Why John Lackey would make a lot of sense for Cubs


Why John Lackey would make a lot of sense for Cubs

Connecting the dots between the Cubs and John Lackey is too easy.

The Cubs certainly feel some level of anxiety about handing out another megadeal to a 30-something pitcher, and Theo Epstein’s front office obviously has a comfort zone with people who used to work at Fenway Park.

Now that the Boston Red Sox have given David Price the largest contract for a pitcher in baseball history – for the moment at least – the dominos should start falling in the run-up to next week’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee.

Coming off a 97-win season and still dealing with limited financial flexibility, the Cubs didn’t have Boston’s sense of urgency to fix a last-place team, or that glaring need at the top of the rotation, even though Price sent out signals that he wanted to come to Chicago.

It at least got to a point where Price’s camp called the Cubs when he made the final decision to accept Boston’s seven-year, $217 million offer.

But Jon Lester still has five guaranteed seasons left on the richest contract in franchise history, a six-year, $155 million deal that represented a $20-million markup from what the Red Sox were willing to pay for a frontline starter last December.

[MORE: Cubs have options with David Price heading to Red Sox for $217 million]

The Cubs also have Jake Arrieta under club control for only two more seasons, and reigning Cy Young Award winner plus Scott Boras client usually doesn’t equal a long-term extension.

Lackey makes a lot of sense if the Cubs want to avoid a risky long-term commitment, save some bullets for the future and upgrade their rotation with a reliable veteran starter who has a career 3.11 ERA in 127-plus postseason innings.

Lackey declined the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals after going 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA during his age-36 season, so he would also cost a draft pick, though that calculus has changed for a franchise in win-now mode.

Lackey worked for the major-league minimum this year, part of a creative contract drawn up when Epstein had been Boston’s general manager. Unlike virtually all the other pitchers linked to the Cubs now, Lackey already scored the biggest deal of his career.

That five-year, $82.5 million contract saw Lackey put up a 6.41 ERA in 2011, miss the 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery and help the Red Sox win the 2013 World Series.

Lackey had an icy relationship with the Boston media, but reshaped his image after the fried-chicken-and-beer controversy and still brings an edge to the clubhouse.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon saw it in the rookie as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach for the Anaheim Angels, watching Lackey beat the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series.

[RELATED: Another big free agent splash coming for Cubs?]

“He was always kind of fearless,” Maddon said. “He comes from Texas, kind of does the John Wayne strut out there. He’s that guy.”

Lackey remains tight with Lester after their time together in Boston, a connection that became a storyline before Game 1 of the National League division series.

“I know Lack,” Lester said in October. “He’s just such a good competitor. He’s going to almost out-will you sometimes, if that makes sense. I learned a lot from him in Boston.

“Our friendship will go beyond this game, it will go beyond our careers, and it’s something that means a lot to me.”

Lackey won Game 1 at Busch Stadium and then got rocked on short rest in Game 4, with Javier Baez drilling a 94-mph fastball into the Wrigley Field bleachers for a three-run homer that helped eliminate the Cardinals. The Cubs went through almost 500 bottles of champagne that night.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Money talks in the end, but the Cubs will make any free agent pay attention with a competitive offer.

“It’s a popular destination,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s a great city. It’s a great ballpark, a great manager and coaching staff. I still think the trump card is always the drought. I think everyone wants to be a part of the team that wins in Chicago.

“I felt like in Boston, after 2003, we turned that corner as well. We were a fun team (with) a lot of talent. We went to the ALCS and lost (to the Yankees in Game 7). After that year, a lot of people were like: ‘Hey, I watched the playoffs on TV. That looked like a fun team.’

“People love playing in Fenway, and I think this is very similar in a lot of ways. We got to the NLCS (and) they got to see us play. I do think that being on that national stage and seeing our kids play on a daily basis, they realized how talented we were. Add in Wrigley (and) a new clubhouse (and) then the drought – it’s a really good recipe to lure players.”

'Yogi' and his hat-balancing act steal the show at Monday's Cubs game

'Yogi' and his hat-balancing act steal the show at Monday's Cubs game

You never know what you are going to find on Authentic Fan Night, including die-hard baseball fans with impressive tricks up their sleeve! 

'Yogi' is the name of the one particular Cubs fan who stole the show on Monday night, and developed his signature tricks in 2005 in a circus show at Bloom High School called "Under the Big Tap".

In 2017 Yogi started doing the hat trick more often and perfected it through much trial and error. 

In our clips, you can hear the Cubs faithful cheer Yogi and our own Kelly Crull on, even she gets in on the fun, trying out Yogi's hat trick for herself!

Hopefully, Yogi's antics bring some good luck to the Cubs, who are in the midst of a fight for a playoff spot in the NL. You can stream Cubs baseball here

The aftermath of the Anthony Rizzo injury and where Cubs go from here

The aftermath of the Anthony Rizzo injury and where Cubs go from here

One of the most surreal moments of this crazy Cubs season has to be watching Anthony Rizzo scoot away from his locker Monday afternoon, unable to put any weight on his right ankle.

This is the face of the franchise, the guy who spoke to the millions in attendance at the post-World Series rally three falls ago. Rizzo is the heart and soul of this team in so many ways and has really only dealt with minor back injuries throughout his nine-year career.

