Next Cubs GM will face great expectations

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Next Cubs GM will face great expectations

Cubs monitoring Epstein, Friedman
With or without Theo, Cubs will copy Red Sox

The executives at Clark and Addison and inside the Tribune Tower knew that there would be a reckoning.

When the Cubs decided to go for it, they chose to deal with the consequences later. They came close to being bulletproof, winning 97 games in 2008 before the bad contracts and the ownership instability caught up with them. They just probably didnt think that the window to compete would close this hard and this fast.

In a sense, the Ricketts family bought the team just as the bubble was about to burst. The Cubs had won back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008. The future Hall of Fame manager held court in the dugout. Every day at Wrigley Field turned into a block party.

Team officials actually thought Lou Piniella might have done his best job managing the 2009 team, which was still in first place in early August before settling at 83-78. The crash over the next two years wore out Piniella and cost Jim Hendry his job.

Chairman Tom Ricketts now has two fifth-place finishes on his watch. If you are a Cubs fan, you have every right to be skeptical.

You pay some of the highest ticket prices in baseball. Your team hasnt won a World Series since 1908 and has gone a combined 146-178 across the past two seasons. But, really, the worst of the storm may have passed.

Whether or not its Theo Epstein, the next general manager will face great expectations. Because this really could be a franchise-changing hire, if its the right man at the right time. The organization shouldnt feel paralyzed anymore.

One club official laughed at the idea of giving Starlin Castro to the Boston Red Sox as compensation, and sources made it sound like the Cubs havent seriously discussed a list of players to make available, if thats even where this is heading.

WEEI, the Boston radio station, has been promoting an interview with Red Sox principal owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino scheduled for Friday morning. They will have to address the Epstein rumors.

Amid the silence, everyone has been projecting things onto Epstein, speculating about his legacy, his family, his ambitions.

Epstein would be able to shape the team in his image, even if he wont necessarily be working with a blank canvas. The expiring contracts for Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome and John Grabow will clear around 33 million.

Ryan Dempster only has a player option for next season worth 14 million, and Marlon Byrd will be in the final year of his backloaded contract. Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol are the only two players already signed for 2013, according to the online database at Cots Baseball Contracts.

There should be enough flexibility with major-league payroll that the new general manager wont have to spread Carlos Penas one-year pillow contract across three fiscal years, the way Hendry did last winter.

The next general manager also shouldnt be getting calls late at night from reporters asking for comment about Carlos Zambranos latest meltdown. The expectation is that the Cubs will pay him to pitch somewhere else next year, or not at all.

Taking a wide-angle lens, the Cubs expect to open new player-development facilities in Arizona and the Dominican Republic within the next few years. Ownership authorized close to 20 million in expenditures for draft picks and international signings last summer.

The Wrigley Field renovation plans, and the public support for it, seem very far away. But if this becomes a destination job you keep for the next decade-plus, maybe youll get a new office and realize the competitive advantage of an improved stadium.

The Cubs already have a frontline starter (Matt Garza) who one teammate described as having Cy Young potential, and a 21-year-old All-Star shortstop (Castro). There are building blocks in place.

With or without the architect of two World Series winners in Boston, the turnaround doesnt have to take five years.

Ricketts has pointed to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who went from worst to first this year. Theyll play the Milwaukee Brewers a team that won 77 games last season on Friday at Miller Park for a spot in the National League championship series.

I know on the outside looking in (we) might seem a lot farther off, utility man Jeff Baker said at seasons end. But I know the talent and the character of some of the guys in the room. Were not that far. You look at teams around the league, what theyve done.

I know its clichd, (but) thats the only way you can really look at it positively moving forward. Look at Arizona I dont want to say terrible but they were pretty bad last year. (They added) some key pieces (and) were able to get on a roll and go. Hopefully, we can be able to do that.

Andrew Friedman, another executive the Cubs have discussed, has built a sustainable model with the Tampa Bay Rays. At Thursdays end-of-season media session, Friedman talked about the teams 2012 plans and said he looked forward to working with Rays manager Joe Maddon for a long time.

The idea Maddon repeated to reporters has to be rattling around the mind of any candidate.

The working relationship here is unique, Maddon said. This is different in all the best ways. To think that the grass is going to be better fertilized or greener anywhere else is incredibly wrong.

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

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler won't be making a surprise return to the Cubs next season.

Fowler is closing in on a deal to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

The Cubs signed outfielder Jon Jay last week to a one-year deal, pretty much sealing Fowler's future with the Cubs.

In two seasons in Chicago, Fowler batted .261/.367/.427 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI, and a World Series ring.

Koji Uehara would add another dimension to Cubs bullpen

Koji Uehara would add another dimension to Cubs bullpen

The Cubs are reportedly on the verge of adding another pitcher who’s notched the final out of a World Series as Theo Epstein’s front office builds out the bullpen for manager Joe Maddon.

The Cubs are nearing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with Koji Uehara, according to Nikkan Sports in Japan, which would open up even more possibilities for the defending champs in front of All-Star closer Wade Davis.

The Cubs made their biggest splash during this week’s winter meetings at National Harbor in Maryland by trading young outfielder Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for Davis, who finished off Game 5 in the 2015 World Series.

Uehara closed out the 2013 World Series for the Boston Red Sox, the beginning of three straight seasons where he put up 20-plus saves. The Cubs have not confirmed an agreement is in place.

The Cubs needed another lefty presence with Mike Montgomery – the pitcher on the mound when the 108-year drought ended in November – moving to the rotation and Travis Wood likely leaving as a free agent.

Uehara throws right-handed, but he shuts down left-handed hitters (.183 batting average, .555 OPS across 800 at-bats) and has appeared in seven postseason series after a distinguished career in Japan.

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Uehara will turn 42 the day after Opening Day. But an array of relievers should help preserve Uehara, strengthen Carl Edwards Jr. (who’s generously listed at 170 pounds) and maybe prevent the late-season injuries that marginalized Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop during the playoffs.

“We’re going to try to build up a ton of depth,” Epstein said. “We’re going to try to build up a really talented, deep bullpen with a lot of different options that you can use in close games.

“Instead of three late-game options, it would be ideal if you had five or six. And you could always like who you’re turning to in the ‘pen and not feel the need to use a Rondon four out of five times.

“(We could) use them every other day and occasional back-to-backs. And that would help keep them fresh down the stretch – and help keep them strong in October.”