Results tagged ‘ Theo Epstein ’
Over the weekend, Theo Epstein and his young son Jack walked around Wrigley Field, and saw how the ivy on the outfield wall had changed colors from deep summer green to autumn’s reds and golds.
“It just flashed to how great it would be to be playing baseball at this time of year at Wrigley,” Epstein said Tuesday. “That’s the goal to get there and to get there in a way that allows us to do it year in and year out.”
Friday marks the one-year anniversary of when Epstein took over as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations. He didn’t plan on celebrating — the Cubs did lose 101 games in his first year at the helm — and said he was enthused by what’s transpired so far.
“I have a lot more gray hair now than I did a year ago — my wife reminds me of that all the time,” Epstein said. “I do feel really energized by a lot of the things that are going on here.”
One year ago, Epstein felt the Cubs had one player who projected as part of the core they’re trying to develop and that was shortstop Starlin Castro. Today, he feels there are at least half a dozen in the organization, including pitcher Jeff Samardzija, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and prospects Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler.
What also was encouraging was watching future Cubs players in Instructional League in Arizona.
“That was a really nice feeling to be down there and see a lot of dedicated Cubs baseball [operations] personnel, some new, some old, all buying into the collective ‘Cubs way’ of doing things that they helped define, impacting a really talented group of young players,” Epstein said.
“I also wake up every day and recognize we lost 101 games and understand how painful that was for everybody, including me, and that provides further motivation to get out of this position that we’re in,” he said. “I think there were a lot of positives. That core, at least in my mind, went from one player to half a dozen, and if we can do that again in 2013, and we look up and we have close to a dozen players in our core, I’ll feel great about the overall health of the organization. I also want to make the playoffs and I understand that’s a big challenge, so I hope we hit on a few guys this winter and get off to a good start and we have one of those unexpected seasons.”
– Carrie Muskat
Arizona Fall League
* The Arizona Fall League opens its 20th season Tuesday with three games, including the Mesa Solar Sox’s contest against the Salt River Rafters in Scottsdale at Talking Stick. The Cubs have seven players on the Solar Sox roster: Javier Baez, Rubi Silva, Kevin Rhoderick, Matt Szczur, Tony Zych, Dae-Eun Rhee, and Nick Struck, who was named the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. The majority of the rosters are composed of players who competed at Double-A levels last season. Baez, who turns 20 on Dec. 1, is the youngest player in the AFL. He spent most of the season at Class A Peoria, where he batted .333 in 57 games, and also played 23 games with Class A Daytona.
AFL games run from Tuesday until Nov. 15, with the championship on Nov. 17. The Solar Sox will play at HoHoKam Park on Wednesday at 12:35 p.m. MST against the Rafters.
* There’s definitely a different sound to the Cubs’ instructional league workouts this year at Fitch Park. Tim Cossins, 42, the Cubs new Minor League field coordinator, asked players and coaches to each submit a song, and the music is played during batting practice at Fitch Park. It does help get the energy level going during workouts in the 90-plus degree heat. Cossins replaces Brandon Hyde, who was promoted to director of player development. A former catcher, Cossins played eight seasons in the Minor Leagues, and managed five seasons in the Marlins’ Minor League system, including three at the Rookie League level and two years, 2005-06, at Class A Jupiter.
On Tuesday, Trevor Gretzky made an impressive catch in left field during one of the drills. Cubs outfield instructor Lee Tinsley says Gretzky is one of the most improved players in camp. It also was a good way for Gretzky to show off in front of his parents, Wayne Gretzky and Janet Jones, who were at Fitch Park.
Instructional league games finish this week, with the last game on Saturday. However, players will compete Thursday in their own “American Idol” type competition.
