Cubs

Long-term deal for Theo Epstein can wait with Cubs in playoff race

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Long-term deal for Theo Epstein can wait with Cubs in playoff race

PITTSBURGH – Theo Epstein could be in position to reset the market for baseball executives as the Cubs potentially turn into a monster franchise.

But with one year left on his deal after this season, Epstein again confirmed that he hasn’t had any substantial talks with chairman Tom Ricketts about a long-term extension.

“Literally not even a thought in my mind,” Epstein said before Tuesday’s doubleheader showdown against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. “I think it’s just something that we’ll probably pick up when we’re done playing, whenever that is.

“I have no concerns or worries about it whatsoever. Tom and I see things the same way. We know this is a beginning for this organization. We all want to see it through.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs shouldn’t take their window to contend for granted]

While working within the franchise’s financial parameters, Epstein appreciates the way Ricketts lets him run the baseball-operations department without interference. Ricketts also has an interest in scouting and player development and a personal presence around the organization that does not go unnoticed by staffers.

Ricketts already extended president of business operations Crane Kenney – who is responsible for securing the team’s television future and overseeing the Wrigley Field renovations – through the 2019 season.

Andrew Friedman – another bright, young executive who views players as assets and still values old-school scouting – figures to be a reference point for Epstein. The Los Angeles Dodgers lured Friedman away from the Tampa Bay Rays last year with a reported five-year, $35 million contract.

Epstein doesn’t anticipate a major front-office shakeup, which would seemingly discount the possibility of Jason McLeod becoming a general manager somewhere else this offseason.

[MORE CUBS: Ready or not, Cubs will find out if bullpen is ready for October]

Epstein and McLeod have been tight since the early stages of their baseball careers, working for the San Diego Padres in the mid-1990s. McLeod – the senior vice president of scouting and player development – has been a strong voice for drafting first-round picks like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.

“We have a pretty tight-knit group,” Epstein said. “This is a great time to be a Chicago Cub, whether you’re in uniform or in the front office. I don’t really worry about losing people.

“But if we do, I think we have a really deep organization. There’s another layer ready to step up. We have some depth in the front office. We’re a great team in the front office. And I expect us to stay together for awhile.”

Epstein left the Boston Red Sox for a president’s title and a direct report to ownership in Chicago after an epic collapse at the end of the 2011 season. Those Red Sox of fried-chicken-and-beer fame had been 30 games over .500 on Sept. 3 – in second place in the American League East and nine games up on Joe Maddon’s Rays – and didn’t make the playoffs.

So while the postseason forecasts on Baseball Prospectus (98.4 percent) and FanGraphs (99.3 percent) projected the Cubs as locks before Tuesday’s doubleheader, Epstein said he isn’t working hard on the roster for a wild-card game yet.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“After living through 2011, I don’t take anything for granted,” Epstein said. “I’m well aware of how momentum in September can take on a life all its own and effect the standings.

“It’s important to just keep focused on that day’s game, keep knocking out your wins, storing them and things will be OK if you just take care of your own business.”

After writing off three major-league seasons (286 losses), firing three managers (Mike Quade, Dale Sveum, Rick Renteria) and planning so much around the future, Epstein is going to try to sit back and enjoy the moment.

“The nucleus of the team is in place now and going to be together for awhile,” Epstein said. “It’s obviously a process of many years to try to build the organization into a position to where we can have the requisite talent and depth and makeup – and the right people – to try to compete and play your best baseball at the time when it matters most.

“We’re partway along in that journey. And then the cool part is you get to all be together and write the next chapter.”

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.”