Cubs

While others hit reset button, Cubs waiting for game-changers

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While others hit reset button, Cubs waiting for game-changers

The Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox have slammed the reset button while the Cubs patiently wait for game-changers like a renovated Wrigley Field, a new television deal and their homegrown core to get to the big leagues.

As Jeffrey Loria stepped onto a down escalator at the Hyatt Regency OHare, one pack of reporters followed him down the stairs. Another media group came at the Marlins owner from the left flank once he got to the ground floor.

Loria went to open the wrong door on Wednesday and got turned around trying to find the right conference room for Major League Baseballs ownership meetings. He was wearing loud, thick sunglasses indoors, with lenses that literally looked rose-colored.

Not today boys, Loria said dismissively. If you havent figured it out yet, Im not going to figure it out for you.

Loria has left South Florida taxpayers in the dark, using public money to help build the Marlins Park spaceship in Little Havana, triggering an SEC investigation. Not to mention the big-ticket free agents he signed to back-loaded contracts without no-trade clauses, like Gold Glove left-hander Mark Buehrle (four years, 58 million) and All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes (six years, 106 million).

Commissioner Bud Selig said the deal hadnt yet been submitted for his final approval, but the powerbrokers on layover inside this airport hotel in Rosemont were buzzing about the potential blockbuster 12-player trade between the Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays.

Well played, said Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, tipping his cap to an American League East rival set to acquire Reyes, Buehrle, pitcher Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck and utility guy Emilio Bonifacio.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts refused to stop and speak with beat writers and disappeared into meeting rooms throughout the day. Selig didnt want to take questions either, but will be asked about the Wrigley Field renovations and the role of the commissioners office in those negotiations during Thursdays news conference wrapping up the meetings.

From here, a new stadium plan and the television money that will pour in once the WGN contract expires after the 2014 season look like the biggest, boldest moves the Cubs could make in the near future.

By late August, the Red Sox had lost their way and didnt hesitate to trade away some of Theo Epsteins big-money guys Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett to a Los Angeles Dodgers team pumped up by a new ownership group and a huge upcoming television deal.

It takes two to tango, Lucchino said. You got to have a special situation on each side (to) have any sort of epic trade.

Toronto, which might be a top-five market, was looking to make a splash, send a message to the fan base and compete in a brutal division. The Marlins are in full retreat, and Selig will almost certainly be asked if Loria is fit to be a big-league owner.

New York Yankees president Randy Levine who in the past has criticized the idea of simply pocketing money from revenue sharing didnt complain about this mega-trade.

Theres a collective bargaining agreement, Levine said. As far as I understand, everybodys following the rules and teams are allowed to do what they want to do. (Just) from what I read I havent talked to anybody both sides think they improved. Thats what its all about.

Its interesting to note that after signing Scott Baker on Tuesday, Epstein was asked what the next rotation piece might look like, given that the right-hander recovering from Tommy John surgery received only a modest one-year, 5.5 million deal.

The Cubs president mentioned trades as one option a week after saying at the general manager meetings that the team wont have many trade options this winter.

This fire sale in Miami could change the entire landscape across baseball. Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco who is owed 11.5 million next season declined to comment when reached by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and sent this text message: Im next anyways. Its also worth monitoring Logan Morrisons Twitter feed for reactions.

Wherever the Cubs go the rest of this winter remember its still a week away from Thanksgiving they arent going to hit delete-all keys like the Marlins or the fast-forward button like the Red Sox.

Most every teams situation is different, Lucchino said. I wouldnt compare us to other clubs. I dont think many other clubs would compare themselves to us. Every team has its own distinctive market and its own special needs.

The Red Sox were reportedly discussing trade scenarios with the Marlins involving Reyes and Johnson. They now have a huge amount of financial flexibility to reshape their roster, as well as their image, and try to get back to the World Series.

We refuse to put a timetable on it, Lucchino said, but we sure dont have any five-year plans or anything like that.

The Cubs are looking at those types of windows. This was a little over a year after Epstein left Fenway Park, ending his power struggle with Lucchino and starting a compensation fight that dragged out into spring training. The Red Sox president sounded distant out of sight, out of mind? when asked about his relationship with Epstein and the Cubs now.

I think were on good terms with that organization, Lucchino said. Theyre in the other league, so we dont have a lot of direct dealings with them. Our view of the National League teams is quite different than our view of teams in the American League East. We think about them much more often.

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.