Cubs ready to make a big play for pitching


The Cubs know they can’t just get by on change-of-scenery guys and sign-and-flip deals, planning to make a huge investment in their rotation either this offseason and/or next winter.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are a $2 billion franchise with an Opening Day payroll that soared to $235 million. They’re guaranteed a playoff spot, but a first-place team still needed a bullpen game to get through the season’s second-to-last weekend.

That again shows the cliché is true: You can never have enough pitching. Even when it’s in your DNA, from Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, to Tommy John’s breakthrough surgery, to international stars like Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo. Orel Hershiser even watched from the SportsNet LA booth inside Wrigley Field’s press box.

A series that began with Cy Young Award winners Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw ended with Jamey Wright making a spot start on Sunday and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly going mix-and-match with five more relievers to secure an 8-5 victory.

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Theo Epstein’s front office hasn’t signed its Greinke or developed its Kershaw, and got outbid for South Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, who’s been sidelined with a shoulder injury. The total bill for that Big Three is projected at more than $420 million.

The Cubs have found great value in free agents Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, relying on a blend of scouting and analytics and leaning on coaches Chris Bosio (pitching) and Mike Borzello (catching/strategy).

Edwin Jackson’s $52 million contract is a sunk cost, but the Cubs will have to (at least) double that investment if they want to get serious about October and land a top-of-the-rotation starter. It’s absolutely worth trying, but it’s not realistic to think they’ll keep hitting on old names from the Baseball America prospect lists and discount arms recovering from injuries.

The Cubs haven’t been grabbing elite pitchers at the top of the draft, using first-round picks on Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber across the last four years. They cashed in their most valuable trade chip this summer (Jeff Samardzija) to get another shortstop (Addison Russell).

The idea being the Cubs could build a monster core of position players during a time of stricter drug testing, digital-video databases, incredibly detailed advance scouting reports and bullpens stocked with multiple relievers throwing close to 100 mph.

If you have one of the game’s better lineups – in an environment where power is fading and offense is down – can you win with an average pitching staff?

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“I think you can,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “The challenge is that average pitching staff can become below average in a hurry. I think a below-average pitching staff and an above-average offense isn’t going to work. But I do think the team that is probably average in run prevention – and really hits the ball in this day and age – probably does work.

“It’s a hard needle to thread, because if you try to go for average, and you end up on the other side of that – the wrong side of that – it’s not a lot of fun to watch.”

Jacob Turner (5-11, 6.25 ERA) wasn’t exactly entertaining on Sunday, making it through five innings, giving up five runs, four earned, and having trouble slowing down Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp.

After getting designated for assignment by the Miami Marlins, Turner became another reclamation project, the ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft the Detroit Tigers used to get Anibal Sanchez.

Between Turner, Felix Doubront and Dan Straily, the Cubs keep collecting pitchers who’ve experienced some success in the big leagues, without firmly establishing themselves for whatever reason. Doubront earned a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox last year. Straily appeared in the American League’s Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A’s last season.

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The Cubs also view Eric Jokisch as a future option for the rotation. The 25-year-old lefty out of Northwestern University put up a 3.58 ERA in 26 starts at Triple-A Iowa this season.

For now, Jake Arrieta (9-5, 2.65 ERA) keeps flirting with no-hitters, while Kyle Hendricks (7-2, 2.28 ERA) continues to impress with his poise, consistency and sneaky athleticism. Arrieta’s big-time confidence and Hendricks’ Dartmouth College education make you think they’ll find a way to stick.

“You always want pitching,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “We’ve got guys that have come through the minor-league system that are pitching well and developing, so we also need to give those guys credit down there for everything they’re doing.

“We’ve got places to look, to turn to (and) I know that Jed and Theo will do what they need to do in order to continue to put us ahead. We’ll just wait to see what those things are.”

The Cubs aren’t as rich as the Dodgers, but they have enough financial flexibility that the Jon Lester sweepstakes will dominate the hot-stove headlines in Chicago, and enough trade chips that they shouldn’t be counted out of any big deals.

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
LG Patterson/MLB via Getty Images

On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: