'Zero fear:' Cubs will stick to Theos plan

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'Zero fear:' Cubs will stick to Theos plan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Ten years ago, Theo Epstein showed up here for his first winter meetings as a general manager, the wonder boy who grew up near Fenway Park now running the Boston Red Sox.

Five years ago, Epstein returned here in the afterglow of his second World Series title, a curse-busting legacy that appeared to make him a legend throughout New England forever.

On Sunday night, Epstein landed in Nashville, Tenn., and headed toward the Gaylord Opryland, knowing that he probably wont leave the hotel or feel any sunlight again until Thursday. The Cubs president of baseball operations makes ballplayer money now and hangs out with Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder, but he wont be the star of these winter meetings.

Before the lobby even started buzzing, the Cubs had already reached an agreement with Kyuji Fujikawa. An industry source confirmed that a deal was made late Saturday night all thats left is the Japanese closer taking a physical. The reported terms two years at 9.5 million, plus an option show the type of commitments the front office is willing to make this offseason.

Insiders were left shaking their heads at the idea the Cubs are going after Michael Bourn. Yes, theres a need for an outfielder, but there arent any megadeals in the works. Epstein isnt going to waver from his plan just because the Cubs lost 101 games.

Hes got conviction, Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers said. Hes got zero fear. Hes a great friend, but he would step on my neck, slice my throat to win. Thats just who he is.

Towers warned his friend Brian Cashman, the New York Yankees general manager, when Epstein went to Boston: Look out, this kids good.

Epstein had just graduated from Yale University in 1995 when he went to work for the San Diego Padres, first in the communications department and then baseball operations. Towers was the general manager there when he had Epstein handling the radar guns and learning how to evaluate players up close. Epstein also graduated from University of San Diegos law school during that time, though he didnt spend much time in the actual classroom.

Id give Theo a project, it would take some interns two to three weeks, Towers said, snapping his fingers. It would be on my desk the next day.

Incredible listener, incredible recall. Hed listen to the veteran scouts and show respect. He wouldnt talk out of turn. He would listen and take things in and really learned that side of the game.

Towers is convinced that Epstein has broken down all the teams in the National League Central, analyzing their contract situations and windows for contention, preparing for his chance to attack. And then the Cubs will be in total go-for-it mode.

But in the meantime, the Cubs will be looking for value and making under-the-radar moves. Like when Epstein noticed the Red Sox put David Eckstein on waivers in 2000.

He came running in, saying we got to claim this guy, Towers recalled. I got the STATS Inc. book out at the timeI say: No way. He says: Im telling you, man, theres some indicators. This guys going to hit. Hes an on-base machine.

Could have just claimed him for 20 grand. Hes MVP of the World Series (a couple years later). I said: I may want to start listening to this guy. Hes got some pretty good ideas.

The Cubs have already added two starters to their rotation on one-year deals. It only took a few minutes before Scott Baker and Scott Feldman were asked about the possibility of being flipped at the trade deadline. The clubhouse knows they need a strong start next April and May, or else risk Epstein pulling the plug on next season.

As soon as you get to spring training and Opening Day starts, youre in it to win it, until youre not, Epstein said. Nothing would make me happier than being solidly in contention in June and July and adding pieces for next year. Well build the team and leave a little bit of a cushion, so that if things break our way and we get off to a good start, we can add pieces. With the second wild card, thats never total fantasy.

If we find ourselves in that position, well be thrilled and well go for it. If were not in that position, well make the hard call that we made this year and do it in the best interests of the Cubs and look to move shorter-term assets for longer-term assets.

Well look to move veteran players for younger players and use that as a way to improve our long-term prospects and build our foundation. But its not like we build the team hoping we go down that path. I hope were in a position to add, but well be prepared for either scenario.

Of course the Cubs are going to look at trade possibilities for Alfonso Soriano. And Fujikawa could make Carlos Marmol a trade chip again. But theres probably not enough inventory to pull off a blockbuster deal.

