Cubs

Kap: No LaMar for Cubs; Fleita contract heralded

533632.jpg

Kap: No LaMar for Cubs; Fleita contract heralded

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
Posted: 5:38 p.m.

By David Kaplan
CSNChicago.com Insider Follow @TheKapman
WATCH: Kap & Holly sing 7th inning stretch

Late Tuesday evening Twitter was ablaze with rumors that the Cubs had identified Chuck LaMar as perhaps their next general manager. That tweet from the Daily Heralds Barry Rozner started a chain of rumors that linked LaMar to Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken to Ryne Sandberg and had people believing a hiring was imminent.

As I started reading the tweets and texts that came my way I was stunned that people actually started to believe that LaMar was a viable candidate for the job. He was the GM in Tampa for eight seasons and had seven last place finishes. In addition, people that I spoke with Wednesday were not at all complimentary about his tenure or his ability to be a good fit in that job for the Cubs.

The truth of the matter is this: Chuck LaMar is not going to be the next general manager of the Chicago Cubs and his sudden resignation from the Philadelphia Phillies organization does not have any tie to the Cubs. LaMar could resurface in a job with the Atlanta Braves organization where he spent a good portion of his career, but he is not believed to be a GM candidate for any of the openings expected in baseball this winter. Wednesday afternoon he also confirmed to a Philadelphia broadcaster that we here at Comcast SportsNet know that he is not talking with the Cubs about any position.

In addition, while Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts is taking heat for signing Oneri Fleita to a new four year contract as farm director, the people within baseball that I spoke with have praised Ricketts for hanging on to a very valued employee.

I have known Oneri for 20-plus years and he is as good as it gets. He is bilingual, which is a huge plus in his role, he put the entire Latin American operation together and that includes a network of scouts that will go with him wherever he goes," one GM candidate told me. "In addition, the Cubs new 50-acre facility in the Dominican Republic is being put together under his direction. So to lose him would be a major blow to the entire organization.

The other aspect of the Fleita extension that no one seems to be talking about is why people are so convinced that he will stay in his current role. He has a ton on his plate, so what is to say that his job description wont change once a new GM is hired? Couldnt a new GM tailor the revamped front office the way that he wants it and still have Fleita in a very important role with a different title?

Whatever his role is, it is obvious that he is a valued and trusted member of the front office and had he hit the open market he would have had a number of great offers. Instead, the Cubs were proactive and hung onto someone who is good. What a novel concept--hanging onto a good employee--and for that people are critical? That is ridiculous.

In addition, people in other organizations, and whose opinions I trust, are all telling me that they are chuckling at the perception that Ricketts hasn't taken his ownership duties seriously.

One NL West executive told me this: I wish I had an owner as committed as Tom Ricketts is. He spent 20 million on amateur signings and he is spending an unbelievable amount of money to build a state of the art academy in the Dominican Republic. We are all a little jealous of the commitment the Cubs have made to rebuild their organization.

Ricketts has traveled to every minor league affiliate, traveled to the draft and he has made it clear to every scout and coach in the organization that if they need anything to get the job done that he will see to it that they have everything they need to compete with anyone in the game.

Now, if you want to criticize the Cubs here is something worth criticizing them for: In another lost season they continue to play veteran players at the expense of youngsters who may or may not be a part of their future.

With Carlos Pena hitting .226, how can Mike Quade defend playing him regularly over Bryan LaHair, who may or may not be a prospect?

LaHair just put up ridiculous numbers in Triple-A, hitting .331 with 38 home runs and 109 RBIs. His 1.070 OPS was the highest of any player in baseball. I know he is 28 and he is not considered an elite prospect, but stranger things have happened than a 28-year-old finally making it big. How do you know if you dont give him a chance?

The same goes for Tyler Colvin and Tony Campana. Are they considered elite prospects? Probably not, but unless you play them regularly, how are you ever going to know?

David Kaplanpublishes his thoughts at The Kapman on CSNChicago.com every Monday,Wednesday, and Friday and whenever major news breaks. Follow him onTwitter @thekapman.

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

kyle_schwarber.jpg
USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

jarrieta.jpg
USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.