Cubs

Kaplan: The Cubs must have philosophy change

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Kaplan: The Cubs must have philosophy change

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011Posted: 7:25 p.m.

By David Kaplan
CSNChicago.com Insider Follow @TheKapman
While Cubs ownership searches for the next general manager and everyone who follows the team ponders the possible changes to the major league roster, it has become apparent that before players are added or subtracted, the culture of the organization must change dramatically. And nowhere are those changes more needed than at the major league level.

For far too many years, the Chicago Cubs have tried a Band-Aid approach to improving the major league team. Year after year, we see veteran players come and go in hopes of ending a century-long drought between championships. Until the arrival of Tim Wilken in 2006, the minor league system has been somewhat of an afterthought when it came to spending and developing the best players for the Cubs future.

Whether it was not spending the necessary dollars to sign players that wanted above recommended slot money or bypassing highly regarded prospects entirely because of what it would cost to sign them, the Cubs have lagged far behind the upper echelon teams when it comes to developing premier major league talent.

Wilken is considered one of the best scouting directors in baseball and brought several players to the big leagues during his tenure in Toronto and in Tampa Bay. Since taking over the Cubs drafts in 2006, he has seen 14 of his picks make it to the big leagues which is among the Top 5 in the game. Armed now with an increase in money to spend on amateur talent, the Cubs landed a bumper crop of players this past June and had the financial commitment from ownership to sign those players by the Aug. 15th deadline.

In talking with both players and scouts from around baseball, it is apparent that the truly good organizations have rosters filled with players that developed together and matured together through their days in the minor leagues rather than adding the bulk of the team through trades and free agent acquisitions.

Of course, great teams are a blend of homegrown players and smart baseball decisions in free agency and trades, but look at the teams that are always in contention and what do you see? Teams that have a solid, homegrown core that are filled with players who developed together. That is what creates a family atmosphere that is essential to developing a winning organization.

Take the Phillies, who just clinched their fifth consecutive NL East championship. Sure they have added some tremendous players in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay through either free agency or in a trade. However, the core of their team was built in their minor league system where they developed Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley and had enough depth in the minors to make the trades for Halladay and Hunter Pence just to name a few.

Look at the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, who are both consistently contending to win a World Series. Both have core groups of stars who were developed in the minor leagues and understand their respective organizational philosophies.

Boston is led by Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie and a handful of youngsters who all came through the Boston system. They have combined with veterans such as Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez who were added by trading from a talent rich farm system to upgrade the major league roster.

The Yankees have a core of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano, and veterans who are considered outstanding leaders in Mark Texeira, C.C. Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez who all embrace the Yankee Way to play.

Look at the Twins, Rays, Angels, Rangers, Brewers, Cardinals, Giants and Braves. All of those franchises have stars who embrace the concept of leadership and were raised in the minor league system.

Whether that is Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer in Minnesota or Shields, Price and Longoria in Tampa the concept remains the same. Build a solid core from within and then add the pieces around it necessary to improve the roster.

Sure, the Brewers went out and added Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum last winter to upgrade their rotation but they were adding to a roster that already had Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo and a handful of others who were all immersed in the Brewers philosophy from the start of their professional careers.

For far too long, the Cubs have been built on mercenaries who came to Chicago knowing very little about the team, Wrigley Field and all the pressure that goes with being part of a team that is trying to end the longest drought in professional sports history.

It is time that the Cubs build from within and only add players who are about one thing--winning. Doing whatever it takes to win has to be their ultimate goal. There is no family atmosphere in the Cubs clubhouse and it is not a team that is built on a sense of togetherness with everyone pulling in the same direction for the betterment of the team as a whole.

Manager Mike Quade paid his dues throughout a long career in professional baseball and the opportunity to manage the Cubs was his chance to make it on the biggest of stages in major league baseball.

However, as he fights to keep his job, he continues to play veterans at the expense of young players who could be a part of the Cubs future. How do you continue to leave Bryan LaHair, Tony Campana and Tyler Colvin on the bench while continuing to trot out veterans who have no chance at being everyday players for the Cubs going forward?

It was on management to tell Quade that once his team was clearly not going to be a factor in the division race that he needed to worry more about evaluating and preparing the team for next year than worrying about a few more wins that are meaningless in the big picture.

Instead, once again, the Cubs are left with questions about some of the prospects on their major-league roster as they head into the offseason. The only thing worse than a losing season is having a losing season and not knowing what you have on your roster that can be a part of the long-term future of the organization and unfortunately, that is where the Cubs are at once again.

Add all of it up and it is painfully obvious that a philosophical change in direction is necessary and a culture change in the clubhouse that embraces a consistent philosophy throughout the organization is a must going forward.

With the resources that are available and the division that the organization plays in, there is no reason that the Cubs can't become the dominant team in the NL Central.

But for that to happen, everyone has to be on the same page and the organization has to adopt a baseball philosophy that every player that wears the Chicago Cubs uniform, no matter the level in the system, buys into or else they are not kept no matter how talented they may be.

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

Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 4: The beginning of the end

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USA TODAY

Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 4: The beginning of the end

Once again, baseball has proved it's far too wacky to predict.

It's not just the Cubs offense that's been slumping: I've gone 0-for-3 in predictions for each game of the NLCS thus far.

So what's the point in throwing out a prediction again? Based on the last four days, it would be easy to pick the Cubs to lose and that's what I would do, but I've been wrong the first three games, so what do I know?

I never thought the Cubs would get swept in this series. They're too talented, too experienced, too deep to get steamrolled.

