Listening to Cubs, Epstein saw no reason to trust Zambrano

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Listening to Cubs, Epstein saw no reason to trust Zambrano

Like a smooth politician, Theo Epstein went on a listening tour after he took this job to find out what went wrong. The overwhelming response from players and staffers: Carlos Zambrano had to go.

The Cubs reached a point of no return on Aug. 12 last season, when Zambrano left Turner Field during the middle of a game and headed to the teams luxury hotel in downtown Atlanta.

The official end of an era came Thursday, with the Cubs trading Zambrano and roughly 15.5 million to the Miami Marlins for Chris Volstad, a 25-year-old right-hander for the back end of their rotation.

Zambrano waived his no-trade clause to play for old friend Ozzie Guillen, who might be the only manager in baseball not afraid of this experiment blowing up in his face.

I'm not big on labels (or) reputations dictating how I treat people or how I think about people, Epstein said. This was one where it was really consistent. Every player that I talked to articulated to me that Carlos had really violated their trust.

When you're talking about physical altercations with teammates repeatedly (and) physically walking out on the team its very hard to then have that player come back in the clubhouse and be trusted.

Do I believe in second chances? Yes. Do I believe in third chances? Yes, in some cases even fourth chances. But I think you have to be realistic about it (when) youre trying to establish a certain sense of unity (and purpose) in the clubhouse. (You) have to have accountability.

Zambrano voided a potential vesting option for 2013, which would have been triggered with an unlikely top-four finish this season in the Cy Young vote.

For the final bill, the Marlins will subtract whatever Volstad earns through arbitration a projected 2.5 million from the 18 million owed to Zambrano in 2012. The Cubs will pay the difference.

Zambrano and the players union also settled their grievance over the approximately 3 million he didnt get in the final weeks of last season. That temper tantrum will essentially cost Zambrano six days pay (600,000), though he recoups 2.4 million.

The night Zambrano told people he felt like he was stealing money and ready for retirement, Epstein was still running the Red Sox, a team that would wake up the next morning in first place, two games up on the hated Yankees and 29 games over .500.

An epic collapse the Boston media produced sensational stories about players drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games helped push Epstein to the North Side.

The president of baseball operations publicly allowed for the possibility of Zambrano earning his way back onto the team. Back in November, Epstein and Zambrano were part of a group that had lunch at the Goose Island brewpub in Wrigleyville, where the pitcher made it known that his first choice was to stay in Chicago.

Epstein said the Cubs would explore trade possibilities. Zambrano and Guillen stayed in touch throughout the offseason. It was no secret that South Beach would be a very soft landing spot.

The people whove been around the situation over the years have heard before that theres going to be change, Epstein said. Theyve heard before that theres going to be a new attitude and they've been burned physical altercations, deserting the team. (There) was a breakdown of trust.

It made it clear in my mind this wasnt just a sort of mob mentality. There wasnt unfair momentum to run this guy out of town. This was a very legitimate situation. It would have been difficult for him to re-establish himself (and) earn the trust of his teammates back (and) for us to establish the kind of culture that we want in the clubhouse.

The notebooks are going to fill up fast in Little Havana, where the Marlins need to sell tickets to the state-of-the-art ballpark theyll unveil.

Zambrano can show the beat writers the correct way to break a bat over your knee, where you should hold your hands. The key, he said one morning last year inside the Wrigley Field dugout, is where you hold your hands and making sure to focus on one spot in the middle.

If you go too far one way or another, Zambrano explained, youll wind up on the disabled list. That was Big Z, swinging from one extreme to another, laugh-out-loud funny to vein-popping angry.

Will Zambrano snap? Even Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest didnt seem to be completely sold.

We went with Ozzie on this one, Beinfest told Miami reporters. We think the change of scenery will be beneficial to (Zambrano). Is everything going to be perfect and is it going to be incident-free? I think it would be hard to say that given the guys history, but Ozzie is very confident he can help him.

Stay tuned. But Epstein made sure he wasnt going to be the one getting calls from reporters late at night, asking for comment on what Zambrano did this time.

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."

CSN Chicago will live stream Cubs, White Sox games in 2017

CSN Chicago will live stream Cubs, White Sox games in 2017

CSN will live stream Cubs and White Sox games plus pre and postgame shows throughout the 2017 season.

This is thrilling news for all Chicago baseball fans and comes at an absolutely perfect time for a Cubs fanbase that will spend the rest of the year reveling in the 2016 World Series championship.

White Sox fans will also gain more opportunities to get up-close looks at the future as the South Siders continue on with their rebuild.

Both teams and the pre and post shows will be streamed on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports app.

CSN already streams Bulls and Blackhawks games and pre/post shows.

"We are thrilled to launch live streaming of our Chicago White Sox and Cubs telecasts beginning this MLB season," said Phil Bedella, Vice President/General Manager of CSN Chicago. "With live streaming currently offered for our Bulls and Blackhawks telecasts, the addition of MLB streaming further illustrates our commitment to provide our viewers with the most in-depth and compelling Cubs and White Sox content in and out of the home and on any device."

The complete CSN broadcasting schedules for Cubs and White Sox telecasts will be released over the next couple weeks.

"We are very pleased that our partners at CSN will be able to provide fans with the opportunity to watch the White Sox anywhere," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for fans to watch their White Sox, regardless of where they are or what they are doing.  Sports fans deserve to see all the action all season long."

"After such a historic season, we are thrilled Cubs fans will be able to stream games on their choice of device, either inside or outside the home," Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said. "This access has been years in the making for our fans, but the timing is awfully good given the excitement around the 2017 campaign."

For more information, check out the complete press release.