The best and brightest: Cubs add Hoyer, McLeod

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The best and brightest: Cubs add Hoyer, McLeod

Updated: 10:02 p.m.

Theo Epstein sounds like hes running a Fortune 500 company. The 37-year-old Ivy League graduate has a law degree and vows to change the way the Cubs do business.

The new president of baseball operations promised to hire the best and the brightest from outside the organization. That now officially includes Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, two executives who helped the Boston Red Sox win two World Series titles.

The Cubs and San Diego Padres released a joint statement on Wednesday night that announced what everyone expected: Hoyer will become executive vice presidentgeneral manager, while McLeod will be named senior vice presidentscouting and player development.

The Padres will promote Josh Byrnes another part of this Red Sox tree to replace Hoyer as general manager. Grabbing Hoyer and McLeod will cost the Cubs one player as compensation. They will all be introduced at press conferences after the World Series.

Hoyer is supposed to free Epstein from the day-to-day oversight of the major-league team, allowing him to focus on the big picture. McLeod whose first draft with Boston produced future MVP Dustin Pedroia is expected to take a broader role within the baseball operation.

Epstein profiles like an executive at Goldman Sachs or Lockheed Martin, talking about vertical integration and information-management systems. That certainly resonated with chairman Tom Ricketts and his financial background.

Epstein pledged to dig deep with research and development and try to find that next competitive advantage, likely figuring out a way to prevent injuries and keep pitchers healthy.

Epstein talked about understanding the supply and demand dynamic (and) discovering small opportunities to make the organization better, like signing a released player to a one-year, 1.25 million deal (David Ortiz).

Epstein compared his front office to a boiler room or a think tank. He developed a reputation as a listener who welcomes different opinions and builds a consensus.

A very inclusive guy that likes to challenge everyone, one scout said. He welcomes input and has been very fair and very personable.

Epstein received assurances from ownership that he would be able to expand what has been one of the smallest baseball operations departments in the game. So for those leftover from the Jim Hendry regime, this isnt necessarily a zero-sum game. Its time for the Cubs to pool their intellectual capital.

During Epsteins scripted remarks at Tuesdays news conference, he showed an eye for details. That was fitting for the son of a Boston University creative writing professor. He values the grunts and views winning the World Series as a when not if proposition.

It will happen because one of our area scouts drives an extra six miles to get that one last look at a prospect before the draft, Epstein said. It will happen because the rookie ball pitching coach comes out every day to early work, until he finally finds that right grip for a young pitchers changeup.

It will happen because someone from our international staff takes the extra time to really get to know a 17-year-old kid and help make his transition to the States that much easier. It will happen because a fringe prospect from Double-A buys into The Cubs Way and takes responsibility for his own development.

It will happen because our major-league coaching staff is more prepared than their counterparts across the field.

Epstein has already begun gathering information on his personnel, speaking with manager Mike Quade and scouting director Tim Wilken and scheduling face-to-face meetings. Randy Bush and Oneri Fleita are right there in the offices at Clark and Addison. Theres talk that the organizational meetings will be pushed back to February, just before the start of spring training.

The drawn-out negotiations over compensation to free Epstein from the final year of his contract certainly wont help him bring staffers over from Boston. And quietly over the past few years Hendry had been building up the infrastructure that so impressed Ricketts.

Bush knows what it takes to play the game at the highest level after winning two World Series rings with the Minnesota Twins, a model franchise for developing talent. The interim general manager has worked as the organizations minor-league hitting coordinator and was the head coach at the University of New Orleans.

Fleita already received a new four-year contract from Ricketts. The vice president of player personnel has family roots in Cuba and contacts in the Dominican Republic. His network includes Jose Serra, the scout who signed Starlin Castro and the godfather to Carlos Marmol.

Louis Eljaua who oversaw the construction of the Red Sox complex in the Dominican Republic is now doing the same for the Cubs academy. He once set up shop with Epstein at a hotel in Nicaragua as the Red Sox tried to sign Cuban defector Jose Contreras.

Wilken spends close to 200 nights a year in hotels across the country. The scouting director has worked with Pat Gillick and Andrew Friedman, identifying Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay for the Toronto Blue Jays and helping the Tampa Bay Rays build the foundation for their small-market miracle.

Information manager Chuck Wasserstrom and baseball operations director Scott Nelson have spent decades working for the Cubs. Their institutional memories could help Epstein, who grew up near Fenway Park and already knew the culture when he took over the Red Sox almost nine years ago.

