What the Epstein-Hoyer-McLeod connection means for the Cubs

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What the Epstein-Hoyer-McLeod connection means for the Cubs

Dave Roberts wasnt surprised to see how the dominoes fell across the country last October, reshaping front offices from Boston to San Diego.

Roberts played with Jason McLeod at Rancho Buena Vista High School in San Diego before earning his degree from UCLA.

Roberts is still reminded almost daily of The Steal in the ninth inning of Game 4 in the 2004 ALCS. That began an epic comeback against Mariano Rivera and the Yankees. That Red Sox team made Theo Epstein a legend throughout New England.

Roberts transitioned his career by going to work for Jed Hoyers baseball operations department in 2010, first as a special assistant and then as the Padres first-base coach.

So Roberts knows the three Cubs executives who took on the biggest challenge left in sports.

Those guys have a great relationship, a great chemistry, Roberts said Tuesday. They have a trust. In this game, when youve got those components, then ultimately theyre going to cross paths again. It was a pretty good system (that worked) for them before. So you would expect something similar here in Chicago.

Sitting in front of his locker inside the cramped visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field, Roberts looked up from the USA Today sports section. Inside, it had a picture of Epstein, who had to meet the press and answer for a 12-game losing streak.

The Cubs (17-32) won again on Tuesday, this time 5-3 over the Padres. Jeff Samardzija went seven innings and earned the win on his bobblehead day. Epsteins front office can use him to a build a rotation. Heres hoping the marketing department features him in the next ad campaign.

Yeah, you dont want to pitch bad and go outside and see your bobblehead smashed all over the pavement, Samardzija said. I wanted to just keep the game close and hopefully people will go put them in their room or something now, instead of in the trash.

The development of Samardzija (5-3, 3.09 ERA) has been one of the better story lines this season. Power arms will be a focus as McLeod runs pre-draft meetings this week in Chicago.

The Astros once picked McLeod the great-grand nephew of Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell in the 44th round of the 1991 draft.

He was a big right-handed pitcher with a good arm, Roberts recalled. He was always a student of the game. He kind of took his career as far as it was going to take him as a player, and then got on the coaching side of things. Hes always been a great listener and continued to hone his evaluation skills.

To this day, he is one of the best evaluators in the game.

McLeod earned that reputation by delivering Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard and Clay Buchholz to the Red Sox and watching that 2007 World Series run.

A new labor deal, which severely limits spending in the amateur draft, will make that job even more difficult. Its much harder to overwhelm two-sport athletes with big contracts, the way the Cubs once did with Samardzija.

McLeod is on the clock. So are the scouts who had to carry video cameras to every game and store all the data medical, family, statistical, anecdotal in the new Bloomberg computer system.

He sees a lot of things that many people dont see, Roberts said, a lot of different intangibles in players, the stuff that people dont really look for. Its just amazing all the information that you can kind of come up with and have at your disposal (to) sift through and make a selection.

McLeod and Hoyer felt like they left the Padres (17-34) in a better place, even though they lasted only two seasons. Last winter, the industry viewed San Diego as a top-three system. Privately, some have suggested that Epstein wouldnt have taken the Cubs job without them.

With Jason and his crew, Roberts said, were going to enjoy the fruits in the years to come in this system. (It) was a loss for us, but he put some things in place that were going to continue to build on.

(The Cubs have) a plan (and) with the resources that they have, it should ultimately work out pretty well.

The entire focus is on June 4, when the Cubs will make the sixth overall pick. Heres a sign of how all-in they are for the draft and how much they respect the managers evaluation skills Dale Sveum has watched video of certain hitters they might select.

It will take years before we know if Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod were right or wrong.

They have short memories in Boston, where Epsteins legacy took a hit with bad contracts, fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse, and an epic September collapse. But you cant forget those two World Series banners at Fenway Park. Red Sox Nation got everything it ever wanted.

Things like that just dont happen overnight, Roberts said. With this fan base loving the Cubs unconditionally, its even better when youve got a regime coming in with a plan in place thats shown its worked (before). I definitely expect these guys to kind of right the ship.

