'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 will make statement with trip to Donald Trump's White House

Cubs will make statement with trip to Donald Trump's White House

WASHINGTON — Within a matter of days last November, the Cubs won a staggering World Series for the first time in 108 years and Donald Trump won a scathing election to become the 45th president.

Those two surreal worlds will collide again on Wednesday when a group of Cubs get a private White House tour that can be interpreted as a political statement, something larger than this four-game series against the Washington Nationals.

This comes less than six months after the Cubs enjoyed an East Room ceremony that became the final official event at Barack Obama’s White House, at a polarizing time when speculation centered on whether or not the Golden State Warriors would skip the traditional photo op with Trump, not wanting to make an implicit endorsement after winning another NBA title.

“You’d have to talk to the Warriors,” manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday. “To go tomorrow is out of respect to the Ricketts family and to the office and the building itself. Listen, I like the United States a lot. I like living here a lot. And I like everything that it represents a lot.

“So when you get a chance as a citizen to get to go to the White House, you go. I think you go. Whether you like the person that’s running the country or not — out of respect to the office itself — you go.

“I don’t agree with all the other banter that’s going on right now, because I have a different perspective.”

Chairman Tom Ricketts and his brother, Todd, a board member who withdrew his nomination to become Trump’s deputy commerce secretary, brought the World Series trophy to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and did a meet and greet with Illinois Congressional staffers at the Russell Senate Office Building.

Within the Ricketts family/Cubs board of directors, Pete is Nebraska’s Republican governor and Laura was a superdelegate and a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein is also active in Democratic circles.

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Maddon also plans to attend a luncheon on Wednesday with young Republicans organized by Congressman Lou Barletta, an old buddy from growing up in Hazleton, Penn., and an early Trump endorser.

“It’s not as ceremonial as the last one was, going there as the World Series champions,” Maddon said. “It’s more based on the Ricketts family relationship and the crowd that’s going to the White House.

“The Ricketts family’s been tied in there really well ... so wherever Mr. Ricketts would like me to go, I’m going to do (it). Mr. Ricketts and the Ricketts family has been good to all of us, so part of that is that.

“The other part is whenever you have a chance to go to the White House, I think it’s easy to say yes out of respect to the office and the building itself.”

Maddon didn’t know if meeting Trump would be on the itinerary and said he understood if some players passed on the invite.

“I don’t have any rules to begin with,” Maddon said. “I just want you to run hard to first base. As long as you run hard to first base, they can make up their own mind whether they want to go to the White House or not.

“Furthermore, not having to wear a suit, I think, is the best part of this whole trip, because, to me, to have to dress a certain way to impress somebody, my God, nobody would ever fail. So I’m all about all of the circumstances right now.”

Maddon didn’t sound at all concerned about the optics of visiting the White House at a time of travel bans, sub-40 percent approval ratings and investigations into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia, or meeting with a president who compared Chicago to Afghanistan.

“I like living here a lot,” Maddon said. “I like this country a lot. And I would much prefer living here than some of the other places that adopt different methods of government.

“I think sometimes that gets confused when people want to take a stand and not really realizing actually what we have, which is a lot better than most every place else.”

Definitive proof that Carl Edwards Jr. is one of the filthiest pitchers on the planet

Definitive proof that Carl Edwards Jr. is one of the filthiest pitchers on the planet

Carl Edwards Jr. didn't get a save or a win Monday night, but he was easily the most impressive pitcher on the field for the Cubs.

The 25-year-old right-hander came on in the sixth inning in relief of Eddie Butler and carved through the heart of the Nationals order, needing only 13 pitches to strike out Brian Goodwin, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman.

For starters, Joe Maddon deserves plenty of credit for deploying Edwards in an integral spot, even if it was so early in the game. But the Cubs were clinging to a 1-0 lead at the time and Maddon didn't want Butler to face the Washington order for a third time, so Edwards was the call to keep things close.

And that's exactly what Edwards did in dominant fashion. It was the fourth time this season he struck out three batters in an inning, but in the previous instances, he needed at least 16 pitches to do so.

Here is the complete sequence from Edwards to the three helpless Nats (for one inning, at least):

Harper was also locked in at the plate at the time, as it was his only strikeout in the last two games in which he's collected six hits in eight at-bats.

Edwards has been rolling this season with a 1.72 ERA and sparkling 0.82 WHIP. He has 44 strikeouts in 31.1 innings, ranking 18th in baseball in K/9 (12.64).

Since giving up three runs in an outing June 14 against the Mets, Edwards has not allowed a run in five innings, striking out seven batters and surrendering only two singles and a pair of walks.