October 2011

10/26 Epstein wants to meet with Z

The Cubs do need pitching for 2012, and Theo Epstein says he wants to talk to Carlos Zambrano before automatically dismissing the right-hander. Zambrano was placed on the restricted list after leaving the Turner Field clubhouse in Atlanta Aug. 12 and telling teammates he was retiring. In September, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said he’d have trouble picturing Zambrano pitching again for the team. The right-hander is owed $19 million for next year and has a full no-trade clause.

“I need to get to the bottom of that,” Epstein said Tuesday during an interview on Chicago Tribune Live. “I think the best organizations get the most out of their players, even the ones that might be harder to get the most out of it. But the best organizations also know when it’s time to move on.”

Zambrano was 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA in 24 starts, totaling 145 2/3 innings for the Cubs.

“He’s got talent,” Epstein said of the right-hander. “Obviously, things haven’t gone the way he would have liked or the organization would have liked the last few years.”

What about Bryan LaHair? He hit 38 homers at Triple-A Iowa this year and was batting .308 with six homers, nine RBIs in 10 games for Magallanes in Venezuela Winter League. He’s also struck out 14 times.

“I have a soft spot for guys who hit everywhere they’ve ever been — hit, hit, hit and continue to hit,” Epstein said. “There’s this myth about the 4-A hitter. Guys who perform all the way up the Minor Leagues, dominate Triple-A, get a cup of coffee, they hit a buck-fifty in the big leagues, and everybody labels them a 4-A hitter.

“The reality is, I’m not so sure there is something called a 4-A hitter. It’s just [a] pretty good Major League hitter who never got an opportunity.”

Perhaps LaHair will get a chance.

“We’re looking for assets,” Epstein said. “We’re going to scratch and claw and do everything in our power — in the draft, internationally, small trades, waiver claims. We need to build assets because we don’t have enough of them. We’re not going to look past one that might be sitting right there in our organization.”

— Carrie Muskat

10/26 Team USA loses to Canada

Iowa Cubs catcher Chris Robinson had two hits and scored a run to help Canada beat Team USA, 2-1, and win the gold medal in the Pan Am Games in Mexico on Tuesday. Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Jeff Beliveau, gave up one hit in one inning of relief work. Cubs prospect Brett Jackson did not play in the gold medal game. The U.S. beat Cuba, 12-10, in the semifinals to advance.

— Carrie Muskat


10/25 AFL update

DJ LeMahieu had two hits and scored two runs in Mesa’s 8-6, 10-inning loss to Surprise on Tuesday in Arizona Fall League play. Junior Lake and Josh Vitters were both hitless in four at-bats. Trey McNutt started for Mesa, and gave up three runs on six hits over 2 1/3 innings. The Solar Sox lost on a walkoff two-run homer in the 10th. On Wednesday, Mesa plays host to Scottsdale at HoHoKam Park. First pitch at 12:35 p.m. MT.

— Carrie Muskat

10/25 Dempster event Nov. 3 at The Palm

Ryan Dempster and Cubs players past and present will get together Nov. 3 for a “Strike Out 22q” fundraiser at the Palm Restaurant in Chicago. Mickey Morandini, Todd Hollandsworth and Mike Bielecki will join Dempster for the event from 6:30-9:30 p.m. CT. Proceeds will benefit The Ryan and Jenny Dempster Family Foundation, dedicated to assisting charities and organizations supporting children with a 22q11.2 Deletion (also known as DiGeorge Syndrome, or VCFS) as well as other children’s charities in the Chicago area.
The evening will begin with a VIP party where guests will enjoy one-on-one time to mix and mingle with Dempster and other guests invited to the event. Beginning at 7:30 p.m., all guests will enjoy a buffet at the Palm, including delicious signature favorites and cocktails, amazing raffle offerings including an iPad2; a fabulous Marco Island, Fla., vacation; and Cubs autographed sports memorabilia. Guests also will have an opportunity to bid to throw out a first pitch at Wrigley Field in 2012. VIP and general admission tickets are available online. Go to dempsterfamilyfoundation.org.

