Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein spoke to the media on Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, and he covered a list of topics ranging from free agent priorities to the play of Miguel Montero to the development plans for Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Javier Baez.
To help recap the day at the Friendly Confines, here is a list of the five biggest takeaways from the press conference.
It’s The Pitching, Stupid
“The topic sentence is ‘we would like to add more quality pitching,’” Epstein said early on in his press conference. He went on to say that the team is looking to add “at least one quality starting pitcher” when free agency opens this winter, and he said that free agent pitching is a “necessary evil.”
Granted, none of that insinuates that the Cubs will go after one of the top-of-the-line free agents like David Price or Zack Greinke, but it would seem to indicate that they would be open to doing so. Both players will command large salaries, but with the savings the Cubs are getting as a result of having a lineup loaded with young, cost-controlled players, there is definitely incentive for them to add a top-of-the-line starter to take some pressure off of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester.
Schwarber Will See Time at Catcher, Outfield Next Spring
“We’re keeping all the options open, as long as we’re not getting in the way of his development,” Epstein said of Kyle Schwarber and whether he would continue to work on his game behind the plate. He also said that the team likes the “imperfect path” in terms of allowing Schwarber to develop while playing at the big league level, preferring to keep his bat in the lineup instead of sending him down to the minors for more seasoning.
There has been plenty of talk about Schwarber’s future as a fielder with the Cubs after his route-running came into question during the NLCS, but Epstein and the front office clearly believe that he can develop into a serviceable player at either position, and that keeping his bat in the lineup is a priority to forcing him to take extra reps at either position during a minor league stint.
Arrieta Contract Not Top Priority, but Cubs Open to Talk
“I’m sure there will come a time where we’ll approach Jake and Scott Boras and try to extend that window,” Epstein said when asked about Arrieta’s contract status. “We’re not going to talk about that time publicly, but we’d be foolish not to try to extend that window.”
Arrieta is not set to become a free agent until after the 2017 season, but with his dominant performance during the 2015 campaign, there are increasing calls for the Cubs to lock him up to a more team-friendly deal before a free agency campaign would likely raise his asking price. It doesn’t sound like Epstein is looking to lock up Arrieta any time soon, but conversations will surely take place with Boras this offseason as the Cubs pursue other free agents.
Hammel Will Likely Remain in Rotation
“He is that guy that you saw in the first half when he’s 100 percent and locked in, and it’s our job to get him that way for the first week of the season next year,” Epstein said when asked about Hammel’s status for next season.
There have been plenty of questions about whether the Cubs will add a top-line starter and a young, cost-controlled guy to the rotation, and about what that would mean to Jason Hammel’s status, but it seems that the Cubs are planning on having him in the mix for a starter’s job next season. Hammel will be entering the second year of a two-year contract that he signed with the Cubs, and he’ll be looking to rebound after an awful second half that saw his confidence dwindle and his performance suffer.
Baez, Bryant Could See Outfield Time
With the huge amount of positional prospects the Cubs have, it isn’t shocking that Epstein said the team is going to look at potentially giving both Javier Baez and Kris Bryant time in the outfield. Bryant played some at all three outfield positions this season, and with his arm and deceptive speed, he could potentially be a fit in right field for the Cubs if they choose to go in that direction.
The real question becomes, of course, whether the Cubs want to keep just one true outfielder and have Schwarber and Bryant serving as the corner guys. That is a big if from a defensive perspective, as we saw what happened when they skimped on defense during the postseason. A spring training spent developing talent and route-running could be just what the doctor ordered for both players, but it will be interesting to see how serious the Cubs are about having those types of players in the lineup on an everyday basis in those positions.
The Chicago Cubs welcomed new third baseman Kris Bryant to Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon for his first big league game, and after only getting three hours of sleep as he flew in from Des Moines, the star was ready to get things underway.
“Right now, it’s a little overwhelming, but I’m ready to have fun with it,” he said in a pregame media availability.
Joe Maddon and the Cubs aren’t hesitating to throw the youngster to the wolves right away, as he will bat in the clean-up spot and play third base in Friday’s game against the San Diego Padres. With Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella both on the disabled list, Bryant has an opportunity to grab a roster spot for the long haul over the next few weeks, but he’s focused more on the day-to-day chances that his new spot gives him.
