Cubs: McLeod, Epstein looking for game-changers

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Cubs: McLeod, Epstein looking for game-changers

MESA, Ariz. Jason McLeod is looking forward to checking out his new office at Clark and Waveland. He knows he probably wont see it for another eight weeks.

The Cubs senior vice president, scoutingplayer development will be at Wrigley Field for Opening Day, and then hit the road preparing for the June draft. Flying all across the country, he will have some time to catch up on the Mad Men episodes he enjoys watching on his iPad.

McLeod has a fancy title and a big portfolio in baseball operations. Born in Hawaii and raised in San Diego, he gives off a much more laid-back vibe. He compares the database in a scouts mind to the way a gifted musician can remember what hes heard before, and make sense of how it all fits together, to where the recall becomes second nature.

Theo Epstein viewed McLeod and general manager Jed Hoyer as essential hires when he was offered the presidents job and the keys to the Cubs kingdom.

McLeod had drafted so many impact players for the Boston Red Sox Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard and rebuilt the San Diego Padres system into one of the industrys best.

McLeod isnt as corporate or Ivy League, but he believes in all the MBA speak about processes and information management. The executive will be a key engineer for what Epstein has called the machine for scouting and player development.

The Cubs desperately need game-changers. They hold the sixth overall pick in the draft, and five within the first 101 selections.

If the new collective bargaining agreement hadnt restricted the amount teams can spend in the draft, the Cubs would have gone all in this summer and made the 12 million in bonuses they gave out last year look like spare change.

Its now a true scouting competition, and the Cubs are still strategizing when, within the new rules, it makes sense to go overboard and overpay. McLeod will be running meetings in Arizona starting Monday, the spring seasons midpoint, to narrow the focus for a front office where thorough is the new buzzword.

(We) really talk about: If the draft was next week, these are the guys were considering here, McLeod said. Then we really break them down and we start eliminating certain players and thats where we really start steering our coverage now. Were going to roll and rotate in on this group of players. And this next tier of players: This is how were going to attack them.

McLeods iPhone rang the other morning and it played The Whos Baba ORiley (Teenage Wasteland). Remember this is making multimillion-dollar investments on kids who just learned how to drive, in a field where you can be wrong 96 percent of the time and still have a pretty good year.

The Cubs want to know who hangs out with the wrong crowd, and what makes them tick. They want to see how they compete in other sports. Their 25 amateur scouts have been given cameras and must shoot at every game they attend, to create a video library.

Information as a whole is the currency of the draft, Epstein said. So there are different buckets of information scouting information, makeup information, medical information, statistical information, and our goal is to drill deeper than any other team.

The goal is to get to know the kids better than they know themselves, because youre looking at a 17-year-old. Youre projecting how hes going to be at 27. Its very difficult. You need to drill very deep to try to gain that kind of insight.

Everyone talks to the coach and the kids parents, right? Where can you make a difference?

Do you talk to the equipment manager? Epstein said. Do you talk to the guidance counselor? Do you dig deep enough to find out when the kid has struggled and (faced) adversity? What (has been) his biggest failure? How he bounced back from that failure?

Theres a lot of different ways to do it. Do you have a psychologist interview the kid? Do you have him take an objective test? Do you log your entire relationship with the kid, every bit of information that you get, so everyone in the draft room can share it and gain the insight?

You cant just wake up and do it in April and hope to have a good decision. Its like a 15-month process, minimum.

We know this approach gives us a better chance of being less wrong. (Thats) what scoutings about, degrees of being less wrong, when you draft 50 guys and you get two or three right. This isnt just something were doing for like window dressing. It evolved over 10 years in Boston. We feel pretty confident in the system.

Chairman Tom Ricketts has said how the new labor deal could create a new market for scouts, where the best talent evaluators can command higher salaries, because you cant just pay over slot for premium players.

The Cubs recognize they need to care of their scouts. McLeod e-mailed his staff last week to say that later this year scouts will be provided company cars, a benefit he had in Boston and San Diego.

(Its) creating an environment where they know that people care about what theyre doing, McLeod said. Theyre not just 2,000 miles away driving down a lonely highway and no one knows what the hell theyre doing out there. Because it can be a lonely frickin gig.

McLeod has known Epstein since the mid-1990s, when they were starting out in the business with the Padres, one in stadium operations and the other in media relations.

They were in their 20s and started hanging out after games, grabbing beers and talking baseball. They were given chances to drive to USC and Cal State Fullerton, and go watch Adrian Gonzalez play in high school, and began learning how to scout.

McLeod the great-grand nephew of Hall of Famer pitcher Carl Hubbell was drafted by the Houston Astros in 44th round of the 1991 draft and pitched briefly in the minors before taking an internship with the Padres.

