Bears

Wells looking for ways to stick with Cubs

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Wells looking for ways to stick with Cubs

PHILADELPHIA Randy Wells has no idea whats going to happen next. A return trip to Des Moines? A spot in the bullpen? The Cubs arent saying.

Well make those decisions when they all come up, manager Dale Sveum said Friday. Well see what happens, but we havent got to that step yet.

Wells will get the ball on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park for a showcase start against the Philadelphia Phillies. Thats about the only guarantee, with Ryan Dempster (strained right quad) back running and throwing and expected to be taken off the disabled list next week.

That will again leave the Cubs with six starters for five spots.

Wells was blindsided in late March, when he found out he was being optioned to Triple-A Iowa. But he didn't lash out and handled the news as well as he could have, sitting in front of his locker, calmly and patiently answering all the questions.

Obviously, you got thoughts in your head about where youre at and what youve done, Wells said. Im not going to sit here and defend my years in the big leagues. But I think if you look internally at the numbers, theyre not quite as bad as everybody made it out to seem. But thats not for me to make the judgments.

All I can do is pitch and show up every day and work hard and if my names here, then thats it. I know thats such a clich. But its really how I feel.

If I start getting into trying like I said in spring training to play GM or whatever, thats just going to take away from me as a baseball player. So either way, whatever happens, Im cool with it. But, obviously, you want to be in the big leagues.

Wells entered this season with a 27-30 career record and a 4.01 ERA in the majors. He didnt blast the organization, which essentially made him a 2.705 million insurance policy for the rotation.

When the Washington Nationals demoted John Lannan just before Opening Day, the left-hander with a 5 million salary requested a trade and e-mailed the beat writers to let them know.

Its not my style to ruffle any feathers or cause a scene, Wells said. They thought thats the best for the team and thats the kind of player I am. Ill do whatever to help the team.

If Wells tries to lean on clichs, its probably because he was so hard on himself after bad starts, ripping his own performance in the interview room.

That might have warped perception, along with people unfairly questioning his work habits and blowing his nightlife activities out of proportion.

Theres a lot of things (where) people get the wrong impression of me, Wells said. All you can do is pitch good and everybody forgets about it.

The Cubs saw higher potential upside in Jeff Samardzija and Chris Volstad, and Paul Maholm got the free-agent contract and gives the rotation a left-handed look. Right now, the bullpen doesnt have much depth or a real long man.

Hopefully, I can have a good start (Saturday) and maybe change some plans, Wells said. I definitely want to stay in any capacity. If it is a bullpen role, then youre just going to have to take that as a new challenge and Ive done it (before in the minors).

Its nothing that Im not used to. I can do it and Id certainly be willing to do it. Who knows, maybe at this point in your career, if thats something Im good at, maybe itll give me new life.

Im not thinking about that. Im thinking about starting. I definitely want to stay a starter. But you also want to do whatever you can do to help the team win.

Wells went five innings the last time out, giving up two runs on six hits and five walks and getting a no-decision in a 4-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Hell have to be better than that to force the issue.

Back in 2002, the Cubs drafted Wells in the 38th round as a catcher, and its been a long trip. Hes not looking for an easy out or a change of scenery.

Ive been here my whole career, Wells said. I grew up in this organization, from 19 years old to almost 30. That means a lot to me to stay here and definitely be a part of when we turn this thing around and win.

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

If the NFL’s proposed collective bargaining agreement is ratified, seven teams from each conference will make the playoffs in 2020— a change that will immediately alter the league's player movement landscape in the coming weeks and months.

Under the proposed structure, the Los Angeles Rams would’ve been the NFC’s No. 7 seed in 2019, with the 8-8 Bears finishing one game out of a playoff spot (really, two games, given they lost to the Rams). But as the Tennessee Titans showed last year, just getting into the dance can spark an underdog run to a conference title game. The vast majority of the NFL — those not in full-on tank mode — should view the potential for a seventh playoff spot as a license to be more aggressive in the free agent and trade market as soon as a few weeks from now.

So, should the Bears look at this new CBA as reason to be more aggressive in pushing to acquire one of the big-name quarterbacks who will, or could, be available this year? After all, merely slightly better quarterback play could’ve leapfrogged the Bears past the Rams and into the playoffs a year ago.

