Jake Arrieta takes a step in the right direction as Cubs reign over Brewers

Jake Arrieta takes a step in the right direction as Cubs reign over Brewers

Jake Arrieta still didn't look like his Cy Young self, but he definitely took a step in the right direction Sunday.

In fact, the Cubs as a whole looked more like themselves Sunday, drubbing the Milwaukee Brewers 13-6 in front of 41,671 fans at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs' new look lineup tallied 22 baserunners on the afternoon — including 10 extra-base hits — and scored in seven of eight offensive frames.

Arrieta allowed only an unearned run in six innings, striking out six and walking just one. He lowered his season ERA from 5.44 to 4.80 on the afternoon and spent most of the game sitting around 93-94 mph with his fastball, a slight uptick from the 91.7 mph velocity he was averaging on the season entering play Sunday.

Joe Maddon actually has seen a different Arrieta the last two starts, including last weekend in St. Louis when Arrieta gave up a pair of two-run homers across six innings.

"The last two games are more remincisent of what he's supposed to look like," Maddon said. "And two really good games to build off of."

Arrieta still doesn't feel quite right with his mechanics, but agrees with his manager about the outing as a stepping stone.

"It was a step in the right direction," Arrieta said. "I was able to do some things a little more consistently to help command the ball glove-side, arm-side. When I'm able to do that with the fastball, the other pitches just kinda fall in line based on the way my delivery feels.

"The timing was pretty good today. It's just something I look to build on because I know there's still room for improvement."

Arrieta did need 111 pitches to get through the six frames, but picked up his first win since May 3 and seemed to be inching closer to his dominant form with a few nasty pitches to the high-powered Brewers lineup:

The 31-year-old starter had settled into exactly 85 pitches each of his last three outings, but Maddon wanted him to stretch things out and Arrieta responded well.

"Felt good," he said. "It was a grind there for a while in a couple of the innings, but was able to bear down, make a few good pitches. I kept the ball on the ground quite a bit today, which was nice.

"That's obviously an indicator of a step in the right direction and just look to build off that and continue to move forward."

The Brewers set off fireworks pregame with some choice words about the way the Cubs handled Saturday's rainout, but it was Kris Bryant and Co. dishing out the blasts in the game.

Bryant hit two homers — the ninth multi-homer game of his career — and reached base five times as the Cubs' restructured lineup looked refreshed and invigorated, scoring in seven of eight offensive innings.

Bryant also made Cubs history:

Ben Zobrist — appointed as the new leadoff hitter — crushed a homer into the right field bleachers to open the bottom half of the first inning and sent two others to the warning track. Kyle Schwarber — bumped down to second — reached twice via a walk and RBI single.

Willson Contreras added two hits, two runs and a pair of RBI as the Cubs rapped out 10 extra-base hits and tallied 22 baserunners.

The Cubs are off to a hot start on the long homestand, going 4-1 in the first five games.

But Maddon is still waiting for the Cubs (22-20) to put together their complete game. 

"We're still not playing our best baseball," Maddon said. "That was a nice 13-run game, whatever. My perfectionism comes in the fundamentals of the game.

"...Hits, whatever. You're gonna hit, you're not gonna hit. But to play the game properly — I thought we ran the bases well, that was good to see. But more than anything, I just want to see us play that championship-caliber defense.

Scott Boras' history lesson illustrates why Cubs are unlikely to trade Kris Bryant


Scott Boras' history lesson illustrates why Cubs are unlikely to trade Kris Bryant

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — As the Cubs move into a new era, the Kris Bryant Decision looms large over the entire organization.

Should they trade him now, two years out from free agency (or one year away if he actually wins his service time grievance)? Or is now the time for the Cubs to deliver a huge offer and lock him up long term?

Bryant's agent, Scott Boras, has been one of the most powerful men in baseball over the last couple decades and he's seen many teams go through the same dilemma the Cubs are currently weighing.

In encountering similar situations with players of Bryant's caliber (a former MVP and Rookie of the Year), Boras shed some light on how unlikely it is that the Cubs would actually wind up dealing him.

"Certainly every player I have that is at that level, they're always asking the question about, 'will they? Won't they? Will they trade him? Will they do it?'" Boras said. "And the answer to that is always: I can give you a percentage over a decade of how many of those players get traded and the answer is very low. If you think that much of him and to get something back for him with a limited period of time is always very hard."

He's got a strong point there. Bryant has a career .901 OPS and averages 32 homers, 92 RBI and 112 runs scored per 162 games over his five years in the big leagues. He proved that the lack of power and production in 2018 was injury related with a strong bounceback season this past year, finishing 14th in WAR in the National League while battling through a lingering knee issue. 

