Cubs

Fire acquire midfielder Larentowicz

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Fire acquire midfielder Larentowicz

Thursdays Major League Soccer SuperDraft wont have much suspense for the Fire. The club traded its first-round draft choice on Wednesday in another indication the roster will be built differently for the 2013 season.

Last season the Fires key new acquisitions were three young foreign players Rafael Robayo, Federico Puppo and midway through the season Brazilian midfielder Alex. Robayo and Puppo didnt finish the season with the Fire and Alex was an only moderately successful replacement for attacking midfielder Sebastian Grazzini.

So, this time around the Fire has gone after MLS veterans. Javier Leon, president of soccer operations, took forward Maicon Santos from D.C. United it the first round of the MLS re-entry draft and later added midfielder Joel Lindpere from the New York Red Bulls in exchange for an international roster spot.

On Wednesday, though, came the biggest new acquisition Colorado Rapids midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. The Fire got the respected veteran along with the No. 30 pick in Thursdays SuperDraft in Indianapolis but had to give up their first round pick No. 11 overall, along with allocation money and a 2013 international slot.

Sounds like a good deal for the Fire, though. Larentowicz has played in the MLS Cup final three times and came out on the winning side with the Rapids in 2010 his first year with that club.

Larentowicz, 29, was only a fourth-round draft pick by the New England Revolution after playing collegiately at Brown. He played for the Revs (and on two MLS Cup finalists) from 2005-09 before being sent to Colorado in a trade that has Chicago tie-ins. In that deal Larentowicz and Wells Thompson went to the Rapids in exchange for Cory Gibbs.

Gibbs retired in the offseason after his 2012 campaign was limited to three games before he was forced to undergo major knee surgery. Thompson was a late season pickup by the Fire when the club was successfully bidding to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Larentowicz played in 96 matches (95 of them starts) in three seasons with the Rapids. He had 14 goals and two assists and played every minute of four playoff games in 2010 that resulted in Colorado claiming the MLS Cup with a 2-1 win over FC Dallas.

"I had three great seasons in Colorado, Larentowicz said in a statement released by the Rapids. "I leave with no hard feelings and will always reflect fondly on our championship year.

Later Larentowicz said he is "happy for a new challenge ... It feels good to go to a place where you're in their plans. It's something I look forward to being a part of.''

The Rapids were reluctant to give him up.

"Parting ways with Jeff was not an easy decision for us, said Paul Bravo, Colorados technical director." But we gain a lot of roster flexibility with this trade as well as the chance to get another young talent through the SuperDraft.

Leon described Larentowiz as "a hardnosed player who has consistently been one of the best midfielders in MLS."

Colorado wasnt the only MLS club trading for better position in Thursdays draft. New England sent its No. 4 pick to Toronto FC to claim the top overall pick, suggesting one player participating in this weeks Combine in Florida made a huge impression.

The downside of the deal is that the Fire doesnt figure to do as well in the SuperDraft as it did with its first-round picks of the last two years. Defenders Jalil Anibaba (2011) and Austin Berry (2012) became starters almost immediately and Berry was last seasons MLS Rookie-of-the-Year.

Following the draft Fire players will gather in Bridgeview for two days of medical exams, then depart on Sunday for the first phase of preseason training at Ave Maria, FL.

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.