Cubs believe Rizzo will lead by example

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Cubs believe Rizzo will lead by example

Anthony Rizzo doesnt want to hear that this is his team now.

The media and the marketing department havent driven this idea alone. Last winter Theo Epsteins front office told Cubs fans they were getting someone mature beyond his years.

Manager Dale Sveum recognized those qualities as far back as spring training and knew he would become an important piece to the clubhouse puzzle. Veteran utility guy Jeff Baker said so last weekend after he was traded to the Detroit Tigers.

The relaunched version of the Cubs returned to the North Side on Thursday night, with almost 33 percent of the schedule left to find out what theyve got. Dusty Baker who has never known this market to be very patient watched his first-place Cincinnati Reds get beat 5-3.

When Rizzo was on the verge of being promoted from Triple-A Iowa, a team official tried to downplay all the hype and observed: Hes not (bleeping) Babe Ruth. But the Cubs are going to put a lot on his shoulders. Just dont expect any Knute Rockne speeches.

When people say stepping up and being a leader, its not like Im going to get (up) on a stool, Rizzo said. Its just kind of doing it by example. You get those big hits, which are always nice, but its about showing up to the field every day and preparing hard and other guys see that. Players see you running balls out hard and they see you working hard. Thats my definition of being a leader.

Rizzo again found himself in the middle of the action with an RBI single in the first inning. He negated his leadoff double in the fourth when he ran to third base on a groundball to short and got thrown out in a 6-3-5 double play, the kind of aggressive mistake the Cubs (44-66) will live with for now.

Rizzo took out catcher Devin Mesoraco with a hard slide on Starlin Castros game-tying, two-run double off the wall in the sixth inning. He worked an eight-pitch walk against Sean Marshall in the eighth before Alfonso Soriano crushed the game-winning, two-run homer toward the batters eye in center.

Rizzo, who turned 23 on Wednesday, is one of 12 players who werent on the Opening Day roster. Between Kerry Woods retirement and the flurry of deadline deals, the Cubs lost roughly five decades of major-league service time.

Cubs people have long predicted that Brett Jackson will become the most popular dude in Wrigleyville, a guy who loves to play hard and get his uniform dirty and doesnt mind the cameras.

Fair or not, Jacksons strikeouts are going to become a daily watch (nine in 16 plate appearances), and Rizzo knows what that scrutiny is like after hitting .141 with one home run in 49 games with the San Diego Padres last season.

Its tough because everyone has their opinion, Rizzo said. Its unfair to base everything just on results. Bretts a hard worker. He does everything he can. Hes going to get better. If he hits, he hits. If he doesnt, he doesnt. But he brings the same approach to the field every day. Thats the biggest thing.

When the Cubs returned to Petco Park this week, Rizzo stood in the visiting dugout with the San Diego media and refused to make excuses.

The ballpark could have been a T-ball field and I wouldnt have a hit a ball, Rizzo said. I wasnt hitting the fastball, or pretty much anything.

Rizzo kept most of his answers boring and didnt gloat about his numbers (.301 average, nine homers, 24 RBIs in 37 games). When asked to identify the problem, he said: Probably between my ears.

Remember that Cubs executives saw Rizzos monster numbers in the Pacific Coast League and reminded everyone that it was a mistake to rush him last season. They had to wait until he had checked off all the boxes (while pushing back free agency by a year). So its convenient to say now, but there is a roadmap for Jackson to follow this winter.

General manager Jed Hoyer who brought Rizzo to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and got him back in the Andrew Cashner trade recalled an exit meeting at the end of last season.

(Manager) Bud Black (and I) sat down and said: Hey, until you can catch up with a mid-90s fastball and above, youre going to struggle in the big leagues. You need to shorten your swing. You need to level your swing out.

I give him a lot of credit. We had a hard conversation with him and he made those adjustments.

Vindicated is too strong (a word for us). Its six weeks. Hes going to have ups and downs like any young player, but Im really happy for him.

Rizzo has already sidestepped the media blitz in two cities. He keeps his head down and will stand in front of his locker to face questions. He has developed a quiet routine. The Cubs will expect him to be initiating hard conversations and running that clubhouse for years to come.

Much-needed face lift has vastly improved White Sox farm system overnight

Much-needed face lift has vastly improved White Sox farm system overnight

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Bolstered by a pair of franchise-altering trades, including the Adam Eaton deal on Wednesday, the White Sox totally revamped their farm system overnight.

In the span of 29 hours, the White Sox added seven high-caliber minor leaguers to a previously razor thin farm system, including baseball’s top position and pitching prospects. Headed by second baseman Yoan Moncada and right-handed pitcher Lucas Giolito, one of three pitchers acquired from the Washington Nationals on Wednesday in exchange for Eaton, all seven acquisitions are among the team’s top-10 MLB.com prospect list.

Wednesday’s additions also include right-handers Reynaldo Lopez, who MLB rates as the No. 38 overall prospect in baseball, and Dane Dunning, Washington’s 2016 first-round pick — a player the White Sox highly coveted at draft time. A day earlier, the White Sox received Moncada, hard-throwing righty Michael Kopech, outfielder Luis Basabe and right-hander Victor Diaz in exchange for five-time All-Star Chris Sale.

“We are ecstatic about the return we were able to secure for Adam's services,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “That's a result of hard work by our scouts, the amateur scouts, the background they have done on these players over the number of years, and our international scouts and pro scouts and everybody from the front office targeting what we feel are high-impact potential rotational pieces that will help further our goal of getting ourselves in a position for success.”

Last month, one MLB executive suggested the White Sox would have an almost unprecedented talent pool to deal away were they to rebuild. The group was similar to the 1976 Oakland A’s, who tried to sell off a number of stars, including Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Rollie Fingers, before they hit free agency only to have most deals overturned.

With only two players dealt — arguably their first and third most valuable pieces — the White Sox have already positioned themselves extremely well for the future. Not only have they acquired the two headliners in Giolito and Moncada, they added potentially elite pitching depth to a system that has proven incapable of providing replacement-level talent whenever the White Sox were in need.

And their situation should only improve as the White Sox endure what they expect to be a painful, slow rebuild. In an attempt to self-sustain, the White Sox plan to dig deep and continue to trade away valuable major leaguers in an attempt to ensure they limit future instances where they don’t have the pieces to pull off a blockbuster trade or even simply fill a hole when one arises.

“The problem with our roster the last year or year before wasn’t the top third or so, certainly wasn’t Sale or Eaton,” Hahn said. “It was the matter of, in my opinion, a lack of 1-25 depth, or even 1-40 depth given some injury issues that every club encounters, and that’s what we’re trying to rectify over an extended period of time. We’re trying to get ourselves in a position where we not only have that high-end impact talent at the top of the roster that we’ve benefited from and that other teams are coveting, but that we also have the depth to survive when you have unfortunate underperformance or injury along the way.”

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So far the White Sox couldn’t be much happier.

There was an audible gasp in the media room (and perhaps throughout the building) on Wednesday when it became clear what the White Sox received in exchange for Eaton and Eaton alone.

Even though the White Sox no longer have Eaton or Sale, they still have pitchers Jose Quintana and Nate Jones on team-friendly contracts, 2018 free agents Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera, slugger Jose Abreu and closer David Robertson to potentially trade. Given that pool, Hahn and the front office believe they can continue to further overhaul a farm system that has resided in the bottom third of baseball for much of the last decade.

“Expectations are high in these deals,” Hahn said. “We expect there to be strong returns for them. We were very pleased with how these first two have gone so far.”

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Before making the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees, the Cubs checked in with the Kansas City Royals about Wade Davis and found the asking price to be Kyle Schwarber. 

