Cubs

Dusty to Sveum: Good luck, youll need it

700270.png

Dusty to Sveum: Good luck, youll need it

MESA, Ariz. It will take years before Theo Epsteins scouting and player development machine is up and running.

The buzz the Cubs generated with this hire will eventually wear off and everyone will see just how patient the fans will be with a rebuilding project.

Patience is a real virtue here, Dusty Baker said Monday. Theyve been patient for a hundred years. Thats a hard sell in Chicago more patience. They might be patient for a little while, but unlike any other place Ive been, people count. They can add real good in Chicago. Everybody men, women and children.

Thats a century and counting since winning the World Series, which has made this job so appealing, frustrating and disappointing. The Cubs are on their third manager in the past 19 months. The Cincinnati Reds manager gets asked about and compared to each one.

Baker once had the Cubs five outs away from the 2003 National League pennant. Baker likes Dale Sveum, wishes him luck and wants to beat him 16 times this season.

Sveum believes this job is different, but only to a certain point. He says its nothing he hasnt really seen before after wearing a New York Yankees uniform and coaching alongside Terry Francona with the Boston Red Sox.

The history and all that goes along with Chicago and the Cubs, Sveum said, of course its different than managing some small markets. Theres no question about it. Thats the way it is here and in Boston and New York and the big markets. Theres no doubt its different.

Theres more media. Theres more scrutinizing. Theres going to be the second-guessing of everything. Theres going to be all that. Its nothing you dont know. Its not like Ive never been in a big market before. You know what all goes on.

Sveum can be blunt, his voice is monotone and he doesnt appear to have any nervous energy. Hes about to find out what life is like inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl.

It depends on how they do, Baker said. You got to wait awhile before you make that assessment. Give him a couple years. He might say the same things.

Baker had just guided the San Francisco Giants to the 2002 World Series when he moved to the North Side. He had been a big-league manager for the previous 10 seasons, and played almost two decades in the majors. He still didnt quite know what he was getting into (the same could be said for Lou Piniella).

The national anthem is my favorite time of the day, Baker said. During those three hours, the games the same. The difference is what happens and whats entailed before the game and after the game. Thats the difference and the vibes that you get, positively and negatively, from everything involved.

Baker pushed the right buttons as the Cubs won the division in 2003. The Bartman Game jacked up expectations, but the team slowly spiraled downward. A last-place finish in 2006 got Baker fired and triggered a huge Tribune Co. shopping spree.

In 04, we kind of stood pat and even subtracted, Baker said. We didnt reload. That would have been the time to reload when youre getting close. They reloaded after I left. That was the only regret.

Epstein says the Cubs are going to be a sustainable organization, not a team that gets lucky one year and then disappears. There will be growing pains to get there. The president of baseball operations recognized in Sveum some of the same qualities he once saw in Francona.

It sounds like Sveum plans to be more insulated from the media than Piniella or Mike Quade, who seemed to want to take the pulse of the city. Sveum isnt on Twitter, doesnt follow blogs and wont listen to talk radio.

I dont do anything like that now, so Im not going to start, Sveum said. Basically, all I know how to do is get on the Internet and check scores on my phone and e-mail a little bit. But Im not searching out articles. To me, that doesnt even make sense why you would read good or bad (stuff). Obviously, we know theres going to be more bad than good, so its kind of irrelevant to look at (that).

I got better things to do than seek out articles on myself or the team. Im living the team the nine innings every single night. (I) dont have to look to find out what somebody else thinks. I know whats going on.

Welcome to Chicago, where everyone questions about the lineup, little things become big news and the interview room feels like a dungeon. Just ask Baker.

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”