Cubs

The art of the megadeal: Like Nationals, Cubs will have to sign their Werth

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The art of the megadeal: Like Nationals, Cubs will have to sign their Werth

The day is coming where the Cubs are going to force you to pay attention. Jay Cutler and Derrick Rose won’t dominate talk radio. The buzz won’t revolve entirely around the Bears and Bulls.

Team president Theo Epstein will hold up a white pinstriped jersey at a stadium club news conference. There will be a photo shoot in front of the ivy and outside the Wrigley Field marquee, selling the dream of a parade down Michigan Avenue.

This will be The Right Player at The Right Time.

The Atlanta Braves landed B.J. Upton on Wednesday with a reported five-year, $75.25 million deal. The Cubs won’t be making any $150 million investments next week during the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn. But eventually they’re going to have to jump in and sign a free agent to a contract longer than one year, even if the splash messes up their precise definition of value.

It could happen sooner than you think. Just listen to Chicago guy Mike Rizzo explain the art of the megadeal, and you get an idea of how the Cubs might get it done.

Two years ago, on the eve of the winter meetings, Rizzo made a huge bet on Jayson Werth and sent shockwaves throughout the industry. The numbers seemed like pure fantasy at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort: Seven years at $126 million.

But it was all part of a carefully calculated plan for the Washington Nationals general manager. Dec. 5, 2010 would be a landmark day in franchise history.

“We were at the point (with) our young players (where) we saw them coming,” Rizzo recalled. “They weren’t going to be those impact players yet, but we saw those guys scratching the surface and we were convinced that they were going to be good, solid core pieces for us for a long time.

“We had just come off 59 wins and then 69 wins, so we had an uptick in improvement and we felt that we needed (something). There was very much a loser mentality there, a losing culture, not only in the clubhouse, but in all surrounding areas, and I wanted to cut that out.”

Relaxed after a season in which the Nationals won 98 games and the National League East, Rizzo rattled off the details during an interview earlier this month at the general manager meetings in Indian Wells, Calif.

The kid who grew up west of Wrigley Field on Waveland Avenue sketched out the kind of player the Cubs will chase.  

“Jayson brought us a veteran presence with a good skill set,” Rizzo said. “He was the two-way type of player that we were looking for. If you remember, at that time, we had guys like (Cristian) Guzman playing second and Adam Dunn was at first and we were very one-dimensional.

“We weren’t good defensively. We didn’t run the bases well. We could hit a home run with you, but it didn’t help our good, young pitchers that were coming up. (So) we wanted to get more athletic, more high-energy.”

Werth would turn 32 during his first season in Washington, but he had earned a World Series ring with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. He had emerged as a strong supporting outfield piece on teams that won four straight division titles. Big-money players have to be leaders.

“I was extremely comfortable with who the person was, the makeup,” Rizzo said. “I had scouted him since he was in high school. He’s an Illinois kid. I played in the minor leagues with his uncle, so I knew the kid backwards and forward.”

This is what Epstein means when he says the premier free agents have to check off (almost) all your boxes.

But it also means dealing with Scott Boras, because the super-agent shrewdly pushes his clients to the open market at a time where clubs are locking up their best players with extensions. And you have to pull the trigger, even if the timing isn’t exactly right.

“It was a year ahead of schedule,” Rizzo said, “because that player was there that year. We knew with the length of the contract, he was going to be with us when these guys really came into their own.

“With Bryce Harper on his way up, (Werth) was going to be one of the guys to take him (under his wing). Same agency, same position – he was going (to) mentor him to become a better player at a quicker rate, accelerate his developmental curve and we’d get our money that way out of him.”        

On the North Side, maybe that’s someone who will push Starlin Castro, protect Anthony Rizzo and teach Javier Baez.   

Rizzo estimated his major-league payroll was around $50 million that winter. The Nationals had Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann lined up for their rotation, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond on the left side of the infield, and power arms like Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard out of the bullpen.

Werth had been an All-Star just once, never finished higher than eighth in the MVP voting and still hasn’t generated 100 RBI in a season. But this negotiation went beyond numbers.

“Most importantly, he was good on the field, off the field, in the dugout, in the clubhouse and in the community,” Rizzo said. “He brought us a winning attitude. After he sat down with ownership and myself, we were convinced that he was going to change the culture and he wasn’t going to allow us to be ‘the losing Nats.’

“We knew we had some money to spend. He was our No. 1 target and we went hard after him. To convince him to come to a 59-, 69-win team, we had to overpay him. But he fit the criteria that we wanted.”

Werth broke his wrist last May, but came back as a leadoff hitter, grinding out at-bats for a team that looks like a contender for years to come. The Nationals were so self-assured that they shut down Strasburg as a precaution in his full recovery from Tommy John surgery.

“We have a philosophy,” Rizzo said. “It was a difficult time for me personally, and for the organization, to take the heat for that decision, but that’s what I get paid for. You take the arrows for the manager and ownership and everything else.

“I felt at ease with the decision the whole time, and I still do. (But) the furor in the industry – (the decibels from) the analysts and the experts – (that) surprised me a little bit.”

