Fire

Frankie O: Playing the game

Frankie O: Playing the game

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

I dont know what it is about this Anthony Rizzo situation but for some reason its driving me crazy. Welcome to the Cubs 2.0. As much as anyone would want to have hope for this season, this year, and next year, are all about one thing and one thing only: building a foundation for a promising future.

The fun starts when we debate when that future is. Ive had many debates in the bar where one of us would always suggest blowing a team up. Fan talk. Well, look what we have here. This could get ugly. Its beyond looking at wins and losses now because they dont matter. What matters is building an entity on and off the field that can be state-of-the-art.

Off the field is going to take a lot of money. Boatloads. The stadium needs to be upgraded to the level where it can enable the team to be on the same financial footing as the other heavyweight teams the Cubs want to compete with. Increasing the size and talent level of the front office and building baseball academies in Latin hot-beds are also smart but costly moves. Home-grown talent is a proven, cost effective method, but like any other business, the start-up costs can be a burden.

Something this means is not being frivolous with cash spent on the field. Every dollar counts.

That sounds like an effective business model that anyone would want to emulate.

That is if there arent millions of people who spend millions of dollars who are watching with a child-like impatience. That would be the ticket buying faithful.

With the fact being that this could take a while, it is important to have your core followers on-board with the path being taken. In other words: Something that gives them hope. People who go to games spend a lot of money to do so. These folks usually come from the ones that tune in to games on TV and radio on a regular basis. Its part of who they are.

I found it interesting on my 45-minute drive into work the other day, all I heard on my radio was talk about the Bears OTAs. Think about that. Its MAY. I know this is a diverse sports town and both of the winter teams met with an early demise, but, really?
Further yet, that night at the bar, out of my 13 TVs I only had 2 of them on the local nines, mostly because I put them on TVs at my end of the bar so I could watch them.

I think at some point the Sox will get our collective attention, this weekend against division-leading Cleveland would be a good start, well see.

But as far as the Cubs go, it is going to be the pieces that come here that we know will be around in three years, since that will realistically be the start of the new regime. Kind of like a college football coach needing a couple of recruiting classes before he can truly claim his team and be held accountable for their play. By that time there should be more than a few pieces in place that fans can be excited about.

It will also be the first guaranteed non Alfonso Soriano season which I know many fans will be very excited for. I know that many hope hes gone before then but there still are 44 million reasons why that is not going to happen three years from now maybe.

So that takes us back to Rizzo.

At the beginning of the year I listened to Theo Epstein explain as one of his theories that he would ideally like to have a player spend a year at Triple A before he starts his Major League. This was a big question since the marquee acquisition by the new regime was Rizzo and he had appeared in the majors for two stints last year accruing 68 days of service-time. For someone who touts bringing up players through the system service-time is the holy-grail, since it is the measure by which the team bringing up a player is able to keep him before he can become a free-agent for the first time after 6 seasons. For a good player, these are the best years for the team since they are the cheapest, and usually money spent for current production. Not like in free-agency, in which which a player is guaranteed a considerable sum for future production. This can often blow-up in a teams face, for proof look up- Soriano, Alphonso.

The thing it took me a little while to realize that no matter what Rizzo did this year, he was never going to accrue enough service-time to be a two-year player by the end of it. This season is a wash, so any move made has to be done with the future interest of the franchise in mind.

The question from fans is, what are we paying for now? When you see a kid dominating in Triple A for the second straight season, fans want to see him. Rizzo has hit 16 homers and has 43 RBI in 44 games. His geek numbers are .355.414.7101.124!! Those are ridiculous numbers. But they arent very different than what he had in Tucson last year before being called up. Thats when the problems started. I know because I had him on my roto team. The kid looks like a ballplayer, but struck out a ton (46 times in 49 games) and hit .143 in his time in the bigs.

What does he has left to prove down there? Not one thing, but thats not the point here. Again its all about the future and players are going to come up when it makes financial sense for the future.

