Jason Heyward

In wake of Astros cheating scandal, Cubs proud they've won the right way

In wake of Astros cheating scandal, Cubs proud they've won the right way

The Cubs and Astros often are compared as franchises that rebuilt from the ground up before winning historic World Series titles. The Cubs snapped their 108-year championship drought in 2016, whereas the Astros won their first ever title a year later.

Both clubs reached baseball’s mountaintop behind young, talented position players — Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Anthony Rizzo; George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa — and acquired an ace, veteran starting pitcher — Jon Lester; Justin Verlander — to help cook up the right recipe for winning.

Only now, Houston’s success has been tainted by their cheating scandal; the Astros used a camera located in center field at home games during the 2017 season to steal opposing teams’ signs. 

The scandal resulted in the Astros firing general manager Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch — who both received year-long suspensions from MLB beforehand. The Red Sox and manager Alex Cora — Houston’s bench coach in 2017 — have parted ways, as have the Mets and manager Carlos Beltran, who played for the Astros in 2017. 

While other clubs are in a whirlwind, the Cubs have made one thing 100 percent clear: they play the game the right way.

“We’re really clear about what the rules are. They’re posted for everybody. We talk every spring training about playing with integrity and expecting our players to play fair,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday at Cubs Convention. “And they’ve done a great job of that. I was proud of Anthony Rizzo when he said yesterday that he can say with 100 percent certainty that we play within the rules. And I echo those thoughts, I know that.” 

New layers in the Astros scandal unearth seemingly by the day. Thursday, videos and images surfaced on Twitter possibly showing Houston players wearing wired buzzers under their jerseys. MLB said they found no such evidence in their investigation, however.

Sign-stealing in baseball is as old as the game itself but using technology to do so is problematic, as it goes from looking for a competitive advantage to downright cheating. Houston not only stole signs, but they did so in a way where their hitters knew the exact pitch coming their way.

“It’s unfortunate. It’s definitely surprising too,” Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber said Friday. “For me personally, this is the only organization I’ve been in and the way we go about our business is pretty straightforward, cut through. We go with the rules, we go out there and play baseball.

“To hear this is definitely upsetting. I can’t imagine how some of the teams feel that played them in that playoff series, knowing that this is a real thing and knowing that it was an advantage. For that to happen, it’s a shame.”

For the Cubs, their hubris is so strong they don’t feel the need to steal signs, according to right fielder Jason Heyward.

“Even when [former hitting coach] Chili Davis got to our team, he kind of mentioned to us about how teams in Boston,” Heyward said, “how they got together — and this is no pun intended on what just happened with the manager — but he would just say ‘Hey guys, just pay attention. If you’re on second base, look in and see if we can find a way to get a little bit of an edge late in the game.’

“We were all kind of like to ourselves ‘Well, we don’t really do that here. We never really needed it.’ That’s not being cocky or anything, but we never really needed it.”

“I got nothing against any team or any players, but I think we should play the game right and let your talent the competition decide who’s the best,” shortstop Javier Báez said. 

The Cubs maintain they’ve been playing the game the right way, and they’re extremely proud of that. This current era of Cubs baseball has netted four postseason appearances in five seasons, three trips to the NLCS and that one famous championship.

“Definitely feels good, the ways we did it, especially stepping on top in ’16,” Schwarber said. “I think it’s a better satisfying taste too, now that you can look back on it. I think it’s a little thing that you can say you’re proud of. 

“You hear people back in the steroid era say that they’re proud they didn’t take part in that. I think we can say the same thing too.”

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Another rumor connects Cubs to superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado

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USA TODAY

Another rumor connects Cubs to superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado

Make that two reputable MLB insiders connecting the Cubs to Rockies superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado.

Last Thursday, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reported the Cubs “loom as a possible suitor” for Arenado, should the North Siders deal Kris Bryant this winter. ESPN’s Jeff Passan took that idea a step further on Tuesday.

According to Passan, two teams have particularly intrigued the Rockies as they search for Arenado trade partners: The Cardinals and Cubs. From Passan’s report:

The Cubs would make sense if they move Bryant. They are not primed for some sort of a rebuild as much as a refresh or reboot -- an always-difficult needle to thread, particularly if they hope to dip under the luxury-tax threshold. One source characterized the Cubs as doing due diligence, as they've done throughout the winter with myriad trade conversations, but the notion of trading catcher Willson Contreras and a higher-priced, underperforming player in an Arenado deal, then flipping Bryant to revitalize a mediocre farm system, squares in the short and long term. The Nationals' best trade piece, middle infielder Carter Kieboom, would be a perfect anchor for a Bryant deal if the Cubs didn't already have Javier Baez at shortstop and rookie Nico Hoerner at second base.