* Congrats to Jesse Hodges (@TCHodgy), who hit his first professional home run, a two-run shot, in Monday’s instructional league game against the Athletics. The Cubs signed Hodges after seeing him play in the World Junior Tournament in South Korea. A Canadian, he had a full scholarship at Grayson College, a junior college in Texas. His home run was well-timed as he connected in front of Cubs international scout Steve Wilson, who signed the infielder, as well as Hodges’ grandfather, who was at the game, and most of the Cubs brass, including Theo Epstein. I’ll have more on Hodges.
* Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are in Arizona this week with the Cubs scouting staff for the end of the year meetings, and a chance to see some of the young players such as Albert Almora and Jorge Soler.
– Carrie Muskat
The 2012 season was obviously a disappointment in terms of the final record, but Theo Epstein said he was encouraged by how the Cubs established a better culture and by some of the additions.
Fans will still have to be patient, said Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, who met with the media one day after the team wrapped up the season at 61-101.
“Having not been here previously, I think there was a real improvement in the culture around the team and the mood around the clubhouse,” Epstein said Thursday at Wrigley Field. “Despite being a losing club — and we can’t get away from that, we were a losing club — there was a real professionalism, a real spirit of unity, a real effort to play hard every day, to have each other’s back, to prepare.
“We had our lapses,” he said. “We had plenty of bone-head plays on the bases and things that shouldn’t happen, but on a whole, it was more of a winning atmosphere than you typically see around losing clubs. That’s something we can build on, that’s something we’re going to expect, that’s going to be the standard, that we can continue to build on.”
A lot of the credit for that change goes to first-year manager Dale Sveum and his staff. That could make the Cubs more attractive to free agents. Epstein said they will be looking at free agent pitchers to fill some of the holes in the rotation created by the trades of Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm.
“Players want to play for certain managers,” Epstein said. “I guarantee you, starting today and throughout the whole winter, players will be talking about how great it is to play for Dale Sveum and be part of this clubhouse we have here.
“I’ve also heard that players want to be part of the solution here, and want to be part of the club that ultimately wins a World Series here,” he said. “We have an opportunity as well. With a certain tier free agent, we can sell opportunity.
“I think Paul Maholm would tell people he’s really glad he signed here. … I think he feels good about his Cubs experience, and would come back here in a second if he got the opportunity.”
* * *
Epstein would prefer the roster was 100 percent homegrown. But some of the top prospects need more time. Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson, who struggled in two months with the big league team, were both told they will open next season at Triple-A Iowa. Epstein said Vitters has had a tough time initially at every level he’s advanced to. The third baseman batted .121 in 36 games with the Cubs. Jackson’s swing wasn’t ready, Epstein said, but they wanted to promote the outfielder so Sveum and interim hitting coach James Rowson could work with him. Jackson finished at .175 with 59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats.
“I think he’ll have a much more productive offseason because of what he was exposed to than if he had stayed at Triple-A,” Epstein said.
Rowson, who took over in May when Rudy Jaramillo was dismissed, will either remain with the big league team or could return to his duties as Minor League hitting coordinator.
* * *
The 2012 season is significant because it’s the year Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora joined the organization, Epstein said. Rizzo took over the No. 3 spot in the lineup when promoted from Triple-A on June 26. Soler, a 20-year-old Cuban outfielder, signed a nine-year, $30 million deal in June, and Almora was the team’s first-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft. Other highlights for Epstein included Javier Baez, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in 2011, who made progress in his development; Darwin Barney, who proved to be one of the elite defensive second basemen; and establishing the scouting and player development infrastructure.
The Cubs drew 2.8 million fans this year, the first time they did not reach 3 million since 2003. Fans can expect more growing pains.
“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Don’t worry about 101 losses because we have a magic plan to win the World Series in 2013, and it’s going to happen — be there now,’” Epstein said. “I think what we’re trying to communicate is there is a plan, there is a vision. It might be a little bit longer term than we all want it to be but we’re committed to it. There’s great reward at the end. You can’t guarantee results. But I’ll tell everybody, we won’t be satisfied unless we’re in the postseason year in and year out.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise, he said, was veteran Alfonso Soriano, 36, who hit 32 home runs and set a career-high with 108 RBIs.
