Chicago Cubs: Masahiro Tanaka

Tanaka due for a loss as Cubs snap streak

May, 21, 2014
5/21/14
1:50
AM CT
Marchand By Andrew Marchand
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- After his first regular-season loss in nearly two years, spanning a total of 42 starts, a consistently stoic Masahiro Tanaka stood surrounded by the media in a dank room in the bowels of Wrigley Field.

What stood out about Tanaka's post-loss media session is the trait he has led with since he arrived in the United States a little more than three months ago: His demeanor seemed unfazed.

He admitted disappointment but refused to take a reporter's olive branch and blame the rain, which basically lasted his entire start and made the mound a little soft.

After the New York Yankees' 6-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs, in which he gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits in six innings, Tanaka pointed the finger at no one other than himself.

From the moment he stepped on the mound for pregame warmups through his 88th and final pitch, his pitches needed the Waze App to find the strike zone.

[+] EnlargeMasahiro Tanaka
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsMasahiro Tanaka suffered his first regular-season loss at a rainy Wrigley in the Yanks' 6-1 loss.
"They went to a location that was easy for [the Cubs]," said Tanaka, who was in trouble during four of his six innings.

Tanaka did lose Game 6 of the Japan Series last year, but he quickly washed that away by coming back the next day -- after 160 pitches -- to pick up the championship-clinching save. He will have to wait until Sunday across town against the Chicago White Sox to begin a new streak after suffering his first regular-season loss since August 2012.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed," Tanaka said. "I'm looking forward to my next start and making my adjustments and try to be my best the next time."

While Tanaka looked inward, his manager, as he's known to do at times, tried to dictate story angles. Joe Girardi was 1-for-2 as a sports editor.

On the idea that the Cubs were the first team this season to face Tanaka a second time, uncovering some secret recipe to spoil Tanaka's success, Girardi correctly said it wouldn't be right to go there.

"I wouldn't make too much of that," Girardi said. "If he has his good splitter tonight, I think he gives a much better performance. Since it is the first time he saw a team twice, and they scored four runs, people are probably going to make a big deal out of it."

Girardi, though, didn't buy that Tanaka was simply due for a loss. After 42 regular-season starts, a 34-0 record dating back to his time in Japan, Tanaka couldn't have the law of averages work in his favor forever.

"I don't know if I would put it that way," Girardi said. "Like I said, a lot of things have to go right to have such a long winning streak. Sometimes your offense is going to have to pick you up a little bit. We just didn't do it tonight. I don't think he would ever say he was due for a loss."

No, he wouldn't, but wins and losses are a team thing. In Tuesday's pregame, Girardi noted that to have such an "incredible" steak, a lot of games must go a starter's way to keep it alive.

For example, the Yankees' offense needs to score more than one run against Jason Hammel. Jacoby Ellsbury, the No. 3 hitter, put up another 0-for-4 and hasn't had an RBI in nearly three weeks. This all led to Tanaka needing to be great, and he was only OK.

"He didn't pitch that bad," Girardi said.

He did not, but he got no help. Even without three of their top starters, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, the Yanks have actually been pitching well lately. Entering Tuesday, Yankees starters had a 2.84 ERA in their past 13 games.

Still, on Wednesday afternoon, they will try to avoid a two-game sweep, with Chase Whitley against Jeff Samardzija. With Vidal Nuno and David Phelps also in the starting rotation, Tanaka's importance has become even more magnified.

But even in defeat, he doesn't seemed like he will be fazed by it at all.

"I'm a little bit disappointed, because I think a lot of the fans were looking for me to keep on winning," Tanaka said. "Next time out, I'll try to get a win again."

Jason Hammel outduels Cubs' first choice

May, 21, 2014
5/21/14
12:10
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Throwing with a bruise on his hand nearly as big as a golf ball, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel outpitched Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees on Tuesday well aware that Tanaka was the Cubs’ first choice as a free-agent signing this past offseason.

Maybe the Cubs won in losing out on Tanaka, as Hammel’s 5-2 record after 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball isn’t far from Tanaka’s 6-1 mark. The Cubs righty beat the Yankees ace, handing him his first loss in 43 starts.

“He’s an outstanding pitcher,” Hammel said of Tanaka after the game. “He threw the ball really well. It could have been a short night, but I was able to get through it.”

