Cubs: Theo making his pitch to free agents


Cubs: Theo making his pitch to free agents

NASHVILLE, Tenn. The Cubs sell themselves.

That was the message from team president Theo Epstein, who insists that the organization isnt having issues recruiting free agents to a long-term rebuilding project, where the possibility of a sell-off at next summers trade deadline exists if things dont break right.

The winter meetings kicked off on Monday at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn., where the Cubs will monitor everything, but not feel the same urgency as those teams in win-now mode. Someone else will win the Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke sweepstakes. Dont expect any megadeals on the North Side yet.

But Epstein believes manager Dale Sveum has become a draw, besides the obvious advantages of playing in a great city and for a franchise that has opportunities.

Dales making a name for himself as a manager that players want to play for, Epstein said. Free agents recognize that we had a good clubhouse last year, despite the difficult season that we had. I think generally free agents believe in the positive direction were going.

Elite baseball players are really competitive and I think they like the thought of being part of the solution here. Being a member of the team that finally wins a World Series for the Cubs is really appealing. Ive had a number of players tell me that directly. We have not had to sell our situation much at all.

When we express interest, weve been hearing back: Oh, thats a place weve had our eye on. Which you dont often hear coming off a 101-loss season.

Sources indicated that the Cubs are not after Michael Bourn, whose options could be shrinking now that Angel Pagan (San Francisco Giants) and B.J. Upton (Atlanta Braves) have signed for a combined 115 million. With players coming off the board, the Cubs could be in position this week to sign their outfielder, possibly someone to play right because David DeJesus can shift to center.

Its starting to come into focus a little bit, Epstein said. As much as any other market, the outfield market this year is kind of tiered a little bit, so theres a domino effect with each move. With each passing day, it becomes a little more clear.

The Cubs will continue looking for starting pitching after adding Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to the rotation, though Epstein admitted we can kind of relax and pick our spots and dont necessarily have to be desperate.

Baker and Feldman were signed to one-year deals, but the Cubs are willing to make a bigger commitment to the right outfielder.

That was based on asking prices, the supplydemand dynamic, Epstein said. We felt those were the best values. In an ideal world, we would have gotten options like we did with (Paul) Maholm, but because the markets a little different this year we werent able to. But if the right multi-year deal were there for a pitcher, we would have acted. Same with the outfield.

We might end up with a one-year deal somewhere. We might end up with a multi-year deal. We might end up with a trade for an under-control player. We just dont know where things are going to take us, but we havent ruled anything out or in. You cant be like so dogmatic about a plan that you cant look at all options, especially when your plan involves acquiring talented young players. Those arent available in free agency.

So the Cubs are going to have to be creative. Epstein is comfortable with the idea of having a platoon in center field andor at third base. They continue talking with Ian Stewarts camp after non-tendering the third baseman last week and havent ruled out re-signing him. They think Luis Valbuena could be in the mix. They could move a middle infielder to the corner, or find a power bat and hope he catches the ball at third base.

Kevin Youkilis is going to go to a much higher bidder, especially now that the New York Yankees need to do something with Alex Rodriguez heading for hip surgery. There are no obvious solutions at third base.

As Epstein said, It would be good to be Mike Schmidt right about 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.”