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Red Sox cant keep Epstein around forever

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Red Sox cant keep Epstein around forever

READ: Next Cubs GM will face great expectationsREAD: Cubs keep eye on Epstein, Friedman

Amid the silence, two baseball-obsessed cities are waiting to hear what Theo Epstein wants to do with the rest of his life.

Long before Epstein became a legend in Boston, Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry and chief executive officer Larry Lucchino saw his potential. They wouldnt comment directly on the reports that the Cubs have asked for permission to interview Epstein.

But during Fridays radio appearance on WEEI, they spoke broadly about the general managers future. A spectacular September collapse the Red Sox went 7-20 and finished in third place for the second straight year already pushed out manager Terry Francona.

Theres a certain shelf life in these jobs, Henry said on the Dennis & Callahan show. You can only be the general manager if youre sane. You can only be the manager for a certain amount of time. Its a tremendous pressure-cooker here, 162 games. Its a long season, and the pressure here is 365 days.

So Theo is not going to be the general manager forever. Just as if Tito (Francona) had come back for the last two years (on his contract), would he have gone past 10 years? I cant imagine that he would have. I think that Theo will. Hes the guy now. Hes been the guy. Weve had tremendous success. We fell apart at the end of the season.

Were upset about it. No fan could be more upset than I am about the result this year. But hes done a tremendous job for us over (the) years.

The Red Sox executives were asked a hypothetical question about whether Epstein would be allowed to interview anywhere else.

There is a certain protocol in this game, Henry said, and it is if someone asks permission for a job thats not lateral, then you give them permission. Thats just the way it works.

The Cubs could offer Epstein a new title, like president of baseball operations, as well as a direct report to ownership. Chairman Tom Ricketts has been consistently supportive of team president Crane Kenney, who could remain in charge of the business side within a reorganized front office.

Kenney has roots in the Boston area and has frequently drawn parallels between Fenway Park and Wrigley Field and their shared history. This is a blueprint that team executives would like to copy. Lucchino indicated that the Red Sox receive interview requests every year about team personnel.

A few years ago we got a request from another team about Theo Epstein, Lucchino said. You heard nothing about that because we didnt discuss it publicly. Theres good reason for it, too. There are some privacy considerations here. I dont know that people would want their career development or their job decisions to be debated publicly or for people to know what theyre considering or not considering.

And Im not sure the other team, necessarily, would like that to be made public. So our consistent policy and practice has been not to discuss whether theres been a request made.

Back in November 2002, when the Red Sox made Epstein the youngest general manager in baseball history, he wasnt even their first choice. But Billy Beane had second thoughts and decided to remain with the Oakland As and play Moneyball.

Epstein is now 37 years old, with two World Series rings and a lot of things to think about. The Red Sox arent saying which way hes leaning, or even acknowledging that the Cubs have reached out for help.

If it gets out and he doesnt gothen somebody looks bad, Henry said. Either the team looks bad that asks him and he said no or if he goes and interviews for the job and doesnt get it.

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

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.”

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.