“When you start putting expectations that are way out there, you start losing sight of what’s important in this game,” he said.
High expectations can be the downfall of many players, but Bryant doesn’t seem to be one of them. He has excelled at every level of professional baseball he has played at so far, and even after he was sent down following a nine-home run stint in Cactus League play, he slugged three more home runs for the Iowa Cubs before his call-up.
Fans can count Maddon among the chorus of people who don’t believe that Bryant will be affected by the pressure surrounding him.
“I don’t think he’s going to be impacted by any of that,” he said. “Whether we batted him first or ninth, it doesn’t matter. He’s still going to play the game. I told him that my expectations are that (he) respect 90 feet and enjoy himself.”
As for what the plans are for Bryant after his initial time at third base, Cubs President Theo Epstein indicated that he believes the slugger will remain at the hot corner for the foreseeable future.
“The need right now is at third base, and we’re very comfortable with his defensive abilities,” he said. “I think this guy can play third base for a while.”
Bryant is only 23 years old, so his career with the Cubs could end up lasting a very long time. Even with that bright future ahead of him, his debut is still a moment for celebration for him and his family, and they will be in the building at Wrigley Field on Friday.
“I’ve never seen my dad cry before. That’s what it’s all about,” Bryant said. “Now my family, friends, girlfriend get to watch me on this stage.”
The Chicago Cubs have a decision on their hands as they decide what to do with third baseman Kris Bryant after spring training, but on Tuesday afternoon, it became clear that a key member of Bryant’s camp has ideas on what the North Siders should do.
“Cubs ownership has a choice,” Bryant’s agent Scott Boras told Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. “Are they going to present to their market that they are trying to win? Tom Ricketts said they were all about winning.”
Boras clearly wants Bryant to be up with the Cubs when camp breaks in early April, and his motives likely have more to do with his client’s major league service clock (if Bryant opens the year with the Cubs, the team would have to spend options to send him back to the minors if they chose to do so, and it would mean that Bryant would likely become a free agent after the 2020 season, not the 2021 campaign) than the Cubs’ chances of winning a World Series.
Cubs president Theo Epstein had a blunt response to Boras, saying that “comments from agents, media members, and anybody outside our organization will be ignored.”
To be blunt, there is only one correct choice for the Cubs to make here: starting Bryant in the minors. Bringing him up with the team out of Mesa would give the early season games a bit of extra juice, but at what cost? Getting Bryant 10 or 11 extra games this season at the expense of losing an entire year of relatively cheap service time during the prime of his career?
This isn’t even a debate, but Boras’ desire to frame this as a matter of the Cubs choosing to deliberately shoot themselves in the foot competitively shouldn’t be taken as gospel. He’s merely an agent trying to get his client a bigger payday sooner rather than later, and fans would be smart not to buy into his comments.
The Chicago Cubs have some of the most highly-touted prospects in baseball, but arguably the biggest at the moment isn’t going to be donning a uniform for the North Siders any time soon.
That’s because Kris Bryant, who currently has 19 HR and 51 RBI for the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate in West Tennessee, likely won’t be called up by the team despite his torrid hitting. His OPS is a completely ludicrous 1.160, and his slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging) is a remarkable .353/.460/.700. Those numbers are essentially video game numbers, but Bryant is proving that his prodigious power is all too real.
GM Jed Hoyer is excited about the numbers, calling them “fun to see,” but as Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago reported last night, it’s all but certain that Bryant will not get a big league call-up this season.
“We probably want to see him there a little longer,” Hoyer told Levine. “He has only spent two months at that level, and he has been skipping through the system without a lot of time at one level.”
Levine also added this statement to the end of his piece:
“Sources indicated the Cubs want Bryant to hone his skills for an entire minor league season.”
This kind of attitude isn’t one that’s likely to sit well with the Cubs’ legion of doubters (you listening, Mr. Telander?), but if one is looking at it from a purely logical standpoint, then it’s obvious why the team would want to wait. They’re currently in last place in the NL Central, and calling Bryant up into this quagmire would put way too much pressure on him and could potentially hurt his development. Hoyer and Theo Epstein have both said that they feel like they rushed Anthony Rizzo to the big leagues, and they don’t want to repeat that mistake with Bryant.
