Next battle between Cubs, Red Sox could be over managers

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Next battle between Cubs, Red Sox could be over managers

Updated: Thursday, Nov. 3, 11:45 p.m.

The Cubs and Red Sox still havent decided what Theo Epstein is worth, and it doesnt sound like theyve made much progress on settling the compensation. The next battle between these two historic franchises could be over a manager.

Epstein had to start thinking about candidates on Sept. 30, once it became official that Terry Francona wouldnt be returning to the Red Sox.

Epstein continued doing background work with his eventual replacement general manager Ben Cherington even after he decided to jump to the Cubs and both sides negotiated to break the final year of his contract.

Once Epstein fired Mike Quade, theyd be working from similar lists. Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin a Brother Rice High School graduate who already interviewed at Fenway Park will do the same on Friday at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs and Red Sox have also received permission to interview Mike Maddux, which will probably happen next week, once the Rangers pitching coach recovers from laryngitis.

I dont think either organization is going to defer to the other, Epstein said Thursday. Its the responsibility for us to get the right person for the Cubs, and for Ben to get the right person for the Red Sox. Im not sure thats going to be the same person: Different markets, organizations are in a different place right now.

Epstein spoke with Francona on Thursday and theyve remained in contact since the end of the season. Thats the bond they formed after winning two World Series titles together.

Epstein knows Francona so well like the back of my hand that they wouldnt need a formal interview. Francona could be in play for the Cardinals job.

Clearly, he would be at the top of anybodys list as far as available managers, Epstein said. Thats true of any organization. If we were to look at it and say: Whos somebody with experience? Whos a proven winner? Whod be a real asset? Hes got to be at or very close to the top of the list.

Its got to be the right fit here. Im not sure it is, and Titos not sure it is. But we have a relationship that transcends the professional side of things, so weve stayed in touch.

Epstein has already brought in Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, two executives with a Red Sox connection. Along with assistant general manager Randy Bush, they will bring a candidate to chairman Tom Ricketts and his family.

This doesnt need to be The Boston Show recreated in Chicago, Epstein said. For my growth as an executive, maybe its the right thing to work with a new manager. For Titos growth as a manager, maybe it will be better for him to work with a new boss.

You dont want to live in the past.

The Cubs are not believed to be pursuing any current big-league managers, which would eliminate Joe Maddon (Rays), John Farrell (Blue Jays) and Bud Black (Padres).

Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum, who already interviewed in Boston, will be in the mix. Sources said bench coaches DeMarlo Hale (Red Sox), Sandy Alomar Jr. (Indians) and Dave Martinez (Rays) also could be involved in the search.

The past will guide Epstein in this sense: The Cubs will use a screening process similar to the one that revealed Francona and runner-up Maddon after the 2003 season.

Beginning with Mackanin, candidates will sit down for a traditional interview. But they will also likely have to do game simulations. Afterward, theyll meet with reporters, to see how they handle the media in a big market.

Back in 2003, someone like Francona might have been handed statistics, lineup cards and a history of bullpen usage. The game would be paused at a key situation, like first and third, one out in a late inning. Given whos available in the bullpen, and knowing whos available to pinch-hit, theyd be asked: What would you do in this situation?

We try to create some intensity, Epstein said. So we got right in his face and asked for an answer pretty quickly. We werent looking so much at what the managerial candidate said in terms of the strategy that he would employ. But what pieces of information he would use, what his thought process would be in trying to make a decision.

So even if the Cubs and Red Sox dont zero in on the same manager, their searches will almost certainly have a similar look and feel. Both are moving faster than the Epstein compensation negotiations.

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

This really is becoming Willson Contreras' team.

The dude is absolutely on fire right now and has almost singlehandedly lifted the Cubs back into first place.

Since the All-Star Break, Contreras has crushed four homers and three doubles while driving in 11 runs in just eight games. 

The Cubs have won seven of those games, including Sunday night when Contreras' two-run shot in the sixth inning turned out to be the game-winner that pushed the Cubs into a first-place tie with the Milwaukee Brewers. (The Cubs also won the only game Contreras hasn't started since the Break.)

In the span of nine games, the Cubs have already erased the 5.5 game deficit they had in the National League Central entering the midseason break.

"He's just playing his butt off, literally, right now," Joe Maddon said. "Everything he's doing is pretty darn good. He plays with enthusiasm, also. You gotta feel that in the stands.

