No matter what Cubs do this Hot Stove season, last year's failures hang over like a dark cloud

No matter what Cubs do this Hot Stove season, last year's failures hang over like a dark cloud

No matter what the Cubs do this Hot Stove season, last winter's failures hang over their heads like a dark cloud.

If the Cubs truly aren't able to afford the top free agents on the open market this offseason, the main reason for that is because they've had to spend so much money in free agency on pitching the last few years. It's also because they swung and missed in a major way last winter and are still feeling the effects.

The Cubs entered last winter feeling pretty good about the state of their offense but wanted to augment the pitching staff in a big way. So they went out and handed $198 million to Tyler Chatwood ($38 million), Brandon Morrow ($21 million), Steve Cishek ($13 million) and Yu Darvish ($126 million). They also paid Drew Smyly $3 million in 2018 to rehab from Tommy John surgery before he and the $7 million remaining on his deal were shipped off to the Texas Rangers last month.

The four free agent pitchers (not including Smyly, who didn't throw a single pitch) combined for 1.1 WAR (FanGraphs) across 244.2 innings in 2018. 

Jesse Chavez posted a 1.0 WAR for the 2018 Cubs in 39 innings.

The Cubs paid Chavez roughly $400,000. 

They paid the other four pitchers $54 million.

Of course, it's rather unfair to include Cishek in that bunch, as he was the MVP of the Cubs bullpen for the first five months of the year before a late-season fade. And Morrow was fantastic when healthy (22-of-24 in save chances, 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP), though he didn't throw a pitch after the All-Star Game and came to the Cubs with a long history of injury issues.

Darvish was supposed to be the guy that put the Cubs rotation over the top and Chatwood was the under-the-radar arm the organization hoped would take a step forward getting away from Coors Field. Both guys were out of the rotation by Aug. 1.

"I think incomplete would be probably the kindest thing I could say [about last winter's moves]," Theo Epstein said, emphasizing that he meant the Cubs front office should get the "incomplete" grade, not the players. "There are a lot of talented players here that we didn't get off to great starts with in their times as Cubs. But we're digging in and working really hard — as are the players — to try and turn that around. 

"...Our offseason moves should not be evaluated well at all and the in-season moves were pretty darn good. We're gonna have to try to have a much better offseason this time."

The Cubs already translated the in-season moves to the offseason, opting to bring Cole Hamels back on a $20 million option. 

With Darvish's health and Chatwood's control major question marks, picking up Hamels' option became a no-brainer for the Cubs — even at that lofty price tag during a time where every penny is important. 

Chatwood's contract is unmovable but he's still not even 29, so there's a chance for a rebound; it's just that the Cubs can't bank on it.

Darvish is the bigger question mark, as he wasn't very good even when he was able to take the ball — 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, fifth-inning meltdowns that became a major storyline and accounted for only 0.2 WAR in 40 innings. To put that in context — Darvish was just as valuable to the 2018 Cubs as Anthony Bass and James Norwood, who each notched 0.2 WAR despite only 15.1 and 11 innings pitched, respectively.

Now that Darvish's triceps/elbow is cleaned up, can he get back to being the pitcher he was before signing the megadeal with the Cubs?

The Cubs hope so, but that's really all they can do — hope. 

"I think he's in a good place mentally to go forward next year," GM Jed Hoyer said. "First year for free agents, there are a lot of pitfalls. Hopefully post-surgery, he comes back and he's ready to go for spring training."

The Cubs couldn't move Darvish's contract even if they wanted to, so instead of going out and adding to the bullpen or signing another big hitter this winter, they may be left with making a bunch of smaller moves and praying Darvish can get back on the right track.

Then there's the whole coaching aspect of last winter. The Cubs hired new hitting coaches (Chili Davis, Andy Haines) and a new pitching coach (Jim Hickey) shortly after the 2017 season ended. Those three are all out of their post, with only Haines leaving because he took a promotion with the Milwaukee Brewers.

That's a lot of shake-up on a coaching staff when Epstein stressed the importance of continuity the day after the Cubs season ended. And there could be more unrest with manager Joe Maddon heading into the final year of his contract. 

The Cubs championship window is still open, but who knows for how much longer. There's an urgency from the fanbase to go out and add to a team that finished the 2018 regular season tied for the NL lead in victories.

But last winter is a cautionary tale about the major pitfalls that come with free agency and the Cubs can't afford any more misses this winter.