But they're also completely worn out and it's showing. The mood in the locker room and the body language on the field is not at all indicative of the same team that showed legendary resiliency last fall.

That's OK. It's understandable. The Cubs have played more games and pitched more innings than any other team in baseball since the start of 2015. 

After all, they are human. 

There is something to be said for a lack of pressure. The Cubs have absolutely nothing to lose right now and they've procastinated all season, playing their best baseball only when they've been backed into a corner.

"Nobody's expecting us to come back except the guys in this room," Kris Bryant said. "I don't know if it's a comforting feeling, but it takes a little pressure off us because nobody expects us to do it."

Bryant also aptly pointed out that if any group can become the second team in baseball history to climb out of an 0-3 hole in a seven-game series, it's the team that ended a 108-year championship drought by erasing a 3-1 deficit in the World Series.

But Bryant said these things without much conviction Tuesday night in the Cubs home clubhouse. 

It looks like these guys left everything in D.C. after that epic Game 5. 

But if I'm wrong again and these Cubs are going to get another entry into the baseball history books, it starts Wednesday night against Alex Wood. Here's the lineup they'll roll with:

1. Albert Almora Jr. - CF
2. Kyle Schwarber - LF
3. Kris Bryant - 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
5. Willson Contreras - C
6. Addison Russell - SS
7. Javy Baez - 2B
8. Jon Jay - RF
9. Jake Arrieta - P

Dodgers starter Alex Wood is a pretty neutral pitcher, really good against both right-handers and lefties. So it makes sense that Almora and Schwarber are both in the lineup and atop the order, as they've had the best plate appearances of anybody on the team in this NLCS.

It also makes sense that Jason Heyward is not in the lineup, as his postseason numbers with the Cubs have been downright icky. 

Heyward deserves a ton of credit for his clubhouse leadership, that rain delay speech and incredible defense in the outfield. But he's hitting .109 with a .186 on-base percentage and .156 slugging percentage in 70 postseason plate appearances in a Cubs uniform. That's a .342 OPS.

Barring a curveball with more break than his own, this will be Arrieta's last start in a Cubs uniform, which is maybe the biggest storyline of the game after the whole will-the-Cubs-swept-out-of-the-NLCS-for-the-second-time-in-three-years thing.

When Arrieta started Game 4 of the NLDS, he admitted he couldn't help but take a moment or two to look around Wrigley Field and try to take it all in. This is the place that turned his career around.

Arrieta is also a gigantic reason this Cubs team has played so many games these last three seasons, winning the Cy Young in 2015 and beating the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in the World Series.

It'll be great to see the reaction from the crowd and his own reaction when he steps out to the mound and whenever it is he walks off the bump to the third base dugout.

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

Are Cubs feeling drained? The clubhouse is divided

For the second straight week, Kyle Schwarber halted his postgame media scrum to get something off his chest.

Standing at his locker — the same spot he stood exactly a week prior — the Cubs slugger got about as forceful as he's ever been with the cameras rolling.

Are the Cubs drained right now?

"Never. Nope. Not at all," Schwarber said. "I'll shut you down right there — we're not running out of gas at all."

Really? 

You gotta admire Schwarber's grit. He's got that linebacker/football mentality still locked and loaded in mid-October after a brutal first three games of the NLCS.

But...come on. The Cubs aren't drained? They're not tired or weary or mentally fatigued?

Schwarber says no, but it doesn't look that way on the field. They look like the high point of the season was that epic Game 5 in D.C. It was one of the craziest baseball games ever played, very reminsicent of Game 7 in last year's World Series.

Only one thing: Game 7 was the ultimate last game. They left it all on the field and that was cool because there was no more season left. Last week's wacky contest wasn't the final game of the season. It was just the final game of the FIRST series of the postseason.

So if the Cubs aren't feeling any weariness — emotional, physical, mental or otherwise — they must be superhuman.

Yet Anthony Rizzo — the face of the franchise — backed Schwarber's sentiment.

"I'm 28 years old right now," Rizzo said. "I could run laps around this place right now. I've got a great job for a living to play baseball.

"We have a beautiful life playing baseball. You gotta keep that in perspective. So if you wanna try to get mentally tired, realize what we're doing."

Rizzo talked that talk, but his performance on the field has hit a wall. After his "Respect Me!" moment in Game 3 of the NLDS, Rizzo went hitless in his next 16 at-bats before a harmless single Tuesday night. He then struck out in his final trip to the plate.

Bryzzo's other half — Kris Bryant — actually took the opposite stance of his teammates.

"Yeah, [that Washington series] was pretty draining, I think," Bryant admitted. "Some good games there that I think were pretty taxing for our bullpen and pitchers, too. 

"Kinda expect that around this time of year. The games mean a lot."

It's not surprising to hear those words from Bryant. In fact, it wouldn't even be mildly shocking to hear every player in the clubhouse share the same point of view.

The Cubs played all the way past Halloween last fall, then hit the town, having epic celebrations, going on TV shows, having streets named after them, etc. 

Then, before you know it, there's Cubs Convention again. And shortly after that, pitchers and catchers report. 

From there, the "title defense" season began, featuring a lackluster first half and a second half that took a tremendous amount of energy just to stave off the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central and get into the postseason.

Oh yeah, and then that series with the Nationals where the Cubs squeaked out a trio of victories by the slimest of margins.

These Cubs have never really had anything resembling a break. 

However, they're now just one game away from getting that rest they so badly need (and deserve).