Chicago is not Boston, Epstein said. Every market has its own personality, its own idiosyncrasies. I dont pretend to understand them all yet.

That attitude will help Epstein as he tries to build his baseball version of Microsoft. The Best and the Brightest was the cynical title of David Halberstams book on the Vietnam War.

There are no definitive answers, Epstein said. If you think youve got it all figured out in this game, you get humbled really quickly.

Javy Baez blast brings Cubs offense out of hibernation in blowout over White Sox

Javy Baez blast brings Cubs offense out of hibernation in blowout over White Sox

Charles Tillman must be the Cubs' good luck charm.

Just a few minutes after the Bears legend sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Wrigley Field, Javy Baez sent one almost out onto Waveland Ave.

That two-run shot put a charge into a Cubs offense that had been scuffling as Baez and Co. wound up beating the White Sox 8-1 in front of 41,166 fans at Wrigley Field.

White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo was tossing a no-hitter against the team with the best record in baseball before Kris Bryant parked one into the left-field bleachers with one out in the sixth inning.

Baez's blast in the seventh inning turned out to be the game-winner and helped lift this offense out of its funk by tacking on five eighth-inning runs.

Ben Zobrist had an RBI double in that eighth inning and then Addison Russell delivered the big blow with a grand slam off former Cub Jacob Turner.

That late rally ensured Aroldis Chapman did not get his first save in a Cubs uniform, but manager Joe Maddon still employed his shiny new bullpen anyway.

Hector Rondon worked a perfect eighth inning and then Chapman came on to toss the ninth with a seven-run lead.

The new Cubs closer wowed the Wrigley crowd with fastballs clocked at 102 and 103 mph as he struck out Jose Abreu, got Todd Frazier to ground out and then struck out Avisail Garcia.

Ranaudo was the story for the first two-thirds of the game, driving in the only run with an opposite-field homer off Jason Hammel and then keeping the Cubs offense at bay. 

Ranaudo's first career MLB hit was the only blemish on Hammel's line, as the Cubs veteran right-hander struck out seven in seven innings.

Trying to make sense of Aroldis Chapman’s lost-in-translation rollout with Cubs

Trying to make sense of Aroldis Chapman’s lost-in-translation rollout with Cubs

Aroldis Chapman lost the press conference, which won’t matter if the Cubs win the World Series. That’s the calculated decision chairman Tom Ricketts, team president Theo Epstein and their inner circle made in trading for the 105-mph closer from the New York Yankees.

But Chapman’s lost-in-translation introduction to the Chicago media (and, by extension, the fans) should force the Cubs – and anyone covering the team – to reassess that system-wide failure.

That’s not diminishing the seriousness of the allegations Chapman faced after a domestic dispute in South Florida last October, leading to a 30-game suspension to start this season. Or completely falling for the sleepy/nervous defense presented after Chapman – under repeated questioning – said he had no recollection of the off-the-field expectations Ricketts outlined during that phone call the Cubs absolutely needed before closing the deal with the Yankees.

Major League Baseball required all teams to hire a Spanish-language translator this season, and the Cubs deployed quality-assurance coach Henry Blanco, a widely respected former big-league catcher who doesn’t have any real experience handling such a sensitive media session. This wasn’t asking Jorge Soler about a hamstring injury or a game-winning home run. Chapman’s agent, Barry Praver, watched the entire scene unfold in the visiting dugout on Tuesday afternoon before a crosstown game against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

ESPN’s Pedro Gomez – who asked the only question in Spanish during the group scrum – then got a one-on-one interview with Chapman that yielded more insight into the player and the conversation with ownership. 

“I really don’t know what happened there,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “Whether it was miscommunication (or he was) misunderstood, I don’t know.

“That’s already over. We got to move in a different direction. Whatever happened yesterday, we just want to be on the positive side and move forward.”

Ricketts – who released a statement when the trade became official on Monday afternoon and appeared on the team’s flagship radio station (WSCR-AM 670) on Tuesday morning – declined to comment when approached by reporters before another crosstown game on Wednesday at Wrigley Field: “I think we’ve said enough this week.”

At a time when newspapers are diminished and old/new media is fracturing, there simply aren’t enough Spanish speakers within the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Chapman – an All-Star performer who is 28 years old and has been in the big leagues since 2010 – doesn’t really speak any English and grew up within a society that most of us will never understand.

Even for native speakers and proficient translators, there are linguistics variations in Spanish and wide cultural gaps among those born in Cuba (Chapman and Soler), Venezuela (Blanco and Montero) and the Dominican Republic. There are also fundamental personality differences, with Chapman being described as an observer, quiet and withdrawn during his time with the Cincinnati Reds.