— Carrie Muskat

10/25 Welcome to the Cubs, Theo

Here’s Theo Epstein’s opening statement from Tuesday’s press conference introducing him as the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations and below, some notes:

“I was so fortunate to spend a decade in the Red Sox organization and I consider myself very, very lucky to be a Cub today,” Epstein said. “It truly is an honor and a privilege to join such a special organization. To me, baseball is better with tradition, baseball is better with history, baseball is better with fans who care, baseball is better with ballparks like this, baseball is better during the day and baseball is best of all when you win. That, ultimately, is why I’m here today.

“With this ownership and this fan support, I firmly believe we can preserve all those things I just mentioned that make the Cubs so special and over time build a consistent winner, a team that is playing baseball in oct reg and a team that will ultimately win the World Series,” he said. “That does not happen over night and it certainly does not happen because of any one person. Over time, together, we will build a solid foundation that delivers sustained success to the Cubs.

“Building a foundation for success also means creating a winning culture at the big league level,” he said. “Our fans deserve a clubhouse full of players who are proud to wear the Cubs uniform and who are passionate about winning as they are. … We’re going to have to grind our way to the top and we must do so together. It will be a lot of work. The good thing is we are ready and we are hungry. As I mentioned earlier, when we do achieve that sustained success and ultimately win a World Series, it will not happen because of any one person, it will happen because of all of us.”

* Epstein has talked to manager Mike Quade, and wants to meet with him face to face. Quade is signed for next year.

“The most important first step is I need to get to know Mike Quade better,” Epstein said.

* He did not have any contact with the Cubs until Tom Ricketts called to ask permission to interview Epstein. Ricketts consulted with 20 people and examined all the teams before pursuing Epstein, and said he knew after 10 to 15 minutes of their first conversation that Epstein was the right person.

*They are still negotiating regarding a general manager. Whoever is hired would rn the Major League team on a day to day basis. The goal, Epstein said, is to build a “foundation for sustained success.”

* His parents told Epstein that from the age of two, he would watch baseball games on TV, and played Whiffle ball games in Central Park, New York. He didn’t move to Boston until he was four years old.

“It was my passion from an early age,” he said.

His mother says that by the age of 12, Epstein had decided he wanted to work in baseball.

* What about curses?

“I don’t believe in curses, and I guess I played a small part in proving they don’t exist from a baseball standpoint,” he said. “I do believe you can be honest and up front about the fact that certain organization hasn’t gotten the job done and hasn’t won a World Series in a long time. That’s the approach we took in Boston. It wasn’t a curse, it’s just that we hadn’t gotten the job done.”

The Red Sox ended an 86 year drought when they won the World Series in 2004.

— Carrie Muskat


10/25 Theo prefers Dunkin Donuts coffee

Yes, it was Theo Epstein at a Wrigleyville Starbucks in early October. The Chicago Tribune reported someone had seen Epstein at the Starbucks on Racine and Wrightwood streets, getting coffee. The new Cubs president of baseball operations confirmed on Tuesday it was him.

“When I’m somewhere where I don’t want to be recognized, and someone recognizes me, I have a couple standard lines,” Epstein said. “I usually say, ‘Oh no, that’s not me, but I guess I look like him,’ or I say, ‘Theo Epstein? Who’s that?’

“I was so excited to be in Chicago and so surprised to be recognized that I dropped both lines on this guy without stopping to think they really don’t work well in concert with each other,” he said. “My mistake. I’m a little more of a Dunkin [Donuts] guy, and now that I learned that Dunkin supports the Cubs, that’s a good thing.”

— Carrie Muskat


10/24 AFL update

DJ LeMahieu had one hit and scored a run but it wasn’t enough as Surprise beat Mesa, 8-3, on Monday in Arizona Fall League play at HoHoKam Park. Junior Lake, named AFL Player of the Week, was hitless in four at-bats. On Tuesday, the two teams meet again in Surprise. First pitch scheduled for 12:35 p.m. MT.

— Carrie Muskat

10/24 Lake named AFL player of week

Shortstop Junior Lake was named Arizona Fall League Player of the week on Monday. Lake batted .455 with three doubles, one homer, eight RBIs and stole four bases for the Mesa Solar Sox last week. The Cubs prospect was batting .379 overall. Lake is the AFL stolen base leader after three weeks, and is on pace to challenge the single-season record of 24 set by Rick Holifield (Phillies) in 1994. Lake also ranks second in the league in hits (22) and total bases (41), third in slugging percentage (.707), is tied for third in doubles and home runs, fifth in RBIs, and tied for fifth in batting. He enters the league’s fourth week of play riding a nine-game hitting streak with extra-base hits in his last seven games. Lake split this season between Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. In five Minor League seasons, he has a .267 average with 33 home runs, 192 RBIs, and 82 stolen bases.

