What the Epstein-Hoyer-McLeod connection means for the Cubs

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What the Epstein-Hoyer-McLeod connection means for the Cubs

Dave Roberts wasnt surprised to see how the dominoes fell across the country last October, reshaping front offices from Boston to San Diego.

Roberts played with Jason McLeod at Rancho Buena Vista High School in San Diego before earning his degree from UCLA.

Roberts is still reminded almost daily of The Steal in the ninth inning of Game 4 in the 2004 ALCS. That began an epic comeback against Mariano Rivera and the Yankees. That Red Sox team made Theo Epstein a legend throughout New England.

Roberts transitioned his career by going to work for Jed Hoyers baseball operations department in 2010, first as a special assistant and then as the Padres first-base coach.

So Roberts knows the three Cubs executives who took on the biggest challenge left in sports.

Those guys have a great relationship, a great chemistry, Roberts said Tuesday. They have a trust. In this game, when youve got those components, then ultimately theyre going to cross paths again. It was a pretty good system (that worked) for them before. So you would expect something similar here in Chicago.

Sitting in front of his locker inside the cramped visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field, Roberts looked up from the USA Today sports section. Inside, it had a picture of Epstein, who had to meet the press and answer for a 12-game losing streak.

The Cubs (17-32) won again on Tuesday, this time 5-3 over the Padres. Jeff Samardzija went seven innings and earned the win on his bobblehead day. Epsteins front office can use him to a build a rotation. Heres hoping the marketing department features him in the next ad campaign.

Yeah, you dont want to pitch bad and go outside and see your bobblehead smashed all over the pavement, Samardzija said. I wanted to just keep the game close and hopefully people will go put them in their room or something now, instead of in the trash.

The development of Samardzija (5-3, 3.09 ERA) has been one of the better story lines this season. Power arms will be a focus as McLeod runs pre-draft meetings this week in Chicago.

The Astros once picked McLeod the great-grand nephew of Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell in the 44th round of the 1991 draft.

He was a big right-handed pitcher with a good arm, Roberts recalled. He was always a student of the game. He kind of took his career as far as it was going to take him as a player, and then got on the coaching side of things. Hes always been a great listener and continued to hone his evaluation skills.

To this day, he is one of the best evaluators in the game.

McLeod earned that reputation by delivering Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard and Clay Buchholz to the Red Sox and watching that 2007 World Series run.

A new labor deal, which severely limits spending in the amateur draft, will make that job even more difficult. Its much harder to overwhelm two-sport athletes with big contracts, the way the Cubs once did with Samardzija.

McLeod is on the clock. So are the scouts who had to carry video cameras to every game and store all the data medical, family, statistical, anecdotal in the new Bloomberg computer system.

He sees a lot of things that many people dont see, Roberts said, a lot of different intangibles in players, the stuff that people dont really look for. Its just amazing all the information that you can kind of come up with and have at your disposal (to) sift through and make a selection.

McLeod and Hoyer felt like they left the Padres (17-34) in a better place, even though they lasted only two seasons. Last winter, the industry viewed San Diego as a top-three system. Privately, some have suggested that Epstein wouldnt have taken the Cubs job without them.

With Jason and his crew, Roberts said, were going to enjoy the fruits in the years to come in this system. (It) was a loss for us, but he put some things in place that were going to continue to build on.

(The Cubs have) a plan (and) with the resources that they have, it should ultimately work out pretty well.

The entire focus is on June 4, when the Cubs will make the sixth overall pick. Heres a sign of how all-in they are for the draft and how much they respect the managers evaluation skills Dale Sveum has watched video of certain hitters they might select.

It will take years before we know if Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod were right or wrong.

They have short memories in Boston, where Epsteins legacy took a hit with bad contracts, fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse, and an epic September collapse. But you cant forget those two World Series banners at Fenway Park. Red Sox Nation got everything it ever wanted.

Things like that just dont happen overnight, Roberts said. With this fan base loving the Cubs unconditionally, its even better when youve got a regime coming in with a plan in place thats shown its worked (before). I definitely expect these guys to kind of right the ship.

Fire trade Kennedy Igoboananike to D.C. United

Fire trade Kennedy Igoboananike to D.C. United

With just five days until the summer transfer window closes in Major League Soccer, the Chicago Fire have made their first big move of the window.

Kennedy Igboananike has been traded to D.C. United for Targeted Allocation Money and a third round pick in 2019.

Per the Fire's release, Igboananike will still count as a Designated Player through the rest of 2016 and the Fire will retain a percentage of any transfer fee if he is sold outside the league in 2016. Paul Tenorio also reported that the Fire are still paying a majority of Igboananike's salary.

Igboananike is the second DP forward to leave the team during this season. Gilberto and the Fire mutually terminated the Brazilian's contract in late June.

David Accam is the only DP left on the Fire roster, but with Igboananike still counting as one this season, the Fire only have the one spot vacated from when Gilberto departed. However, when the Fire head into the offseason they will have two DP spots to work with.

Igboananike joined the Fire before the 2015 season and made 55 appearances between MLS play and the U.S. Open Cup. He scored 13 goals for the Fire. This season, the Nigerian scored four goals and carried the offense when David Accam was injured in the early part of the season.

He has not scored since May 11, a 10-game drought. Even still, his four goals are still tied for the team-lead this season. Igboananike also led the Fire in shots (48) and shots on target (15).

The 27-year-old was a hard-working, but ultimately only moderately productive forward with the Fire. He was also not as featured in the attack since the arrival of Michael de Leeuw.

