Epstein begins putting Cubs pieces together

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Epstein begins putting Cubs pieces together

The Miami Marlins wanted Jose Reyes to feel wanted.

Team executives arranged to meet with Reyes and his camp at 12:01 a.m. on the first day of free agency. They would have drinks at The Carlyle, a luxury hotel in New York. It was cold enough on Nov. 3 for owner Jeffrey Loria to wear a long overcoat, which hid the new Marlins jersey that hadnt yet been released to the public.

A few other people in the bar thought that this was some sort of strange, freaky show, Marlins president David Samson recalled, because this man the owner of the team stood up and literally (opened his coat) and underneath was Jose Reyes jersey.

Samson told this story at a news conference to announce the Reyes signing this week at the winter meetings in Dallas. That is where the Marlins are as an organization, trying to break through the clutter in their market and make a splash.

The Cubs are content with a slow drip of news, seemingly unlikely to make a 100 million-plus commitment to a single player this winter. Theo Epstein is trying to buy low and methodically put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Ian Stewart was the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft and will be 27 next season. His home run totals with the Colorado Rockies the last three years have gone from 25 to 18 to zero. But the Cubs believe he can be their third baseman.

It does wonders for a guys confidence, Stewart said Friday on a teleconference. Theo Epstein just the name is one of those guys in sports that everyone can recognize just for the success he brought to the Boston Red Sox organization in such a short amount of time. To hear his voice on the phone was very refreshing.

The logic behind Thursdays trade was that the four players involved would benefit from a new environment, even if Stewart didnt necessarily see it that way.

I was never really a big change of scenery type guy, Stewart said. I always felt like I fit in great with the Rockies when I was there. It just didnt seem like all the time I was given the best opportunity to play.

(With Aramis Ramirez gone), this gives me a great opportunity to come in and to be that everyday third baseman and get those 500 or 600 at-bats that I need to be able to be successful. Change of scenery? I dont know. But I think in the long run being in the spot where Im going to be able to play every day is going to be the best thing for me.

Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu wont be part of a homegrown youth movement on the North Side and their athleticism could play well at Coors Field. Casey Weathers another former first-round pick who once played with David Price at Vanderbilt University represents more pitching inventory for the Cubs.

Stewart is looking forward to working with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and showing that a string of injuries (knee, hamstring, wrist) caused a 2011 season in which he hit .156 at the big-league level.

We have opportunity, Epstein said. We can acquire players and give them 500, 600 at-bats, players with real upside and see if they can blossom and reach their potential here. Thats a way of building for the future.

Maybe these names will become answers to a trivia question, or simply forgotten. It depends on how quickly the Cubs can rebuild. The first moves of the Epstein administration have been measured, like the modest commitment recently given to outfielder David DeJesus (two years, 10 million).

You cant necessarily point to anything with David and say, Hey, this guy is going to hit you 30 home runs because hes not, Epstein said. You cant say, Hes going to hit .320. Hes not going to do that either. Hes not going to steal you 40 bags. But I like players whose contributions are consistent across the board.

They help you defensively. They can swing the bat. They have good consistent at-bats. They run the bases well. The totality of their contribution can be equal to or more than the player who does one thing extremely well, like the guy (whos) going to go out and hit you 25, 30 home runs, but really hurts you in other areas.

If we have a club full of well-rounded players, were going to far exceed the expectations, because those subtle contributions really add up.

The president of baseball operations doesnt have to wine and dine superstars, or worry about filling a new ballpark in Little Havana. Epstein credited the Marlins for developing enough players and keeping their powder dry so they could fire away when the time was right. The Cubs arent there yet.

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Kyle Schwarber might have been the most dangerous hitter in a World Series lineup that featured the National League MVP plus four more All-Stars. After spending more than six months recovering from major knee surgery. Against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dominant Cleveland Indians bullpen.

“He’s not going to play winter ball,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said with a perfect deadpan delivery. “We felt like he proved he can hit major-league pitching.”

The Cubs spent Monday at the winter meetings inside the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, continuing their search for pitching on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The Cubs are so stacked with hitters that manager Joe Maddon could write out a 2017 Opening Day lineup tomorrow and Theo Epstein’s front office would still have Jorge Soler left over as trade bait.

Schwarber could hit second for the defending World Series champs, and his presence would mean more than any player the Cubs could sign as a free agent. The Cubs expect him to be at full strength by spring training, though it’s unclear how much work, if any, he’ll get as a catcher.

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“That’s the hurdle we haven’t really gone over yet,” Hoyer said. “Can he do it? There’s no question he’s going to want to do it. I think he can do it. I think that we have to have discussions about how heavy a workload we put on him in that regard.

“One of the things we talked about even last year before he got hurt was (how) he’s doing full catching drills, running around the outfield, doing stuff hitting. That’s a lot to put on a guy, sort of like playing two ways in football.”

Schwarber, an all-Ohio linebacker in high school, has a run-through-a-brick-wall mentality and doesn’t like to hear about what he can’t do. He wrecked his left knee in an outfield collision in early April and needed a procedure that reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL.

It took only two warm-up games in the Arizona Fall League before Schwarber made his dramatic return as the designated hitter at Progressive Field, batting .412 (7-for-17) with a .971 OPS during the World Series. 

The Cubs appear to be set with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero behind the plate, but Schwarber is the type of baseball gym rat who enjoys breaking down video, giving input for scouting reports and being involved in every pitch.  

“We have to talk through all that stuff,” Hoyer said. “We know what his position’s going to be, so we have to figure out what our position’s going to be. I know he’s going to want to catch.

“But he knows he’s coming in as a left fielder next year. And we have to decide how much of the catching drills (he does).”

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The San Francisco Giants had been three outs away from forcing an elimination game that Johnny Cueto would have started at Wrigley Field – and five different relievers couldn’t protect a three-run lead against a Cubs team that made a stunning comeback.

That October crash reverberated throughout the winter meetings as a $10 billion industry gathered outside Washington, D.C. The Giants bought peace of mind for the ninth inning on Monday and finalized a four-year, $62 million deal with Mark Melancon. For the moment, that will be the biggest contract ever for a closer, at least until Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman shatter that record.

The Cubs have been in contact with Jansen’s camp, sources said, monitoring his market to see if there might be a match as the World Series champs try to upgrade the bullpen this week at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

Theo Epstein’s front office doesn’t necessarily have a singular focus – believe the reports linking the Cubs to Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis – or the appetite to win a Jansen bidding war that will include the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins and perhaps the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals.

But after telling everyone that they did two offseasons in one last winter – and spending almost $290 million on free agents – this is where the Cubs could make a splash.

“It’s safe to say we’re kicking the tires on any pitching that’s available,” general manager Jed Hoyer said during his briefing with the Chicago media. “We’re not spending a lot of time on bats. We’re spending a lot of times on arms. Anyone that’s available, we’re going to sort of be in on and talking about.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon watched Jansen’s cutter up close and gave this endorsement during the National League Championship Series: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera.”

Jansen, a homegrown Dodger, converted from catcher and developed into an elite closer, saving 189 games while putting up a 2.20 career ERA and 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jansen just turned 29 and already showed a willingness to pitch outside the ninth inning and go for more than three outs, something that didn’t come easily for Chapman in an October where former Yankee teammate Andrew Miller became an American League Championship Series MVP for the Cleveland Indians.

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“The postseason was reliever-centric,” Hoyer said. “Bullpens have always been really valuable, but I think the way they were used and talked about – really, not even this postseason, but the last two or three postseasons – people are definitely putting a lot of financial importance on having a good bullpen.”

Kansas City’s blueprint for winning back-to-back pennants and the 2015 World Series featured Davis, who posted a 0.94 ERA during that championship season. But Davis dealt with a strained right forearm this year and will make $10 million in his final season before free agency, at a time when the Royals can begin to see their window to contend closing.

The Cubs haven’t made Chapman a priority – and Epstein’s group has been philosophically opposed to the idea of investing big money in a closer – but they also know they probably don’t get that parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue without that blockbuster deal with the Yankees.

“We see the value of it,” Hoyer said. “Look, we traded a great young prospect in Gleyber Torres to get Chapman, because we felt like that was an area that we were a little bit short. We felt like in order to win the World Series, we had to have that kind of guy at the end of the game. It proved to be right.

“In order to get those really difficult final outs in the postseason, having an elite guy is certainly a huge advantage.”

So if the White Sox become the Chicago team that makes most of the headlines here – and in-house options like Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop disappoint – the Cubs can always reassess at the trade deadline.

“We’ll bolster our bullpen,” Hoyer said. “Whether you do that by adding just a number of good relievers – or whether we do it by adding a guy that’s sort of a known closer – I’m not sure. But we’ll definitely add to our bullpen.”