Cubs

While Carpenter goes down in history, McNutt stays with Cubs

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While Carpenter goes down in history, McNutt stays with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. The black Jaguar pulled into the parking lot right around 8 a.m.

Chris Carpenter and Trey McNutt got out of the sports car on Tuesday and walked toward the Cubs complex. Carpenter punched in the key code at Fitch Park, and McNutt followed his roommate through the glass doors.

That morning, Carpenter would be called into an office and told that he was traded to the Boston Red Sox as the compensation for Theo Epstein. McNutt would have to call his wife for a ride back home to North Scottsdale.

I feel like Im in high school, McNutt said.

McNutt had his wife take their pickup truck to work. Out of nowhere, a 32nd-round pick from small-town Alabama had emerged as arguably the organizations best pitching prospect, a player the Red Sox targeted once Epstein decided to leave for a presidents job with the Cubs last October.

The long-winding negotiations went in a different direction. So Carpenter, who described the day as kind of surreal, becomes the answer to a baseball trivia question.

My name will go down in history, I guess, Carpenter said.

The Cubs selected Carpenter, 26, out of Kent State University in the third round of the 2008 draft. He made his big-league debut last season, but struggled during his transition to being a reliever at Triple-A Iowa, posting a 6.53 ERA in 22 games.

Still, the Red Sox are getting a power bullpen arm who can throw close to 100 mph.

I appreciate everything the Cubs have done for me, Carpenter said. Its been a great organization over the past four years and Im looking forward to going to Boston and helping them win now.

If youre going to pick two teams to play for, why not the Cubs and the Red Sox? You cant complain about that.

While the Epstein compensation drama played out, Carpenter and McNutt lived and trained together throughout the offseason. They talked about it during the Arizona Fall League with Andrew Cashner, another name floated, and since traded to the San Diego Padres.

The Red Sox had zeroed in on the 22-year-old McNutt, a potential mid-rotation starter Baseball America judges to be the organizations fourth-best prospect heading into 2012.

Instead, McNutt was planning to spend the rest of Tuesday helping Carpenter load up his car, which will be shipped to Red Sox camp in Florida.

I just hate it for him that he has to leave right at the last second, McNutt said. Its just a big hassle. Spring trainings already stressful enough, especially when youre trying to win a job and now hes got to worry about packing up all his stuff and moving all the way across the (country).

But hell be fine.Ive never met a guy (tougher) than him mentally, so I dont think this is going to bother him. It wont faze him.

So McNutts life wont be turned upside down. Maybe one day hell make it to the show and become part of those Cubs teams Epstein promises will be playing annually in October.

But for now, all this meant was that McNutt could move to a different part of the place they shared with two other Cubs minor-league players. Carpenter had the master bedroom, and McNutt was calling it. Baseball history could wait. The guy just needed a ride home.

One guy was living in the living room, McNutt said. Well all have a bedroom now.

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Expecting Jason Heyward to carry a team offensively would be thought as foolish just a few short months ago. But here in the middle of July, Heyward has turned into the offensive firestarter the Cubs have been seemingly missing since Dexter Fowler left. 

Heyward walked away from Thursday night's 9-6 win over the Cardinals tallying three hits, two RBI, two runs scored and his first stolen base of the year, as the 28-year-old outfielder continued to poke holes in the Cardinals defense. 

Twice Heyward was able to slip a ball between the 1st and 2nd basemen that off the bat looked like neither had a chance to make it through the right field side. Later, Heyward would battle through a lengthy at-bat, finally being rewarded with an opposite-field hit that drove in the game-tying run. 

"It just happened," Heyward explained. " [Carlos Martinez] is not going to give you a whole lot to do damage on throughout the game. I was able to get one pitch there and get a guy home." 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon mentioned Heyward and his ability to move the ball around the field and how it's helped him become an effective piece to this Cubs offense. So effective Heyward's batting average crept up to .290 after today's three-hit performance. 

Heyward credits his quick hands as the major tool he's utilized to create so many successful at-bats lately, which has allowed him to take advantage of certain pitches and punch them through for hits.

He's certainly not driving the ball for consistent power, but the approach has put Heyward on pace to match the 160 hit total he amassed with the Cardinals in 2015. 

"I feel like Joe's mindset on moving the ball is putting the ball in play when you got guys on base," said Heyward. "It keeps the line moving, regardless of the result." 

It might be crazy to think that Heyward's incredible turnaround this season might simply be attributed to putting the ball in play. But even just taking a look at Heyward's contact rates shows he's increased his contact on pitches outside the zone by roughly three percent.

Not a massive difference, but if Heyward's hands are truly giving him an edge at the plate, making contact with pitches that may not be a strike but are hittable pitches could explain the increased offense we are seeing now. 

"That's kinda the biggest thing," said Heyward. "The more good swings you take, the more hits you have a chance to get." 

Shooters shoot, and Heyward continues to shoot his shot and keep the Cubs offense chugging along.