Sveum isn't buying into the CubsFielder hype

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Sveum isn't buying into the CubsFielder hype

Dale Sveum doesnt have to walk into the living room of Prince Fielders Florida home and sell him on the future.

This isnt big-time college football recruiting. This is a dance between the highest levels of the Cubs organization and the Boras Corporation.

There are several market forces at work here, but it sounds like the personal relationship between the Cubs manager and the big free agent hasnt come into play yet. The rumors about Fielder coming to Wrigley Field wont stop until theres a press conference somewhere.

At this point, I think its a lot of media talking more than us doing anything, Sveum said Friday. We havent had any talks with Prince and I havent had any conversations with him. So I think its more of the media and other people bringing this to the table than what were doing right now. We havent initiated any kind of contact at all.

This certainly doesnt rule out Theo Epstein continuing a dialogue with Scott Boras, the games most powerful agent. But Fielder was the question to ask on a teleconference after the Cubs officially announced their 2012 coaching staff.

Sveum doesnt have the same clout as Lou Piniella or Terry Francona, but he will be consulted on player personnel. Sveum may not be a dynamic media presence, but he has a reputation of being straightforward and telling it like it is. This was about as good as it gets within the cone of silence.

Sveums six seasons as a Milwaukee Brewers coach coincided with Fielders first six full seasons in the big leagues. So Sveum can tell Epstein all about how Fielder was a great teammate and played every day with maximum effort.

More than one person has described Epsteins approach to the big-tickets items like this: What would it take? How could this work? General manager Jed Hoyer has used this talking point: A major-market team will look into every possibility.

There is no denying that at the age of 27 Fielder can seriously think about the possibility of Cooperstown. This left-handed bat would be a perfect fit at Wrigley Field.

But there is a clear disconnect between what the national media perceives and what the beat writers have turned into the narrative incremental moves with a focus on pitching and defense. There is enough gray area to stake out almost any position.

Outside of Chicago, there has been talk that Epstein wants a signature move as the new president of baseball operations. They think the Cubs need star power and a box-office attraction. (Conversely, the teams finances have also been called into question on Twitter.)

Those whove watched Alfonso Soriano play every day and seen what age and injuries have done to his game doubt the organization is eager to make a huge long-term commitment right now.

The Cubs have been waiting for years to get the Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome contracts off the books. Theyre finally getting some flexibility. Epstein has said he has zero interest in making a splash.

Looking more broadly at the industry as a whole, there is a new collective bargaining agreement that will limit how much a team can spend on amateur talent, as well as begin a new era of testing, and who knows how that will impact front offices.

Brewers star Ryan Braun could be facing a 50-game suspension to start the season after a reported positive test that will be appealed.

It took everybody by surprise, Sveum said. Its just an unfortunate thing thats come about. Hopefully, he gets exonerated and there was some kind of mix-up.

A National League Central without (possibly) Braun and Fielder and Albert Pujols shouldnt dramatically change the thinking at Clark and Addison.

The New York tabloids and the Boston media love playing the Yankees and Red Sox against each other, but the Cubs wont be making reactionary moves in this division. Epstein knows how much ground the Cubs have to cover before they get back into contention.

Are the Cubs in or out on Fielder? It sounds like theyre content to be around. Its almost impossible to see them doing a Pujols deal (254 million over 10 years). But they can let the game come to them.

Realistically, what other options are out there? The Seattle Mariners? The Texas Rangers? The Miami Marlins? A mystery team?

Remember that negotiations are fluid. No one really saw the Los Angeles Angels coming and then everything changed during a 48-hour window at the winter meetings.

But the Cubs dont have to compete with the Dodgers for market share and chairman Tom Ricketts likely wont make the aggressive push Angels owner Arte Moreno did for Pujols. And thats not a knock on Ricketts, whos vowed to be hands-off and leave the baseball decisions to Epstein.

Last week at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, Epstein sat in his suite and described the feeling when the new free agent holds up the jersey at the press conference.

With the flashbulbs popping, part of you thinks that this could be a great moment in franchise history. The louder voice in the back of your head says this could be a huge regret for the next six years.

