Sveum likes the fight for wild cards

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Sveum likes the fight for wild cards

MESA, Ariz. There are so many X-factors that will go into this before it really matters, but Cubs fans looking for signs of hope got one with the extra wild card.

Theo Epstein isnt wishing for a championship. The front office will rely on the cold, hard logic of advanced video analysis, scouting information systems, and research and development to find the next cutting edge.

But there are elements of luck and randomness in the postseason. It just got a little easier to get into the tournament. The two wild cards in each league will play an elimination Game 163.

Its not something (the historians) care for, manager Dale Sveum said. But things change over the years and the more teams you can get in the playoffs, the better. You can fight longer (as a team). The organization can fight longer and put you (in position with) a couple other teams in the running to make a trade at the deadline to pick things up.

I know its a little strange, the way its going to be done, but for the most part I think its good for baseball. Theres so much parity going on now in baseball. That extra team is great.

To finally hit that World Series target, general manager Jed Hoyer has used metaphors like taking shots on goal and having more arrows to fire. You just have to keep making the postseason.

The Cubs were surprised by the restrictions on the draft and international market imposed by the new collective bargaining agreement. They cant spend unlimited amounts on those signings, which were supposed to lay the foundation for sustained success.

That development wont help clear the path to October, but the labor deal does set a lower bar for the playoffs. Looking back on the past 10 National League seasons, the second wild card would have averaged almost 89 victories. That includes multiple teams that finished in third place.

The agreement also moves the Houston Astros to the American League in 2013. In the past, Cubs officials had grumbled about the postseason odds of playing in a six-team division.

As much as the Cubs are cautiously optimistic about this season the rest of the division didnt get much better, and things cant get much worse than last year this change could really be felt in 2014 and beyond

Thats when Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo are supposed to be established forces and emerging leaders. The scouting and player development machine will be rolling out an assembly line of impact players.

Sveum could be growing into the job and becoming the next Terry Francona. A renovated Wrigley Field and new television deals would be juicing the Cubs economy.

For now, the trade deadline got more complicated what happens with Matt Garza? and there will be more urgency to win the division. It shouldnt hurt ratings and ticket sales across the country.

Theres no such thing as a perfect setup that satisfies everyones interest, but I think they thought through it very well, Epstein said. Its going to certainly provide a guaranteed night of drama that we wouldnt have had otherwise. It will probably create more races than it takes away in the long run. Thats probably a good thing for the game.

How Joe Maddon plans to unleash Aroldis Chapman in Cubs bullpen

How Joe Maddon plans to unleash Aroldis Chapman in Cubs bullpen

When the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman, the dream end result would be the left-hander closing out the final game of the 2016 World Series.

While that is the most likely solution (if the Cubs get that far, of course), Joe Maddon wouldn't lock anything in right now.

The Cubs manager doesn't live by etching relief roles in stone, preferring to employ his best pitchers at the most opportune spots, whether that is in the ninth inning or not.

So with the most dominant closer in the game now in the fold, Maddon wasn't ready to just move the rest of the Cubs pitchers down an inning and leave it at that.

"I do things with leverage moments. It really opens up the sixth, seventh and the eighth [innings]," Maddon said while rattling off the options at his disposal including former Cubs closer Hector Rondon and top setup man Pedro Strop. "It's incredible. It's like a lineup. 

"You throw one more guy in the lineup and what it does with the rest of the group. Same thing happens with the bullpen. You put the anchor at the back side and then it really permits you to do other stuff."

Maddon is one of the top bullpen managers in the game and now has plenty of relief options to work with. 

Beyond Chapman, Rondon and Strop, there's also the emergency of young Carl Edwards Jr., Joe Nathan's comeback tour, new left-hander Mike Montgomery and then bullpen stalwarts Travis Wood and Justin Grimm.

Maddon admitted he stresses more about the Cubs bullpen each day than anything else, but that was prior to acquiring a guy who has saved 165 games over the last five seasons while posting a 1.91 ERA and ridiculous 15.7 strikeout per nine ratio.

[RELATED: Aroldis Chapman trade gives Cubs intimidating closer]

Plus, the emergence of another trustworthy option out of the bullpen alleviates the stress placed upon the rest of the relievers, keeping them fresh down the stretch.

"He's the kind of guy that permits you not to run other people down and then possibly the trickle down effect," Maddon said. "It's not a problem. It's a great situation to be in. 

"My perspective as the manager, being the steward of this group, I have to try to figure this out the best I can."

The Cubs have struggled to find consistency from their group of left-handed relievers all season, but the arrival of Chapman helps ensure there's an option Maddon feels comfortable with in October in case lefties like Bryce Harper come up in a big moment late in the game.

The Cubs also don't have to worry about facing Chapman in the postseason now, flipping the momentum to their side.

"Just think about it: You never want to see him coming into the game when the other team has the lead," Maddon said. "Now, all of a sudden, we have the edge on our side. It's kind of fun to have.

"What we're talking about here right now is theory. It all looks good on paper and I believe it's gonna work out. But you also have to go out there and perform on a daily basis.

"He's good. We're gonna put him in there in the right moments and hopefully it's gonna make everybody else running better. You never want to face him in the ninth inning."

Cubs' Tom Ricketts has 'high expectations' for Aroldis Chapman despite checkered past

Cubs' Tom Ricketts has 'high expectations' for Aroldis Chapman despite checkered past

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts released a statement on Monday following the Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees

Ricketts addresses Chapman's past domestic incident and the importance of reducing domestic violence.

