The decision: Rizzo talks about to heat up for Cubs

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The decision: Rizzo talks about to heat up for Cubs

On some level, the Cubs think Anthony Rizzo can become their Paul Konerko, a thoughtful leader and a stabilizing force in the clubhouse.

Thats not to diminish the White Sox captain, who should one day get a statue outside U.S. Cellular Field. But with Rizzo, team officials feel like they will have first base covered for years to come, and a power bat they can build their lineup around.

Rizzo who keeps putting up monster numbers at Triple-A Iowa could bring a jolt right now. The Cubs woke up on Sunday ranked 12th in the National League in runs scored (149) and home runs (29), and 11th in slugging percentage (.379).

Manager Dale Sveum will bring up the issue with team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Thats definitely going to be talked about, Sveum told reporters before Sundays game against the White Sox at Wrigley Field. Hes done everything he can down there. But once again, when you bring somebody up like that, hes got to play every day. Thats the million-dollar question: How do we get that playing time?

But its definitely something were going to talk about, probably around the beginning of June, interleague play, when we need the DH and those kind of things, too.

Cubs fans are obsessed with Rizzo, 22, whos been described as mature beyond his years after overcoming Hodgkins lymphoma as a prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization. Hes hitting .353 with 14 homers and 39 RBI through 40 games at Iowa.

Rizzo should become a major part of this crosstown rivalry. Its not unreasonable to think the top prospect could be there when the Cubs head to the South Side (June 18-20).

The Cubs will also need a designated hitter when they visit Target Field to face the Minnesota Twins (June 8-10) in interleague play.

Sveum said the Cubs arent going to move Rizzo, a very smooth left-handed first baseman, to another position.

This is a good problem to have: Bryan LaHair has run with this opportunity at first base and should be in the All-Star conversation this summer.

This is not: Alfonso Sorianos 136 million contract still runs through the end of the 2014 season. Epsteins front office will eventually have to decide when that truly is a sunk cost and move in another direction.

Rizzo and LaHair have talked about how they could do damage with their two left-handed bats in the middle of the Cubs lineup. LaHair has played the outfield before and doesnt think it would take long to get comfortable there again.

Hoyer brought Rizzo to the San Diego Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, and then re-acquired him in the Andrew Cashner trade last winter.

Hoyer has admitted that it was a mistake to rush Rizzo to the big leagues last season. Rizzo hit .141 and struck out 46 times in 128 at-bats. That experience seems to have colored the front offices thinking.

Near the beginning of spring training, Sveum said: Right now its a concrete plan to let Rizzo have another season in Triple-A, and let him be comfortable instead of moving him up and down.

That vote of confidence for LaHair left plenty of room for reinterpretation. When that comment was relayed to Rizzo minutes after he was told he was cut from big-league camp he showed some fire.

If thats concrete, I want to know who laid that down, Rizzo said. Nothings concrete in this business. Last year I was the future first baseman for the Padres and now Im the future first baseman for the Cubs. I cant control (it). If I go down and hit 1.000 with 40 home runs, who knows whats going to happen?

Im going to go down and just work hard and prepare myself for the next step.

Between this season and last, Rizzo entered Sunday with 40 homers and 140 RBI in 133 games at the Triple-A level. The cracks in the concrete are beginning to show.

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both win; Bears finish draft

Fast Break Morning Update: White Sox, Cubs both win; Bears finish draft

Here are some of Saturday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Jose Abreu homers twice as White Sox beat Tigers for sixth straight win

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

Dwyane Wade would like clarity on Bulls' direction before making decision

View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

After trading Scott Darling, can the Blackhawks find another reliable backup goalie?

Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan

Dax McCarty tallies assist against former team, but Fire still lose to Red Bulls

Eddie Jackson healthy, ready to bring center fielder range to Bears' secondary

Why Scott Darling is a perfect fit for Hurricanes

Watch: This is why new Bears running back Tarik Cohen is nicknamed 'The Human Joystick'

 

View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

View from the Moon: Rift among Bears brass? Not based on what Ryan Pace, John Fox showed

Trying to sort through some Halas Hall draft mysteries…. well, one big one, anyway.

Now that it’s all done: Were GM Ryan Pace and the personnel staff really in phase with John Fox and the coaching staff? Because that really is the franchise-grade question and one with the broadest possible ramifications.

The gut feeling is, yes. That’s really based just on watching the two of them together Saturday during the post-draft debriefing. If there was tension, frustration or a fracture in the relationship, the two were as good at masking it as they were concealing their draft plans.

Which they could be. Maybe reading John Fox’s face is no easier than Jay Cutler’s. They wouldn’t be the first to put up a fraud façade or public face.

But regardless of any taffy pulls or disagreements that may have played out during the draft, the jokes, asides and other responses to queries suggested otherwise. It wasn’t just what they said; it was how they said it.

“How would you grade your draft?” the pair was asked.

“I’ll tell you in three years,” Pace said.

“I’m sure we’ll get some ‘input,” Fox said, laughing, for a media corps that will provide more than a little of that “input.”