The prospect of Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr or Andy Dalton representing that upgrade feels tantalizing on the surface, right?

But the CBA’s addition of a seventh playoff team does not, as far as we know, also include an addition of significantly more cap space available to teams in 2020, even if the salary cap has increased 40 percent over the last five years. An extra $25 million is not walking through that door to add to the roughly $14 million the Bears currently have in cap space, per the NFLPA’s public salary cap report.

So that means every reason we laid out why the Bears should not make a splash move at quarterback remains valid, even with the NFL lowering its postseason barrier to entry.

The Bears’ best bet in 2020 remains signing a cheaper quarterback like Case Keenum or Marcus Mariota (who shares an agent with Mitch Trubisky, potentially complicating things) and banking on roster improvements being the thing that gets them back into the playoffs. Adding a quarterback for $17 million — Dalton’s price — or more would hamstring the Bears’ ability to address critical needs at tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and safety, thus giving the Bears a worse roster around a quarterback who’s no sure bet to be good enough to cover for the holes his cap hit would create.

Does it feel like a good bet? No, and maybe feels worse if it’s easier to get in the playoffs in 2020. But a Trubisky-Keenum pairing, complete with a new starting right guard to help the run game and more than just Demetrius Harris to upgrade the tight end room, is a better bet than Dalton or Bridgewater and a worse roster around them.

Also: This new playoff structure will tilt the balance of power significantly toward the No. 1 seeds in each conference. The last time a team made the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye was after the 2012 season, when the No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens won the title. Otherwise, every Super Bowl participant since hasn't played on wild card weekend. 

So while the Bears may become closer to the playoffs if the new CBA is ratified, they won’t be closer to getting a No. 1 seed. And that holds true even if they were to find a way to sign Tom Brady.

Getting in the playoffs can spark something special. But the Bears’ best path back to meaningful January football still involves an inexpensive approach to addressing their blaring need for better quarterback play. 
Is it ideal? No.

But it’s far less ideal to be in this situation three years after taking the first quarterback off the board with 2017’s No. 2 overall pick. 

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Austin Hooper dubbed Bears' ideal free-agent target

Austin Hooper dubbed Bears' ideal free-agent target

The Bears are expected to be extremely busy in their effort to upgrade at tight end this offseason. In fact, they've already made their first move with the signing of veteran Demetrius Harris, but it's unlikely he'll be the only new player added at the position over the next few months.

The most appealing free-agent tight end who's likely to hit the open market is Falcons pass-catcher Austin Hooper, who was recently dubbed the ideal target for Bears GM Ryan Pace once the spending frenzy gets started.

Hooper is exactly the type of performer the Bears currently lack. He can provide a reliable outlet to make life easier on quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

Granted, the 25-year-old tight end shouldn't be viewed as a Travis Kelce-like difference-maker in head coach Matt Nagy's scheme, but he's the best option in thin free-agent and weak draft classes.

Hooper would be the dream acquisition for Chicago, but the dollars are unlikely to make sense. According to Spotrac, Hooper's market value will command a five-year, $49.9 million deal, or $9.9 million per season. If the Bears inked Hooper to a contract like that, they'd have nearly $19 million tied up in tight ends in 2020 (Trey Burton's contract counts as $8.5 million against the cap next season).

As much as Bears fans want more production at tight end, that's just too steep a price to pay regardless of how important the position is for Nagy's offense.

The better route for Pace to pursue is the 2020 NFL Draft, where Chicago could be the first team to draft a tight end in April. This year's class of tight end prospects is without a clear first-rounder and with the Bears' first pick coming at No. 43 overall, there's a good chance they could have their pick of the litter.

Prospects like Notre Dame's Cole Kmet, Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, and Washington's Hunter Bryant will all be given strong consideration in the first half of the second round.

It'll be another strike against Pace's work in free agency if he's forced out of the Hooper market because of the contract he gave Burton in 2018. But maybe it's for the best. He hasn't been very good at identifying tight ends since taking over as Chicago's GM in 2015 -- Khari Lee, Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Burton -- and probably shouldn't be trusted with the checkbook while searching for another one this offseason.

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