Cubs

After surreal offseason, Ben Zobrist comes to Cubs camp in style as World Series MVP

After surreal offseason, Ben Zobrist comes to Cubs camp in style as World Series MVP

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist drove to work on Sunday morning in his World Series MVP car, a 50th anniversary edition gray convertible Camaro he parked in the players’ lot outside the Under Armour Performance Center. Even on a star-studded Cubs team that clearly enjoyed the spoils of winning, Zobrist popped out as someone who understood what this meant in Chicago and why these opportunities shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“The surreal moments,” Zobrist said, “were obviously being on ‘Jimmy Fallon’ and getting to do about three days worth of Disney World in about six hours – just by zooming around and going in back doors and such – to in December going to a Bulls game and the crowd basically erupting when they put the camera on me.

“Getting to go to the White House and meet President Obama and the first lady at the time. And then a few weeks after that, I got to go to the National Prayer Breakfast events and meet a whole bunch of congressmen and senators and then shake the hand of President Trump and Vice President Pence.

“Being put in arenas that you’re not used to being put in – just because you were able to do something as an athlete – is pretty special. It’s special to know that you were able to do something that made a lot of people happy.”

Not bad for a small-town kid from downstate Illinois who never got drafted out of high school and ranked 16th on Baseball America’s list of the Houston Astros’ top prospects after the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Zobrist then had to spend parts of three seasons at the Triple-A level before really establishing himself with Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays, waiting until his age-28 season to get more than 200 at-bats.

During the interview, Zobrist asked a group of reporters to move with him away from his locker, so that Albert Almora Jr. could have some space and not deal with the overflow crowd after an abbreviated workout limited by the rain in Mesa. Within the clubhouse, Zobrist is respected for his meticulous preparation, willingness to play all over the field and nerves of steel in the playoffs. That’s why the Cubs gave Zobrist a four-year, $56 million contract after watching him help the Kansas City Royals win the 2015 World Series.

“It doesn’t feel like a three-peat to me,” Zobrist said. “Every year is new. And you’ve got to kind of forget about last year, to a certain degree. I know what happened last year is pretty unforgettable. But at the same time, we’ve got to turn the page and try to do something even more special.

“Everybody was super-hungry to make it happen last year. We have to push each other to realize it’s going to be even harder this year. For us to be able to do something like repeating a championship in Chicago would be even greater than what we were able to do last year.”

Zobrist decided to live close to Wrigley Field to maximize time with his family during the season and experience the city. In another surreal, only-in-Chicago moment, fans swarmed his North Center home after the Cubs returned from Cleveland, lining up around the block to say thanks and get a moment with the World Series MVP.   

“My neighborhood was really respectful,” Zobrist said. “They were awesome all year, just kind of (recognizing) that’s our home (and) being neighbors. And then after we won – the day after we came home – I was playing outside with my kids and some of the neighborhood kids were like: ‘Oh, man, we watched you (on TV). Hey, would you sign something?’

“I’m like: ‘You know what, I didn’t do it all year, I’ll do it.’ So I started signing for a few of them. And the next thing I know, people from surrounding neighborhoods heard and started coming over.

“Just to go on the record: That’s not happening all year long this year.”

Cubs aiming to finalize coaching staff this week

Cubs aiming to finalize coaching staff this week

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If fans are feeling impatient waiting for the Cubs coaching staff to be finalized, the front office feels their anxiety.

Jed Hoyer said Tuesday afternoon at the MLB GM Meetings the Cubs hope to settle their coaching staff before the week is up, putting an end to what he joked has been a six-week human resources process.

Theo Epstein confirmed Monday Will Venable will be back as a base coach for the Cubs in 2020, though which base is not yet certain. Venable who interviewed for the managerial vacancy this fall, spent 2019 as the first-base coach for the Cubs, but also filled in at third base early in the season when incumbent Brian Butterfield dealt with vertigo. 

In addition to Joe Maddon, Mark Loretta (bench coach), Butterfield (third-base coach), Lester Strode (bullpen coach) and Chris Denorfia (quality assurance coach) are also out.

That leaves the coaching staff as follows:

Manager — David Ross
Bench coach — Andy Green
Pitching coach — Tommy Hottovy
Associate pitching coach, catching and strategy coach — Mike Borzello
Hitting coach — Anthony Iapoce
Assistant hitting coach — Terrmel Sledge
Bullpen coach — Chris Young
Base coach — Will Venable
Base coach — open
Quality assurance coach — open

It's actually been longer than six weeks since the Cubs informed Maddon they intended to move on from the World Series-winning manager, but it hasn't even been three weeks since the Cubs officially hired David Ross as the replacement. 

