With or without Epstein, Cubs will follow Red Sox


With or without Epstein, Cubs will follow Red Sox

The Cubs were back at Fenway Park for the first time in almost 93 years, since Babe Ruth and the Red Sox were winning the 1918 World Series. No one wanted to miss out on this scene.

Ownership, team executives and staffers traveled to Boston to see the franchise they hope will become a mirror image. Even players posed for pictures with the Green Monster in the background and squeezed through the narrow opening to get behind the left-field scoreboard.

As much as the Cubs want to model themselves after the Red Sox, these two teams appeared to be heading in completely opposite directions on May 20. Now The Boston Globe is reporting that the Cubs have asked for permission to speak with Theo Epstein.

Terry Francona, who had managed the Red Sox to two World Series titles, filled out the lineup card that day. What were the odds that he would be unemployed before first-year manager Mike Quade? About the same as a home-run ball landing in the Green Monster seats right by Cubs president Crane Kenney?

This was 26 days before Tom Ricketts would express 100 percent confidence in Jim Hendry, nine weeks before the chairman would fire his general manager and three months before they would reveal the decision publicly.

There are so many variables to this search process. The Rays saw their miracle season end on Tuesday, perhaps clearing the way for the Cubs to also ask for permission to speak with Tampa Bay executive Andrew Friedman.

But the Cubs and Red Sox are now both trying to come up with answers for disappointing seasons. You can try to find reassurance in the numbers, but emotions and egos always get in the way. This is an unpredictable, volatile business.

What are the odds that Epstein would leave his hometown? The fact that people are even asking that question probably says something. Whether or not the Red Sox general manager actually quits his dream job, the Cubs will be seriously looking at this model.

That could mean asking about assistant general manager Ben Cherington, whos listed directly below Epstein on the organizations masthead. Cherington, who graduated from Amherst College, has been with the Red Sox since 1999 and is seen as another young rising star in the industry, deserving of the chance to run his own team (maybe even in Boston).

Either executive would fit the criteria Ricketts outlined when he announced Hendrys firing. The next general manager would be committed to player development, fluent in statistical analysis and from a winning culture.

On that clear, cool night in Boston, the Red Sox gave the ball to Jon Lester, an All-Star whos only 27 and has already won the clincher in a World Series. They had an elite closer in Jonathan Papelbon, another homegrown pitcher who saved that game in 2007.

Their lineup began with Jacoby Ellsbury, a 2005 first-round choice who played with Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney at Oregon State University. Then there was Dustin Pedroia, a 2004 second-round choice out of Arizona State University who would emerge as the American Leagues MVP four years later.

The anchor was Adrian Gonzalez, the kind of left-handed run producer the Cubs have long coveted. The Red Sox were able to pull off that blockbuster deal with the San Diego Padres last winter because they had created enough assets in their farm system.

Nearly 10 years ago, the Red Sox brought sabermetrics pioneer Bill James into their front office as a senior advisor. A recent Sports Illustrated cover story on Moneyball showed how the Red Sox have bridged old-school scouting and the new wave of numbers.

The Red Sox value traditional projections based off what their scouts see and hear, as well as information systems, and thats how Ricketts envisions his baseball operations department running.

As Cubs employees settled into their seats that night at Fenway Park, they watched a team that would completely collapse by the end of September. Who knew it would be the Red Sox?

There was a moody starting pitcher who made 18 million the year before and would sabotage this season. There was the Japanese star who never lived up to the hype. There was a 142 million leftfielder who will always be judged harshly because of his huge contract.

That would be John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Carl Crawford. Those descriptions, almost word-for-word, sound eerily similar to Carlos Zambrano, Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano.

So even the geniuses get it wrong in the free-agent market, and its fair to wonder how someone like Friedman would react outside a small market, if he really would do more with more.

To grow revenue and give themselves a better chance to compete the Cubs have extensively studied the Red Sox business plan.

Theyve noticed the power of a regional sports network (NESN). Theyve broadened their entertainment portfolio with non-baseball events, the way the Red Sox have hosted Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and the NHLs winter showcase.

Theyve consulted with the architect (Janet Marie Smith) who oversaw the transformation of Fenway Park. Theyve wanted to shut down Sheffield Avenue and create their own version of Yawkey Way.

Theyre hoping a new administration at City Hall will be as receptive to their renovation plans as the city of Boston was to the Red Sox.

On and off the field, the Red Sox are everything the Cubs are striving to be.

There are plenty of people in the Cubs organization across several different departments who grew up in the Boston area, went to college there or used to work for the Red Sox. They can see the parallels and know the history.

But the biggest advertisements are still the 2004 and 2007 banners hanging outside Fenway Park. Luring the architect of those teams to the North Side would be a huge boost for public relations.

With or without Epstein, you already know what the Cubs are going to build their 2012 tickets plans around. The Red Sox are scheduled to come to Wrigley Field on June 15-17. Wonder who will be in the general managers suite that weekend.