The psychology and the supply-and-demand dynamics are different in July. Schwarber had been damaged goods, still recovering from major knee surgery and months away from his dramatic return in the World Series. Davis also could have impacted two pennants races for his new team instead of one.
 
By the time a $10 billion industry reconvened this week outside Washington, D.C., for the winter meetings, the small-market Royals could compromise with Jorge Soler, betting on his long-term upside and facing the reality that their World Series closer could have been part of a mass exodus of free agents after the 2017 season.

The Cubs also checked into the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center knowing that Soler is a diminishing asset for a loaded team at a time when his best attribute – right-handed power – could be found on the free-agent market in sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo.  
     
“I think there’s some great baseball ahead for him,” team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday night after the Cubs finalized the Soler-for-Davis trade. “I think it’s more likely that he reaches his ceiling now than it was 24 hours ago, because he’s got a chance to play every day.” 

Soler became a top priority within the first weeks of the Epstein administration as Cubs officials scouted the Cuban defector in the Dominican Republic before Thanksgiving 2011, picturing him as a building block for future playoff teams at a renovated Wrigley Field. 

Even chairman Tom Ricketts met with Soler’s camp during a trip to the Dominican Republic before the Cubs won the bidding war and the prospect signed a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract in the summer of 2012. 

Years later, manager Joe Maddon would describe Soler as Vladimir Guerrero with plate discipline, the kind of talent who would be drafted No. 1 overall if he had been born in South Florida. 

Soler showed flashes of superstar potential. He absolutely crushed the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2015 playoffs (2.341 OPS) and will get a well-deserved World Series ring. But he didn’t look like a complete player or an athlete the Cubs could count on to stay healthy, profiling more like a designated hitter in the American League.

“When George was playing sporadically, he became a little bit more of an all-or-nothing power threat,” Epstein said, “because it’s hard to get into a good rhythm and you’re not seeing pitches as much. You’re not recognizing spin the same way. 

“When he’s locked in, he can work really good at-bats. And he’s a hitter – not just a power hitter. So I think it’s more likely now that his potential gets unleashed at some point. We’re rooting for him.”

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Maybe Soler – who still hasn’t turned 25 yet – can avoid some of the leg injuries as a part-time DH and put it all together in Kansas City as the Royals try to balance the present, the future and their financial realities. But the Cubs are a win-now team that believes Davis could get them the final out of the 2017 World Series. 

An October legend (Schwarber) and a $184 million Gold Glove defender (Jason Heyward) would keep blocking Soler at the corner spots in Wrigley Field, where a National League MVP (Kris Bryant) and a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist) can move away from the infield. Javier Baez is another versatile, well-rounded player who would continue to marginalize Soler. 

“It became tough for us,” Epstein said, “with Schwarber looking like he’s destined to play quite a bit of left field. Not ruling catching out as an option to some extent, but he’s going to play a lot of left field. 

“And with Javy’s emergence – and what that means for Zobrist’s possible role in the outfield as well at times – it just became tougher and tougher to see George getting regular at-bats with us. 

“We felt like he needed to play – and it would have been a tough fit.”

It would have been even tougher to trade a spare outfielder during his fourth season in the big leagues. Stashing Soler – who has 27 career homers in less than 700 big-league at-bats – at Triple-A Iowa wouldn’t have been the answer. 

The Cubs saw this day coming. Schwarber wrecked his knee in early April and Soler injured his hamstring two months later and wound up missing two months.

“He just couldn’t quite stay healthy enough,” Epstein said, “and kind of slumped at the wrong time and started to get hot right before he got hurt.

“That was kind of how we envisioned it: ‘Hey, if there’s an opportunity, this guy can take the job and run with it – and then we have an even more valuable trade chip – or we’ve got an everyday leftfielder/middle-of the-order bat.’ It just didn’t quite come together. 

“But I think this trade – despite that – recouped a lot of his value. It made sense for him, for us and for the Royals.”