Theo Epstein's not hitting the panic button

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Theo Epstein's not hitting the panic button

MIAMI - The Cubs will have to do something to shake up this 3-10 team. It just won't involve promoting Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson, or making any other type of panic move.

The Cubs flew out of Miami after Thursday's 5-3 loss to the Marlins, which completed a three-game sweep that should help take the heat off Ozzie Guillen.

The Cubs are saying the right things and sticking to baseball, not politics. Their clubhouse is more professional without Carlos Zambrano, who warmly greeted Theo Epstein by the batting cage.

But the changes won't happen overnight. A road trip that began with some promise - beating the Cardinals after they raised their World Series banner - ended on a five-game losing streak.

The Cubs were outscored 34-10 during that time and the schedule doesn't get any easier from here, not with the Reds and Cardinals coming into Wrigley Field.

"You don't want to do any kind of panicking 13 games into the season," manager Dale Sveum said.

The fans would love to see Rizzo and Jackson, top prospects who are supposed to be foundation pieces for years to come. But the president of baseball operations isn't the reactionary type.

"Those guys are continuing their development at Triple-A," Epstein said. "We're also not giving up on guys after a homestand and a road trip. Guys need time to get into the rhythm of the season and show what they can do. Baseball's best understood from bigger samples and from a distance sometimes.

"No one wants to get off to this kind of start and the lineup's not performing really well right now. It's a little bit early to be thinking about those kind of moves, and specifically with your better prospects.

"Once they're fully developed, then you look and see how it fits into the big picture, what's going on with the big-league team."

Epstein - who met the team in Miami after a scouting trip for the draft - could be thinking about incremental moves. Like adding another bullpen piece, especially if Kerry Wood's right shoulder doesn't feel better by the weekend.

But the 2012 Cubs were built on starting pitching, and the Marlins (7-6) knocked out Jeff Samardzija in the fourth inning. Samardzija (2-1, 5.71 ERA) gave up five runs on eight hits and five walks. The Cubs got swept, even with the top of their rotation going this series.

"We got to win, man, that's really all there is to it," Samardzija said. "Pitchers got to pitch better, position players got to play positions better. It's all-around. There's not one thing that we need to improve on. Everybody needs to improve. It starts with yourself."

As a team, the Cubs have hit only five home runs. Alfonso Soriano doesn't have an extra-base hit yet. Marlon Byrd (.075) continues to spiral downward. Geovany Soto (.167) is also struggling at the plate.

"Nobody's going to put our head down right now," outfielder David DeJesus said. "It's not like we're coming here to just hang around and have fun. We want to win baseball games and we just got to get better as a team.

"We got to focus and take every at-bat the way professionals do. And I feel that will lead to better, big innings and Ws in the win column."

This front office has promised to block out all the noise. Sveum sees effort, and there's not much he can do with the lineup. The clubhouse chemistry seems to have improved. But it still might be time for some earplugs.

"There are things we can do," Epstein said, "smaller moves that we can make, and probably will make, over the course of this season to try to put together a club that can be more competitive - (while) also looking out for the best long-term interests of the organization.

"View those things through that lens - not through what we look like two weeks in. You got to keep the big picture in mind sometimes."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs visit White House as World Series champions

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs visit White House as World Series champions

On the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Kaplan is joined by David Haugh (Chicago Tribune) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) to discuss the Cubs' visit to the White House.

The guys reflect on the historic day and Theo Epstein's speech. Then, the panel breaks down the Packers' impressive run and question whether it's okay for Bears fans to appreciate Aarond Rodgers and company.

Finally, are the Wild the Blackhawks' biggest threat come playoff time?

Listen to the SportsTalk Live podcast below.

 

Fire trade for midfielder Dax McCarty

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USA TODAY

Fire trade for midfielder Dax McCarty

Midfield has been an area of focus this offseason for Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez and another new addition to that group was added on Monday.

The Fire have traded $400,000 in general allocation money in return for midfielder Dax McCarty from the New York Red Bulls. Paul Tenorio of Four Four Two first reported the trade.

McCarty was an All-Star in 2015 and part of the league's Best XI that season when he had eight assists to go with a goal. Last season he made 26 starts for the Red Bulls and totaled three goals and had five assists.

"Since the middle of 2016, we made acquiring Dax our No. 1 priority," Rodr√≠guez said in the club's press release. "We believe adding his character and leadership in the locker room, as well as his exceptional soccer abilities on the field, dramatically improves our team."

The last time McCarty played at Toyota Park was a 2-2 draw on July 31 when a Khaly Thiam tackle caused a fractured tibia, which forced McCarty to sit out a month.

McCarty got married on Saturday, which delayed his arrival to the current U.S. national team camp. McCarty's participation in national team camp means he will join the Fire's preseason already in progress. The final match of the camp is on Feb. 3 while the Fire are set to start preseason on January 23.

McCarty, 29, has spent the past five and a half seasons with the Red Bulls. He began his career by playing five seasons for FC Dallas and was with D.C. United for part of the 2011 campaign before being traded to the Red Bulls. As an 11-year league veteran and the Red Bulls' captain, McCarty adds leadership and experience which Rodriguez has prioritized this offseason.

The Fire already added a former MLS All-Star in midfield this offseason in Juninho. The pair could line up next to each other in the preferred 4-2-3-1 coach Veljko Paunovic used for most of last season. This also could potentially put Matt Polster's role with the team in question. As the roster stands now, the third-year midfielder would be competing for two veteran All-Star caliber midfielders who were brought in at a high price.

Not to suggest a position move is in the works for Polster, but he did split time between midfield and right back with the Fire in 2015 under coach Frank Yallop and played there for the U-23 national team in Olympic qualifying. Right back remains a position of need by Rodriguez's own admission.

The trade also adds further context to the Fire trading the No. 3 pick in the draft on Friday. The Fire swapped the pick for $250,000 in general allocation money from New York City FC and Tenorio is reporting the Fire will send $400,000 to the Red Bulls for McCarty. To add those two moves together, the Fire dealt the No. 3 overall pick and $150,000 of allocation money for McCarty.