Information is everything for Cubs, Epstein

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Information is everything for Cubs, Epstein

Information is Theo Epsteins most valuable currency.

It will be traded this week in Milwaukee, where general managers and owners will gather for their annual meetings. Deals will be advanced, maybe even closed. There could be a new collective bargaining agreement. Commissioner Bud Selig might have to mediate the Epstein compensation issue.

Once Epstein left the Boston Red Sox, he got out from under the bad contracts given to Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. But as the Cubs new president of baseball operations, hes now on the hook for the roughly 72 million still owed to Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano.

This is an organization thats been paralyzed by the wrong long-term commitments. But really the entire industry is still trying to figure out: How do you pay for future results?

So as the Cubs look at past performance and prepare for the winter, will Carmine have a seat at the table?

Way too much has been made of that, Epstein said of the Red Sox computer model. We developed in Boston a program that was simply an information-management system. Every team in baseball has (one in some form).

Every business in the modern world (has) an information-management system that they use to gather their information, consolidate it, analyze it, dig deep. (They) use it as a resource to sort of balance certain variables and not make decisions but inform decisions that the company ultimately has to make.

General manager Jed Hoyer is not a stats geek. As a Division III player out of Wesleyan University, he was good enough to spend one summer sharing an infield with future big-leaguers Mark DeRosa and John McDonald in the prestigious Cape Cod League.

People try to paint us in different corners, Hoyer said. Its about information, whether its scouting (or) quantitative (or) medical (or) background. (The) key is to really get all the information together. No piece of information is too small.

At that point you can make a determination and take the best guess whether that player has good years left. A lot of its about old-school, baseball scouting and figuring out what a guy has (left). A lot of its about using quantitative analysis to figure out where that guy is in the curve of his career.

Youd be missing out on so much if you just focused on the quantitative part of the game. Where I am on the scale is hopefully something that youll never figure out, because I want to be right in the middle.

The war between traditional scouting and sabermetrics has already been fought. Everyone considers both viewpoints. Its just a matter of degrees. So the battles will never stop.

That tension could be felt from the dugout to the front office. The four managerial candidates brought into Wrigley Field had to go through game simulations and explain what theyd do and why in certain situations.

As part of the interview process, they also had to meet with the media afterward. Each man was asked some version of the question: How do you balance statistical analysis against going with your gut?

Philadelphia Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin said bring it on (after a wandering explanation in which he mentioned leveraged indexes and replacement value).

Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum has been portrayed in the media as someone who understands data and uses spray charts, but he seemed to downplay that idea (which could just be part of his low-key public persona).

Texas Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux already works for another young Ivy League executive (general manager Jon Daniels, Cornell University, class of 1999).

Statistics (are) art, Maddux said. You can make some things out of them, but theres a lot of real stuff to them also. Bad numbers can be a little deceptive, but good numbers dont lie. So you use all the information that you can, but when it comes down to it, you got to trust yourself and trust your players.

Cleveland Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. whose big-league career stretched from 1988 to 2007 witnessed firsthand the information explosion.

It doesnt tell the whole story, Alomar said. There (are) also a lot of gut-feeling decisions youve got to make. But if you have a stat (thats) a flashy number (where) you think: Oh, this guy is doing very good against this other guy, you can use that during the game in a key situation.

But we cannot just depend on stats alone. I dont like to become a fantasy manager. I want players to be able to manager themselves. The goal for a good manager is to have players that are able to manage themselves on the field and be team baseball players, not fantasy baseball players.

For Epstein and his inner circle, its time to start putting the pieces together.

Joe Maddon offers up Cubs strength coach to be Madonna's trainer

Joe Maddon offers up Cubs strength coach to be Madonna's trainer

MESA, Ariz. — Think the stir-crazy Cubs have been in Arizona long enough? Near the end of a camp that has been relatively tame — at least compared to last year's parade of mimes, zoo animals and karaoke jams — manager Joe Maddon heard about Madonna's contest to find a new dance trainer and immediately thought of the man behind those gonzo stunts.

Because that's what a three-time Manager of the Year does. So the organization's content arm put together a one-minute clip nominating strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss, releasing it to 1.7 million followers on Friday through the @Cubs Twitter account.

"We're hoping that Madonna has an opportunity to check that out," Maddon said at the Sloan Park complex. "We're willing to send even more information — whatever she possibly needs — to see that our guy's the best."

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Set to synthesized 1980s-style music, the aerobics video is rated more PG than the actual "Bussy" experience. The Cubs didn't show Buss leading the team stretch in a Speedo and a Lucha Libre mask. A slow-motion part of the montage does feature Buss standing alone in the clubhouse, dousing himself in beer during a clinching celebration.

"We could have made it more edgy," Maddon said. "There were so many more ways to go with it. I was kind of pleased with it. I thought it presented his abilities very well. His physique was presented in a manner that she could be duly impressed with the fact that our strength and conditioning coach fashions that form."

What if Madonna steals Buss from the Cubs?

"We could share somehow," Maddon said. "She'll fire him after a couple weeks anyway."

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Jake Arrieta is a Cy Young Award winner who won't get the Opening Night assignment. John Lackey is a No. 3 starter already fitted for his third World Series ring. Kyle Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA last year and won't start until the fifth game of this season.  

Do you feel like this is the best rotation in baseball?

"We're up there, yeah," Arrieta said after homering off Zack Greinke during Thursday afternoon's 5-5 tie with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. "I think on paper – and with what we've actually done on the field – it's tough to not say that.

"We like the guys we have. People can rank them, but time will tell. Once we get out there the first four or five times through the rotation, I think you can probably put a stamp on it then, more so than now. 

"But, yeah, we stack up just as well as anybody out there, for sure."  

Arrieta made it through five innings against the Diamondbacks, giving up three runs and eight hits in what figures to be his second-to-last Cactus League tune-up before facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 4. 

The New York Mets blew away Cubs hitters with their power pitching and game-planning during that 2015 National League Championship Series sweep. The Washington Nationals are trying to keep Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg healthy and already watched Tanner Roark deliver for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. 

The Cubs dreaded the idea of facing Johnny Cueto in a possible elimination game at Wrigley Field last October. The Los Angeles Dodgers almost became a matchup nightmare for the Cubs with lefties Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill during the 2016 NLCS.

But slotting Hendricks at No. 5 – five months after he started a World Series Game 7 – is a luxury few contenders can afford. 

"That just speaks to our length in the rotation," Arrieta said, "and being able to keep relievers out of the game, longer than most teams. That's a big deal, especially when you get into July and August. 

"Obviously, Kyle could be a 1 or 2 just about anywhere. Not that he's not here. We've got several of those, which is a good problem to have. It's going to be favorable for us when there's a No. 4 or No. 5 guy in our rotation going up against somebody else's. Our chances are really good, especially with our lineup." 

Arrieta talked up No. 4 starter Brett Anderson as "a little bit like Hendricks from the left side" in terms of his preparation, cerebral nature and spin rate, a combination that makes him an X-factor for this rotation and an organization starved for pitching beyond 2017. 

The if-healthy disclaimer always comes with Anderson, who played with Arrieta on the 2008 Olympic team and has been on the disabled list nine times since then. Coming out of high school, Arrieta initially signed to play for Anderson's father, Frank, the Oklahoma State University coach at the time, before going in a different direction in a career that wouldn't truly take off until he got to Chicago. 

"We're all looking forward to seeing how we pick up where we left off," Arrieta said. "Judging by what we've done this spring and the shape guys are in and the health – I don't see any reason we can't jump out to an early lead like we did last year and sustain it throughout the entire season."