Cubs

Theo Epstein's imprint was all over the All-Star Game beyond just the Cubs

Theo Epstein's imprint was all over the All-Star Game beyond just the Cubs

By: Brenna Carberry  

When the MLB All-Star teams were revealed last week, much of the attention was focused on the Cubs dominating the National League roster. 

But maybe the most underrated star of the midsummer classic was Theo Epstein, the one responsible for acquiring all seven Cubs players selected to this year's National League roster, as well as four of the six Boston Red Sox players selected to the American League roster.

Epstein's impact throughout his 14-year tenure with the Red Sox and Cubs can be seen on the list of players who made the trip to San Diego for this year's All-Star Game. Nine of the 11 All-Star selections who Epstein was involved in acquiring were starters in the midsummer classic. 

The Cubs made All-Star history by becoming just the second team ever to have its entire infield start an All-Star Game - Anthony Rizzo (first base), Ben Zobrist (second base), Addison Russell (shortstop) and Kris Bryant (third base) - last to do it were the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals. Outfielder Dexter Fowler was also voted in as a starter for the NL All-Star team, but decided not to play in Tuesday night's game due to an ongoing hamstring injury. Pitchers Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta were selected as reserves for the National League squad. 

[MORE: Are Cubs as good as they thought?]

For the Cubs, Epstein traded for Rizzo, Russell and Arrieta, drafted Bryant, and signed Zobrist. Epstein also acquired Fowler - initially through a trade, then Fowler re-signed with the Cubs through 2017 - and signed free-agent Lester. 

As General Manager for the Red Sox Epstein made several key acquisitions, such as signing David Ortiz and Xander Bogaerts, and drafting rising stars Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts; all of which were starters in the All-Star Game.

Epstein's imprint stretches from Boston to Chicago, and this year's All-Star Game is an opportunity for baseball fans to recognize his greatness. 

He has brought winning baseball back to both clubs, but his work in Chicago is far from complete if he is going to do what he did in Boston back in 2004, and again in 2007 - bring home a World Series trophy. While Epstein's acquisitions in Chicago have powered the Cubs to one of the best records in the MLB through the first half of the season, there is still plenty of baseball left to be played. 

A World Series trophy in Chicago would put an end to the North Siders' 108-year drought, and it would prove that Epstein is a master at his craft (if you needed any further proof).

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.”