Cubs

MLB manager gets contract extension

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MLB manager gets contract extension

From Comcast SportsNetOAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Bob Melvin has repeatedly described the comfort of managing right at home in the Bay Area -- and Billy Beane has described the comfort in having a winning, "modern-day" manager leading the Oakland Athletics.Melvin is staying put in the very place he wants to be well into the future.The A's manager received a two-year contract extension Monday that takes him through the 2016 season. Later Monday, Oakland announced it had reached agreement on a 1 million, one-year contract with catcher George Kottaras, a raise of 275,000.Beane is thrilled to have a manager in place to guide the small-budget A's for years to come."To get an extension like this from people you respect and admire and supported you, it really makes you feel good and makes you feel better about doing your job," said Melvin, voted AL Manager of the Year after leading Oakland to a surprising West division title. "My expectations are the same as last year. We're going to compete hard and expect to win. Based on having the results we had last year, we'll have that much more confidence coming into spring training."Oakland became the first team in major league history to win a division or pennant after trailing by five games with less than 10 to play, sweeping three games against Texas to win the division over the Rangers."It's really a reflection of our commitment to Bob and Bob's commitment to us. If you know you have the right guy, there's no sense in waiting until he's got one year left," general manager Billy Beane said. "This was probably the simplest negotiation I've ever had in my career here. That's a reflection of the relationship that Bob has with the organization. We're happy to give him this well-deserved extension. It didn't take very long. The actual writing it up took longer than the actual negotiations."Oakland lost to Detroit 3-2 in a best-of-five AL division series. The A's ended a five-year stretch without a winning record or playoff berth, finishing 94-68.The A's did it with a payroll of 59.5 million -- lowest in the majors -- and 12 rookies. They did it with significant injuries to their starting pitchers and lost their third baseman, Scott Sizemore, to a season-ending knee injury on the first full-squad workout of spring training. And they did it after losing right-hander Bartolo Colon to a 50-game suspension in August for a positive testosterone test, then re-signed him this winter.The 51-year-old Melvin, a former big league catcher who grew up in Menlo Park and played at Cal, took over from the fired Bob Geren in June 2011. Melvin led the Diamondbacks to the NL West title in 2007 and also won 93 games in his rookie season with Seattle in 2003."We knew we had the right guy right from the get go. Continuity is important," Beane said. "It's really important. Once again last year was certainly enjoyable. It's easy to look at a year like last year and everybody has fun when you're winning. This relationship with Bob and myself and the front office and the players started when he took over."Melvin received a three-year contract from Oakland late in the 2011 season. The A's went 47-52 after he took over that year.His local ties are only a bonus. Melvin played three seasons with the San Francisco Giants."I was excited and impressed when Billy told me that Bob was available and accepting the manager role with us," owner Lew Wolff said. "As I observed Bob's leadership and very special drive, I was even more impressed with Billy's choice. I am so very pleased that we will have Bob with us for the foreseeable future. Bob's use of our talent was and is brilliant in my opinion."Kottaras, acquired from Milwaukee before last year's trade deadline, batted .212 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 27 games for Oakland after hitting .209 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 58 games with the Brewers.Three A's remain eligible to file for arbitration Tuesday: left-hander Jerry Blevins and outfielders Brandon Moss and Seth Smith.

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.