Joe Maddon ready to help Cubs recruit free agents: ‘The spotlight is shining from Wrigley’


Joe Maddon ready to help Cubs recruit free agents: ‘The spotlight is shining from Wrigley’

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.

[MORE: How Joe Maddon turned around Cubs and won NL Manager of Year]

“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.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs got their money’s worth with Joe Maddon at the microphone]

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.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

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.”

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd 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 victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).