At a crossroads, Cubs search for some direction

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At a crossroads, Cubs search for some direction

Theo Epstein faced the Boston media and tried to explain the anatomy of a collapse that might pull him back to the Red Sox. Billy Beane told reporters that he plans to stay in Oakland, meaning Moneyball probably wont be playing at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs didnt have a general manager to do a state of the team address on Thursday.

Eventually, there will be a power grab at Clark and Addison. Whoever takes over will be pulled into the crosscurrents of an organization that hasnt won a World Series title in more than a century.

There will be a battle of ideas. Before Game 162 of another lost season, chairman Tom Ricketts was asked about the patience it will take to get this right.

We look at everything from a long-term perspective, Ricketts said Wednesday in San Diego. So well make the right long-term decisions. And like weve always said, its about player development. Its about putting an organization (in place).

If you are a player angling for a huge contract extension like third baseman Aramis Ramirez you will think that the Cubs can never truly commit to a youth movement. The fans and the pressure inside a big market would never allow it.

If you have worked for years in player development, watching all these minor-league teams go to the playoffs, then you want to see what they can do at the highest level. Why not give the kids a chance?

If you have spent your entire professional life of the road scouting, you will believe in the art of projecting, the database of comparable players in your head. But you dont know who your next boss will be, and how much he will be guided by numbers. Several insiders noticed that stats guy Ari Kaplan became a much more visible presence on the field and in the clubhouse once Jim Hendry got fired.

If you are on the business side of the operation, you have to find new revenue streams, even if it means putting a noodle outside the stadium and letting fans stand behind a rope in right field during batting practice.

If you get ridiculed on Twitter for Undercover Boss, well, it was a free advertisement to build the brand and get more tourists to Wrigley Field.

The Cubs still hit the three-million mark, even though there were so many empty green seats, and that means the overall budget for baseball operations is expected to essentially remain the same next season. The question becomes how much money will be funneled toward major-league payroll.

Our attendance numbers speak for themselves, utility man Jeff Baker said. Thats having a pretty bad year (and) they still came out and supported us. So I really dont think you can ever strip it down and start over here.

The market (and) the history and the tradition it would be really hard to do. Im not sure how tolerable the fans would be if you (did that).

The Wrigley Field renovation plans team executives have been lobbying for quietly could be a game-changer for this franchise.

Carlos Pena the alternative to Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols has played in seven different organizations. The relentlessly optimistic first baseman doesnt think the stadium presents more obstacles to winning.

Everyone plays the same (game), Pena said. Sometimes those things can work to our advantage. The other team has to wake up early, too. The other team also has to play in the cold weather. I hate to make excuses like that. Those are too cheap.

Instead of making excuses, you just need to look at this year, take it all in and learn how to put it behind us.

The Cubs only see Carlos Zambrano in the rearview mirror. Zambrano was placed back on the 40-man roster on Thursday (and Justin Berg and Brian Schlitter were designated for assignment), though it would be shocking to see the enigmatic pitcher in a Cubs uniform again.

In a division without any superpowers, you might not have to make too many dramatic moves.

Add two starting pitchers, even if theyll never get a Cy Young vote, because theyll help you weather the perfect storm of injuries that wrecked this season.

Hope a disappointing year andor a new coaching staff motivates Carlos Marmol and helps the closer refocus and regain his confidence.

Push Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney to get better and anchor the middle infield, knowing that improved defense is a quicker fix. Give top prospect Brett Jackson a chance to live up to the hype.

Those are the kind of incremental moves that could begin the turnaround. But this winter the Cubs will be asking much broader, deeper philosophical questions about how they do business. The answers will shape the franchise for years to come.

The Cubs have come to a crossroads and need to find some direction: What needs to change?

You can say a lot of things, pitcher Matt Garza said, but Im going to keep my nose to that grindstone and let them figure it out. Its going to be an exciting, fun offseason, Ill tell you that.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Kyle Schwarber might have been the most dangerous hitter in a World Series lineup that featured the National League MVP plus four more All-Stars. After spending more than six months recovering from major knee surgery. Against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dominant Cleveland Indians bullpen.

“He’s not going to play winter ball,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said with a perfect deadpan delivery. “We felt like he proved he can hit major-league pitching.”

The Cubs spent Monday at the winter meetings inside the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, continuing their search for pitching on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The Cubs are so stacked with hitters that manager Joe Maddon could write out a 2017 Opening Day lineup tomorrow and Theo Epstein’s front office would still have Jorge Soler left over as trade bait.

