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The Chicago Cubs have signed Scott Baker for one year and $5.5 million, Scott Feldman for one year and $6 million, Carlos Villanueva for two years and $10 million, and Edwin Jackson for four years and $52 million. All told, it’s $73.5 million for eight player years. The Tigers signed Anibal Sanchez for $80 million, and they get him for five years.

Does that make one approach better than the other? Not necessarily – quantity does not always equal quality. But if the Cubs could have only one of those two choices, considering where they are right now, I probably choose the former pretty easily. And I’m a guy who really wanted Sanchez.

I really like the deals because they give the Cubs so many options going forward, without really restricting them from doing anything they’d like. They are all fair market deals (or better), and none are so large that they will constrict the Cubs’ payroll meaningfully in future years. And these guys could prove to be pretty good pitchers, too.

I’m happy about the depth that the Cubs have added to the rotation (and the bullpen). I think the rotation stands a chance of being above average this year, all things considered. I also think the additions of Baker, Feldman, Villanueva, and Jackson all fit within “the plan” of accumulating long-term assets (and short-term, flippable pieces) for a possible competitive stretch in 2014/15/16, and beyond.

But I want to be clear about what the signings aren’t: they aren’t the moves that are suddenly going to vault the Cubs into contention in 2013. Without additions to the lineup, in particular, this is still a relatively weak team on paper. Something to keep in mind about the rotation, as you are bombarded with messages about how much better this year’s rotation now looks compared to last year’s: yes, it’s miles better than where the rotation ended up last year. But that’s not really the fair comparison, right? If you want to see if it’s truly an improvement, you’ve got to compare the 2013 rotation to the 2012 rotation as it stood when the Cubs were actually trying to be good. That rotation featured the best pitcher in the NL at the time (Ryan Dempster) and one of the hottest pitchers in the NL at the time (Paul Maholm). And the Cubs were still terrible. Is the projected 2013 rotation really that much better than the one from early 2012? Probably a little. But not as much as you might think.

With that out of the way, we can dig into the meat of yesterday’s Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva signings. Namely: what does it do to the rotation, and what’s the plan for that suddenly crowded group, which also features holdovers Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and Travis Wood?

As things stand today, it seems like the Cubs really have only three options for dealing with the (good) problem of having too many starting pitchers: (1) Trade somebody, (2) rest somebody, or (3) make difficult bullpen/roster decisions.

First, and always the sexiest option: a trade. The Cubs could look to deal Matt Garza, though, for reasons discussed earlier today, that’s easier said than done. The signing, at a superficial level, do look like they open up the possibility of dealing Garza without damaging the 2013 rotation too badly, which is great. But Garza is coming off a stress reaction in his elbow, which kept him out for the entire second half last year. Further, when healthy, he’s still probably the best pitcher on the staff. A trade, therefore, is complicated.

The Cubs could also consider shopping Jeff Samardzija, as unpopular as that might be. His value is extremely high after a breakout year, and with three years of control left by way of arbitration. It would be very hard to part with Samardzija, but as part of the rebuilding effort, he could certainly net a huge haul in return – so you have to consider it. Still, absent a deal that brings back two or more Major League ready young, very high upside arms, I just can’t see a Samardzija deal being the right move for an organization that I see standing at the ready to start a run of success beginning as soon as 2014.

Even if the Cubs dealt one of Garza or Samardzija (or Wood, if there were a buyer), they’d still have six starters for five spots.

So, how about the second option: rest someone.

Because Garza is coming off that elbow issue, and Baker is coming off of Tommy John surgery, the Cubs could elect to hold both back at the start of the year, and fill up the rotation with Samardzija, Jackson, Villanueva, Feldman, and Wood. That could work for most of April, depending on the pitchers’ progress, and perhaps by the time Garza and Baker are ready to go, something will have happened in the rotation (something always happens), and things will have sorted themselves out.

It’s possible.

But what if Garza is ready to go at the open of the season, and Baker is just behind?

Well, then there’s the third option: just try to figure it out.

Garza, Samardzija, and Jackson are locks for the rotation at that point. Feldman, given that he was very publicly promised a starting job (though I previously parsed Jed Hoyer’s language, and I could think of ways to get around the kinda-sorta promise that aren’t totally sleazy), and really does have some upside as a starter, is probably going to be in the rotation to start the year as well.

