Cubs

Epstein, Cubs looking for action at winter meetings

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Epstein, Cubs looking for action at winter meetings

DALLAS -- The Cubs have given Theo Epstein the keys to the kingdom.

The president of baseball operations has total control but wont necessarily rule with an iron fist. His management style has been described as inclusive. He listens and challenges his staff. He views his front office as a think tank or a boiler room.

The Cubs will run through every scenario at the winter meetings, which officially begin on Monday at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. This is where Epstein will earn his money.

Jason McLeod, the new Cubs scouting executive, started out with the San Diego Padres around the same time Epstein did. They were in their early 20s and would grab beers after the game and talk baseball. They would make side trips to see prospects at USC and Cal State Fullerton, even Adrian Gonzalez in high school.

It became quickly apparent that his intelligence level was at a way different level than everyone else, McLeod said. But he was always the guy (who) could sit in any crowd and have a conversation (and) make anyone feel important. He just has that special way (about him).

A new collective bargaining agreement will force the Cubs to work smarter. Spending in the draft and internationally will be capped and taxed. Testing for human growth hormone is another variable teams will have to consider.

Epstein has the authority to eat money in order to move Carlos Zambrano andor Alfonso Soriano. Buyer beware: The megadeals for Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder will be the biggest stories of the winter meetings.

This much is clear: The Cubs dont want to see them back in the division (or if they are, its at a price that makes the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers uncomfortable). Their agents would certainly benefit from the perception that the Cubs are in.

Epstein doesnt think you should pay too much attention to rumors. The Cubs are a major-market team that will explore every possibility.

Weve been consistent from Day 1 that (our) priorities (are building) this thing the right way, Epstein said, for the long haul, mainly through scouting and player development and through the acquisition of young players.

The second priority is (to) take advantage of every opportunity to win that you have. (But) were not going to do anything to serve the second priority that disrupts the first.

So any rumor that you hear, (its) probably worth your while to assess it through that lens. Not saying that were not going to make a move that might be unanticipated or catch people by surprise or might not on its face fit perfectly into that box. But generally thats our philosophy. Thats how were evaluating moves as we try to build this thing.

Even new manager Dale Sveum whos tight with Fielder after their time together in Milwaukee acknowledged that it might not be the time or the place to go all in.

Youd like to have all the great free agents that are out there, Sveum said. Were trying to do something here in Chicago to build now and win right now but be smart about it.

Its more realistic to think that the Cubs will land at least one mid-level starter for a rotation that was shredded by injuries and finished among the worst in the game last season.

Were having a ton of conversations with agents and with teams, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Hopefully, we can move the ball forward in Dallas this week. (We) know we have to add pitching depth, and thats something were focused on.

The Cubs also have openings at first and third base. Matt Garzas agent told him this will be an active winter meetings. Carlos Marmol is an intriguing closer, and several teams are looking for one. This front office wont be as attached to these players as the previous administration.

Its time to see what all the hype is about.

So far, theres been a lot of talk, Epstein said. There hasnt been a ton of action. Hopefully, this talk is over. We lead the league in press conferences. (Its) easy to have a vision for how you want the organization to be, an ideal in your mind. Its hard to put it into action.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”