Cubs

How the Dylan Cease deal came together and may have given Cubs a future ace

How the Dylan Cease deal came together and may have given Cubs a future ace

It will take years to do a full accounting of Kyle Schwarber’s impact on this franchise. The Cubs believe this is just the beginning of a long runway, and Schwarber might have already helped them land their future ace.

While Schwarber rocketed from college kid to World Series legend within two-and-a-half years, Dylan Cease is just beginning his climb at Class-A South Bend as the organization’s brightest pitching prospect. 

[CubsTalk Podcast: Jason McLeod on Ian Happ, Dylan Cease and MLB Draft]

Those two players will be intertwined, because without Schwarber envisioning his future in Chicago and taking a below-slot deal as the No. 4 overall pick in 2014, the Cubs don’t have the same money or appetite to gamble on Cease, giving a sixth-round pick a $1.5 million bonus before his Tommy John surgery.

“You had a kid that had been scouted by the whole industry the prior year,” Jason McLeod said on this week’s Cubs Talk podcast. “He was on the showcase circuit in the summer and certainly he was no secret to anybody. He went into that 2014 draft as a potential first-round selection, just because the arm strength was so big and he had already been in the lower-to-mid 90s the year prior. Then the injury happens with the elbow.

“With a kid who’s really talented, you never want to lose track.”

McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, credited area scout Keith Lockhart, who covers Georgia and played 10 years in the big leagues, for doing the background work. Right-handed high school pitchers might be the most difficult group to project, and Cease already had a medical file and the leverage from his college commitment to a prestigious program. 

“Typically, those Vanderbilt kids are tough to sign anyway,” McLeod said. “It would have been really easy to say: Well, gosh, he’s hurt. He’s not going to pitch for two years. He can just go to Vandy and get one year of school out of the way and then concentrate on baseball and concentrate on his rehab. You could have completely understood if that was what borne out there.

“But through conversations with ‘Locky’ – and him getting to know the family – it became apparent that this is a kid who may actually want to go out and sign and go through a professional rehab process.”

Around the same time, Cubs officials developed a man crush on Schwarber, who led Indiana to the 2013 College World Series and developed into a two-time All-American. But there were enough questions about his defense and athleticism – as a catcher or an outfielder – that Schwarber’s camp thought he might drop to the San Diego Padres at No. 13. A National League official thought the Colorado Rockies might have had interest in Schwarber with the eighth overall pick.  

“Kyle knew we liked him, of course,” McLeod said. “But I think when you’re looking at yourself as a player – and where you think you might go in the draft – conversations start happening there. It became apparent that it was like a perfect marriage. We really wanted him. I think he really loved the organization.

“All of those things lined up perfectly, and Kyle wanted to get out and play. That was another major factor. So when you’re able to select a player and have those conversations about what you feel the signing parameters would be, it became apparent to all of us involved that we were going to be able to save some money and spread it around and go look for talented players (who) we may not have been able to (bring in) otherwise.

“Using all that information, understanding that Dylan Cease was a kid who wasn’t going to be able to pitch until the following summer – just a few innings – you have to weigh what the talent and the upside is there and how much of the information was true and correct.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Schwarber signed for $3.125 million, or almost $1.5 million below the recommended slot that year. While Schwarber blasted playoff homers into the Allegheny River and onto a Wrigley Field video board and defied the medical odds to make a World Series comeback, Cease threw less than 70 innings combined during his first two seasons in professional baseball.

At Cubs Convention in January, McLeod told an audience interested in what’s next that “the reins were off” Cease, promising that “the kid gloves were going to come off” in 2017.

“The biggest thing from a development standpoint for him is just harnessing the emotions a little bit,” McLeod said. “He’s so excited to be out of Arizona, out of the complex and short-season leagues. And now (you have) to understand: Hey, every outing, even if I don’t have a great outing from a line-score perspective, what can I take from this? What can I take into the next outing?

“Yeah, if you just look at his stat line right now, the walks are higher than he would like. The walks are higher than we would like. When you’ve got a mid-to-upper 90s heater, you’re not always going to have great command of it early in your career.