It just makes me wonder about the kid. Hitting Major League pitching is not a given for anyone. If a kid is ready, let him grow, since the evolution of just about every hitter we have ever watched is full of up and downs. Its the ability to recover from failure and make adjustments that defines who a player is going to be. The sooner you start, the sooner you get to where you should be.

This situation reminds me of a John Madden quote about returning to coaching football. Madden, whos in the Hall of Fame as a coach, was asked if he was ever interested in returning to the sidelines. I was always fascinated by his response. He said he would have problems coaching in the todays NFL because it wasnt always about having the best players. Due to the salary cap, which he never coached with, financial considerations where as important to whether someone made the team as much as how good he was. He said he had a problem with that. He always wanted to field a team with the best players, period.

Theres a fine line in remaining relevant. Right now there isnt a lot of interest in what is going on, and its still very early. The last two seasons weve watched a lot of fans come dressed as empty seats in August and September, whats going to happen this year?

Culture change doesnt come easy. Were seeing that first-hand. But if no one cares about whats going on, they arent going to spend any money to see it happen. I would think that would include public cash for stadium renovations. Everybody loves a winner.

But the regime in charge now is all about the numbers, and when it comes to controlling players they have them down pat.

One thing they should remember though is that the fans know numbers too and all too well. They hear wherever they go: 104.

Coincidentally thats the same number of games Rizzo needs this year to vest for year two of service. Hes not going to see 104 this year, if only Cubs fans were so lucky.

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

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USA TODAY

As Fire near playoffs, Bastian Schweinsteiger's immediate and long-term futures are in question

Bastian Schweinsteiger has delivered on the promise of a big name star since joining the Fire in late March. He has produced on the field, drawn lots of attention to the club, the team has won enough to get into its first postseason since 2012 and, until recently, he stayed healthy.

However, the 33-year-old German has played 19 minutes in the previous six matches and told reporters on Wednesday that he will not play in the regular season finale in Houston on Sunday. He missed four straight matches with a calf injury before returning against New York City FC on Sept. 30 for a substitute appearance.

Schweinsteiger left practice early with what appeared to be a reaggravation of the injury on Oct. 4 and now it is known that will cost him at least two games. With the playoff picture still in flux (the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference), the Fire could potentially face a three-day turnaround and travel after the Houston game or could have a first-round bye. Keeping Schweinsteiger fresher for that crunch of games could end up being a good thing, but it also runs the risk of his match fitness not being at 100 percent for the postseason.

Beyond the postseason, Schweinsteiger dropped this tease of a nugget to the Daily Herald's Orrin Schwarz just an hour before Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke with reporters for almost an hour at Toyota Park.

Schweinsteiger, who was not at training, was autographing memorabilia in the form of soccer balls, posters and jerseys. Chicago Red Stars fans may get a kick out of the fact that Schweinsteiger was wearing a Red Stars hoodie.

Initially, the club said Schweinsteiger signed a one-year contract with a mutual option. Later in the day, when asked about Schweinsteiger's future, Rodriguez said the mutual option doesn't have a set number attached to it.

"That would require a negotiation," Rodriguez said. "It was mutual in a sense of we didn’t want either party to feel bound without having had the year of experience to draw on. From our perspective, our experience has been extraordinarily positive with Bastian. We think he’s delivered across all of our expectations and we hope that we have delivered against his expectations.”

So in essence, there is no mutual option. Schweinsteiger and the Fire have to come to terms again on a deal for the German to return in 2018. That's not to say Schweinsteiger can't come back, but there's nothing in writing that binds the two together for next season.

Rodriguez said talks have only begun in the very preliminary stages at this point.

“The most that Basti and I have done is, both said, hey this has gone pretty well." Rodriguez said. "You like it. I like it... So I think we want to remain with our original plan. It was to look to have the hard discussions at the end of the season. My view is in-season negotiations always prove to be a distraction, whether to the player or to me. There can be a team element if it becomes public.

