Cubs

A-Rod knows it will be a 'hard road back'

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A-Rod knows it will be a 'hard road back'

From Comcast SportsNetMIAMI (AP) -- Alex Rodriguez went to see doctors with hopes of finding something wrong. When they actually located a problem, only then did he start feeling a bit better.The New York Yankees' third baseman said Saturday that plans set for him to have surgery on his left hip in mid-January, and that he's eager to embrace the challenge of coming back from both the operation and an unbelievably abysmal finish to last season.It's expected that Rodriguez, who will be making his sixth trip to the disabled list in six seasons, could be sidelined until the All-Star break."I'm not concerned," Rodriguez said. "I'm actually, in many ways, relieved that there's something tangible that we can go fix."Rodriguez had surgery on his right hip in 2009, missed about the first month of the season and still finished with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs -- plus helped the Yankees win the World Series. This surgery is more complex, since it'll repair not only a torn labrum but also a bone impingement and a cyst. The surgery is next month because it was determined he needed some time to strengthen the hip first."I am fully committed to a very hard road back," Rodriguez said. "We've done it before in 09 and it was a great result, both on a personal level and on a team level, more importantly. I take it as a great challenge and I'm excited for the challenge."Rodriguez is a 14-time All-Star and baseball's priciest player, with his current deal being worth 275 million.He batted .120 (3 for 25) with no RBIs in last season's playoffs, including 0 for 18 with 12 strikeouts against right-handed pitchers. He was benched and replaced by a pinch hitter in key spotsl, too.Rodriguez originally thought he was having issues with the right hip again -- he wasn't -- and it wasn't until November that the issues within the left hip were detected. Now knowing that something was wrong, Rodriguez said a lot of things from last season -- particularly how it ended -- make more sense."It was definitely an unfortunate situation," Rodriguez said. "And if we knew, I think we could have avoided the bloody bath of the last two weeks. Obviously, that wasn't fun. It was quite miserable, to be honest with you."Rodriguez finished this past regular season batting .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs. He now has 647 career homers, fifth-most in baseball history and 13 shy of the No. 4 player on that list, Willie Mays.Rodriguez was in Miami, the city he calls home, on Saturday to host a pair of events for children -- his basketball tournament which he started a decade ago, and a toy giveaway at a Boys & Girls Club where he was a member until getting drafted by the Seattle Mariners.He addressed about 150 players at a breakfast honoring the eight basketball teams in the morning, telling them stories about his upbringing and earliest days as a student and athlete that many in the room did not likely know."You're probably sitting there saying, Now, how can you relate with us? You play for the Yankees. You make all this money. You date so-and-so,'" Rodriguez told the basketball players. "What you guys don't know is we're all alike. I was sitting in that chair just 15, 18 years ago. My mom had two jobs. I didn't know if I would ever have a steak dinner. That didn't exist in my house."He also met privately with some of the athletes afterward, advising them about upcoming decisions, such as what to look for in a college. Rodriguez also posed for several photos with the teams and their coaches."I can't say enough good things about him," said Brother Kevin Handibode, the president of Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, where Rodriguez attended as a freshman. "I know about all the good work he does, and you don't hear about it. You just don't hear about the good that Alex has done in a very, very quiet way."Later, at his afternoon event, Rodriguez donned a Christmas hat and handed out toys for about 30 minutes, everything from basketballs to bicycles to Barbiedolls.He isn't exactly sure what the next few weeks will entail; there's no firm date for the surgery and the plans for his rehabilitation are still largely being worked out."I think I'm definitely going to play," Rodriguez said. "We've been down this road before. We have a good plan. We have a good team in place."The Yankees have pursued former Boston third baseman Kevin Youkilis in recent days, and Rodriguez gave the longtime New York foe a glowing recommendation when asked about him on Saturday."Youk has always been a tough out," Rodriguez said. "He's a tough player, a winning player. Whatever the franchise wants to do, I think that'll be a good move for us."Several times on Saturday, he drew the parallel back to 2009, when he started the season rehabbing from hip surgery and the Yankees wound up winning a championship. He can envision a similar script in 2013."Don't count us out," Rodriguez said. "We are the New York Yankees."

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.