Cubs

Ben Zobrist brings World Series-or-bust mentality to Cubs

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Ben Zobrist brings World Series-or-bust mentality to Cubs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ben Zobrist has spent most of his career as an under-the-radar player on underdog teams. Now he comes to Chicago as the big-name free agent with a World Series-or-bust mentality.

The Cubs realize the future is now and saw Zobrist as a missing piece to a contender that advanced to the National League Championship Series. That explains why Theo Epstein’s front office gave a four-year, $56 million contract to a super-utility guy who will turn 35 next season.

“I want to win a championship as a Chicago Cub,” Zobrist said during Wednesday’s press conference inside an Opryland ballroom. “That’s my one goal the next four years: We’ve got to win a championship and bring a World Series trophy back to Chicago.”

Zobrist had played nine seasons for Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays, and the Cubs coveted him enough to try trading for him last winter and before the July 31 deadline. Zobrist grew up in downstate Illinois and wanted to stay in the Midwest because he keeps a home in Tennessee and would be able to access those short Nashville-to-Chicago flights.

Even with all that history, it still came down to a “split-second decision” for Zobrist when he got a phone call on Monday informing him the Cubs would be able to trade Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees, clear a spot at second base and sign a player they believe will help transform what can be an all-or-nothing lineup, a shaky defensive alignment and a chemistry experiment in the clubhouse.

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Octagon — the agency that represents Maddon and Zobrist — has a headquarters in downtown Chicago, and all sides needed to be patient as the Cubs essentially tried to trade Castro in a one-team vacuum. Only the youth-movement Yankees could absorb the $38 million guaranteed across the next four years, offer a high-upside pitcher in return (Adam Warren) and see the real potential in a three-time All-Star who hasn’t turned 26 yet.

Zobrist didn’t explicitly confirm reports that he had $60 million offers on the table, but the New York Mets, Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants simply couldn’t match the geographic fit, another opportunity to play for Maddon and the chance to make history.

“There were some other really good offers out there,” Zobrist said. “But I think in the end, the deal that I signed was exactly where I wanted to be, as far as money goes and the fact that it was the Cubs and the allure of not only playing in Wrigley, but also winning a championship in Chicago.

“It outdid a lot of the dollar-amount figures in my mind. So when I got a good offer from ‘em, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”

For the record, Zobrist grew up rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals and will now be on the other side of a rivalry that keeps heating up.

“A lot of my family is split,” Zobrist said. “Some of them are really happy, and some of them are really mad right now. My dad, when he found out, he was so excited he was jumping up and down and (saying): 'I can’t believe I’m so excited to be a Cub fan.'”

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The Cubs saw what Zobrist just did for the world champion Kansas City Royals, hitting .303 with an .880 OPS during 16 playoff games, and hope he can lead by example and become a calming, professional influence on a young team that will absolutely have a target on its back in 2016.

“I don’t think you really ever know kind of what it takes fully to win a championship until you do it,” Zobrist said. “I got a front-row seat to watch it happen to my teammates — in their hearts and in my own — as we made the journey in the postseason and won those critical, (tough) games where you’re coming back from being down.

“It builds a sort of mettle in you and a confidence that even when things aren’t going well, you can turn it around. You kind of know the attitude you need.

“I’m not going to be satisfied with making the playoffs here. I’m not going to be satisfied with winning the NLCS here. It’s the championship. That’s what it’s all about.”

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.