Chicago Cubs

Cubs dont appear to be thinking big right now

607024.png

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.

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

A walk-off win in the middle of a pennant race didn’t dull the edge in Joe Maddon’s voice, the Cubs manager blasting Major League Baseball and expecting to be fined for his rant in the Wrigley Field interview room.    

“That’s asinine,” Maddon said after Wednesday night’s 7-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, fuming over the ninth-inning at-bat where Ben Zobrist showed bunt and got drilled by Wandy Peralta’s 96-mph fastball. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakney signaled for Zobrist to jog to first base, only to have first base umpire Chris Conroy call strike two.

“Listen, I don’t even know what to say about that call,” said Maddon, who stormed onto the field and got ejected for the second time this season. “We’ve had different things happen, and I’ve been playing really good in the sandbox. Really good. And I’m not right now. That call cannot be made under those circumstances.

“I can understand if the guy’s actually swinging, and all of a sudden you get like a check swing. But he’s bunting – and then trying to get out of the way – and you’re going to call a bunt?

“There’s no way any hitter under those circumstances – with the ball coming at his thigh – is going to bunt through it and then get hit in the thigh.

“That really almost did cost us the game. Fortunately, we came back, they made their wild pitch. But I’ve been playing good in the sandbox. That was wrong.”

Zobrist – who called for an electronic strike zone after watching a controversial strike three end Saturday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field – still managed to put the ball in play, move up Javier Baez and Jon Jay and keep the pressure on the last-place Reds.  

“I tried to pull the bat back, but there was nowhere for me to go,” Zobrist said. “It started right at me, and was going down towards my ankle, and I could not physically pull it back and still pull my ankle up at the same time. I tried to pull my ankle up and (Conroy) thought I was offering at it, apparently.”

Imagine the reaction if the Cubs hadn’t regrouped and maintained a 1.5-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

“I know that instant replay is not perfect,” Maddon said. “But all this little minutia needs to be looked at as we move this along, because that impacted the game. That’s bases loaded, nobody out. It’s a different at-bat for (Albert) Almora. It’s a different thought for their pitcher. Everything’s different. The world rotates differently at that point.

“To influence a game like that is wrong. And, listen, the guy’s a good guy. I think he’s a good umpire. But I’m not going to concede consistently to these guys. You can’t make that mistake.”

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

Kris Bryant already has a bromance with Anthony Rizzo, their Bryzzo Souvenir Co. brand and a joint appearance at a downtown Chicago hotel this weekend where Cubs fans can pay $699 for their autographs.

Bryant also has a friendly rivalry with Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals superstar who loves trolling on social media and teasing where he might land as a free agent after the 2018 season. Even their wives had fun with it on Instagram earlier this month when the Nationals came to Wrigley Field for a potential playoff preview.

But the player Bryant patterns himself after now – the one who lives up to “The Science of Hitting” and the principles his father absorbed from Ted Williams and passed down in the family’s batting cage in Las Vegas – is Joey Votto.

“He’s the best player ever,” Bryant said before Wednesday night’s 7-6 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds. “He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain.

“He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Favorite player? Really?

“Besides, you know, people on my team,” Bryant said with a laugh.

The Cubs contained Votto on a night where their bullpen nearly imploded, holding him to a 1-for-4 that stopped him from tying the major-league record Williams set in 1948 by getting on base at least twice in 21 straight games with the Boston Red Sox.

Through Votto, Bryant sees where he can grow after becoming a National League Rookie of the Year and MVP and World Series champion before his 25th birthday.    

“He’s not just doing it this year – he’s doing it his whole career,” Bryant said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant – who has reached base safely in his last 13 games and put up a 1.035 OPS in August – is heating up at a time when the Cubs are trying to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers (1.5 games back) and St. Louis Cardinals (2.5 games back) in a tight division race.

Where Votto famously dismissed old questions about whether or not he was being too selective, Bryant blocks out any talk about an All-Star snub, his batting average with runners in scoring position (.227) or RBI total (54). Bryant is getting on base more than 40 percent of the time and also leads the team in doubles (25), runs scored (78) and OPS (.936).  

“Sometimes it’s almost like you can kind of go up there and force the pitcher to throw the pitch that you want, just by taking pitches,” Bryant said. “My first year, I was kind of just up there swinging at everything. I still felt the approach was good and it could work in the big leagues. And it did. But I think there’s ways to have a better approach up there.

“(Votto’s) a different guy with that. I feel like he’s aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it. And he mentioned that to me, too, when I got to first (on Monday night). He said: ‘Your approach looks a lot better this year.’”

Bryant sincerely thanked Votto, but the reigning MVP isn’t trying to put together a package deal with Harper and turn the Cubs into Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.  

“I already told him before: ‘We already have a pretty good first baseman. He’s not going anywhere,’” Bryant said. “Joey can switch positions if he wants to play for the Cubs.”