Cubs

Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse

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USA TODAY

Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse

Monday’s interview with Jim Hickey in Chicago — roughly 72 hours after the Cubs fired pitching coach Chris Bosio and within a week of manager Joe Maddon saying “of course” he wanted his entire staff back — is a first step in the reboot at Wrigley Field.

Maddon would probably like to have that answer back, knowing he could have softened the language with corporate speak and created some wiggle room in the middle of a National League Championship Series where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game.

But Hickey, the former Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach, is a familiar face and an expert voice at a time when Maddon’s honeymoon period appears to be over, repeatedly first- and second-guessed about his decisions, from the World Series Game 7 the Cubs won last year through a frustrating 43-45 start to this season and deep into another playoff run.

That staff is already in flux, with bench coach Dave Martinez scheduled to interview with the Washington Nationals for Dusty Baker’s old job and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske now leaving to take a lead role with the Los Angeles Angels hitters.

Here’s why the Cubs will probably have to make Hickey an offer he can’t refuse:

— A rival scout noticed how often Maddon looked like a solitary figure in the dugout, standing there looking down at his lineup card. Whatever friction Maddon felt with Bosio — a big presence who pitched 11 seasons in the big leagues and isn’t afraid to tell you exactly what he thinks — Hickey is someone the manager trusts after their eight seasons together with the Rays.

Maddon insisted he wasn’t maneuvering behind the scenes when he reached out after Hickey surprisingly parted ways with Tampa Bay in October, but it still showed the depth of their relationship: “I called him to console a friend.”

— While working for the Boston Red Sox, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer got an up-close look at what Hickey did in the American League East, helping build the small-market contender that advanced to the 2008 World Series, the beginning of five seasons with at least 90 wins in six years.

Between his time with the Rays and Houston Astros, look at the All-Star pitchers Hickey has worked with: Chris Archer, David Price, Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger, Matt Moore, Fernando Rodney, James Shields, Rafael Soriano, Scott Kazmir, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge and Roger Clemens.

— Hickey can also offer unique insight into Alex Cobb, a free agent the Cubs will have to do more background work on as they try to replace 40 percent of their rotation. Cobb — who went 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA in 115 career starts for the Rays — just turned 30 and has only 700 innings on his major-league odometer after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in the middle of the 2015 season.

“He has a talent that most organizations search for relentlessly,” Cobb told the Tampa Bay Times after Hickey left the Rays with a year remaining on his contract. “He will have a great time being a free agent.

“I’m not going to try to explain how great Jim Hickey is. There’s really nothing I can say that would speak louder than his track record. All I can say is how fortunate I was to have him when I got to the big leagues. No one could have prepared me better.”

— Beyond the connection to Maddon, Hickey is someone who knows Chicago after growing up on the South Side, and that hometown draw will probably matter at a time when the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are among several marquee teams in the market for a new pitching coach that now might be thinking: "Better Call Boz."

Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich puts Nolan Arenado trade talks to bed

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USA TODAY

Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich puts Nolan Arenado trade talks to bed

Were you hoping the Cubs could pull off a miraculous deal for Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado? If so, at ease.

In an interview with Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post, Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich squashed any chance of Arenado getting dealt this winter.

“With the season coming up and spring training on the horizon, we are going to start focusing on that,” Bridich told Saunders. “We have listened to teams regarding Nolan and really nothing has come of it. We are going to move forward pretty much as we expected — with Nolan in the purple and black and as our third baseman.

“So, we can put this to bed and collectively look forward to the upcoming season and work toward that.”

There you have it.

The chances of the Cubs swinging an Arenado deal were always slim-to-none. The 28-year-old signed a lucrative contract extension with Colorado last February and is still owed $234 million through 2026. The Cubs have money coming off the books each of the next few seasons, but they would have had to clear payroll to acquire Arenado this offseason.

Furthermore, it’s questionable if the Cubs would have put together an enticing enough package for the Rockies. Chicago's farm system has grown barren through the years, and now that it’s slowly improving, it wouldn’t have made sense to trade prospects away.

Monday’s news isn’t completely bad for Cubs fans. The Cardinals were also reportedly interested in Arenado, and Bridich’s statement means St. Louis won’t be acquiring Arenado anytime soon, either.

Update: Things might just be getting started in Colorado...

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Reunion? Cubs interested in re-signing Pedro Strop, report says

Reunion? Cubs interested in re-signing Pedro Strop, report says

The Cubs haven't made many transactions this offseason, largely adding low-cost relievers to stockpile potential arms for the big-league bullpen. That trend could soon change, thanks to a familiar face.

According to Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith, the Cubs are one of four teams “believed to be” interested in signing Pedro Strop. Smith also reported Strop will likely make a decision in the next week or so.

Strop joined the Cubs in a midseason trade with the Orioles in 2013 and went on to become one of the best relievers in team history. In parts of seven seasons, the right-hander posted a 2.90 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 425 strikeouts in 373 innings. He ranks sixth in club history in appearances (411) and first in holds (120). 

For context, Strop’s ERA and WHIP (1.05) are both better than what Lee Smith (2.92, 1.25), a 2019 Hall of Fame inductee, did in eight seasons with the Cubs.

2019 was Strop’s worst season in a Cubs uniform (4.97 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 50 games), though he suffered a hamstring injury in spring training and another early in the season, impacting his performance. Something clicked for him in September; the 34-year-old sported a 2.00 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in nine innings, albeit largely in low-leverage spots.

Strop would add a veteran presence to the Cubs bullpen, which currently has few locks — Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and likely Brad Wieck. They’ve already lost veteran Steve Cishek (White Sox) in free agency, and Brandon Kintzler (2.68 ERA, 62 appearances in 2019) hasn’t been connected to the Cubs this offseason.

Strop expressed his desire to return to the Cubs at the end of 2019, calling the organization his home. It will come down to cost, as has been the case all offseason for the Cubs. But assuming Strop is healthy, he’d provide a veteran arm in a bullpen slated to include some less proven names.

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