Epstein doesn't have to make a splash right now

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Epstein doesn't have to make a splash right now

DALLAS This is the perfect nugget for the 247 news cycle: Theo Epstein met with the agent for Albert Pujols.

The age of Twitter doesnt leave much room for context. The Cubs president of baseball operations pointed out that Dan Lozano also represents Rodrigo Lopez.

Epstein indicated that the Cubs have interest in bringing back Lopez, who will turn 36 next week and went 6-6 with a 4.42 ERA last season. The journeyman right-hander wouldnt generate any buzz.

But as the winter meetings began on Monday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Lopez is exactly what the Cubs are looking for now. They absolutely need to stock up on pitching inventory.

The Miami Marlins are rumored to be in the Pujols sweepstakes and want to sell tickets and make a dent in their market. They need the wow factor LeBron James brought to South Beach.

The Cubs are looking to give a megadeal to the right player at the right time. They already made their biggest move of the offseason.

Epstein has payroll flexibility, ownerships full support and the credibility to preach patience after winning two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox. He said he has zero interest in making a splash just for show.

Five (or) 10 years from now, Epstein said, if we look back on this and say we made any move for any reason other than its in the best short-, medium- and long-term interests of the Cubs, wed have a hard time sleeping at night.

This is hard enough. If you try to serve perception, as well as reality, you end up hurting yourself.

Twelve months ago at the winter meetings, Jim Hendry had to structure Carlos Penas one-year pillow contract across three fiscal years. Pena will receive a 5 million payment next month. The Cubs are supposed to act like a major-market team again and dont have to do those financial gymnastics anymore.

Pena is expected to decline an arbitration offer this week. Epstein believes there are multiple multi-year deals out there for Pena. Epstein said the Cubs havent closed the door on Pena, though theyre looking at all options at first base, some of which wont make big headlines.

Bryan LaHair came to the winter meetings to pick up an award for leading all minor-league hitters with 38 home runs last season. He met with Cubs executives and wasnt promised anything. But he will be given a chance.

LaHair is 29 years old and was a 39th-round pick. He has less than 200 at-bats on his big-league resume. But the Pacific Coast League MVP generated 109 RBI and a 1.070 OPS last season at Triple-A Iowa.

I tend not to buy into the concept of a 4-A hitter, Epstein said. If you can dominate the Triple-A level, get on base and hit for power (and) demonstrate that you can handle different kinds of pitching and cover the entire strike zone, I think given enough time, hell contribute at the major-league level.

Were not giving him the job. And Im not saying were not looking to upgrade at first base. But if it ends up with him playing a significant role or getting a significant opportunity, I think wed all be comfortable with that.

Epstein is uneasy with the state of the Cubs rotation, and thats where hes encouraging his scouts to again think outside the box. Soon all this talk Epstein estimated that you might make one move for every 100 conversations will have to lead to some action.

If you just get on line with everybody else and say: Were not going to overpay. Were just going to wait for the reasonable pitcher to be out there, Epstein said, youre going to be waiting until the end of spring training, hoping to claim someone off waivers. Because theres way more demand than there is supply for starting pitching.

Were going to have to take some chances and be creative. You need to know who your eight or nine starters are. You have 1,400 innings out there to fill. You want to get 1,000 of them out of your starting pitching. It takes a lot of bodies to do that. We dont have enough (quality arms).

Stay tuned even if the next move doesnt lead to a press conference.

We just have to work really hard to figure out whats in (our) best interest (and) be disciplined about that, even if its unpopular, Epstein said. Sometimes it will be popular, sometimes it wont. You work towards pleasing the fans every October because I think in the end thats what they really want.

Why Kris Bryant is such a money player for this Cubs team

Why Kris Bryant is such a money player for this Cubs team

PITTSBURGH — Dressed in a towel, Chris Coghlan walked through PNC Park’s visiting clubhouse late Monday night and saw the group of reporters around Kris Bryant. Coghlan wanted to get paid and talked over the interview: “Did you put it in my locker? I didn’t see anything when I got in.”

The Cubs had just won their 100th game for the first time in 81 years. Before that 12-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bryant promised Coghlan all the cash in his wallet — the meal money for this entire road trip — if the leadoff guy scored on his 100th RBI.

“He still hasn’t paid me, by the way,” Coghlan said Wednesday afternoon, hours before blasting a bases-loaded triple in the second inning of a 6-4 win. “I won’t take his money. He said he would, (but) I’m going to bust him. I just want to make him pull it out. That’s all.”

Coghlan understood how much it bothered Bryant to finish last year with 99 RBIs, how anxious he could get while being stuck on that same number again for almost a week. Once Bryant notched his 100th and 101st RBIs with his 39th home run, one of the first postgame questions was about getting No. 40.

“That’s how the world works,” Coghlan said. “Trust me, that’s on his list, to knock that off. Trust me, this guy wants to win the MVP, too.

“I think he’s going to win the MVP. But that’s how the world works: OK, now it’s 40 (homers). But if he hits like three in the next five games, (what about) 45? That’s just the way it is. You’ll never change that.

“You want to embrace that, because that’s how you don’t get complacent. But I think contentment is a wonderful attribute to obtain. And there’s a huge difference between contentment and complacency. In our society, we forget that and put the two together.”