It’s a completely understandable emotion, and one that makes strategic sense. Letting the youngster get more seasoning, especially in the field, is a smart idea, and in the end it will make him a more well-rounded player.
The Chicago Cubs are in the process of celebrating the 100th birthday of Wrigley Field, and as part of the festivities, they are adding a couple of wrinkles to the Friendly Confines.
One of those wrinkles was unveiled on Wednesday, as the team painted the iconic red marquee green, in honor of its original color when it was erected in 1934. There’s no word yet on whether they’ll also paint it blue at some point (another color from its history as the face of the ballpark), but apparently the gesture didn’t sit well with some of the Chicago media’s elite.
Take what Chicago Sun-Times scribe and long-time Cubs critic Rick Telander had to say about the sign on Thursday. In a scathing column that hit a grand slam in terms of bombast, intellectual dishonesty, confusing logical leaps, and good old fashioned hatred, Telander tried his best to not only tear down the sign, but also to make sure that the Ricketts family and the Cubs’ front office was standing beneath it as he went to work with his verbal crowbar.
Here are some of the samplings of the wisdom Telander gave to us:
“Of course, there’s money afoot. Sparkling down at me from the electronic message board on the legendary baseball marquee were the words all Cubs fans have been dying to see: “BENJAMIN MOORE: Official Paint of the Chicago Cubs.”
Considering what he ends up going on to say later in the column, it’s hilarious that Telander is criticizing the team for trying to monetize something. I guess there are some money trees hidden under the left field bleachers that we don’t know about, because Telander apparently wants the Cubs to pull a magic trick of being able to spend money without having ways to generate it.
“The Cubs, as I type this, reek.
“Their record is 13-25. They are in last place in the NL Central, 11 games behind the Brewers. They are the worst team in the National League and trail only the AL’s Houston Astros for the most losses in the majors.
“It’s not a stretch to say – and I will say it, for those of you who won’t or gag trying to get it out – that they are the worst team in baseball.”
Naturally, Telander ignores a couple of key factors as he throws the Cubs under the bus as the “worst team in baseball.” The first is that Houston’s run differential is already at negative-55, while the Cubs is a much more pleasing negative-5. Four other teams in the National League have a worse run-differential than the Cubs, and one of those team is the Pittsburgh Pirates, who currently sit at 17-22.
According to Baseball Prospectus, the Cubs have been the victim of some bad luck, and they, not the Pirates, should actually be in fourth place in the NL Central, with their expected winning percentage sitting at .485. They would only be a game behind the Cardinals for third place in the BP projections, but never mind all of that. Telander has some more drum beating to do!
“Oh, there are promises and bear-with-us-pleases and crooked smiles. Just wait. Hold on. Give us time. It’s coming soon. Next year. OK, two years from now. Three? Someday?
“The Cubs trounced the Cardinals 17-5 on Monday night. Awesome. And then Tuesday night they took a 2-0 lead, let the Cardinals come back, and lost in the 12th inning 4-3. Reliever Justin Grimm hit Greg Garcia with the bases loaded, forcing in the winning run.”
Oh noes! A team scored a ton of runs one night and then didn’t score quite as many runs the next night and ended up barely losing a game in 12 innings! Any statistician worth their salt will tell you that winning and losing baseball games is no more than a coin flip proposition, and it just so happened that the Cubs called heads on a night that the quarter landed on tails. Oh well, stuff happens. This is a very weak attempt at pushing the narrative.
“They outscored the Cardinals 20-9 in two games and split. Cub-like? Cub-like.
“Could they have given maybe 11 of those unneeded runs on Monday to luckless pitcher Jeff Samardzija in earlier games? No, of course not. Could they have taken those 17 runs and combined them with the 12 they scored against the White Sox in a 12-5 victory last Thursday and just spread them around?”
No Rick, they can’t. I’m not really sure how these paragraphs bolster your argument, but it’s pretty obvious that you’re ignoring the way that offense works in baseball. You see, some nights pitchers are having a bad night. Some nights, batters are seeing pitches better than others. Asking players to “spread the wealth” when it comes to runs is a really weird request, and not one that even baseball’s best teams are at all capable of doing.
On another note, are you seriously complaining that the Cubs would have the audacity to score a bunch of runs? I thought they were terrible? Do you not want them to score gobs of runs Rick?
