Cubs will find out if Theo's right on the money

578516.png

Cubs will find out if Theo's right on the money

MESA, Ariz. It doesnt matter how much Oscar buzz the film generates. Theo Epstein has zero interest in seeing Moneyball.

The Cubs president of baseball operations took it personally. He feels like that loaded term misrepresents how he looks at the game. It also destroyed a competitive advantage he had built while running the Boston Red Sox.

By Saturday, as pitchers and catchers reported to Fitch Park, the compensation issue still hadnt been settled by commissioner Bud Selig. But the Cubs are spending almost 20 million on Epstein, to find that next cutting edge, and build a team thats consistently playing in October.

Were just trying to teach the game the right way, Epstein said. I wasnt a huge fan when certain proprietary information was made available to the public in the first place. Instead of a handful of clubs knowing certain things within a year or two, 30 clubs knew. Its not my cup of tea.

But it sounds like they made a really good movie and a lot of people got entertained. Thats terrific, but its baseball time, not movie time.

Epstein seemed a little annoyed by the question, but that might as well be the starting point for a team that made one real blockbuster move all offseason. The Cubs Way will be playing at a ballpark near you.

Epstein spent the past few days running organizational meetings at a nearby hotel, where roughly 175 staffers sat in conference rooms and shared ideas and debated their visions for a championship model. Michael Lewis wont be getting a byline, but the scouting manual is already complete.

Theres also a rough draft for the book on player development, which should run a few hundred pages. Everyone who works for the Cubs from Clark and Addison to the Dominican Republic is supposed to be on the same page.

Everything from what foot you hit the bag with when youre making the turn, Epstein said, to how we run bunt plays to what our overall hitting philosophy is (as an organization). Were going to approach (it) the same way, (from) the Dominican summer league through A-ball, Double-A, Triple-A, right up to the big leagues.

It sounds obvious, but playing hard will be central to The Cubs Way. It will reflect first-year manager Dale Sveum, whos vowed to hold everyone accountable and jump anyone who doesnt run a ball out.

You can tell that he means that, outfielder Reed Johnson said. A lot of staff members can say that sometimes. You can tell that its not genuine or theyre not really going to follow through. But he doesnt care if youre making 15 million or youre making 450,000. Youre going to go out there and youre going to play hard. And if youre not, youre not going to play.

Thats really refreshing (because) throughout the league (and in) my experiences, that hasnt really been true. The players know that if you come in with that attitude, youre going to be in for a rude awakening.

Even though Epstein says the goal of the 2012 Cubs is to win the World Series, they are clearly building toward the future. They are banking on hustle, drive and desire from a largely unproven group. Maybe their improved pitching depth can carry them deeper into the season, and a few young players have bounce-back or breakthrough years.

Perhaps there are more big names here, and we just dont know it yet. But after all the hype about a game-changing hire in the front office, were about to find out. The focus will drift away from Epstein. The Cubs are stepping off the red carpet of stadium club press conferences and into the arena.

Thats the nature of the offseason, Epstein said. It really just boils down to a whole lot of talk and sometimes writing some checks. (But) this game is about what happens between the white lines and organizations are built or broken by what happens (there). This is what were all about, and now the real work begins.

Jon Lester explains absence from Cubs' White House trip: 'Absolutely nothing political'

Jon Lester explains absence from Cubs' White House trip: 'Absolutely nothing political'

Jon Lester didn't make any sort of statement by missing Monday's White House trip with his Cubs teammates. But at a polarizing moment in a divided country, a high-profile player on a World Series team felt the need to respond on social media and explain his absence from the championship ceremony. 

President Barack Obama name-checked Lester during his East Room speech – both for his spectacular pitching performance and beat-cancer charitable initiatives – as the Cubs continued their victory tour off the franchise's first World Series title since Theodore Roosevelt lived in the White House.

Lester stood behind Obama when the 2013 Boston Red Sox were honored on the South Lawn. During that 2014 ceremony, Lester stood next to John Lackey, another Cub who missed this Washington trip. Lester also toured George W. Bush's White House with Boston's 2007 championship team.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day – and with the specter of Donald Trump's inauguration looming – Obama used his administration's final official White House event to draw a direct line between him and Jackie Robinson and highlight the connective power of sports.

"The best part was the president talking about how sports brings people together," All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "how no matter what's going on in this country and the world, three or four hours of any one particular game can just rally so many people together." 

This team couldn't have created so much joy for generations of fans without Lester, who signed a $155 million contract with the last-place Cubs after the 2014 season, a transformational moment during the long rebuild that led to the White House trip that Obama never thought would happen.

"It was a thrill and an honor for all of us," team president Theo Epstein said. "It means so much more with his roots in Chicago and his final days in office. It couldn't have worked out any better. It's something we'll all remember for our whole lives."

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

The time Addison Russell froze up after getting a text from Eddie George

Plenty of Cubs fans surely were star-struck to meet Addison Russell at Cubs Convention last weekend. But the 22-year-old All-Star shortstop has a shortlist of people he would be amazed to meet, too. 

Russell reveres President Barack Obama, on Friday the outgoing Commander-in-Chief's work in the community when talking about getting to visit the White House. So on Monday, Russell got to check off meeting one of the people on his list. "There's probably about three people that I would be star-struck by, and (Obama's) one of them," Russell said. 

One of those three spots is "open," Russell said. The other member of that list is former Ohio State and Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George. 

Russell wears his No. 27 because of George, who wore that number during his career in which he made four Pro Bowls and rushed for over 10,000 yards and 78 touchdowns. Prior to the 2016 season, George sent Russell and autographed Titans helmet inscribed with good luck message.

After the season, Russell said George texted him seeing if the newly-crowned champion had time to chill. Few things rattled Russell last year — he became the youngest player to hit a grand slam in the World Series when he blasted one in Game 6 against the Cleveland Indians last November — but getting a text from George did. "I couldn't text back," Russell said. "It was nuts. I waited four days because I was thinking of what back to say."

Even the most famous athletes still get star-struck. Russell's been lucky enough in the last few months to meet and hear from two of the people who bring out that sense of awe in him. "Just to come in contact with people like that, it just makes me smile," Russell said. "It definitely gets me in the mood of getting better, and that's the goal this year, is getting better."