St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals locking up Paul Goldschmidt, which is very bad news for Cubs

Cardinals locking up Paul Goldschmidt, which is very bad news for Cubs

It's extension season all around baseball at the moment and now the St. Louis Cardinals are getting in on the fun.

Which is decidedly not fun for the Cubs. 

The Cardinals are close to an extension with stud Paul Goldschmidt on a deal that will go five years and be worth around $130 million, St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Derrick Goold reported:

The Cardinals traded for Goldschmidt over the winter, giving up top catching prospect Carson Kelly as well as young pitcher Luke Weaver to acquire the star first baseman and perennial MVP candidate in his final season before free agency. Obviously Goldschmidt is not ticketed for the open market anymore, making the trade look all that much better for St. Louis.

The 31-year-old has earned a spot on the NL All-Star team six years in a row and has finished in the Top 6 in MVP voting four times in that span with the Diamondbacks. He owns a career .297/.398/.532 slash line (.930 OPS) and has averaged 30 homers, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored since 2012.

Since the start of the 2013 season, only Buster Posey (35.1) has accrued more WAR than Goldschmidt (32.8) in the NL. For comparison, Anthony Rizzo has totaled 24.1 WAR in the same span.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Goldschmidt has been an absolute Cub killer over the years. 

In 43 career games against Cubs pitching, he has hit .353/.471/.699 (that's a 1.170 OPS) with 14 homers and 39 RBI. The only team he has a better OPS against in his career is the Los Angeles Angels...and he's faced them just 11 times.

Goldschmidt also loves hitting at Wrigley, with a .337/.433/.578 slash line (1.011 OPS) in 22 games at The Friendly Confines. 

This extension would take him through his age-36 season, keeping him playing under the arch through the 2024 season.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.

How Daniel Descalso plans to win over Cubs locker room

How Daniel Descalso plans to win over Cubs locker room

In the hours after the Cubs were stunned by the Rockies in the National League Wild-Card game, as the attention turned toward the offseason, the way the year ended sure seemed like it was going to be the impetus behind a winter of change around the franchise.

Back then, listening to Theo Epstein talk on that sunny Oct. 3 afternoon, if you had predicted the biggest addition the Cubs would make in the offseason would be Daniel Descalso, you would have been laughed out of the room. 

That's not taking anything away from Descalso, but the Cubs offense faded badly down the stretch last year and he's a 32-year-old utility player who has never notched even 375 at-bats in a season. 

However, Descalso may be just what the Cubs need, especially in an offseason with very little wiggle room in the budget.

His value to this team could go far beyond the stat sheet. He might even be — dare I say — the next David Ross?

That's a lot of pressure to put on a newcomer on this team. Ross has been retired for two years now, but still casts a large shadow in that clubhouse as a respected leader and presence — not to mention the popularity he has with fans and media.

Descalso isn't trying to be the next Ross. He'll settle for the next Jon Jay — especially because Descalso and Jay are great friends who came up together in the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

Jay only spent one season with the Cubs (2017), but players still bring up his impact and leadership unprompted. He's now across town playing for the White Sox, so he and Descalso are reunited in Chicago (even if their schedules won't match up much).

This winter, Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer talked a lot about the need to add some leadership into the clubhouse to help convey a sense of urgency on a daily basis — something they felt was lacking in 2018. 

They landed on Descalso to help fill that void.

"He brings leadership and a lot of intangibles that can't be measured," Jay said of Descalso. "He's a guy that can have that tough conversation with a player and he's not afraid to do it. He can lead by example, he knows exactly when to say the right things at the right times. He's really good for any clubhouse. 

"... Any team can benefit from a Daniel Descalso. He makes everybody better. Just knowing those guys — they're gonna love him. He's a great example for a veteran player, a young player, for coaches. He really knows the game well. He's gonna help bring out the best in anybody."

How Descalso goes about accomplishing that will be tricky. The roster has not had a ton of turnover lately and the core players — particularly the position players — have been together for quite a while. And they've clearly been very successful, with four straight trips to the playoffs and a World Series championship.

That's not an easy environment for a new player to come in and assume a leadership role in.

Descalso understands he was brought in to help emerge as a vocal leader, but he isn't putting pressure on himself or trying to do too much too quickly. 

