What an advertisement for the Cubs as they go big-game hunting in free agency, at least in the mix for David Price and monitoring the situation with Ben Zobrist, two of Joe Maddon’s favorite players from the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Cubs went through an elaborate presentation when Jon Lester visited Wrigleyville last November, highlighting everything from their minor-league prospects, the stadium renovations, the family amenities and what the franchise could do for his charitable foundation.
It only took six years, $155 million guaranteed and a full no-trade clause for a last-place team to sign one of the biggest free agents on last year’s market. Lester’s relationships with Theo Epstein’s front office and their shared history with the Boston Red Sox clearly helped the negotiations.
The Cubs are now coming off 97 wins, a trip to the National League Championship Series and an awards-season victory lap, with Kris Bryant starring as Rookie of the Year, Maddon running the show as Manager of the Year and Jake Arrieta lined up for Wednesday’s MLB Network episode as a Cy Young finalist.
“The spotlight is shining from Wrigley Field,” Maddon said Tuesday from Florida during a Baseball Writers’ Association of America conference call. “You’d just like to believe that’s going to attract other people that want to be there. Obviously, a huge attraction is the fact that we have not won a World Series in over a hundred years.
“There (are) competitive-nature components of a lot of major-league players that would like to be a member of that first group that did that. And of course, that’s going to be a pretty good player that wants that kind of a challenge.”
Price won his Cy Young Award while playing for Maddon on the 2012 Rays and basically described Chicago as an ideal destination while speaking with Cubs beat writers in June. The Cubs also have understandable concerns about winning a bidding war and tying up too much money in two 30-something pitchers.
Zobrist might be a luxury item the Cubs can’t afford while facing all these questions about their financial flexibility.
It would probably take a big trade this winter for Maddon’s super-utility guy to really fit on this roster next season. Zobrist already has broad appeal as a switch-hitter with on-base skills, a defender who can play all over the field and a World Series champion with the Kansas City Royals.
Maddon said he will talk to Epstein at some point this week to game-plan for the rest of the offseason.
“Of course, I’ll be involved in any kind of discussions that are going on,” Maddon said. “If I’m able to help in any way, of course, I’ll attempt to do that. I really haven’t had any conversations to this point. The guys (in the front office) have just been putting their thoughts together right now.
“I love being involved. I love making those phone calls. (And) if you’re trying to recruit guys to Wrigley Field, it’s not a bad recruiting situation to be in.”
Maddon won his first press conference as Cubs manager last November, offering to buy the first round at The Cubby Bear. He celebrated this victory at Ava, his restaurant in Tampa, admitting on the conference call that “I’ve already gotten into the Super Tuscan wine just a little bit, to be honest with you.”
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Yes, Maddon is a character and a great communicator, but decisions for free agents almost always come down to years and dollars. Still, there’s not the same need for a wine-and-dine routine at this point in the rebuild. The Cubs should sell themselves.
“We’re going to need to augment our group,” Maddon said. “The fact that we did as well as we did this year – we got as far as we did – and then you have KB doing what he did and hopefully Jake tomorrow winning that award, I think there’s a magnetic component (that) wants other good players to be with the Cubs.
“The fact that a lot of our guys have done well this year, and are being spotlighted right now, I think, is going to help.”