Cubs

Cubs waiting for the chance to strike it big

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Cubs waiting for the chance to strike it big

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. Step outside the Hyatt Regency and there are palm trees and sweeping views of the mountains set against a blue sky.

Executives rolled their suitcases through the lobby and checked out of the hotel on Friday, ending the general manager meetings. There were taxis and SUVs waiting to take them through the California desert and toward the airport for their flights home.

This luxury resort and spa surrounded by championship golf courses seemed like the perfect symbol for what the Cubs are trying to do this winter. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein views this as a cleansing.

Less than two weeks after the World Series, everyone appeared to be relaxed. But some teams are going to go wild next month at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. Maybe theyll wake up one morning with a pounding headache wondering: What were we thinking?

This is all leading up to the moment when the Cubs will be in on every big free agent. Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers who had the same job with the San Diego Padres when Epstein was just out of Yale University working in his department sees it coming.

Hes methodical in the way that hes smart enough to realize where youre at, and when his opportune time will be to win, when he thinks hes got a chance to strike, Towers said. Knowing Theo, hes reviewed his competition within the Central, contracts, where guys are at, when players will be free agents and when hes going to have his chance to attack (and say): This will be the year we go for it.

Sure, the Cubs tried to lay the groundwork for offseason deals by meeting face-to-face with agents and talking to other general managers this week, but they are really looking at a much bigger picture. Even the national media has seemed to pick up the hints, not even bothering to throw out Cubs? in the Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke rumors.

Were looking to get healthier as an organization, and I dont just mean physical health on the medical side, Epstein said. I think healthier means players whose contributions on the field exceed or at least match the contracts that theyre owed.

It means having players who now look like contributors under control for years to come. It means having more assets that you can choose from to decide who you want to end up playing on the field for you and whos a possible trade chip.

It means forget Justin Upton they probably wont swing any blockbuster trades. It means seeing if Jeff Samardzija is willing to sign a long-term contract. It means taking a chance on pitchers like Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy and Francisco Liriano.

Epsteins front office of the future could have some kind of healthcare wing that tries to find an edge by predicting which players wont break down, keeping pitchers off the disabled list. The Cubs have hired P.J. Mainville away from the Diamondbacks to be their new athletic trainer, moving Mark ONeal up to a new position director of medical administration.

The Cubs could take on another reclamation project or two in their bullpen. One week after killing the Carlos Marmol-for-Dan Haren trade with the Los Angeles Angels, general manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged that they could sign someone else with a track record as a closer.

Carlos did a great job (with a 1.52 ERA) in the second half and threw really well, so he certainly comes into camp as our closer, Hoyer said. But, yeah, having depth back there is a great thing. I think a lot of times people are willing to sign with a team if they feel like they have an opportunity.

So some guys might be looking for a very clear, obvious road to the closers role. And some guys might be willing to if the moneys the same (take) a role maybe setting up and close in the future.

Surrounded by reporters, Scott Boras held court in the lobby on Thursday night, drawing a crowd probably bigger than any general manager got here. The super-agent praised the Los Angeles Dodgers and their free-spending ownership group with Magic Johnson the new smiling face of the franchise for understanding Hollywood and the superstar culture there.

Boras talked up the Washington Nationals, which are stocked with his clients, saying the franchise has bloomed: Theres a diamond full of cherry blossoms. He mentioned how each team will pocket an extra 25 million or so from the new national television deals beginning in 2014, so there should be no excuses.

The macroeconomics will drive some deals that could leave you shaking your head, but certain teams will get over the sticker shock.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn put it this way: I dont think any of us should be surprised given the sort of lack of real impact free agents out there that the prices for the top tier of free agents are going to be a little higher than what were used to.

Its not the best time to be a buyer in the free-agent market, so the more needs youre able to fill internally, or via trade, the more efficient youre going to be.

That being said, sometimes the best option is out there in free agency and you got to pay the going rate to get something done.

Anibal Sanchez is a nice pitcher who went on a strong postseason run with the Detroit Tigers. But his career record is 48-51 with a 3.75 ERA. Hes never been selected to an All-Star Game, nor has he received a single Cy Young vote. His asking price reported on Twitter: Six years at 90 million.

Epstein wasnt bluffing when he took over almost 13 months ago and laid out his rebuilding plan. It wont happen this winter, but one day he will be looking around the room during a stadium club news conference at Wrigley Field. Standing next to a 100 million player, maybe hell be wondering: What did we just get ourselves into?

You want to get healthier as an organization to have a better future, both short-term and long-term, Epstein said. Sure, were in talent-acquisition mode more so than we are putting the finishing touches on our club for next year. But all that means is were trying to get healthier and healthier as an organization, so every year when we get to this offseason, there are more opportunities for a big strike in free agency.

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

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USA TODAY

Offseason of change begins with Cubs firing pitching coach Chris Bosio

"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."

That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, a source confirming the team declined a club contract option for next year and made a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.

Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching. 

The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.

Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.

Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.

Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija. 

Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.

Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.

Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team

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USA TODAY

Report: Cubs fire pitching coach Chris Bosio after six seasons with team

In Theo Epstein's end of season press conference on Friday he said that any coach Joe Maddon wants back will return in 2018.

Evidently, there's one coach Maddon didn't want back.

According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Cubs have fired longtime pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Bosio served as the Cubs pitching coach from 2012-17. He was the team's pitching coach under former managers' Dale Sveum (2012-13) and Rick Renteria (2014), and was retained when Maddon was hired as manager of the Cubs in 2015.

Bosio, who is one of the most respected pitching coaches in baseball, was instrumental in the career resurgence of Jake Arrieta who captured the Cy Young award in 2015, and the development of 27-year-old starter Kyle Hendricks (MLB's ERA leader in 2016).

One reason that could've led to Bosio's firing was the pitching staff's control issues during both the regular season and postseason, which Epstein mentioned during Friday's press conference. The Cubs issued the fifth-most walks (554) in the National League during the regular season and the highest total (53) during the postseason.

As the Cubs hit the market for a new pitching coach, Nightengale mentioned that one name that could be on the radar is former Tampa Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, who parted ways with the organization following the 2017 season.

Hickey served as Maddon's pitching coach in Tampa Bay from 2006-2014.