Cubs

Cubs wave goodbye to Albert Pujols

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Cubs wave goodbye to Albert Pujols

DALLAS The other night Theo Epstein referred to Albert Pujols as The Big Kahuna.

Out of nowhere, the Los Angeles Angels emerged as the mystery team on Thursday morning, landing Pujols with a reported 10-year deal worth more than 250 million.

One day the Angels may wake up with a huge hangover, but they are now understandably giddy over the prospect of adding an iconic player to create must-see television and keep the turnstiles moving.

At this moment, the Cubs dont seem to have the appetite for that kind of megadeal. They were quiet at the winter meetings and left for the DallasFort Worth International Airport looking at incremental moves.

From a Cubs perspective, the Pujols decision could be looked at through two different prisms: Either the future Hall of Famer would leave the division, or force the St. Louis Cardinals to spend way beyond their means and cripple the payroll for years to come.

Epstein was asked about Pujols on Wednesday night, when the perception was that hed be returning to St. Louis and getting his statue outside Busch Stadium.

If he left, it would probably be a good thing for us in terms of developing young pitching, Epstein joked. You get a young pitcher up there and hes working on his third pitch and working on his fastball command. Youre telling him to get ahead, strike one, and then all of a sudden instead of a Triple-A hitter hes got Albert Pujols there.

(When) he can execute a pitch and it leaves the yard 420 to right-center field, its probably not good for his confidence.

Pujols hammered the Cubs over the years, generating 53 homers and 135 RBI in 174 games. In a surreal moment, Pujols created national news by hugging former general manager Jim Hendry behind the batting cage at Wrigley Field last season.

But it wouldnt have been a great fit on the North Side, where the Cubs are still trying to get out from under the huge contracts given to Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano.

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, who was hired only a few weeks ago, also handed out a five-year, 77.5 million contract to pitcher C.J. Wilson. Dipoto disputed the idea that Pujols is a player in decline.

I see Albert Pujols as the most consistent offensive player of his generation, Dipoto said. If a decline still places you in the top five MVP (vote, then go ahead). We understand that players will go through peaks and valleys. Albert has spent many years operating at the peaks. If you want to call a decline going from superhuman to just greatI dont think youve seen the last great days of Albert Pujols.

Pujols will turn 32 in January, but Dipoto wasnt worried about whispers that the slugger could actually be older than that.

Albert Pujols age, to me, is not a concern, Dipoto said. Hes an honorable man. I think hes a very respectful man and Im not a scientist. (I) can tell you he hits like hes 27.

The Cardinals have been a model of stability, but now Pujols is gone and Tony La Russa has retired. They got 11 great years out of Pujols, who became an institution in St. Louis. During that time, they finished under .500 only once, made the playoffs seven times and won two World Series titles.

The National League Central appears to be wide open, especially with Prince Fielder unlikely to return to the Milwaukee Brewers. Still, the Cubs arent expected to suddenly shift gears.

In this bizarro world, the Miami Marlins had reporters shadowing them while they walked through the Hilton Anatole toward the next possible blockbuster. In terms of buzz, the Cubs didnt exactly dominate the lobby.

At some point, the Cubs are going to need a bigger boat. But Epstein is committed to drafting well, signing international players and developing them in the system. That approach could eventually lead to a huge splash.

The most valuable commodity in the game these days is not dollars, Epstein said. Its prospects you project to be regulars or better, and good young players under control. Thats the swagger, because then the whole universe is open to you if you have those players to work with.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.