Epstein's search won't include Sandberg

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Epstein's search won't include Sandberg

Updated: November 3, 2011 1:01 a.m.

Theo Epsteins fingerprints will be all over the Cubs organization, from the summer league in the Dominican Republic to the cramped clubhouse at Wrigley Field.

In one of his first signature moves as the new president of baseball operations, Epstein flew to Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday and fired manager Mike Quade. The search for Quades replacement begins immediately, and will not include Ryne Sandberg.

Epstein reached out to the Phillies and asked to speak with Sandberg as a courtesy, to let the Hall of Famer know that he will not be considered for the position. In a statement that outlined the general qualities hes looking for in a manager, Epstein listed a very specific requirement.

He must have managerial or coaching experience at the major-league level.

That eliminates Sandberg, who managed his way up in the Cubs system before losing out to Quade last year. The Cardinals have asked for permission to interview Sandberg the manager at Philadelphias Triple-A affiliate as a potential replacement for Tony La Russa.

There are now three good jobs open in Chicago, Boston and St. Louis, and there will probably be some overlap on those lists. Epstein worked alongside Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington for almost a decade. They share a similar philosophy.

The Red Sox have already interviewed Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin and met Wednesday with Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum, which could speed up this process.

Its possible that well be talking to some of the same people, Cherington told Boston reporters. (But) the teams are at different stages, the cities are different. I think that the right manager in Boston is not necessarily the right manager in Chicago."

Mackanin graduated from Brother Rice High School and has been an interim manager in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Sveum was the third-base coach when the Red Sox broke the curse in 2004, and was the interim manager when the Brewers made a playoff run in 2008.

Epstein has already surrounded himself with two people who were essential to his success in Boston general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president Jason McLeod so it wouldnt be surprising if he found someone with a Red Sox pedigree.

Terry Francona, who guided the Red Sox to two World Series titles, is now a free agent, though its unclear if hed rather recharge (or if Epstein even wants to reunite). DeMarlo Hale, a graduate of Chicago Vocational High School, was Franconas bench coach in Boston the past two seasons (including that epic September collapse).

In luring Hoyer and McLeod from San Diego, the Cubs made a deal that they would not grab any other Padres employees for a certain amount of time, which eliminates Bud Black from the list.

The Blue Jays recently changed their policy of allowing employees to interview for lateral positions. This was in response to rumors about the Red Sox being interested in manager John Farrell, their former pitching coach. So Farrell will remain under contract in Toronto.

If the Cubs wanted someone with a pitching background like Black or Farrell they could inquire about Mike Maddux.

The Rangers pitching coach has shaped a staff thats won two consecutive pennants, and the rotation should be the No. 1 priority this winter at Clark and Addison. Epstein has already spoken with his brother Greg about his part-time role in the Cubs organization (family figures to be a major consideration).

When the Red Sox fired Grady Little after losing Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Epstein zeroed in on Francona and Joe Maddon, two candidates who didnt create nearly as much buzz as they do now.

Francona never won more than 77 games in his four seasons as Phillies manager. Maddon never had a full-time job managing in the big leagues before, but would later show a great feel for players in Tampa Bay. So Epstein who didnt comment beyond Wednesdays statement doesnt necessarily need a big name.

The Cubs have three coaches already signed for 2012 hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, bench coach Pat Listach and bullpen coach Lester Strode. Their fates will be determined by the next manager.

That man could also decide whether or not he wants Sandberg on staff, though that would probably be a major distraction. The Cubs are looking to start over, and Epsteins supposed to be an agent of change.

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

MESA, Ariz. – Jon Lester couldn't resist when a reporter mentioned the two home runs Willson Contreras launched off Danny Salazar, an All-Star talent who might have changed last year's World Series if he had been at full strength.

"It's about time we got an offensive catcher," Lester said.

Zing! Lester had already seen David Ross on "Dancing with the Stars" by the time he finished up against the Cleveland Indians and met with reporters on Monday night at Goodyear Ballpark. While Lester knew Grandpa Rossy would appreciate that one-liner, there is also some truth behind it.

Yes, Ross became the security blanket for a $155 million pitcher, helped push and encourage young players like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and got carried off the field after delivering his own Game 7 homer. But whatever Contreras may lack now in game-calling experience and pitcher psychology, he can make up for it with his rocket arm, smooth swing and willingness to learn.

A camp that began with questions about how Lester would work with Contreras ended with a sincere endorsement.

"Willie's obviously very special, to be serious about it," Lester said. "He's definitely going to add a presence to that lineup as far as protecting ‘Rizz' and ‘KB' to where they're not going to be able to just pitch around those guys. We're going to have some other guys to do some damage in the middle to the bottom of that order.

"He's a special kid, just like anybody else on this team. He's (24), so he'll only get better as time goes on and (he gets) the at-bats and the innings and all that stuff. So I'm excited to see him for a full season and how well he can do back there."

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That's another reason why the defending World Series champs might actually look better on paper than the unforgettable 2016 Cubs. Ross did a "Dancing with the Stars" routine based off Young MC's "Bust a Move," a song released in 1989, or years before Bryant, Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. were born.

Before the Cubs packed up and left Arizona, Ross made a promotional appearance in Mesa this week and caught up with some old friends like John Lackey.

"We got rid of Rossy," Lackey told reporters as the Cubs finished their Cactus League schedule with Wednesday's 15-11 win over the Oakland A's at Sloan Park. "He stinks. And we should be better. Actually, I was just inside talking to Rossy and he said that, so that's from him."

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

MESA, Ariz. – One minute into the media scrum outside the West Wing, a Washington reporter asked Theo Epstein if this season would be considered a disappointment if the Cubs don't win the World Series.

"Oof, I hadn't thought too much about 2017 yet today," Epstein said after President Barack Obama's final official White House event. "But, yeah, I mean, that's our goal. I think the organization has come such a long way and we have this talented young core. We're clearly in a very competitive phase where I think if we do our jobs, we could be as good, if not better, than any team in baseball.

"So if you're going to compete, you set your sights for the world championship. It doesn't always work out that way. But we see it as our jobs to do everything we can to be back at the White House next year."

Whether or not Epstein would actually go through with a Donald Trump photo op is a different story. But with the Cubs signaling their Opening Night roster – keeping outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella while lefty reliever Brian Duensing begins the season on the disabled list – you could make the case that the team breaking camp on Wednesday looks better on paper than last year's World Series winner.

"This is a crazy talented group," All-Star closer Wade Davis said. "There's 10 or 12 players on this team that are some of the best players in baseball."

That doesn't mean the Cubs will develop the same chemistry or sense of purpose, but this team is completely used to the national spotlight, hanging out with celebrity fans and being followed around like rock stars on the road. 

Epstein compared this camp in Arizona with what the Boston Red Sox faced after ending the 86-year drought. 

"I will never forget in '05 spring training, we had 5,000 people the first day, 3,000 fans every day," Epstein said. "I was expecting it to be as nuts. But it's been refreshingly normal, reflecting the personality of our players, taking everything in stride."   

This doesn't mean the Cubs will stay as healthy as they did last year, when the projected rotation made 152 starts combined. But four-fifths of that group returns with Brett Anderson – given his natural ability, pitching IQ and extensive medical file – appearing to have a higher ceiling and lower floor than Jason Hammel.

As Anderson said: "It's not too often that you have a salty veteran with multiple rings (John Lackey) in front of you and a guy (Kyle Hendricks) that led the league in ERA behind you."

The 2016 Cubs won 103 games and scored 800-plus runs: without Kyle Schwarber contributing a single hit during the regular season; and with Jason Heyward finishing with a .631 OPS (or 103 points below the league average).

Manager Joe Maddon said Geek Department projections have this lineup generating even more offense with Schwarber as the new leadoff guy (even with a brace on his left leg), continued growth from young players like Addison Russell and Willson Contreras and Heyward not being one of the worst hitters in the majors.

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The Cubs are also counting on a full season from Davis, instead of a half-season rental like Aroldis Chapman. Where last year's Opening Night bullpen featured three guys who would get DFA'd or traded by midseason (Neil Ramirez, Clayton Richard, Adam Warren), this version features three guys who've already notched the final out in a World Series (Davis, Koji Uehara, Mike Montgomery).

"All the additions are wonderful complements to what this team was already," Schwarber said. "Upgrades. It's going to be really cool to see how it all plays out this season with more guys getting another year of experience under their belt."

Ian Happ raising his profile and hitting around .400 in the Cactus League should help his trade value if the Cubs need to deal for pitching at the trade deadline. The combination of Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in center field should be an improvement over Dexter Fowler for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency last year.

As someone with fresh eyes – and the perspective from being on Los Angeles Dodgers teams that won back-to-back National League West titles – Anderson hasn't see any signs of complacency.

"Not at all," Anderson said. "The young guys are still hungry. And the handful of guys that weren't here last year makes you that much more hungry and itchy to get back where they were last year.

"It's a really good mix – if not a perfect mix – of young guys, veteran guys and a couple fresh faces that are eager to get back to what these guys accomplished last year."