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: Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry 'we had Baez ahead of Lindor in the draft'

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry 'we had Baez ahead of Lindor in the draft'

David Kaplan and Luke Stuckmeyer are joined by former Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry.  In part 1, Hendry looks back at some of the players he drafted during his time with the Cubs and getting a deal done with Theo Epstein at the trade deadline in 2004.

00:45 - What he does now for the Yankees

02:30 - How involved is a GM with drafting a player

04:30 - Looking back at the drafting of Javier Baez

05:45 - What made Javier Baez so appealing as a draft pick

09:00 - Josh Donaldson moving to 3rd base after the Cubs drafted him

11:45 - On having to trade prospects at the trade deadline to put the team over the edge for a postseason spot

13:10 - Looking back at the 2004 3-way deadline trade that brought Nomar Garciapara to the Cubs

14:35 - On Willson Contreras' growth in the Cubs organization

16:40 - On going over budget to sign Starlin Castro

17:20 - Carlos Zambrano's growth within the Cubs organization

19:10 - How good could Gleyber Torres be?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Javy Baez loses out on NL MVP to Christian Yelich

Javy Baez loses out on NL MVP to Christian Yelich

Javy Baez had an absolutely fantastic 2018 campaign, but he is not the National League MVP.

Brewers star Christian Yelich was deemed the best player in the Senior Circuit, receiving 29 of the 30 first-place votes. Baez finished second with no first-place votes. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado finished third after leading the NL in homers (38) and posting a .935 OPS for a Colorado team that lost out on the division in Game 163 and then beat the Cubs in the NL Wild-Card Game.

It may not be popular with Cubs fans who love them some Javy, but it's easy to see why Yelich will take home the highest yearly honor.

The 26-year-old outfielder enjoyed a special season, leading the league in OPS (1.000), batting average (.326) and WAR (7.6 — FanGraphs), finishing 1.3 WAR above the next highest guy (Anthony Rendon — 6.3). For reference, Baez notched a 5.3 WAR.

Baez led the NL in RBI (111) and was among the league leaders in nearly every offensive category while also filling a huge role for the Cubs playing very good defense all over the infield (104 games at second base, 65 at shortstop, 22 at third base and even played an out at first base). 

It's easy to say Baez was the Cubs' most important and valuable player in 2018 and there's no way they win 95 games or maintain a share of first place through Game 162 without his contributions.

But the Brewers surged past the Cubs in the NL Central in large part because of Yelich, who slashed .372/.451/.762 (1.213 OPS) from July 14 on, driving in 68 runs and hitting 25 homers in only 68 games. He was even hotter over the last two weeks of the season — posting a .488/.621/1.116 slash line (1.737 OPS) while Milwaukee went 11-2 and caught the Cubs from behind. 

With both players under contract through at least the 2021 season in the same division, it'll be interesting to see if they can build off their breakout campaigns and continue to battle against each other for future NL MVP voting.