With Theo Epstein running Cubs, no one is untouchable

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With Theo Epstein running Cubs, no one is untouchable

Theo Epstein and Ryan Dempster talked by the batting cage before Mondays game at Wrigley Field.

The team president has a rebuilding plan that looks ahead to the next 10 years. The Opening Day starter just turned 35, will be a free agent at seasons end and has no-trade rights.

That creative tension is the story for this Cubs season.

It was 90 degrees at first pitch, with winds gusting 24 mph. The offense finally came alive in an 11-7 victory over the Padres that snapped a 12-game losing streak.

But any one game or even a bad 12-game sample size doesnt really matter in the big picture.

Dempster loves Chicago and has become an authority figure in the clubhouse and a part of the community. But the Cubs are 16-32 and contenders know all about his numbers (2.14 ERA) and makeup.

I have a pretty good feel for where hes coming from, Epstein said. We have an open dialogue. We just chatted about chatting at some point. Theres nothing to talk about right now. I think I know him pretty well.

Long-term, sure, I think the organizations better for having him. Well have to take a realistic look of where we are. And if there are ways to get better, every option has to be on the table.

At the moment, that doesnt mean calling up top prospects Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson. Ex-closer Carlos Marmol, who came off the disabled list, will have to earn his job back but could be showcased.

Catcher Geovany Soto, who recently underwent a minor knee procedure, said hes close to returning, that its not a two-month injury, more like two or three weeks.

This front office isnt sentimental, and prides itself on removing emotion from the equation. No one is untouchable.

Ive always operated under that philosophy, Epstein said. I never understood why there would ever be an untouchable. All youre doing is limiting your opportunity.

That said, there are core pieces that its almost impossible to foresee movement. You have to be completely blown away to even contemplate it. I think everyone knows what were trying to do. Were trying to build a nucleus of talented young players who can form a core of an annual contender.

So if you have a piece like that, the only way youd contemplate ever moving him would be if youd get multiples back of that same caliber, and those deals are hard to make.

From here, you could see a rotation fronted by Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, and a lineup built around Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Win or lose, the next 114 games will be about identifying more core players.

Were also very open to making moves, general manager Jed Hoyer said. A lot of our conversations are about what we can do to shake things up, what we can do to change the roster a little bit. Well keep looking at those things.

(But) we dont want to get in a situation where were sort of dumping guys off just to make a point or just to change things up.

Epstein and Hoyer have been on the road evaluating players for the draft, and getting to know their scouts better. They have to get the sixth overall pick right on June 4, and then begin restocking the system.

From there, the focus will shift and the Cubs will assess the landscape. Maybe an extra wild card, some injuries or a desperate executive will move the market.

This time of year is not a big trading time, Hoyer said. People are still filling their team out and deciding where they are. Thats why the solutions have to come from within. This isnt an external time of year (and) we need to fight through this.

The Cubs overcame a poor start from Travis Wood and got home runs from Castro, Darwin Barney, Ian Stewart and Alfonso Soriano to beat a bad Padres team (17-33).

Theyre telling themselves that this will all pay off in the end. Its just a question of wholl be around to enjoy it.

Its torture for all of us, Hoyer said. (But) I dont think any of us would ever hesitate for a second knowing better times are ahead. Theres no question in my mind that were going to build a consistent winner here.

This is a really painful bump that were going through right now on the way to get there. My hope (in the) future (is that) were looking back at this as a character-building thing.

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

If you haven't heard, the Bears are in the market for a quarterback.

It's no surprise that finding a long-term solution at the position will be at the top of GM Ryan Pace's to-do list as it's likely Jay Cutler has played his last game in a Bears uniform.

The Bears have a bevy options this offseason as they're saddled with the No. 3 selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, and have over $54 million of salary cap space — before roster cuts and an added $8 million in roll over money.

Having the 3rd overall pick, the opportunity is going to present itself for the Bears to nab one of the draft's top quarterbacks or add to their young defensive core with a player like Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen (who ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bears selecting in his latest mock draft) or LSU's Jamal Adams (Kiper Jr. also has him as a possibility for the Bears).

If quarterback is the choice, that's where the real debate begins.

The 2017 draft marks one of the rare years where there isn't a consensus No. 1 quarterback. The four signal-callers likely to hear there name called within the first two rounds are UNC's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes.

