Cubs

Pujols taking his talents to South Beach?

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Pujols taking his talents to South Beach?

From Comcast SportsNet
DALLAS (AP) -- Albert Pujols will get a huge contract, there's no doubt. But the team that will sign the three-time NL MVP remains unclear. Will it be St. Louis, the team he's helped to two World Series titles in six seasons? The new-look Miami Marlins, whose newfound riches from their new ballpark are dominating the free-agent market? The Los Angeles Angels, until now in the background? "He's not the only guy," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said Tuesday, trailed by media whenever he walked the hallways. Baseball's new Big Fish were the talk of the winter meetings, with teams wondering how close the Marlins were to an agreement with Pujols on a deal that could be worth 200 million or more over 10 years. St. Louis said it submitted a new offer Tuesday to keep Pujols. Agents for other players said they had heard the Angels were bidding, too. Traditional big spenders such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox were reduced to spectators. "They have a new stadium. They're excited about it, and it's good for baseball," former Marlins and current Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "They had hoped that they'd get the new stadium and they would be able to do those types of things. Our roster is pretty set. We have a lot of guys that are on long-term deals. That's why maybe there's not a lot happening for us." When the winter meetings were at the same hotel in 2005, Paul Lo Duca, Juan Pierre and Todd Jones followed Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Guillermo Mota, Carlos Delgado and Luis Castillo out of Florida as the Marlins cut payroll from 56 million to 21 million. Now they're a different kind of team. Having already reached deals with All-Star closer Heath Bell (27 million for three years) and All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes (106 million for six), the Marlins' interest in Pujols is real. What's unclear is whether the first baseman is prepared to go to Miami or whether his talks with the Marlins were an attempt to push the Cardinals higher. "I know the ownership group is putting their best foot forward and trying to do everything that they can to make this possible," new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, "but I also know it's a complicated decision on both sides. There's a lot going on, a lot that I'm not even involved in, but I think it's clear to say that the St. Louis Cardinals would love to have Albert, and we'll see how it all plays out." With the Angels, Pujols could take over at first base from Mark Trumbo, who is recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot and could be shifted to third. "He's become a very proficient first baseman, and hopefully that comfort level, catching a ground ball and the activities you need to play there will translate over to third base," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. Elsewhere, Prince Fielder was still in play in the hitters' market, and C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle were among the available starting pitchers on the second day of the four-day swap session, which has been relatively slow. The New York Mets agreed to trade outfielder Angel Pagan to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Andres Torres and pitcher Ramon Ramirez, and reached agreements with free-agent relievers Frank Francisco (12 million for two years) and Jon Rauch (3.5 million for one year). While the moves were not formally announced, Mets manager Terry Collins discussed them. The Chicago White Sox traded closer Sergio Santos to the Toronto Blue Jays for pitching prospect Nestor Molina, and the Minnesota Twins dealt right-hander Kevin Slowey to the Colorado Rockies for a player to be named. When the meetings reach their last full day Wednesday, roughly two dozen free agents must decide by midnight EST on salary arbitration offers from their former clubs. David Ortiz, who has said he wants to stay with the Boston Red Sox, appeared likely to accept. AL champion Texas planned to meet Tuesday night with Wilson, the chatty left-hander who went 16-7 during the regular season but was 0-3 in October. "We're just staying in communication, that's all we've agreed to do," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We just agreed to stay in touch, keep each other posted and keep a dialogue. We're not holding him up, and he's not holding us up." Reyes' deal is likely to be completed Wednesday. Miami already has an All-Star shortstop in Hanley Ramirez, and he appears headed to third base. "Everybody it's waiting to see what's gonna happen with me or what I gonna do right?" Ramirez wrote on Twitter. "What I am gonna do is work hard and get ready for next season because that is the only thing I can control."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Takeaways from Cubs Convention and players primed for a 2018 breakout

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jon Graff, Matt Buckman and Scott Changnon rattle off their main takeaways from the weekend’s Cubs Convention, including the funniest moments and how the players engaged with fans and each other throughout the three days at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.

Plus, which players — besides Kyle Schwarber — made the most of the offseason and are primed for a breakout in 2018? The crew gives its take, with options including Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ and Jason Heyward.

Take a listen below:

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

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USA TODAY

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

Circling back around from the playoffs to the Bears, or at least to the Bears using the current postseason as a bit of a prism, magnifying glass, measuring stick, all of the above:

The ultimate question, obviously meaningfully unanswerable for perhaps another 10 or 11 months, revolves around expectations that were ushered in along with Matt Nagy and the rest of his coaching staff. One early guess is that there’ll be an inevitable positive bump in the record, the only true measuring stick. Depending on changes in practices, strength training, luck, whatever, Nagy might fare better than John Fox simply by virtue of having a presumably healthier roster — pick any three Bears who were injured during the 2017 season: Leonard Floyd, Cameron Meredith, Eric Kush, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Mitch Unrein, Kevin White and Willie Young — and a broken-in Mitch Trubisky from the get-go.

This is far from a given, however. Far, far from a given for the Bears. Of the 10 coaches hired in the 50 years since George Halas stopped, only Fox, Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt improved on the winning percentage of their immediate predecessor. All dipped, save for Jack Pardee, who in 1975 equaled the 4-10 finish of Abe Gibron before him. And Pardee was getting Walter Payton in that year’s draft, so things started looking up in a hurry.

And maybe that should be the expectation for Nagy, who projects to get some or all of Fox’s wounded back, plus a draft class beginning with No. 8 overall.

Better Bears record in 2018? Maybe, but ...

The Bears are perhaps something of an anomaly (imagine that) in the near constant of incoming coaches failing to improve matters in their first years. One of the more memorable aspects of this writer’s first year on the Bears beat (1992) — besides the obvious pyrotechnics of Mike Ditka’s epic final season — was the startling turnarounds effected by first-year (and first-time) NFL coaches that year, with several teams on the Bears’ schedule that year, meaning there were chances to study those in depth.

Consider: Bill Cowher took the Steelers from 7-9 to 11-5, Dennis Green took the Vikings from 8-8 to 11-5, Mike Holmgren took the Packers from 4-12 to 11-5, Bobby Ross took the Chargers from 4-12 to 11-5, and Dave Shula took the Bengals from 3-13 to 5-11.

The Bears played all but the Chargers that year, losing twice to Green, once to Holmgren and defeating the Cowher and Shula teams. Holmgren’s Packers didn’t make the playoffs, but he had to make an in-season quarterback change, which worked out pretty well long-term (Brett Favre).

Bears coaching-change history notwithstanding, the Nagy bar should be well above the five wins of Fox’s 2017. Nagy is a first-time head coach, but none of Cowher, Green, Holmgren, Ross or Shula had ever been NFL head coaches previously, either. Green and Ross had been college head coaches, albeit Green with a losing record and Ross barely .500 in those tenures.

And those coaches were taking over in the last year before the advent of free agency, which began in 1993. The Bears “landed” Anthony Blaylock and Craig Heyward. The Vikings secured Jack Del Rio. The Packers, Reggie White.

Odd years coming

Expectations vs. results will be interesting to observe in quite a few places this season. In some spots, the situation wasn’t completely broken but they “fixed” it anyway, in the dubious tradition of the Bears axing Lovie Smith after consecutive seasons of 11-5, 8-8 and 10-6 — two more wins (29) than Fox and Marc Trestman had combined (27) over the next five years.

Sometimes that sort of thing can work out. Phil Jackson did get the Michael Jordan Bulls to the next level that Doug Collins hadn’t. And Joe Maddon got the Cubs over the Rick Renteria hump, though adding Kris Bryant, Dexter Fowler and Jon Lester probably helped, too. Fox got the Broncos into a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, but Gary Kubiak won one with Manning. Fox’s Broncos went against the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, one of the top 10 defenses of all time, while Kubiak had the good fortune of instead having one of the all-time great defenses in 2015.

But back to current NFL case studies:

— The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season, his third winning year out of four there, two of those going to the playoffs.

— The Titans concluded their playoff year with the exit of Mike Mularkey, his reward for a second straight 9-7 that reversed four straight losing years under others.

— Chuck Pagano had five .500-or-better seasons with the Colts, didn’t have Andrew Luck all year, and was fired two years after going 5-3 with Matt Hasselbeck filling in for Luck.

What the expectations are in those venues is their business, just as it was when Phil Emery launched Smith in a fashion similar to the Titans with Mularkey. Smith didn’t reach the 2012 playoffs but would have been fired for anything short of a Super Bowl appearance, as Mularkey was for only winning one playoff game with Marcus Mariota as his quarterback.

All of which makes the Nagy/Pace Era more than a little intriguing. Nagy takes over a team with a No. 2-overall quarterback, as Mularkey did with Mariota. Some of Mularkey’s undoing traced to failing to maximize Mariota with an offense suited to how his quarterback plays his best, and force-fitting a player into a scheme is high-risk at best.

That doesn’t really apply in the case of a conservatively wired Fox, who directed that the offense be kept under ball-security control with a rookie quarterback. Fox and Dowell Loggains arguably were as constrained by Trubisky as he was by them.

But Nick Foles flourished with the Eagles under Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson, struggling a bit under Jeff Fisher. Case Keenum, a teammate of Foles when the Rams played in St. Louis, was so-so under the defense-based Fisher with the Rams, yet went supernova this year under the defense-based Mike Zimmer with the Vikings, which speaks to the value of the right coordinator irrespective of the head coach’s offensive or defensive background.

In the end Nagy’s achievements will be player-based. They always are. What he can do with what he’s got and given, via draft, free agency or whatever, vs. the successes and non-successes of others in his situation, is the work in progress now.