“Coming in here, I actually had a little trepidation of how we’d handle him and the contract and if his skills declined, how we’d handle playing time,” Epstein said. “I’ll be honest, it wasn’t something I was looking forward to. Those concerns proved to be completely baseless. What a pleasant surprise he turned out to be.”
However, Soriano’s trade value is high. He has two years, $38 million remaining on his eight-year contract, but also has 10-and-5 rights.
“If teams pursue him in a trade, we’ll consider it,” Epstein said. “If we trade him, we’re losing something, so we have to get something back in return to justify that.”
* * *
Despite the losing record and long hours, Epstein did enjoy his first summer in Chicago, saying it was a very livable city for him and his family. After a company softball game Friday, it’s back to work for 2013.
“My hope is that years from now, when we’re celebrating successes year in and year out, we look back at 2012, and say, ‘Look how far we came,’ and I think we will,” Epstein said.
– Carrie Muskat
* According to a report, the Cubs plan to add 56 prime box seats in 2013 by moving the brick wall three feet closer to the field. Crain’s Chicago Business reported Tuesday that the proposed changes will be on the agenda of the permit review committee of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on Thursday. Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, said Tuesday he was not privy to the information.
“I would probably want to sit down and study it,” Epstein said. “I don’t see it as a big deal, one way or another if it’s only a couple of feet, but we’ll see.”
* The Cubs have lost 100 games for the first time since 1966 and only the third time in franchise history but Epstein didn’t put any of the blame on first-year manager Dale Sveum.
“The 100 losses are not his fault the least bit,” Epstein said. ”He’s done a really good job of maintaining as much of a winning culture as he possibly can during a season like this.”
Sveum said he’ll take time this offseason to evaluate the job he’s done. He asked the veteran players for feedback as well.
“The bottom line is it’s the players game, and you send them out there to play,” Sveum said. “It’s their job to perform and it’s my job to manage the game and it’s my job to manage the clubhouse and make sure it’s an atmosphere that these guys enjoy coming to every day, no matter the good times or the bad times. That’s my job. Wins and losses are what they are, but the bottom line is putting these guys in situations where they can succeed and they have to do the job.”
Epstein said all relevant discussions regarding the coaches and staff be done following Wednesday’s season finale.
* The Cubs hope Brett Jackson has an Anthony Rizzo type off-season, and can come back in 2013 even better. Rizzo batted .141 last season when first called up to the big leagues with the Padres. He made several adjustments with his stance, and since he was promoted on June 26, he was batting .288 with the Cubs. Jackson was batting .174 in 42 games since being called up from Triple-A Iowa on Aug. 5. Sveum, a former hitting coach, has a list of things he’d like to see Jackson do.
“I’d like to see him completely revamp his swing and lower half,” Sveum said. “They’re not things that you’re asking somebody to stand on their head about. There are players in this game who have made drastic, drastic adjustments and it’s propelled some of them to Hall of Fame stature and long careers in the big leagues. I’ll go to my grave saying if you don’t make any adjustments in this game, you won’t stay here long.”
* Sveum began one-on-one discussions with pitchers on Tuesday, and will do the same with the position players, starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
– Carrie Muskat
Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler was assigned to the Cubs instructional league, and not the Arizona Fall League after playing 14 games in the Rookie League and another 20 with Class A Peoria.
“We feel he’s at a point in his development where he needs a lot of instruction,” Theo Epstein said. He hasn’t played a ton of quote-unquote organized baseball. It’s not a question of talent. It’s a good chance to get one on one instruction. There are some small mechanical adjustments we want him to make with his swing with his stride and a little bit of where he starts his hands, loads his hands. Those type of adjustments are better made with the club’s supervision and one-on-one environment.”
Soler batted .338 with Peoria.
* The Cubs are moving their Class A Midwest League team closer to Chicago, agreeing to a new player development contract on Wednesday with Kane County. The Cougars’ ballpark is 45 miles west of Chicago. The Cubs’ Midwest League affiliate had been in Peoria, which was about a three-hour drive.
