Cubs GM Hoyer putting pieces of the puzzle together

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Cubs GM Hoyer putting pieces of the puzzle together

Its getting harder to see the Cubs making any made-for-TV moments or generating much controversy this winter, which is exactly how this front office likes to operate.

For all the marketing and image-making that will take place when the Cubs Convention opens on Friday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, general manager Jed Hoyer is going to stick with the disciplined plan.

It really doesnt sound like the Cubs are going to pull out a surprise and sign outfielder Michael Bourn, who would cost them their second-round draft pick and part of their signing-bonus pool. Nor are they actively looking to add another closer-type into the ninth-inning mix.

One year ago, the Cubs were locked in a standoff with a franchise icon, while their All-Star shortstop had to deny sexual assault allegations. The new executives who had generated so much buzz were still feeling out the fans, the media and the leftover employees in the front office.

No one knew if Anthony Rizzo was going to be a total bust or a superstar, or if Jeff Samardzija could back up all that talk about being a starter. Even if there are no definitive answers yet, the Cubs are in a different place now: Year 2 of their rebuilding project.

Kerry Wood is not walking through that door.

Roughly 90 minutes after team president Theo Epstein said that you cant make baseball decisions based on public relations, the Cubs announced their new deal with Wood, who magically appeared on the balcony at last years convention and soaked in all the cheers inside a hotel ballroom.

Starlin Castro who was wanted for questioning last January now has generational wealth and the security of a contract that could keep him on the North Side through 2020.

The Cubs showed they were willing to spend money on the right players. They certainly had their reasons for pursuing Anibal Sanchez who turned down a five-year, 77.5 million offer and returned to the Detroit Tigers and signing Edwin Jackson to a four-year, 52 million deal.

But it also didnt hurt that those upside pitchers on the right side of 30 werent attached to the one-year, 13.3 million qualifying offers made under the new collective bargaining agreement. That was central to the offseason plan of attack.

We talked about all the free agents, Hoyer said on Chicago Baseball Hot Stove on Tuesday. Where we are as an organization, we want as many draft picks as possible. We want as much money in the draft as possible. So we would have given up a pick, theoretically, for the right player, the right fit.

And we will going forward. But right now, I think holding onto our picks is something that makes sense and were looking to build as much talent in the minor leagues as possible. We need a lot going forward.

While Bourn and pitcher Kyle Lohse sit on the market, super-agent Scott Boras sold the Washington Nationals on another one of his high-profile clients. Rafael Soriano got a reported two-year, 28 million deal on Tuesday to close for a team with World Series ambitions.

There are still interesting names left Brian Wilson, Jose Valverde, Francisco Rodriguez and Matt Capps to name a few though Hoyer said its unlikely the Cubs would add another late-inning reliever with experience as a closer to compete with Carlos Marmol and Kyuji Fujikawa.

Well probably go forward with what we have now, Hoyer said. Of course, if theres just a bargain or a player that we feel like is at an incredible price we might add him. But at this point, we feel really good. There also is a point at which were full on the roster were taking a spot away from somebody. We really do like the way our bullpen and our rotation fit together now.

That puzzle should include Matt Garza, who wished Marmol good luck in November when it looked like the closer would be traded to the Los Angeles Angels before the Dan Haren deal fell apart. Garza whos recovering from a stress reaction in his right elbow is throwing from about 150 feet out and progressing toward working off the mound.

Right now, hes following the normal pitching progression, Hoyer said. He feels really good and we dont see any reason hes going to be restricted going into spring training. At this point, hes gotten over some of those early hurdles in the rehab and we feel like hes just going to be a normal pitcher, a healthy guy in spring training ready to go. Hes excited. I always joke: You can see how hes doing. He talks about it on Twitter all the time.

Like Garza, Alfonso Soriano will have to answer questions about the trade rumors this weekend, though only one player has the power to accept or reject any potential deal. The Cubs were said to be in tire-kicking mode at the winter meetings, and the Philadelphia Phillies were rumored to be one team that might be a fit, given their need for a power bat in the outfield.

Soriano who once considered Philadelphia before signing his 136 million megadeal with the Cubs likes the idea of playing in a big market for a contender on the East Coast and has no-trade rights. Hes scheduled to attend the convention and should get an audience with the front office.

No one was more different than his reputation than Sori, Hoyer said. I know the fans were frustrated with him and we wondered what we were walking into. He was the ultimate professional in the clubhouse. He really has taken Castro under his wing.

His preparation is off the charts. I think a dozen players in baseball went 30 homers and 100 RBI (last season). What we got in our first year was terrific. He knows how we feel about him. Weve had communication with him over the course of the winter. Well keep having that communication.

But all of our thoughts on Sori are positive. He was so good for us last year, both on (and) off the field. (It) wasnt necessarily exactly what we expected going in. (It) was just a wonderful revelation for us.