“So that’s a focus for him, the fastball command. His curveball’s been pretty good to start the season, which we’re all happy about. But I think it’s always the incorporation of the secondary pitches for strikes and just harnessing his emotion right now.”

Cease, 21, entered this season at No. 77 and No. 97 on the MLB.com and Baseball America prospect lists. He’s posted a 2.23 ERA through seven starts with the South Bend Cubs, piling up 50 strikeouts against 17 walks in 32-plus innings.

Young pitchers are so fragile. That’s why the Cubs built their franchise around hitters. But Cease will be given the chance to show he’s worth the investment.

“I’d love to be sitting with him in September at the exit interview looking back on his year,” McLeod said, “and he made all of his starts and he got better as the year went on. Not in terms of velocity, not necessarily in terms of strikeout rates or anything like that, but how he used his pitches and how he was attacking hitters. And not just going out trying to overpower everybody, even though he has that kind of stuff.” 

Cole Hamels signs one-year deal with Braves

1102_cole_hamels.jpg
USA TODAY

Cole Hamels signs one-year deal with Braves

It didn’t seem like Cole Hamels was likely to return to the Cubs considering they didn’t tender him a qualifying offer, but it is now reality that Hamels is leaving the North Side.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Hamels has agreed to a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves. The deal has since become official.


The qualifying offer he would have received from the Cubs would have been $17.8 million, just under what he ended up getting from the Braves.


This now leaves the Cubs with a question as to who will be the team’s fifth starter next season. Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and José Quintana are under contract and figure to lock in the top four rotation spots. Tyler Chatwood, Adbert Alzolay and Alec Mills all figure to be candidates for that spot.

Hamels turns 36 two days after Christmas and an oblique injury limited him in the second half of last season. He had a 2.98 ERA before the All-Star break and a 5.79 ERA in 42 innings after it.

Hamels was a big part of the Cubs’ push in 2018 when he had a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts after arriving from Texas just before the trade deadline.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream  

Cubs free agent focus: Yasiel Puig

Cubs free agent focus: Yasiel Puig

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

Yasiel Puig looked to be a superstar in the making as a rookie with the Dodgers in 2013. In 104 games, the Cuban right fielder posted a .319/.391/.534 slash line, a 159 OPS+ and hit 19 home runs.

That 2013 performance had folks debating if Puig was a better player than Angels superstar Mike Trout. The debate has obviously long been settled in Trout’s favor, thanks to his elite-level play year in and year out. But Puig’s performance in the ensuing years quickly helped shut down those gaudy comparisons.

Puig had a stellar 2014 season, slashing .296/.382/.480 with 16 homers and a 145 OPS+ in 148 games. But since 2015 he’s averaged a .264/.330/.462 line, 109 OPS+, 19 home runs and 122 games played. He was demoted to Triple-A for a month in 2016 and was a platoon player from 2017-18. The Dodgers ultimately shipped him to the Reds last offseason, the latter of whom dealt him to the Indians at the 2019 trade deadline.

Puig hasn’t lived up to the billing from his rookie season and has been involved in a number of on-field incidents during his career. This includes 2019’s infamous brawl between the Reds and Pirates, which occurred minutes after news broke that Cincinnati was trading Puig to Cleveland.

But with Puig’s notoriety comes a player full of energy, one who's flashed all five tools and has plenty of postseason experience (58 games in six seasons). That could come in handy for the Cubs, who may trade away a member of their championship core this offseason to shed payroll and retool the roster.

With Jason Heyward manning right field and Kyle Schwarber in left, the Cubs would have to rotate their alignment to fit Puig on the roster. Heyward is a five-time Gold Glove Award winner in right, but the Cubs were willing to move him to center in 2019 after acquiring Nicholas Castellanos. Whether they’re willing to do that for a full season is debatable.

Nonetheless, Puig is only 28 years old and won’t break the bank, key for a Cubs team conscious of their payroll. He comes with questions, but beyond that is a solid player who may have a higher level to take his game.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Cubs on your device.