Coghlan knows that he doesn’t have Bryant’s all-world talent, but he still recognizes the serious attitude and singular focus. At the age of 31, Coghlan has perspective as someone who became the National League’s Rookie of the Year with the Florida Marlins in 2009, got non-tendered four years later, had to sign a minor-league deal with the Cubs and got traded to and from the Oakland A’s within four months this year.

“KB is very goal-driven — that’s what makes him successful,” Coghlan said. “He has the highest expectations. What I joke with him about is (that) even when you accomplish what you want, there’s always something next that presents itself.

“But now that I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve realized: Man, there are some times I wish I would have enjoyed the moment a little bit more. Because now when you look back, you realize how tough it was.

“That’s what I try to tell him a lot — just enjoy it. I try to get him to laugh and smile because he doesn’t laugh that much. He doesn’t smile all the time.

“He’ll smile for a game-winner, but a regular one, it’s just, ‘Oh, you know, no big deal.’”

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Coghlan got an early scouting report on Bryant while having dinner with Scott Boras, the super-agent who represents several high-profile Cubs. Of course, Bryant probably would have hit the 100-RBI mark last season if the Cubs hadn’t stashed him at Triple-A Iowa for the first eight games, gaining an extra year of club control through 2021 and pushing back his free-agent clock.

“I remember talking about it with Scott,” Coghlan said. “They were like: ‘Yeah, this guy is off the charts with what he can do.’ But the No. 1 thing that we always heard was talking about how good of a kid he was. (Scott) was like: ‘You’re going to love him, because he’s just such a good kid.’

“That’s what the Cubs do so well. I think Theo (Epstein) does that so well (putting the pieces together). It’s not just about your skill set. It’s what type of teammate you are, and that stuff matters when you have to live with each other for seven, eight months a year.”

Ever since Epstein’s front office chose Bryant with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft out of the University of San Diego, Cubs fans expected a franchise player who would deliver the first World Series title in more than a century.

Bryant is following up his Rookie of the Year campaign with: a second All-Star selection at third base, the versatility to play all over the outfield and shift across the infield, 120 runs scored, a .295 batting average that’s 20 points higher than last season, a .953 OPS that’s almost 100 points higher than last season and almost 50 fewer strikeouts than his league-leading 199 in 2015.

“It’s phenomenal,” Coghlan said. “That second year, you have so many questions you have to answer. He’s in a big market, too. I was in a smaller market, but what does help him is there are so many other stars around and stories to talk about. I remember my second year, after every game — regardless of what I did — I had to answer for the team.

“What’s remarkable is his adjustments, and I don’t think people talk about it enough. They just think it’s because he’s so great and he’s always done it.

“(But) from watching, I can see his strikeout numbers are down. His swing and miss in the zone is down. He’s covering more pitches. Before, (you knew he would) have to keep making adjustments, because once they figure out his weakness, they’re going to expose that, and they did that at times last year.

“Now you look at him, you’re like: Bro, this is a whole ‘nother step forward. This is getting close to being epic.”

Cubs keep cruising vs. Pirates as future playoff foes battle injuries

Cubs keep cruising vs. Pirates as future playoff foes battle injuries

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs have so much going for them, all this blue-chip talent, a clubhouse mix of young players and grizzled veterans, arguably the best manager in the game, an impactful coaching staff and a front office that blends scouting and analytics as well as anyone.

But to win the World Series, you still need some luck, good health and the guts to perform in the biggest moments of your life. That reality of randomness and matchups made the pregame announcement some 250 miles away from PNC Park more telling than anything that happened during Tuesday night’s 6-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his MVP-caliber season. The National League East champions will lose a .307 hitter with 22-homer power from the middle of their lineup and a veteran presence for a playoff rotation that will likely be without injured ace Stephen Strasburg (right elbow) in the first round.

“That’s a tough one when you lose your catcher, a guy who’s that significant for the pitching staff,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Think about the pitching staff. It’s so different when you know the guy back there is your guy and he knows what’s going on. The communication’s different. The trust factor, all that stuff is different.”

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Within that big-picture context, the Cubs survived their 101st victory, watching John Lackey (11-8, 3.35 ERA) tune up for the Big Boy Games by throwing five innings of one-run ball. Chris Coghlan looked like a solid role player for October, hammering a Ryan Vogelsong pitch off the center-field wall for a three-run triple in the second inning. Maddon used six different relievers — staying away from Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman — on a night that felt more like the Cactus League.

Now survey the rest of the potential playoff field, with the amazing New York Mets losing three of the frontline starters — Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (nerve damage in his right elbow) and Steven Matz (bone spur in his left elbow) — who shut down the Cubs during last year’s NL Championship Series ... and still holding onto the first wild-card spot.

This doesn’t guarantee anything in October, but the Cubs are just about as close to full strength as they could reasonably hope and not in crisis mode after losing an irreplaceable player like Ramos.

“That’s tough,” Maddon said. “Yeah, we lost Dexter (Fowler) for a bit. We lost (Kyle) Schwarber all year. Otherwise, when a couple pitchers got banged up, whether you’re talking about Rondon or Strop, I don’t think that our injuries have been as magnified because we’ve covered them pretty well.

“We still had our moments, like everybody else has. But when you get to right now, we’re getting well, and hopefully that trend continues. But to lose somebody of that magnitude for them, that’s got to be difficult.”