While the talkative Montero, 33, didn’t know any English when he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a teenager, he picked up enough of the language to become a translator for teammates by the end of his rookie-ball season in Missoula, Montana.

“I just kept on practicing, asking questions,” Montero said. “I remember people laughing about my accent or whatever. And I never really cared. That’s what a lot of Latin guys get intimidated by, because they don’t want people to make fun of them. That’s why they get intimidated. That’s why they don’t learn.

“That wasn’t my problem. I didn’t care if you laughed. I didn’t care about any of that, because this is not my language, you know? It’s something that I (was) learning and I became fairly good. Good enough.”

That’s why Montero can understand MLB’s directive to hire translators and still see the limitations.

“It’s OK,” Montero said. “But on the other hand, I feel like it’s important for us to learn the language. Not only as a player, but when your career’s over, you’re bilingual. You can actually use it for different areas (of your life) later on.

“That was my biggest goal. If I didn’t make it to the big leagues, at least I’m going to be bilingual, and I can do something because it’s productive for any other job.”

Chapman has one job between here and October – to win the franchise’s first World Series in more than a century – and that success or failure is how he will ultimately be remembered in Chicago.

Cubs keeping the faith with Jason Heyward despite season-long struggles

Cubs keeping the faith with Jason Heyward despite season-long struggles

The calendar is about to flip into August and the narrative around high-priced outfielder Jason Heyward is still the same.

The Cubs entered play Wednesday night with the best record in baseball despite their $184 million prize of the winter suffering through the worst offensive season of his career.

Among qualified MLB players entering Wednesday night, Heyward had the lowest slugging percentage in the game (.315). His OPS (.630) was the seventh-lowest among qualified hitters.

Those numbers have gotten significantly worse as Heyward has been mired in a major slump over the last two-plus weeks in which he's gone just 4-for-42 (.095 AVG) with only one extra base hit, zero RBI and a .275 OPS. 

Before Wednesday's game at Wrigley Field, Heyward was out on the field working with Cubs hitting coach John Mallee.

"It's pretty much what they've been working on for a while," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Again, like I've said, this guy's hit into some bad luck. Yeah there's been some ground balls, but he's had a lot of well-struck balls that have been caught.

"And with that goes your confidence. But they have a definite plan they're sticking with."

Maddon said the Cubs wanted Heyward to get to see the results of his work out on the field of play instead of just watching baseballs jump off his bat into a netting in the cage.

One of the main things the Cubs are working on with Heyward is making a conscious effort to get the ball in the air. 

They're also focused on his mindset through these struggles, trying to keep his spirits up.

"He's probably struggling a little bit," Maddon admitted. "It's not easy to go through what he's going through right now. But like I said, I'm certain he's going to come out the other side.

"I've seen a lot of good stuff work-wise recently. And I'm telling you, man, the new-fangled defenses have got him on ground balls up the middle a lot. He's been victimized by defense a bit."

Maddon has talked a lot this season about Heyward hitting into some tough luck — whether on line drives or just ground balls directly into the opposition's defensive shifts.

But it's not just luck. Heyward's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .273, which is 26 points below his career mark (.298), but there are 24 other qualified big-league hitter with lower BABIPs, including White Sox slugger Todd Frazier and his .200 mark entering play Wednesday.

Compared to last season — when Heyward hit .293 with a .797 OPS with the St. Louis Cardinals — Heyward's line drive percentage is up slightly and his groundball percentage is down significantly. 

But his soft-hit percentage is way up and his hard-hit percentage is down quite a bit.

All of the fancy stats can make the casual fan's head spin, but the gist is simple: Heyward has not been making enough solid contact. 

And he has not been making enough solid contact for four months now. 

Still, Maddon refuses to let any worry show publicly, even as he penciled Heyward seventh in the Cubs' lineup Wednesday, the lowest the 26-year-old has hit all season.

"I've been through this before with some really good players," Maddon said. "He'll come out the other side because he's good and he's working at it. I really like the plan of attack him and John have going right now.

"I'm very patient. I've done this for a bit. I was a hitting instructor myself. I know what it takes. You don't always get overnight results when you're trying to make some dramatic adjustments and that's exactly what's going on. 

"I know people are going to get less patient with it than I will or he will. But the biggest thing is that Jason doesn't get impatient. With the actual player himself, you never want him to be the guy to give up on what he's doing. If he doesn't, he's gonna break through.

"I have a lot of faith in him."