This was their third draft together. Fox has worked with myriad personnel guys and draft rooms, so how has Pace changed? Gotten bossier?

“He’s been the same guy,” Fox said. “We talk about that in this building, whether that be players, coaches or personnel people. I think he has done a terrific job and he’s got great people skills. You listen, but then you have to go with your gut, too… . After three years, every year you have convictions on players and everyone kind of keeps track of that. We have been in this spot three straight years and we’ve even been in this spot with high picks. I think he’s done a terrific job.”

Beneath all of the analyses of whether Mitch Trubisky is really the franchise quarterback the Bears have sought since Jim McMahon couldn’t stay healthy 30 years ago, or whether lesser-fete’d college programs (Ashland, Kutztown, North Carolina A&T) will produced NFL-grade talent for the Bears, lurks the deeper and arguably more significant assessment of what the 2017 draft means for the futures of Pace and Fox, jointly and individually.

The vulnerabilities are obvious; a combined 9-23 record in their two Bears seasons puts a lot of jobs over a “vulnerable” trap door in an organization that has never retained a coach after three straight losing seasons – even if the last thing Chairman George McCaskey wants on his watch is a situation in such steep decline that it even continues to lose even after a regime change, as it did after three-season-losers Jim Dooley, Abe Gibron and Dave Wannstedt.

Irrespective of specific 2017 draft choices, the surest course toward cataclysm would be a divide between coach and GM, which some want to believe has begun, fueled if by nothing else but Chris Mortensen’s report Thursday that Fox only found out about the decision to pursue and make the Trubisky deal a short time before Pace made it. Mort walked back from the claim, and Pace ripped it as “so false” later on Friday.

Pace was adamant that he and Fox were in lock step on the move for a quarterback who ideally doesn’t see the field a lot this season. As a first-rounder the Bears do have him for as much as five years if they elect to pick up the option for the fifth year of his rookie contract.

Would Fox have wanted a defensive force? Probably. But he went 3-13 last season in no small part because he had to use three different quarterbacks and two of them were bad.

“I think the quarterback position was obviously a need position as well,” Fox said. “That became pretty clear as we went out in free agency and got Mike Glennon. I think you're always trying to add depth at every position.

“Unlike what some people think, quarterback is key, too. If you look back at a year ago, we went through three quarterbacks, due to injuries, so I think building depth is really important. I think Mitch is a quality, quality player. I think if you did research and we need to do that, I'm going to say that a lot of people had him ranked very high, and us no different.”

[MORE BEARS DRAFT COVERAGE: Trust the tape: Bears feel confident in Division II draft picks Adam Shaheen, Jordan Morgan]

One cynical view making some rounds is that Pace has set Fox up to fail specifically by not giving him defensive help that would translate into win-now prospects for a coach who obviously needs to. But that doesn’t quite square somehow.

Pace and the draft powers were promising Fox a real shot at something even better than a quarterback. All they needed was for Cleveland to opt for Trubisky, which was in discussion over in Ohio until not long before the draft. Then the Bears, who’d talked over scenarios with San Francisco GM John Lynch over recent weeks, would have made that trade, but for Myles Garrett.

The Bears at No. 3 had tabbed three possible options for themselves, but with every intention of trading up unless the 49ers were blown away by a trade offer the Bears couldn’t match.

“I would say there were probably two of the three that we’d be willing to go up for,” Pace said, with a sly smile but without naming Garrett.

Which makes it reasonable to conclude that Fox knew the GM would get him the projected best edge rusher in the draft, unless their projected best quarterback was there. Which is what happened.

“We knew [Trubisky], obviously, was our top quarterback,” Pace said. “At one point in time – you don’t know what to believe – but up until the last second, there was speculation that Mitch could go 1. So then there’s even talks: ‘Wow, if he goes 1, and Myles goes to 2, what are we going to do?’

“And so all these scenarios are being played out. And there’s just so many of them. And we talk them all out. But the idea of ‘If Mitch is there at 2, and it’s realistic for us to go get him,’ that was something we discussed.”

The Bears were expected to prioritize the secondary, even as high as LSU’s Jamal Adams in some first-round scenarios. They didn’t get draft help for one of the poorest takeaway secondaries in NFL history until well into the fourth round. Was Pace undercutting his defense-based head coach and a staff boasting some of the top mentors in their areas?

Really?

Pace guaranteed $20 million of Bears money to cornerbacks Prince Amukamara ($7 million) and Marcus Cooper ($8 million) and safety Quintin Demps ($5 million). To have then used a high pick for a defensive back could conceivably have had McCaskey calling over and asking just exactly how Pace figured he needed to give his coaches a viable secondary. In the final analysis, Pace’s view of upgrading the secondary was more than draft-centric.

“We added a lot in free agency, so that was the plan,” Pace said. “We signed three corners in free agency and a safety and now we just drafted a safety. Part of our free agency plan was to attack the secondary and we accomplished it there. And that kind of allowed us to draft best player available when this moment came.”

If Fox had a problem with any of that, it was not apparent Saturday night after their third draft together.