Not close enough: Cubs dont see big fixes in free agency yet


Not close enough: Cubs dont see big fixes in free agency yet

The Cubs are a flawed, but interesting team, with enough pieces and big-market resources to make you wonder just how far they are away from contention. This is a brand-name front office that was hired to bring October baseball to Wrigley Field every year.

The Cubs got a bounce from Anthony Rizzo, and the starting pitching has been solid, though no one knows just how long Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza will be around, or if it will last.

But there was Starlin Castro driving a ball into the left-field bleachers, Darwin Barney making plays all over the field and Jeff Samardzija keeping up with his learning curve.

At least until the thunder and lightning and pouring rain covered the North Side on Wednesday night. After a 77-minute rain delay, the game was called in the eighth inning and the Cubs took a 5-1 victory over the Miami Marlins.

The Cubs (37-53) have now won 13 of their last 18 games. But whatever happens the rest of this season, it doesnt sound like it will be enough to convince Theo Epstein to make a splash for 2013.

Sometimes that works out for you, Epstein said, and more often than not it doesnt. Theres a price to pay for that kind of thing. So if you get tempted and you get impatient and you try to solve your problems through free agency, theres always a price to pay, and it usually happens pretty soon thereafter or towards the end of those deals.

Free agencys definitely a nice way to add talent to an organization without giving up talent. But you cannot make an organization that way. And we have a lot of steps ahead of us that we need to take care of before were in a position to add a finishing piece or two through free agency.

Chairman Tom Ricketts inherited several bad contracts, showed an interest in player development and will defer on baseball matters. Epstein left Boston after an epic collapse last September. Red Sox Nation enjoys picking apart his mistakes in free agency. The credit for those two World Series titles seems to be grudging.

Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder werent the right players at the right time last winter, though the Cubs found them useful for misdirection. The franchise is still waiting to tap into a renovated Wrigley Field and the big television contracts that have juiced the baseball economy.

But even with a scaled-down major-league payroll, more money coming off the books and the caps the new collective bargaining agreement put on the draft and international signings, you could be waiting to see a megadeal.

Well always look to free agency, Epstein said. Well always be on every free agent and see if theres the right player or the right value. But if we sat around and drew up a plan and had free agency as the answer to most of our problems, wed be on a fools errand there.

We need to build the foundation. We need to have scouting we believe in, player development we believe in, a steady flow of prospects, a core of young players. And then you can look to free agency. If the right deal is there ahead of schedule, great, but were not going to count on it. Lets put it that way.

Jorge Soler is supposed to be the designated hitter and appear in his first game on Thursday in the Arizona rookie league. But the 30 million Cuban defector is years away from the majors.

Right now, the focus will be on the development of players like Samardzija (4.57 ERA), who made it through five innings against the Marlins (44-47), giving up one run and striking out nine.

As manager Dale Sveum said: Hes going to be that guy that hopefully we can build around and be the No. 1, the No. 2 guy.

That time could be rapidly approaching, with Dempster expected to be dealt to a contender and a Garza decision potentially coming by the July 31 deadline.

You just kind of got to stay on your toes and understand that tomorrow might be a little different, Samardzija said. But I understand what my role is on this team, and what its going to be in the future. Im really trying to do everything I can today, so down the road, when you are relied upon, you are ready to take the reins and do what you got to do.

Obviously, I want to be the guy, but it also wouldnt hurt to have Dempster and Garza throwing in front of you or behind you. So you just dont know whats going to happen. You dont know what kind of offers they have and what theyre looking for or if anyones willing to give that up.

What if Samardzija and Garza were throwing behind someone like Cole Hamels next season? As Sveum has said, starting pitching is everything. At the very least, the Cubs have changed the subject, from breaking the franchise record for losses, to looking for missing pieces.

We hope were very competitive very soon, Epstein said. But just sitting there and wanting it to be so doesnt make it so. You have to build an organization. I know you get sick of me saying this, but there are no shortcuts.

Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: "There's no fear"


Jabari Parker unafraid of history, expectations that come with Chicago's homegrown stars: "There's no fear"

The Chicago sunlight followed Jabari Parker as he walked through the East Atrium doors of the United Center, facing Michael Jordan’s statue before meeting with the media, introduced as a Chicago Bull for the first time.

For his sake, the brighter days are ahead instead of to his back as he’ll challenge the perception of being the hometown kid who can’t outrun his own shadow.

Parker re-enters Chicago as the No. 2 pick in the draft that the Milwaukee Bucks allowed to walk without compensation despite holding the cards through restricted free agency, damaged goods on the floor but not giving the Bulls a discount to don that white, red and black jersey he’s always dreamed of wearing.

“There were other teams but as soon as I heard Chicago, I just jumped on it,” Parker said.

It took a two-year, $40 million deal (2019-20 team option) to get Parker home, along with the selling point that he’ll start at small forward—a position that’s tough to envision him playing with on the defensive end considering three of the game’s top six scorers occupy that space.
It was a dream come true for his father, Sonny Parker, and high school coach, Simeon Academy’s Robert Smith, who both couldn’t hide their joy following the first question-and-answer session with the media.

“This is where he wanted to be,” Sonny Parker said. “His family’s happy, the support is there. All I know is the United Center will sell out every game. He can’t wait.”

“Normally guys get drafted here. He signed to come here. He had a couple offers from other teams but he wanted to come here.”