"There's some times he might get over-enthusiastic. I prefer toning people down as opposed to pumping them up all the time. He's doing everything. He's hitting fourth, he's catching, he's handling a really good pitching staff, he's throwing people out, he's blocking the ball really well and he's hitting homers, so God bless him."

Contreras' offense has been amazing, but Maddon credits the young catcher's block on a Wade Davis pitch in the dirt last week in Atlanta with helping to save the season. That play helped ensure a victory by not permitting the tying run to score from third base as the Cubs rattled off six straight wins to start the second half of 2017.

It's at the point now where Maddon cannot rationally find ways to get Contreras out of the lineup, even though the veteran manager is a huge proponent of rest and wants nothing more than to keep his players healthy and playing at a high level late in the season and into the playoffs.

Contreras is like the Energizer Bunny out there, hopping all around behind the plate to block balls, throwing guys out, pumping his chest, screaming obscenities at his first base coach after home runs. He even plays long toss (from the warning track in left-centerfield to about the spot the second baseman normally plays) before games with catching coach Mike Borzello.

The 25-year-old just does not turn down for anything when he's at the ballpark.

So does he ever get weary?

"I do get tired, but when I get home," he said. "When I'm here, I'm never tired. This is my job, this is what I love and you're gonna see me like that all throughout my career."

Contreras credits the Cubs coaching staff with helping him make the mental adjustments that has him in the conversation as one of the best catchers in baseball.

"He's growing up," Anthony Rizzo said. "He's really taking control behind the plate, which is nice. His at-bats just keep getting better and better and it's really fun to watch."

Contreras is on pace for 25 homers and 87 RBI, second only to Kansas City's Salvador Perez in both categories among catchers.

"He definitely has the abilities to be one of the elite catchers," Maddon said. "You gotta consider him one of the elite catchers in the National League already. Because he just does everything so well.

"The biggest next hurdle is just — without pulling him in too much — controlling his emotions a tad more without losing that enthusiasm that he has. Really understanding the game and calling the game and working his pitchers. 

"Mike Borzello does a great job with him. He started out this year and wasn't so good — missing his pitches, missing fastballs, fouling stuff off. But he stayed with it and now you see what he's capable of doing. He is really good right now and he's gonna get better."

Jose Quintana reveling in first place vibes after 'overexcited' home Cubs debut

Jose Quintana reveling in first place vibes after 'overexcited' home Cubs debut

Jose Quintana is grateful for his defense and offense picking him up.

That's not something he's used to feeling after years of borderline-laughable run support from the White Sox in games he started.

But as he made his Wrigley Field debut in a Cubs uniform Sunday night, Quintana served up three rockets in a row to the heart of the Cardinals order and all three wound up as outs.

First it was a lineout to Jason Heyward in right field where the Gold Glover leapt in the air and did something of a karate kick while catching the ball.

Another hard liner at Heyward followed before Jedd Gyorko laced a double into the left-centerfield gap. But Kyle Schwarber retrieved it quickly, made a perfect throw to Addison Russell who spun and made a quick throw to Willson Contreras at the plate to nab Matt Carpenter by a mile.

Thus endeth the first top of the first inning for Quintana at "The Friendly Confines."

"At the beginning of the game, he might've been a little overexcited," Joe Maddon said. "He was too quick with all of his actions. The pitches weren't going where he wanted them to go.

"And then I thought he settled in very well. He wasn't as sharp as in Baltimore, but he was good. He was very good."

Quintana allowed three runs on five hits and a pair of walks in six innings, recording the bare minimum requirements for a quality start. He also picked up his second win in as many outings with the Cubs when batterymate Willson Contreras hit a game-winning two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth.

Quintana agreed with Maddon that he was a little over-exuberant in this one.

"Too many emotions for me," he said. "It was one I enjoyed a lot. I was just trying to focus on inning by inning."

This is the first time Quintana has been on a team in the playoff hunt since his rookie season in 2012 when the Sox went 85-77 and missed the playoffs.

With Sunday's win, the Cubs have moved back into a share of first place and Quintana is all about the success.

"That's awesome," he said. "First time. To come into a team like this one and get to first place, that's amazing. I want to keep doing my job."

Now Quintana will have four days to sit back, relax, strap it down and watch the Crosstown Series knowing he won't have to go in and face a bunch of guys who he called teammates just two weeks ago. 

Quintana's next start will come Friday in Milwaukee.

"He's as advertised," Anthony Rizzo said. "Really didn't enjoy facing him. When we played the White Sox, he was the guy I always hoped to miss. To have him here and his demeanor on the mound is awesome."