* The Cubs will introduce Jon Lester at a 1 p.m. CT news conference Monday. It will be broadcast on Cubs.com and Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Lester was at a Chicago Blackhawks game Sunday night. We’ll find out what jersey number Lester will wear as well. He has worn No. 31 in Boston and Oakland, but that number is retired by the Cubs.
* On Sunday, Javier Baez went 2-for-4, hitting a two-run homer in the third inning plus a double, in Santurce’s 4-2 win over San Juan in Puerto Rico winter league baseball. It was his third game in Puerto Rico.
* Kyuji Fujikawa has reportedly signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Rangers. Fujikawa, 34, was signed by the Cubs prior to the 2013 season, but limited because of elbow problems. He eventually needed Tommy John surgery in June 2013.
* The Cubs reportedly met with Colby Rasmus and are one of several teams to show interest in the free agent center fielder.
The Cubs will formally introduce Jon Lester on Monday, and they can thank Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija for helping sell the left-hander on coming to Chicago. Lester agreed to a six-year, $155 million contract last Tuesday, but needed to pass a physical to make it official. He did that, and will show off his new Cubs jersey for the first time Monday at Spiaggia restaurant in downtown Chicago.
Lester, Hammel and Samardzija were teammates for two months on the Athletics. The Cubs had sent Hammel and Samardzija to Oakland in a July 4 package, while the Red Sox dealt Lester and Jonny Gomes to the A’s on July 31 for Yoenis Cespedes.
Hammel, 32, formally introduced on Friday after signing a two-year contract to return to the Cubs, said Lester was curious about Chicago. Lester, who turns 31 in January, knew Theo Epstein; the two were together in Boston.
“I think the Theo-Jon bromance was going to happen anyways,” Hammel said. “But [Lester] was definitely interested, and he was picking our brains all the time.”
The addition of Lester certainly gives the Cubs rotation an ace. A two-time World Series champion, Lester now leads a staff that includes Hammel, Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Felix Doubront.
“You see a lot of things going on right now,” Hammel said of the Cubs. “It’s not just shtick. It’s not just flash. They’re making a commitment to winning here. It’s important that it’s not, ‘We’re just trying to surprise people.’ This is a commitment to winning.”
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs and WLS-TV/ABC 7 Chicago announced a partnership for television rights to Cubs games. WLS-TV will carry 25 games per year through 2019, starting next year. The Cubs will soon announce the broadcast schedule for the team’s remaining games not currently under contract to WLS-TV or Comcast SportsNet. All Cubs games will be on the air in Chicago next season.
Was this a week that will be remembered as a turning point in Cubs history? GM Jed Hoyer won’t have an answer for that until possibly October.
The Cubs front office headed back to Chicago Thursday with several items checked off their offseason wish list, although the addition of free agents Jon Lester and Jason Hammel weren’t made official by the team, unless you count manager Joe Maddon’s impromptu hotel lobby news conference late Tuesday.
“You spend a lot of time planning and trying to figure out who we’ll target and we’ve followed a plan, and we hope this week was a big step in executing that plan,” Hoyer said.
There are still holes to fill on the roster and Hoyer admits “we’re far from a finished product.”
Hammel was expected to be introduced on Friday and Lester will likely be in Chicago on Monday. Then, it’s back to work. The Cubs still have a young roster, and several players, including Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kyle Hendricks and Arismendy Alcantara, have some growing up to do.
“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Hoyer said. “We’re trying to build an organization and get back to prominence and do that for a long time. That’s the reality of where we are. If we’re ever looking back happily, it’s because we won. There’s no other goal.”
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs selected shortstop Taylor Featherston in the Major League phase of the Rule 5, but did not keep him long. Shortly after picking Featherston, 25, off the Rockies’ Triple-A roster, the Cubs dealt him to the Angels for cash considerations. The Cubs did the same in December 2006 when they used their pick to take Josh Hamilton off the Devil Rays roster, and the outfielder was immediately traded to the Reds in a pre-arranged deal.
Players taken in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft must stay on that team’s big league roster the entire season.
“We’re probably going to have to make some difficult decisions on our roster as we finalize our team,” GM Jed Hoyer said Thursday. “We’re getting to the position where our 40-man is more talented, and you have to weigh those casualties more than we did in the past.”
The Cubs did lose a player as the Marlins selected left-handed pitcher Andrew McKirahan. He was 2-4 with a 2.08 ERA in 44 games at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee last season, striking out 57 over 65 innings. The lefty was a 21st round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
In the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs selected outfielder Ariel Ovando off the Astros’ Double-A roster, but he won’t be an outfielder for long. The plan is to convert him to a pitcher.
“He’s struggled somewhat to hit over the years,” Cubs scouting and player development director Jason McLeod said Thursday. “Our scouts really like the arm strength. [Ovando] knows that’s the reason we took him is to convert him and try it out. It’s a low risk, potential high upside, understanding it’s a project. The kid is aware of it and that’s our goal going forward.”
Ovando, 21, batted .237 last season at Class A Tri-City. The Astros signed him as a 16-year-old for $2.6 million. McLeod said some of the Cubs international scouts had seen the left-hander at that time and liked him as a pitching prospect then.
The Cubs did lose two players in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft as the Rangers chose first baseman Rock Shoulders and the Astros took catcher Luis Flores. Shoulders, 23, has a career .243 batting average in four seasons, batting .223 last year at Class A Daytona. Flores, 28, batted .253 last season at Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee, and has a career .213 average in seven Minor League seasons.
* Next week, the Cubs will complete two more transactions and finalize the players to be named later in two deals. They need to send a player to the Red Sox to complete the July 30 deal in which the Cubs acquired left-handed pitcher Felix Doubront.