Passan isn’t reporting the Cubs have had any conversations regarding Arenado. Furthermore, his mentioning of Willson Contreras and “a higher-priced, underperforming player” is completely hypothetical and merely an idea of what a Cubs-Rockies Arenado deal could look like.

But let’s say the hypothetical became reality.

Based on Passan’s speculation, the Cubs could try and include Jason Heyward with Contreras in an Arenado package. Heyward hasn’t performed at a consistently high level offensively after signing a lucrative eight-year deal with the Cubs in December 2015. However, he posted Cubs career-highs last season (.343 OBP, 21 home runs, 62 RBIs, 101 wRC+, .328 wOBA) all while playing stellar defense in right field (7 Defensive Runs Saved).

Arenado is under contract through 2026 for $234 million. Heyward is under contract through 2023 for $86 million. Contreras is under contract through 2022, but he’s in arbitration and is only projected to make $4.5 million in 2020.

The money wouldn’t match up in an Arenado for Heyward and Contreras deal. However, acquiring Arenado would give the Cubs a cost-controlled third baseman, all while netting the Cubs prospects in exchange for Bryant to replenish their farm system.

A couple quick caveats:

-The Rockies are 50-50 on dealing Arenado, per Morosi’s report, meaning a deal is far from guaranteed. Plus, Colorado may seek more for Arenado — a five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner — than just Contreras and Heyward. 

-Arenado has an opt-out after 2021. If the Cubs acquired him, they could find themseleves in a similar position as they are now with Bryant, whose situation is also complicated due to his ongoing service time grievance. Bryant is under contract through 2021, but he'll become a free agent after 2020 if he wins his grievance, taking away some of his trade value.

-The Cubs are in a position where they need to gain prospects rather than trade any. If the Rockies seek minor-league pieces in a deal, that would likely take the Cubs out of the running for Arenado.

-Although the Cubs would land Arenado, they’d lose their starting right fielder and catcher, in this hypothetical scenario. Victor Caratini would assume the starting catcher position if Contreras is dealt, but right field would still be a question mark.

Arenado will make $35 million in 2020 compared to the combined $44 million Heyward, Contreras and Bryant will make — using the latter two's arbitration estimates. The Cubs could use that $9 million in savings on a right fielder, though the best available options — such as Nick Castellanos — will come at higher price tags. Plus, the Cubs have other needs to address, like the bullpen.

There is a scenario where the Cubs could acquire Arenado, but a lot of moving parts would be involved to make a deal come to fruition.

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2019 top Cubs memories: There's nothing like a walk-off home run

2019 top Cubs memories: There's nothing like a walk-off home run

With the year coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is looking back on the top moments from the 2019 Cubs season.

The thrill of winning in baseball amplifies when victory comes via a walk-off hit. This is especially true when such a hit leaves the ballpark.

The Cubs had seven walk-off hits last season, four of which came via home runs hit by four different players. In fact, three of those long balls came within a five-day span, two of which occurred in consecutive games.

May 7: With the Cubs and Marlins tied 2-2 in the ninth inning, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant drilled a 1-2, two-out pitch into deep left-center field. The drive reached the second row of the Wrigley Field bleachers, giving the Cubs a dramatic 5-2 win.

May 8: A day after Bryant walked off Miami, Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward followed suit. With the score once again tied 2-2, Heyward hit an opposite field blast that landed in the left field basket, securing a 3-2, 11-inning win for the Cubs.

Heyward’s blast was especially dramatic, considering the Cubs gave up a 2-1 lead with one out in the ninth inning.  

May 11: Offense came at a premium during this rainy, early season matchup between the Cubs and Brewers — two 2018 postseason teams. Both sides had chances to take the lead in extras; the Cubs left the bases loaded in both the 11th and 13th inning.

After a long wait, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras stepped up in the 15th inning, hitting an absolute tank into left field to secure a 2-1 win for the North Siders.

July 16: After the Reds took a 3-0 lead in the first inning, the Cubs fought back behind a two-run blast by Robel Garcia (second inning) and a solo shot from Bryant (sixth). The game remained scoreless after regulation, though Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber ensured the 3-3 tie didn’t last long.

With one out in the 10th, Schwarber — an Ohio native — hit an opposite field home run into the left field basket, securing the win for the Cubs. It was Schwarber’s first career walk-off hit of any kind, one that completed a Cubs comeback win.

For full looks at each home run, watch the video above.