Cubs

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer replays Corey Kluber trade that could define World Series

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer replays Corey Kluber trade that could define World Series

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer won two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox before again helping Theo Epstein build the best team in baseball. Yet during one of the proudest moments in his professional life, Hoyer is now getting questions about why he traded Corey Kluber to the Cleveland Indians.  

Near the end of an October where the Cubs already went through Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw, Kluber can put his own personal imprint on this World Series. After throwing six scoreless innings during a Game 1 win, Kluber will start Game 4 on short rest on Saturday night at Wrigley Field and loom in a potential Game 7 nightmare. If the Cubs even make it that far. 

The Indians needed to win one without Kluber and pulled off a 1-0 victory on Friday night, taking a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven matchup. Hoyer never saw this coming when he made Kluber part of a three-team deal at the July 31 trade deadline in 2010, trying to secure a National League West title during his first season as the San Diego Padres GM. 

“It’s more like my internal monologue,” Hoyer said. “Because I’ve always said: I’ve felt as good – if not better – about that process than any process I’ve ever run or been a part of.

“You can’t help but replay the process over and over: What did we miss? Did we not do something right? Why didn’t we tinker with a two-seamer in the minor leagues with him?

“How did this guy that we saw as a potential back-end starter – but likely reliever – turn into a dominant No. 1 starter?”

[MORE: Cubs fail to break through against Indians bullpen in tense Game 3]

The answers help explain why Cleveland is in position to win its first World Series title in 68 years. At the time, Kluber had decent numbers at San Diego’s Double-A affiliate – 6-6 record, 3.45 ERA, 136 strikeouts against 40 walks in 122-plus innings – but no top-prospect hype or first-round pedigree. Kluber didn’t make any kind of leap the next year, putting up a 5.56 ERA in 27 starts for Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate.

“No one was pounding the table that we ignored,” Hoyer said. “I sent so many scouts to scout our system because it was our first year and we had tons of looks at him.

“Ultimately – I never would take credit away from the actual person – but it really is a player-development home run. 

“This guy that came to them didn’t have success right away. He really struggled. And then to keep getting better and better and better and better – that’s development.”

That two-seam fastball opened up everything for Kluber, who transformed into a Cy Young Award winner in 2014 and an All-Star this year. It’s a story not unlike the evolution of Jake Arrieta, who got traded from the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, cleared his head, returned to his natural crossfire motion and won a Cy Young Award last year. Look at Andrew Miller’s long journey into the heart of the Cleveland bullpen.

“Pitching kind of comes from everywhere,” Hoyer said. “Most of the dominant pitchers in this series were guys that were traded and developed late. 

“Andrew Miller – this guy was bounced around, traded – I think he was put through waivers – and now he’s like the most-sought-after deadline piece. He’s been the key to their team. All of that’s a good lesson.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

That trade would also be remembered differently if outfielder Ryan Ludwick (.631 OPS in 59 games) had performed for the Padres and Mike Quade’s Cubs hadn’t gotten hot in late September, winning three of four games in San Diego. The Padres won 90 games in 2010 with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, but still couldn’t make the playoffs, allowing the San Francisco Giants to begin their even-year run toward a World Series title. 

As part of that three-team trade, the Padres also shipped pitcher Nick Greenwood to the St. Louis Cardinals, who received pitcher Jake Westbrook from the Indians for giving up Ludwick. Who knew that deal would have World Series implications six years later?   

“I’ve never come up with the magic bullet that we missed,” Hoyer said. “Pitching develops in a way that hitting doesn’t. A guy with good stuff can maybe alter a grip or change a pitch. And then the next thing you know, you unlock everything. 

“You got to stick with guys – and you got to take risks on guys that may be struggling at the time.”

 

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.