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Cubs ripple effects from Manny Machado's deal with Padres

Cubs ripple effects from Manny Machado's deal with Padres

MESA, Ariz. — It only took until a week into spring training, but Manny Machado finally has a home, reportedly signing one of the largest deals in American sports history (10 years, $300 million) with the San Diego Padres.

So what does that mean for the Cubs?

Well for starters, it probably means PECOTA bumps them down another win or two in the 2019 projections. 

But in all seriousness, this is a big deal that will have far-reaching ripple effects for the Cubs and the state of the National League playoff picture.

The Padres may not be contenders this season, but adding a player of Machado's caliber certainly puts them on the map and is a huge message to the rest of the league that they're for real.

San Diego signed Eric Hosmer to an 8-year, $144 million deal last winter and now brings in Machado to join Hosmer and Wil Myers in the middle of the order. The Padres also inked veteran Ian Kinsler to a deal this winter and added starting pitcher Garrett Richards, though he's not expected to pitch in 2019 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

The Padres lost 96 games a year ago, but they have the consensus top farm system in baseball and some of their best prospects are on the cusp of the big leagues.

Now that Machado is in the fold, that speeds up the rebuild and maybe they get more aggressive in bolstering their starting rotation:

Either way, it puts the Padres on the map as a team on the bubble of contention in 2019, which creates an even muddier picture in both the short- and long-term. 

The NL was already going to be cloudy, with the Cubs having to compete with a division that got a whole lot better this winter. That's 5 teams going for it just from that division, plus the Phillies, Nationals, Braves and Mets in the NL East and the Dodgers, Padres and Rockies in the NL West with the Giants lingering in the background.

That's 12 of the 15 teams in the league who have at least some expectations to contend as we sit here in the first week of spring training. 

It's going to be a tough road for the Cubs, but we already knew that from the division alone. And that's not even mentioning wherever Bryce Harper or the other available free agents end up.

From a direct standpoint, the Cubs only play the Padres twice a season. The two teams meet for 7 games in 2019, as Machado and Co. come to Wrigley Field July 19-21 and then the Cubs head out west for a 4-game series Sept. 9-12 as the pennant race figures to get tight down the stretch.

The Cubs were 5-2 against the Padres in 2018 and have gone 11-8 against San Diego since the start of the 2016 season.

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The best quips from the best leadoff hitter of all time, Anthony Rizzo


The best quips from the best leadoff hitter of all time, Anthony Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo was not only in tip top shape as he reported for the Cubs first full squad workout, but his one-liner game was on point day one, as well. 

Here are some of his best quips from the day.

"It was great. Really probably the best off season I've had, right?"
Yes, Anthony... your wedding day is always the BEST day ever and the first offseason with your wife should be the BEST one ever. Quick learner.

"I'm usually not excited to come back, because I hate leaving home. But it was, I can say my wife now, was like 'man, you're really excited to go back this year.' So, it's good to be back."
 Emily should be proud, Rizzo seems to really have this married thing/lingo down! And his child-like energy and enthusiasm was palpable. Cubs fans, your first baseman is chomping at the bit.

"That extra month, it's been awhile. The first time a lot of guys have had that extra month. Unfortunately, I know what it's like to have that extra month."
Spare Cubs fans the reminder, Anthony. 

"A lot of guys in here are used to going to the NLCS. So, to get knocked out it's like "Whoa, what is this? Barbecuing in October?"

First of all, only those who live in Florida can talk about barbecuing in October, but we get the point. Cubs want to save the brats for November.

"Yea, and also Bryce Harper is coming to the Cubs, right?"

Rizzo thinks that's as likely to happen as the team going 80-82 and finishing last in the NL Central this year.

“So this is what happened. I offered him half of my 12 (million) that I’m making this year. But he turned it down. Put that report out," Rizzo said to Paul Sullivan of the Tribune. 
Harper or Machado?

“Both, three million each. I split it in half."
Thanks to Sully for catching this quip--Rizzo's plan for the Cubs to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. Generous, don't you think?

"I've been here for like two hours, so...from what I've heard I've heard it's been amazing, the energy. But, I don't know, what is the date? The 18th? It's February 18th, so every clubhouse is this energetic right now." 

Dates and days of the week are hard during Groundhog's Day, I mean Spring Training. But, props to Rizzo for being honest and the vibe after two hours was pretty great.

"It's the first day, I picked out my outfit last night. I was off to school today." 
First day feels...

"Hi Tony! Hi Jon, love you."
Mid-response, Rizz wasn't going to leave his guy Lester hanging. The love is real.

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