Cubs upgrade playoff-caliber rotation with $32 million deal for John Lackey


Cubs upgrade playoff-caliber rotation with $32 million deal for John Lackey

In an overheated market for pitching, the Cubs found what they saw as a reasonable solution, reaching an agreement with John Lackey on a two-year, $32 million contract that should stabilize a playoff-caliber rotation.

The short-term deal – first reported by Fox Sports on Friday – also gives the Cubs some flexibility as they try to improve a 97-win team and keep their window to contend open.

Lackey makes sense on so many levels, even at the age of 37, and even with the added cost of a draft pick after declining a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

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The Cubs are willing to pay that price in this competitive phase. Lackey switches sides in the rivalry after making 33 starts for the Cardinals and going 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA for a 100-win team.

Lackey joins his buddies – $155 million lefty Jon Lester and backup catcher David Ross – from the 2013 Boston Red Sox team that won a World Series at Fenway Park.

Cubs president Theo Epstein once signed Lackey as Boston’s general manager, drawing up a unique five-year, $82.5 million contract that had him working for the major-league minimum this year after Tommy John surgery on his right elbow wiped out his 2012 season.

Lackey also made an impression on Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who worked as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach when the Anaheim Angels rookie beat the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series. 

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs crossed a big item off their list heading into the winter meetings that begin Monday in Nashville, Tennessee. Zack Greinke’s anticipated decision between the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers could come as soon as this weekend, which should start a chain reaction among free-agent pitchers.

While Epstein has maintained a dialogue with Jeff Samardzija’s camp, the sense is that Shark’s market is escalating to a point that makes the Cubs uncomfortable. Samardzija’s disappointing season with the White Sox (11-13, 4.96 ERA) hasn’t fundamentally changed the perception of his physical skills, clean medical history and upside potential.

The Cubs certainly aren’t done making moves, but with Lackey slotting in behind Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and Lester, they feel like they have a rotation that can get back to October. 

Yu Darvish emotional after Cubs lose another tough one: 'I'm so frustrated'

Yu Darvish emotional after Cubs lose another tough one: 'I'm so frustrated'

With their postseason hopes fading by the day and the Cubs needing him most, Yu Darvish delivered on Sunday.

And yet, the game ended in a far-too familiar way for the Cubs: with a 3-2 loss, the Cubs’ fifth-straight one-run defeat — and third since Thursday when they were tied or leading in the ninth inning or later.

“If you just play back the tape, it’s almost unbelievable that it turned out this way,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Also, the games against Cincinnati. For the last six, this is really wash and repeat. Of course it’s frustrating."

Darvish was extremely emotional postgame, as evidenced by a mud stain spread across his locker resulting from an anger-laced throw of his cleat. He pitched well — 8 1/3 innings, three earned runs, 12 strikeouts and no walks — only running into trouble in the ninth.

“I’m so frustrated, you can see it, right?” he said, looking back at his locker. “We have to win, especially today, but we lost.”

The 33-year-old right-hander was rolling heading into the ninth, which started off with pinch-hit triple by Jose Martinez that hit off Albert Almora Jr.’s glove, despite a valiant diving effort.

“It sucks that we couldn’t win that game,” Almora said. “I really wanted to make that play there. Can’t catch them all, but I tried.”

For what it’s worth, Craig Kimbrel didn’t pitch Sunday because he was unavailable, though Maddon said he would’ve stuck with Darvish even if his closer was available.

"I was happy at that point, but right now everything just….There’s no words right now," Darvish said.

That’s neither here nor there, though. What matters is that the Cubs lost another game that they seemed to have in their grasp, only to see it slip away late. They're now eliminated from NL Central contention, and their elimination number in the Wild Card race is three.

Even Maddon struggled to explain the series, one where the Cubs played quite well but only saw their playoff hopes take a big hit.

“It’s really difficult,” he said. “You look at it, how did that all happen? How did we lose all those four games? They were just one runner better than us every night and they were really evenly matched. That’s all I will concede.”

Although Darvish admitted he feels responsible for Sunday’s loss, Maddon spoke highly of the right-hander, even comparing how he's pitched to what Jake Arrieta did during his tenure with the Cubs. 

“I saw Jake pitch really well and win a Cy Young, but this is equivalent of all of that,” he said. “The stuff, command of his stuff. [Darvish] absolutely deserved a better fate.”

Whether you think that Maddon was being too hyperbolic there or not, there’s no doubting that Darvish looked excellent for majority of his outing on Sunday. Baseball is a game of inches, something the Cubs experienced firsthand this weekend.

“They got us. They got us,” Maddon said. “Give them credit for that, but we did not leave anything on the field, man.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Swept by the Cardinals (and playoff dreams dashed)

USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: Swept by the Cardinals (and playoff dreams dashed)

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki and Kelly Crull discuss the Cardinals sweep, Yu Darvish taking the loss so hard, and what to look for over the final six games of the year.

01:00 - Reaction to being swept by the Cards

03:30 - Darvish taking the loss really hard

05:30 - This is the Yu Darvish Cubs fans thought they were getting when he signed with the Cubs

07:00 - Almora's miscue in the 9th inning of the loss

08:00 - It feels like the end of an era

12:00 - Is this the end of an era for the Cubs?

16:00 - Surprised Rizzo was available on the field for the entire Cardinals series?

20:00 - There is no one thing you can look to that didn't work this season

22:00 - What do you want to see over the final six games?

25:00 - Seeing a cornerstone being helped off the field for a second Sunday in a row

29:00 - How much will we see the injured guys on the field?

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Cubs Talk Podcast