Cubs

Cubs waiting for the chance to strike it big

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Cubs waiting for the chance to strike it big

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. Step outside the Hyatt Regency and there are palm trees and sweeping views of the mountains set against a blue sky.

Executives rolled their suitcases through the lobby and checked out of the hotel on Friday, ending the general manager meetings. There were taxis and SUVs waiting to take them through the California desert and toward the airport for their flights home.

This luxury resort and spa surrounded by championship golf courses seemed like the perfect symbol for what the Cubs are trying to do this winter. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein views this as a cleansing.

Less than two weeks after the World Series, everyone appeared to be relaxed. But some teams are going to go wild next month at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Maybe theyll wake up one morning with a pounding headache wondering: What were we thinking?

This is all leading up to the moment when the Cubs will be in on every big free agent. Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers who had the same job with the San Diego Padres when Epstein was just out of Yale University working in his department sees it coming.

Hes methodical in the way that hes smart enough to realize where youre at, and when his opportune time will be to win, when he thinks hes got a chance to strike, Towers said. Knowing Theo, hes reviewed his competition within the Central, contracts, where guys are at, when players will be free agents and when hes going to have his chance to attack (and say): This will be the year we go for it.

Sure, the Cubs tried to lay the groundwork for offseason deals by meeting face-to-face with agents and talking to other general managers this week, but they are really looking at a much bigger picture. Even the national media has seemed to pick up the hints, not even bothering to throw out Cubs? in the Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke rumors.

Were looking to get healthier as an organization, and I dont just mean physical health on the medical side, Epstein said. I think healthier means players whose contributions on the field exceed or at least match the contracts that theyre owed.

It means having players who now look like contributors under control for years to come. It means having more assets that you can choose from to decide who you want to end up playing on the field for you and whos a possible trade chip.

It means forget Justin Upton they probably wont swing any blockbuster trades. It means seeing if Jeff Samardzija is willing to sign a long-term contract. It means taking a chance on pitchers like Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy and Francisco Liriano.

Epsteins front office of the future could have some kind of healthcare wing that tries to find an edge by predicting which players wont break down, keeping pitchers off the disabled list. The Cubs have hired P.J. Mainville away from the Diamondbacks to be their new athletic trainer, moving Mark ONeal up to a new position director of medical administration.

The Cubs could take on another reclamation project or two in their bullpen. One week after killing the Carlos Marmol-for-Dan Haren trade with the Los Angeles Angels, general manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged that they could sign someone else with a track record as a closer.

Carlos did a great job (with a 1.52 ERA) in the second half and threw really well, so he certainly comes into camp as our closer, Hoyer said. But, yeah, having depth back there is a great thing. I think a lot of times people are willing to sign with a team if they feel like they have an opportunity.

So some guys might be looking for a very clear, obvious road to the closers role. And some guys might be willing to if the moneys the same (take) a role maybe setting up and close in the future.

Surrounded by reporters, Scott Boras held court in the lobby on Thursday night, drawing a crowd probably bigger than any general manager got here. The super-agent praised the Los Angeles Dodgers and their free-spending ownership group with Magic Johnson the new smiling face of the franchise for understanding Hollywood and the superstar culture there.

Boras talked up the Washington Nationals, which are stocked with his clients, saying the franchise has bloomed: Theres a diamond full of cherry blossoms. He mentioned how each team will pocket an extra 25 million or so from the new national television deals beginning in 2014, so there should be no excuses.

The macroeconomics will drive some deals that could leave you shaking your head, but certain teams will get over the sticker shock.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn put it this way: I dont think any of us should be surprised given the sort of lack of real impact free agents out there that the prices for the top tier of free agents are going to be a little higher than what were used to.

Its not the best time to be a buyer in the free-agent market, so the more needs youre able to fill internally, or via trade, the more efficient youre going to be.

That being said, sometimes the best option is out there in free agency and you got to pay the going rate to get something done.

Anibal Sanchez is a nice pitcher who went on a strong postseason run with the Detroit Tigers. But his career record is 48-51 with a 3.75 ERA. Hes never been selected to an All-Star Game, nor has he received a single Cy Young vote. His asking price reported on Twitter: Six years at 90 million.

Epstein wasnt bluffing when he took over almost 13 months ago and laid out his rebuilding plan. It wont happen this winter, but one day he will be looking around the room during a stadium club news conference at Wrigley Field. Standing next to a 100 million player, maybe hell be wondering: What did we just get ourselves into?

You want to get healthier as an organization to have a better future, both short-term and long-term, Epstein said. Sure, were in talent-acquisition mode more so than we are putting the finishing touches on our club for next year. But all that means is were trying to get healthier and healthier as an organization, so every year when we get to this offseason, there are more opportunities for a big strike in free agency.

