Jon Lester hoping front office gives Cubs a boost at trade deadline


Jon Lester hoping front office gives Cubs a boost at trade deadline

Jon Lester demanded a no-trade clause before he signed that $155 million megadeal because he wanted to control his own destiny.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein broke his own policy and caved pretty quickly, envisioning Lester in a Cubs uniform on October nights, ultimately winning a World Series here.

With about 48 hours left until Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline, the Cubs really aren’t all-in yet, looking at players who can help next season and beyond, or trying to patch holes in the roster, not desperate for the two-month mercenary who might put this team over the top.  

If the Detroit Tigers really are becoming sellers, it’s so much easier to picture the Cubs rolling out the red carpet for David Price during his free-agency tour, the way the organization gave such a detailed presentation to Lester’s family last November.

[RELATED - As Cubs look for deals, Joe Maddon tells Starlin Castro: You’re not getting traded]

So this won’t necessarily change the thinking for Epstein’s front office. But in a season filled with wild mood swings for Cubs fans, Lester settled things down on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field, dominating the Colorado Rockies in a 3-2 victory.

“We all understand the position that we’re in,” Lester said. “We can’t just (mortgage everything). Now if we were in first place and this plan was kind of sped up, I think guys would expect something to get done. Whether it’s a big move or a small move, anytime you get somebody that just kind of gives you that little boost. That gives you that belief.

“And I’m not saying they don’t believe in us if they don’t make a move. It’s just you get that little boost in the clubhouse, like: ‘Hey, these guys think we can make a push here.’”

The Cubs are now 53-47 and trailing the San Francisco Giants by 2.5 games for the second wild-card spot, likely to land someone like Ian Kennedy or Dan Haren to stabilize the back end of the rotation.

Lester knows there are no guarantees. He got traded last year from the Boston Red Sox to the Oakland A’s on July 31 — his son’s birthday — and wound up with a no-decision after giving up six runs in a one-and-done wild-card loss to the Kansas City Royals. 

Lester (6-8, 3.26 ERA) sliced through Colorado’s lineup, striking out seven of the first nine hitters he faced and finishing with 14 strikeouts. The lefty unloaded his arsenal for eight innings — cutter, curveball, sinker, changeup — and gave up only two runs.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

“Everything was on,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We definitely needed that. He supplied it. That’s what guys like Jon Lester do for a team. That’s a perfect example.”

The Cubs got home runs from Dexter Fowler (.518 on-base percentage since the All-Star break) and Anthony Rizzo (his first since July 7). Hector Rondon notched his 13th save after their frontline starter pitched like an ace.

All this reinforced the idea that improvement will have to come from within if there’s going to be meaningful games played at Wrigley Field in late September.

But Lester would still like to see the front office deliver at the trade deadline.

“Would it be nice? Yeah,” Lester said. “If it doesn’t happen, I think we all understand. We have the pieces. We just need to consistently play well on all fronts of the game.”

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

No, the Cubs are not currently talking to the Baltimore Orioles about bringing Manny Machado to the North Side of Chicago.

So says Theo Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations who met with the media at Wrigley Field ahead of Friday's series opener with the San Francisco Giants.

Epstein vehemently shot down the notion of trade talks and specified the major diffence between trade rumors and trade talks, while refusing to comment on Machado in particular.

"I'm not addressing any specific rumor or any player with another team," Epstein said. "I would never talk about that in a million years. The simple way to put it is there's been a lot of trade rumors involving the Cubs and there's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs.

"There's a real disparity between the noise and the reality and unfortunately, sometimes that puts a player or two that we have in a real tough circumstance. And that's my job to clarify there's nothing going on right now.

"We have more than enough ability to win the division, win the World Series and we really need to focus on our roster and getting the most out of our ability and finding some consistency. Constant focus outside the organization doesn't do us any good, especially when it's not based in reality right now."

The Cubs have presented a united front publicly in support of Addison Russell, whose name has been the one bandied about most as a potential leading piece in any move for Machado.

After all, the Cubs have won a World Series and never finished worse than an NLCS berth with Russell as their shortstop and he's only 24 with positive signs of progression offensively.

Trading away 3.5 years of control of Russell for 3-4 months of Machado is the type of bold, go-for-it move the Cubs did in 2016 when their championship drought was well over 100 years.

Now, the championship drought is only one season old and the window of contention is expected to remain open until through at least the 2021 season.

Epstein likes to point out that every season is sacred, but at what cost? The Cubs front office is still very much focused on the future beyond 2018.

"Everybody's talking about making trades in May — the first part of the season is trying to figure out who you are," Epstein said. "What are the strengths of the club? What are the weaknesses of the club? What's the character of the club? What position is the club gonna be in as we get deeper in the season? What's our short-term outlook? What's our long-term outlook? What's the chemistry in the clubhouse?

"All those things. It's a process to get there and figure it out. If you rush to those kinds of judgments, you can oftentimes make things worse. I think it's important to figure out exactly who you are and give guys a chance to play and find their level and see how all the pieces fit together before you make your adjustments."

So there's no chance we could see the Cubs once again jump the market and make an early deal like they did last year for Jose Quintana or five years ago for Jake Arrieta? Will they definitely wait another five weeks until July to make a move?

"It's just the natural order of things," Epstein said. "We wouldn't be opposed to doing something, but that's not the case right now. It's not happening."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers 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 is heating up, but even a red-hot Sosa doesn't automatically equal wins for the Cubs.

Slammin' Sammy notched his first multi-homer game in 1998 in a 9-5 loss to Kevin Millwood and the Atlanta Braves. Sosa drove in 4 of the Cubs' 5 runs on a solo shot in the 4th inning and a three-run shot in the 8th. 

Sosa tallied 830 feet of homers in the game, with his first blast going 410 feet and the second shot measured at 420 feet.

The big game bumped Sosa's overall season slash line to .337/.411/.551 (.962 OPS) with 11 homers and 35 RBI.

Fun fact: Mickey Morandini hit second for the Cubs in this game and went 4-for-4, but somehow only scored one run despite hitting just in front of Sosa all game. That's because Morandini was caught stealing to end the 3rd inning, leaving Sosa to lead off the 4th inning with a solo blast.