The work on the 2013 team isnt done yet. Garza, Samardzija and reliever James Russell have filed for arbitration. CBSSports.com reported that the Cubs have been in contact with outfielder Scott Hairston, and theyre quite good at going into stealth mode, so maybe there will be a surprise or two this weekend.

But after a 101-loss season, this group is getting ready for their close-up, and maybe well begin to see if this city will have the patience for another one.

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

WASHINGTON – Cubs president Theo Epstein watched the Washington Nationals run wild on his iPad on Tuesday while visiting the Class-A Myrtle Beach affiliate. As Epstein did some work in his hotel room later that night, he got a text message from general manager Jed Hoyer alerting him to Miguel Montero’s explosive comments.  

Epstein’s management style is to not overreact or worry about the next day’s headlines. He generally believes in second chances, tries to keep an open mind and looks at the problem from every angle, occasionally to the point of paralysis by analysis.

But Epstein said it took “probably 10 seconds” before he realized the Cubs needed to designate Montero for assignment after the veteran catcher pointed the finger at Jake Arrieta – a Cy Young Award-winning, All-Star pitcher – for Washington’s seven stolen bases.    

“It screamed out as something that we should do,” Epstein said.     

As Montero’s rant caught fire on Twitter, Epstein called Hoyer and spoke to Montero on the phone, but he wanted to sleep on it and consult with some players before making Wednesday’s final decision, which could cost approximately $7 million. Epstein could not envision this as a team-building moment after Montero’s mea culpa and clearing the air with Arrieta.

“That was not my read on it, knowing the dynamics, present and past,” Epstein said. “This was not something that we would benefit from – trying to pursue a path of putting it all back together again.”

The Cubs pursued Aroldis Chapman after the New York Yankees closer began last season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. The Cubs cautiously didn’t judge or unconditionally support Addison Russell after a third-party abuse accusation on social media triggered an MLB investigation this month. The Cubs tolerated Tommy La Stella’s refusal to report to Triple-A Iowa last summer, allowing him to chill out at home in New Jersey.

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But Montero doesn’t have a 100-mph fastball. Montero isn’t an All-Star shortstop. Montero isn’t being preserved for one hypothetical pinch-hit at-bat in the playoffs. The Cubs are hovering around .500 now – no longer the World Series favorite – and all those variables become part of the calculus.   

“I just came to the conclusion that now more than ever we really need to be a team,” Epstein said. “This was an example of someone being a bad teammate publicly, and that we’d be better off moving on and not standing for it, because we do hold our players to a higher standard than that.

“In our role as the front office, we can’t always be in the clubhouse and push the right buttons to help everyone come together as a team. But we certainly are in a position – when we see something that could fracture the group – to try to fix the situation and remove that issue.

“Miggy’s not to blame at all for the issues that we have as a team right now. He should not be a scapegoat for what’s going on. This was just an example of someone publicly not being a good teammate and making comments that weren’t accountable and weren’t supportive and weren’t in furtherance of the team concept. And we felt we had to act on it.”

There is a chicken-or-the-egg mystery to clubhouse cohesion. But Montero probably would have had a longer fuse – and the bosses would have had a longer leash – if the Cubs were 24 games above .500 the way they were at this time last year. Montero could also get away with a lot more when he was a two-time All-Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks and playing in a sleepy market. 

“Had we been in a spot where this group had already formed its identity and was clicking on all cylinders,” Epstein said, “and had already overcome adversity together and come together completely as a team and we’re rolling in those respects, maybe it could have been handled differently by the group without sort of action from above.

“But I think you have to factor in where the team is and what the team needs and how close we are to reaching our ideal and how close we are to living up to all the values that we have as an organization.”

The Cubs Way isn’t exactly making it up as they go along. But there are always double standards and rationalizations in a bottom-line business. It sounds like Epstein did his due diligence without giving it a second thought: Montero wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. 

“There aren’t that many opportunities for people out of uniform to positively impact the group or nudge it in the right direction,” Epstein said, “or underscore the importance of team or emphasize the values that we try to embody as a group.

“This was one that made sense, given the history, the group dynamics, all the factors involved.”

More bad news for Cubs: Kris Bryant leaves game with injury

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More bad news for Cubs: Kris Bryant leaves game with injury

WASHINGTON – On a surreal day that already saw the Cubs dump veteran catcher Miguel Montero and visit Donald Trump’s White House, Kris Bryant hobbled off the field with his arms wrapped around the shoulders of two athletic trainers.

At a time when the season already felt like it could be teetering on the brink of a collapse, the Cubs watched the National League’s reigning MVP twist his right ankle on Wednesday night at Nationals Park, exiting the game in the fifth inning. Bryant tracked a Matt Wieters pop-up and awkwardly stepped on third base as he caught the ball.

Bryant is an All-Star third baseman with 16 home runs this year but he fills so many holes – all over the outfield and as a backup first baseman and an excellent baserunner – for a team that already has World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks on the disabled list.