Cubs

Cubs are on the clock with No. 2 pick

955761.png

Cubs are on the clock with No. 2 pick

The Cubs draft pick of the moment is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the Hey, why not? move they made in the 43rd round in 2009.

This one was all about projection. The Cubs had NFL sources telling them that Kaepernick might be a mid-to-late round pick, with a game that could translate better in the Canadian Football League, plus reports he threw around 90 mph in high school.

National crosschecker Sam Hughes had buddies in Reno helping tip him off about the University of Nevada quarterback, who had no interest in a summer job that could have paid him some 50,000 for throwing bullpen sessions in Mesa, Ariz.

As the Super Bowl hype reaches its saturation point next week, the Cubs will have their amateur scouts meeting in Chicago, working on their draft board and trying to figure which players can become cornerstone pieces to a championship team.

The diehard fans hanging out at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers for Cubs Convention over the weekend seemed patient enough, deferring to team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and their World Series rings. But they also wanted to know when they really think this rebuilding project is going to come together.

The Cubs are definitely on the clock.

The No. 2 overall pick in the June draft could be a franchise-altering decision. The names that will be discussed figure to include Indiana State University left-hander Sean Manaea, Stanford University right-hander Mark Appel and University of Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek, as well as two high school outfielders in Georgia, Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier.

Theres a bit of an imbalance in the organization, Epstein said. We have probably better position-player prospects and we lack some starting-pitching prospects. So in an ideal world, there would be that cant-miss college starting-pitching prospect available No. 2 overall that we all know is a lock. (We) would move in that direction.

But its interesting because in the history of the draft, the best bets up top are position players because of the uncertainty and the attrition and injury risk of pitchers. So those are pretty real trends over time. Were going to take the best player available.

If there were a cant-miss position player and pitchers that we had some questions on, wed go with the position player and then attack the pitching with volume. Because the history of the draft also shows that great pitching can come from all over the draft. You might hit on a guy in the fifth round, the 15th round, the 25th round. With position players, most of your great players come from the top two rounds.

Thats why the Cubs once took a chance on Kaepernick. Their strategy could mirror what they did last year, when they took a high school outfielder from South Florida (Albert Almora) with the sixth overall pick before drafting seven consecutive pitchers, and eight within the first eight rounds.

It could be telling that the Cubs passed on Appel, a Scott Boras client who was drafted at No. 8 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates but decided to return to Stanford for his senior season.

The Cubs will obviously have to work within the constraints of the collective bargaining agreement, but otherwise Epstein told fans during a convention session: I dont see us backing down from any player that legitimately wants to play professional baseball.

Jason McLeod the senior vice president of scouting and player development said the Cubs are still in information-gathering mode but have a pretty good feel for whats out there. Is there a guy that could come out of nowhere and leap to the top of your draft board?

I hope so, I really do, McLeod said, because the college summer wasnt great. Team USA was a little down. Everyone knows Mark Appel is going back to school. Theres kind of that pocket (of players) everyone knows about. Were going to spend a lot of time with them. Were certainly hoping that guys step up (and) enter the mix, just because it gives you more options.

The NCAA season starts in just under a month or so, and McLeod already has a good idea of what his weekends will look like this spring: It will be a lot of Friday night college pitching, spending a lot of time on some of those guys this year.

Once the initial shock wore off from the restrictive language in the new labor deal last winter, the Cubs began calling this a scouting contest. They restructured their department, hiring Jaron Madison away from the San Diego Padres to be their amateur scouting director and elevating Tim Wilken to Epsteins special assistant.

This pitching shortage pushed the Cubs to give Edwin Jackson a four-year, 52 million deal last month, and a reluctance to give up a draft pick and a percentage of their signing-bonus pool has colored their entire approach to free agency.

The Cubs continue to say they arent going to cut corners, so dont expect them to draft a college pitcher with 2015 in mind, hoping he could rocket through the system. They are going to make what they think is the best long-term investment.

This reservoir of goodwill with Cubs fans isnt unlimited. The Chicago media is going to have a harder edge if this spirals into another 100-loss season.

McLeod who was responsible for drafting core players like Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury for the Boston Red Sox is going to look at the big picture.

Until my job title says general manager or president of baseball ops, I dont have to deal with that as much the win-now mentality, McLeod said. But, (bleep), we all want to win. But whats in my control is player development, how were going to teachdraft, who were going to pick and how were going to go about it. And thats what I (can) contribute.

Or, as Epstein said: Hopefully, it will be the last time we pick second overall.

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.