Results tagged ‘ Theo Epstein ’
The 2013 season was another step in the Cubs’ rebuilding process. For the second straight year, the Cubs dealt 40 percent of their starting rotation. They seemed to set a record for most deals in July as Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol and Scott Hairston also were traded. In August, David DeJesus was sent to the Nationals.
In return, the Cubs felt they strengthened the organization with players such as third baseman Mike Olt and pitchers Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Jake Arrieta, Ivan Pineyro, C.J. Edwards and Corey Black. It’s all part of Theo Epstein’s plan since taking over as Cubs president of baseball operations.
All the transactions didn’t solve the 2013 team’s problems, and the Cubs finished last in the tough National League Central at 66-96, the fourth straight year they’ve posted a sub .500 season.
As 2013 comes to a close, here are five storylines from the Cubs’ season:
5. Hot prospects
Every time Javier Baez hit a home run, or first-round Draft pick Kris Bryant won another award, there were questions about where the Cubs top prospects would fit in the big league lineup. Baez, the No. 1 pick in 2011, and Bryant, who was the second overall selection in June, stole some of the headlines from the big league team. The Cubs front office’s mantra is that the kids need time to develop but fans are eager for someone to cheer for. Baez, who belted 37 homers and drove in 111 runs combined at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, and Bryant, the college player of the year who was named the Arizona Fall League MVP, aren’t the only super kids. The list of potential impact players in the Cubs system also includes Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards, and Jorge Soler. Now, the question is when.
4. Marmol, Fujikawa and Gregg
Carlos Marmol lost the closer’s job one week into the regular season, and Kyuji Fujikawa took over but he was limited because of elbow problems. The Japanese pitcher eventually needed Tommy John surgery, and the Cubs had to scramble. They signed Kevin Gregg, who was released by the Dodgers April 3, and he proceeded to reclaim the job, finishing with 33 saves. Marmol was eventually traded to the Dodgers for Matt Guerrier, and didn’t get another save opportunity the rest of the season. The Cubs bullpen was a problem most of the season, ranking on the bottom of the National League in ERA, walks, and home runs allowed.
3. Alfonso Soriano is traded to Yankees
For the second straight year, the Cubs were busy at the Trade Deadline, but none of the moves affected the players the way the departure of Alfonso Soriano did. The veteran outfielder was dealt to the Yankees, where he began his U.S. pro career in 1999. He has one year remaining on the eight-year, $136 million contract he signed with the Cubs in November 2006. While fans were critical of Soriano’s defensive ability, he was revered in the Cubs clubhouse. Soriano topped the Cubs in home runs and RBIs at the All-Star break, and they struggled to fill his spot in the lineup after he left. The Cubs may have been the only team to use a backup catcher, Dioner Navarro, in the No. 4 spot.
2. Manager Dale Sveum is dismissed
Sveum was a no nonsense kind of guy. He held players accountable. He believed in face to face communication. In Spring Training, he organized a bunting tournament, and included himself in the bracket. When Sveum was hired in November 2011, Epstein trusted the manager and his coaching staff to compile “The Cubs Way” handbook, to be used throughout the organization.
The Cubs lost 197 games in two seasons under Sveum, but Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer said the record wasn’t the reason the manager was dismissed. There were issues regarding the development of some of the Cubs, and Sveum got his signals crossed with a few players and the front office.
“There has to be a clear, unified message, and [players] can’t be getting different signals from different directions and collectively — myself included — we failed to provide that,” Epstein said.
Sveum wasn’t out of work for long. Royals manager Ned Yost waited one hour after Sveum was dismissed before calling to offer him a job on Kansas City’s coaching staff.
1. Starlin Castro takes a step backward
Castro was disappointed when he didn’t bat .300 for a third straight season in 2012, finishing at .283. But no one expected the shortstop to struggle as much as he did in 2013, batting .245 — including a .167 June. What happened? The shortstop lost his aggressive approach, struck out a career-high 129 times, and often looked lost at the plate. He was dropped to eighth in the order in August.