The Cubs aren’t doing shock and awe yet. They will have to stick to their plan, but deviate when necessary. They need to study the deals from every angle, without experiencing paralysis by analysis. They will need to identify the missing piece – and then block out all the noise.  

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On the day he was introduced as the next Cubs manager, David Ross made it a point to explain how important it is that his bench coach is "one step ahead" of him as he gets his feet under him.

Theo Epstein echoed that sentiment, saying a bench coach with managerial experience was vital as the Cubs help Ross along as not only a first-year manager, but also a first year coach.

Enter Andy Green.

The 42-year-old Green spent the last four seasons as the San Diego Padres manager, but was fired with one week left in the 2019 season and two years left on his current deal. The Padres wanted a different voice moving into the future after Green compiled a 274-366 record and lost at least 85 games each season, finishing no higher than fourth place in the National League West.

But the Cubs don't want Green to be the manager and they love what he brings to the table as a veteran coach and Ross' right-hand man. 

"Talking to the Padre guys that I know well, he has excellent in-game strategy and always thought ahead very well in-game," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "Very bright, very well prepared. And that's not to mention he's a really good coach. We felt like that was a really good pairing for David. He hasn't managed, so having a guy next to him that, by all accounts, was really good in-game and controls information well, I think that's a really nice pairing."

At his introductory presser, Ross acknowledged his weaknesses as a first-time manager and admitted he will need some time to get the "feel" back of being in the dugout and engaged in each pitch after serving as either a broadcaster or front office executive for the last three years.

As a player, Ross often tried to think and strategize along with his manager, but that's not the same as actually having to make those calls and worry about pitching changes, pinch-hitting, umpire challenges and any other in-game duties a manger is tasked with. It can all add up quickly and managers often have to make the crucial decisions at the snap of a finger.

Ross and Green have not worked together, but the Cubs are hoping they can form a fast friendship and believe Green's ability to prepare is also an asset along with his experience. 

"He's gonna be great at [the bench coach job]," Padres GM A.J. Preller said. "I think it's gonna be a really good thing for somebody that's in that [manager's] chair for the first time having somebody that's gonna be knowledgeable, prepared, detail-oriented and somebody that understands what it's like to sit in that seat. I think all those things are gonna help serve [Green] really well."

Preller and Green reportedly didn't always see eye-to-eye in the big picture view of where the Padres were going, but there's no denying how the San Diego GM feels about his former manager's intellect and the Cubs won't need him to call the shots — only to assist Ross in doing so.

"Andy is probably one of the most intelligent baseball people I've been around," Preller said. "To me, probably as good a person as I've been around as far as Xs and Os and knowing the game. Andy always seemed to be two or three steps ahead. He's very well thought out, very well prepared. It's gonna be a huge strength for him and I think it will be nice for a first-year manager to have somebody like Andy sitting next to him."

A bench coach's exact duties vary from team to team and manager to manager, but with the Cubs, they will lean on Green initially to help Ross along with the experience aspect, making sure the game is not too quick for the first-year manager. During games, Green will be standing right next to Ross, weighing decisions and options along with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.

But like other bench coaches, Green will also be tasked with helping to serve as a bridge between Ross and the Cubs players. In a lot of ways, Ross is the face of the franchise, as he will partake in somewhere around 500 media sessions throughout the course of the season, including before and after each game. Between that, addressing the team as a group, individual meetings with players and all the strategy and discussions with the R & D department and the front office, Ross will need to lean on Green to be his right-hand man off the field, as well.

It helps that Green just finished managing in the National League, where he knows the opponents and the game is quite different than the American League, which has the benefit of the designated hitter.

"He's a guy that understands all different aspects [of being a coach]," Preller said. "He understands some of the newer information, some of the newer technology. He's gonna understand things that have worked in the past in terms of preparing for games from an advanced information standpoint and then he'll draw upon his experiences being in the National League, knowing the league really well.

"I think he'll be able to give all those things to David Ross and to the Cubs players — somebody who comes in with the mindset of just trying to help the team out and help the team grow. All those things are going to be positives."

We'll see how quickly Ross and Green can jell together, but it's clear the Cubs believe Green can help expediate the process of preparation and in-game strategy for Ross, both now and in-season. 

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ned Colletti interview

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan talks with former Cubs front office executive and Dodgers GM Ned Colletti on how to fix a major league roster, when to deal a player who is heading into free agency, and more

01:30 How he moved from MLB to being a scout in the NHL

04:30 How to fix a major league roster

06:40 On building the roster when other teams know your weaknesses

09:30 When to deal a player who is facing free agency

11:30 Balancing trying to win now vs. building a team for a sustained run

14:30 On how a GM can't depend only on signing a big free agent

18:00 On his time with the Cubs in the 1980s

19:45 On how a GM deals with Scott Boras

22:00 On how a GM deals with talk radio and the media

26:00 On how he almost got CC Sabathia on the Dodgers for 2008 playoff run

28:00 On how not trading for Ryan Dempster helped bring Kyle Hendricks to the Cubs

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

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