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Cubs not feeling the pressure of ticking clock on trade market

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Cubs not feeling the pressure of ticking clock on trade market

The Major League Baseball trade deadline is a week away and as of Friday afternoon, the Cubs haven't made any moves just yet.

That's something of a change of pace, considering the major trades Theo Epstein's front office has pulled off around the Fourth of July the last two years - sending Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A's for Addison Russell last season and trading Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles for Jake Arreita and Pedro Strop in 2013.

But then again, the Cubs are in a completely different position now as buyers instead of sellers.

"We're actively trying to make our team better," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. "We're obviously on the phone non-stop, trying to be in communication with everyone.

"It's too early to say definitively, but we wouldn't be making this many calls and working as hard as we are if we weren't trying to make things happen before the deadline."

There's been a lot of talk about how much financial flexibility the Cubs have and whether or not they're able to take on big contracts along the lines of Philadelphia Phillies pitchers Cole Hamels or Jonathan Papelbon.

[RELATED - Source: Cubs chasing Cole Hamels; David Price not in play yet]

Hoyer attempted to put that worry to bed Friday before the Cubs began their three-game series with the Phillies at Wrigley Field.

"Right now, our focus is trying to find the best fit for us," Hoyer said. "I think we have confidence that if there were something that makes sense, we'd be able to figure it out financially."

The Cubs have to balance the fact that they began play Friday 9.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central and three games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates in the division and in the battle for the first NL wild card spot.

Barring a serious hot streak from the Cubs or a collapse from both the Cardinals and the Pirates, it will be hard for Joe Maddon and Co. to claim the division crown this year. So their only chance of playing deep into October may be that one-game playoff against the Pirates or San Francisco Giants or some other team.

So don't look for the Cubs to give up any big-time prospects for a guy that will become a free agent at the end of the season. Hamels makes sense given that he's under control through the 2018 season, though he's still owed roughly $100 million on his current deal.

[MORE - Cubs waiting to see what message front office sends at trade deadline]

"You're never going to do anything that's going to be detrimental to the future of the franchise," Hoyer said. "You can't force yourself into a position.

"A lot of teams have had very good runs in the second half when they didn't make significant moves. There's also a lot of deals to be made in August, which I think the Pirates have shown the last couple of years.

"Listen, we're working hard and I'm hopeful that we will find a good fit."

Hoyer pointed to the Houston Astros trading for Scott Kazmir Thursday and said he believes that could jumpstart an otherwise quiet market. But the Cubs GM also reminded everybody that no matter when the market really takes off, most of the deals don't happen until July 30th and 31st, when teams are up against the deadline and are "forced into action."

The Cubs are still looking for more arms to add depth to their pitching staff, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. There are several big-name starting pitchers on the block, but the Cubs need at least somebody who can slot into the No. 5 spot in the rotation and provide stability. They would also like to add another veteran bat, though Kyle Schwarber's arrival has helped revive a sleepy offense of late.

"We can certainly have more pitchers on the big-league roster and we can have more pitchers in the minor leagues and add depth," Hoyer said. "With a third of the season to go, trying to get through that stretch is really important.

"We could have injuries across the way, we could have poor performances and you're going to have to make sure you're able to handle that."

With the addition of the second wild card, more teams believe they're closer to a playoff spot, so there aren't as many organizations as in the past looking to sell off right now. But there are also teams that can jump into the mix in the last minute.

The Cardinals (reliever Steve Cishek) and Pirates (veteran slugger Aramis Ramirez) have already made minor moves to bolster their roster for the stretch run. But Hoyer insists the Cubs front office isn't feeling pressure to pull the trigger.

"Ultimately, you have to make deals that make sense for our team," Hoyer said. "I think the minute you start reacting to your competition, whether it's in December or July, it's always a bad idea.

"You gotta have your plan, you gotta stick to it. There's no question. Hopefully every contender is gonna better themselves at some point in July or August and you can't react to that."

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What it comes down to is finding any way into the postseason. Even the one-game playoff is better than cleaning out lockers after the final day of the regular season. The San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals proved that by winning that wild card game last year and making it all the way to the World Series.

"I think the thought process is the only way to win the World Series is to play in October," Hoyer said. "That's our mindset. Obviously there's a lot of games between us and the couple teams above us [in the NL Central]. Can we chase those teams down? Yeah, we can play exceptionally well.

"But ultimately, the Giants and the Royals showed that you have to get into the tournament in order to win and that's the way our focus is."

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.