“This year, it’s too many things to think about [and] I’m not supposed to think [up there],” Castro said. “Sometimes you have a tough season, and you want to please everybody. But it’s not right. You have to listen to the things that can help you — not everything. When you come to home plate, you don’t have any idea, because you listen to too many things.”
Toward the end of the season, Castro announced he was just going to “be me.” The shortstop may be the Cubs’ new leadoff man in 2014 — he batted .263 there this past season — and the team can only hope he regains his approach, especially since this is Year 2 of his seven-year, $60 million contract.
– Carrie Muskat
If Cubs fans are upset at how long it’s taking the team to complete its rebuilding process, they have a friend in agent Scott Boras.
“The idea is it’s going to take some time for them to reach the resolve to say that they’re going to compete on all fronts to win a division or build a franchise,” Boras told reporters at the baseball Winter Meetings on Wednesday when asked about the Cubs.
“Obviously, it’s internal and I know the fans and baseball [operations] people have a plan afoot,” Boras said. “It’s just that normally with major market teams, you see a little bit different approach than you see here [with the Cubs]. This is more of a small-market approach if you will.”
The Cubs’ plan since Theo Epstein took over as president of baseball operations prior to the 2012 season is to develop their own players in an effort to build a solid foundation of homegrown talent. That includes two of Boras’ clients, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant.
“I think everybody knows that we have great respect for their baseball people there,” Boras said of the Cubs’ front office. “They’ve done a great job in the Draft. They know what they’re doing. The real thing has nothing to do the baseball people or how the organization is run. It’s just the fact that you have a major market team that has dramatically more revenues than most clubs that do take this type of approach.
“The Cubs have the capacity to sign any player they want in baseball,” Boras said. “The question is whether they think it fits their plan.”
Epstein said he had a great relationship with Boras and seemed more amused by the comments.
“It’s not the first time an agent has used the media to try to compel a team into spending huge amounts of money without knowledge of that club’s financial situation,” Epstein said. “It’s not a surprise and we’re not going to get into a war of words with Scott other than to say the folks who work at the Cubs probably have a better understanding of our situation than he does. We look forward to working with him and to continue to sign his players.”
– Carrie Muskat
Theo Epstein met Wednesday with Jeff Samardzija’s agent at the Winter Meetings, and said as of now, the pitcher is the team’s Opening Day starter. Samardzija also doesn’t appear to be any closer to agreeing to a long-term contract. Samardzija will be a free agent after the 2015 season. His name has been mentioned in trade rumors but interested teams have not been able to meet the Cubs’ demands. Samardzija is coming off his first 200-inning, 200-strikeout season.
“Every time we meet with [agent Mark Rodgers], I feel great about the relationship and the relationship with Jeff, too,” Epstein said. “Talks are amicable, open. We’re transparent about the situation and our interests, and he’s transparent about Jeff’s desires and interests.
“We continue to try to move the ball forward as much as we can on one of two or three possible outcomes,” Epstein said. “There hasn’t been any fundamental change in the situation. Communication is good and we continue to view Jeff as a really big part of what we’re doing even as we admit there are several possible outcomes.”
And that’s that as far as Epstein is concerned. He won’t be giving daily briefings on Samardzija’s status.
“At some point, I don’t think Jeff deserves to read about this every day,” Epstein said. “It’s a tough thing to read about someone speculating on where you’re going to work. We’ll put it to bed. The sitaution now is Jeff’s our Opening Day starter and that’s how we’re moving forward.”
Epstein said he and GM Jed Hoyer will stop answering questions about Samardzija’s status.
“I don’t want Jeff to have to read the paper every day that there’s speculation that he might be traded or not,” Epstein said. “We’re asked about all of our good players all the time and it’s no surprise we’re asked about Jeff Samardzija. There’s no trade imminent, and we’ll see what happens. We hope he’s here for a long time.”
