Cubs

Why Cubs gave World Series rings to fired managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria

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USA TODAY

Why Cubs gave World Series rings to fired managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria

Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria scrapped for their careers as big-league players, paid their dues as coaches and dreamed about managing the Cubs team that finally ended a century-and-counting championship drought.       

In terms of style and personality, they also couldn’t have been more different, which was kind of the point when the Cubs fired Sveum after 197 combined losses during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Where Sveum had a constant 5 o’clock shadow and could be gruff with the media and brutally honest about his players, Renteria put a happy face on the teardown and could begin to actually see what the Cubs were building – at least until Joe Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2014 season.  

So much has changed around this gentrified neighborhood since then. Even the bar where team president Theo Epstein fired Sveum over drinks shut down and will reportedly be replaced with something called a Capital One Café. But in thoughtful gestures that recognized how the Cubs got here, both Sveum and Renteria now have 2016 World Series rings.

“We felt like they both came in and busted their butt to help our young players get better,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday at Wrigley Field. “They were both put in a position where we were rebuilding. Obviously, we were honest with both guys about the rebuilding process. But both guys were ultimate team members.

“Their willingness to go along – to execute the plan that we had set out for them, to play oftentimes with either inexperienced players or shorthanded – was remarkable.

“We think both Dale and Ricky had a big impact on our young players and really helped us win a World Series. It was the right thing to do to give them a ring.”

In contrast to the media blitz surrounding the private Steve Bartman ceremony, the Cubs quietly gave a ring to former general manager Jim Hendry, who now works as a special assistant for the New York Yankees. USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale included those nuggets within a revealing story about White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who raved about the job Renteria has done during a rebuilding year on the South Side.

Hoyer – who knew Renteria well from their time together with the San Diego Padres – was there for the ring presentation last month in a hallway outside the visiting clubhouse before a crosstown game at Wrigley Field.

“I love the fact that the White Sox are high on him and have been happy with his contributions,” Hoyer said. “Not to go back over history, but he was put in a tough spot. We made a decision that at the time we even admitted wasn’t necessarily fair to Ricky. And the least we could do was to give him a ring.”

Chairman Tom Ricketts – whose family signed off on the gifts – is widely respected within the organization for the way he took an interest in the draft, knew scouts by name, invested in infrastructure and visited minor-league affiliates.

“There’s a long history with this organization,” Hoyer said. “A lot of people had a part in us winning in 2016. It wasn’t only people that were still here in 2016. A number of people had an impact on our players, whether it was through managing, through scouting, through player development.

“We thought the right thing to do was to honor those commitments to our team by giving them rings. And not acting as though you had to be here in 2016 necessarily and be part of the organization to have impact.”

Hendry’s group built the pipeline in Latin America that produced catcher Willson Contreras and left enough assets for the Epstein regime to flip and acquire players like Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Kyle Hendricks. Former amateur scouting director Tim Wilken – who now works as a special assistant for the Arizona Diamondbacks – had the vision to draft Javier Baez and Jeff Samardzija.

Sveum, who earned a 2015 World Series ring as the Kansas City Royals hitting coach, hired coaches Chris Bosio and Mike Borzello and left his mark with the pitching infrastructure and game-planning system that helped market trade chips like Samardzija, Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman and Matt Garza.   

The Cubs already gave a ring to ex-pro scouting director Joe Bohringer, who now works as a Seattle Mariners special assistant, and a number of long-time, behind-the-scenes employees who left before It Happened.

“When you take a step back and look at any championship,” Hoyer said, “there are just so many people that have an impact on it.”

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.