Cubs

PujolsFielder megadeal will be Epsteins call

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PujolsFielder megadeal will be Epsteins call

Once Tom Ricketts finally took over a Cubs team that would be crippled by the wrong long-term investments, he promised that he would pour his money into player development.

When Theo Epstein left Boston for the chance to build something from the ground up, a segment of Red Sox Nation had very short memories, focusing on the expensive mistakes he made in free agency instead of the two World Series titles.

It will take close to an estimated 200 million and a commitment around eight years to sign Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. So what happens if Epstein goes to ownership for approval of a megadeal?

Theres one person responsible for making those decisions, Ricketts said, and one person accountable for those results. So if he believes strongly thats whats in the best interests of the team, then hes got my support.

The chairman met with beat writers on Tuesday, hours after a FOXSports.com report surfaced that the Cubs have checked in on Pujols and Fielder. If you are representing those superstars, you would certainly want the perception that the Cubs are in on your clients to help drive the price higher.

When the entire industry gathers for the winter meetings next week in Dallas, the Cubs will focus on pitching and defense, and not look for the quick fix.

Pujols will be 32 years old next season, which definitely sounds like a post-prime free agent, and he has to consider a legacy that should include a Cardinals hat on his Hall of Fame plaque and a statue outside Busch Stadium.

People close to Fielder swear hes more athletic than he looks, and rave about his maximum effort every day, but you have to wonder about the body type and how it will play in 2017.

A new collective bargaining agreement will change the calculus. Its just a matter of how much more money the Cubs might funnel into major-league payroll. Everyone knew commissioner Bud Selig was going to target the draft in this round of negotiations.

But even Ricketts admitted that this new capped system which includes taxes and penalties for excessive signings in the draft and internationally is a big shift, a bigger shift than I expected.

It will be a strategic change for some teams who were planning to spend more than what their caps would be, Ricketts said, so you just have to kind of roll with the punches and see what the new strategy will be.

People knew that this was an issue that was going to be discussed in the CBA. I was personally surprised at just how far it went.

The Cubs came to regret big-ticket items like Carlos Zambrano. Publicly, Epstein has said that Zambrano can earn his way back if he meets certain conditions after walking out on his teammates, though privately both sides have acknowledged that a fresh start might be best for everyone.

Ricketts went on national television last summer and said that he would have a hard time picturing Zambrano pitching for the Cubs again, but hell defer to Epstein on this matter.

Hes willing to give Carlos a chance to earn his way back on the team, Ricketts said. Its his decision and I support it 100 percent.

The new president of baseball operations will have an overall budget close to 200 million, which is similar to last seasons financials. He has already committed to an expanded front office and will have to decide how much goes toward the major-league roster.

Ricketts had no problem with Epstein bypassing Ryne Sandberg as manager and believes there wont be any grudges: Hell always be part of the Cubs family.

Cubs executives continue to lobby politicians for help with renovating Wrigley Field, but Ricketts didnt have any updates on those plans: Nothing concrete at this point.

But there is a buzz at Clark and Addison, a new energy inside those walls. The Ricketts family has controlled the team for two seasons and watched two fifth-place finishes amid a sea of empty green seats. The chairman knew he had to make a game-changing hire.

The Cubs dont need to make headlines with a blockbuster signing this winter. Theyre already the big story again.

I really dont think of it in terms of Q ratings or honeymoons, Ricketts said. In the end, if we win, people will think we were good owners. And if we lose, we were bad owners. So as long as you focus on doing what you can to win, everything will fall into place.

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

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USA TODAY

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.