New CBA changes the game for Cubs


New CBA changes the game for Cubs

Chairman Tom Ricketts personally encouraged his scouts to be aggressive last summer and close in on players who had leverage and were perceived to be difficult to sign. The Cubs wound up spending a franchise-record 12 million in the draft.

There was an optimistic sense around the organization (most didnt know at the time that Jim Hendry had already been fired): Hope we can do it again next year.

The commitment from ownership is still there. Theo Epstein left Boston for the chance to build something from the ground up on the North Side. But the rules of engagement have changed with the unveiling of a new collective bargaining agreement that will run through the 2016 season.

Commissioner Bud Selig sat side-by-side with Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner at Tuesdays news conference in New York. They took a victory lap on the 29th floor of MLBs Park Avenue headquarters.

By the end of this contract, the two sides will have gone 21 years without a strike or a lockout. It will have a direct impact upon the Cubs.

Selig is still hopeful for two wild cards in each league in 2012, saying that March 1 is the deadline to decide. Epsteins vision is to have the Cubs playing annually in October, and getting there with homegrown players.

But this summer the Cubs will not be able to sign drafted players to major-league contracts, and each club will be assigned an aggregate signing bonus pool.

If a team goes up to 5 percent beyond that amount, there will be a 75 percent tax on the overage. If a team goes up to 10 percent, the same tax will apply and they will lose a first-round pick. Go beyond 10 percent and the penalty jumps to a 100 percent tax on the overage and the loss of multiple draft picks.

The Cubs have got creative in the past with Jeff Samardzija and Matt Szczur, paying them to give up their NFL ambitions. Under Epsteins leadership, the Red Sox were known for paying over slot and convincing football players to play baseball.

The agreement that was bargained leaves a lot of room for clubs to decide how much to pay for an individual player, Weiner said. The restraints are on aggregate spending, not individual spending, so if a club believes that its appropriate to make an offer that is necessary to sign a two-sport athlete, it will enable them to do that.

One unintended consequence suggested independently by an agent and a general manager could be diluting the talent pool because the same financial incentives might not be there.

Selig predictably dismissed that theory: I have no concerns about that at all. Ive read that. Im trying to be kind enough, not my usual sarcastic or cynical self. I dont believe thats a possibility. The sport is on an upgrade at every level.

Scott Boras, the most powerful agent in the sport, got on a roll when the topic came up last week at the ownersgeneral manager meetings in Milwaukee.

The NBA (and) the NFL (have) 25 million offerings that go to student-athletes, Boras said. The NCAA has rigged the system to where the sport of baseball has been damned at the collegiate level. The other sports are drawing the great multi-sport athletes because they can offer full rides that baseball cant.

In the past, Cubs executives had also grumbled about how they were stuck in a six-team division. But the Astros will move to the American League West in 2013, creating a 15-15 split between the two leagues (and interleague play throughout the season).

Beginning in spring training, all players will be tested for HGH. Reasonable cause will trigger the blood test for a particular player throughout the year. Both Weiner and Rob Manfred MLBs executive vice president of labor relations and human resources see the possibility of in-season HGH testing during the course of the agreement.

The message weve been communicating to fans for a number of years, Weiner said, (is that) players and the owners jointly have an intolerance for use of performance-enhancing drugs.

But at this moment, the biggest takeaway from a Cubs perspective will be the changes to the draft and the international market.

Baseball America recently released its list of the top 10 Cubs prospect in the system, and three were high school players from the 2011 draft: Javier Baez; Dan Vogelbach; and Dillon Maples (who had already begun practicing with the University of North Carolina football team by the time he signed).

This certainly isnt the end of the world for the Cubs, because they will be pouring money into new facilities in Arizona and the Dominican Republic, plus what Epstein has called a vertically-integrated system of player development. And who knows how these changes might handcuff small-market franchises.

But while the NBA season appears to be disappearing, and the NFL had labor battles in court, this business is booming.

Nobody back in the 70s, 80s (or) early 90s, Selig said, would ever believe that we would have 21 years of labor peace.

There is a generation of baseball fans that never sat through a work stoppage and only knows that truce. If they ever see the Cubs win it all, it will likely be because of the investments made in the draft and the international market (plus tax).

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.