Cubs will explore long-term deal for Jake Arrieta


Cubs will explore long-term deal for Jake Arrieta

Jake Arrieta understands getting traded here changed the trajectory of his career and helped transform him into a leading Cy Young Award candidate. Now the Cubs will try to secure his future in Chicago.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein confirmed those plans to at least test the waters with super-agent Scott Boras and see what it would take to sign Arrieta to a long-term contract.

“He’s a Cub for next season. He’s a Cub for 2017,” Epstein said during Thursday’s end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field. “I’m sure there will come a point in time where we’ll approach Jake and (Scott) about seeing if we can extend that window. We’d be foolish not to want to do that.”

There won’t necessarily be a sense of urgency for either side in whatever shape those negotiations take — due diligence, trial balloon or something more serious.

The Cubs could prioritize acquiring another frontline starter to join Arrieta and Jon Lester at the top of the rotation after getting swept out of the National League Championship Series by the New York Mets.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs would like to add ‘at least one quality starting pitcher’]

MLB Trade Rumors recently projected Arrieta will earn $10.6 million through the arbitration system next year. Philosophically, Boras hates club-friendly deals and loves to steer his clients onto the open market.

“I like it here,” Arrieta said. “I want to compete. I want to win. And I want to win with a good group of guys — young players.

“That’s the direction this organization is going.”

Arrieta feels like the ball is in the front office’s court after going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA and putting up almost 250 innings this year, including a complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card game.

“We’re not going to talk about it publicly,” Epstein said. “But of course we’ll sit down and try and see what happens. More than anything, we’re just appreciative of the person he is, the year that he had and at the very least the next two seasons in a Cub uniform.”

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Arrieta responded to pitching coach Chris Bosio, who let him be himself after getting traded from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, a sink-or-swim moment for essentially a Triple-A pitcher.

As a freethinker with interests outside of baseball, Arrieta also appreciates manager Joe Maddon, a loose clubhouse, what Chicago has to offer and how the Cubs are positioned to annually win 90-plus games.

Arrieta will be 32 years old by 2018, though Boras will point to an obsessive strength-and-conditioning program, as well as a pitching odometer that’s only around 815 major-league innings to this point.

Before Arrieta threw a no-hitter on Aug. 30 at Dodger Stadium in front of a national-television audience, Boras compared him to another client — Max Scherzer, who once reportedly turned down a six-year, $144 million offer to extend with the Detroit Tigers and ultimately landed a seven-year, $210 million megadeal from the Washington Nationals last winter.

“(Jake) handled the breakthrough and the dominance with such class,” Epstein said. “(He did it) in such a generous, inclusive manner that I think it set the tone for the whole team (by) including all of his teammates after the no-hitter. And as he got all the attention down the stretch, deflecting it to the team as a whole.

“That set an amazing tone. We were really thankful for that, as well as what he did on the mound. His mindset of always trying to get better — despite being at the top — really rubbed off on everybody and will continue for years to come.”

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.