Cubs

Cubs looking to make White House visit before Obama leaves office and Trump takes over

Cubs looking to make White House visit before Obama leaves office and Trump takes over

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – If the Cubs winning the World Series felt like a dream for Theo Epstein, then Donald Trump’s Election Night victory must seem like… 

“I’m still processing,” Epstein said. “Let’s put it that way.”

Cubs executives, agents and reporters watched the returns from inside the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa bubble, where Major League Baseball officials woke up to the reality of a Trump administration. A polarizing presidential race cast a pall over the general manager meetings, where the lobbies are usually buzzing with gossip and war stories as people order more drinks on their expense accounts. But this definitely felt different, staring silently at the two TV screens inside Mbar tuned to CNN instead of MLB Network.

The Cubs are now looking at making another potential political statement by going to Washington before Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. President Barack Obama already invited the 2016 team to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. over Twitter:

“I know after he tweeted that out – and that was well before the election – there was a lot of interest from our players in taking him up on that invitation,” Epstein said Wednesday. “There was some momentum for it. So we’ll see. Nothing has been finalized. But we’ll see where it goes. It would be nice given his Chicago ties.”

And given the alternative…

“I’m still processing,” Epstein said again.

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The Cubs existed on the periphery of a surreal presidential race, with Trump sending out a cryptic tweet threatening the Ricketts family during spring training, and then doubling down during a March meeting with The Washington Post’s editorial board, saying ownership has done a rotten job running the team.

The billionaire family ultimately flip-flopped, going from trying to lead a stop Trump movement to helping bankroll the Republican nominee’s campaign. Cubs board member Pete Ricketts is the Republican governor of Nebraska, while his brother, Todd, is also heavily involved in right-wing politics. Chairman Tom Ricketts tries to stay publicly apolitical, while their sister, Laura, is a big-time supporter of Hillary Clinton and progressive causes.

The day after the Cubs announced the team president’s five-year extension in late September – worth in the neighborhood of $50 million – Epstein showed up at a Clinton fundraiser in downtown Chicago and wrote a maximum check for the Democratic nominee.

Epstein also arranged to be a headliner at an Obama fundraiser in Lincoln Park during the 2012 election cycle, responding to the Super PAC linked to patriarch Joe Ricketts, the TD Ameritrade founder who is not a visible presence around the Cubs. A New York Times expose about plans for those racially charged attack ads infuriated Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former White House chief of staff who pulled $150 million in potential funding for the Wrigley Field renovations.

“It’s been an interesting couple of weeks,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said, beginning his news conference inside a hotel ballroom. “The Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. Donald Trump got elected president. Pretty interesting all the way around, so here we are.”

The Cubs are going to the White House, either before or after The Donald takes office.

“I’m still processing,” Epstein said again.

Cubs trade Mike Montgomery to Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado

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USA TODAY

Cubs trade Mike Montgomery to Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado

It’s not a blockbuster move, but the Cubs have reportedly made a trade with more than two weeks until the trade deadline.

Theo Epstein confirmed previous reports after the game that the Cubs traded left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery to the Kansas City Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado. Epstein added that Willson Contreras is heading to the 10-day IL with a strain in the arch of his foot, but he didn’t expect Contreras to be out much longer than those 10 days.

Montgomery, 30, joined the Cubs in the middle of the 2016 season, but struggled this season. He had a 5.67 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 13 walks in 27 innings this season.

Maldonado, 32, was hitting .224/.288/.359 with the Royals. Maldonado can fill in at catcher with Victor Caratini while Contreras is out.

Jason Heyward getting back to 'who he's supposed to be' in Cubs lineup

Jason Heyward getting back to 'who he's supposed to be' in Cubs lineup

This is the Jason Heyward the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed him to an eight-year deal in December 2015.

Back then, the Cubs believed Heyward had more power to tap into from his 6-foot-5, 240-pound, linebacker-esque frame. 

It didn't play out that way initially, with Heyward hitting only 26 homers to go along with a .367 slugging percentage and .688 OPS in his first three seasons in a Cubs uniform.

But all that has changed this year.

Heyward is on pace for 26 homers in 2019 — which would equal that three-year total — and his 71 RBI pace would be his highest since 2012, when he drove in 82 runs.

The 29-year-old hit his 15th homer of the season Sunday and it marks the first time he's eclipsed the 15-homer threshold since that same 2012 season, when he hit 27 dingers as a 22-year-old with the Atlanta Braves.

The power is the area that jumps off the page right now about the new and improved Heyward, but that carries with it a grain of salt that must be taken with everybody's longball total in the game right now. But his walk rate (11.6 percent) is the second-best mark of his career to only his rookie season in 2010. He's also pulling the ball less than he ever has and utilizing the middle of the field more while his hard and soft contact rates are far and away better than they've ever been in a Cubs uniform. 

All told, this is not the same hitter Cubs fans saw in the first three years of Heyward's megadeal.

"He's set up a little bit differently," Joe Maddon said. "Right now, his confidence is soaring. That ball was properly struck [Sunday afternoon] and he's been doing that often — even his basehits.

"... He's set up a little bit differently, but honestly, I think it's a confidence thing right now. He's feeling so good about himself. He's on the barrel more. I mean that's obvious. You don't see the ball off the weaker part of the bat nearly as often as we've seen in the past. I think that's the primary difference — the ball's off the barrel. 

"His hands are really alive. I love that the ball's still line to line, but the power is still showing up. I think that's exactly who he's supposed to be."

Sunday's homer was the game-winning hit for the Cubs and Heyward put his team in front once again Monday night with an RBI groundout to plate Kris Bryant in the fourth inning before a bullpen/defensive meltdown in the seventh inning. Oh yeah, and he got the game-winning knock in the bottom of the eighth inning Friday immediately after the Cubs gave the lead right back to the Pirates in the pivotal first game coming out of the All-Star Break.

He's been a difference-maker in this Cubs lineup all year, even as they search for more consistency and steady production. 

Heyward has gone from a guy who was on the bench in some of the most important games in the 2016-17 postseason because of his offensive issues to an integral part of this team's run production.

He's shown flashes of this in the past, including a month or so in the early part of last summer where he got really hot. But this has been sustained offensive production. In every month but May (when he batted .186 with a .618 OPS), Heyward has hit over .300 with an OPS well above league average, including a .968 mark in June and .992 in April.

But right now, he's not getting into all that. He's just trying to ride the wave of a long season.

"I don't try to break it down at all, honestly," Heyward said. "Just keep it simple and just stay in tune to what I got going on — first at-bat or whatever. It is kinda simple when you just look at it — not dwell on the negative, don't get too deep on that. 'Cause you're gonna fail. Just kinda choose how you want that to happen and make the best."