Next Cubs GM will face great expectations

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Next Cubs GM will face great expectations

Cubs monitoring Epstein, Friedman
With or without Theo, Cubs will copy Red Sox

The executives at Clark and Addison and inside the Tribune Tower knew that there would be a reckoning.

When the Cubs decided to go for it, they chose to deal with the consequences later. They came close to being bulletproof, winning 97 games in 2008 before the bad contracts and the ownership instability caught up with them. They just probably didnt think that the window to compete would close this hard and this fast.

In a sense, the Ricketts family bought the team just as the bubble was about to burst. The Cubs had won back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008. The future Hall of Fame manager held court in the dugout. Every day at Wrigley Field turned into a block party.

Team officials actually thought Lou Piniella might have done his best job managing the 2009 team, which was still in first place in early August before settling at 83-78. The crash over the next two years wore out Piniella and cost Jim Hendry his job.

Chairman Tom Ricketts now has two fifth-place finishes on his watch. If you are a Cubs fan, you have every right to be skeptical.

You pay some of the highest ticket prices in baseball. Your team hasnt won a World Series since 1908 and has gone a combined 146-178 across the past two seasons. But, really, the worst of the storm may have passed.

Whether or not its Theo Epstein, the next general manager will face great expectations. Because this really could be a franchise-changing hire, if its the right man at the right time. The organization shouldnt feel paralyzed anymore.

One club official laughed at the idea of giving Starlin Castro to the Boston Red Sox as compensation, and sources made it sound like the Cubs havent seriously discussed a list of players to make available, if thats even where this is heading.

WEEI, the Boston radio station, has been promoting an interview with Red Sox principal owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino scheduled for Friday morning. They will have to address the Epstein rumors.

Amid the silence, everyone has been projecting things onto Epstein, speculating about his legacy, his family, his ambitions.

Epstein would be able to shape the team in his image, even if he wont necessarily be working with a blank canvas. The expiring contracts for Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome and John Grabow will clear around 33 million.

Ryan Dempster only has a player option for next season worth 14 million, and Marlon Byrd will be in the final year of his backloaded contract. Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol are the only two players already signed for 2013, according to the online database at Cots Baseball Contracts.

There should be enough flexibility with major-league payroll that the new general manager wont have to spread Carlos Penas one-year pillow contract across three fiscal years, the way Hendry did last winter.

The next general manager also shouldnt be getting calls late at night from reporters asking for comment about Carlos Zambranos latest meltdown. The expectation is that the Cubs will pay him to pitch somewhere else next year, or not at all.

Taking a wide-angle lens, the Cubs expect to open new player-development facilities in Arizona and the Dominican Republic within the next few years. Ownership authorized close to 20 million in expenditures for draft picks and international signings last summer.

The Wrigley Field renovation plans, and the public support for it, seem very far away. But if this becomes a destination job you keep for the next decade-plus, maybe youll get a new office and realize the competitive advantage of an improved stadium.

The Cubs already have a frontline starter (Matt Garza) who one teammate described as having Cy Young potential, and a 21-year-old All-Star shortstop (Castro). There are building blocks in place.

With or without the architect of two World Series winners in Boston, the turnaround doesnt have to take five years.

Ricketts has pointed to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who went from worst to first this year. Theyll play the Milwaukee Brewers a team that won 77 games last season on Friday at Miller Park for a spot in the National League championship series.

I know on the outside looking in (we) might seem a lot farther off, utility man Jeff Baker said at seasons end. But I know the talent and the character of some of the guys in the room. Were not that far. You look at teams around the league, what theyve done.

I know its clichd, (but) thats the only way you can really look at it positively moving forward. Look at Arizona I dont want to say terrible but they were pretty bad last year. (They added) some key pieces (and) were able to get on a roll and go. Hopefully, we can be able to do that.

Andrew Friedman, another executive the Cubs have discussed, has built a sustainable model with the Tampa Bay Rays. At Thursdays end-of-season media session, Friedman talked about the teams 2012 plans and said he looked forward to working with Rays manager Joe Maddon for a long time.

The idea Maddon repeated to reporters has to be rattling around the mind of any candidate.

The working relationship here is unique, Maddon said. This is different in all the best ways. To think that the grass is going to be better fertilized or greener anywhere else is incredibly wrong.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

What pushed Theo Epstein over the edge in making Miguel Montero decision: ‘It screamed out’

WASHINGTON – Cubs president Theo Epstein watched the Washington Nationals run wild on his iPad on Tuesday while visiting the Class-A Myrtle Beach affiliate. As Epstein did some work in his hotel room later that night, he got a text message from general manager Jed Hoyer alerting him to Miguel Montero’s explosive comments.  

Epstein’s management style is to not overreact or worry about the next day’s headlines. He generally believes in second chances, tries to keep an open mind and looks at the problem from every angle, occasionally to the point of paralysis by analysis.

But Epstein said it took “probably 10 seconds” before he realized the Cubs needed to designate Montero for assignment after the veteran catcher pointed the finger at Jake Arrieta – a Cy Young Award-winning, All-Star pitcher – for Washington’s seven stolen bases.    

“It screamed out as something that we should do,” Epstein said.     

As Montero’s rant caught fire on Twitter, Epstein called Hoyer and spoke to Montero on the phone, but he wanted to sleep on it and consult with some players before making Wednesday’s final decision, which could cost approximately $7 million. Epstein could not envision this as a team-building moment after Montero’s mea culpa and clearing the air with Arrieta.

“That was not my read on it, knowing the dynamics, present and past,” Epstein said. “This was not something that we would benefit from – trying to pursue a path of putting it all back together again.”

The Cubs pursued Aroldis Chapman after the New York Yankees closer began last season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. The Cubs cautiously didn’t judge or unconditionally support Addison Russell after a third-party abuse accusation on social media triggered an MLB investigation this month. The Cubs tolerated Tommy La Stella’s refusal to report to Triple-A Iowa last summer, allowing him to chill out at home in New Jersey.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

But Montero doesn’t have a 100-mph fastball. Montero isn’t an All-Star shortstop. Montero isn’t being preserved for one hypothetical pinch-hit at-bat in the playoffs. The Cubs are hovering around .500 now – no longer the World Series favorite – and all those variables become part of the calculus.   

“I just came to the conclusion that now more than ever we really need to be a team,” Epstein said. “This was an example of someone being a bad teammate publicly, and that we’d be better off moving on and not standing for it, because we do hold our players to a higher standard than that.

“In our role as the front office, we can’t always be in the clubhouse and push the right buttons to help everyone come together as a team. But we certainly are in a position – when we see something that could fracture the group – to try to fix the situation and remove that issue.

“Miggy’s not to blame at all for the issues that we have as a team right now. He should not be a scapegoat for what’s going on. This was just an example of someone publicly not being a good teammate and making comments that weren’t accountable and weren’t supportive and weren’t in furtherance of the team concept. And we felt we had to act on it.”

There is a chicken-or-the-egg mystery to clubhouse cohesion. But Montero probably would have had a longer fuse – and the bosses would have had a longer leash – if the Cubs were 24 games above .500 the way they were at this time last year. Montero could also get away with a lot more when he was a two-time All-Star for the Arizona Diamondbacks and playing in a sleepy market. 

“Had we been in a spot where this group had already formed its identity and was clicking on all cylinders,” Epstein said, “and had already overcome adversity together and come together completely as a team and we’re rolling in those respects, maybe it could have been handled differently by the group without sort of action from above.

“But I think you have to factor in where the team is and what the team needs and how close we are to reaching our ideal and how close we are to living up to all the values that we have as an organization.”

The Cubs Way isn’t exactly making it up as they go along. But there are always double standards and rationalizations in a bottom-line business. It sounds like Epstein did his due diligence without giving it a second thought: Montero wasn’t worth the trouble anymore. 

“There aren’t that many opportunities for people out of uniform to positively impact the group or nudge it in the right direction,” Epstein said, “or underscore the importance of team or emphasize the values that we try to embody as a group.

“This was one that made sense, given the history, the group dynamics, all the factors involved.”

More bad news for Cubs: Kris Bryant leaves game with injury

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More bad news for Cubs: Kris Bryant leaves game with injury

WASHINGTON – On a surreal day that already saw the Cubs dump veteran catcher Miguel Montero and visit Donald Trump’s White House, Kris Bryant hobbled off the field with his arms wrapped around the shoulders of two athletic trainers.

At a time when the season already felt like it could be teetering on the brink of a collapse, the Cubs watched the National League’s reigning MVP twist his right ankle on Wednesday night at Nationals Park, exiting the game in the fifth inning. Bryant tracked a Matt Wieters pop-up and awkwardly stepped on third base as he caught the ball.

Bryant is an All-Star third baseman with 16 home runs this year but he fills so many holes – all over the outfield and as a backup first baseman and an excellent baserunner – for a team that already has World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks on the disabled list.