[+] EnlargeJason Hammel
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJason Hammel texted his catcher, John Baker, before Tuesday's game that Masahiro Tanaka was "due to lose a game." Hammel gave up four hits and struck out out six in the win.
Hammel almost left the game after leadoff hitter Brett Gardner hit a ball back at him -- and off the top of his pitching hand. The bruise got bigger as the game went on, but Hammel got better as he got used to pitching with it.

“We were very fortunate the ball struck him on the back of the hand,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

After getting hit, Hammel threw his first warm-up pitch to the backstop. Renteria almost went to the bullpen, but the Cubs’ biggest surprise of 2014 was having none of it.

“I got a good little egg on there,” Hammel said. “Other than that, adrenaline was able to carry me through.”

Hammel came to the Cubs only after Tanaka said no thanks and signed with the Yankees. For $149 million less outlay, Hammel is looking like a smart signing as his ERA dropped to 2.91.

“It’s not like he’s tricking people,” his personal catcher John Baker said. “He’s pitching his game. He’s got a great slider.”

Once he shook off the bruise on his hand, Hammel went to work. He struck out five batters during the second, third and fourth innings. He gave up a run in the sixth and was pulled, but probably only because the bruise on his hand was growing. He gave up only four hits and one walk while striking out six.

“It gradually got stiffer and sorer,” Hammel said.

Though Hammel cost less to employ than the pitcher he beat on Tuesday, the Yankees know they’ll have Tanaka in New York for many years. That may not be the case for Hammel, who makes for an attractive trade possibility.

Hammel has answered all the questions about the possibility of being traded this season, but he was asked one more after Tuesday’s game.

“I could care less,” Hammel said. “I’m wearing blue pinstripes right now. I don’t think about that stuff. I want to be here. I want to pitch here. I want to win here.”

He has been doing a lot of the latter as the owner of five of the Cubs’ 16 wins this season. Hammel and Baker have developed a good rapport, and there’s a confidence growing.

“We’re texting back and forth the day before the game, saying, ‘Let’s get this guy and hand him a loss,’” Baker said. “I text him, ‘This guy is 43-0; he’s due to lose a game. Let’s have it be us.’”

Mission accomplished.

Tanaka worth the money so far

April, 16, 2014
4/16/14
5:27
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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NEW YORK -- He says he won't know for sure that choosing the New York Yankees was the right decision until "the end" but pitcher Masahiro Tanaka seems to be fitting in nicely for the team that bid the highest for the former Japanese star.

The Cubs tried to lure him to Chicago over the winter, but Tanaka chose the Yankees because they gave him the "highest evaluation," he said through an interpreter after beating the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon. That "evaluation" could mean the highest contract as Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million deal with New York. The Cubs wouldn't go higher than six years and $120 million.

"I did consider all the teams that wanted me," Tanaka said. "I looked at them evenly. I looked at all the teams very seriously."

Tanaka threw eight shutout innings while striking out 10 and giving up just two infield hits against the Cubs, who saw firsthand what could have been if he had chosen them. He was every bit as good as advertised in lowering his ERA to 2.05 with 28 strikeouts in 22 innings.

"He was good," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "That splitty isn't one you want to sit on. As guys were coming in they were saying 'It looks like a fastball.'"

Tanaka worked both sides of the plate and even snuck a few fastballs by Cubs hitters. Mike Olt looked overmatched, striking out three times.

Tanaka was asked if dominating the Cubs confirmed his decision to choose New York over them.

"I don't look at it that way," he said. "It's just one game. I definitely don't look at it that way."

Tanaka didn't want to re-visit his sit down with Theo Epstein and the rest of the Cubs' contingent which visited him in California in January, and it's uncertain if he would have chosen the Cubs had they been the highest bidder.

"I'll know at the end if the right choice was made to come to the Yankees or not," Tanaka said.

Cubs get first look at Tanaka, the foe

April, 16, 2014
4/16/14
11:22
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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NEW YORK -- All of that scouting of New York Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka might finally pay off for the Chicago Cubs. They didn't land him as their big free-agent signing over the winter, but at least they have detailed reports they can use in trying to beat him in Game 1 of their doubleheader Wednesday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeMasahiro Tanaka
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsThe Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka has a 3.21 ERA in two starts this season.
"His splitter is pretty good," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said Wednesday morning. "You have to see the ball up on him."

That coincides with all the scouting reports on Tanaka since he became available from Japan in January. His fastball is hittable, but his splitter is not. If the Cubs get behind in the count, they're in trouble.

"I won't get behind," designated hitter Mike Olt joked. "You really look at the first two games. You can get everything you need from that. You want to see what's working for him lately."