“Moves like this are needed in order to execute our plan for roster development,” general manager Nelson Rodriguez said in the press release.

Rodriguez has said that he and the club were working towards a multi-year plan that made it sound like 2017 was more the priority than 2016 in terms of building the roster. This move goes along with that.

D.C. is chasing a playoff spot and the Fire have become a longshot to make the playoffs. Dumping Igboananike allows the Fire to have more flexibility heading into the offseason to prepare for 2017.

White Sox: Robin Ventura doesn't want to see Sale or Quintana traded

White Sox: Robin Ventura doesn't want to see Sale or Quintana traded

MINNEAPOLIS -- He has considered the trade rumors and Robin Ventura doesn’t like the idea of a world in which Chris Sale or Jose Quintana aren’t White Sox players.

The White Sox manager said Friday that his job would be much more difficult were either front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher to be traded. While chances seem remote that either is dealt before Monday’s 3 p.m. CST nonwaiver trade deadline, Sale and Quintana continue to be mainstays in the rumor mill. And even though players often tell media they avoid rumors, Ventura said it’s almost impossible for them to avoid hearing the latest trade chatter and where they possibly could be headed.

“All you have to do is think about it for a second and realize it wouldn’t be as good if you don’t have those guys,” Ventura said. “That stuff, I think the time of year, it’s rampant. Everybody talking about people, and a lot of it can just be fans or people saying, ‘Trade this guy for that guy.’ But it’s not that easy. People have fun doing that and sometimes it gets the best of guys inside because, one, they’ll get their feelings hurt because they think that’s actually going on, and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

“Guys, it does distract them.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

The latest news surrounding Sale is that the New York Yankees have reportedly checked in on him, according to Today’s Knuckeball’s Jon Heyman. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported that there’s skepticism industrywide whether the White Sox would trade Sale before the deadline. But, Rosenthal added, the White Sox have listened now more than ever on Sale, who returned from a five-game suspension to pitch on Thursday.

Both the White Sox and Sale have said they want to move on from what the pitcher called “a fiasco” and focus on the team’s final 60 games. Sale reiterated on Thursday night that he wants to stay with the White Sox and see if the team can make a push for its first postseason appearance since 2008.

The White Sox began the day six games back of the second wild-card spot. Ventura thinks the club is better prepared to stick around in the race than they were in 2015, when they fell apart in August.

Where he spoke with Hahn every day while the team was in Chicago, Ventura won’t do that while the team is on the road. Prior to Thursday’s game, Ventura said he thinks the deadline will be relatively quiet.

“I don't want to see anybody go out of here,” Ventura said. “I don't think that's going to happen.”

Cubs battle rain, explode for blowout over Mariners

Cubs battle rain, explode for blowout over Mariners

A little rain Friday couldn't dampen the Cubs' spirits as they welcomed the Seattle Mariners into town.

The Cubs offense rudely greeted their American League opponent en route to a 12-1 victory at Wrigley Field that included a 74-minute rain delay after the game was well in hand.

As the Cubs have gone through a little offensive lull over the last week or so, they've maintained they need to take what's given to them from opposing pitchers and try not to do too much.

They did that and a whole lot more Friday afternoon, giving the announced crowd of 40,951 fans a lot to stand up and cheer about all game.

"Just a really well-played game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We pitched well, we played well, we did everything well. After a really hard-fought series with the White Sox, it was kinda nice to play a game like that today."

Chris Coghlan — just activated off the disabled list Friday morning — got things started with a two-out, two-run single in the second inning and then came around to score on Kris Bryant's single.

Jason Heyward added a two-run homer in the fifth inning and the Cubs then touched up the Mariners bullpen for six runs in the sixth inning, including a three-run double from Anthony Rizzo and a solo homer from David Ross.

In all, the Cubs rapped out 14 hits and walked six times. Bryant led the way with three hits and a pair of walks.

"These days are great," Ben Zobrist said. "It's a mental breather for everybody. When you get up early in the game like that, you allow the pitcher to have some breathing room.

"... I think all across the board as a team, it's a real feel-good win."

It was all the offense starter Jon Lester needed, as he tossed six shutout innings with seven strikeouts for his 11th victory on the season.

"I felt actually a lot better than I have here recently," Lester said. "Still two pointless, useless walks out there. Still trying to clean that up for whatever reason.

"But at the end of the day, we win. That's what you want to do. Guys swung the bats really well. I try to always tell them: 12 runs and an airtight defense makes the pitcher's job a lot easier."

Lester even got in on the offensive onslaught, drawing a walk and scoring a run in that sixth inning explosion. 

With the Cubs up big, Joe Maddon opted to take out Lester for the top of the seventh after 95 pitches, giving way to Justin Grimm and former Mariner Mike Montgomery for the final three innings.

The game got so out of hand, the Mariners brought in infielder Luis Sardinas to pitch the eighth inning (and he promptly retired Addison Russell, Heyward and Javy Baez in order).

The lopsided score also helps the Cubs' new bullpen, giving Aroldis Chapman, Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop the day off.

The Cubs have looked like a different team since the All-Star Break, with their starting rotation once again leading the National League in ERA (2.60) in the second half.

The Cubs also haven't lost a series since before the All-Star Break, taking two of three from the Rangers, Mets and Brewers before splitting a four-game set with the White Sox.

"I think to a certain degree, yes [we have gotten our mojo back since the break]," Zobrist said. "It gave us the rest that our staff needed to get back to the kind of staff that they are and our hitters — we've struggled a little bit coming out of the All-Star Game.

"But today was a good day to kinda bust through with a lot of runs early. Hopefully there's some more games like that to come."