The biggest examples of Chicagoans who arrived with outsized expectations for this franchise had varying results, but Derrick Rose and Eddy Curry both came away with scars of sorts that had many wondering why any hometown product would willingly choose to play for the Bulls.

The risk seems to far outweigh the reward; the emotional toll doesn’t seem worth the fare. And with the roster makeup not being ideal for Parker, no one could blame him for going to a better situation—or at least one more tailored to his skills rather than his heart.
“I think every situation is different. Derrick was excelling,” Bulls executive vice-president John Paxson said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “MVP of the league in his hometown before the injury. Eddy was just a young kid who didn’t have the savvy Derrick had. I think every situation is different. Jabari is such a grounded, solid person that he’s gonna be just fine.”

“You don’t have to spend a whole lot of time with him to figure out he’s got it together. He knows who he is. Comfortable in his own skin. A quiet guy. Hopefully he’ll thrive here. The goal is it works great for him and works great for us.”

It seemed like he was bred to be a pro—and not just any pro, but the type Chicago demands of its own when a covenant to play 82 nights a year has been reached. If the constant prodding from his father didn’t break his façade, or older brother Darryl doing everything he could to coax emotion from the most gifted of the Parker clan couldn’t do it, two ACL surgeries on his left knee may pale in comparison.

The numbers from Parker’s recent stint with the Bucks don’t bear it out, but Smith sees a player who’s back on track to being what his talent has always dictated he should become.

“Even watching him work out lately, it’s like whoa,” Smith said. “But of course, everything with Chicago period you have to be cautious. With his family and the support system he has, this thing is about winning basketball games and giving back to the community.”

“He’s had that (target) on his back since he stepped on the court at Simeon, coming behind Derrick and being one of the top five players as a freshman and No. 1 player as a junior. I don’t think it’s a huge problem, it can help him a little bit. If he has those moments if something doesn’t go right, he has someone to help him.”

Parker is more known for his restarts than his unique skill set in his young career, but even at 23 years old speaks with a sage of someone 20 years his senior, unwilling to tab this portion of his journey as a fresh start.

After all, it would be easy to envision his career beginning from the moment he left Simeon as a phenom followed by his one season at Duke—having two games where he totaled just 24 minutes with just two points to start the Bucks’ first-round series against the Boston Celtics isn’t typical of a star’s story if he sees himself that way.

“I don’t. I don’t want to forget all the hard work I had,” Parker said. “To forget I hurt myself and came back is to discredit my success. That in of itself is something outside the norm. I want to always remember the setbacks and failures I’ve had in my career so far. I want to use that as a sense of motivation.”

Bringing up his awkward pro beginnings in Milwaukee, where Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascension to an unexpected strata mirrored thoughts he might’ve had of himself before his injuries, didn’t cause him to growl.

“I’ve never got jealous a day in my life. That’s why it wasn’t hard because I wasn’t jealous,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “My journey is my journey. I gotta be proud of that and be patient. I took that and I move forward.”

The mention of his defense didn’t make him defensive, either, as he definitively pointed out the truth as he saw it, that today’s game is far more offensive-minded than the bruise-fests of the previous decades. Telling by his words in subsequent interviews, the best defense is a great offense and when he’s right, there aren’t many who can get a bucket as easily and with as much diversity as himself.

The only time Parker broke serve was at the notion he’d be following in the footsteps of Rose’s perceived failures, the setbacks Rose suffered when his knees began to fail after reaching inspiring heights players like Parker wanted to emulate.

At the podium for all to see, he corrected a question formed around Rose’s “rise and fall”, a sound byte copied and pasted by a couple Chicago-bred NBA players on social media in support of Parker’s words and feelings.

“Derrick had no lows. He didn’t. He still maintained. Derrick’s a legend, no matter what…no rise and falls. Injuries are part of life. Derrick is one of the best icons in Chicago. He accomplished his duty already.”

And later, he wanted to set the record straight again, drawing a line from how the media has presented Rose compared to how the people of Chicago see him, and vice-versa.

“We didn’t turn on Derrick, the media (did),” Parker told NBCSportsChicago.com. “We’re hometown. I speak for everybody, we love our hometown.”

The love of Chicago meant more than the prospect of not being able to live up to a glorious prep past, even though he should be well aware wanderlust can turn to villainy in a heartbeat—or the wrong step.

“There’s no pressure for me,” Parker said to NBCSportsChicago.com. “I’m just happy I get to play with some young guys, and I don’t harp on the negative. Anybody and everybody is gonna have an opinion. I value more my dreams than their opinions.”

And the dreamer steps forward, with a confident gait, eyes wide open and a city hoping it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes of its past.

“There’s no fear,” Parker said. “I haven’t faced any other pressure than bouncing back. I’m back on my feet and moving on.”

“When you struggle more, you succeed more.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?


Sports Talk Live Podcast: With Jabari Parker in the mix, are the Bulls playoff contenders?

David Haugh, Patrick Finley and KC Johnson join Kap on the panel. Jabari Parker is officially a Chicago Bull. So does that make the Bulls a playoff team? And who will play defense for Fred Hoiberg’s young team? Vincent Goodwill and Mark Schanowski drop by to discuss.

Plus with Manny Machado now a Dodger, are the Cubs no longer the best team in the NL?

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