Tanaka, 25, has 18 strikeouts in 14 innings pitched this season, but he's given up about a hit an inning. And two home runs in two starts.

"He's pretty good," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "Can work the fringes at times ... His split, when it's down, is pretty good. He can elevate his fastballs a little bit."

The Cubs haven't played since Sunday afternoon, so there might be some rust, but they did take some indoor batting practice on Tuesday and then went outdoors on Wednesday before the game. Now they'll face the player they tried to woo in a Los Angeles hotel just a few months ago. The Yankees beat everyone to the punch by adding a year -- and an extra $22 million -- to land Tanaka with a seven-year, $155 million contract to pitch on the biggest stage in baseball.

"I would lie if I said I never dreamed of playing in this stadium or the old one," Rizzo said. "My family was asking me what it was like just being here."

Rizzo also wants to remind everyone how good Game 1 starter Jason Hammel has been for the Cubs despite making approximately $16 million less than Tanaka this season. Hammel is 2-0 with a 2.63 ERA. That's one more win and about a half-run less on his ERA than Tanaka after just two starts.

"He can just keep flying under the radar and winning ballgames for us," Rizzo said.

Cubs could still to add to pitching staff

January, 22, 2014
1/22/14
1:58
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs' search for their No. 1 starter of the future continues after they lost out on the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, but they still need to field a starting staff for 2014.

They've made it pretty clear they won't replace Tanaka with one of the remaining big name free agent pitchers, including former Cub Matt Garza. Not unless one falls into their lap. So where do they turn?

Internally, the Cubs have Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta as mainstays. Justin Grimm, acquired last season for Garza, could be an option as could 2013 Cubs minor league pitcher of the year Kyle Hendricks. Lefty Chris Rusin is leftover from last year as well. But like any team, five, six or even seven starters aren't enough in this day and age. So expect a minor signing to compete with those names.

A source familiar with the situation says the Cubs won't be re-signing Scott Baker, who threw well for the Cubs the final month of the season after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He's moving on. Former Cub Paul Maholm is available as is Jason Hammel, who pitched for the Baltimore Orioles last season. Both have been linked to Chicago.

The hole Tanaka leaves is bigger in the coming seasons when the Cubs hope to compete for the playoffs. They have time to find that ace, it just means 2014 is shaping up to be another rough year.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs lose out on Tanaka

January, 22, 2014
1/22/14
10:39
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Masahiro TanakaChung Sung-Jun/Getty ImagesMasahiro Tanaka would have been a solid -- albeit expensive -- building block for the Cubs' rotation.
CHICAGO -- Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka agreed Wednesday to a seven-year, $155 million deal with the New York Yankees, according to a source, spurning the Chicago Cubs and several other teams.

What it means: The Cubs were a finalist but that doesn't do them much good now. They're still searching for a No. 1 starter in advance of becoming a contending team. Tanaka was attractive due to his age (25) as much as anything else.

How bad was losing out on Tanaka?: You have to look at it this way: The Cubs were trying to sign a No. 1 pitcher, who was coveted by top contending teams, while they languish in last place right now. It was an uphill battle from the start. In fact, if they never showed interest in him no one would be complaining because the thinking would be the Cubs weren't ready for that kind of signing. It was a long shot from the beginning but was worth the try. If a player like Tanaka becomes available in about two years, the Cubs will be in a better position to compete for him.

What's next: The Cubs won't try to fill their pitching void by simply signing the next big name on the free-agent market. For example, free agents Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are all over 30 years old. The Cubs have no interest in paying big money for pitchers who are flawed -- at least as top-of-the-rotation pitchers -- and will be in their mid-30s by the time the Cubs are ready to contend. They'll sign someone just to add a body to the rotation as they did last year with Scott Feldman and to an extent Scott Baker. In fact, Baker is available again. Don't expect them to find an ace right now.

Cubs Chat: Still waiting on Tanaka

January, 21, 2014
1/21/14
4:57
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Here's a wrap-up of today's chat. Masahiro Tanaka was a big topic of conversation.

Little buzz, but Tanaka can change that

January, 19, 2014
1/19/14
5:05
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Looking back, it was a bit of a subdued Chicago Cubs convention this year as the weekend didn’t have a marquee player or moment to seize upon.

There were no big introductions of new star players, nor even the buzz of a recent Hall of Fame electee, Greg Maddux, walking around. He had prior commitments.