Travis Wood is out of options, so, if the Cubs tried to shuttle him to AAA to open the year, he’d first have to pass through revocable waivers. It’s possible he could clear – frequently teams don’t grab players they like on revocable waivers because they know (1) the optioning team will just revoke the waiver and keep the player, and (2) then all you will have accomplished is really pissing off the other team – but it’s a risk. I’m not sure it should be “the plan,” but it’s an arrow in the quiver if need be (there was a time (hard to remember, I know) when it seemed like there was no way that Randy Wells and Chris Volstad would clear waivers, but they did).

Otherwise, Wood probably grabs a rotation spot, too. Carlos Villanueva heads to his familiar swing role in the bullpen, and Scott Baker starts the season on the DL for a least a couple weeks. If Baker is ready to go when the season opens, maybe Wood joins Villanueva in the bullpen – there is, after all, only one lefty down there right now (James Russell). Or maybe Feldman heads to the bullpen to start the year with an understanding that, at some point, he’s going to join the rotation.

Ultimately, short of a trade, I’m thinking we’re going to see a hybrid of options two and three. Baker will probably open the season on the disabled list, and either Villanueva or Wood will open the season in the bullpen. From there, injuries will naturally occur, and the Cubs will probably be able to play things by ear until mid-season when they, depending on their record and the pitchers’ performance, may look to unload a pitcher or two. Guys who were just signed cannot be traded until June, so don’t look for a deal involving Baker, Feldman, Villanueva, or Jackson, if at all, until then.

Oh, and then when Arodys Vizcaino shows he’s healthy enough to pitch in the second half …

  • Bryan

    That’s good stuff. There are obviously plenty of issues to resolve regarding the makeup of the rotation, but that this point, having an excess of Major League starting pitching is a fine problem to have.

  • ETS

    that last sentence gets me excited… :D

  • Jason

    I just don’t see the necessity of trading our best pitcher at 29 years old especially when we have the potential of being competitive as soon as 2014. Honestly I think we can even have a fairly decent season this year, not going as far as saying playof potential, but near that .500 range. Am I wrong?

  • Noah

    I think you have to look at all the things that would have to go right for the Cubs to compete. Even with the much improved pitching, for the Cubs to compete just so much has to go right on the offensive end. Let me just put it this way: barring EVERYTHING else going right for the Cubs this season, the Cubs competing requires Ian Stewart’s issue to in fact having been the wrist, and now that he had surgery he is at least an above average player at 3B.

  • Cubbie Blues

    I want to see them holding onto Garza, Shark & Jackson. The rest can be traded at the deadline. If we can have a rotation of Garza, Vizcaino, Shark, Jackson and any of our remaining pieces. That is one heck of a rotation. It lacks an Ace, but most teams lack an Ace (only 10-15 in MLB). Once our bats come into their own, the team as a whole becomes a contender.

  • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Kyle

    It’s a very nice position to be in.

    I agree that there’s just no chance Garza can be traded before spring training, and probably not even then. If I’m an opposing GM, I’m not paying full price for a starting pitcher who’s last competitive game ended with an elbow injury. And if I’m the Cubs, I’m not trading Garza at a discount. So I don’t see much chance of a fit.

    The Cubs have supposedly had a lot of teams calling on Samardzija and are listening. I don’t expect him to be traded, but it wouldn’t surprise me. It would hurt, but if we could get his equivalent in a 3b or the OF, it’d improve the organization.

    • DarthHater

      Makes sense to me. Who do you think would be “his equivalent in a 3b or the OF?”

      • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Kyle

        I’ve been trying to think about that. The Padres are supposedly interested and offering up Gyorko+, but that doesn’t seem like enough to me. The irrational fanboy in me keeps wanting to see if we can talk them into giving up Headley for Samardzija+.

      • Rich H

        The trade offer I liked that I did not think was realistic was Maybin and Chase Headley for Shark, Jackson and Vitters. IF San Diego would offer that type of package I would stamp done before I put down the phone and run to the ATM to cash in quickly. Like I said that is not very realistic but goes to show that some people think Shark is worth A LOT!

  • Riggs

    Hey Brett,

    I know this is a long shot…but if the Cubs were able to trade for David Price in the future. Is there anyway that Edwin Jackson could help(of the field friendship?) with getting David Price to sign and extension?

  • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor (no relation)

    I think the Cubs take their time with Vizcaino and build up his arm strength. I don’t even think a September call up is in his future. He is worth more to us as a starter than a reliever, just take Jeff Samardzija as an example.

    I’d love to extend Baker for 2014, 2015, and 2016 if healthy. If we make a play for David Price next off season, I can see our quantity of arms magically turned into a solid rotation…

    2014
    Price (L)
    Vizcaino
    Baker
    Samardzija
    Jackson

  • Fishin Phil

    That is a much nicer problem to have than too few starters.

  • http://bleachernation playertobenamedlater

    It is certainly a good problem to have. The added depth helps not only the rotation but deepens the bullpen. Middle relief is a problem for many teams. This helps there, also. Now go get another bat or two at a reasonable rate to start 2013 with and go from there.

  • http://twitter.com/mbeemsterboer Matt Beemsterboer

    I’m really excited about the possibilities this rotation presents. I feel like we’ve got a couple guys in Baker and Feldman that could play well enough to be 3+ guys, Samardzija is proving he can be a 2 and Garza, if healthy, is a legit 1. Throw in Wood, Feldman, Vizcaino and Villanueva and we have a decent shot at having somebody come through as a solid 3 guy and having decent 4s.

    Overall, this makes me happiest for 2014 and beyond. This year will be fun to watch play out for that season and beyond!

  • JR

    I posted this somewhere else. But, Brett do you guys think it would be possible to put together a trade scenario that that protects the other team since they are taking a huge risk trading for Garza? For example if Garza has a big injury the Cubs would send a couple prospect back to the team Garza goes too. The prospects in this scenario wouldn’t be as high profile as what the Cubs receive, but they would be mid level to just offer protection. Just a thought..

  • BD

    I will admit, I’m not sure about trading Samardzija (the more pitchers, the better), and I’m also not sure about his value- but i was wondering about the Padres…

    I am starting the conversation at Gyorko and Casey Kelly. Not because I necessarily think it is a doable trade for SD- just to see the reaction to gauge what everyone thinks the Shark’s value is at.

    • BD

      As I keep reading, maybe Joe Wieland instead of Kelly. He’s recovering from TJS, but should be ready towards the end of the year, and could challenge in 2014 spring training.

  • MichiganGoat

    Isn’t it great when problems are a good thing ;)

    • hansman1982

      If only this front office weren’t so inept.

      • MichiganGoat

        Don’t forget being hideously cheap

      • DarthHater

        Instigators! ;-)

  • PKJ

    Looking forward to that Vizcaino train.

    • willis

      Me as well, and these moves help protect him and his rehab. Now there is no need to rush him along and he can be stretched out little by little. It’ll be a huge beneft for 2014 that way and he can slide in, if healthy, as a #3 or #4 in 2014. Which is a nice option.

  • willis

    It’s a great problem to have. I know you would want to keep Wood stretched out, but I’d like him in the pen as a lefty and a long man,unless he just blows peopl away in Spring training Baker to me is a wild card due to the TJ surgery and even if he’s ready, he still won’t be full go or awhile into the season I do agree he begins the season on the DL. Either Wood or Villanueva take the “long man” pen role (good with either), the other is your #5.

    Garza could very well have set back also. So you enter camp with all these guys and let it all shake out. I love the depth.

  • ActionJackson

    Well we could always trade Garza then re-sign him next off season………so basically we could have the best of both worlds. We trade Garza and get some solid pieces then next off season we re-sign him :)

  • Dale’s Ear

    Any chance for a 6 man rotation? That would keep some stress off Garza’s elbow and potentially increase the value of another “flippable asset”

    • FFP

      I doubt a six man rotation will be used, although it might feel like a seven or eight man rotation as the year progresses, A typical five man that has some moving pieces is more likely.
      I’d expect DL list use to be liberal and creative; in addition to being currently and unforesee-ably necessary–that’s one reason why Baseball Operations wants so many arms, stuff happens, bad;
      And good. MLB needs will fluctuate throughout the year, so one guy just staying healthy might suddenly see his value as a trade piece jump.

