Cubs

One Cub on Jake Arrieta's ongoing joblessness: 'I don't think anybody knows what to make of it'

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USA TODAY

One Cub on Jake Arrieta's ongoing joblessness: 'I don't think anybody knows what to make of it'

MESA, Ariz. — Jake Arrieta still doesn't have a job.

While that's extremely unusual with spring training already underway, it's the reality of this ridiculously inactive offseason. The guy who the National League Cy Young Award in 2015 and who helped the Cubs to three consecutive NL Championship Series and that curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 is still waiting to suit up. Meanwhile, his former team moved on in dramatic fashion earlier this week, signing Yu Darvish to a six-year contract.

But Arrieta's name isn't forbidden in the Cubs' clubhouse or anything, and one of his friends and former teammates was asked about what the heck is going on.

“It’s strange. I don’t think anybody knows what to make of it, it’s kind of just the way the market has gone this offseason and that’s what it is," infielder Tommy La Stella said Friday. "He’ll land somewhere, obviously, and it’ll be the right fit because that’s just kind of the way these things go.

"He’s a great competitor and a great player, so it’s going to be tough to imagine him falling into a situation that doesn’t line up.”

Arrieta should have been a huge splash this winter for a team needing an upgrade in the starting rotation, and he still will be whenever he signs. But when that signing comes is anyone's guess right now. The game of chicken between baseball's teams and free agents has been broken at times throughout this offseason — most notably by the Cubs with Darvish, the Milwaukee Brewers with outfielder Lorenzo Cain and the Philadelphia Phillies with slugger Carlos Santana — but Arrieta and a host of other big names remain unsigned.

Of course Arrieta will always be linked to Darvish, the guy the Cubs went with instead of bringing back one of their aces from three straight playoff runs. Until the games start counting, there will be a debate over whether the Cubs' front office made the right decision.

“I don’t think there’s any miscalculation on their end, to be honest," La Stella said. "They’re very calculated with everything that they do. They weigh the pros and cons of everything. Any time you’re going to miss out on anything, obviously you stand to gain somewhere else. So I think that’s what the situation was.”

It's possible Arrieta could land elsewhere in the NL Central, as the Brewers have been linked to him throughout the offseason as they search for a top-of-the-line starting pitcher to better compete with the Cubs for the division crown.

Seeing his former team often throughout the next few seasons would probably fire him up. But wherever Arrieta lands, this is a famously focused guy who worked like crazy to not just get in incredible shape but to go from a trade piece in the Scott Feldman deal to the most dominant pitcher in the game for a spell.

“He’s never lacking in motivation. He always goes out there and pitches with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder," La Stella said. "I think that’s what makes him so good. I’m sure he’ll take a little bit from it.”

When Cubs top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay makes it to the majors, he'll already be one step ahead

When Cubs top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay makes it to the majors, he'll already be one step ahead

MESA, Ariz. — Adbert Alzolay hasn't made it to "The Show" just yet, but he's going to be awfully prepared by the time he gets there.

The Cubs' top pitching prospect missed much of last season with a lat injury, shut down after May 29 and managing only 39.2 innings.

Alzolay obviously couldn't throw while he was recovering from the injury, but that didn't stop his development. 

The 23-year-old right-hander was still getting ready for the big leagues — watching video on a bunch of major-league hitters, mainly the guys in the National League Central that the Cubs face most often.

"The first couple weeks [after the injury], it was kinda hard at first, just being here in Arizona [away from most everybody else]," Alzolay said. "But after that, my focus was just getting back to the field to be healthy again. I spent the whole offseason watching video for the teams that we play against in the big leagues. I just watched all those hitters, what they hit in different counts.

"I've been learning a lot. Different types of counts, the pitches and all that I can throw against those hitters in different situations."

The idea came about initially from coaches, but Alzolay took to it immediately, finding a passion in readying himself for the majors even if he couldn't physically get out on a mound.

The lat is fully healthy, though he's currently working through another injury — a slight back tweak after slipping during a bullpen session the week before pitchers and catchers officially reported to Cubs spring training. 

Alzolay said his back is "perfect now, back to normal" and he will throw from flat ground next week before getting back on a mound. In the mean time, he's trying to soak up all he can while talking to big leaguers like Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Willson Contreras.

Alzolay and Contreras are close — both Venezuelan natives during an increasingly difficult time for their home country. The Cubs catcher gave Alzolay one of the Venezuelan flag arm sleeves last spring, which the young pitcher wore proudly in camp a year ago and would considering wearing again if the leagues allow him to.

But first, he's just focused on trying to get to the big leagues.

Like all prospects, Alzolay spends a lot of time daydreaming about what it would be like in Chicago, pitching at a sold-out Wrigley Field. And he has plenty of reason to dream, as he was on the cusp of the majors last summer before he went down to injury. He's also willing to start or relieve, which should improve his chances on getting the call.

He'll have an innings limit this year and the Cubs will be cautious with their prized arm, but the big-league bullpen is filled with plenty of question marks and thus an opening for Alzolay should arrive at some point.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 1-on-1 with Kyle Hendricks

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 1-on-1 with Kyle Hendricks

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss the impact a full season of Cole Hamels could have on the rotation and the team. And David Kaplan goes 1-on-1 with Kyle Hendricks. Find out which teammate Hendricks says most enjoys striking out in Spring Training.

00:35 - Tony and Kelly break down the potential impact that Cole Hamels can have on the 2019 club. They discuss Hamels' value as a teammate and a leader, his approach to baseball every day, and what the Cubs expect from him every fifth day.

16:56 - Kap goes 1-on-1 with Kyle Hendricks during a walk around a practice diamond at the Cubs facilities in Mesa. Hendricks discusses his excitement for 2019, how he approaches the buildup to the regular season, and how much fun he has facing teammates during spring training.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: