Cubs

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

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."