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

When the Blackhawks found Artemi Panarin, they found a talent who was NHL ready from the start, who found instant chemistry with Patrick Kane and earned a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. It was also a tremendous panacea for a team that couldn’t pull off a deal to keep Brandon Saad, who was the power forward that fit in beautifully in the Blackhawks’ top six.

On Friday, the Blackhawks brought Saad back and dealt Panarin to do it.   

Saad returns to the Blackhawks, who also acquire goaltender Anton Forsberg, in exchange for Panarin and Tyler Motte. The Blackhawks also get the Blue Jackets’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and the Columbus gets Chicago’s sixth-round pick from this weekend’s draft. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the deal. The Blackhawks inherit Saad’s deal, which has four years remaining at a $6 million cap hit. Panarin was about to enter his current deal, which is two years with a $6 million cap hit. This is key for the immediate future; when Panarin’s latest deal is up, if he keeps up at his current pace, he’ll likely sign for a lot more.

[MORE: Blackhawks deal Hjalmarsson to Arizona]

The Blackhawks have missed Saad terribly since his departure. The team has struggled to find consistent line mates with Jonathan Toews, especially at that left-wing position. They did fairly well with Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik flanking Toews this season but it wasn’t as strong as the Saad-Toews combination. So it looks like the Blackhawks’ top line will be solidified again.

Now, what about the second line? As good as Toews and Saad’s chemistry was, Panarin’s and Kane’s was dynamite. The two had their respective skill, which they flashed often, and their ability to read each other was evident from the start. The Blackhawks’ second line was as consistent and steady the past two seasons as the top line was during Saad’s time here.

So, there are changes. The Blackhawks will absolutely miss what Panarin brings. But as far as bringing back a former Blackhawks player who could help in the present, getting the 24-year-old Saad back will be very beneficial. 

Blackhawks pull off stunner, trade Niklas Hjalmarsson to Coyotes

Blackhawks pull off stunner, trade Niklas Hjalmarsson to Coyotes

Niklas Hjalmarsson has been part of the Blackhawks’ renaissance since the rebuild began in the mid-2000s, a longtime steady presence on the blue line who has had some clutch moments in the Blackhawks’ three Stanley Cup runs. But on Friday, the player with one of the Blackhawks’ best contracts was sent packing.

Hjalmarsson was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin on Friday morning. With Hjalmarsson, the Blackhawks give up a tremendous defenseman with a winning pedigree.

“Niklas’ contributions to the three Stanley Cup championship teams are well known but his dependability as a teammate, selfless attitude and the way he represented the Chicago Blackhawks on and off the ice are what made him such a beloved member of the organization,” said Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement. “He made his debut in Chicago in 2008 and quietly established himself as one of the toughest competitors in franchise history. We wish he and his family continued success.”

The 30-year-old defenseman has two years remaining on his current contract, which carries a $4.1 million cap hit. The 24-year-old Murphy has five years remaining on his current contract ($3.85 million cap hit). Dauphin is in the final year of his current entry-level contract ($745,000). According to CapFriendly, if Dauphin plays for the Rockford IceHogs this season, the Blackhawks can save $250,000 in cap space.

But this isn’t about money as much as the Blackhawks needing to get younger on defense. Murphy has played all four of his NHL seasons with the Coyotes. Last season he had two goals and 15 assists in 77 games.

Still, giving up Hjalmarsson is a tough one. Hjalmarsson has been a strong, steady presence for the Blackhawks. He once again led the team in blocked shots (181). Plenty of bumps, bruises and pain come with that job description but despite that, Hjalmarsson hasn’t missed much time. Since the 2012-13 season Hjalmarsson has missed just 12 games, and just four of those have been due to injury (suspected back injury last season).

The Blackhawks’ defense looked older and slower in their brief postseason run against the Nashville Predators, and they certainly have to start moving toward the future. But with Hjalmarsson playing at the level he has the past few seasons, his absence will hurt.