How Cubs rebuilt their pitching staff without a David Price


How Cubs rebuilt their pitching staff without a David Price

The Cubs didn’t make one huge splash this winter, hoping the ripple effect from their smaller moves will create a pitching staff that can win a World Series.

David Price put the word out that he wanted to come to Chicago, play for Joe Maddon again and be part of the team that finally rides down Michigan Avenue for a championship parade. But the Cubs already had five more seasons to go on Jon Lester’s $155 million megadeal and didn’t feel as desperate as the Boston Red Sox.

So much for Price having a problem with David Ortiz and the fans at Fenway Park. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein told Boston’s WEEI that the Cubs finished “a distant third” in the bidding war, or roughly $50 million less than the $217 million the Red Sox guaranteed.

Three seasons of Shelby Miller would have cost the Cubs at least a young, middle-of-the-order hitter (Jorge Soler) and the organization’s best pitching prospect (Duane Underwood), and the Atlanta Braves still would have wanted more.

The Arizona Diamondbacks met Atlanta’s demands at the winter meetings, giving up last year’s No. 1 overall pick (Dansby Swanson), a good pitching prospect (Aaron Blair) and a legitimate big-league outfielder (Ender Inciarte).

[MORE CUBS: Why Cubs spent big this winter (and won't be major players next offseason)]

That same week in Nashville, the Cubs completed the Starlin Castro-for-Adam Warren trade they pitched to the New York Yankees at the July 31 deadline. Even before most of the industry checked into the Opryland, the Cubs had already agreed to a two-year, $32 million contract with John Lackey.

The Cubs wanted to close the Lackey deal before Zack Greinke made his anticipated decision between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants and reset the market. Hours after the Lackey news broke, word leaked out that the Diamondbacks had shocked the baseball world with a six-year, $206 million offer Greinke couldn’t refuse.

“We really came to feel like the price of poker was very high to acquire starting pitching,” Epstein said. “Years and dollars were really significant for starters of note in free agency — and came with a significant amount of risk, frankly, that we weren’t completely comfortable with.

“(In) the trade market, we felt like in a lot of cases we would have had to pay like two dollars on the dollar almost in return.

“I think Lackey on a two-year deal, Warren with three years of control with the ability to start and also be effective (out of) the ‘pen made a lot of sense for us as a reaction to what was going on in the market.”

[MORE CUBS: Adam Warren brings 'World Series or die' mentality from Yankees to Cubs]

Lester kept recruiting Lackey, who had already done a big contract with Epstein when he ran the Red Sox and wanted to win a third World Series ring. Yankee insiders raved about Warren’s guts and unselfish attitude, while Cubs people think this swingman can be sneaky good outside the American League East.

“We believe he can be a starting pitcher — and a good one — in the National League Central,” Epstein said. “But we also think he can be extremely effective out of the bullpen. His ability to do both makes him incredibly valuable to us.”

Whether or not Warren becomes a glue guy for the entire pitching staff, the Cubs bought insurance by bringing back Clayton Richard, Trevor Cahill and Travis Wood for less than $13 million combined. Richard has 132 starts and two 14-win seasons on his big-league resume, while Cahill and Wood each made an All-Star team before reinventing themselves as relievers.

Pitching coach Chris Bosio even said Cahill turned down a two-year offer to start for the Pittsburgh Pirates — an organization that’s had so much success with pitching reclamation projects — and took a one-year, $4.25 million deal to return to the Cubs in a hybrid role.

“We have four guys that have really four pitches — some guys (have) five — it depends on a righty-lefty matchup and the numbers,” Bosio said. “But the versatility — teams are starting to try to follow what we’re doing. Other teams coveted guys that we had. But guys wanted to come here because they’re comfortable with what they’re doing.”

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The Cubs still have their intricate game-planning system, reigning Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and a manager with a great feel for in-game decisions as well as big-picture concerns about workload and overuse.

The farm system hasn’t come anywhere close to delivering enough pitching talent and matching what’s been an unbelievable run for the organization’s young hitters. But the Cubs still put together a pitching staff that won 97 games and led the majors in WAR (24.2), WHIP (1.152) and strikeouts (1,431) last season.

“You can have impact pitching without necessarily having all household names (or) bona fide top-of-the-rotation guys,” Epstein said. “Knock on wood, we have to go out and accomplish this. But if you have a (really deep) staff where there’s no negative contributors, no replacement-level pitchers, all solid pitchers who throw strikes and can follow a game plan and miss bats and be effective, that can make you one of the better pitching staffs.

“I’d like to think if everyone pitches up to their potential (this) year, we’re getting close to that ideal.”

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa hit the 30-homer threshold on June 21, 1998 in only his 71st game of the season. For perspective, the 2018 Cubs leader in homers on June 21 is Javy Baez with 14 and Mike Trout leads all of baseball with only 23.

At this point, Mark McGwire was ahead of Sosa, but the Cubs slugger was pulling closer. McGwire had 33 dingers on June 21 while Ken Griffey Jr. had 28 and Greg Vaughn had 25.

Sosa' June 21 homer came off Tyler Green and was his 5th blast of the series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field that year. But the Cubs lost that series, despite Sosa's efforts.

Fun fact: Sosa drove in 10 runs in the three-game series with the Phillies that summer while the rest of his teammates combined for only 9 RBI.