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Tipsheet: While Cardinals load up, Cubs stand pat | Jeff Gordon


The Cardinals addressed their biggest remaining team need Thursday, zeroing in on elite lefthanded reliever Andrew Miller in the free agent marketplace.

He is not just a lefty specialist, of course. When healthy, he is one of baseball’s most reliable and versatile high-leverage relievers. He would join slugger Paul Goldschmidt as an attention-grabbing addition for a team looking to return to postseason play.

Meanwhile, up Interstate 55 in Chicago, the Cubs remain eerily quiet. That big- market, huge-revenue team is not in the hunt for top free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.

In fact, the Cubs don’t seem to be doing much of anything this winter. The team’s most exciting move to date is signing former Cardinals utility man Daniel Descalso as a free agent.

While Descalso will raise the scrappiness level of the Cubs, he won’t do much to bolster that franchise’s talent base.

Writing for SI.com, Jon Tayler wondered about the Cubs:

“It took two months, but the Cubs finally made a move. On Tuesday, the team briefly lit up the news wires with the announcement that it had signed a free agent to a multi-year deal. The recipient of Chicago’s largesse wasn’t Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, though. It was Daniel Descalso, the well-traveled veteran infielder with a career OPS+ of 85 and the new owner of a two-year, $5 million contract.

It’s not exactly the signing that fans on the North Side expected as the marquee move of this star-loaded offseason. Yet with a week to go until Christmas, Descalso stands as Chicago’s lone addition of import. Aside from some exercised team options, waiver claims, minor league signings, and small trades to clear players off the margins of the roster, the Cubs are amid a winter so quiet that you have to strain to hear it. Descalso is the only player so far given a major league deal; beyond him, the only other transactions of note are trading away longtime utility infielder Tommy La Stella and getting diminutive infielder Ronald Torreyes, the joy of every Yankees fan, from the Bronx.

It’s a confusing bit of inaction for a team that was supposed to be front and center in the chase for this offseason’s two free-agent studs, Harper and Machado. Given the way the 2018 season ended—with the Cubs gagging away the NL Central title to the Brewers in Game 163, then flaming out of the playoffs against the mediocre Rockies in the wild-card game—you’d expect Chicago to show a little more urgency in restoring its iron grip on the division. Instead, as the New Year approaches, the Cubs strangely sit on their hands (or paws, I suppose), linked to Harper, Machado and other stars not by reports of pursuit but by a lack if interest.”

TALKIN’ BASEBALL

Here is what folks were writing about the Miller signing and other topics in Our National Pastime:

Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports: “The 33-year-old Miller was arguably the best reliever in baseball over the previous two seasons, helping the Cleveland Indians reach the World Series in 2016 and providing the backbone of their 2017 bullpen. His ability to pitch in multiple roles – whether as a middle-innings fireman or a late-inning closer – served as a template for other teams’ willingness to rely more and more upon their bullpens as the utility of starting pitchers across the game lessened. Few, of course, bring anywhere near the talent of Miller, whose mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider were perhaps the most potent two-pitch combination in baseball. Between 2016 and 2017, Miller struck out 218 batters and walked just 30 in 137 innings. His 1.45 ERA was the second lowest in the game for pitchers during that span with at least 100 innings thrown.”

Katherine Acquavella, CBSSports.com: “Miller, who will turn 34 on May 21, struggled in 2018 and missed time due to hamstring and shoulder issues while also ending up on the 60-day disabled list because of a right knee injury. He finished with a 4.24 ERA in just 34 innings. Last season’s injuries and struggles aside, Miller has been arguably one of the game’s best relievers in recent years and he was an essential part of the Cleveland Indians’ American League pennant-winning team in 2016. From 2014-17, Miller complied a 1.72 ERA with averages of 14.5 strikeouts and 2.3 walks per nine innings. In 22 playoff games, Miller has a 1.09 ERA and 48 strikeouts from 33 innings pitched. He’s only walked 11 for a 0.879 WHIP. The Cardinals’ biggest priority this winter was adding to their relief corps, and Miller, a top tier left-handed reliever, will provide a powerful presence in the back end of their bullpen. The unit finished 12th in the National League in ERA (4.38) while posting the league’s second-highest walk rate (4.34 per nine innings) and fourth-lowest strikeout rate (8.31 per nine innings) in 2018.”

Bradford Doolittle, ESPN.com: “The Phillies have completed their rebuilding phase and payroll reset, and after a half-season of contention in 2018 are very much in win-now mode. They have cash to spread around and are willing to do so even beyond what they would give to Machado. Still, the 2018 season ended badly for the Phils. And the Phillies have the second-worst record in baseball since 2013, better only than fellow Machado contender the White Sox. Like the White Sox, high-level success has been fleeting in the annals of the Phillies, who have won just two World Series. Heck, the Phils have won three fewer World Series than the American League’s Athletics won while calling Philadelphia home, and they left town in 1954. But it’s a new century, and before the Phillies hit their recent protracted rebuild, they enjoyed the best sustained stretch of success since the playing days of Mike Schmidt. During the past decade alone, the Phils’ attendance has ranged from 3.78 million down to 1.83 million. Win and fans will come out in droves, but you’d better win. All of this is to say that if Machado signs with the Phillies, the level of expectation attached to him will be off the charts. Whether that is a good or bad thing is yet another element confined to Machado’s mind.”

MEGAPHONE

“I think I needed to get myself right, mentally and physically. I took a year off to get myself right. I’m looking forward to playing the game I love.”

Injury-plagued shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, to Yahoo! Sports, on his comeback bid after getting his release from the Toronto Blue Jays.

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