Cubs

Jon Lester and Jose Quintana give Cubs a one-two punch for this pennant race and beyond

Jon Lester and Jose Quintana give Cubs a one-two punch for this pennant race and beyond

BALTIMORE – A media scrum that began with Theo Epstein’s classic “Ask wetbutt” response to what the Cubs do next ended with the team president laughing as he concluded a long answer on the Jose Quintana/Jon Lester comparison: “I think Jose’s got him on throwing to first base.”

“And Jon’s got him on throwing the cutter, so I think they’re probably even,” Epstein said after literally knocking on the bench in the visiting dugout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

A Cubs team that at times has seemed too quiet came out firing one-liners after the All-Star break, hitting bombs all over the stadium and onto Eutaw Street, sweeping the Orioles and feeling the bounce from that blockbuster trade with the White Sox.

For some of the same reasons that the Cubs invested $155 million in Lester, Epstein sacrificed top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease to get another All-Star lefty who can anchor the rotation through 2020.  

“There are some similarities in their delivery, their effort levels and how clean their arms work,” Epstein said. “And – knock on wood – how clean their injury histories have been, how consistent they’ve been.

“They manipulate the baseball a little bit differently. Jon obviously cuts the ball a lot more than Quintana does. But, yeah, they’re pretty good comps. They’re right next to each other on the most valuable pitchers (rankings) the last three, four years in baseball.

“Lefties with great deliveries – repeatable deliveries – excellent command, the ability to get soft contact and miss a bat now and then, and not beat themselves.”

The Cubs purposely gave Lester some extra rest coming out of the All-Star break and will start him against Julio Teheran and the Atlanta Braves on Monday night at the new SunTrust Park. The hope is that will help Lester recover from the worst outing of his career – giving up 10 runs and getting two outs in an ugly loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates that ended the first half – and a workload that includes nine playoff series across the last four years.  

Teheran actually tops the “Similarity Scores” on Quintana’s Baseball-Reference page, a top-10 list that also includes Dallas Keuchel, Chris Archer, Marco Estrada and Yu Darvish.

“We’re completely different pitchers,” Lester said. “I think people want to compare because we’re left-handed. I don’t like putting two people together. We’re all different. We all go about things a different way. I know he’s a very solid, good pitcher and has been doing it for a while.

“The thing I respect, obviously, is his ability to take the ball every five days. He pitches 200 innings and goes about his business the right way. As far as the other stuff on the field, I don’t like pigeonholing people.”

Lester is five years older than Quintana, who at 28 already has four consecutive seasons with 32 or 33 starts on his resume (while playing for White Sox teams that averaged almost 90 losses a year). Between 2013 and 2016, Lester (18.3) and Quintana (18.1) rank sixth and seventh in terms of pitcher WAR on the FanGraphs database, trailing only Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, David Price and Corey Kluber.

The history of nine-figure megadeals for pitchers shows Lester should crash at some point. But there are also reasons to believe that Quintana could rise while pitching in the National League with a Gold Glove-level defense behind him and Bryzzo Souvenir Co. generating more offense.

First impression: Quintana looked extremely comfortable in a pennant race, putting up seven scoreless innings, 12 strikeouts and zero walks in his Cubs debut. The Cubs believe they’ve found the one-two punch that can get them back to October, year after year. Left unsaid: Your move, Brewers.

“Well, Jon is the best left-hander in the league,” Quintana said, “and now he’s my teammate, so that’s an honor for me. I’m real excited. I can’t wait to work with him and learn with him and help this team (show) what we can do.”

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

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AP

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

It won't be long before baseball fans get their first look at the Cubs under new manager David Ross.

ESPN announced Thursday they will broadcast two of the Cubs' first four games in 2020: March 29 against the Brewers in Milwaukee (Sunday Night Baseball) and March 30 against the Pirates (3 p.m. first pitch). The latter game is the Cubs' 2020 home opener.

Ross worked as a color analyst for ESPN from 2017-19 before the Cubs hired him as manager in October. So, not only will his club be in the national spotlight early in the season, but his former co-workers will be the ones analyzing him as his managerial career kicks off.

The Cubs open the season on March 26 against the Brewers.

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Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

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USA TODAY

Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

This is the best thing the White Sox have done for the Cubs in years.

The White Sox made a big splash in free agency Thursday, signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract. Grandal joins the South Siders from the Brewers, where he played an integral role in Milwaukee making a second-straight postseason appearance in 2019.

Grandal led qualified catchers in on-base percentage (.380) last season, also posting career highs in home runs (28) and RBIs (77). He’s also an excellent pitch framer, tying for fourth in RszC (runs saved by catcher framing) among all catchers with 9.

Milwaukee’s payroll reached a franchise-high $122.5 million in 2019 and their farm system (No. 29 in MLB, per Baseball America) is lacking. How they replace Grandal’s production is a major question mark, which in turn is a win for the Cubs this offseason.

But besides plucking him from the NL Central, the White Sox signing Grandal early in the offseason helps the Cubs, who have important decisions of their own to make.

Although Cubs president Theo Epstein said to take any trade rumors with a “mouthful of salt,” multiple teams believe catcher Willson Contreras is available for trade. The Cubs need to retool their roster and replenish a farm system that has been depleted in recent seasons from numerous “win now” trades.

The Cubs and White Sox made the notorious José Quintana trade in July 2017, but it’s unlikely the two would have matched up for a Contreras trade. The Cubs need young assets; trading away young assets is the last thing the White Sox want to do as their championship window opens.

So, Grandal landed with a team that was unlikely to be involved in any potential Contreras trade talks. Grandal was the best free agent catcher; Contreras is the best catcher that can be had in a trade.

Other teams interested in Grandal — such as the Reds — can no longer turn to him in free agency. The Rays have made addressing the catcher spot this winter a priority, but they have one of MLB’s lowest payrolls each season. Signing Grandal wasn’t going to happen, but Tampa Bay has the farm system (No. 2 in baseball, per MLB.com) to make a big trade.

Contreras is the best catcher available — for the right price, obviously — so the ball is in the Cubs' court. They don’t get better by dealing their two-time All-Star backstop, but Contreras’ trade value is high. With Grandal off the market, it just got even higher.

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