Epstein, Cubs looking for action at winter meetings


Epstein, Cubs looking for action at winter meetings

DALLAS -- The Cubs have given Theo Epstein the keys to the kingdom.

The president of baseball operations has total control but wont necessarily rule with an iron fist. His management style has been described as inclusive. He listens and challenges his staff. He views his front office as a think tank or a boiler room.

The Cubs will run through every scenario at the winter meetings, which officially begin on Monday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. This is where Epstein will earn his money.

Jason McLeod, the new Cubs scouting executive, started out with the San Diego Padres around the same time Epstein did. They were in their early 20s and would grab beers after the game and talk baseball. They would make side trips to see prospects at USC and Cal State Fullerton, even Adrian Gonzalez in high school.

It became quickly apparent that his intelligence level was at a way different level than everyone else, McLeod said. But he was always the guy (who) could sit in any crowd and have a conversation (and) make anyone feel important. He just has that special way (about him).

A new collective bargaining agreement will force the Cubs to work smarter. Spending in the draft and internationally will be capped and taxed. Testing for human growth hormone is another variable teams will have to consider.

Epstein has the authority to eat money in order to move Carlos Zambrano andor Alfonso Soriano. Buyer beware: The megadeals for Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder will be the biggest stories of the winter meetings.

This much is clear: The Cubs dont want to see them back in the division (or if they are, its at a price that makes the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers uncomfortable). Their agents would certainly benefit from the perception that the Cubs are in.

Epstein doesnt think you should pay too much attention to rumors. The Cubs are a major-market team that will explore every possibility.

Weve been consistent from Day 1 that (our) priorities (are building) this thing the right way, Epstein said, for the long haul, mainly through scouting and player development and through the acquisition of young players.

The second priority is (to) take advantage of every opportunity to win that you have. (But) were not going to do anything to serve the second priority that disrupts the first.

So any rumor that you hear, (its) probably worth your while to assess it through that lens. Not saying that were not going to make a move that might be unanticipated or catch people by surprise or might not on its face fit perfectly into that box. But generally thats our philosophy. Thats how were evaluating moves as we try to build this thing.

Even new manager Dale Sveum whos tight with Fielder after their time together in Milwaukee acknowledged that it might not be the time or the place to go all in.

Youd like to have all the great free agents that are out there, Sveum said. Were trying to do something here in Chicago to build now and win right now but be smart about it.

Its more realistic to think that the Cubs will land at least one mid-level starter for a rotation that was shredded by injuries and finished among the worst in the game last season.

Were having a ton of conversations with agents and with teams, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Hopefully, we can move the ball forward in Dallas this week. (We) know we have to add pitching depth, and thats something were focused on.

The Cubs also have openings at first and third base. Matt Garzas agent told him this will be an active winter meetings. Carlos Marmol is an intriguing closer, and several teams are looking for one. This front office wont be as attached to these players as the previous administration.

Its time to see what all the hype is about.

So far, theres been a lot of talk, Epstein said. There hasnt been a ton of action. Hopefully, this talk is over. We lead the league in press conferences. (Its) easy to have a vision for how you want the organization to be, an ideal in your mind. Its hard to put it into action.

How Kyle Schwarber is such a ‘baseball rat’ that Cubs used him in their draft war room

How Kyle Schwarber is such a ‘baseball rat’ that Cubs used him in their draft war room

Matt Dorey and Lukas McKnight had just scouted a California Baptist University pitching prospect as they rode toward the Los Angeles Airport Marriott and pulled into the parking lot.

Dorey watched the Cubs game on his phone as the valet guys approached the car: “Holy s---!” Kyle Schwarber crashed into Dexter Fowler as the two outfielders converged in the left-center field gap, both of them tumbling to the ground as Arizona Diamondbacks leadoff guy Jean Segura sprinted for an inside-the-park home run at Chase Field. 

Dorey, the team’s amateur scouting director, and McKnight, the assistant director, walked into the hotel’s sports bar with this sort of thought in mind: Make it a double. On the night of April 7, the Cubs really didn’t know what damage this might do to Schwarber’s career, or if a severe injury could shred the franchise’s World Series plans.

“The pit in my stomach at that moment,” Dorey remembered. “Everybody starts texting me: ‘Oh, this doesn’t look good.’” 