Now, he's wearing a boot that makes him look more like Robocop and there's no guarantee Cubs fans will see him take the field again in 2019.

But that doesn't mean you should bet against him...

"In my career, I will definitely play another regular season game," Rizzo jokingly responded to a question from a reporter asking if he will suit up again in the final two weeks of this regular season. "My body usually responds well, so certainly not ruling it out. I have every intention of trying to do everything I can with the training staff to get back on the field with the boys.

"I want to play as soon as possible, whether it's now or Game 1 of the World Series."

The results of Monday's MRI absolutely could've been worse, but the lateral sprain to Rizzo's right ankle will keep him in that boot for the next 5-7 days. After that point, he and the Cubs can determine how much movement and stress that joint can take or how much mobility he'll have.

With the Cubs fighting for their playoff lives over these next two weeks and knowing his gutsy nature, don't be shocked if Rizzo forces the issue and tries to make a return of some sort before October, even if it's just in a small pinch-hitting role.

"There's a minimum amount of time when you have to just prioritize healing and let the inflammation die down and let things heal for a little bit," Theo Epstein said. "And then once we get past that period of time, then we can see if there are ways to manage the discomfort and if there are ways through taping to create some stability that gives him at least a chance to consider contributing down the road if things go really well. 

"We're not shutting any doors, but we're realistic that this is a legitimate injury that under ideal circumstances would take some time to heal."

Would Epstein be surprised if Rizzo returned before the end of the regular season?

"I'm just comfortable saying that we're not ruling it out," Epstein said. "Shoot, I was there [in Boston] with Curt Schilling in the doctor's office trying to figure out how to staple his ankle ligament back to the bone so he can go out there and pitch. This is not an analogous situation, but I've learned never to rule anything out. 

"But also injuries like this, you just have to give requisite amount of time to let initial healing take place to even have a better idea of what's possible and what's not possible."

Of course the Cubs are going to miss Rizzo while he's out. But they definitely seem to be in good spirits with the situation, all things considered.

There was Rizzo joking about how he wants to pimp out his scooter with a bicycle bell or maybe some streamers. 

There was Joe Maddon laughing about how he's thankful Rizzo can't move around too much in the dugout during games because of that scooter. The Cubs manager is already worried about finding a buffer once Rizzo is off the scooter and more mobile.

There was Jason Heyward joking about how restless Rizzo will be in the dugout, talking nonstop about "random shit" and how the Cubs players will enjoy ragging on Rizzo to keep things loose during this next week.

"[The scooter] is torture for him," Heyward said. "But at the same time, we kinda love seeing him riding around. He's gonna make a bunch of jokes about it. We're gonna make a bunch of jokes about it and just have fun with it that way. That's all we can do."

Maddon believes Rizzo's injury can be a galvanizing moment for the club, rallying around the injured player much like the Brewers have done since Christian Yelich was ruled out for the season with a broken kneecap.

But the Javy Baez injury and subsequent news of his broken thumb didn't have that same effect on this Cubs team and there have been plenty of "turning points" and "seminal moments" that never materialized over the course of this roller coaster season.

"We don't need any extra rallying points," Heyward said. "We got enough of 'em and we have fun with that. He's gonna add to that. That's what he does when he isn't playing. He brings the rallying points, he brings the fun, he brings that competitiveness and just the randomness as well."

Everybody knows the Cubs can't replace all Rizzo does for the club, from his Gold Glove defense to his steadying presence in the lineup to his two-strike approach to his aggressiveness on bunts and turning double plays. 

Ian Happ took over at first base in Sunday's game when Rizzo left with the injury and Victor Caratini got the start there Monday night. Both guys figure to be in the mix moving forward, with Maddon also mentioning Jonathan Lucroy and Willson Contreras as potential options. 

At the moment, Maddon does not want to move Kris Bryant to play first because he likes what he's seeing from Bryant defensively at third base. Ben Zobrist is also not expected to be a part of the first-base mix.

Caratini will still catch Yu Darvish like usual, which includes Tuesday night's start against the Reds.

As for leadoff (where Rizzo had slotted in the last few games before his injury), Maddon will roll with Zobrist up there as often as he can down the stretch. But the 38-year-old veteran won't be able to play every day and Monday already represented his third straight start.

The Belichickian "next man up" principle applies here and the Cubs know they won't get any sympathy from around the rest of the league even as the injuries pile up.

"Just keep playing," Heyward said. "Keep going. Everybody just do your part. Don't try and do too much. Just be realistic. Play the game, let the game come to you and that's it. Nobody's gonna look back and say, 'Oh, they didn't make it because they didn't have so and so' or 'they made it 'cause they had so and so' or whatever at the end of the day. Especially our group right here. No one's gonna do that. Keep having fun, keep competing."

The Cubs' expectations for how the next two weeks go have not changed one bit, even with their two most important players potentially unable to suit up over these final 13 games. 

"If we play up to our capabilities, we can beat anybody," Epstein said. "It all starts over once you get into the postseason. We're looking forward to doing what we need to do to get in there. 

"We'll see what happens, but we're in a dogfight of a pennant race. One day at a time."

Heyward summed up the team's mindset simply:

"Either we make it where we want to get or we don't."