“Epstein’s brain is not quite officially fried. But it must be close. Meanwhile, he’s practicing his guitar for a big charity music fest with studs such as Spring-steen guitarist Tom Morello coming up at Metro.”
This is the end of a lengthy screed in which he criticizes Cubs owners and front office personnel for daring to have lives outside of the ballpark while the team is struggling. I’m sure Rick sits in his office all the time pondering ways to boost revenues at the Sun-Times, turning down invitations to hang out with friends or to perform charitable acts in what little spare time he is forced to allow himself.
Get serious, Mr. Telander. Of course the Ricketts family and Theo Epstein are going to have lives outside of the Friendly Confines. They’re human beings, and their lives don’t begin and end with baseball. In fact, just about your entire readership is the same way, in that they have interests other than continuing to beat a dead horse as they crow about how the Cubs aren’t spending money or taking their losing ways seriously enough.
This entire column basically reads as a compendium of every criticism that Telander has levied against the Cubs all season long, and most of it is complete bunk. He criticizes prospects like Javier Baez and Jorge Soler for their slow starts, but completely ignores how great Kris Bryant is playing. The fact that he also ignores this notion that maybe we’re talking about too small of a sample size before throwing guys under the bus, but of course, it wouldn’t make for good copy for him to do that.
Instead, he’s going to continue trotting out these nonsensical arguments and preying upon those Cubs fans who are already impatient for a winner. I’m not one of those fans. I don’t want this team to spend a bunch of money on free agents and win 80 games. I want them to slowly build the foundation for a winner, and frankly, they are doing that. Telander and other members of the media who are harping on the Cubs are nothing better than the guy who shows up at the scene of an accident and snaps pictures of it on his cell phone, chomping on gum and criticizing the EMT’s for taking too long to clean up the debris.
With the news last week that University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam was gay, the NFL world has been turned on its ear as it tries to come to grips with the fact that there will likely be an openly gay player in the league for the first time in its history.
Ever since that news broke with Sam’s admission, the rest of the sports world has been evaluating whether they too would be ready for a gay player to enter the ranks of their game. While the NHL has been the most forward about this situation with the embracing of the group “You Can Play” and other organizations, both the NBA and MLB have been a bit quieter on that front.
In the cases of the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox though, there is one thread that seems to run through both organizations: the only thing that matters about a player is whether he helps us win, not what sexual orientation he is.
White Sox pitcher Chris Sale was the most vocal about it.
“For me personally, if you show up, you’re ready to play, I don’t care what you believe in, who you are, where you’re from, any of that stuff,” he told Comcast SportsNet. “If you’re going to play hard and you’re going to play with respect, give him a jersey and put him the locker right next to me. I don’t care.”
Sale also didn’t mince words when asked about those players that would judge a player based on their sexuality. “The people that get all bent out of shape about that need a reality check,” he said.
On the Cubs’ side of things, pitcher Jeff Samardzija told media members that he did have a gay teammate in the minor leagues, and echoed Sale’s sentiments about what he looks for in a teammate.
“You win games with talent and good numbers and things like that,” he said. “You don’t win games with looks and styles and this and that. As a teammate, all you want is a guy to have your back, a guy to play hard for you and a guy that goes out there and battles with you every day of the week, regardless of preferences.”
True to his reputation as a scholar and a savvy forward-thinking executive, Cubs President Theo Epstein summed his feelings up on the matter very well.
“I think it’s important to be on the right side of history,” he said. “Clearly, we’ve reached that time in this society where you can do the right thing and it’s not any brave stand anymore. It’s just the right thing to do.”
“If there’s a player that can help you, you can’t look at things that don’t matter. Sexual orientation doesn’t matter with respect to winning games, with respect to having strong character, with respect to fitting into the clubhouse and making strong bonds with teammates,” he added.
All three of these guys, simply put, get it. A player’s sexual orientation matters about as much on the baseball field and in the locker room as what kind of cereal he eats in the morning. All that matters about a player is whether or not they can help a team win at the end of the game, and the more athletes and front office executives that can accept that irrefutable truth, the better.
Kudos to Epstein, Samardzija, and especially Sale for not only being grown-ups about this topic, but speaking up forcefully for equality in the locker room.