It looked like an awful high-speed collision that might derail the 2016 Cubs. It didn’t matter that Schwarber had only turned 23 a month earlier and only had one full season of professional baseball on his resume. 

The Cubs had witnessed his quick, compact left-handed swing at Indiana University and understood what his magnetic personality meant in building the Hoosier program, using the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft on Schwarber with the belief that those qualities would strengthen the Wrigley Field clubhouse. 

An MRI at a hospital in the Phoenix area revealed a torn ACL and LCL in Schwarber’s left knee, as well as a severely sprained ankle, what was supposed to be season-ending trauma. Except Schwarber has already notched three hits and two walks in the World Series, including a double off the Progressive Field wall against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in Game 1. 

A stunning performance that left teammate Kris Bryant predicting “they’re going to make a movie about him” couldn’t get Schwarber medically cleared to play defense on Friday night as Wrigley Field stages its first World Series game since 1945. But in what’s now a best-of-five battle, the Cleveland Indians will have to worry about Schwarber walking up to the plate for what could be a season-defining pinch-hit at-bat.

“I’m a baseball rat,” Schwarber said. “I want to be involved in it as much as I can. A lot of (credit) goes to this team and this organization for allowing me to be around. They were a big rock in my rehab.

“I could have easily just gone to Arizona, gone through the motions in rehab. But these guys really made me kick it up a notch. I’m sitting here today mostly because of those guys.”

Beyond the grueling physical exercises, Schwarber studied video, helped prepare scouting reports, brainstormed with catchers and attended meetings with pitchers. In no uncertain terms, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein made Schwarber untouchable in trade talks, allowing the Indians to acquire All-Star reliever Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees.

Cubs officials also invited Schwarber to observe their draft process in June, allowing him to sit in as they gathered in an unfinished section of the new underground clubhouse in Wrigleyville.

“We got him a computer,” Dorey said. “He had access to all of our analytics. We had the video up. I asked him questions about catching. We asked questions about guys he played against. 

“A lot of the pitchers that we were considering – in the Big Ten especially – we’re like: ‘Kyle, what do you think?’ He’d be like: ‘This guy sucks, man.’

“He was just so invested in it. He was so into it. Even for the better part of four or five days – and during the actual draft – he sat in there and he (found) a couple guys that he really liked. He was like: ‘Man, I’m just trying to get my guy.’ 

“There was a hitter (he really liked). I’m like: ‘Kyle, dude, we’re not taking many hitters.’”

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Even without Schwarber getting a hit during the regular season, the Cubs are so loaded on offense that they scored 808 runs. In the fourth round, the Cubs drafted Tyson Miller, the Cal Baptist right-hander Dorey and McKnight scouted the day Schwarber wrecked his knee. 

“It was just so fun,” Dorey said. “I was so appreciative of his willingness to try to see the organization from a different lens.

“Most guys – not that they don’t care about it – they just don’t take the time to understand what happens on a day-to-day basis to see how we bring new guys into the organization.

“It was great for our scouts to see – and great for all of us to hear a different perspective (with Kyle) talking about players that he’s seen. And he’s seen what it takes to play at this level.”

Out of that gruesome injury came another chapter in the legend of Schwarber, a baseball gym rat who’s supposed to lead the Cubs back into October for years to come.

“It was really tough to see,” Dorey said. “But I also look at it now like Kyle just went through the biggest obstacle or adversity in his career. He worked so hard to get back to this point. It’s just pretty inspiring to see that he’s even taking BP – let alone hitting 5-hole in Game 1 of the World Series.”

Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell among four Cubs finalists for Gold Glove Award

Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell among four Cubs finalists for Gold Glove Award

Four Cubs have been recognized for their defense in 2016 on Thursday.

Jake Arrieta, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell were all named finalists for the Gold Glove Award at their respective positions. Winners will be announced Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Arrieta was tied for second among National League pitchers with five Defensive Runs Saved. Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon led with eight.

Heyward, who's a three-time NL Gold Glove Award winner, had the most DRS for right fielders with 14 and also led Defensive Wins Above Replacement with 1.3.

Rizzo's 5.7 Ultimate Zone Rating ranked second among first basemen in the NL, according to fangraphs.com, and his .996 field percentage ranked fifth.

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Russell was tied for most DRS among NL shortstops with 19 (the second-best had nine).

The two most notable Cubs left off the list were Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist due to their versatility throughout the regular season.