Profiles of Towers have mentioned how the general manager used gunslinger as part of his personal e-mail address.

So Towers admired how Epstein pulled the trigger on a four-team trade on July 31, 2004, sending franchise icon Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs and getting key pieces in return that helped the Red Sox win their first World Series title in 86 years.

In Epsteins world, no one is untouchable. Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija will be core players until theyre not anymore. Theyre all assets in the rebuilding project on the North Side.

Moving Garciaparra couldnt have been easy, Towers said. He dont care. He doesnt fall in love with people. Hell slice your throat and step on you.

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

Addison Russell planning to become next Cubs superstar

MESA, Ariz. – Addison Russell earned his manager’s trust by playing “boring” defense, always making the routine plays at shortstop with textbook fundamentals. Even Russell’s agent called him an “old soul,” already serious about his craft and driven by quiet determination and husband-and-father responsibilities.

But the Cubs also know Russell as a moonwalking showman with the freaky athleticism to do Ozzie Smith backflips and make spectacular highlight-reel plays. And you could see the vroom-vroom, fist-pumping celebrations after yet another clutch hit.

“Ever since I was a little kid,” Russell said, “I always wanted to be on the big screen.”

Now Russell will try to make the leap to superstar, as one of the many personalities on a Cubs team that can crossover nationally and live forever in Chicago, just like the ’85 Bears, the way Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have built their brands.

“We got great ballplayers, beautiful faces on this team,” Russell said. “Just talent galore in this clubhouse, and that’s really cool to see, because these guys handle themselves like real, true professionals.”

The start of spring training is a reminder that Russell has still only spent one wire-to-wire season in The Show. He turned 23 last month and has already become a World Series champion, the youngest player in franchise history to start an All-Star Game and the first Cub shortstop to reach 95 RBI since Ernie Banks in 1960.

Russell’s World Series grand slam helped him accumulate the most postseason RBI (14) in club history – after putting up 11 game-winning RBI for a 103-win team. FanGraphs also had Russell tying San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford for the major-league lead with 19 defensive runs saved at shortstop.

“Really, the sky’s the limit,” manager Joe Maddon said. “This guy is scratching the surface. He is that good. Know thyself – I think that’s what’s happening with a lot of our young guys. They’re understanding themselves better. And as they do, their game’s going to continue to improve.

“So with Addie, listen, he could be an annual All-Star, there’s no question. Beyond that, he’s just such a gifted athlete, so quick, and he cares so much. And he’s really turned out to be a good self-evaluator, so all those are components to creating a superstar.”

Russell said he’s working with Boras Corp. on potential endorsements with Pepsi and Audi. He visited a Nike headquarters in Oregon to help design his custom cleats and custom glove. He also posted images from the White House on his social-media accounts, which have nearly 549,000 followers combined between Twitter and Instagram.

“The opportunities are coming, which is great,” Russell said. “It’s a whole new playing field. I’m glad that I’m getting to see a different side of baseball, where I can actually find a couple talents off the baseball field. It’s all interesting stuff.”

It’s also taken some getting used to, as he almost had trouble remembering how many “Addison Russell Days” there were in Florida, between events at Pace High School and with the Santa Rosa Board of County Commissioners.

“This whole fame thing is really new to me,” Russell said. “Walking everywhere, people want autographs and stuff. Different airports, different cities, it’s very humbling. It’s a great blessing. I’m just a small-town guy, so it hit me pretty hard.”

Like the moment Russell realized what the Cubs just did, after the whirlwind of riding in the championship parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, standing on stage in front of millions at the Grant Park rally and going to Disney World.

“I remember this past offseason, going into my mom’s room and laying down on her bed,” Russell said. “That’s when all the memories of this past year – all the way from spring training (to) the All-Star Game and then the World Series run – it all hit me at once. It was overbearing, kind of, and I started crying.

“That’s when it sunk in. It was just a magical moment.”