Cubs

GM Jed Hoyer hopes Cubs will become buyers

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GM Jed Hoyer hopes Cubs will become buyers

The Cubs want to become buyers this summer.

After years of making sign-and-flip deals, and getting trade-deadline questions in spring training, and having their best pitchers audition for other teams, the Cubs should be looking to upgrade before July 31.

Whether or not that means adding a No. 1 starter, this team is heading in the right direction. The Cubs have been in the loop with the Philadelphia Phillies about Cole Hamels going back to at least last summer’s waiver claim.

The trend line doesn’t change with Wednesday’s 8-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field, though it did underline some nagging issues with the pitching staff.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs still closed out the month at 12-8, enjoying Joe Maddon’s anti-rules philosophy and clubhouse dance parties. Mega-prospects Kris Bryant and Addison Russell graduated to The Show. All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro appear to be raising their games at age 25 while playing for a relevant team. Jake Arrieta (3-1, 2.03 ERA) carried the rotation during Jon Lester’s slow start (0-2, 6.23 ERA).

The last time the Cubs finished April with a winning record was 2008, when they won 97 games and their second straight division title.

“You’re always thinking about that stuff,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “You’re always hoping you get off to a good start. You’re always hoping you’re in that position. I feel like it’s pretty early now. You’re at that stage where a two- or three-game winning streak or losing streak really changes your outlook in a hurry.

“But certainly we’re hopeful that we’re in that position. You want to be able to try to improve the team midseason. And I think we’re obviously going to prepare as though that’s the case.”

Hamels did not include the Cubs on his 20-team no-trade list this year. It’s still hard to see Theo Epstein’s front office taking on the massive financial commitment (almost $100 million through 2018) while also giving up the high-level prospects it would take, particularly knowing the frontline pitchers who could be out there as free agents this winter.

[MORE: Balfour an option to help Cubs bullpen?]

But the Cubs can deal from one of the game’s richest farm systems and will probably be looking to upgrade the rotation (and address whatever other issues develop this summer).

Kyle Hendricks (0-1, 5.23 ERA) only made it through five innings on Wednesday night but did manage to limit the Pirates (12-10) to two runs. Middle relievers Gonzalez Germen and Phil Coke then combined to give up six runs as Pittsburgh (12-10) broke the game wide open.

Hendricks had been such a pleasant surprise stepping into the rotation after the Fourth of July sale that shipped Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s. But Hendricks is still searching for what propelled him during last year’s breakout rookie campaign (7-2, 2.46 ERA).

[ALSO: Maddon, Cubs cleared of any tampering charges]

“I’m always a slower starter,” Hendricks said. “This is particularly a little slow. All four starts haven’t been particularly great. I haven’t been able to get deep into a ballgame. Not really a crisis of faith, but one of those points where the confidence has got to change a little bit. You just got to trust your stuff.”

The Cubs aren’t buried in the National League Central, trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by two games and sending the message they are playing to win now.

“We can play with anybody I’ve seen so far,” Maddon said. “I feel very comfortable about that. We have to pitch in the middle. That’s probably one area we got to get a little bit stingier with. Overall, the starting (pitching) and the latter part of the bullpen has been really good.

“Offensively, (we’re) seeing a lot of pitches, working good at-bats. We’re scoring runs, running the bases well and playing catch on defense. There’s not a whole lot to complain about. If we just keep this kind of a methodology going, I’ll be very happy with it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

This has been the offseason of Kris Bryant rumors and with his grievance still unresolved Cubs fans can only speculate what will happen to the MVP. Is Kris Bryant trying to change the system like Curt Flood did? Host David Kaplan is joined by ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers to discuss Bryant's future as a Cub, and the lackluster offseason the Cubs have had.

(1:50) - Why the Cubs have not made any moves so far

(3:32) - Is Kris Bryant the new Curt Flood?

(6:26) - Cubs need upgrades, specifically in the bullpen

(9:10) - Will the Cubs make a big move before the season starts?

(11:30) - Does Javy Baez get the big extension?

(14:45) - Will the Cubs get to 86 wins this year?

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs close to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

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USA TODAY

Cubs close to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

The Cubs have made a roster move.

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are reportedly close to a deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza.

Souza, 30, missed the 2019 season after suffering a torn left ACL and LCL at the end of spring training. He also missed a chunk of 2018, playing 72 games while hitting the injured list on multiple occasions.

Souza had a career year with the Rays in 2017, slashing .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 121 wRC+. Those figures were career bests for Souza, minus his batting average. He sported a walk rate (13.6 percent) above league average (8.5) that season, though his strikeout rate (29 percent) was worse than the MLB average (23).

The signing of Souza likely rules out a return of fan favorite outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. The Cubs have been linked to Castellanos throughout the offseason, but since they're looking to stay under MLB’s luxury tax threshold, re-signing Castellanos would require some financial maneuvering.

Souza has spent most of his career in right field (3,608 career innings) but has minimal experience playing center (33 1/3) and left (20). He’s above average in right (career 6 Defensive Runs Saved) and posted a career best 7 DRS in 2017.

The Cubs have a five-time Gold Glove right fielder in Jason Heyward, so Souza will see time at all three outfield spots. Heyward moved to center full-time last season after the Cubs acquired Castellanos and has played center at times throughout his career.

Assuming he stays healthy, Souza is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Cubs. He’ll add power to the middle of the order and add a proven bat to an outfield with some question marks. Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ have each struggled offensively at times since 2018. Souza offers another bat in case those two slump again.