Cubs

Goodell confident that bounties are thing of the past

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Goodell confident that bounties are thing of the past

From Comcast SportsNet
CHICAGO (AP) -- Commissioner Roger Goodell is confident that bounty hunting will no longer be an issue in the NFL because of the severe penalties handed out in the wake of the New Orleans Saints scandal. Goodell said the actions taken by the league "speak very loudly." "I heard that from our clubs, from our personnel," he said during a news conference in Chicago on Thursday. "They recognize it's not part of the game. It doesn't need to be part of the game. And I don't think it's going to be an issue going forward." The NFL said it found that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams oversaw a bounty program in New Orleans from 2009 to 2011 which paid off-the-books bonuses of 1,500 for "knockouts," or hits which forced a player out of games, and 1,000 for "cart-offs," which left players needing help off the field. Williams, who took a job as the defensive coordinator in St. Louis, has since been suspended indefinitely and coach Sean Payton was banished for the 2012 season. General manager Mickey Loomis was suspended eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. There was also a 500,000 fine for the team and the loss of two second-round draft picks, not to mention suspensions for several current and former Saints players. Current Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the upcoming season, while defensive end Will Smith got a four-game punishment. Green Bay defensive end Anthony Hargrove (eight games) and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita (three games) were also punished. The NFL Players Association has challenged Goodell's power to impose penalties and has asked an arbitrator to decide if the players should be punished for the system. Goodell would not say if he thought the case would be resolved before the end of the season, pointing out that it's in arbitration. It's one of several areas where the union has challenged the league during a combative offseason, including a grievance accusing the NFL of using a secret salary cap during the uncapped 2010 season that cost the players at least 1 billion. The union also filed a grievance for drug-related suspensions for two Denver Broncos. Vilma has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell, whose lawyers requested a delay to respond, something the league calls routine in such cases. "I think one of the things that's made the NFL great is we've solved our own problems," Goodell said. "Several of those things are collectively bargained, which we've just concluded a 10-year agreement, and they're in the collective bargaining agreement. I believe that our process has worked. We've modified those processes, even outside of the collective bargaining, to make them responsible and responsive to their needs. But we do want to make sure that at every point we uphold the standards that our fans expect." Goodell was at Soldier Field with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to recognize the stadium as the first to become a LEED-certified building, meaning it is considered environmentally friendly. They also discussed the possibility of Chicago hosting a Super Bowl. "We did speak about this earlier," Goodell said. "We are, as you know, hosting a Super Bowl in New York in an open-air stadium in 2014, and we're excited about that. We think it's going to be a great thing for our fans and a great thing for New York. "I think if we can do it successfully there, and I think that opens up doors where we'll be looking at. Obviously, you know how to host great events. ... And you've got a great stadium." Emanuel touted the recent NATO summit as an example of the city's ability to host a big event, with world leaders in town, and he said Chicago would be a "perfect place" to have a Super Bowl. Of course, everyone is familiar with Chicago's reputation for savage winters and Soldier Field lacks a roof. It also holds just 63,500 fans. Would the city have to enlarge the stadium to attract a Super Bowl? Emanuel would not say. "I think the commissioner said something which is really, really important," Emanuel said. "The first step is to host something in New York, which is an open stadium." Goodell acknowledged that capacity "is always an issue." "The most important thing now is having a great stadium and a city that can have the infrastructure to host the hundreds of thousands of people that come in," he said.

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

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USA TODAY

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.