“I’m a big fan of having as many affiliates as possible close by the home city,” Epstein said. ”It creates a lot of efficiencies with rehabs and allows the front office and staff to see the team play a little bit more often. It also gives our players a feel for the market before there’s too much pressure on them. Obviously, it’s good for the affiliate with the link to the home town team.”
The Cubs also announced on Wednesday they have renewed their PDC with Class A Daytona and Class A Boise. All three contracts run through the 2014 season.
* Anthony Rizzo will hold his first “Walk Off for Cancer” on Dec. 9 at Pine Trails Park, Parkland, Fla. It’s the first major event for the newly created Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. For more information, go to www.Rizzo44.com.
* Meet Brett Jackson on Thursday from 6-7:30 p.m. CT at the Meijer store, 7111 W. Cermak Road, Berwyn, IL. He’ll only sign photos provided by Meijer, and only for the first 150 people.
– Carrie Muskat
* Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson both returned to the Cubs’ lineup on Friday, still a little sore but ready to play. Rizzo was back after a freak collision and fall trying to beat a throw to first base on Tuesday in Houston. The first baseman suffered a bruised right shoulder, and also got razzed by teammates for his somersault onto the ground.
“I got a lot of style points,” Rizzo said. “I got a couple 10′s, a couple 6′s.”
Jackson crashed into the center field wall at PNC Park on Sept. 7 while making a catch and bruised his right knee. He knows to be careful.
“You try not to ram yourself into something hard,” Jackson said. “It was unfortunate that I banged up my knee but I was also pretty lucky. It could’ve been a lot worse.”
* The Cubs have renewed their player development contract with Boise but have yet to announce whether they will keep their Class A teams in Daytona and Peoria. Theo Epstein said teams cannot discuss switching to another locale until after Sunday.
* Jason Berken, who will make his Cubs debut on Saturday, threw at Wrigley on Friday to get a feel for the ballpark. It’s the first time he’s pitched here. He grew up a Cubs fan and said his grandmother had a huge crush on Harry Caray.
“I’ve always wanted to come here and my first chance to be here as a player is pretty exciting,” he said.
Hopefully, Chicago fans can give him a little break. He’s a Green Bay native, and has season tickets to Packers games.
“I’d much rather be here than going to the game,” he said.
– Carrie Muskat
It’s been one week since Matt Garza was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his right elbow, and the Cubs pitcher may simply run out of time this season to come back from the injury.
“There’s no need to rush him back,” Theo Epstein said Tuesday. ”Let him heal and put him in a position to be 100 percent so he can have a big year next year for the Cubs.”
Garza last pitched July 21, and left that game with cramping in his right triceps. He was diagnosed on Aug. 6 with the stress reaction.
Dale Sveum said Tuesday he would be surprised if Garza returned this year. The right-hander has not been allowed to pick up a baseball since the diagnosis. Garza was 5-7 in 18 starts with a 3.91 ERA.
“In his mind, he wants to come back and pitch,” Sveum said.
– Carrie Muskat
There’s been some confusion as to who said what to whom regarding the Cubs’ negotiations with the Dodgers about Ryan Dempster. Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, implied that Dempster was in the same room as he and GM Jed Hoyer during their discussions with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. However, sources said Sunday that wasn’t the case, that Dempster wasn’t in the same office, and that he talked directly to Colletti.
Dempster was in the Cubs office building in case a quick decision needed to be made prior to Tuesday’s Trade Deadline. Dempster had made it clear he wanted to be traded to the Dodgers.
“Once he came into our office and actually heard the conversations we had with L.A., he came to realize, ‘OK, that’s not actually going to happen, let me consider a couple other places,’ and the deal got done with about three minutes left,” Epstein said on Wednesday.