The Cubs also will get one more player from the Athletics to complete the July 4 deal. Chicago sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics for Minor Leaguers Billy McKinney and Addison Russell, pitcher Dan Straily, and a player to be named later.
The deadline to finalize those deals is Monday.
– Carrie Muskat
Neither Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer would comment on the Jon Lester deal, confirmed late Tuesday. But agent Scott Boras did, even though Lester is not his client.
“I think the Cubs got a great deal,” Boras said. “I think he’s a really, really impactful player and a dominant, dominant pitcher.”
Boras represents Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta as well as some free agents still on the market, including Max Scherzer. At last year’s Winter Meetings, the agent was critical of the Cubs’ lack of spending. On Wednesday, he sounded pleased at their moves plus what’s going on with the White Sox.
“It’s great to see the ‘Monsters of the Midway’ are back at it on both sides of town,” Boras said.
The Cubs moves, which include acquiring catcher Miguel Montero, so far have not cost them any of their top prospects or future Draft picks.
“People ask if we’re all in for ’15, and the best response is we’re all in for the future and the future starts in ’15,” Epstein said Wednesday. “[The 2015 season] is important. We’re going to do some things to put as competitive a roster as possible on the field and try to win.
“Our goal is to try to win the division, and, as Joe [Maddon] said, to win the World Series,” Epstein said. “We’re aware of what we’re growing. … We’re trying to build towards a long run where we can have success year in and year out. We’re not going to sacrifice that even as we try to maximize our ’15 roster.”
The rest of the NL Central took notice.
“My thoughts are the division got tougher,” Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said.
“It’s a lot of money for a lot of years,” Reds GM Walt Jocketty said of the Lester deal, “but they probably had to do that to get him. It will certainly make them a better club.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle: “It definitely gives them, I’ve got to believe, self-confidence, self-esteem that you’ve got a leader in that rotation. You’ve got a go-to guy every fifth day.
“The Cubs, we know they’re hungry,” Hurdle said. “I love playing in our division. It’s an exciting division. It challenges you and you’ve got to be sharp.”
Lester signed a six-year, $155 million contract late Tuesday, although the deal is pending a physical and has not been formally announced by the Cubs.
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs have the eighth pick in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, and were expected to complete two deals done earlier this year and reveal the players to be named later.
Theo Epstein said they may not make a selection Thursday in the Rule 5 Draft but have had other teams interested in their pick. In December 2006, the Cubs used their pick in the Rule 5 Draft to take Josh Hamilton off the Devil Rays roster, but the outfielder was immediately dealt to the Reds.
The Cubs’ 40-man roster is at 38, with pitchers Jason Hammel and Jon Lester still to be formally added once their deals are completed.
The Cubs were expected to complete two earlier transactions. They owe the Red Sox a player for the July 30 deal in which the Cubs acquired left-handed pitcher Felix Doubront. On July 4, the Cubs dealt Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics for Minor Leaguers Billy McKinney and Addison Russell, pitcher Dan Straily, and a player to be named later. That transaction also was to be finalized Thursday.
– Carrie Muskat
Agent Scott Boras held court Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, which he typically does, and addressed several topics, including the Cubs recent signing of free agent Jon Lester.
“Jon Lester, you go to the games, you watch him pitch, you sit behind him, this guy has great stuff,” Boras said. “He’s really a difficult pitcher to hit now because he’s really learned to regulate his speeds. He can overpower you, he can finesse you, and he really is a big-game pitcher. I think the Cubs got a great deal. I think he’s a really, really impactful player and a dominant, dominant pitcher.”
A year ago, Boras criticized the Cubs for not spending on free agents. This year is different.
“This is the place we’d always hoped the Cubs would be,” Boras said. “That is, filling the stadium with the type of talent that is going to make it a contending team. It’s hard, there’s no question, to take the steps that they’ve done, to bring in some veteran players. I think, much like swimming pools, when there’s too many kids in the pool, it changes the color of the water. You’ve got to make sure that that combination is appropriate to win, but certainly I give the Ricketts family and the group that they’ve given the ‘go’ sign on this -– it’s great to see the monsters of the midway are back at it on both sides of town.”
Re: the “monsters” reference, Boras was referring to the moves the White Sox have made.
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs made new manager Joe Maddon happy by adding his bench coach, Dave Martinez, to the staff. Could they also add outfielder Jonny Gomes? Gomes, 34, who played for the Rays from 2003-08, could be another attractive right-handed bat for the bench, one of the “clubhouse dudes” Maddon is looking for to help mentor the younger players. It would be interesting if he was signed by the Cubs. Gomes was included with Jon Lester in the Red Sox trade to the Athletics for Yoenis Cespedes last July.
David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the Cubs and Padres are “turning up” their efforts to add a right-handed power bat, and could be looking at Justin Upton.
The Cubs do want to add an extra outfielder, but also plan on giving most of the at-bats to Jorge Soler, and they were happy with Chris Coghlan’s performance. Arismendy Alcantara is playing center field in the Dominican Republic.
– Carrie Muskat
Jon Lester’s six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs is the largest the team has ever given a free agent. Here are some details, courtesy of ESPN’s Jayson Stark:
* The deal includes a signing bonus of $30 million to be paid over the life of the contract, a full no-trade clause (first Theo Epstein has given), and a $25 million vesting option for the 2021 season that could bring the total take to $170 million. The option would vest if Lester pitches at least 200 innings in 2020 or at least 400 in the 2019 and 2020 seasons combined.
* The reported average annual value for Lester’s deal of $25.8 million would be the second highest for a pitcher behind Clayton Kershaw’s $30.7 million, part of his seven-year, $215 million deal with the Dodgers.
* Lester’s deal is the highest ever given to a free agent pitcher on a multi-year deal.