Cubs

Cubs provide further details on Anthony Rizzo's extension talks

Cubs provide further details on Anthony Rizzo's extension talks

SAN DIEGO — Anthony Rizzo's agent sent a shockwave through the Cubs world Wednesday morning at the Winter Meetings when he said the organization isn't working on an extension for the star first baseman.

In speaking with ESPN's Jesse Rogers, agent Marc Pollack said: "The Cubs have informed us that they will not be offering Anthony an extension at this time. Anthony has let his desire to be a Cub for life known to the organization. Although we do not know what the future holds, a deal to make that happen will not be addressed now."

Rizzo, 30, is under team control for the next two seasons — he's due $16.5 million in 2020 and has an identical club option for 2021.

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer responded to Pollack's statement in a segment with David Kaplan for Wednesday's Sports Talk Live:

"We've always kept those conversations in-house," Hoyer said. "We've had conversations with lots of our guys over a five-year period and it’s always best to keep it quiet. I think in this case, Rizzo's agent decided to talk about it. We did have some conceptual talks about what an extension would look like and I think that, candidly, we were pretty far apart in terms of length and so he decided to come out and say that. 

"But we love Rizz. I hope he's a Cub forever. There's nothing that's been done that's going to stop future conversations, but we did have some conceptual conversations that obviously wasn't a match at this time. But this is a moment in time. It doesn't mean there's not going to be a match at some point in the future."

Hoyer reiterated Tuesday night what both he and Theo Epstein have been saying all winter — the Cubs have approached several players about extensions and have not yet reached an agreement with Rizzo, Javy Baez, Kris Bryant or anyone else.

Rizzo has won the Gold Glove three of the last four seasons and just wrapped up one of the best years of his career with a .293 batting average, .405 on-base percentage and .924 OPS to go along with 27 homers and 94 RBI. 

He is one of the faces of the franchise, but he's also dealt with back injuries the last couple years and is still two years away from free agency. There's plenty of time for the Cubs to work out a possible extension with Rizzo, but it doesn't appear that will happen this winter.

Wednesday evening, Epstein called the distance between the Cubs and Rizzo's camp on length is just part of the standard process for extension talks.

"The way I look at him is that he's a special player and he's done so much for the organization and the city that we value him very, very highly and we think highly of him as a person," Epstein said. "He's closely associated with our organization, our brand and everything that we're trying to do. He's not a free agent. He's not at risk of going anywhere right now.

"I know the story raised some alarms, but he's under control here for two more years, which we're thrilled about and there will be lots of opportunities for continuing the relationship. Again, more generally, when there's common ground on length, there can be deeper conversations. That's usually more typical when you get closer to free agency."

When Kaplan asked Hoyer if the Cubs are going to be able to lock down an extension for one of the core players before spring training, the GM responded:

“You know that’d be great," Hoyer said. "Like I said, we’ve had a lot of these conversations over the years. We know these agents so well based on these conversations; we can pick them up really easily. And we have a lot of good players and we’ve approached all these guys at some different point about extensions. And I understand — it takes both sides being happy to get something done. You don’t expect every time you go into a negotiation to get it done. You know sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t.

"But I can tell you it’s not for lack of trying. We have had tons of conversations and we’ll continue to. It would be great to keep some of these players in a Cubs uniform for a lot longer.”

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Forget winter of change, 'status quo' might be the new normal for Cubs

Forget winter of change, 'status quo' might be the new normal for Cubs

For the second straight offseason, Theo Epstein teased a winter of change after a disappointing end to the campaign.

And for the second straight offseason, the Cubs showed up for the annual fan convention without many significant changes to the roster. 

The fanbase has grown impatient and frustrated and itching for ways to improve upon a 2019 team that openly admits it did not perform up to its potential. 

"I understand the frustration," Epstein said Friday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. "There's a lot of days I'm frustrated, too, where you look out and there's a great fit on a player who you know you can recruit and sign a reasonable deal that he's worth and you can't get that player and that's frustrating.

"But that's the reality. Every club every winter has a certain landscape, certain paramaters they have to operate under. There are going to be times that we're gonna be really aggressive and have a ton of flexibility and every player is a possibility for us. We knew this was gonna be one of those offseasons where we were gonna be more active in trades than free agency and so there are days where we wake up frustrated or go home at the end of a long day frustrated. 

"So I certainly understand that from the fans, but then, I also look at the talent that we have on paper and I talk to our players and I get excited about how good of a team we can be."

The parameters the Cubs are working under includes a payroll that is already projected over the luxury tax for a second straight season, which the club wants to get back under and reset. That means the Cubs have yet to commit one single dollar in guaranteed big-league money this offseason, instead operating on the fringes of the roster to take fliers on pitchers (like Casey Sadler, acquired Friday) or position players (such as Hernan Perez on a minor-league deal) rather than re-signing Nicholas Castellanos or adding a bullpen piece with a long track record of success.

Epstein knows this isn't an ideal way to build a contender, but the Cubs aren't blowing it up, either. They're stuck in something of a baseball purgatory, trying to win in 2020 but also recognizing the need to improve the long-term health of the franchise. That means resetting the luxury tax, adding long-term pieces and potentially trading away short-term assets.

"We were an 84-win team last year, but underlying stats projected out, we were probably a 90-win team," Epstein said. "Not to say we didn't have issues — we did. Not to say we don't have holes now — we do. But there's significant upside with this group of players. We're not gonna whistle past a graveyard. We're gonna carry more risk into this year than we want to. More risk into this year than we traditionally have in the past and it's our job to operate our way around that.

"...We're gonna carry risk in the 'pen this year and we have to find a repeat where we find value in guys and guys improve and step up. We have risk with our rotation health. We don't have the type of depth and redundancy you'd like to have. And then at a couple positions, there's gonna be some risk with guys with real upside, but guys who if things don't break our way, we could have holes out there. And so that's on us and something we have to continue to plan for every single day. But we have real upside at every position, too."

Fans can laugh and scoff as Epstein and David Ross and the players talk about the potential for the 2020 Cubs to win the World Series or exclaim they're hopeful for the season ahead. But what else do you expect them to say? It'd be silly for the president or a manager or the star of a team to say "No, we don't expect to win this year." Especially when a team has as much talent on the roster as the Cubs have...even if there are holes and risks and not an ideal amount of depth.

Epstein is right — the 2019 Cubs *should have* finished with a 90-72 record instead of an 84-78 record. That's projected based off the Cubs' +97 run differential. The 89-73 Brewers, meanwhile, were projected for only an 81-win season based on their +3 run differential. 

However, those numbers are ultimately meaningless. The reality is the Brewers were in the playoffs (even if only for one game) and the Cubs spent the entire last week of the regular season knowing they weren't going to be partaking in any October action.

After another disappointing finish, Epstein and the Cubs brass wanted change. In a perfect world, they'd already have it — a reshaping of the roster to shake things up and get a different mix than the team that has fallen short of expectations the last two seasons.

But this isn't a perfect world and the Cubs front office isn't going to force things. They won't make a change just for change's sake.

"We're not in a position where we have to do anything," Epstein said. "I think you want to always avoid being put in a corner where you have to make a deal and your back's against the wall and you're gonna take any deal that's out there. We're not at all in that position, but looking at the horizon of the next two years, I think you would be wise at some point to do something that looks out a little bit more for the long term and a little bit less for the short term. But that doesn't have to happen now. We're not in a position where we have to move anybody.

"...What's most likely is status quo — it's hard to get long-term extensions done, it's hard to get trades done. We have what we feel is a pretty good club. We're trying to compete this year and we're not in a position where we have to do anything."

That's certainly a change from the tone set forth by Epstein in his end-of-season presser on the final day of September. But while the roster is essentially intact, the Cubs gave the rest of the organization a major face-lift, from the coaching staff to the scouting department to the strength and conditioning staff. 

Status quo is a good thing for those Cubs fans hoping Epstein's front office doesn't trade away their favorite player.

Kris Bryant is in attendance at Cubs Convention this weekend, but he's also dealing with a bout of the flu, so he did not speak to the media and had to pass on his now-annual segment on the Ryan Dempster show (which was anything but..."boring").

Epstein joked they might be doing a Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope where the Cubs lull everybody into the idea that nothing will happen this winter only for some major news to come down in the three weeks between the Convention and spring training. 

Things can change in a hurry when it comes to trade talks, but it's becoming more and more likely the Cubs will report to their complex in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 11 with a "status quo" roster.

Cubs add another pitcher to the bullpen mix

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USA TODAY

Cubs add another pitcher to the bullpen mix

A few hours before the 2020 Cubs Convention kicked off, Theo Epstein's front office was hard at work adding another pitcher to the bullpen mix.

It's not a big name fans are itching for, but the Cubs acquired right-handed pitcher Casey Sadler from the Dodgers Friday afternoon. The Cubs sent minor-league infielder Clayton Daniel to LA in return. 

Sadler, 29, was designated for assignment by his former team earlier in the week. He has 42 career MLB appearances under his belt, 33 of which came last season between the Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays (1 start). 

Sadler performed well in 2019, posting a 4-0 record, 2.14 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, but only had 31 strikeouts in 46.1 innings. He had more success missing bats in Triple-A, with 12.3 K/9 in 38.2 innings last year.

This brings the Cubs' 40-man roster to 39 with a little less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. The move fits the theme of the offseason where Epstein and Co. are taking fliers on all the buy-low pitchers they can as a volume-game approach to building a pitching staff.

Sadler is out of minor-league options, so he should get a shot at cracking the big-league bullpen out of camp.

At the moment, Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck look like the only locks for the Opening Day bullpen, but a host of others will be in the mix in Arizona, including:

Ryan Tepera (free agent)
Trevor Megill (Rule 5 pick)
Dan Winkler (free agent)
CD Pelham (waiver pickup)
Brandon Morrow (minor-league free agent)
Duane Underwood Jr. (out of minor-league options)
Alec Mills (out of options)
Adbert Alzolay
Dillon Maples
James Norwood

There are a lot of question marks building a bullpen out of that group, especially considering the proven names the Cubs lost from last year's club (Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Brandon Kintzler).

Daniel, 24, was the Cubs' 31st-round pick in 2018 out of Jacksonville State University. He reached Double-A Tennessee last season and hit .305 with a .799 OPS, 2 homers and 21 RBI in 67 minor-league games a year ago.