Cubs

Will Cubs double down with another Jon Lester-level megadeal?

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Will Cubs double down with another Jon Lester-level megadeal?

When the Jordan Zimmermann trade rumors surfaced last offseason, there was a thought that he would set the meter at whatever Jon Lester got and leave it running.

The Washington Nationals talked extension and also took out an insurance policy against Zimmermann leaving, investing $210 million in Max Scherzer and preparing for their homegrown starter to sign somewhere else as a free agent.

Since the Cubs are big Zimmermann fans, do they double down on that six-year, $155 million contract and offer something in Lester’s neighborhood?

Does it make sense to go to the top of the market and try to put together a Scherzer-level megadeal for David Price?

And with all the uncertainty surrounding the team’s financial picture — at least in terms of how much of those new/postseason revenue streams will flow into baseball operations — it’s at least worth asking: Should the Cubs diversify their roster and not have such a top-heavy feel?

[MORE CUBS: Addison Russell made his presence felt during rookie year with Cubs]

The Cubs know they can’t stay this healthy or be that lucky in 2016. Realistically, there are no ready-for-impact pitchers in the minor-league pipeline, the biggest arms years away from potentially contributing.

This is also the time to be aggressive, because that window to contend will slam shut faster than you think. That win-now mentality could also mean building a trade for pitching around someone like Starlin Castro, Javier Baez or Jorge Soler.

Theo Epstein seemed to leave all options on the table during last week’s end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, where the team president looked ahead to a winter that could define his administration.

“The topic sentence is we would like to add more quality pitching,” Epstein said after watching Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel start Games 3 and 4 of a National League Championship Series the New York Mets led from start to finish.

Money talks, but the Cubs won’t have to sell a marquee free agent like Zimmermann or Price on a hope-and-change message, the blueprints for a renovated Wrigley Field and that group of blue-chip prospects.

Wrigleyville is under construction, guys want to play for Joe Maddon (though the manager’s pajama trips aren’t for everyone) and Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell are now playoff-tested.

“Nobody expected us to be here,” Lester said after the Cubs got swept out of the NLCS. “Everybody just expected us to compete and be a part of something that was a step in the right direction. Now we’ve kind of put a stamp on that step (and) we’ve made believers out of people.”

The Cubs won 101 games after Opening Night, when the Cubs had bathroom issues, the Wrigley Field bleachers hadn’t opened yet, Lester still felt the aftereffects from a “dead arm” in spring training and ESPN highlighted the lefty’s issues throwing to first base and controlling the running game.

[MORE: Kris Bryant named Sporting News' NL Rookie of the Year]

Whoever joins the Cubs in 2016 won’t have the benefit of a training-wheels season or the goodwill generated during an out-of-nowhere playoff run.

“Now these guys (in the clubhouse) know,” Lester said. “These guys have seen it. They’ve been there. I don’t know if they ever knew they could do it. Now they know they can. I think stuff like this makes you want it more. You get to this point and (the Mets) pushed us aside.

“Maybe that means next year we’ll show up with the belief of winning and not the what-ifs of winning. Guys (should) have a little more swagger and go out and try to do the exact same thing. Hopefully, we’re not short at this point.”

Coming off two straight All-Star seasons where he showed up in the Cy Young Award voting, Zimmermann (13-10, 3.66 ERA) didn’t have the greatest walk year for an underachieving Nationals team that won only 83 games and got manager Matt Williams fired.

But Zimmermann still made 33 starts and topped 200 innings — showing the headstrong attitude the Cubs would appreciate — and he won’t turn 30 until the middle of next season.

Zimmermann is a self-made pitcher who came out of a Division III program — the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point — and still keeps a home in Wisconsin.

The Nationals actually drafted Zimmermann with the 67th overall pick in the 2007 draft — a selection that had been part of the compensation package for the Cubs signing Alfonso Soriano.

Zimmermann is right-handed and had Tommy John surgery near the end of the 2009 season. The Cubs believe lefties typically age better and Lester (two World Series rings) also has more playoff experience than Zimmermann (12-plus postseason innings).

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Lester wants another chance to show he’s a big-game pitcher after losing both of his playoff starts this October. But the Cubs have no regrets after Year 1 — 11-12, 3.34 ERA, 207 strikeouts in 205 innings — and would do the Lester deal all over again. Epstein said the Cubs would be fishing in those waters again this winter.

“You can fool people through the season and win games,” Lester said. “This is where you get exposed. And this is where you figure out how to truly win. We did it (through two rounds). We came up a little short (in the NLCS). But that’s only going to make us better.

“Hopefully, we get another chance at this and guys will come into spring training even more hungry. They know how to win now. They know how to compete, day in and day out. Guys will come in now and expect to be in this position.”

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Former Cub Mark Prior 'likely' to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior 'likely' to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

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