– Carrie Muskat
Javier Baez, the Cubs’ first-round pick in the June 2011 First-Year Player Draft, is creating a lot of buzz as he gets closer to the big leagues. However, he’s a shortstop, and the Cubs already have a talented shortstop in Starlin Castro. Do the Cubs move Baez? Not now, Theo Epstein said.
“At some point, creating options and creating versatility is a good thing,” Epstein said Thursday. “In Javy’s case, he’s got a tremendous combination of instincts and athleticism which makes us think he’ll be a natural at playing other positions.”
Epstein said amateur scouting reports say Baez could play every position, including catcher.
“I think it’ll be an easy transition for him if and when that time comes,” Epstein said. “He hasn’t even reached Triple-A yet. There’s plenty of time to do it. You don’t want to take shortstop away from a kid. Once you move off shortstop, it’s really hard to move back.
“There may be a time in the future when he moves on a permanent basis, and there may be time when we move just to give him versatility,” he said. “In Spring Training, he’ll play plenty of shortstop and that might be a time to move him around as well.”
Baez, 21, was named the Cubs’ Minor League player of the year after batting .282 with 37 home runs and 111 RBIs at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee.
– Carrie Muskat
The bidding may start soon on Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. According to various media reports, Major League Baseball and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball have reached a basic agreement on a new posting system. The Japan Times reports the new system will have a maximum posting fee of $20 million. Final details are still being worked out but FOX Sports and MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal says if multiple teams submit the same bid, the player will be allowed to negotiate with all of those teams. Only the signing club would be required to pay the posting fee, which would not count against MLB’s luxury tax. Tanaka’s team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, opposed the $20 million max posting fee but the other 11 Japanese teams approved it.
During an interview on Comcast SportsNet Chicago Wednesday night, Theo Epstein said the Cubs were looking for “impact” pitching, and Tanaka would fit that. The 25-year-old was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 28 regular season games with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
– Carrie Muskat
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Yankees and Dodgers are expected to be the most aggressive in pursuit of Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka when the posting system is finalized. Major League officials and the Japanese league are ironing out details.
Sherman said executives from two clubs expect the Cubs to be in the mix as well, with one saying they will be “really aggressive.”
Sherman notes that the Cubs have several impact position players (Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora) but not enough pitching.
Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have been involved in the posting process for Japanese players before. They were with the Red Sox when they gave $51.1 million posting fee to land Daisuke Matsuzaka. If the Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers and Red Sox are in pursuit of Tanaka, it will be expensive.
The posting fees are still to be resolved. According to Sherman, MLB officials have been trying to lower the fees transferred from their teams to Japanese teams as part of the process to gain negotiating rights. The Rangers paid the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters $51.7 million posting fee to get Yu Darvish, then signed him to a six-year, $60 million contract.
MLB has a current proposal that involves a limit of $20 million, Sherman writes.
Why is Tanaka so highly regarded? Tanaka, 25, was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 28 regular season games with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, that’s why.
– Carrie Muskat
Cubs season ticket holders got a sneak peek at new manager Rick Renteria on Friday. At a presentation in downtown Chicago, an enthusiastic Renteria talked about how excited he was to take over the team.
“I feel we can win with young players,” Renteria said in the video, “because quite frankly the difference between an experienced Major League baseball club with veteran players is simply that [veterans] have the confidence level that’s been born over time and experience. I think what we’re trying to do is advance that confidence level as quickly as we can.”
Theo Epstein said one of the reasons Dale Sveum was dismissed as manager after the season is because the Cubs did not have that environment to develop young players.
“Frankly, that’s an area that I haven’t done a great job at, providing a Major League environment that’s supportive and allows our young players to continue to develop,” Epstein said. “That was really one of the major reasons for the managerial change, and one of the most important things we were looking for in a new manager. We wanted a new manager who had leadership experience and leadership traits. We wanted a new manager who had already impacted players positively at the Major League level, and impacted the Major League team.”
