Cubs

Theo Epstein is the man of the moment

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Theo Epstein is the man of the moment

READ: Cubs won't give up top players for Epstein
READ: Is Epstein ready for Chicago?
READ: Red Sox can't keep Epstein around forever
Buckley: Epstein not tied to Boston
WATCH: Epstein talk on CTL

A person who works for Tom Ricketts observed that the Cubs chairman would make a good scout. This was said with a certain amount of admiration as Ricketts conducts his clandestine search for a new general manager.

Ricketts would rather not be seen or heard until the new hire is introduced at a stadium club news conference. He believes his family will own the team for generations. He knows this decision will shape the franchise for years, if not decades, to come.

So thats why Cubs employees have been told to be patient, why theyre prepared to hold organizational meetings in the middle of November, if thats what it takes. Theyve been trying to dial down the sense of urgency.

But all this is being done in the world of Twitter and the 247 news cycle, which usually doesnt have time for the long-range view. The Boston Herald, citing two unnamed baseball sources, reported Tuesday that Theo Epstein is on the verge of joining the Cubs.

Spokesmen for Ricketts and the Cubs declined to comment on a report that outlined two potential roadblocks in the negotiations: Red Sox ownership has hopes Epstein could remain with the team; and their demands for compensation would be high.

One industry source doubted that the Cubs would be willing to give up a major-league player like Matt Garza or Starlin Castro, which could set back their rebuilding plan for years. Another team official laughed at the idea.

Common sense has to kick in a little bit, the source said.

The 37-year-old Epstein would make perfect sense from a Cubs perspective, though there were caution flags that made it sound like there wasnt a done deal on Tuesday night.

The expectation is that Epstein could get a new title think president of baseball operations and report directly to ownership. Team president Crane Kenney who enjoys the support of Ricketts and has kept a lower profile in the media and the clubhouse in recent years could remain in charge of the business side in a realigned front office.

As the architect of two World Series winners including the team that reversed the curse in 2004 Epstein would bring instant credibility and signal hope to a fan base that is restless for change.

Epstein would have detailed knowledge of the Fenway Park blueprint that Cubs executives have been studying for years as they try to renovate Wrigley Field and generate more revenue.

Epstein would bridge the ideas of statistical analysis and traditional scouting something Ricketts explicitly wants as he assembles a team. He also has a reputation as a good guy to work for among the scouts in the field, meaning that he could keep intact parts of the current player-development system that Ricketts doesnt want to see torn down.

Epstein understands big-market pressure and the public aspects of the job after dealing with the Boston press corps for nine seasons. That its even reached this point without a contract extension for Epstein or anyone in either organization really shooting down the speculation is remarkable.

Ricketts pulled off the ultimate misdirection play when he fired Jim Hendry on July 22. Together they buried the secret and kept him on the job for almost another month. At that point, the Red Sox were in first place and would win 20 of their 26 games that month.

During that time, Hendry guided the Cubs through the trade deadline, closed on a draft class that cost close to 12 million and suspended Carlos Zambrano. Everyone from players to staffers to reporters was stunned by the timing of the announcement on Aug. 19.

By that night, the Red Sox were 28 games over .500, and 8.5 ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays. They were a 160 million machine programmed for the playoffs.

From the outside, it seemed like an extreme long shot that Epstein would want to leave his hometown team. He still has a year left on his contract and grew up not far from Fenway Park. But a stunning September collapse seemed to change the calculus.

After the final game of the season in San Diego, the Cubs stood around the visiting clubhouse inside PETCO Park, drinking beers and watching the side-by-side televisions.

The players became fans and didnt want to leave for the bus to the airport just yet. They cheered and yelled at the screens as the Red Sox faded away into third place while the Rays celebrated their mad dash into the postseason.

There are no teams from Boston, New York or California left in the playoffs to drive ratings. But this is a huge story that will generate buzz for the game, one man deciding between two historic franchises. Ricketts seems content to leave everyone guessing.

It needs to be a very private process, Ricketts said the day he announced Hendrys firing. Just to get out in front of it a little bit, we wont be commenting on any rumors of any conversations with any individuals at any time, nor will we be giving any updates or checking in.

At that moment, a good bet would be Ricketts trying to find a rising executive, the next Theo Epstein. Now, it sounds possible that he could be standing at the podium, with flashbulbs popping, next to the real Theo Epstein.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

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AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.