He also isn't entering a team completely devoid of leadership, especially with Jon Lester, Cole Hamels and Ben Zobrist all making a concerted effort to step up more as leaders in 2019.

"I've been the new guy in the clubhouse a couple times," Descalso said. "If you come in and you're the loud guy and you start ruffling feathers right away, you could put some guys off. I think you just come in, kinda feel your way out in the early parts of spring training and into the season and then you really get a feel for a team and clubhouse and how things work and go from there.

"I'm not gonna come in right away and stand up on the couch and give a rah-rah Knute Rockne speech."

Descalso may not be an everyday player, but he's entering his 10th year in the big leagues and has an idea of how to go about his business while still carrying the self-awareness to know he doesn't have all the answers. He also knows plenty about winning, having gone to the playoffs five times in his career with the Cardinals and Diamondbacks — racking up 48 games in October and notching a World Series ring with St. Louis in 2011.

So what does "leadership" mean to a guy with a resume like that?

"You can lead in a variety of different ways," Descalso said. "You don't have to be a veteran to lead. You can be a young guy and lead by example the way you show up and compete every day. But I think as you get older, you stick around. Maybe you develop a reputation, then you can start to be a little bit more vocal.

"You pick your spots. You have to know the individual you're approaching — is it a guy you can pat on the back? Is it a guy you can get after a little bit? For me, I'm not gonna come in here and be a rah-rah guy. I'm gonna sit back and learn my teammates and get to know them individually and go from there."

Descalso's focus early on in his Cubs tenure is building that trust and rapport. He doesn't have much of a history with the guys on the roster apart from playing against each other over the years.

When Jay was with the Cubs, he didn't really find his voice as a leader until a couple months into the season, especially since the rest of the roster was still riding high off that emotional World Series.

Descalso also has an advantage Jay didn't — the security of a multi-year deal. That allows him to feel more established and comfortable in building rapport with players and assuming a leadership role, knowing he'll make his home here for the next 2-3 years (the Cubs hold a team option on Descalso for 2021).

"Yeah, it's nice to know I'm going to be around here for a couple years, so you can really invest in those relationships," Descalso said. "Not that you wouldn't on a 1-year deal, but it's just not as easy. You have time to build up that trust and build up that camaraderie. I'm looking forward to being around this group for a couple years."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.

How Bryce Harper-Phillies deal will affect Cubs moving forward

How Bryce Harper-Phillies deal will affect Cubs moving forward

Now that the dust has settled on Bryce Harper's record deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, we can now turn (most of) our attention to the season ahead.

Only a few high-profile free agents remain, but otherwise we know pretty much where everybody will spend their 2019 campaign and which teams are expecting to contend.

With that, let's take a look at how Harper's 13-year contract affects the Cubs this year and moving forward:

The Cubs' road just got tougher and 2019 just got a bit more dire

While the Cubs stayed mostly stagnant this winter, the rest of the National League around them got quite a bit better.

Harper hasn't been linked to an American League team in months, but now it's official he will remain in the NL, joining forces with J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and Jean Segura on a much-improved Phillies team.

As a matter of fact, you could describe a bunch of NL teams as "much-improved" — on paper, at least.

The Phillies, Mets, Padres, Reds and Cardinals all got significantly better this winter while the Nationals still look every bit a contender even without Harper.

The Braves, Rockies, Brewers and Dodgers all enter 2019 with largely the same roster that earned them a trip to the playoffs a year ago, though each squad added a pretty-high profile player in free agency to improve their teams (Josh Donaldson, Daniel Murphy, Yasmani Grandal, A.J. Pollock).

Even the Pirates continue to boast an underrated roster amid their standard quiet winter.

Only the Diamondbacks got worse while the Marlins and Giants also figure to be on the outside looking in at the playoff race this year even if their roster isn't markedly worse.

Don't get me wrong — the Cubs have a great roster, too, and they have plenty of reason for optimism in the year ahead.

But don't expect the Cubs to roll through the NL this year like they did in 2016.

Their division is the hardest in baseball and it could shape up to be the toughest from top to bottom since the NL East in 2005, when the Nationals finished in last with a .500 record (81-81). 

