Cubs will look at other options while waiting on Brett Jackson


Cubs will look at other options while waiting on Brett Jackson

The front office is building the 2013 Opening Day roster without Brett Jackson, while the marketing department is putting him front and center promoting the Cubs Convention.

That push-pull dynamic will be fascinating to watch as Theo Epstein builds The Foundation For Sustained Success (even the president of baseball operations seems tired of using that phrase) while the business side tries to sell the actual product on the field.

The media still snickers at the Three Cs campaign that once featured Tyler Colvin, Andrew Cashner and Starlin Castro. And the explosion of information on the Internet makes people fall in and out of love with prospects all the time. But Jackson doesnt have to be rushed, and he doesnt need to be hyped.

The Cubs can start negotiating with free agents at 11:01 p.m. Friday, and they are going to be in the market for outfield help this winter, perhaps a short-term bridge to Jackson. They dont feel hell be ready after striking out 59 times in 120 at-bats. They saw this coming before they called him up from Triple-A Iowa in early August.

Brett Jackson was promoted for specific reasons, Epstein said. We sat in (manager) Dale (Sveums) office (and) we all said: Right now, his swing is not ready to compete up here. He does a lot of other things very well, but we dont think hes necessarily ready to succeed up here.

But there were other reasons to get him up here. Dale wanted to see it firsthand. We wanted Dale and (hitting coach James Rowson) to have a chance to work with him. We wanted to show Brett certain things, certain adjustments that he needed to make to ultimately have success at the big-league level.

Hes going to have a much more productive offseason because of what he was exposed to (rather) than if he had stayed at Triple-A in what was generally, for him, somewhat of a disappointing season.

Jackson wouldnt argue that point. On the final day of the season, he was philosophical while packing up his stuff inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse before heading home to the Bay Area.

Youd like to bounce back from a below-average year, Jackson said. Im not proud of my numbers. That being said, Im proud of how far Ive come and whats been learned. Its not necessarily on paper sometimes the value of an experience.

Jackson is again ticketed for Des Moines after a season in which he struck out 217 times. But he still walked 22 times in 44 games with the Cubs and saw 4.24 pitches per plate appearance in the big leagues.

Jackson was smart enough to go to Cal-Berkeley, so there are reasons to believe that he can figure it out. He was fast enough to steal 27 bases at Iowa and cover a lot of ground in center field. He showed his fearless nature by almost blowing out his knee while making a spectacular catch at the PNC Park wall in September.

So even if no single part of Jacksons game is spectacular, hes still the kind of well-rounded player Epstein likes to build around.

Remember that at this time last year there were also questions about Anthony Rizzo, who fixed his swing, crushed Triple-A pitching for almost three months and firmly established himself as a core player on the North Side.

As Jackson said: Rizzos a good example of somebody who took an experience, learned from it, made adjustments in the offseason and came out this year and did some damage.

Epstein would love to see Jackson force the issue.

The ball jumps off Jacksons bat when he does make contact. He still managed to post an .817 OPS at Iowa and generate four homers, six doubles and a triple with the Cubs. The staff believes theres enough to work with here.

Id like to see him completely revamp his swing and lower half, Sveum said. (But) theyre not things (where) youre asking somebody to stand on their head. There have been players in this game that have made drastic, drastic adjustments (which) have propelled some of them to Hall of Fame stature (and) long careers in the big leagues.

Ill go to my grave saying if you dont make any adjustments in this game, youre not going to stay here very long.

Lets not overlook the obvious: Jackson is still here, unlike Colvin (Colorado Rockies) and Cashner (San Diego Padres), two other first-round picks traded away by the Epstein administration.

Jackson showed up at the last Cubs Convention and had a money quote about the new bosses, saying how people are raving about the new bosses being rock stars, so everyones excited to see what kind of show they put on here.

I feel very fortunate to be a part of it, Jackson said. I believe in them. I think they believe in me. Im motivated to work hard to be that player for them to be someone that can help this team win. Theyve proved themselves. Theyre good at what they do. (Its) going to be up to us the guys on the team to put it all together.

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs are so strong up the middle that Javier Baez can star for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic and return to camp as a super-utility guy/late-game defensive replacement. 

But that projection in late March is based on across-the-board health, which never happens in a 162-game season. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (stiff neck) hasn't played in a Cactus League game in almost a week. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) became a late scratch to Friday's lineup at Sloan Park.

After trying to make a diving catch in center field, Albert Almora Jr. exited in the third inning of a 4-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians with what the Cubs called "left neck tightness," though he still plans to play in Las Vegas this weekend.  

On the other side of the spring-training complex in Mesa – away from the crowd of 15,473 in a minor-league game against a Colorado Rockies squad – the Cubs did get a positive piece of news on the health front: Kyle Schwarber went four innings behind the plate, going Tony Pena style and trying to reduce the stress on his body.

"I love catching," Schwarber said. "Whenever I played baseball, I was always a catcher. For me to be able to do that today – and feel pretty good about myself walking away from the day – it was a good step."

This is clearly important to Schwarber, an intensely driven personality who doesn't want to hear "no." Otherwise, the Cubs probably would have shut this down already, not wanting to risk it with a franchise player, someone who might blast 35 homers at the top of their lineup.

[Buy Cubs tickets right here]

But the medical staff cleared Schwarber when pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona – 10 months after he underwent surgery on his left knee to reconstruct his ACL and repair his LCL – and it could become a valuable skill again. 

"The most difficult part I would probably say was setup-wise," Schwarber said, "trying to find that timing of your moves and everything like that. Sometimes I felt like I was a little late getting my setup. But that all came. It's been a year since I got behind there, so overall everything went really well."

The Cubs already have one of the best young catchers in the game (Willson Contreras) and a two-time All-Star making $14 million this season backing him up (Miguel Montero). Schwarber doesn't want to put a number on how many starts he might make behind the plate, though the Cubs have framed it as in case of emergency, an extra late-inning option for manager Joe Maddon or maybe something that makes sense with a particular matchup. 

"As of right now, it's still the third-catcher role," Schwarber said. "I'm down for whatever, but I know the majority of the time is going to be out there in left."

Joe Maddon offers up Cubs strength coach to be Madonna's trainer

Joe Maddon offers up Cubs strength coach to be Madonna's trainer

MESA, Ariz. — Think the stir-crazy Cubs have been in Arizona long enough? Near the end of a camp that has been relatively tame — at least compared to last year's parade of mimes, zoo animals and karaoke jams — manager Joe Maddon heard about Madonna's contest to find a new dance trainer and immediately thought of the man behind those gonzo stunts.

Because that's what a three-time Manager of the Year does. So the organization's content arm put together a one-minute clip nominating strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss, releasing it to 1.7 million followers on Friday through the @Cubs Twitter account.

"We're hoping that Madonna has an opportunity to check that out," Maddon said at the Sloan Park complex. "We're willing to send even more information — whatever she possibly needs — to see that our guy's the best."

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Set to synthesized 1980s-style music, the aerobics video is rated more PG than the actual "Bussy" experience. The Cubs didn't show Buss leading the team stretch in a Speedo and a Lucha Libre mask. A slow-motion part of the montage does feature Buss standing alone in the clubhouse, dousing himself in beer during a clinching celebration.

"We could have made it more edgy," Maddon said. "There were so many more ways to go with it. I was kind of pleased with it. I thought it presented his abilities very well. His physique was presented in a manner that she could be duly impressed with the fact that our strength and conditioning coach fashions that form."

What if Madonna steals Buss from the Cubs?

"We could share somehow," Maddon said. "She'll fire him after a couple weeks anyway."