The problem is that Epstein’s statements were taken literally. Dempster was not actually in the same office as Epstein, but was down the hall. Epstein said Dempster needed to hear “first hand” and apparently meant the pitcher needed to talk to Colletti directly.
When the two teams couldn’t work out a deal, Dempster agreed to go to the Rangers, and a trade was consummated shortly before the Deadline.
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs weren’t able to explore the trade market for pitcher Matt Garza because the pitcher was injured. Garza has not pitched since July 21 because of cramping in his right elbow. An MRI was clean, but that wasn’t enough.
“A healthy Matt Garza would’ve been a very sought after player at the deadline,” Theo Epstein said. “You never want to see one of your guys get hurt, but the timing was bad because we didn’t get a chance to fully explore that opportunity. Whether we would’ve done something or not is hard to say. When a buying teams’ last scouting report is seeing a guy walk off the mound holding his elbow, it’s not the type of thing they want to act upon.”
The Cubs and Garza’s representatives had discussed a contract extension in Spring Training, but nothing since.
“Everything’s still in play,” Epstein said. “We did have talks earlier in the season and they didn’t come to fruition. When that type of thing happens, you have to be open minded about moving a player but certainly there’s a time and place to address an extension again.”
Garza could start in the Cubs’ Aug. 6-8 series in San Diego.
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs would’ve preferred that Ryan Dempster had a dozen teams he wanted to be traded to but the right-hander made it clear the Dodgers were No. 1 on his list, and Theo Epstein said it isn’t fair to portray the pitcher as being selfish in his stance. On Tuesday, the Cubs dealt Dempster to the Rangers for two Minor League players after they were unable to complete a deal with the Dodgers. Los Angeles gave Epstein a list of untouchable players, and didn’t budge. Dempster had the final say because he has 10-and-5 rights.
Two or three days before news broke on July 23 that the Braves and Cubs had consumated a deal, Epstein told Dempster that Atlanta was very interested and to consider that team. The day before, Epstein told Dempster the Braves weren’t going to wait long for a decision. The Cubs and Braves then finalized the names.
“Ryan never got the opportunity for more than an hour to fully contemplate Atlanta with a deal actually in place,” Epstein said. “I feel for him. Instead of having time to contemplate it privately, he had everyone telling him what to do and asking questions about it. I think it’s hard to criticize him.”
Dempster never said he didn’t want to be traded to the Braves. He was holding out for a chance to go to the Dodgers.
“He didn’t say ‘no’ — he said, ‘not now,’” Epstein said. “He said, ‘No, I’m not going to go to Atlanta until I see about L.A.’ Atlanta very reasonably didn’t want to wait around and risk not getting a pitcher. He had a place he wanted to go, and a clear No. 1, which is his right, and he wanted to see that through and I don’t hold that against him.”
Any criticism directed at Dempster isn’t warranted, Epstein said.
“It’s not fair for anyone to criticize Ryan unless they’ve been in that spot,” Epstein said. “It’s a right he’s earned. Do we wish he would’ve had 12 places that were an ideal destination for him instead of one? Sure. That Atlanta deal that we had lined up, I felt was an outstanding deal for the organization. Would we have liked to have executed it? Absolutely.”
The Cubs were to get 22-year-old Randall Delgado in exchange for Dempster. Instead, they were able to still complete a deal with the Braves, sending Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson for two Minor League pitchers.
In the final hour before the Trade Deadline on Tuesday, Dempster was with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer to listen to conversations with the Dodgers.
“Once he came into our office and actually heard the conversations we had with L.A., he came to realize, ‘OK, that’s not actually going to happen, let me consider a couple other places,’ and the deal got done with about three minutes left,” Epstein said.
Dempster, Epstein and Hoyer were able to joke about the talks prior to the Trade Deadline.
“I know it started to be characterized in the media as contentious, and it wasn’t at all,” Epstein said. “Had we made that trade with Atlanta, we don’t get [Arodys] Vizcaino for Maholm and Johnson. Everything worked out in the end.”
– Carrie Muskat