But the offseason is fully in gear now and the Cubs would like to turn their full attention to the roster.

"We'd love to get [the coaching staff] done by the end of the week," Hoyer said. "I don't know if that's realistic or not, but that'd be a great goal. We're starting to put together some meetings and stuff with those guys coming to Chicago, so it's not like we're not moving forward with stuff. But I do feel like it's time to have that locked down."

Ross has obviously had a say in the new additions to the staff, going through what Hoyer called a "crash course" in interviewing and hiring coaches. Ross doesn't have much experience working with Green — the most important of the new hires — but he has worked closely with Hottovy and Borzello in the past from his days as a player. He's also been around those guys and the other holdovers on the coaching staff while serving as a special assistant in the front office the last three seasons.

Still, Hoyer said the Cubs are cognizant of Ross' need to have somebody on the coaching staff he trusts. 

"You want guys to fill certain roles on your staff — coaching, strategy, etc." Hoyer said. "But there's also a camaraderie you want to create. There's a relationship with the manager that you want to give that manager. It's a really hard and lonely job at times. 

"Having someone on that staff that you trust that you've known from the past that you can vent to or grab a beer with or grab breakfast with and talk about it, I think that's really important."

Once the final two spots on the coaching staff are finalized, Ross can also turn his attention to pressing matters like immersing himself in the Cubs' behind-the-scenes processes with the research and development staff and the rest of the front office.

Ross has some knowledge of that from his front office work over the last three years, but he also was enjoying time in retirement with his family in addition to his duties as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN.

"The best way he can hit the ground running is just become really familiar with all of the stuff that we do in the office even beyond what he's already done," Hoyer said. "Using it as a great learning winter for spring training, it's really important from an organization standpoint and a message standpoint. I know he wants to hit the ground running and the best way to do that is to be in the office as much as possible to be able to map out spring training."

What Scott Harris' departure means for Cubs

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AP

What Scott Harris' departure means for Cubs

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Even before the offseason started, the Cubs knew this was going to be a winter of change behind the scenes — on the coaching staff, in player development and scouting and in the big-league front office.

One change they weren't necessarily anticipating was losing Scott Harris to the San Francisco Giants.

Harris had spent the last seven years with the Cubs, working up to an assistant GM role and emerging as one of the most trusted voices in the front office under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. The Giants officially introduced Harris as their new GM Monday, leaving the Cubs with even more turmoil to address this winter.

In September, the Cubs had already moved Jason McLeod over to the big-league front office from his previous role as vice president of amateur scouting and player development, but McLeod won't be an exact replacement for Harris. Instead, the Cubs will spread Harris' responsibilities around — at least in the short term — and allow younger internal options an opportunity to step up and earn expanded roles.

"We're thrilled for Scott," Epstein said. "It was an opportunity he couldn't turn down — a No. 2 of another storied franchise in his hometown; it was just too good to be true. We're thrilled for him, but it was bittersweet. We loved working with him and he was a big part of our culture and guys around the major-league team love working with him. 

"It will leave a pretty significant void that we'll have to fill. We'll distribute a lot of his responsibilities around to a few different people internally and reevaluate as we continue to look outside, if there happens to be the right fit outside the organization, too."

It won't be easy for the Cubs to replace Harris, as they viewed him internally as a potential GM down the road. At the moment, he was a valued and trusted voice inside the front office at a critical time in the organization as they work to set themselves up for the future beyond their current window of contention that is set to close after the 2021 season.

"He's got incredible work ethic," Epstein said. "He's got significant intellectual capacity, but he's very down to earth, fun to be around. He doesn't tell you how smart he is. He's one of the guys everyone loves going to to share things and pick their brain. He's got good feel managing up, managing down, managing laterally, good feel with the players and uniform personnel. He'll do a really good job over there."

Now the Cubs will have to move on, though they're not in any rush to do so. 

After announcing a host of moves as part of their internal shake-up last month, the Cubs are still looking to hire a scouting director from outside the organization. Epstein confirmed they have interviewed close to 10 candidates and the Cubs are "reaching the final innings" in that process.

The same way they search for the next star player, the Cubs are also searching for the next front office star — the next Scott Harris, if you will.

"Anytime you have the opportunity to fill a spot — and there is some real turnover in our organization this year — I think you're always looking for somebody with potential to impact years down the line beyond the scope of responsibility you're hiring for," Epstein said. "This gives us anther big bullet to fire in our hiring, but we might not necessarily rush out and do it right away. 

"We have a lot of qualified people internally, too, who might take off with new responsibilities, so we'll see. We'll weigh that, but we are definitely looking outside. Same with scouting director — we're looking for an impact hire in that role." 

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