Last year the Cubs made headlines on convention weekend by unveiling their ambitious Wrigley Field renovation project, but this year all they could tell their fans was it’s getting closer to starting -- that is if the final hurdle with rooftop owners can be overcome. It’s little news that they announced a four-year offseason project instead of five, considering the first year was eaten up by politics anyway.

Having all their top prospects in one place while celebrating the 30th anniversary of the division-winning 1984 team felt nice, but those things should have been the icing on the cake -- not the cake itself. Having a new manager and coaching staff to introduce to fans produced some interest, but even then the buzz wasn’t exactly loud. It might be a good staff, but it’s not one well known to the average Cubs fan. Only Bill Mueller and possibly Eric Hinske bring some name recognition.

The irony of the weekend is the most talked about player -- and the one who can create the biggest buzz of the offseason -- is the one the team talked very little about: Japanese free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

“I’m going to respect the request of confidentiality that’s come from the agent and the player, just let things play out,” team president Theo Epstein said on Friday.

(Read full post)

Plan is same as Cubs await Tanaka decision

January, 17, 2014
1/17/14
9:55
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein’s annual state of the team address, at the opening of the Cubs Convention on Friday, sounded a lot like last year’s. The front office has a plan to end the long World Series drought, but it’s going to be executed at the pace it needs to be -- and no quicker.

“We’ve been honest since day one,” Epstein said from a ballroom at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. “If there is tension between the immediate present and the sustainable future that we’re building, we’re going to lean towards the future.”

In other words, for example, there won’t be any trading of prospects for rental players at the trade deadline in July -- not unless the Cubs shock everyone and are firmly in the playoff race. Even then, it probably won't happen.

Two years into a rebuilding phase, there is no going back. Epstein did acknowledge his top prospects are getting closer to making it to the major leagues, and didn’t back off interest in free agent Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka -- though he offered few details.

“I’m going to respect the request of confidentiality that’s come from the agent and the player, just let things play out,” Epstein said.

Because of that confidentiality, very little is known of the offers in front of Tanaka. One source thinks the Cubs will go as high as $25 million to $26 million per year and up to seven years. Others think the Cubs have only the New York Yankees to worry about -- and they’re a big concern. A Tanaka signing would immediately change the narrative for the Cubs.

“You bring him [in] and that R-word [rebuilding] disintegrates,” pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. “You always keep an eye on that as a player.”

The addition of Tanaka would probably go a long way toward keeping Samardzija around, as long as the Cubs have the money to pay both over the long haul. Samardizja is antsy to win sooner rather than later -- he wouldn’t even say the word "rebuild" -- and wants to do it in a Cubs uniform.

“For me, being a part of that building process and saying you had your hands in building it, that’s exciting, too,” Samardzija said.

With or without Tanaka, the Cubs' plan isn’t going to change. He'd speed it up, of course, but Epstein won’t rush his prospects.

“They’re going to have their time; it’s not quite now,” Epstein said.

About a year from now -- or maybe a bit longer -- the idea of acquiring only young talent should start to fade and be replaced by the notion of adding to the core. That’s when the Cubs will start to spend money, though they’re showing that desire right now in the Tanaka sweepstakes.

“I couldn’t believe more in where we’re going,” Epstein said.

Questions abound as convention kicks off

January, 17, 2014
1/17/14
11:38
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The annual Cubs Convention kicks off with an unusual amount of uncertainty surrounding the team.

Questions abound both on and off the field: Will the Cubs' pursuit of Japanese star pitcher Masahrio Tanaka end with the right-hander wearing Cubbie blue? Baseball insiders say not if the New York Yankees have anything to do with it. And to make matters worse, those close to Tanaka's camp are saying the highest bid may not be the winner. Tanaka will be the talk of the weekend for fans, media and front office types.

Will this be pitcher Jeff Samardzija's last Cubs convention? He could go to an arbitration hearing as teams and players will exchange salary figures on Friday unless deals are struck. Either way, that only assures Samardzija a one-year deal. There's been no sign of progress on a long-term deal and as a league source indicated, every day he remains without one increases his likelihood of testing free agency after the 2015 season. It means he's still on a path to be traded before it gets to that point.

When will the Wrigley Field renovations begin? It was a year ago at this time the Ricketts family announced an ambitious $500 million project that would be funded soley by the team. It's been nearly a full year and nothing of significance has been accomplished. The family will face the media and fans this weekend, but will they have answers?

There are smaller questions like who's on third come 2014 and will Travis Wood get a long-term deal or is it too soon for him? Some of these questions will be answered throughout the weekend as there is plenty of player, management and front office access for fans and media alike.