      We are in very good position, while we play the season, to stand pat, develop each arm and watch our pitcher portfolio mature.

    • WGNstatic

      I have been pondering the 6-man rotation as well. There could certainly be some real advantages and so e possible pitfalls.

      On the positive side: First, you can get extra rest for your starters, including a couple of guys coming off injuries, a couple more young guys who you may want limit the number of innings they throw, and a couple more guys transitioning from the pen who might benefit from a lighter load. Next you have six guys that are building up value as starters. That helps if you are looking to make trades or evaluate your own talent for future years. One wild card is whether or not a 6-man rotation would help keep guys healthier.

      On the down side, you sacrifice starts from your front of the rotation guys in exchange for starts from your 6th starter, but ai am not sure the Cubs will really have as much of a fall off from 1 to 6 as most teams would. Another downside is that it may crimp the bullpen in terms of the number of pitchers the team will carry.

      Either way, I would think this is something the FO and coaching staff are considering. Seems like to too many positives to simply dismiss the notion out of hand.

      • https://www.facebook.com/anotherspacesong Bret Epic

        I like the idea. Though there is the downside of missing time from your ace, you have more variance in your rotation and less predictability. More scouting that would have to be done as well and I think all of the pitchers are capable of holding a position in a 6 man rotation.

      • FFP

        Sorry, I may have sound like I was dismissing the six man rotation “notion out of hand”:

        I have been to this embarrassment-of-riches rodeo before (elsewhere). Thought about it long and hard. It is hard to recall all of the ins and outs of it, but:

        A) the six man puts your best pitcher on the pine too much, B) plays with the minds men bred in the five man era, C) shortens your bullpen by one arm, D) is often not needed for ‘extra rest’ as that is manufactured through rain-, off- and travel-days (and inevitable personnel moves in-game or inter-roster). Additionally, attrition takes this option out of your hands (about 20% more often than you’ll anticipate?) as guys inevitably get nicked up.

        Bret Epic’s thoughts on the extra stress on scouting etc. are also interesting.

        I can’t cite teams where six guys worked well. Others might have be able to enlighten as to when 6-man has ever been deployed (for more than a few cycles) successfully. I really would like to hear it. We’d have to explain why we should sit Shark(and everyone else down the line) more often than history so far indicates he, his mind and his body, needs to or should.

  • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor (no relation)

    xFIP for starters from 2010 – 2012 (min 200 IP)

    #37 – 3.72 (Matt Garza)
    #41 – 3.74 (Scott Baker)
    #44 – 3.74 (Edwin Jackson)
    #71 – 3.93 (Carlos Villanueva)
    #73 – 3.96 (Jeff Samardzija)
    #115 – 4.25 (Scott Feldman)
    #137 – 4.44 (Travis Wood)

    164 qualified

    • FFP

      Samardzija’s xFIP 3.38 as a starter last year, pitching twice as many innings as he did out of the pen in 2011 (4.27 xFIP). I would be pleased to have him as an opening day pitcher 2013(, 2014, etc.)

  • Spoda17

    I like the moves, but I think we are selling Wood short… I think Wood will have a great year in 2013 and force his way into the rotation as a regular. He thrived when his back was against the wall when he came back after spring. I think the competition for him will keep him sharp.

    I agree Goat… nice problems to have.

  • Muck

    6 Man Rotation bamm there you go. Just kidding but i don’t know its something to think about.

  • 2much2say

    Texas just claimed Bellivou

    • willis

      Bummer. But I think we all knew he’d get picked up. Kid has potential, someone was going to grab him.

    • Soler Power

      Retaliation for losing out on E. Jackson?

    • BD

      It seems like a lot of Cubs players get claimed.

  • 2much2say

    I see the Cubs DL n 2 to 3 players

    • http://thecubcontrarian.blogspot.com Kyle

      No DL in the offseason.

  • Abe Froman

    There are solid arguments against this but with Kaplan saying Garza is not getting extended (his connected opinion) coupled with the now deep rotation and a team needing Garza to be on their roster the whole season to get a draft pick compensation, I think a Garza trade is inevitable between now and April, likely to Texas and likely including Olt. That’s my gut thought but my guts do have shit for brains (stolen from High Fidelity and Stephen Colbert).