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

He’s back: Kyle Schwarber takes center stage at World Series

He’s back: Kyle Schwarber takes center stage at World Series

CLEVELAND – Kyle Schwarber walked into the Progressive Field interview room at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, becoming the biggest Game 1 story at the World Series. He didn’t have a hit all season – and hadn’t played for the Cubs in almost seven months – but there was his name in the No. 5 spot in the lineup against Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians.

“Once I hit that line, a lot of emotions will come pouring out,” Schwarber said. “I’ll probably cry at some point today. It was a long road, but once we step in between those lines, it’s game time. I’m going to be locked in. I’m going to be ready to go (and) try to win this.”

It’s hard to overstate how much the Cubs love Schwarber’s energy, presence and powerful left-handed swing, from the time they saw his hard-charging style and football mentality at Indiana University. Theo Epstein’s front office drafted him fourth overall in 2014 – at a time when that almost looked like a reach for a designated hitter with an unclear defensive future behind the plate or in the outfield.

Instead of sending him to Arizona, the Cubs also allowed Schwarber to rehab in Chicago and remain a part of the team after undergoing major surgery on his left knee in the middle of April, making him untouchable in any trade talks, even as the New York Yankees dangled game-changing reliever Andrew Miller, who now looms as another World Series X-factor in the Cleveland bullpen.

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After getting a better-than-expected progress report last week from Dr. Daniel Cooper – the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL – Schwarber went full speed ahead.

“I called Theo right away and I was like: ‘Hey, I’d love the opportunity to try,’” Schwarber said. “Knowing that I had the opportunity to try and get back, it would kill me deep down inside if I didn’t. And I knew going into it there were no guarantees.

“I didn’t want the media attention. I didn’t want any of that. I did it for my teammates. I did it for me, too. That’s the competitor in me.” 

After playing in the Arizona Fall League in front of about 100 fans on Monday, Schwarber flew on a private plane from Mesa to Cleveland, where he could change franchise history with one big swing, the way he drilled five homers during last year’s playoffs and became a Wrigleyville folk hero.

“It’s going to be a complete 180,” Schwarber said. “You know you’re going in front of a packed stadium here. It’s going to be awesome. That’s what we live for as baseball players. We live to feed off that, especially since we’re in such a hostile environment here in Cleveland.

“I love that. It’s going to be great for our team. We’re in for a really hard-fought battle.”

Cubs confident Indians baserunners won't take Jon Lester off his game

Cubs confident Indians baserunners won't take Jon Lester off his game

CLEVELAND - Jon Lester's yips have been on full display this postseason, but it hasn't mattered.

Lester's issues throwing to bases haven't come back to haunt him in his first three October starts, in part because he's only allowed 16 baserunners in 21 innings.

The opposition can't take Lester off his game if they can't steal first base.

The Indians, however, are one of the game's best baserunning teams and had 134 stolen bases in the regular season, good for fourth in Major League Baseball.

And they don't plan to sit idly by when they get on against Lester in Game 1 of the World Series.

"I can't see us changing now because it's the World Series when it's worked (all season)," said Rajai Davis, who is leading off against Lester in Game 1 and stole 43 bases in 49 chances in 2016.

The Cubs understand the Indians have a clear advantage of the basepaths entering this best-of-seven series.

During Media Day at Progressive Field Monday afternoon, Jake Arrieta brought it up unprompted.

"Their stolen base threats are there," he said. "It's just gonna be up to us to control that."


"I think this time of year - the World Series more so than any other time during the regular season - you don't want to give up 90 feet for free," Arrieta said. "We're gonna have to do our best to hold the ball, vary our times [home], pick when we need to and some good throws from the guys behind the plate."

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Arrieta's attitude embodies the Cubs' mentality all year - embracing the pressure instead of running from it.

The Cubs haven't been able to cure Lester's mental block throwing to first base, but they've found ways to minimize the damage.

Sure, runners stole 28 bases off Lester this season, but they've also been caught 13 times thanks in large part to Lester's quick delivery home and David Ross' excellent throwing and pop-up time behind the plate.

The Cubs also boast maybe the best tagger the game has ever seen in Javy Baez at second base.

In his World Series press conference on workout day Monday, the first question Lester fielded was about pitching with runners on and he put all the credit on his defense behind him.

It's not just when guys get on, however. The opposition is also trying to throw Lester off his game by bunting and forcing him to field his position and make throws to first.

FanGraphs reports Lester fielded 20 ground balls or bunts this season and turned 19 of those into outs without one throwing error.

So it's a risk for teams to weigh - do they want to take the bat out of their hitters' hands in trying to bunt and when they do actually reach base, is it worth the risk to try to run on Lester and Ross?

The Los Angeles Dodgers tried to play all kinds of games with Lester and wound up scoring just two runs off him in 13 innings between two games and lost both.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo isn't worried about it now, on the nation's biggest stage.

"We have fun with it," Rizzo said. "I think [Lester is] very underrated in that aspect, to where if he wants to, he could pretty much do whatever he wants.

"He's so quick to the plate where he knows that - especially with Rossy behind the plate - he kinda challenges people to run on him. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out."