings and saw more than 40 million people tune in for Game 7, Major League Baseball can’t be seriously thinking about ending 20-plus years of labor peace.

One Cubs player still processing those 10 crazy innings against the Cleveland Indians had the same thought during the postgame celebration inside Progressive Field’s visiting clubhouse: “Hell, if we can’t get our CBA done after this year, I mean, we’re (expletive).”

Whether it’s textbook posturing in collective bargaining — or signs of deeper mistrust between management and the players’ union — it doesn’t sound quite as automatic anymore. Three weeks after the Cubs established themselves as the game’s next potential superpower, Fox Sports broke the news that the owners are considering a lockout if the two sides don’t settle on a new agreement before the current deal expires on Dec. 1.

“I have no comment on that stuff,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said Tuesday night.

Ricketts held the championship trophy and walked the red carpet outside the Civic Opera House before the premiere of MLB’s “The 2016 World Series,” a documentary narrated by movie star/Cubs fan Vince Vaughn. Commissioner Rob Manfred had already gathered with owners in downtown Chicago last week during their quarterly meetings, expressing optimism to reporters at a Drake Hotel press conference.

Ricketts — whose family will be remembered for ending the 108-year drought — serves on MLB’s executive council. The maze of reported issues includes: the implementation of an international draft; restructuring the qualifying-offer system and draft-pick compensation; and how to impose the luxury tax.

While all those concerns shouldn’t ground an industry that’s approaching the $10 billion stratosphere, it’s probably slowed down some of the offseason action.

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By playing into early November, the Cubs didn’t exactly get a head start on all their winter planning. But Theo Epstein’s baseball-operations group already jumped the market, working with Ricketts and the franchise’s business side to essentially combine two offseasons into one, spending almost $290 million to capitalize on the momentum the 2015 team created and not save up for this winter’s extremely weak class of free agents.

Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer went into the GM meetings two weeks ago waiting for a full accounting of what this World Series run might mean for the 2017 payroll. But both Cubs executives confirmed that the general framework built last offseason would remain the same after splurging on World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward and Big Boy Game pitcher John Lackey.

“I’ll leave it up to those guys,” Ricketts said when asked if the Cubs would do something big again this winter or play it more conservatively. “I don’t think they know yet. They have their strategy, but it’s a (matter of timing) and whatever opportunities exist. We’ll see.”

For years, the Cubs have been exploring trades for an established top-of-the-rotation starter — while allowing Jake Arrieta to blossom into a Cy Young Award winner and helping Kyle Hendricks develop into the majors’ ERA leader. Those prices aren’t going to drop in this pitching-starved environment, and the Cubs genuinely believe lefty Mike Montgomery could become their next success story.

The Cubs got what they wanted out of the Aroldis Chapman deal and don’t sound ready or eager to completely reset the market for closers, trusting their ability to identify diamonds in the rough and reshape the bullpen.

Assuming Dexter Fowler moves on and cashes in as a free agent — that’s what Epstein’s front office planned for last offseason until an extraordinary set of circumstances led to his surprising return in spring training — the Cubs could use a veteran outfielder who can play center/certain matchups, help ease Albert Almora Jr. into the job and be a good clubhouse influence.

But manager Joe Maddon could write out a 2017 Opening Day lineup on his iPad Pro tomorrow and feel good about all the names. Whatever happens at the bargaining table, the Cubs will still be the reigning World Series champs.

“It means so much to so many people,” Ricketts said. “I’m just so happy that every fan has a chance to really enjoy this. We’re just going to have a great offseason and hopefully get a few more of these.”

Joe Maddon goes after Sean Doolittle's delivery: ‘That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do’

Joe Maddon goes after Sean Doolittle's delivery: ‘That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do’

The Cubs finished Saturday's loss at the Nationals under protest after Joe Maddon saw what he believed to be an inconsistency in how illegal pitches are being called.

Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle came in to close the game out in the ninth with the Nats up 5-2. After one pitch, Maddon went to the umpires to complain. This dragged on throughout the inning.

Maddon didn't like that Doolittle's delivery involved him pausing and potentially even touching the ground in the middle of his wind up before coming home with the pitch. To Maddon, it was clearly an illegal pitch and he was fired up because that's something Carl Edwards Jr. got called for earlier in the season. By comparison, Edwards' version may be more deliberate, but Maddon thinks it is the same thing.

"That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do," Maddon said postgame in a video posted by ESPN's Jesse Rogers. "There's no judgment. If he taps the ground, it's an illegal pitch, period. There's nothing to judge. You can judge whether he did or not. It's obvious that he did, or if you can't tell that then there's something absolutely wrong."

Maddon and the Cubs protested the game as a result. If they win the protest, the game would be restarted with one out in the ninth, when Maddon notified the umpires of the protest.

Doolittle was less than amused by Maddon's protest.

"I have no qualms against Doolittle," Maddon said. "He's great, but they took it away from our guy so for me to sit in the dugout and permit that to happen while they stripped us of that ability earlier this year with Carl, how could I do that? You can't do that. I got to say something."

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Jon Lester's hot streak comes to an end at Nationals


Jon Lester's hot streak comes to an end at Nationals

Jon Lester was on a heck of a run since coming off the IL in late April, but it came to a screeching halt on Saturday.

Lester had by far his worst start of the season at the Nationals in a 5-2 Cubs loss. He labored through his start, giving up five runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Lester gave up 10 hits, which matches the most he has given up since joining the Cubs. He gave up a fair number of hits in his last two starts, but was able to avoid trouble on the scoreboard. Lester gave up nine hits in 6 2/3 innings against the Brewers last time out, but only gave up an unearned run. On May 7, Lester gave up eight hits to the Marlins, but only allowed two unearned runs in six innings of work.

This time, Lester couldn’t stay out of trouble. Brian Dozier got the Nats on the board with a solo shot in the second and then the wheels came off in the third.

To open the third inning Lester gave up six straight hits. The Nats got three runs that inning and then added another in the fifth, when Lester departed the game.

Since Lester came off the IL on April 25, he had allowed just one earned run (four runs in total) in 24 2/3 innings. During that stretch, he had 25 strikeouts against just two walks. His ERA fell to 1.16, which would have led all of baseball if he had enough innings to qualify. It’s at 2.09 after Saturday’s loss.

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