– Carrie Muskat
According to MLB Network’s Peter Gammons, the Cubs will name Rick Renteria the new manager on Thursday. However, a Major League source told MLB.com Wednesday there was no announcement pending.
The Cubs have spent more than a month interviewing Padres bench coach Rick Renteria, Brad Ausmus, former Mariners and Indians manager Eric Wedge, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, former Nationals and Indians manager Manny Acta, and former Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch.
The Cubs also reportedly wanted to talk to Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo.
When Dale Sveum was dismissed on Sept. 30, Epstein said they would prioritize managerial experience in the next manager. Epstein wanted a “dynamic person” who could establish a winning culture after losing more than 90 games two years in a row. The emphasis also would be on a person’s ability to develop young talent. Renteria inherits a young core that includes first baseman Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Starlin Castro, and catcher Welington Castillo, and up and coming prospects in Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.
– Carrie Muskat
Theo Epstein said he wanted the next Cubs manager to have some experience at the job but apparently Brad Ausmus may not need that requirement. The Cubs interviewed Ausmus at Wrigley Field on Friday. Ausmus, 44, who interviewed Monday with the Tigers, played 18 seasons, and was currently a special assistant with the Padres. His only managerial experience was with Team Israel in a qualifying tournament for the World Baseball Classic.
Ausmus was a three-time Gold Glove winner and named to the All-Star team in 1999. He was drafted in the 47th round by the Yankees in 1987, but wanted to attend Dartmouth College. The Yankees allowed him to do so while playing in the Minor Leagues. He finished his career in 2010, having played for the Padres, Tigers, Astros and Dodgers, and compiled a career .251 batting average, 80 home runs and 607 RBIs in 18 seasons.
Houston manager Phil Garner once joked that he had to keep playing Ausmus “because if he starts managing, he’ll be better than me.” Ausmus’ response: “Yeah, but if he keeps playing me more, he may end up losing his job anyway.”
Joe Torre also predicted Ausmus would someday manage, and had the catcher take control of the Dodgers for one game at the end of the 2010 season.
“I’m not going to say that I don’t [have that ambition], but I can’t say 100 percent that I do,” Ausmus said after that Dodgers’ game, a 7-5 loss to the Diamondbacks. “I might go home and decide that is where I want to be all the time. I wasn’t even married until after I got to the big leagues, and I haven’t been home with my family for more than three or four months at a time. They may decide they don’t like me.”
He’s also quick with the quip. In 2010, the Sporting News called Ausmus the ninth smartest athlete in sports.
“I feel like when they say I’m one of the smarter ballplayers, it’s just their way of saying I don’t hit very much,” Ausmus responded.
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer hired Ausmus as a special assistant with the Padres in November 2010 when Hoyer was the GM in San Diego. Ausmus is the third person with a Padres connection to be interviewed for the Cubs job. Rick Renteria, 51, who has interviewed with the Mariners and Tigers, is the Padres’ bench coach. A.J. Hinch, 39, is currently involved with player development in the Padres’ front office.
– Carrie Muskat
If Theo Epstein sticks to his schedule, he now has 10 days to name a new Cubs manager. Epstein said he wanted someone in place before the GM meetings, which begin Nov. 11. The Cubs have talked to Rick Renteria, Dave Martinez, Manny Acta and Eric Wedge. On Thursday, Renteria, 51, interviewed for the Tigers job. He’s also talked to the Mariners about their vacancy.
Epstein most likely is waiting for the Red Sox celebration to quiet down before contacting third base coach Torey Lovullo, whom Boston manager John Farrell has endorsed. The Tigers also reportedly want to talk to Lovullo.
The wild card candidate is Brad Ausmus, 44, who interviewed Monday with the Tigers. Ausmus played 18 seasons, and was currently a special assistant with the Padres. Epstein has said he preferred to hire someone with managerial experience, and Ausmus has only managed Team Israel in a qualifying tournament for the World Baseball Classic.
– Carrie Muskat