Bryant provides a ton of value to the Cubs and his presence on the roster increases the likelihood of winning another World Series over the next two seasons. In order to trade him, they would need a huge haul in return — a package of players that sets the franchise up for success the future without completely sacrificing the short-term and current window of contention. Will some team actually meet the Cubs' asking price?

The service time grievance is a major issue here, as the difference between one and two years of Bryant would be vast. Red Sox star Mookie Betts is a free agent a year from now and Boston is in a similar situation in that they're weighing a potential trade now rather than risk losing Betts to the open market and getting only draft pick compensation in return.

Boras pointed to how the Red Sox and Cubs both won World Series with Betts and Bryant earlier in their careers, leveraging the star players on cheaper deals to allow more resources to augment the roster around them. But now both guys are due a hefty sum of money in 2020 (MLB Trade Rumors estimates the arbitration figure to be $18.5 million for Bryant and $27.7 million for Betts) and it's time for each team to decide which path to go down.

The prevailing thought around the game is that Bryant won't win his grievance, which puts the Cubs in a different spot than the Red Sox in that they have two years of control left. That's key to either dangle in a trade or to allow more time for the two sides to reach an agreement on an extension.

"I've seen clubs take this decision on and it's often been a decision that they regret — whether they've kept him or whether they've traded him," Boras said. "Again, because they're great players, they're really key decisions."

If no team is able to — or decides to — meet the Cubs' price for Bryant in any trade talks, how likely is it the two sides would work out an extension that keeps him in Chicago beyond 2021?

Both sides waved off any notion that the service time grievance has done anything to damage the relationship between Bryant and the club, with Boras emphasizing that this was a "union matter" and was more about being an "advocate for the rights of players." Even if the arbiter rules against Bryant's grievance, it could still be a major step forward in changing the structure of free agency and service time for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.

In the matter of extension talks, Bryant and Boras are all ears.

"Look, we're open to talking with them and we've always said that to them," Boras said. "It's always been Kris' philosophy with the team. 

"I would certainly keep the terms and conditions of the contract negotiations private with the Cubs, but obviously it's always a fairness standard. You want what's fair for him and where he stands in the industry and that's true of any player." 

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Cubs continue behind-the-scenes makeover by hiring new scouting director

Cubs continue behind-the-scenes makeover by hiring new scouting director

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The Cubs are close to the point of the offseason where their sole focus will be on the roster.

As the final coaching staff comes together, the organization also announced their scouting director Wednesday, adding Dan Kantrovitz as the VP of scouting.

Kantrovitz, 41, spent the last five seasons as the assistant general manager to Billy Beane with the Oakland A's and previously served as the director of scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals for three seasons (2012-14). He is a Brown University graduate and also got his Master's Degree at Harvard.

Kantrovitz is a St. Louis native and was reportedly discussing a return to the Cardinals this winter before he took the job with the Cubs:

He was part of the Cardinals scouting department that drafted Jack Flaherty 34th overall in 2014, plus current Cubs reliever Rowan Wick in the ninth round (300th overall) in 2012 and has other successful high picks on his resume (Michael Wacha, Stephen Piscotty, Luke Weaver).

"We're really excited to be able to bring Danny Kantroviz on board," Theo Epstein said Wednesday at the MLB GM Meetings. "To be able to hire somebody to run our drafts who's already held that position and already run successful drafts in the past, it's a unique opportunity. Guys don't usually go back once they reach the assistant GM level. But in Dan's case, he has just discovered that his passion is running the draft.

"It really fits the exact profile we're looking for. He can scout - he goes out and sees 200 players a year when he's running the draft - and he can really relate very well to scouts and he's also got experience building advanced analytical models and combining both those worlds in a really effective manner. I think he fills a big void for us and look forward to working with him for years to come."

Epstein also called the Kantrovitz hire a "best case scenario" for the Cubs as they reshape their front office infrastructure. In September, Epstein moved Jason McLeod from head of scouting and player development (the position he held since coming over to the Cubs after the 2011 season) into a special assistant role in the big-league front office and shook up the player development department.

They wanted a fresh perspective and new insight into the draft and developing players given the organization's inability to produce homegrown pitchers in the eight years under Epstein's reign. Kantrovitz is the guy they've chosen to now lead the scouting department and the hope is he's able to find more success in the draft.

"Dan is as qualified as maybe anyone out there in baseball to do [balance all the information on draft day] since he has scouted extensively and is on the road the entire draft season seeing players and has done so for many years," Epstein said. "He also is one of the top quants [quantitative analyst] in the game as well. Builds his own models and understands it on a granular level - not just to the R & D department, but being a part of it and not just relating to scouts but being one. He brings a really unique skillset and set of experiences to the position."

That's another big hire to check off the list for the Cubs as the offseason starts to heat up. Epstein and Co. can now turn their attention to fine-tuning the roster to ensure the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in 2020. 

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