— Carrie Muskat

10/24 Theo in town; to be introduced Tuesday

Theo Epstein is at work at Wrigley Field, and will be introduced as the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations on Tuesday. The news conference will be held at Wrigley Field, starting at 11 a.m. CT. He went to lunch with some of the baseball operations staff Monday at Vines on Clark, a restaurant near Wrigley. Among those who accompanied Epstein were interim GM Randy Bush, player development director Oneri Fleita, and traveling secretary Jimmy Bank.

Epstein comes to the Cubs after spending the last nine years as the Red Sox GM. He took over in November 2002, and his Boston teams won two World Championships in 2004 and ’07, and reached the playoffs in six of his nine seasons at the helm.

Here’s some of the info from his bio in the 2004 Red Sox media guide:

“In his first season as senior vice president/general manager, Theo Epstein wasted little time making his mark on the Red Sox organization. While he immediately pledged to transform the Red Sox into a “scouting and player development machine,” he also set his sights on returning the franchise to the postseason.

“To that end, the youngest GM in Major League history (only 28 years 11 months at the time of his Nov. 25, 2002, appointment) quickly worked to re-shape not only the Red Sox roster, but also the personality of the team he grew up cheering from his childhood home in Brookline, just blocks away from Fenway Park.

“The end result: October baseball at Fenway Park in 2003, thanks, in large part, to one of the greatest single-season offensive outputs in Major League history. Free agent signings Bill Mueller and David Ortiz and players acquired via trade like Kevin Millar and Todd Walker were key offseason pickups targeted by Epstein and his baseball operations staff, who sought and achieved a relentless lineup. They joined other hard-nosed competitors like Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield on a roster that already included All-Stars Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe.

“Collectively, they nurtured the ‘Cowboy Up’ attitude that defined the 2003 Red Sox. Seemingly no deficit was too large to overcome, no injury too great to battle through, no blow too staggering to keep the team down.”

Note: Only Epstein will be at the Tuesday news conference, and not the next GM, which is expected to be Jed Hoyer. Those details are still being finalized.

— Carrie Muskat

10/24 Team USA & winter ball roundup

Team USA lost 3-2 to Mexico on Saturday in the Pan Am games, being played in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico. Cubs prospect Brett Jackson made his first plate appearance since Oct. 14, and grounded out to second in the ninth in a pinch-hit appearance. Jeff Beliveau, the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, also appeared in the game and struck out two of the three batters he faced. With the loss, the U.S. finished as the No. 2 seed in its group, and will face Cuba in the semifinals.

* In the Dominican Republic, Scott Maine is 0-1 in three relief outings for Estrellas, giving up one earned run on two hits and one walk over two innings in three outings. John Gaub has given up three earned runs on two hits and two walks over 1 2/3 innings in three appearances for Leones del Escogido. In his last game Wednesday, he struck out all three batters he faced. Chris Rusin made one start Oct. 18 for Escogido, and gave up one run on three hits over four innings while striking out three. Steve Clevenger was 2-for-3 with one RBIs Sunday for Escogido, and batting .222 in six games overall.

* In Venezuela, Bryan LaHair was 1-for-4 and scored a run Sunday for Magallanes. He’s batting .308 overall with six homers and nine RBIs and also has struck out 14 times, including three Ks on Sunday. Marwin Gonzalez was 2-for-5 and scored a run on Sunday. He’s batting .273 in 10 games with four RBIs, three of those coming in one game. Austin Bibens-Dirkx has given up two earned runs on five hits and four walks over 5 1/3 innings in two games for Zulia. The right-hander made one start on Oct. 12.

* In Mexico, Blake Parker has not given up a hit or a run in seven relief appearances for Naranjeros in Mexican Winter League play, including one inning Sunday. The right-hander has totaled seven innings in seven games, and walked one and struck out eight. Hung-Wen Chen has given up one run on six hits over 6 1/3 innings in six games with Venados de Mazatlan. Chen is 3-for-4 in save situations, with five strikeouts. In two starts for Yaquis de Obregon, Marco Carillo has given up one run on six hits and four walks over 10 innings.

— Carrie Muskat