Schwarber could hit second for the defending World Series champs, and his presence would mean more than any player the Cubs could sign as a free agent. The Cubs expect him to be at full strength by spring training, though it’s unclear how much work, if any, he’ll get as a catcher.

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“That’s the hurdle we haven’t really gone over yet,” Hoyer said. “Can he do it? There’s no question he’s going to want to do it. I think he can do it. I think that we have to have discussions about how heavy a workload we put on him in that regard.

“One of the things we talked about even last year before he got hurt was (how) he’s doing full catching drills, running around the outfield, doing stuff hitting. That’s a lot to put on a guy, sort of like playing two ways in football.”

Schwarber, an all-Ohio linebacker in high school, has a run-through-a-brick-wall mentality and doesn’t like to hear about what he can’t do. He wrecked his left knee in an outfield collision in early April and needed a procedure that reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL.

It took only two warm-up games in the Arizona Fall League before Schwarber made his dramatic return as the designated hitter at Progressive Field, batting .412 (7-for-17) with a .971 OPS during the World Series. 

The Cubs appear to be set with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero behind the plate, but Schwarber is the type of baseball gym rat who enjoys breaking down video, giving input for scouting reports and being involved in every pitch.  

“We have to talk through all that stuff,” Hoyer said. “We know what his position’s going to be, so we have to figure out what our position’s going to be. I know he’s going to want to catch.

“But he knows he’s coming in as a left fielder next year. And we have to decide how much of the catching drills (he does).”

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The San Francisco Giants had been three outs away from forcing an elimination game that Johnny Cueto would have started at Wrigley Field – and five different relievers couldn’t protect a three-run lead against a Cubs team that made a stunning comeback.

That October crash reverberated throughout the winter meetings as a $10 billion industry gathered outside Washington, D.C. The Giants bought peace of mind for the ninth inning on Monday and finalized a four-year, $62 million deal with Mark Melancon. For the moment, that will be the biggest contract ever for a closer, at least until Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman shatter that record.

The Cubs have been in contact with Jansen’s camp, sources said, monitoring his market to see if there might be a match as the World Series champs try to upgrade the bullpen this week at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

Theo Epstein’s front office doesn’t necessarily have a singular focus – believe the reports linking the Cubs to Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis – or the appetite to win a Jansen bidding war that will include the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins and perhaps the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals.

But after telling everyone that they did two offseasons in one last winter – and spending almost $290 million on free agents – this is where the Cubs could make a splash.

“It’s safe to say we’re kicking the tires on any pitching that’s available,” general manager Jed Hoyer said during his briefing with the Chicago media. “We’re not spending a lot of time on bats. We’re spending a lot of times on arms. Anyone that’s available, we’re going to sort of be in on and talking about.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon watched Jansen’s cutter up close and gave this endorsement during the National League Championship Series: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera.”

Jansen, a homegrown Dodger, converted from catcher and developed into an elite closer, saving 189 games while putting up a 2.20 career ERA and 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jansen just turned 29 and already showed a willingness to pitch outside the ninth inning and go for more than three outs, something that didn’t come easily for Chapman in an October where former Yankee teammate Andrew Miller became an American League Championship Series MVP for the Cleveland Indians.

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“The postseason was reliever-centric,” Hoyer said. “Bullpens have always been really valuable, but I think the way they were used and talked about – really, not even this postseason, but the last two or three postseasons – people are definitely putting a lot of financial importance on having a good bullpen.”

Kansas City’s blueprint for winning back-to-back pennants and the 2015 World Series featured Davis, who posted a 0.94 ERA during that championship season. But Davis dealt with a strained right forearm this year and will make $10 million in his final season before free agency, at a time when the Royals can begin to see their window to contend closing.

The Cubs haven’t made Chapman a priority – and Epstein’s group has been philosophically opposed to the idea of investing big money in a closer – but they also know they probably don’t get that parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue without that blockbuster deal with the Yankees.

“We see the value of it,” Hoyer said. “Look, we traded a great young prospect in Gleyber Torres to get Chapman, because we felt like that was an area that we were a little bit short. We felt like in order to win the World Series, we had to have that kind of guy at the end of the game. It proved to be right.

“In order to get those really difficult final outs in the postseason, having an elite guy is certainly a huge advantage.”

So if the White Sox become the Chicago team that makes most of the headlines here – and in-house options like Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop disappoint – the Cubs can always reassess at the trade deadline.

“We’ll bolster our bullpen,” Hoyer said. “Whether you do that by adding just a number of good relievers – or whether we do it by adding a guy that’s sort of a known closer – I’m not sure. But we’ll definitely add to our bullpen.”