Until that moment approaches, Sveum isnt buying into the Fielder hype: Thats just a lot of the media bringing that out right now.

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How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

In the span of just over a week, Ian Happ has gone from arguably the Cubs' biggest trade piece to the 2017 savior.

OK, "savior" is extreme, but Happ has been an unlikely stabilizing force for the defending world champions.

In a week's worth of big-league action (seven games), Happ has smacked six extra base-hits, scored seven runs and posted a 1.182 OPS. But his impact has been so much more than just the numbers on the back of his Topps card.

Happ's presence has helped the Cubs reinvent themselves.

The plan heading into the 2017 season was to have Kyle Schwarber lead off and Ben Zobrist reprise his 2016 role as lineup protection for Anthony Rizzo.

But with Schwarber struggling atop the order, Happ's presence has freed up the ever-patient Zobrist to become the team's new leadoff as the week-old rookie is now protecting a perennial MVP candidate in Rizzo.

"It's all based on Ian Happ," Joe Maddon said. "I'm still very aware of protecting Rizzo. And that's where Zobrist came in handy. Now to this point, I'm looking at last month's numbers, Zo's really ascending and Schwarbs has come back a little bit regarding just getting on base.

"So Zo's the most likely candidate among all the groups to try to get on base more often and Rizzo's still protected with Ian. Just moving everybody down one slot with Ian there taking the role of Zobrist, I kinda wanted to give it a try."

It's only one game, but the refurbished lineup scored 13 runs Sunday, collecting 10 extra-base hits and scoring in seven of eight offensive innings.

Happ was right there in the middle of it all, smoking a 108 mph double off the right field wall in the first inning and doubling again later in the game. 

Zobrist homered. Rizzo homered. Bryant — who said hitting third is where he's most comfortable in the lineup — crushed a pair of homers and reached base five times. Schwarber went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a walk.

With Happ's presence bumping Schwarber down in the order, Maddon also has moved back to hitting the pitcher last.

"In my mind's eye, I'm more able or wanting to hit the pitcher ninth again because Schwarber is moved back," Maddon said. "Part of the method was to try to feed Schwarber with a nine-hole hitter."

With Happ in the lineup, the Cubs are averaging 6.3 runs per game. 

Again, it's a small sample size and the Cubs were due for an offensive explosion after a slow start to the season, but Happ has been a central figure.

"Nothing surprises me [with him]," Bryant said. "We all saw what he can do in spring. It's not surprising at all. He's definitely provided a spark for us since he's been up.

"He's just been great out there, moving all over the field. I don't even know what his main position is, but if it's center field, he's out there doing a good job, too."

Willson Contreras helped provide the 2016 Cubs with a jolt of energy when he made his debut in mid-June. Happ is doing the same thing this season, though his arrival has come a month earlier in the 2017 campaign.

Happ has only played one full season of professional baseball and appeared in just 91 games above A-ball before making his big-league debut.

But he's looked like he belongs from the outset, blending into a clubhouse that has welcomed so many young position players over the last few years.

Maddon's message to Happ upon arriving was simple: Why don't you stay a while?

It's not as catchy as "try not to suck," but it has helped Happ relax.

"Sometimes, we underestimate the impact we have on anybody," Maddon said. "In my situation, as a manager to the player, so you say something like that just trying to get somebody to relax and who knows?

"Like Javy with 'try not to suck' a couple years ago, who knows how it's processed and how it permits the player to process the day? I knew how good [Happ] was in spring training, I knew how good he's been this season and I just know how he is.

"So there was no reason for him not to approach it like, 'I want to stay a while.'"

Happ spent most of his time in the minors as a second baseman, but with Baez and Zobrist around, Maddon doesn't see a way to work the rookie in the infield at this time.

But then again, two weeks ago, nobody could fathom how the Cubs could possibly work another position player into the lineup on a consistent basis, but that's worked itself out. Right now, it's Albert Almora Jr. being relegated to the bench as Happ has taken over in center field.

Of course, there's still more than four months left in the season and things will undoubtedly change again. 

But for now, Happ has forced the issue and altered the entire identity of the 2017 Cubs.