Here are some highlights:

FRIDAY

Media social: 4:30-5:30 p.m.
This will be the first chance for the mass media to talk with Samardzija about another offseason in which little progress was made for a long-term deal. It's also a chance to meet newcomers Jose Veras, Wesley Wright and Justin Ruggiano.

Opening ceremonies: 6 p.m.
Who gets the biggest cheer from the assembled fans during introduction is always of interest. Will it be a former Cub or a prospect instead of a current player? More importantly, how will new mascot Clark be received?
Film premiere: 100 Years of Wrigley Field, 8 p.m.

SATURDAY

Ricketts family forum: 9-10 a.m.
No question is a bad one when it comes from the paying customer and the family will undoubtedly be grilled on the Wrigley project and when the Cubs will win again.

Meet Cubs baseball management: 10-11 a.m.
A chance to ask Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the rest of the front office about their long-term plan for the team. It hasn't changed since a year ago at the convention -- youth will rule the day. The only difference is now that youth is getting very close to playing at Wrigley Field.

SUNDAY

30-year anniversary of 1984 team: 9-10 a.m.

Time is here for Cubs to pitch to Tanaka

January, 9, 2014
1/09/14
1:00
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Here comes the pitch.

[+] EnlargeMasahiro Tanaka
Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty ImagesJapanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is in the United States and ready to hear offers from MLB teams.
No, not the type that put former Chicago Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux into the Hall of Fame on Wednesday, it's the one the current front office will be throwing towards Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. Can the Cubs convince the 25-year-old to sign with them over his many other suitors?

"We're going to be part of the process," general manager Jed Hoyer said in November. "We've done our work on him and plan on being part of it."

The time has come. As this report out of ESPNNewYork.com indicates, Tanaka’s discussions with teams -- including the Cubs -- are heating up. As the process is considered confidential it’s not quite clear when and where the Cubs will meet with Tanaka and his representatives, but sources say it’ll be sometime before next weekend’s Cubs Convention.

(Read full post)

Can the Cubs get Masahiro Tanaka?

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
5:50
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Masahiro TanakaAP Photo/Toru TakahashiRHP Masahiro Tanaka went 24-0 in the regular season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

CHICAGO -- “We wish there was a free-agent market for young players.” -- Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein, Nov. 8, 2013.

Epstein and the Cubs got what they wanted -- sort of -- when Major League baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball finally agreed on a new “posting” system Monday, allowing Japanese star players to resume coming to the United States.

It paves the way for 25-year-old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to come to the big leagues if his Japanese team allows. Tanaka was 24-0 in the regular season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, who went on to win the Nippon championship. He is the biggest name to potentially come over this offseason and he’ll be well sought after by many major league teams. Worst case, he projects as a No.2 starter but most scouts believe he can be a No. 1.

Under the new posting system, the Golden Eagles would set a “fee” -- which is capped at $20 million -- for allowing him to come to the United States. Clubs that agree to meet that fee would have 30 days to negotiate with Tanaka just as if he were any other free agent. The club that agrees to terms with him then pays that fee over to Rakuten. If no agreement with any team can be reached within 30 days then Tanaka would return to Japan and can’t be “posted” again until Nov. 1, 2014.

The Cubs have not beaten around the bush about their interest in Tanaka. He fits their needs like a glove.

(Read full post)

Will Braves be favorite to land Samardzija?

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
10:32
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The lobby at the Swan & Dolphin hotel was full of energy -- and rumors -- on Monday night as the winter meetings got underway. It's the only time all year that executives, scouts and media members will mingle with tape recorders off and ties loosened.

[+] EnlargeJeff Samardzija
AP Photo/John BazemoreThe list of interested teams in Jeff Samardzija appears to be growing.
Not surprisingly, one topic of conversation was Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija. The list of contending teams not interested in him is growing smaller. Toronto, Atlanta, the New York Yankees, Washington, Arizona and Pittsburgh have all been linked to Samardzija at one time. And there are probably more teams lining up knowing they have two years of control over Samardzija before he becomes a free agent. These teams are in win-now mode.

Two National League observers said Monday that they believe the Braves could emerge as the favorite, either during this offseason or closer to the July trade deadline. The Braves potentially match up well as a trade partner because their top prospects come from their pitching ranks, although some of that pitching is very young and not major league ready. Additionally, the Braves already have a young staff which used Julio Teheran and Alex Wood in the rotation in 2013. A veteran like Samardzija would help. It remains to be seen if the Braves' package is enough for a Cubs front office more interested in quality than quantity to pull the trigger on a deal.

