Cubs

Jason Heyward homers, Addison Russell gets four hits, Cubs score 14 in blowout of Pirates

Jason Heyward homers, Addison Russell gets four hits, Cubs score 14 in blowout of Pirates

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jason Heyward is getting tired of talking about his rebuilt swing. Considering what the Chicago Cubs center fielder is doing at the plate these days, the conversation will soon flip from his new-look swing to the results.

Heyward hit his third home run in four days, a sizzling line drive to right-center off Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl in the first inning to set the tone in a lopsided 14-3 victory for the suddenly hot Cubs on Monday night. Heyward added an RBI on a groundout during Chicago's five-run second inning as the defending World Series champions won for the fifth time in six games.

A year after he hit just .230 while managing just seven home runs and 49 RBIs, Heyward is at .294 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in 18 games so far in 2017.

"I've been there before," Heyward said. "Had a down year before, didn't go exactly how I wanted. Had to put some work in and come back. It's great to see. It's not over. I'm not looking at it that way."

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Addison Russell had a career-high four hits for the Cubs, who set a season-high total for runs and tied their season-high total with 17 hits. A little over two years after going 0-5 in his major league debut at PNC Park, Russell singled four times while spraying the ball to all fields.

"I just put it in play and see where it goes," Russell said. "It's working out. Seems like a pretty easy approach."

Ben Zobrist added three RBIs for Chicago. Kris Bryant and Miguel Montero had three hits while Kyle Schwarber added two more himself. The Cubs are starting to get it going after a sluggish start, averaging 8.8 runs during their recent surge to first in the NL Central. It has helped take some of the pressure off a pitching staff that is struggling to get any sort of consistency from its starters.

"Some pieces are changed around but all in all if I'm producing, have Schwarbs here, him settled in for a whole year, there's a lot of good things that can come from it," Heyward said.

Chicago scored four runs with two outs in the first inning off Chad Kuhl (1-2) and added five more in the second to give Brett Anderson (2-0) all the breathing room he would need.

Anderson struggled at times with his command, walking six in six innings while striking out three and allowed three runs, one earned. Though Chicago manager Joe Maddon said he was "encouraged" by what he saw from Anderson, Anderson didn't exactly agree.

"I'd like to have a start where I don't have to battle, to grind, do all the things of that nature," Anderson said.

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time with free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his baseball home forever. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two reported transactions Tuesday may not have drawn much attention from Cubs fans, but both directly impact the North Siders.

First, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reported the Angels are trading third baseman Zack Cozart to the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. Soon thereafter, free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius agreed to a one-year deal with the Phillies, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported.

From a Cubs perspective, the Angels' and Phillies' moves impact a potential Kris Bryant trade market. According to Ardaya, the Giants are picking up the remaining $12.67 million on Cozart’s deal. This clears payroll space for Los Angeles to make a run at a superstar free agent, like third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Phillies inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential Bryant trade, according to multiple reports. However, Bryant’s unresolved grievance case is a holdup in any trade talks, should the Cubs entertain offers. If he wins, he'll become a free agent next winter. If he loses, he'll remain under team control through 2021.

Gregorius will slot into shortstop for Philadelphia, while incumbent Jean Segura will move to second base, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The Phillies are less likely to pursue Bryant — should the Cubs shop him — than they were entering Tuesday. Things can change, but they have less of an infield need as they did on Monday.

On the other hand, the Angels and new manager Joe Maddon suddenly could be a candidate to pursue Bryant. Acquiring him would bring less certainty than Rendon or Donaldson, as Bryant is only under contract for two seasons more, max. Furthermore, acquiring Bryant will cost the Angels prospect capital, while adding Rendon and Donaldson will 'only' entail paying them handsomely as free agents.

In short, Philadelphia is less likely to pursue Bryant than they were entering Tuesday; the possibility of the Angels doing so is stronger than it was entering the day. The Angels haven't been directly connected to Bryant at this point, but that now could change.