Who comes off the board first? That may change 100 times between now and Thursday, April 27.

Despite only starting one year at Chapel Hill, Trubisky has the strongest case to be the first quarterback taken. Trubisky threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns and added 308 yards on the ground and five rushing scores in his first full year as a starter in 2016.

If the Bears have their eyes set on Trubisky, they may have to pull off a trade as Kiper Jr. doesn't see the former Tar Heel lasting to the third pick. In his conference call on Thursday, Kiper Jr. said it's Trubisky's dream to play for his hometown Cleveland Browns, and sees him in play for both the Browns at No. 1 and the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2.

Would the Bears pull the trigger on Watson if Trubisky is off the board? Kiper Jr. believes Watson would be a stretch for the Bears at No. 3 and right now he sees Watson as a fit with the Buffalo Bills at No. 10. Kiper Jr. had a second-round grade on Watson before he shined on the big stage in the College Football Playoff. Watson's stock catapulted back into the first-round mix after he torched Alabama for 463 yards and four touchdowns en route to leading Clemson to a National Championship.

By selecting a defensive player at No. 3, the Bears could still have the opportunity to draft their quarterback of the future in the second round. Kiper Jr. believes both Mahomes and Kizer will be available on Day 2 where the Bears hold the 34th overall selection in the draft.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What happens if the Bears don't come away with one of the draft's top quarterbacks? They could look toward free agency or the trade market.

The downfall of the free agent market is that the best available option is former Tampa Bay Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon — he hasn't started a game in almost three years. You can cross Kirk Cousins off the wish list because there's a better chance of Brett Favre coming out of retirement and leading the Browns to a Super Bowl in 2017 than the Washington Redskins letting Cousins walk in free agency. The Bears also could elect to bring back two of their own unrestricted free agents in Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, but neither would provide an ample long-term fixture at the position.

One of the most intriguing players available on the trade market is New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The connection between him and the Bears runs deep as Garoppolo starred at Rolling Meadows High School in the Chicagoland area and played his college football at Eastern Illinois — the same alma mater as Pace — before he was selected by the Patriots in the second-round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In limited snaps backing up future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, Garoppolo has shown potential to be an above-average NFL quarterback, but unless the Patriots step down from their rumored asking price of a 2017 first-round pick and more, trading away the No. 3 pick would be too high of a price for the Bears to pay.

The Bears could explore the possibility of trading for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to serve as a stopgap and help groom a young quarterback, but bringing in the veteran Romo — just four starts since 2014 due to various injuries — would be a lateral move, and the Bears would likely be better off keeping Cutler for another season.

With less than two months until the start of free agency on March 9, we'll finally get our first clue then as to which direction the Bears will go at quarterback this offseason. 

Charles Tillman wrote a letter to his younger self and it will hit you in the feels

Charles Tillman wrote a letter to his younger self and it will hit you in the feels

Grab a pocket pack of tissues for this one.

Bears icon Charles Tillman released an emotional tell-all article on The Players' Tribune Thursday.

He starts off discussing how often he moved around as a kid with his dad in the Army and little things like learning cursive before delving into growing up in Germany and learning to communicate through sports.

It then moves on to the NFL Draft and coming up through the Bears with Lance Briggs, then jumping to the Super Bowl and what it was like to cover Calvin Johnson and Marvin Harrison.

Tillman even provides a fascinating take on how being a new dad affected his play on the field because he was so tired and stressed.

It was refreshing to hear a player talk like that. In everyday life, you hear all the time about first-time parents being exhausted and stressed, but now one of the most elite athletes in the world — whose job is exclusively in the public eye and his performance is dissected weekly by millions — is saying the same thing.

He discusses how he got past that stress and at this point, you're nearly halfway through the article and it's easy to think this is just like any other athlete's story.

But then Tillman gets serious and the story turns heart-wrenching.

The man affectionately known as "Peanut" takes us into the hospital room as he and his wife are told their young daughter, Tiana, may not make it through the night.

Tillman recounts the gripping tale behind how his family very nearly fell apart and how they climbed back to where they are today.

Give it a read. It's a fantastic snapshot into the career of one of the best Bears players ever, but also into the life of one of the truly great people to ever put on the orange and navy.