Cubs

Epstein begins putting Cubs pieces together

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Epstein begins putting Cubs pieces together

The Miami Marlins wanted Jose Reyes to feel wanted.

Team executives arranged to meet with Reyes and his camp at 12:01 a.m. on the first day of free agency. They would have drinks at The Carlyle, a luxury hotel in New York. It was cold enough on Nov. 3 for owner Jeffrey Loria to wear a long overcoat, which hid the new Marlins jersey that hadnt yet been released to the public.

A few other people in the bar thought that this was some sort of strange, freaky show, Marlins president David Samson recalled, because this man the owner of the team stood up and literally (opened his coat) and underneath was Jose Reyes jersey.

Samson told this story at a news conference to announce the Reyes signing this week at the winter meetings in Dallas. That is where the Marlins are as an organization, trying to break through the clutter in their market and make a splash.

The Cubs are content with a slow drip of news, seemingly unlikely to make a 100 million-plus commitment to a single player this winter. Theo Epstein is trying to buy low and methodically put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Ian Stewart was the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft and will be 27 next season. His home run totals with the Colorado Rockies the last three years have gone from 25 to 18 to zero. But the Cubs believe he can be their third baseman.

It does wonders for a guys confidence, Stewart said Friday on a teleconference. Theo Epstein just the name is one of those guys in sports that everyone can recognize just for the success he brought to the Boston Red Sox organization in such a short amount of time. To hear his voice on the phone was very refreshing.

The logic behind Thursdays trade was that the four players involved would benefit from a new environment, even if Stewart didnt necessarily see it that way.

I was never really a big change of scenery type guy, Stewart said. I always felt like I fit in great with the Rockies when I was there. It just didnt seem like all the time I was given the best opportunity to play.

(With Aramis Ramirez gone), this gives me a great opportunity to come in and to be that everyday third baseman and get those 500 or 600 at-bats that I need to be able to be successful. Change of scenery? I dont know. But I think in the long run being in the spot where Im going to be able to play every day is going to be the best thing for me.

Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu wont be part of a homegrown youth movement on the North Side and their athleticism could play well at Coors Field. Casey Weathers another former first-round pick who once played with David Price at Vanderbilt University represents more pitching inventory for the Cubs.

Stewart is looking forward to working with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and showing that a string of injuries (knee, hamstring, wrist) caused a 2011 season in which he hit .156 at the big-league level.

We have opportunity, Epstein said. We can acquire players and give them 500, 600 at-bats, players with real upside and see if they can blossom and reach their potential here. Thats a way of building for the future.

Maybe these names will become answers to a trivia question, or simply forgotten. It depends on how quickly the Cubs can rebuild. The first moves of the Epstein administration have been measured, like the modest commitment recently given to outfielder David DeJesus (two years, 10 million).

You cant necessarily point to anything with David and say, Hey, this guy is going to hit you 30 home runs because hes not, Epstein said. You cant say, Hes going to hit .320. Hes not going to do that either. Hes not going to steal you 40 bags. But I like players whose contributions are consistent across the board.

They help you defensively. They can swing the bat. They have good consistent at-bats. They run the bases well. The totality of their contribution can be equal to or more than the player who does one thing extremely well, like the guy (whos) going to go out and hit you 25, 30 home runs, but really hurts you in other areas.

If we have a club full of well-rounded players, were going to far exceed the expectations, because those subtle contributions really add up.

The president of baseball operations doesnt have to wine and dine superstars, or worry about filling a new ballpark in Little Havana. Epstein credited the Marlins for developing enough players and keeping their powder dry so they could fire away when the time was right. The Cubs arent there yet.

Brewers reportedly sign pitcher Josh Lindblom to address rotation need

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USA TODAY

Brewers reportedly sign pitcher Josh Lindblom to address rotation need

The Brewers are looking overseas to address a rotation that has been one of their biggest weaknesses in recent seasons.

According to multiple reports, Milwaukee is signing 32-year-old Josh Lindblom to a three-year deal. It’s worth $9.125 million but can max out at more than $18 million, should Lindblom hit certain bonuses, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

The Cubs also had discussions with Lindblom, according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi, before he reached a deal with the Brewers.

Lindblom has pitched in parts of five big league seasons since 2011, most recently with the Pirates in 2017. The right-hander holds a career 4.10 ERA in 114 games (six starts) but he remade himself during a successful stint pitching in South Korea in recent seasons.

From 2018-19 with the Doosan Bears, Lindblom went 35-7 with a 2.68 ERA, striking out 346 batters in 363 1/3 innings. He was named MVP of the KBO in 2019. Some of Lindblom's success can be attributed to the splitter he featured in his repertoire.

Lindblom’s name doesn’t jump off the page, but he’s a low-cost addition for the Brewers and is returning stateside an improved pitcher. Milwaukee finished 14th in starting pitcher ERA in 2019, but that figure was a not-so-great 4.40. They traded mainstay Zach Davies — who had been a rotation mainstay since 2016 — to the Padres two weeks ago.

Lindblom joins a rotation featuring Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser and Eric Lauer (acquired in the Davies trade). The Brewers also have 25-year-old Corbin Burnes and 23-year-old Freddy Peralta as starting options. The duo struggled in 2019 (Burnes: 8.82 ERA, 32 games/four starts; Peralta: 5.29 ERA, 39 games/eight starts), so the guess here is the Brewers aren’t done shopping for pitching.

Cubs meet with Japanese free agent Shogo Akiyama, a potential solution to multiple needs

Cubs meet with Japanese free agent Shogo Akiyama, a potential solution to multiple needs

The Cubs have met with Japanese free agent Shogo Akiyama, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine.

Akiyama would help the Cubs address multiple needs: center field and the leadoff spot. The 31-year-old holds a career .376 on-base percentage in Japan’s highest level of baseball, Nippon Professional Baseball.

Eleven Cubs led off at least once last season, posting a .212 average and .294 OBP (both last in MLB). In 143 games with the Saitama Seibu Lions, Akiyama hit .303 with a .392 OBP and 20 home runs.

Five Cubs played center field in 2019, posting a combined .232/.305/.388 (.693 OPS) slash line. Those figures were second-worst among all Cubs positional groups, behind second base. League-wide, Cubs center fielders ranked 20th in both average and OPS.

Money aside, adding Akiyama would all but rule out Nicholas Castellanos returning to the Cubs next season. The former would slot into center field, moving Jason Heyward back over to right. Heyward became the team’s full-time center fielder after the Cubs acquired Castellanos at the trade deadline.

The Cubs prefer to play Heyward in right, where he’s won five Gold Glove Awards in his career. From left to right, a Kyle Schwarber-Heyward-Castellanos outfield is formidable offensively, but together they make up a below-average defensive trio.

Akiyama would likely not cost much on the open market, but as Levine notes, there are other suitors for him beside the Cubs.

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