But when the Padres first asked McLeod to transition to coaching, they had him as a rookie league hitting coach. So he spent an entire offseason at Qualcomm Stadium, three or four days a week, watching prospects in the cage alongside people like Tony Gwynn.

I would just sit there like a sponge, soak it up, McLeod recalled. Really, its just that old adage: Shut up and listen.

Near the end of a long conversation, McLeod is asked if hed ever be interested in running his own team, if this fast track could one day make him a general manager.

I think everyone thinks about: What would I do in this situation? McLeod said. Certainly, Ive had those thoughts: What would I do here? What would I do there? If the opportunity ever comes up, certainly I would be interested in looking at it.

McLeod paused for a moment and laughed: But were so damn busy here. Plus, The Trio just got back together!

Chicago Mag is right: The Bulls will be must-watch in 2016 with Wade, Rondo

Chicago Mag is right: The Bulls will be must-watch in 2016 with Wade, Rondo

No one knows how all the new pieces the Bulls brought in this offseason - eight, to be exact - will fit together.

The team opened training camp on Tuesday, and it should come as no surprise that everyone seems to be getting along just fine. It won't be until the real games get going close to Halloween that we see how the new team, built by GM Gar Forman and VP John Paxson, fares. And realistically, the squad won't be a finished project until well into 2017.

But as Chicago Mag's Adam Waytz wrote earlier this week, no matter how the new faces - particularly two veteran champions in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo - mesh together, the Bulls will be must-watch television and live streaming in 2016-17.

Yet for all of Rondo’s outward absurdity, a similar strangeness lurks just below Wade’s surface, manifesting in an occasional thrown elbow and, this summer, in his erratic exit from the Miami Heat. Wade had no reason to leave Miami, where he led the team in 2006 to its first championship and holds franchise records for points, games played, assists, and steals. Yet the looming presences of Shaquille O’Neal and Pat Riley on the 2006 team, followed by LeBron James’s arrival in Miami (and subsequent departure!) overshadowed Wade’s steadfast tenure as the most successful athlete in South Florida history. Then came this summer’s contract quibbles.

But Wade’s departure had little to do with money. It was about the Heat, and the league more broadly, slowly wallpapering over his relevance as a top five all-time shooting guard.

This slow burn of Wade’s ego is the flame to Rondo’s fuse. Rondo also unwillingly tumbled into obscurity, with each setback—a 2013 ACL injury, his acrimonious 48-game Dallas stay, and a purgatorial last season in Sacramento (where a national audience ignored his career bests in rebounding and 3-point shooting)—fueling his resolve. For both Wade and Rondo, arriving in Chicago signaled a pressure release—they have already vocally deferred team leadership duties to Jimmy Butler—yet their pride still smolders.

Bulls fans now get to sit back and watch the Wade-Rondo redemption tour, a revenge fantasy that Tarantino could not have stunt-cast better. If all goes as planned, Rondo’s eccentric aggression will allow Wade to access the strange spite he secretly harbors, and Wade’s polish will set an example for Rondo, guiding him to restore luster to his recently tarnished reputation. If nothing else, watching their rejuvenation will be way more fun than pondering the sadness behind Rose’s eyes or wondering whether Noah and Taj Gibson can play together.

One has to wonder, too, about how much Wade's decision to return home had to do with his best friend, LeBron James, doing the same in Cleveland two years ago. And even though he's already dubbed the Bulls as Jimmy Butler's team, it thrusts him back into the spotlight playing for the team he dreamed about ever since he was a kid.

For both Wade and Rondo, it's also an opportunity to rebound from sub-par years. Wade played in 74 games, his most since 2010, but shot a career-worst 45.6 percent from the field, and his 19.0 points and 4.6 assists were the lowest since his rookie season 13 years ago. That's not to say the future Hall of Famer doesn't have plenty left in the tank - he does, at witnessed by his stellar playoff performance - but some added motivation in a new jersey will serve him well.

Rondo has even more to prove. The Bulls will be his fourth team since the start of the 2013 season, and while he led the NBA in assists per game last year (11.7) his shot and defense remain liabilities. Both Rondo and Wade can opt out of their deals after this season, and while that doesn't mean leaving the Bulls per se, there are financial games to be made by the pair having dominant seasons.

Combine that with Jimmy Butler attempting to prove he can play nice with a pair of Alphas, and as Waytz wrote, there will be something new to watch for every night.

Time will tell if Fred Hoiberg can harness the egos, talent and attitudes in the Bulls locker room. But one thing's for certain: no matter the outcome, it'll be worth watching and streaming.

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