  • Serious Cubs Fan

    I don’t know how you can say Feldman and baker are apart of the of the long term plan. They are 1 yr deals. If they perform well they will bolt us for the next yrs biggest contract offer. Flip these guys for prospects for the most we can get

  • another JP

    I believe that the Jackson signing represents a shift in the rebuilding plans and the fo believes it might be able to compete this year. If we manage to acquire bourne this would be a .500 ball team that would possibly contend for a wild card spot if some guys had break out seasons. With extra pitching to barter with at the trade deadline we’d have the ability to pick up an extra player or two to keep us in contention. It happened for b-more last year so it’s definitely possible that the cubs could win 85-90 games under this scenario

    • Bridgeview Jay

      Puff puff pass homie.

    • Serious Cubs Fan

      I would rather be terrible and get a top 5 pick in the draft then be mediocre and near .500

      • ssckelley

        Not me, I hate losing!

        • hansman1982

          Well, I’d rather finish with the #1 draft pick than with 75 wins if it meant we held onto expiring-no-chance-in-hell-we-are-going-to-resign-them-players to get those extra 15-20 wins.

          Otherwise, keep building up and up and up.

          • ssckelley

            I agree if we are talking trade deadline deals, but I still want to see the team attempt to be competitive going into this season. This guy acts like he wants the Cubs to tank.

            • Serious Cubs Fan

              ssckelley: I don’t want the cubs to tank. I’d love to see our cubs make a run, but I’m also a realist. This team is maybe .500 at best, and I’d rather us get the higher draft pick then still suck, and be near .500. I still want Rizzo, Wellington Castillo, and all our young players who are going to be part of the future when we are serious WS competitors again, to improve and take the next steps to become stars or solid major league players.

          • Serious Cubs Fan

            hansman1982: I couldn’t have said any better myself. I complete agree

      • willis

        Ridiculous attitude.

        • Serious Cubs Fan

          how is it ridiculous? You have to be bad before you be be good. Unless your the Dodgers, or yankees and buy all the best free agents. You have to build through the minor to maintain long term success, and I’d rather get to pick from the elite top 5 draft pick talent that has a higher chance to become a star then to be .500 and have a lesser chance to get a star. The draft is a crap shoot, but you have a better chance picking from the top then picking in the middle of the pack.

          • ssckelley

            The Cubs are not a small market team. They do not have to use just the farm system to rebuild the team.

            • Serious Cubs Fan

              ssckelley: No offense but that is ridiculous. I don’t care if you are a big market. You need a good farm system to maintain long term success in the majors. You can just spend and expect to be good forever. Look at the 2006 cubs. They bought big time free agents, and they were competitive for a 3-4 yr. window but then those players skill diminished and we were stuck with big contracts and the team was stuck in hell

          • Soler Power

            By your logic we would never stop being a 100 loss team, if we can’t allow ourselves to ever improve a little.

            • Serious Cubs Fan

              Soler Power: What I am saying is I want us to compete, and buy big time FA, but I want us to do it when our younger minor leaguers are ready to come up and contribute. Most of our top prospects are in the low minors.

              • Soler Power

                It’s not easy to attract a big-time free agent. Unless you overspend, they only go to teams that are ready to win. If we get some wins this season, we will be more enticing to the free agents next offseason, and then with those new, better free agents, we will get even more wins and so on…

                If the Cubs follow this plan, they should be able contend in 2014. By the time the kids come up in 2015, good free agents will already be here and it should all be set to go for a good long run.

    • Serious Cubs Fan

      All I want out of this season is for our minor leaguers and younger players (Riz, BJax, etc.) to improve and in the majors flip guys for a good return of prospects. This team still isn’t good, were still in the middle of a rebuild. If by some miracle we could make a playoff run I would love that, but thats a pipe dream. I’ll say it again, and I’ll keep on saying it, I’d rather 62-100 with a top 3 pick in the draft, then a mediocre 72-90 or even .500 record, with a worse draft pick. This a little sad that I think this, but I believe this season is already a lost season, this isn’t a playoff team.

  • Bigg J

    Beliveau to the Rangers. I think that was a dumb move by the FO unless we bring in a solid lefty reliever

  • Bridgeview Jay

    I would trade Jeff Samardzija only if it netted us a ML ready 3B type like Headley or Olt. We lack any third base depth in the minors, althugh I am still rooting for Vitters (wish you the best going forward). Do not see the Cubs being a .500 team in 2013 because of our lineup. I see us losing alot of 3-1/ 4-2 games. Imagine if we traded Soriano? GO CUBS GO and a happy holidays to all.

  • Serious Cubs Fan

    I’m not overly excited about the Jackson signing either. He’s a #4 starter on a good team getting paid 13mil a yr on a bad team. He’s not bad, pretty solid pitcher but I would flip this guy for prospects too, unless he figures it out and starts performing like a #2 (on a WS contending team) then I would keep him. Our rotation is much better then last year but I don’t see very many future pieces in on it currently. Garza is ONLY part of the future if he signs a team friendly contract (prob wont), Jackson probably part of the future bc of that reasonably long and large contract, Travis Wood is cost controlled only has a future with us if he’s the #5 or bullpen role, Jeff Samardzija has a future with us but he is going get paid big coming up soon and he still needs to make some strides to be even considered a #2. Feldman and Baker are not part of the future, 1 yr deals and they only signed to get a starting opportunity to have a good year and set themselves up for their next big contract, flip both for prospects. Carlos villanueva signing I’m a big fan of. He’s a very solid pitcher who could significantly outperform his contract and be flip for prospects and he is on a cheap contract for more then 1 yr.

    • hansman1982

      He was good enough to get $11M from the Nationals last year and Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmerman > Garza, Samardzija, Feldman/Baker/Wood/Villy

      jus’ sayin’…

      • Twinkletoez

        Here are the projected #4 starters as of right now for all MLB teams. If people keep saying Jackson is a #4 starter then we have one of the top 5 #4 starters in baseball in my book (yes there are some young guys on this list that will probably end up being better then Jackson but they have not proven it yet)

        Baltimore – Miguel Gonzalez
        Boston – Felix Dourbront
        NY – Phil Hughes
        Tampa – Jeff Niemann
        Toronto – Brandon Morrow
        Chicago – Gavin Floyd
        Cleveland – Carlos Carrasco
        Detroit – Anibal Sanchez
        KC – Wade Davis
        Min – Liam Hendriks
        Houston – Jordon Lyles
        LA A – Jason Vargas
        Oak – A.J. Griffin
        Seattle – Blake Beavan
        Texas – Alexi Ogando
        Atlanta – Paul Maholm
        Miami – Nathan Eovaldi
        NY M – Matt Harvey
        Philly – Kyle Kendrick
        Wash – Dan Haren
        Cinn – Homer Bailey
        MIL – Chris Narveson
        Pitt – Francisco Liriano
        STL – Jake Westbrook
        Arizona – Wade Miley
        Colorado – Juan Nicasio
        LA D – Hyun-jin Ryu
        SD – Eric Stults
        SF – Ryan Vogelsong

  • Fastball

    This isn’t that hard to figure out. When ST is done 5 guys will have won rotation spots. The guys remaining will go to the bullpen and remain fairly stretched out in the event of an injury in the rotation. There is nothing wrong with the guys who don’t make it throwing from the pen. Wood and Vizcaino and maybe Baker or Feldman will be pitching out of the pen or as a swing man. I like the 6 man rotation approach personally. It spares TJ rehabbers whom we have several of from piling up too many innings early in the season. I think we still need more pitching. We need JP Howell and I won’t stop harping on that until Theo signs him. Pitching wins championships and defense wins championships. If we can score 4 runs a game with a strong pitching staff we will win a lot of games. I think Bourn is a perfect fit at this time. Lead off man and he sets the table for Starlin and AR to really have an impact at the top of the order.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Hopefully ST performance will not factor into their decision: after all, there is pretty much zero relationship between it and regular season performance.

      And, no, championships are not won by pitching and fielding. No team in the top 5 in fielding run prevention even made the LCS this year: and last year, two teams at the bottom in fielding run prevention did!

      Instead, look at starting pitching and slugging: the teams that out-slug and out-walk the opposition (roughly half hitting, 35% starting pitching, 10% relief pitching, 5% fielding) win. After all, all sports are half point-scoring and half point-prevention.

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