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

With the MLB offseason about to kick off, we run down the boldest predictions for the Cubs winter from around the NBC Sports Chicago Cubs content team. Topics include where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, how much money they’ll get, what the Cardinals will do this winter, Cubs offseason trades and how Theo Epstein’s front office may add to the pitching staff.

 

One topic we could all agree on was David Ross' potential as Cubs bench coach if the incumbent Brandon Hyde ends up taking a job as manager for another team around the league.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here and check out all of our bold predictions below:

 

 

David Kaplan

 

—Anthony Rizzo and his new wife, Emily, will adopt Manny Machado, change his last name and see Manny Rizzo playing third base for the 2019 Cubs.

—Because of the Rizzo move, the Cubs will move Kris Bryant to a full-time outfielder.

—The Cubs will trade away Jose Quintana and sign Patrick Corbin.

—The Cubs will sign a pair of former Indians relievers for the back end of the bullpen in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

—The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber to the Royals for Whit Merrifield, who will start 155 games in the leadoff spot in the order.

—Joe Maddon will be a lot more consistent with the Cubs' lineup and batting order all season.

 

Kelly Crull

 

—Anthony and Emily Rizzo will receive more wedding gifts from Cubs fans than Kris and Jessica Bryan received.

—Anthony Rizzo will train this offseason so he will be able to sing — or play the piano — for the National Anthem at Wrigley in 2019.

—The Cubs will have no money left to remodel the media room at Wrigley Field.

 

Luke Stuckmeyer

 

—The Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley Field is going to be replaced by Kap's Kryo & Keto Korner.

—The Cubs will finally find a solution to the leadoff hitter issue.

 

Tony Andracki

 

—The Cubs sign Bryce Harper for less than $250 million. (He follows 23 people on Twitter)
—Manny Machado does not get a contract for more than $250 million, either.
—The Cardinals will sign Craig Kimbrel and either Machado or Josh Donaldson to play 3B. 

 

Rationale: St. Louis could really use the bat and closer and they have a sense of urgency in the division this winter we haven't seen from them in at least a decade. The Cubs and Brewers have clearly been better for two seasons now and look to have a better chance at contending than the Cardinals in 2019, as well. That can't be sitting well with the "Best Fans in Baseball." 

 

Jeff Nelson, producer

 

—The Cubs will trade 2 of the following players:  Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr.

—The Cardinals will sign Manny Machado to play third base.

—Because of construction delays, the visitors’ clubhouse will not be ready for the home opener, forcing the Pirates to dress at their hotel and come to the ballpark in full uniform.

Mike Piff, social media manager

—Cubs sign Nick Markakis.
—Cubs sign Tyson Ross.

Eric Strobel, producer

—The Cubs 2019 saves leader is not currently on the roster.

Rationale: We saw what happened to the bullpen in Brandon Morrow's absence; it got the job done by and large, but was not longer truly feared. Deep 'pens are the norm in October now with lockdown relievers being counted on more and more. The front office knows they can't truly entrust that kind of workload to Morrow with his injury history - Theo admitted as much in his end-of-season press conference. While they probably will not make a big splash, a huge focus of the offseason will be to surround Morrow/Strop/Edwards/etc. with as many talented arms as possible. The Cubs could very well enter next season without a designated closer, but if they do, it will not be Brandon Morrow.

Scott Changnon, multi-platform producer

—The Cubs will sign Bryce Harper.

Rationale: "I dunno, maybe."

Nate Poppen, producer

—Cubs sign Andrew McCutchen, plug him into CF and make Almora a 4th OF (or expendable)
—Bryce Harper signs with Yankees.
—Manny Machado signs with Angels.

Matt Buckman, producer

Non-roster prediction: The Cubs will welcome Sammy Sosa back to Wrigley Field. Sammy turns 50 this winter, and fueled by our wonderful documentary on 1998, the Cubs will finally mend their broken bond with Sammy and bring him back to Wrigley.

Roster prediction: The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber for a leadoff hitter. Joe has had to get very creative with the top of his order since Dexter Fowler left. Though the front office has downplayed the importance of a lead-off hitter the last two off-seasons, they will look to add one for 2019 so that Joe doesn’t have to be so creative. They won’t have a place to play Schwarber after they sign Harper so they will swap his power for a new “you go, we go” guy. Look at KC or TB as AL teams that need to add power and also have guys who could potentially lead off for the Cubs. Mallex Smith (TB) or Whit Merrifield (KC) would be interesting options.

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.