Unless the Pirates or Reds underperform expectations in 2019 (which is entirely possible), the Cubs won't get to catch their breath within the division all year and they certainly won't get a break playing against the NL East (with 4 contending teams) or West (with potentially 3 contenders).

The NL is going to be a dogfight from start to finish and the Cubs will need every bit of their internal improvement/new sense of urgency they prioritized over the winter.

The future of Kris Bryant and others

It's probably going to be tougher for the Cubs to sign star players to extensions in the future — namely Bryant and Javy Baez.

Anthony Rizzo is a special case in that he already agreed to a team-friendly extension way back when he was in pre-arbitration, so it's definitely possible he would be open to another deal to extend his time as a Cub. He'll also be 32 by the time he hits free agency (after 2021) and leaving the prime of his career, increasing the liklihood he may just opt to re-sign with the Cubs.

But Bryant will only be 30 and Baez will be 29 as the two stars head into free agency after that 2021 season. 

With how long free agency dragged on this winter, we heard more and more talk about star players like Harper and Manny Machado possibly having to settle for short-term, high-value deals. Only a handful of teams were involved and even as recently as mid-February (at the start of spring training), nobody knew if Harper or Machado would even be able to get to the $300 million threshold they both desired.

This winter was largely a scary time for free agents. Many baseball players saw how difficult the process has become and decided they didn't want to hit the market, instead rethinking extensions with their current teams.

We've seen a bunch of that recently, as Nolan Arenado, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Nola, Luis Severino and Miles Mikolas all inked deals with their respective teams to avoid hitting free agency in the near future.

But with Machado netting $300 million over 10 years and Harper $330 million over 13 seasons, it was enough of a sigh of relief for select free agents — the stars. 

Free agency is still completely broken, especially for the guys in the middle of the pack. But Machado and Harper proved the game's truly elite players could still net record deals on the open market and Bryant and Baez may well still be among the game's elite when they hit free agency. They'll both still be firmly in the midst of their prime.

That likely doesn't change a whole lot at the negotiating table between the Cubs and Bryant's/Baez's respective camps now. But if Harper or Machado had been forced to take short-term deals or did not get the money they desired, it would've painted a scarier picture of free agency and given the Cubs a better hand to play in extension talks.

Are the Cubs nearing the end of the championship window?

Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester and Mike Montgomery join Bryant, Baez and Rizzo as notable Cubs who hit the open market after that 2021 season. 

Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana are under team control for only another two seasons.

Just about the entire bullpen is unsigned after this year and Cole Hamels and Ben Zobrist will also hit free agency in 9 months.

The farm system is ranked among the worst in the game and no stars appear to be on the cusp of hitting the big leagues.

The Cubs' championship window isn't shut by any means, but it's certainly closing. The possible end is in sight.

The Cubs already felt the need for a stronger sense of urgency in 2019, but they also are running out of time to win another ring and potentially reignite all that "dynasty" talk.

Of course, Theo Epstein's front office will continue to add to the team and build up the farm system over the next few years in an effort to keep that window of contention open longer, but this winter was a prime chance to greatly improve their roster for this season and they were instead forced to pinch pennies and only make minor additions.

Harper signing with the Phillies Thursday officially slammed the door shut for any Cubs fans who were holding out hope that all the talk of the budget woes were just to drive the price down.

And it officially eliminated any possibility of the Cubs making a huge splash before Opening Day, as Harper was essentially the last free agent that would've been a major upgrade on some area of the Cubs' roster. (Craig Kimbrel would obviously help the Cubs bullpen, but Epstein has never paid big money for a closer and the Cubs have not been linked to the right-hander at all this winter.)

So the Cubs will head to Opening Day with only Daniel Descalso, Brad Brach and possibly another bullpen arm or two as the only additions to the 25-man roster.

Who will be Cubs fans' next big target?

Now that Bryce Harper won't be available again until 2032, Cubs fans have no choice but to cross him off their free agent wish list and move on to the next name.

Will it be Anthony Rendon or Chris Sale next winter? Mike Trout, Mookie Betts or Jacob deGrom after 2020? Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa or Clayton Kershaw after 2021?

No matter who fans rally behind, we probably won't ever see anything quite like this Harper circus again.

One thing's for certain: The next free agent crush of the fanbase won't hit the open market with a dog named "Wrigley."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.