Cubs

Cubs strengthen rotation with trade for Dan Haren at deadline

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Cubs strengthen rotation with trade for Dan Haren at deadline

MILWAUKEE — The Cubs filled a big hole in their rotation, acquiring crafty veteran pitcher Dan Haren from the Miami Marlins during the final hours before Friday’s trade deadline.

For essentially a two-month rental, the Cubs gave up two prospects from Double-A Tennessee — pitcher Ivan Pineyro and infielder Elliot Soto — without blowing up their farm system.

The Marlins also kicked in $500,000 to close the deal. Haren is owed about $3.6 million for the rest of this season, with the Cubs also responsible for up to around $1 million in performance bonuses.

Haren has gone 7-7 with a 3.42 ERA in 21 starts this season, taking advantage of Miami’s defense and the spacious dimensions at Marlins Park. His flyball rate — almost 50 percent this year — should be an issue when it’s hot and the wind’s blowing out at Wrigley Field.

[MORE: Cubs trade Junior Lake to Orioles for Tommy Hunter]

Still, the Cubs definitely needed someone to eat up innings and keep the team competitive during what looks like a push for the National League’s second wild card spot. Haren will likely make his first start in a Cubs uniform next week against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

Haren’s entertaining Twitter account — @ithrow88 — makes fun of his diminishing velocity, but he can still get by with his guts, experience and intelligence.

“His stuff isn’t what it once was — you can just look at his Twitter handle and figure that out,” said Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations who almost acquired Haren from the Los Angeles Angels for Carlos Marmol after the 2012 season — until the deal collapsed over concerns about Haren’s medical records.

“But he’s just a master at knowing how to pitch,” Epstein said. “He’s fearless. He attacks with what he has. He knows the hitters really well. He understands pitching. He knows how to shape pitches a lot of different ways and pitch to both sides of the plate.

“He knows how to file an advanced report. He knows how to read swings. He’s kind of an artist out there at this point.”

Haren is far more accomplished than the cast of characters the Cubs have used in the fifth-starter spot. Among active pitchers, he ranks in the top 10 in innings pitched (2361.1), games started (369), wins (149), strikeouts (1,969) and WHIP (1.18). He is 35 years old and positioned to become a free agent after this season.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

“This guy has been pitching forever,” said Miguel Montero, who caught Haren during his two All-Star seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008 and 2009. “He can actually help our bullpen and our starters, (especially) our young guys. He’s throwing 86 (mph) and he’s still getting people out. So he’s got to (know) something about pitching.”

The Cubs acquired Pineyro from the Washington Nationals two years ago in the Scott Hairston trade. The 23-year-old right-hander has gone 7-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 19 starts for the Smokies this season. 

The Cubs drafted Soto out of Creighton University in the 15th round of the 2010 draft. He will turn 26 next month and had been hitting .275 with zero homers and a .388 on-base percentage through 88 games at Tennessee.

Haren certainly wasn’t the biggest name out there — and looked like more of a fallback position — but the Cubs couldn’t risk giving away games almost every fifth day.

“He competes,” Montero said. “That’s the main thing. He knows that he doesn’t have the greatest stuff that he used to (have). So in order to survive, he has to pitch.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester had easily his worst outing of the year, allowing the Cardinals to score eight runs on seven hits, the veteran All-Star only managed three innings before Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen. 

The Cardinals would take game two of the series by the score of 18 to 5, and while none of the Cubs pitchers could silence the Cardinal bats, Lester didn't shy away from his poor outing. 

"You know, I don't want to chalk this up as bad days happen," said Lester. "I think mechanically this has kinda been coming." 

Lester knew he was struggling to hit his spots, and while his ERA was a sparkling 2.58 coming into this start, his peripheral stats had him pegged as a potential regression candidate in the second half of the season.

His 4.35 FIP and 3.30 walks per nine innings show a pitcher who is relying heavily on his defense to get outs, which isn't surprising for a 33-year-old veteran but the walks are a concern. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was aware Lester had been working on his mechanics, but even he was surprised that Lester's start went downhill so quickly. 

"I thought he had good stuff to start the game, hitting [92-93 mph] and I'm thinking this might be a good day," said Maddon. "But you could just see from the beginning he was off just a little bit." 

Over Lester's last four starts his ERA has been an uncharacteristic 4.57, issuing 10 walks over those four starts, and only making it past the 6th inning once. At this point of Lester's career, he knows the best way for him to get outs isn't through strikeouts but by inducing soft contact and avoiding walks. 

And while both his hard contact rate and walks have increased this season, Lester's experience and high baseball I.Q. has allowed him to navigate his way through sticky situations. 

"I've been getting outs," Lester said candidly. "I just feel like when I've had that strikeout or I have a guy set up for that pitch I haven't been able to execute it." 

And while this outing was one to forget, it's at least a positive sign that Lester is aware of his issues on the mound. The veteran knows how to get outs and he knows what he needs to do to be successful in the latter part of his career. He just needs to get back to executing those pitches. 

Just don't expect Lester to dive head first into the analytics on how to fix his issues, he'll stick to hard work and baseball common sense. 

"I'm not too concerned with the analytic B.S., I'm worried about my mechanical fix for my next start."