“Obviously, we are aware of the circumstances surrounding Aroldis Chapman's suspension earlier this season. We are also aware that he cooperated fully with the league investigation and takes responsibility for his actions.

“Today, prior to completing the trade, Theo, Jed and I spoke with Aroldis. I shared with him the high expectations we set for our players and staff both on and off the field. Aroldis indicated he is comfortable with meeting those expectations.

“Finally, my family, this team and Major League Baseball take the issue of domestic violence very seriously and support efforts to reduce domestic violence through education, awareness and intervention.”

Chapman also added the following:

“As you know, earlier this year I accepted and served a 30-game suspension from Major League Baseball resulting from my actions of October 30, 2015. I regret that I did not exercise better judgment and for that I am truly sorry. Looking back, I feel I have learned from this matter and have grown as a person. My girlfriend and I have worked hard to strengthen our relationship, to raise our daughter together, and would appreciate the opportunity to move forward without revisiting an event we consider part of our past.

"Out of respect for my family, I will not comment any further on this matter."

Win now: Cubs send message in blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with Yankees

Win now: Cubs send message in blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with Yankees

The Cubs put the finishing touches on a blockbuster deal to acquire superstar closer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees on Monday, a win-now move that cemented their status as World Series favorites. 

This is why Theo Epstein’s baseball operations group spent years collecting long-term assets, so the Cubs could bundle young talent and get the final piece they needed for October without completely mortgaging their future and maybe ride in a parade down Michigan Avenue.

“This was a show of faith in our big-league team,” Epstein said before a crosstown game against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. “It was an aggressive move. It was tough to give up what we gave up, but if not now, when? This was the appropriate move given where we are and what we’re trying to accomplish.”

The headliner for the Yankees is Gleyber Torres, a consensus top prospect and a defensively gifted shortstop out of Venezuela. Torres is only 19 years old and had already advanced to the high Class-A level, but he didn’t have a clear path to Wrigley Field with middle infielders Addison Russell and Javier Baez already in place.

No one can replace Chapman’s 105-mph fastball, but the Yankees also wanted Adam Warren to help patch together their pitching staff again and not make this seem like a White Flag Trade to the New York fans and media. Warren – who had been optioned back to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday to stretch out as a starter – never really carved out a role in Chicago after arriving through the Starlin Castro trade.

Chasing the franchise’s first championship since 1908, the Cubs also gave up two minor-league outfielders: Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. McKinney – a first-round pick acquired along with Russell from the Oakland A’s in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade – had been hitting .252 with one homer and a .677 OPS in 88 games at Double-A Tennessee this season. Crawford, 22, had teamed up with Torres at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach, hitting .255 with 22 stolen bases in 83 games.

The cost is high for a rental player who can become a free agent after this season – Epstein signaled the Cubs have not engaged in extension talks with Chapman’s camp. But there is no one else out there quite like Chapman, and the Cubs can process the trade knowing they are still saturated with young position players, and didn’t have to give up Kyle Schwarber, a slugger the Yankees coveted in any deal for All-Star reliever Andrew Miller. 

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!  

The Cubs also rationalized the 30-game suspension Chapman served this season under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy after an incident with his girlfriend in South Florida last fall, betting on manager Joe Maddon, a strong coaching staff and a good clubhouse mix of veterans and young players.

“I’m sure that you’re going to hear some kind of negativity,” Maddon said. “I totally understand and get that. However, I’m always about moving things forward. I’m not going to sit and reflect on that. He’s owned up to it. He’s moved on from that. He served his 30-game sentence. 

“Maybe that might not have been good enough for some people. And I get that, too. At the end of the day, he’s a Chicago Cub right now. That’s my responsibility as the manager of this team to make this thing work as well as it possibly can for us and for him. So I’m eager to get to know him. I really am.”

This allows Maddon to shorten games and change the entire shape of his bullpen, moving closer Hector Rondon to the eighth inning while freeing up setup guy Pedro Strop and incorporating new additions Joe Nathan and Mike Montgomery and not pushing rookie Carl Edwards Jr. too hard.    

It’s also a move against the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants, two first-place teams in the market for bullpen help that now might have to face Chapman in October. Good luck with that. Chapman converted 20-of-21 save chances for the Yankees and has 590 strikeouts in 350-plus innings in The Show.
 
“You can’t take for granted the position that we’re in right now,” Epstein said. “We have a dynamic and healthy starting pitching staff. We have a really talented bullpen, two MVP candidates in their prime, moving into their prime. We have a lot of talented hitters up and down the lineup, a really great defense. And they’ve worked their tail off to build up this nice lead.

“We believe in these guys. We feel like we have a chance to do something special, but there’s a lot of work ahead to finish strong down the stretch and make sure we get into the postseason. And then the goal is to win three postseason series.

“That’s not an easy thing to do. You need dynamic players. We felt like we really could benefit from an elite talent, a game-changing pitcher like Aroldis Chapman. 

“As you get down the stretch into the big games and hopefully into the postseason, those types of late-inning relievers take on even more (significance), even greater value, available to pitch every game, changing the scope of the game and the outlook of the game.”

And maybe even change the course of franchise history, because this move is all about Chapman getting the final out in this year’s World Series.