Cubs

Next Cubs GM will face great expectations

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Next Cubs GM will face great expectations

Cubs monitoring Epstein, Friedman
With or without Theo, Cubs will copy Red Sox

The executives at Clark and Addison and inside the Tribune Tower knew that there would be a reckoning.

When the Cubs decided to go for it, they chose to deal with the consequences later. They came close to being bulletproof, winning 97 games in 2008 before the bad contracts and the ownership instability caught up with them. They just probably didnt think that the window to compete would close this hard and this fast.

In a sense, the Ricketts family bought the team just as the bubble was about to burst. The Cubs had won back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008. The future Hall of Fame manager held court in the dugout. Every day at Wrigley Field turned into a block party.

Team officials actually thought Lou Piniella might have done his best job managing the 2009 team, which was still in first place in early August before settling at 83-78. The crash over the next two years wore out Piniella and cost Jim Hendry his job.

Chairman Tom Ricketts now has two fifth-place finishes on his watch. If you are a Cubs fan, you have every right to be skeptical.

You pay some of the highest ticket prices in baseball. Your team hasnt won a World Series since 1908 and has gone a combined 146-178 across the past two seasons. But, really, the worst of the storm may have passed.

Whether or not its Theo Epstein, the next general manager will face great expectations. Because this really could be a franchise-changing hire, if its the right man at the right time. The organization shouldnt feel paralyzed anymore.

One club official laughed at the idea of giving Starlin Castro to the Boston Red Sox as compensation, and sources made it sound like the Cubs havent seriously discussed a list of players to make available, if thats even where this is heading.

WEEI, the Boston radio station, has been promoting an interview with Red Sox principal owner John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino scheduled for Friday morning. They will have to address the Epstein rumors.

Amid the silence, everyone has been projecting things onto Epstein, speculating about his legacy, his family, his ambitions.

Epstein would be able to shape the team in his image, even if he wont necessarily be working with a blank canvas. The expiring contracts for Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome and John Grabow will clear around 33 million.

Ryan Dempster only has a player option for next season worth 14 million, and Marlon Byrd will be in the final year of his backloaded contract. Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol are the only two players already signed for 2013, according to the online database at Cots Baseball Contracts.

There should be enough flexibility with major-league payroll that the new general manager wont have to spread Carlos Penas one-year pillow contract across three fiscal years, the way Hendry did last winter.

The next general manager also shouldnt be getting calls late at night from reporters asking for comment about Carlos Zambranos latest meltdown. The expectation is that the Cubs will pay him to pitch somewhere else next year, or not at all.

Taking a wide-angle lens, the Cubs expect to open new player-development facilities in Arizona and the Dominican Republic within the next few years. Ownership authorized close to 20 million in expenditures for draft picks and international signings last summer.

The Wrigley Field renovation plans, and the public support for it, seem very far away. But if this becomes a destination job you keep for the next decade-plus, maybe youll get a new office and realize the competitive advantage of an improved stadium.

The Cubs already have a frontline starter (Matt Garza) who one teammate described as having Cy Young potential, and a 21-year-old All-Star shortstop (Castro). There are building blocks in place.

With or without the architect of two World Series winners in Boston, the turnaround doesnt have to take five years.

Ricketts has pointed to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who went from worst to first this year. Theyll play the Milwaukee Brewers a team that won 77 games last season on Friday at Miller Park for a spot in the National League championship series.

I know on the outside looking in (we) might seem a lot farther off, utility man Jeff Baker said at seasons end. But I know the talent and the character of some of the guys in the room. Were not that far. You look at teams around the league, what theyve done.

I know its clichd, (but) thats the only way you can really look at it positively moving forward. Look at Arizona I dont want to say terrible but they were pretty bad last year. (They added) some key pieces (and) were able to get on a roll and go. Hopefully, we can be able to do that.

Andrew Friedman, another executive the Cubs have discussed, has built a sustainable model with the Tampa Bay Rays. At Thursdays end-of-season media session, Friedman talked about the teams 2012 plans and said he looked forward to working with Rays manager Joe Maddon for a long time.

The idea Maddon repeated to reporters has to be rattling around the mind of any candidate.

The working relationship here is unique, Maddon said. This is different in all the best ways. To think that the grass is going to be better fertilized or greener anywhere else is incredibly wrong.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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.”