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Cubs used to give out big extensions; now they watch others do it

Cubs manager Dale Sveum (center) says it’s no longer easy find quality free agents worthy long-term contracts because teams are

Cubs manager Dale Sveum (center) says it’s no longer easy to find quality free agents worthy of long-term contracts because teams are locking them up. | Mark Duncan~AP

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Updated: May 1, 2013 3:44PM



HOUSTON — Cubs manager Dale Sveum had the same response as just about everyone else in baseball to the flurry of contract extensions in recent days for Justin Verlander, Adam Wainwright and Buster Posey.

“Big money, man,” said Sveum, whose highest-priced players — $18 million-a-year Alfonso Soriano and $9.8 million closer Carlos Marmol — are the guys his front office has tried hardest to trade.

Just in the last three days, Verlander, Wainwright and Posey agreed to a combined 20 years and $444.5 million worth of contracts with their clubs (Detroit, St. Louis and San Francisco, respectively).

That big-money refrain used to be said about the Cubs, who’d renew their own guys to big extensions before their post-Tribune Co. austerity program — investing in Kerry Wood, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano with various levels of success.

Despite this week’s Forbes report confirming what business president Crane Kenney told staff last summer — that the Cubs are the most profitable team in the majors — that kind of spending will have to wait.

Not that the Cubs have the kind of players to spend that kind of money on now anyway.

But Sveum also sees the growing money in this $8 billion industry — and specifically the Cubs’ efforts to increase revenues through Wrigley Field renovations and renegotiated TV contracts — as another sign of light at the end of this 101-loss (and counting) tunnel.

“We’re fortunate that not too far away, we’ll be able to have the resources that if any of our players get to the levels of the Verlanders and that kind of thing, that you hope we’re able to sign those guys, too,” Sveum said. “And you want to sign your young guys, as well. Like we signed [Starlin] Castro [to a seven-year, $60 million deal last summer]. You hope we can do those kind of things in the future, as well.”

The signings also underscore that point at another level, illustrating the trend of widely increasing revenues in the game allowing more teams to lock up more good players through early free-agent years — and keeping them off the market.

“That’s what people always talk about now,” said Sveum, who watched the Pirates, with their long-dormant fan base and long-lagging local revenues, sign the exciting young Andrew McCutchen to a six-year, $51.5 million extension last year that bought out two years of free-agent eligibility.

A few years ago? “That would never happen,” Sveum said.

“It’s not as easy as it used to be,” Sveum said of finding quality free agents worth long-term contracts. “All the guys are locked up in their prime years now on other teams, to where they become available to sign when they might be coming [to] the end of their career. . . . There’s just not a market because they’re all locked up from 28 to 31 years old.”

NOTES: The Cubs continue to scour the waiver wires and monitor released players for the chance to make a roster addition in the final days before Monday’s opener. But if they don’t add anyone, “I’m fine,” Dale Sveum said. “I’m perfectly fine with everything right now.” In the final week before last year’s opener, the Cubs added reliever Shawn Camp and infielder Luis Valbuena.

◆ Shortstop Starlin Castro rejoined the team and was in the lineup Friday night after traveling to New York to be with his girlfriend for the birth of their child.

CUBS 6, ­ASTROS 6 (TIE)

JACKSON TUNEUP: The Cubs’ $52 million starter, Edwin Jackson, got knocked around early but struck out nine, including the last three batters he faced, in a four-inning tuneup for his Cubs debut Wednesday in Pittsburgh. Seven of the first 13 he faced reached base, including a hit batter and a walk to the first two in the game, but he retired the last six he faced. He threw 80 pitches.

LOOKING GOOD: Pitching in a game for the first time in eight days, reliever Kyuji Fujikawa wasn’t especially sharp, but he did strike out two of the four batters he faced, and nobody put the ball in play against him. Problem was, that included two walks. Manager Dale Sveum said the right-hander hadn’t pitched in a week because “we spaced it out, with him, [Shawn] Camp and [James] Russell” at the end of an especially long spring training. Fujikawa threw a 42-pitch bullpen session a few days ago.

CLAIM JUMPER: Righty Guillermo Moscoso, who was claimed a few days ago on waivers from Toronto, was immediately put on waivers again by the Cubs, cleared waivers and was outrighted off the 40-man roster. He’s expected to open the season with Class AAA Iowa.

ROSTER ISSUES: The 40-man spot vacated by Moscoso — which was created by putting pitcher Arodys Vizcaino on the 60-day disabled list — will be needed when non-roster utility man Brent Lillibridge is added to the Opening Day roster. That leaves one spot for non-roster reliever Hisanori Takahashi or a last-minute pickup from outside the organization. That likely will be created by putting pitcher Scott Baker (elbow) on the 60-day DL.

ON DECK: Cubs at Astros, Minute Maid Park, 1:05 p.m., cubs.com audio, Travis Wood vs. Brad Peacock.



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