"I don’t want to speak for Basti, but from what we’ve gleaned and what he shared with us, he and (wife) Ana (Ivanovic) are very comfortable in the city. They love it. I think he’s really enjoyed the locker room, the guys, the support of the fans. I think he’s really taken to the challenge of Major League Soccer. I think the signs are positive, but again we would prefer to have the season close before finalizing anything.”

Why the Bears' gameplan for Mitchell Trubisky is working well

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USA Today

Why the Bears' gameplan for Mitchell Trubisky is working well

The Bears’ gameplan for Mitchell Trubisky was controlled against the Baltimore Ravens, with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains only calling 20 passing plays on Sunday. And that’s hardly a problem. 

Not only did the Bears win with Trubisky mostly handing the ball off, but the gameplan accomplished a goal just as important for the future of the franchise. It was part of the slow, deliberate development of a rookie quarterback who only started 13 games in college and doesn’t have a big-time receiving target or two (like DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller) on which to lean. 

“I think they’re giving him a chance to develop,” Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “They’re not throwing him to the wolves. You can get out and have him throw 45 passes and get crushed, or you can do what you’re doing right now and be very methodical and very direct.

“…  If you ask a young guy to throw the ball 40 times and you expect to win, that’s going to be very difficult. So I think what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to develop this guy, shoot, believe me, I think the young man’s got a chance.” 

Beyond the playcalling Sunday — 50 runs between Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen — the design of the offense gave Trubisky the best chance to win the game. No quarterback had more time to throw in Week 6 than Trubisky (3.49 seconds, according to NFL Next Gen Stats), which makes sense given the rollouts and boots called for him. But for a rookie in Trubisky who needs improvement with blitz recognition, Loggains found a way to give him more time to scan the field and make a decision than any other quarterback last week. 

And what Trubisky did with all that time was not force anything. Only Green Bay’s Brett Hundley threw a lower percentage of aggressive passes (defined by NFL Next Gen Stats as when a defender is within one yard or less of a receiver at the time of completion or incompletion) than Trubisky, who only threw one of his 16 passes into tight coverage. That was a point of emphasis for the rookie six days after Harrison Smith baited him into a crippling interception. 

“Sometimes the best play is a throwaway,” Trubisky said. “So it’s just coming down to me learning, continue to stay aggressive; wanting to get a completion every time, but being smart and knowing when I need to throw the ball away and live to play another down.”

Loggias, in describing Trubisky, used the “M” word: 

“I thought he did a really good job managing the game and playing like he had to,” Loggains said. “He was still aggressive. He wasn’t, and I hate the term ‘manage’ but he was playing the way he needed to play to win that game.”

The Bears hoped Mike Glennon could be a game manager, of course. But the offensive strategy they’re deploying now isn’t necessarily the same as they one they used with Glennon — Trubisky has the ability to be a playmaker, as he showed when he evaded pressure and found Kendall Wright for a pivotal 18-yard completion in overtime. That was that aforementioned one pass he threw into tight coverage against the Ravens. 

But the Bears’ best skill position players are running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, unless a receiver emerges from the group of Tanner Gentry, Tre McBride, Josh Bellamy, an injured Markus Wheaton and Wright (the latter of whom Loggains said is at his best when he’s taking 25-30 snaps per game). The offensive line has improved with continuity over the last few weeks. This is a team that’s strength is in running the football, not in its quarterback play. 

Eventually, the Bears will open up the offense for Trubisky (getting a big-bodied receiver who can win against tight man coverage would help) as he gains experience, and the strength of the offense can be in its quarterback play. But if the goal is to bring a young quarterback along while giving the team a chance to win, then the offensive gameplan is working. 

“As a quarterback, you want to be throwing the ball, but as a competitor and leader of this team, you're going to do whatever it takes to win,” Trubisky said. “And if it's running the ball, if it's passing the ball, whatever it is, that's what we're going to do. I didn't feel any type of way at all about how many times we ran it, how many times we passed it, just excited to come away with the win and how we stuck together, and came away with that win, so it was awesome to see.”