Cubs

Nothing to hide: Cubs ace Jake Arrieta flattered by PED suspicions

Nothing to hide: Cubs ace Jake Arrieta flattered by PED suspicions

Jake Arrieta leaned back in a big reclining chair, his right leg resting comfortably on his left knee, showing off his Stars and Stripes socks, the laces to his Under Armour sneakers undone.     

“I’ve never had anything to hide,” said Arrieta, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner who’s transformed the Cubs into a World Series favorite. “I know I’ve never taken any shortcuts and I don’t ever intend to.” 

The price of that success includes whispers about a Triple-A guy on the fringes of the Baltimore Orioles using performance-enhancing drugs to morph into the hottest pitcher on the planet. The rumblings got a little louder after Arrieta’s second no-hitter last week against the Cincinnati Reds. 

Jake’s response: Bring it on. Arrieta amplified the comments he made to USA Today before Tuesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field, speaking for almost 15 minutes with the reporters crowded around his locker.   

“I’ve always been in good shape – I just sucked early in my career from a statistical perspective,” Arrieta said. “My body’s always been very similar to how it is now. It’s just the numbers and the results are different, so people want to question things. And that’s just kind of the nature of sports.

“It is somewhat flattering, especially when some of those comments are coming from some of the best players in the game.”    

Arrieta always believed he belonged in that stratosphere, even if it took a change-of-scenery trade from the Orioles in July 2013, or the middle of his fourth season on the Triple-A level. Arrieta had put up a 5.46 ERA in almost 360 big-league innings while trying to adhere to Baltimore’s one-size-fits-all pitching philosophy.

The Cubs allowed Arrieta to be himself, fine-tuned his natural mechanics and watched his confidence soar while going 20-1 with a 0.86 ERA across his last 24 regular-season starts.

“I guess everybody’s become suspicious,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But I just challenge anybody to go with him for his workout program for maybe – I won’t even say a week – I’ll say for two days. Just go keep up with him for two days and see what he actually does and see if you could (do it).

“What happened a couple years ago (in Baltimore) is always going to create that kind of suspicion when a guy’s a little bit above and beyond or extraordinary. 

“But with him – for those of us that are around him all the time – it is an extraordinary workout program. His focus is off the charts. And even actually prior to him being good, the numbers were the same back then, whether you’re talking fastball velocity, spin rate, all that stuff that was already there.”

Arrieta – who turned 30 during spring training and will face the rebuilding Brewers on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field – had enough raw talent to get a seven-figure signing bonus as a fifth-round pick out of Texas Christian University in 2007. He shined in the Arizona Fall League, pitched in the 2008 Summer Olympics and made it to the All-Star Futures Game that same year. 

Arrieta isn’t some overnight success story. He believes those PED whispers he hears come from a place of jealousy. 

“People like that just don’t appreciate hard work,” Arrieta said. “Maybe they expect things to be easy or things to just kind of fall into your lap without having to put in the time and the effort and everything that goes into it, the sacrifices you make.

“I pride myself on doing things the right way – and hard work – and doing things that will make my family proud. (PEDs are) really not something that’s ever been on my agenda.”

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.