A perfect storm pushes Epstein to Chicago

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A perfect storm pushes Epstein to Chicago

Theo Epstein will meet the press at 11 on Tuesday morning. The Cubs will open their stadium club two hours before that, so the cameramen can start elbowing for position at Wrigley Field.

Epstein once worked as sports editor of the Yale Daily News. He took out a full-page ad in Sundays Boston Globe to thank Red Sox Nation. He must know that hes the big story now.

The Chicago media will alternate between fawning over the new president of baseball operations, and asking real questions about the direction of this franchise.

Boston reporters will want to know if he feels responsibility for the fried chicken and beer culture that poisoned the Red Sox clubhouse, and perhaps guilty about leaving a team in crisis.

The national writers are already heading to the DallasFort Worth International Airport for a travel day in the World Series, and could start rubbernecking at Clark and Addison.

Epstein got out of journalism at the right time, before the media industry started splintering and newspaper companies filed for bankruptcy. Baseball owners and executives began falling in love with young Ivy League graduates, entrusting wonder boys to run their franchises.

It took a perfect storm to sweep Epstein out of Yawkey Way. If one element had turned out different, who knows if he would have been dropped on the North Side next to chairman Tom Ricketts for Tuesdays news conference?

When Ricketts publicly announced Jim Hendrys firing on Aug. 19, the general manager called it one of the best-kept secrets in Cubs history. Hendry knew his fate almost a full month earlier, and it would lead to one of the worst-kept secrets in Cubs history.

But by the end of August, the Red Sox were still a first-place team with a 161 million payroll. They were 31 games over .500 and closing in on their 700th consecutive sellout at Fenway Park. Conventional wisdom had Ricketts trying to find the next Theo Epstein, not hiring the actual Theo Epstein.

The Red Sox experienced a total meltdown. Their pitching staff gave up 172 runs in September, and they lost 20 of 27 games that month. They finished in third place for the second consecutive season, one game behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the wild-card race.

The environment became toxic. Embarrassing details emerged about Terry Franconas marriage and the ex-managers use of prescription drugs in a Boston Globe investigate piece. Reports surfaced about Red Sox pitchers drinking in the clubhouse and in the dugout during games.

Principal owner John W. Henry went on the teams flagship radio station and talked about the shelf life of a general manager in that market. After nine seasons on the job, Epstein was nearing his expiration date.

The Red Sox never slammed the brakes on this process by reassuring Epstein with a promotion or a contract extension.

Nearing his 38th birthday, Epstein had reached the point in his life where he appeared to have outgrown his job or at least the many layers of upper management on Yawkey Way. He felt comfortable uprooting his family and leaving his hometown, moving his wife and young son to another great city.

With or without Epstein and the two World Series rings he helped bring them Red Sox executives seemed to have complete faith in their way of doing business. Ricketts and Cubs president Crane Kenney, who was born in Quincy, Mass., have been obsessed with that model for years.

Ricketts had to reconsider the structure of his front office, and his belief that he didnt need a baseball guy to watch my baseball guy as team president. Epstein had to be guaranteed that Kenney would be limited to business operations and kept out of baseball decisions.

After watching his team lose 178 games across the past two seasons, Ricketts had to find his voice and sell Epstein on his vision. Right or wrong, this would be a signature hire for the chairman.

The Cubs could offer a direct report to ownership and a chance to cement a Hall of Fame legacy. There would be a commitment to spending on amateur talent, with new player-development facilities about to break ground in Arizona and the Dominican Republic.

The Cubs had already paid the price for the "win one for the Tribune" before the team was sold mentality. Several big contracts were about to fall off the books, and the team would begin cycling back toward contention anyway.

The deal didnt fall apart when Cubs management failed to clue in baseball staffers and have them start putting together potential compensation packages. They did this all backwards, agreeing to terms with Epstein on a five-year, 18.5 million deal before settling with the Red Sox on two prospects to free him from the final year of his contract.

Desperately trying to turn the spotlight back on the World Series, commissioner Bud Selig had to threaten to arbitrate the dispute. This stalemate over compensation could be something they all laugh about years later after the parade down Michigan Avenue or perhaps the first signs Epstein could see of a deeper dysfunction within the Cubs organization.

After all the twists and turns that brought everyone to this point, the story is really just beginning.

Cubs-Pirates game ends in a 1-1 tie

Cubs-Pirates game ends in a 1-1 tie

PITTSBURGH – This definitely felt like something out of spring training, with Thursday night’s game between the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates suspended as rain kept pouring down on PNC Park, ending after five innings in a 1-1 tie.

Major League Baseball considered this an official game – its first tie since it happened to the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros on June 30, 2005 – and stats will still count after an 83-minute rain delay. But there is no need to make it up with the Cubs having already clinched the National League’s No. 1 seed and the Pirates eliminated from wild-card contention.

The last time the Cubs finished in a tie: a 2-2 five-inning draw with the Montreal Expos on May 28, 1993 at Wrigley Field.

    

Questions about Soler, Coghlan, Almora Jr. as Cubs shape playoff roster

Questions about Soler, Coghlan, Almora Jr. as Cubs shape playoff roster

PITTSBURGH – As the Cubs shape the edges of their playoff roster, there are more outfield questions than answers: Is Jorge Soler running out of time? Will Chris Coghlan be ready? Can Albert Almora Jr. handle October?           

After two MRIs on his right side came back clean, Soler rejoined the team on Thursday at PNC Park, so he could work with the training staff and hitting coaches. Yes, Soler shined during seven playoff games last year – putting up three homers, three doubles, five RBI and six walks – but he’s only gotten nine at-bats within the last two weeks and the Cubs sound like they are losing patience. 

“It’s not awful – I don’t think it’s dire,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He needs to get going, though. We got to find out. This is one of those things you want to test. But if you test too soon, then it could totally take him out of an entire postseason. 

“You got to be careful, in a sense. He felt pretty good today, from what I was told. It’s just once in a while he just feels it in a very, very, very minor way. From a training perspective, it’s all good. We just have to wait for him to say: I feel up to par.”      

Coghlan left cleat marks on the W.B. Mason advertisement on PNC Park’s left-field wall during Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, spraining his left ankle while jumping for a ball hit over his head.

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Coghlan called it a day-to-day issue and didn’t sound worried about where he fits into the playoff picture. Writing off his struggles with the Oakland A’s – and appreciating the opportunity after getting traded back to the Cubs midseason – the left-handed hitter is batting .326 with a .954 OPS through 18 games in September.

“I’ve been real productive,” Coghlan said. “At this point, they already know what type of player I am. It feels good for me just to contribute to the team. (It’s) fun to be out there playing more often and producing at the level that I know I can.” 

It’s unclear if Soler and Coghlan will play during this weekend’s end-of-the-regular-season series against the Cincinnati Reds, but the Cubs don’t necessarily need to see them in action at Great American Ball Park. 

Injuries could potentially create a spot for Almora, a 22-year-old rookie with first-round pedigree and a high baseball IQ who’s viewed as a future Gold Glove-level defender.

“He’s always ready to play,” Maddon said. “And if you put him in any situation, he’s fine.”