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Listening to Cubs, Epstein saw no reason to trust Zambrano

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Listening to Cubs, Epstein saw no reason to trust Zambrano

Like a smooth politician, Theo Epstein went on a listening tour after he took this job to find out what went wrong. The overwhelming response from players and staffers: Carlos Zambrano had to go.

The Cubs reached a point of no return on Aug. 12 last season, when Zambrano left Turner Field during the middle of a game and headed to the teams luxury hotel in downtown Atlanta.

The official end of an era came Thursday, with the Cubs trading Zambrano and roughly 15.5 million to the Miami Marlins for Chris Volstad, a 25-year-old right-hander for the back end of their rotation.

Zambrano waived his no-trade clause to play for old friend Ozzie Guillen, who might be the only manager in baseball not afraid of this experiment blowing up in his face.

I'm not big on labels (or) reputations dictating how I treat people or how I think about people, Epstein said. This was one where it was really consistent. Every player that I talked to articulated to me that Carlos had really violated their trust.

When you're talking about physical altercations with teammates repeatedly (and) physically walking out on the team its very hard to then have that player come back in the clubhouse and be trusted.

Do I believe in second chances? Yes. Do I believe in third chances? Yes, in some cases even fourth chances. But I think you have to be realistic about it (when) youre trying to establish a certain sense of unity (and purpose) in the clubhouse. (You) have to have accountability.

Zambrano voided a potential vesting option for 2013, which would have been triggered with an unlikely top-four finish this season in the Cy Young vote.

For the final bill, the Marlins will subtract whatever Volstad earns through arbitration a projected 2.5 million from the 18 million owed to Zambrano in 2012. The Cubs will pay the difference.

Zambrano and the players union also settled their grievance over the approximately 3 million he didnt get in the final weeks of last season. That temper tantrum will essentially cost Zambrano six days pay (600,000), though he recoups 2.4 million.

The night Zambrano told people he felt like he was stealing money and ready for retirement, Epstein was still running the Red Sox, a team that would wake up the next morning in first place, two games up on the hated Yankees and 29 games over .500.

An epic collapse the Boston media produced sensational stories about players drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games helped push Epstein to the North Side.

The president of baseball operations publicly allowed for the possibility of Zambrano earning his way back onto the team. Back in November, Epstein and Zambrano were part of a group that had lunch at the Goose Island brewpub in Wrigleyville, where the pitcher made it known that his first choice was to stay in Chicago.

Epstein said the Cubs would explore trade possibilities. Zambrano and Guillen stayed in touch throughout the offseason. It was no secret that South Beach would be a very soft landing spot.

The people whove been around the situation over the years have heard before that theres going to be change, Epstein said. Theyve heard before that theres going to be a new attitude and they've been burned physical altercations, deserting the team. (There) was a breakdown of trust.

It made it clear in my mind this wasnt just a sort of mob mentality. There wasnt unfair momentum to run this guy out of town. This was a very legitimate situation. It would have been difficult for him to re-establish himself (and) earn the trust of his teammates back (and) for us to establish the kind of culture that we want in the clubhouse.

The notebooks are going to fill up fast in Little Havana, where the Marlins need to sell tickets to the state-of-the-art ballpark theyll unveil.

Zambrano can show the beat writers the correct way to break a bat over your knee, where you should hold your hands. The key, he said one morning last year inside the Wrigley Field dugout, is where you hold your hands and making sure to focus on one spot in the middle.

If you go too far one way or another, Zambrano explained, youll wind up on the disabled list. That was Big Z, swinging from one extreme to another, laugh-out-loud funny to vein-popping angry.

Will Zambrano snap? Even Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest didnt seem to be completely sold.

We went with Ozzie on this one, Beinfest told Miami reporters. We think the change of scenery will be beneficial to (Zambrano). Is everything going to be perfect and is it going to be incident-free? I think it would be hard to say that given the guys history, but Ozzie is very confident he can help him.

Stay tuned. But Epstein made sure he wasnt going to be the one getting calls from reporters late at night, asking for comment on what Zambrano did this time.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: