Cubs dont appear to be thinking big right now


Cubs dont appear to be thinking big right now

DALLAS Theo Epstein has the luxury of a five-year contract, a mandate from ownership to build from within, all without having to worry about getting headlines or selling tickets.

Epstein has moments of anxiety after he signs a free agent. Almost by definition, he knows he overpaid, because those deals usually close with the highest bid. Thats the backdrop as the Cubs remain quiet so far at the winter meetings.

Theres a winners curse associated with that sometimes, Epstein said Wednesday. That moment when youre at the press conference and youre holding up the jersey, youre sitting there thinking this could be a great moment in franchise history.

And then theres a big voice in the back of your head saying: I might be regretting this for the next six years.

You cant get away from it. And that voice is louder than the one that says: This could be a great thing for the team going forward. Because just look at the history of long-term free agent contracts. They tend not to work out.

Not long after general manager Jed Hoyer told MLB.TV that the coverage of the Cubs interest in Prince Fielder was overblown, Epstein said that were not close to anything big.

While Albert Pujols apparently leans toward returning to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs are focused on small, incremental moves.

Epstein met with the agency that represents Kerry Wood and again said that bringing back the franchise ambassador is a priority: Our bullpen looks a lot better with him in it, so does our clubhouse.

As expected, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena declined arbitration, meaning the Cubs will pick up one or two draft picks as compensation. Ramirez has drawn some interest from the Los Angeles Angels and Milwaukee Brewers and will not return to the North Side.

The Cubs continue to have a dialogue with Penas camp. But as a left-handed power hitter who plays Gold Glove defense and is a good clubhouse influence, Epstein thinks Pena could get a bigger multiyear deal that doesnt fit in their plans.

The Cubs are going to be linked with Fielder, because thats how this game works. Scott Boras, the industrys most powerful agent, emerged late Wednesday night to hold court with the media for the first time this week at the Hilton Anatole.

This is a negotiation that is really one of its own because hes 27 years old, Boras said. He has a different place in the market and the demands for his services are broader because you have teams that are not as playoff-ready that are interested. You have clubs that are very veteran that are interested. So you have a whole variety of teams that are involved.

He asked me to take an open view and collect all the information here from each club. I didnt meet with too many teams that said that they were three years away. Thats not something you hear too often.

The Cubs are not a team built to win now, which is why Pujols doesnt make sense. Fielder doesnt fit neatly into their box either. Big moves or small, Epstein says no one really knows for sure until five or 10 years later.

Epstein pointed to his first winter as general manager of the Boston Red Sox, 2002 into 2003.

We signed a released player for a million bucks, who turned out to be David Ortiz, Epstein said. We signed a previously injured third baseman who couldnt hit for power in Bill Mueller, who ended up winning the batting title. (We) claimed a guy off waivers who was headed to Japan that no one wanted in the States (named Kevin Millar).

Those are the types of moves, to be honest, that were focused on. Thats what fits where we are right now and fits the picture with our resources and our roster to try to get incrementally better.

Ozzie Guillen wishes Epstein the best with this patient plan. But the new Miami Marlins manager had one warning.

Chicago people, they forget pretty quick, Guillen said. Its a very tough town. I live (there) and Im a Chicago fan (and) they need some great stuff out of there. I think this man has great, great, great ideas and theyre going to do fine. But remember that one: I hope they love him in two years the way they love him right now.

Why Joe Maddon chose Albert Almora Jr. over Jason Heyward in huge Game 6 for Cubs

Why Joe Maddon chose Albert Almora Jr. over Jason Heyward in huge Game 6 for Cubs

With the chance to book their first trip to the World Series since 1945, the Cubs benched the player with the biggest contract in franchise history and started a 22-year-old rookie who began this season at Triple-A Iowa.

Now that says something about Clayton Kershaw’s overall brilliance and Albert Almora Jr.’s precocious nature, but it also again spotlights Jason Heyward’s offensive spiral during the first year of that $184 million megadeal.  

Heyward’s Gold Glove defense in right field, well-rounded skills and clubhouse intangibles certainly helped the Cubs get to this point – up 3-2 on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series – but manager Joe Maddon wanted to go in a different direction for Saturday’s Game 6 at Wrigley Field.   

“Kershaw’s pretty good,” Maddon said. “You look at his numbers, he’s been absurd versus lefties, (so you) get another right-handed bat out there and the way Albert can play defense really makes it a little bit easier.

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“If we didn’t have the opportunity to do something differently tonight I wouldn’t have. But we do. Albert just presents well at the plate – and well on defense – to the point where I thought we needed to give it a go.”

Almora – the first player the Theo Epstein regime drafted here with the sixth overall pick in 2012 – could be the 2017 Opening Day starter in center field if Dexter Fowler cashes in elsewhere as a free agent.

After posting career lows in homers (seven) and OPS (.631) during the regular season, Heyward has gone 2-for-28 (.071 average) in the playoffs and will probably need to reboot during the winter.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of internal work done in the offseason with him, no question,” Maddon said. “You know he’s not satisfied with the year. (But) he was a big part of our 100-plus wins this year.

“It is something that he has to work on – and he will work on it – but by no means is anybody giving up on him. He just needs to probably clear his mind a little bit when this is all said and done and get back to the drawing board.”

Cubs hoping Kyle Schwarber can make World Series comeback

Cubs hoping Kyle Schwarber can make World Series comeback

As if the possibility of clinching their first National League pennant in 71 years didn’t create enough drama and excitement in Wrigleyville, the Cubs have sent Kyle Schwarber to the Arizona Fall League, hoping he can add another chapter to his October legend.
Schwarber earned this chance after beating every expectation in his recovery from major surgery on his left knee in April. The Cubs haven’t ruled anything in or out – and still need to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers one more time this weekend – but they want to see how he responds on Saturday with the Mesa Solar Sox and ultimately decide if he would be a viable designated-hitter option for the World Series.
Schwarber gained clearance on Monday from Dr. Daniel Cooper, the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL after a devastating outfield collision during the first week of the regular season. Schwarber immediately phoned president of baseball operations Theo Epstein after the six-month checkup.   
“I wasn’t expecting the call,” Epstein said. “We got news that was beyond better than we could have expected by any reasonable standard. 
“He asked for a chance to do this. And with as hard as Kyle has worked and as much as this means to him – and potentially to us – we wanted to give him that opportunity.”

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Schwarber flew from Dallas to Los Angeles, where he hit in the cage at Dodger Stadium that night. As the Cubs continued with what has been a classic NL Championship Series, Schwarber hit again on Tuesday and then left for Arizona on Wednesday to ramp up his baseball activities and prove whether or not he could again be a difference-maker in October.
Schwarber, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft out of Indiana University, generated 16 home runs in 69 games last season and then set a franchise record with five homers in the playoffs. 

The Cubs still have to deal with Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night in Game 6, and judge whether or not this layoff is too long, even for one of their best young hitters, especially against what would be a dynamic Cleveland Indians pitching staff.
But the Cubs would also never bet against Schwarber.

“We’ll see where this goes,” Epstein said. “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of work to do here before this becomes pertinent. But it’s a testament to how hard Kyle has worked to even be in this position where it’s a possibility.”