Cubs

The message gets through to Marmol

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The message gets through to Marmol

MESA, Ariz. This isnt fantasy baseball. The players arent robots. Millionaires have egos, doubts and insecurities, too.

Carlos Marmols frustration became obvious this week. Even if it is only spring training, the Cubs closer didnt react that way with his typical shoulder shrug: What can I say?

Marmol had given up seven runs combined in his previous two Cactus League outings, showing his wild side by walking two batters and hitting two more. Your reflex was to look up how many blown saves he had last year (10, which led the majors).

Manager Dale Sveum made it a point to talk to Marmol on Wednesday, to reassure him how much he means to the team, and remind him dont get carried away with it, just keep working to get better.

Marmol walked into the clubhouse in a much better frame of mind during Thursdays eventual 12-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at HoHoKam Stadium. He was exhaling after a scoreless inning, and crediting his third manager in the past three seasons.

(Sveum) really told me what I needed to do. Its nice having a manager talk to you like that, Marmol said. I feel different. I was myself. I calmed down a little bit. Its good the manager lets you know what he thinks.

He understands the players better than anybody else so far.

Sveum, whose style is direct and to the point, laughed that one off when he heard about it later in his office.

I hope he says that when its all said and done, Sveum said. Communication, obviously, is huge. Its just a matter of treating these guys like human beings and understanding theyre human, no matter how much money they make.

Whether its the top guy or the 25th guy on the roster, theyre all human beings and theyre going to fail. Theres so much negativity in this game that you have to give everybody confidence. Its just the way it is. These guys are major-league players and theyve had lots of success and sometimes they doubt that ability they have.

Thats why Theo Epsteins front office has told Marmol that hell be the closer and instructed him to work harder on his fastball command.

They give me that confidence, Marmol said, the confidence that maybe I didnt have last year.

The real verdict will come in the regular season, when there are 40,000 fans on their feet at Wrigley Field watching Marmol do his high-wire act.

But for now, Sveum was just content to see Marmol get the third out, a groundball, using a sinker that pitching coach Chris Bosio recommended with a new grip.

Its spring training in Arizona, said former closer Ryan Dempster. There will be a lot of those struggles. The ball flies here, the infields are fast. Sometimes you see the numbers and you look at it as struggling, but I think the way the ball is coming out of his hand is the most important part. I think hell be just fine.

As Marmol stood by his locker laughing and smiling, he was asked about goals for this season. A key member of the teams that won back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008 said the Cubs have to start winning again: The city needs that. We need that.

Myself? Its trying to make the All-Star team, Marmol said. Thats all.

Marmol whose meltdowns helped the Cardinals sneak into the playoffs last season was in such a good mood that he didnt stop there.

The ring, dog, thats what were looking for, Marmol said. I dont want to be jealous (like) last year when St. Louis won. Im trying to get that ring.

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below: