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.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

MESA, Ariz. – Addison Russell earned his manager’s trust by playing “boring” defense, always making the routine plays at shortstop with textbook fundamentals. Even Russell’s agent called him an “old soul,” already serious about his craft and driven by quiet determination and husband-and-father responsibilities.

But the Cubs also know Russell as a moonwalking showman with the freaky athleticism to do Ozzie Smith backflips and make spectacular highlight-reel plays. And you could see the vroom-vroom, fist-pumping celebrations after yet another clutch hit.

“Ever since I was a little kid,” Russell said, “I always wanted to be on the big screen.”

Now Russell will try to make the leap to superstar, as one of the many personalities on a Cubs team that can crossover nationally and live forever in Chicago, just like the ’85 Bears, the way Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have built their brands.

“We got great ballplayers, beautiful faces on this team,” Russell said. “Just talent galore in this clubhouse, and that’s really cool to see, because these guys handle themselves like real, true professionals.”

The start of spring training is a reminder that Russell has still only spent one wire-to-wire season in The Show. He turned 23 last month and has already become a World Series champion, the youngest player in franchise history to start an All-Star Game and the first Cub shortstop to reach 95 RBI since Ernie Banks in 1960.

Russell’s World Series grand slam helped him accumulate the most postseason RBI (14) in club history – after putting up 11 game-winning RBI for a 103-win team. FanGraphs also had Russell tying San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford for the major-league lead with 19 defensive runs saved at shortstop.

“Really, the sky’s the limit,” manager Joe Maddon said. “This guy is scratching the surface. He is that good. Know thyself – I think that’s what’s happening with a lot of our young guys. They’re understanding themselves better. And as they do, their game’s going to continue to improve.

“So with Addie, listen, he could be an annual All-Star, there’s no question. Beyond that, he’s just such a gifted athlete, so quick, and he cares so much. And he’s really turned out to be a good self-evaluator, so all those are components to creating a superstar.”

Russell said he’s working with Boras Corp. on potential endorsements with Pepsi and Audi. He visited a Nike headquarters in Oregon to help design his custom cleats and custom glove. He also posted images from the White House on his social-media accounts, which have nearly 549,000 followers combined between Twitter and Instagram.

“The opportunities are coming, which is great,” Russell said. “It’s a whole new playing field. I’m glad that I’m getting to see a different side of baseball, where I can actually find a couple talents off the baseball field. It’s all interesting stuff.”

It’s also taken some getting used to, as he almost had trouble remembering how many “Addison Russell Days” there were in Florida, between events at Pace High School and with the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners.

“This whole fame thing is really new to me,” Russell said. “Walking everywhere, people want autographs and stuff. Different airports, different cities, it’s very humbling. It’s a great blessing. I’m just a small-town guy, so it hit me pretty hard.”

Like the moment Russell realized what the Cubs just did, after the whirlwind of riding in the championship parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, standing on stage in front of millions at the Grant Park rally and going to Disney World.

“I remember this past offseason, going into my mom’s room and laying down on her bed,” Russell said. “That’s when all the memories of this past year – all the way from spring training (to) the All-Star Game and then the World Series run – it all hit me at once. It was overbearing, kind of, and I started crying.

“That’s when it sunk in. It was just a magical moment.”