Cubs

Jon Lester vs. Max Scherzer: Money showdown in Cubs-Nationals

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Jon Lester vs. Max Scherzer: Money showdown in Cubs-Nationals

Jon Lester vs. Max Scherzer.

A fascinating case study in the free-agent market will play out on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs and Washington Nationals will show off the two aces who cost $365 million combined.

“It was a fun offseason, I’m sure, for him,” Lester said. “It’s something that I definitely don’t want to ever go through again.”

The Decision dominated the December winter meetings, with Lester finally picking the Cubs, spurning the Boston Red Sox and not pushing the Los Angeles Dodgers to see what their limits would really be. The San Francisco Giants also made a very strong offer that would have at least been in the ballpark of what the Cubs ultimately guaranteed: Six years and $155 million.

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Jon Lester jersey!]

Creating a cone of silence, super-agent Scott Boras slow-played everything with Scherzer, waiting until late January before closing a seven-year, $210 million megadeal that contains a significant amount of deferred money.

“You’re always aware of your contemporaries in the free-agent market,” Scherzer said. “Obviously, I was interested in what (Lester) was able to secure. And, obviously, he got a very hefty contract himself. So I’m very happy for him and his family. Because as players, we all cheer for each other, and we all want the best for everybody.”

[MORE: Bryant walk-off steals the show in Cubs win]

After getting traded from Boston to the Oakland A’s at the July 31 deadline last season, Lester did not come with the qualifying offer and draft-pick compensation the Detroit Tigers attached to Scherzer.

Lester trusted the Cubs executives who used to work at Fenway Park – Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod – and how they planned to build a World Series winner on the North Side.

Relationships matter: Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo had been the Arizona Diamondbacks scouting director when they grabbed Scherzer with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft out of the University of Missouri.

Lester said he didn’t view Scherzer as a rival or a benchmark when he strategized with the Levinson brothers’ ACES agency.

“That was one thing that I really respected about our game plan,” Lester said. “It’s not about comparing you to other people. We put everything out there that had to do with me. I wouldn’t want Max to bash me. I would probably assume the same on the other side. Each (case) is individual. There’s too many variables.”

[MORE: Cubs think Javier Baez is in a good place in Iowa]

Lester is 31 years old and left-handed, with more than 1,600 innings on his resume, plus 84 more in the postseason, and those two World Series rings from Boston. He’s starting to settle in with the Cubs (4-2, 3.56 ERA) after a rough April that had him feeling the weight of this contract.

Scherzer is right-handed and will turn 31 this summer. He recently passed the 1,300-inning career mark and has blended in well with the win-now Nationals, going 5-3 with a 1.67 ERA. He might earn some more hardware to match that 2013 American League Cy Young Award.

“You have two different ways of going about it,” Lester said. “You have Boras doing his thing and we did our thing. I don’t know what they did. I don’t know how they broke down their comparisons or anything like that. But I know on our end – before we even met about it – that was something in my mind: I don’t want to be compared to other people.

“You can take contracts and compare them, (taking) guys that have signed before you and (putting) numbers next to that. But as far as going into free agency with somebody – even (James) Shields – I don’t feel like you try to compete with anybody. I feel like you just got to stay in your foxhole and try to battle it out and do what’s best for your family.

“At the end of the day, obviously, Max got a hell of a lot more. And that’s awesome for him and the Nationals to be here. It’s just different circumstances, different deals, kind of all the way around.”

The bottom line: “We’re both in pretty good spots,” Lester said.   

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.