Cubs

Why Sveum, Maddux make sense for Cubs

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Why Sveum, Maddux make sense for Cubs

Theo Epstein says that he doesn't want to recreate The Boston Show.

Reading between the lines in Chicago, that was probably more telling than anything else Epstein said about how Terry Francona would be at the top of anyones list.

Epstein admits that he has run only one other search for a manager. But Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer clearly have confidence in the process that identified two finalists who were not obvious future stars almost eight years ago.

There is the sense that the Cubs are looking for the next Francona or the next Joe Maddon. Casting calls will continue on Monday at Wrigley Field, where Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum will audition, followed by Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux later in the week.

Sveum has built-in relationships with Epstein and Hoyer. He was part of Franconas staff when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. Beyond those curse-busting credentials, he has a broad base of experience.

After lasting 12 seasons in the big leagues, Sveum managed Pittsburghs Double-A affiliate from 2001-03. He then became Franconas third-base coach and felt the heat from Boston fans and media for his aggressive decisions to wave in runners.

Sveum understands big-city pressures and has been described as someone whos embraced statistical analysis. It says something about his value and personality that he worked for three different managers in Milwaukee (as third-base, bench and hitting coach).

Sveum was the interim manager when the Brewers made a playoff run in 2008. He will turn 48 later this month, an age where he can grow into the job, an idea Epstein has suggested for the next leader.

As much as the Cubs have tried to copy the Red Sox model, chairman Tom Ricketts also studied the Brewers before hiring Epstein, the way theyve been able to produce homegrown impact players and have success in a small market.

MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac knows the history and expectations surrounding the Cubs. He played with Sveum and thinks his former teammate would be a logical fit on the North Side.

He knows the National League Central, Plesac said on Chicago Tribune Live last week. Hes been with a younger group of guys. You go back to the magical run with CC Sabathia. He inherited that team right before the postseason and there were a lot of people in Milwaukee that were really disappointed that he didnt get that job.

Sources have indicated that bench coaches Sandy Alomar Jr. (Indians), DeMarlo Hale (Red Sox) and Dave Martinez (Rays) figure to be involved in the search, though the Cubs havent confirmed exactly when the next round of interviews will take place.

Sveum has already interviewed in Boston, just like Philadelphias 60-year-old bench coach Pete Mackanin, the first candidate to come to Wrigley Field last week. Maddux will reportedly interview on Tuesday in Boston.

Theres a growing acceptance of pitching coaches becoming managers. Hoyer developed a good relationship with Bud Black in San Diego. John Farrell Bostons former pitching coach got good reviews during his first season in Toronto and could have been Franconas logical replacement if he werent under contract.

Epstein views keeping pitchers healthy and having them perform at a higher level as the next frontier. Those questions have vexed the entire industry. The Cubs are staring at a huge void in their rotation, and pitching figures to be their biggest need this winter.

In Texas, Maddux and Nolan Ryan pushed their pitching staff. They werent afraid to increase workloads and change the culture in a ballpark that was known for offensive fireworks.

Maddux helped guide the Rangers to the World Series twice in the past two years. He would be an intriguing choice even if he didnt have famous bloodlines. His brother Greg had been a special assistant to Jim Hendry. The future Hall of Famer recently spoke with Epstein.

Even with Hendry gone, these two ideas still remain true: Greg could have almost any job he wants in baseball, but family concerns could prevent him from taking on a full-time role right now.

(Greg) certainly appreciated knowing that he was welcome, Epstein said last week. Im sure it will work out in some form or another down the road. We agreed to stay in touch.

Epstein doesnt seem to want to be the star of this show, even though thats what everyones hyped him up to be. Hoyer is supposed to be the day-to-day voice.

The manager will be the face of the narrative, responsible for some 400 media sessions each year. Thats why each candidate will be made available to reporters as part of the interview. In the coming days, look for that image to come sharply into focus.

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.”