Countdown to Pitchers and Catchers: 8 Days
The front office spent the winter building on a roster that finished third in the NL Central a year ago with a 97-win season. Jason Heyward was added to the young core of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler. Ben Zobrist provides Joe Maddon with even more position versatility and will allow him to also use Javier Baez in a utility role.
Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey enter Spring Training as the first three starters in Maddon’s rotation which moves Jason Hammel down in the rotation just ahead of Kyle Hendricks or Adam Warren.
The Cubs have to catch the Cardinals and Pirates in the division this year to avoid the NL Wild Card Game. The Cubs are not overlooking the two teams that won more games than any other in baseball last season, and the media and fans shouldn’t either.
CBS Sports Pre-Season Top 10: Cubs, Royals, Mets, Giants, Astros, Dodgers, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Pirates and Rangers.
Jon Lester is ready for his second year with the Cubs according to a report from Patrick Mooney. Lester is coming off a better year than is recognized by a majority of the media and fan base. After a rough April, Lester pitched well for the Cubs while many were focused on his issues with throwing to first base.
Lester finished the regular season with an 11-12 record in 32 starts with a 3.34 ERA and 1.12 WHIP while holding opponents to a .240 batting average. Lester was 4-8 in his first 18 starts with a 3.59 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. And while Jake Arrieta was making history, Lester went 7-4 in his last 14 starts with a 3.04 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.
As Patrick Mooney reported, Lester finished in the top 15 in the National League in strikeouts (207), WHIP (1.222), quality starts (21), batting average against (.240) and opponents’ OPS (.661). Lester was actually seventh in the league in strikeouts (207), ninth in innings pitched (205), tied for 13th in hits allowed (183) and tied for 31st in walks allowed (47).
At Wrigley Field, Lester was 7-9 in 20 starts with a 3.60 ERA and 1.22 WHIP and on the road, 4-3 in 12 starts with a 2.93 ERA and 0.98 WHIP.
Jon Lester talked to Comcast SportsNet about his first season with the Cubs.
“Last year, I felt like I needed to do a little bit more at certain times than I’m used to just because of everything that comes with what was going on last year,” Lester said to Patrick Mooney. “I feel like this year, I can just go out and do my normal routine and not have to worry about getting off to a good start in Spring Training. My concern is getting off to a good start in the season.”
“I wanted to impress people a little bit too early last year and obviously it set me back. That’s stuff you learn.”
Jon Lester will be able to go about his business in Spring Training. Other players will be in the spotlight this spring. David Ross is expecting a big year from Lester. And for the Cubs to make a return trip to the post-season, Joe Maddon will need for Jon Lester just to be Jon Lester.
Lazarito Armenteros was expected to make a decision about his future Wednesday and possibly sign with a team. Feb. 10 was the first day he was eligible to sign a contract. But Wednesday came and went with nothing from the 16-year old’s camp.
Jesse Sanchez reported Wednesday afternoon that he was “still weighing his options.”
And Joel Sherman reported Thursday morning, Lazarito could make a decision as soon as Thursday or maybe Friday.
The Lazarito watch continues …
News, Notes and Rumors
• Sports Illustrated gave the Cubs an ‘A’ on the Winter Report Card … Impressive young Cubs ace off-season.
• According to Jesse Rogers, John Lackey and Adam Warren filled the Cubs’ need for starting pitching depth.
• If Dexter Fowler signs with the Orioles, according to Buster Olney Buck Showalter’s lineup could be: Dexter Fowler LF, Manny Machado 3B, Chris Davis 1B, Adam Jones CF, Hyun-Soo Kim/Nolan Reimold RF, Mark Trumbo DH, Matt Wieters C, J.J. Hardy SS and Jonathan Schoop 2B. According to Roch Kubatko, Fowler would play right field, not left as Olney and others have suggested.
• Jim Callis was asked about Cubs’ prospect Jeimer Candelario and why he wasn’t included in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100. Callis said Candelario “wasn’t far off from the Top 100.”
• Andy Masur posted photos of Wrigley Field and the Plaza.
• The Phillies acquired INF Taylor Featherston from the Angels on Wednesday. The Cubs selected Featherston in the Rule 5 Draft for the Angels in Dec. 2014 from the Rockies in a pre-arranged deal. The Phillies will send the Angels either a cash or a yet to be named player for Featherston. The Phillies DFA’d LHP Bobby LaFromboise to make room on the roster for Featherston.
• Rob Manfred hopes to have rulings on Jose Reyes, Aroldis Chapman and Yasiel Puig by Opening Day according to a report from Sports Illustrated.
• Tom Verducci posted his Year After Effect report and the five pitchers at injury risk as Spring Training is set to start: Lance McCullers (Astros), Noah Syndergaard (Mets), Luis Severino (Yankees), Carlos Martinez (Cardinals) and Tyler Duffey (Twins).
• The Blue Jays announced the two-year contract with AL MVP Josh Donaldson … and he will receive $28.65 million over the next two seasons, $11.65 million this year and $17 million in 2017.
• Twins’ GM Terry Ryan told MLB Network Radio on Wednesday the qualifying offer system needs to be tweaked. And he thinks it will be one of the bigger topics discussed in the CBA negotiations.
And last, but not least, Jason Heyward was on the practice field at the Cubs’ facility on Wednesday. Adam Warren is in Mesa … and Jason Hammel made the trip to Mesa. Players are excited for the upcoming season and are showing up early for Spring Training.
This Day in Cubstory
2006 – Cubs avoided arbitration with RHP Carlos Zambrano and agreed to terms on a one-year, $6.5 million contract. Zambrano made $3.76 million in 2005 and was seeking $7.2 million through the process.
2004 – Cubs signed free agent Will Ohman
1988 – Shane Peterson, born
1977 – Cubs traded Bill Madlock and Rob Sperring to the Giants for Andrew Muhlstock, Steve Ontiveros and Bobby Murcer
1968 – Dave Swartzbaugh, born
1953 – Tom Veryzer, born
1939 – Willie Smith, born
1928 – Chris Kitsos, born
1924 – Hal Rice, born
1897 – Red Shannon, born
1863 – Jimmy Ryan, born