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Changing approach, Cubs hire Deer as assistant hitting coach

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Changing approach, Cubs hire Deer as assistant hitting coach

Following a trend, the Cubs have hired Rob Deer as an assistant hitting coach, adding another voice as they try to reshape their organization.

Deer will work closely with hitting coach James Rowson who replaced Rudy Jaramillo in the middle of last season and earned the job full-time as well as manager Dale Sveum. The Cubs confirmed the hire on Monday, which could be the beginning of a busy week leading into the winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn.

Sveum a former hitting coach and Deers teammate on the Milwaukee Brewers from 1986 through 1990 has strong opinions about what the Cubs should be doing at the plate.

So does team president Theo Epstein, who wants to see hitters grinding out at-bats, like those Boston Red Sox teams that played deep into October. Since coming to the North Side, Epstein has described the lack of focus on plate discipline and on-base percentage as an institutional problem.

Trying to gain an edge, the San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies are among the teams that have used two hitting coaches andor will be structuring their staff that way in 2013.

Like Rowson who used to be the minor-league hitting coordinator for the New York Yankees Deer has experience dealing with young hitters. Deer, 52, had worked as a roving hitting instructor for San Diegos system, and also developed the Viz-U-Bat training device.

Deer hit .220 with 230 home runs, 575 walks and 1,409 strikeouts during his major-league career. He led the American League in strikeouts four times, but also appeared on the leader board at different points for homers, walks and slugging percentage. Coming off a 101-loss season, the Cubs need to improve in all those areas.

Baseball Prospectus once described Deer as the king of Three True Outcomes, meaning each at-bat would typically end with a home run, walk or strikeout. Those experiences will inform the next generation of hitters at Wrigley Field.

I dont teach the way I hit, Deer told Baseball Prospectus during a 2009 interview. I'm a big guy who understands the importance of using the whole field and wants hitters to understand a two-strike approach. Those are the things I implemented in my hitting system.

I tried to teach (the) things I couldnt do. I didnt have a two-strike approach when I played, so I try to make that an important part of teaching. I didnt hit the ball the other way, so I try to make them more complete hitters by having them do something I couldnt do.

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time with free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his baseball home forever. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two reported transactions Tuesday may not have drawn much attention from Cubs fans, but both directly impact the North Siders.

First, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reported the Angels are trading third baseman Zack Cozart to the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. Soon thereafter, free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius agreed to a one-year deal with the Phillies, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported.

From a Cubs perspective, the Angels' and Phillies' moves impact a potential Kris Bryant trade market. According to Ardaya, the Giants are picking up the remaining $12.67 million on Cozart’s deal. This clears payroll space for Los Angeles to make a run at a superstar free agent, like third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Phillies inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential Bryant trade, according to multiple reports. However, Bryant’s unresolved grievance case is a holdup in any trade talks, should the Cubs entertain offers. If he wins, he'll become a free agent next winter. If he loses, he'll remain under team control through 2021.

Gregorius will slot into shortstop for Philadelphia, while incumbent Jean Segura will move to second base, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The Phillies are less likely to pursue Bryant — should the Cubs shop him — than they were entering Tuesday. Things can change, but they have less of an infield need as they did on Monday.

On the other hand, the Angels and new manager Joe Maddon suddenly could be a candidate to pursue Bryant. Acquiring him would bring less certainty than Rendon or Donaldson, as Bryant is only under contract for two seasons more, max. Furthermore, acquiring Bryant will cost the Angels prospect capital, while adding Rendon and Donaldson will 'only' entail paying them handsomely as free agents.

In short, Philadelphia is less likely to pursue Bryant than they were entering Tuesday; the possibility of the Angels doing so is stronger than it was entering the day. The Angels haven't been directly connected to Bryant at this point, but that now could change.