The Samardzija story could take a new turn as his agent, Mark Rodgers, arrives in Orlando on Tuesday for a 36-hour stay. There's no "summit" meeting scheduled between the Cubs and Rodgers, although the sides will undoubtedly talk. Trading Samardzija is still much more likely than extending his stay in Chicago via a new contract. It's still a matter of when and to whom, not if.

While the Cubs try to figure out what to do with Samardzija, they're also waiting to see if Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka will be made available this offseason. General manager Jed Hoyer was asked Monday if the Cubs could only spend on one of the two players.

"They're not attached," Hoyer said. "It's not an either/or type thing. ... What people are speculating about isn't based on any kind of facts. There are very few people who know exactly what we have the resources to do. We'll keep that internal."

Meetings changing: Hoyer lamented the fact that the winter meetings have become less and less about face-to-face meetings between teams. With communication just a touch away on a smartphone, teams don't need the long sitdowns as in previous years or decades. The week before the meetings easily saw more flurry of activity than there likely will be this week.

"When it comes to deal-making and contact, both at the GM meetings and winter meetings, they lack a little bit of what they did in the past because we're on the phone and text," Hoyer said. "You know so much more on the Internet and Twitter. We comment all the time. It used to be you'd sort of have team road trips (in the hotel) to other teams. You have three to four people go to another team and talk a half an hour and 45 minutes."

Big year for Barney: Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney is coming off a season in which he hit .208. There are several infield prospects who could push him in 2014, making it a big year for the veteran.

"It's a big year for him no matter what," Hoyer said. "It doesn't have to do with competition among young players. I think he simply wants to bounce back and get back to where he was."

Barney hit .276 in 2011 and .254 in 2012 while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. Hoyer says the Cubs' plan is for him is to be the starter, but his numbers need to improve.

"With him, mechanically and approach-wise, he got caught in between some things last year," Hoyer said. "He brings aspects [defense] to our club that are pretty much impossible to find."

Expect more inexpensive additions to Cubs

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
3:24
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- As the Chicago Cubs lay the groundwork for their offseason, don't expect major dollars to be spent -- unless of course they land Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka -- as their rebuilding plan simply doesn't call for it yet.

[+] EnlargePhil Hughes
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsA pitcher like Phil Hughes, who is still young enough and available, could be a good reclamation project for the Cubs.
Even a signing from last winter like Edwin Jackson probably won't be repeated as that may have been ahead of schedule.

But that doesn't mean the Cubs won't take some steps. They'd prefer a younger starting pitcher who isn't brought in just to be flipped at the trade deadline. A pitcher they can take a chance on by buying low as that player attempts a return to prosperity, like Phil Hughes of the New York Yankees or Josh Johnson of the Toronto Blue Jays. Both are reclamation projects but are young enough to survive a rebuild if they can pitch.

In the outfield, a source says Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth is on their list, although he's drawing interest from several clubs and there is speculation he wants to play for a winner. McLouth is at least the type of player the Cubs could use. He's a veteran who can provide some leadership while taking some attention and pressure away from their young players.

Finding a closer may not be a priority, but it's needed. A backup catcher will be of need if Dioner Navarro gets paid the way he would like to. Kurt Suzuki or Gerald Laird are two names that have come up for the Cubs.

Then there are the trades. They're in the incubation stage.

"We're closer because we've had those discussions," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday from the GM meetings. "We flushed out some ideas that aren't going to work. We've been approached about some ideas that we'll go back and think about more. In that regard we're closer. I don't think you come here expecting to get deals done."

Having said that, the Cubs don't want to wait around as some of these second-tier players find homes.

"You have to be thoughtful and deliberate but you can never be too deliberate because guys go off the board," Hoyer said.

Hoyer admitted outfield, starting pitching, relieving and catching have been the focus so far. The Cubs seem set in the infield with either what they have on the big league roster now or coming up from the minors soon enough. Unless a starter is traded, they have four for 2014: Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta. At some point they'll have to find a true No. 1 starter. Who will be the Cubs' Adam Wainwright or Clayton Kershaw? Could Tanaka be a realistic possibility?

For now, the Cubs will fill some holes with the hope of hitting on a player or two who can stick around. Maybe even more than making talent a priority they need to replace some veteran leadership, at least among position players.

The offseason is just beginning, but the Cubs' plan for the future is deep in the works.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jake Arrieta
WINS ERA SO IP
10 2.53 167 156
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .292
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167