Cubs

What it will take to close the Epstein deal

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What it will take to close the Epstein deal

Sometime within the next 48 hours, Theo Epstein is expected to smile for the cameras.

With flashbulbs popping all around the stadium club, Epstein will pose for the before picture at the news conference where the Cubs will introduce him as their next head of baseball operations.

The after picture whether Epsteins hair turns gray or the stress of the job starts to show on his youthful face could be telling. This city demands nothing less than another World Series title from the 37-year-old executive.

What it will take for the Cubs and Red Sox to close this deal is gradually coming into focus. High-ranking officials from both sides remained underground over the weekend. On both days there were SUVs parked in the reserved spots for employees near the entrance to Wrigley Fields administrative offices.

As much as Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and team president Crane Kenney would no doubt like to take a victory lap, there remains the matter of compensation, what it will take to pry Epstein from the final year of his contract.

Its also unclear if Epstein will be able to bring any Red Sox staffers along with him to Chicago. Sources continue to insist that Brett Jackson is untouchable and not part of the discussions.

Jackson generated 20 homers, 58 RBI, 21 stolen bases and a .379 on-base percentage in 115 games split between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa last season. The Cubs believe that their 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley could make the big-league club out of spring training.

The Red Sox are believed to be focused on Trey McNutt, a 22-year-old right-hander who is arguably the organizations best pitching prospect. The 32nd-round pick seemingly came out of nowhere (Haleyville, Ala.) in 2010 and went 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 116.1 innings.

McNutt dealt with injuries in 2011 and didnt really build off that breakout season, finishing at 5-6 with a 4.55 ERA at Tennessee. But theres still enough upside where the Cubs could think hed eventually be part of their 2012 staff and refuse to give in to Bostons demands.

Either way, it will likely take two prospects. The Marlins set that baseline when they lured Ozzie Guillen from the South Side to South Beach.

A source familiar with the negotiations said that the Cubs are reluctant to give up anyone wholl be on their 40-man roster this winter. In that sense, Josh Vitters and Matt Szczur are viewed as unlikely to be included in the deal.

Vitters, the third overall pick in the 2007 draft, has been slower to develop. But hes still only 22 and team officials believe hes maturing.

Vitters is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League after hitting .283 with 14 homers and 81 RBI at Tennessee. He could probably use a full season on the Triple-A level in 2012. The Cubs will risk losing him if they dont sign him to the 40-man roster.

Szczur, a two-sport star at Villanova, has a unique contract that requires him to be moved to the 40-man roster this offseason. That was part of the recruiting pitch to give up his NFL ambitions and focus only on baseball. The 22-year-old outfielder finished last season at Class-A Daytona.

While the Red Sox examine the system, they will find intriguing players from the 2011 draft. Ricketts told his scouting department to take chances last summer and find more impact players. The chairman authorized close to 12 million in bonuses.

Those players cannot be traded until a year after the day they signed their contracts. In theory, a player could be labeled to be announced in the final Epstein settlement. But the Red Sox wouldnt want to take on the injury risk or stash him at a Cubs affiliate for almost the entire 2012 season.

A source predicted that the Red Sox will play this exactly like the agents at the signing deadline, waiting until the last minute to get the best possible deal for their clients.

There was no rush to hold a press conference on Sunday, with the Bears playing in primetime and the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys featured in another marquee game. Why compete with the NFL for attention?

A harder deadline will come before Wednesday, when the World Series begins and Major League Baseball forbids teams from making formal announcements. There are no games scheduled for Tuesday, and then commissioner Bud Selig imposes his news blackout.

While the tone of these negotiations made headlines, the big picture is that the Cubs and Red Sox have already found so much common ground. There is a motivated buyer and a determined seller. Everyone agrees that Epstein now belongs in Chicago.

Is this catch by Reed Johnson the best of the last decade?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Is this catch by Reed Johnson the best of the last decade?

Ten years ago today, Reed Johnson had one of the best catches in a Cubs uniform.

On April 26, 2008, the Cubs outfielder made a spectacular diving catch off of Nationals' Felipe Lopez's liner to center field. Johnson had to run to his right in what felt like a mile to track down. He then dove for it on the warning track going head first into the wall. Remember this?

How he caught it? Not sure. And how he didn't get hurt? Don't know that either.

But a lot of members on the Cubs at the time raved about the catch (Len Kasper's call was also phenomenal), and joked that they're happy it didn't happen on W. Addison St.

"At Wrigley Field they might have had to call a timeout to find his head in the vines," manager Lou Piniella said after that game.

There have been some outstanding catches since that catch in 2008. Jason Heyward's diving grab in San Francisco, Javier Baez's catch against the Miami Marlins where he dove into the crowd, Anthony Rizzo's tarp catches. There are a handful of them. 

But where does this one rank?

How often do the Cubs think about Game 7?

How often do the Cubs think about Game 7?

CLEVELAND — Diehard Cubs fans probably think about that epic Game 7 every day, right?

It was — arguably — the greatest baseball game ever played given the stakes (a winner-take-all to end one of the two biggest championship droughts in the sport) and all the wild moments.

The highlights still have the power to give Cubs fans chills 18 months later:

But how often do the guys who took part in that game think about those moments?

This week, as the Cubs split a series with the Cleveland Indians and walked the same steps and sat in the same seats and put their stuff in the same lockers as they did almost exactly a year-and-a-half ago, the nostalgia was undeniable.

The first thing Addison Russell noticed was how he was at the same locker (many Cubs were) as the World Series and the visiting locker room carpet was redone.

He also admitted it felt surreal, almost like a dream.

Kyle Schwarber made that Hollywood-style comeback to be able to DH for the four World Series games at Progressive Field, but he doesn't think about his journey back from a devastating knee injury.

No, he preferred to focus on the Cubs' comeback from down 3-1 in the series.

"I like to think about the World Series," Schwarber said. "I really don't think about all that other stuff. I just think about the games that we played. Pretty much all the resiliency and everything right there that we had and how we faced adversity.

"I don't think anyone here doesn't think about it, because I always think about it all the time. It's that moment that we all live for and it's an addicting feeling and we want to get there again, so we just gotta take it a step at a time."

On the other side of the coin, Cubs manager Joe Maddon insists he doesn't spend time looking in the past.

"Not unless I'm asked about it," Maddon said. "I think I'm really good about turning pages and not even realizing it. I often talk about present tense and I think I'm pretty good about it. Unless it's brought up, I don't go there."

Admittedly, a lot has changed for these Cubs since then.

With World Series MVP Ben Zobrist currently on the disabled list, only 13 of the 25 active Cubs were also active in Game 7.

And given this 11-10 team has "World Series or bust" expectations on the 2018 campaign, there's work to be done and not much time to focus on the past.

Take David Bote — a 2012 Cubs draft pick who was just called up to make his MLB debut last weekend — who watched the road to end a 108-year title drought from afar, but is now in the midst of a bid at a new iteration of Even Year Magic.

"The organization does a great job of being all together and we're in one spot [in spring training], so you get to see and experience it with them," Bote said. "Here, what we're talking about is today and how we can win today. We don't really talk about what happened in the past in '16."