'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.

Cubs bash three homers in come-from-behind win over Red Sox

Cubs bash three homers in come-from-behind win over Red Sox

BOSTON — The Chicago Cubs adjusted quickly to Steven Wright's knuckleball.

Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run homer, and Miguel Montero had a solo shot off Wright, helping the Cubs rebound from a series-opening loss with a 7-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Saturday.

"I thought we did a nice job. It's just awkward hitting against the knuckleball," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "There is no real training ground for it. You don't necessarily get a guy out there throwing a knuckleball in BP."

All the Cubs faced Wright for the first time.

After collecting just one single in the first three innings, Rizzo's homer started Chicago's comeback from a 3-0 deficit. Montero's shot tied it in the seventh.

"It's just hard. You really don't know what to look for," Montero said before joking "I told the umpire I'm going to close my eyes and swing hard in case I hit it."

Ben Zobrist added a solo homer, and Kris Bryant had two hits and scored twice for Chicago, backing a decent start by former Red Sox righty John Lackey.

Lackey (2-3) gave up four runs in six innings, snapping his string of losses in three straight starts. He was part of Boston's 2013 World Series title team.

Lackey said he texted former teammate Dustin Pedroia on the way to the ballpark.

Hanley Ramirez and Andrew Benintendi had solo homers for the Red Sox, who have the majors' fewest homers. Boston's streak of nine straight interleague wins in Fenway Park was snapped.

Wright (1-3) gave up five runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings.

"I think with the exception of the 0-2 slow knuckleball that Steven threw to Rizzo, this was his best knuckleball that he's had to date," Red Sox manager John Farrell said.

Wright has given up nine homers after allowing only 12 last season.

"I felt a lot better today overall," he said. "The one pitch I wish I could get back was that 0-2 pitch to Rizzo. I was trying to get it a little bit more in front of the plate and it kind of stood up a little bit and he made me pay."

Wade Davis pitched the ninth for his sixth save.

With summer-like temperatures for the second straight day and a marquee matchup with the defending champs, there was added buzz around the ballpark hours before the game.

Mixed in the fans flocking around Fenway were numerous Cubs fans wearing jerseys - many with "Sandberg," ''Bryant" or "Rizzo" on the back. There was a loud "Let's Go Cubbies!" in the ninth, and that was followed by some large "W'' flags after the Cubs won - a staple in Wrigley Field.

The Cubs overcame a 4-2 deficit with a run in the sixth inning and three in a seventh that was highlighted by two errors on one play.

Zobrist's run-scoring grounder sliced it to 4-3. Montero homered leading off the seventh against Wright before Kyle Schwarber's RBI single pushed them ahead.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts threw the ball away for an error on Rizzo's fielder's choice, allowing Schwarber to score. First baseman Mitch Moreland retrieved and fired it into left field.

Jackie Bradley Jr.'s RBI single made it 1-0 in the second.

Benintendi had a sacrifice fly and Ramirez belted his homer over the Green Monster seats completely out of Fenway, a shot estimated at 469 feet, in the third.

Bryant opened the fourth with a hard single and Rizzo followed with his drive to the back of Chicago's bullpen.

Benintendi hit his homer over Boston's bullpen.

Jake Arrieta gives up five runs in first, Cubs fall in series-opener with Red Sox

Jake Arrieta gives up five runs in first, Cubs fall in series-opener with Red Sox

BOSTON — Andrew Benintendi hit a solo homer off Jake Arrieta during a five-run first inning, and the Boston Red Sox held on to beat the Cubs 5-4 on Friday night.

Every Boston starter had at least one hit, and Hanley Ramirez, Mitch Moreland, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Christian Vazquez drove in a run each.

Left-hander Drew Pomeranz got the win with six innings of two-run ball, surrendering solo homers to Kris Bryant and Albert Almora Jr. in the early innings before settling in. He allowed six hits and two walks while striking out seven.

Boston has won its last nine interleague games at Fenway Park.

Arrieta logged his shortest start since Aug. 28, 2014, lasting only 4 1/3 innings and giving up 10 hits and three walks with five strikeouts.