Cubs

Cubs searching to find the next big thing

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Cubs searching to find the next big thing

At the age of 38, Theo Epstein is at a different place in his life. Hes no longer the intern out of Yale University. Hes an established brand.

The Cubs could have paraded out some big-ticket free agents over the weekend. Instead, they made their splash by hiring a president of baseball operations.

The Cubs Convention closed Sunday after essentially amounting to a victory lap for ownership and the new front office. The Ricketts family is betting that they will be paying for future results, and not past performance.

Epstein has promised to stay hungry, obsessed with finding the next competitive advantage in an industry that has caught up with a lot of things the Boston Red Sox used to do.

Its something (thats) like inbred in Theo, Cubs executive Jason McLeod said. I dont think he knows what the word stagnant means. Its always thinking outside the box, trying to be creative (and) innovative. He certainly keeps you on your toes with it, because as soon as you start feeling comfortable with how things are running, hes asking you why we arent trying other things.

Its in his DNA and it really filters down to all of us.

The senior vice president of scouting and player development goes back to the mid-1990s with Epstein, when they were both just starting out with the San Diego Padres.

McLeod framed this as a big week for the organization. Cubs scouts will be meeting in Chicago to go over methodology and how they might cover the country. They will also be introduced to some version of the computer system that will be designed in partnership with Bloomberg Sports.

This isnt revolutionary. McLeod acknowledged that most clubs have the same information in terms of raw data. This is just a way to organize it where everything on a player is one click away. The Cubs want to have more background and medical information than anyone else.

Moneyball burst out as a New York Times best-seller and generated Oscar buzz in Hollywood. The secrets are out and a new collective bargaining agreement has also leveled the playing field.

The Cubs cant spend unlimited amounts in the draft and internationally under a cap-and-tax system. There will also be a less generous form of draft-pick compensation, which eliminates Type A and Type B free agents. The Red Sox were known for letting those players walk and collecting the extra selections.

We tried to tilt the odds in our favor a little bit, like a casino, Epstein said. Whos more likely to hit on the superstar, the Jacoby Ellsbury or Dustin Pedroia or Jonathan Papelbon-type player: The team thats picking once in the first round or the sandwich round, or the team thats picking three times?

This is a little more complicated. Cubs officials say it will become a scouting contest, where talent evaluators could become much more valuable on the open market.

We need to hire the best scouts (and) pay them well, Epstein said. We can challenge our scouts to get to know the players inside and out, what they eat for breakfast, what theyre like in school, what theyre like after they win (or) lose. (Its) how good a teammate are they? What kind of family support structure do they have? How have they dealt with adversity in the past?

We have to answer all of those questions better than the other 29 teams.

In terms of manpower, the Cubs brought in Joe Bohringer, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, to oversee pro scouting.

Scouting director Tim Wilken who thought he used to be the only man in baseball responsible for running both the professional and amateur sides will now focus exclusively on the draft.

Shiraz Rehman who got his MBA at Columbia Business School was added as an assistant to general manager Jed Hoyer. There are indications that money that would have gone toward the draft could be funneled toward the scouting department.

Were always trying to find that next thing (thats) going to be the breakthrough, Hoyer said. People always act as though (with) all these analyses out there now, the final frontier has been found. And the reality is if you can look back in time 15 years from now, someones going to find something that changes the game again.

We want to be the team to find that. You might not have as long a runway anymore. It might only give you two or three years of an advantage until (others) catch up. Thats a huge difference. If we can find that next thing and be smart enough to do that, then itll give us a huge advantage. And thats sort of how we see baseball analysis in general: Theres going to be a next frontier. Lets make sure were the one that finds it.

By spring training, The Cubs Way manuals on scouting and player development will be distributed to staffers.

Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley, walked through the Hilton Chicago wearing jeans and a blazer and a scarf thrown over his T-shirt. He has shaggy hair, a full beard and some swagger.

The Cubs are downplaying the possibility of Jackson making the team out of spring training, though he could be playing center in Wrigley Field sometime in 2012. Right now, Epsteins crew has everyone thinking big.

Im working every day to make that a reality and be part of something special here in Chicago, Jackson said. Well leave the important decisions up to the new guys who clearly know what theyre doing. People are raving about them being rock stars. Were excited to see what kind of show they put on.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 37th homer of the 1998 season was a big one, an opposite field blast off the front row of fans in right field and into the basket at Wrigley Field.

The eighth-inning 3-run shot gave the Cubs some insurance in a game they ultimately won 9-5 and the Wrigley faithful responded by throwing a bunch of trash on the field.

Earlier in the contest, Sosa tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth inning. He finished with 4 RBI, giving him 93 on the season with more than 2 months left to play.

Fun fact: Vladimir Guerrero was the Expos' No. 3 hitter for this game an dhe also hit a homer (his 20th). Now, Guerrero's son is nearing his MLB debut as a top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

Fun fact No. 2: Mark Grudzielanek - who later played for the Cubs in 2003-04 - was Montreal's No. 5 hitter for the game at Wrigley. He was traded 10 days later from the Expos to the Los Angeles Dodgers for another fellow Cub - Ted Lilly.

Cubs are reported to be 'deeply involved' in trade talks for Zach Britton

Cubs are reported to be 'deeply involved' in trade talks for Zach Britton

The Cubs and Orioles reliever Zach Britton are once again being linked to each other, according to Patrick Mooney of the Athletic

Despite the front office denying any big moves coming before the July 31st deadline, but the Cubs' interest in Britton from last year makes this one with the Orioles stick a bit more. And when taking a look at Britton's fit on the club, a deal involving the lefty-reliever makes too much sense not to be true. 

And according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, the Orioles are trying to wrap up the trade in the next few days. 

The Cubs did add reliever Jesse Chavez earlier this week, but Chavez profiles more as a swingman and less of the late-inning arm Britton has been over his eight-year career. Due to injuries, Zach Britton is the guy who teams saw dominant in '15 &'16 when he saved a combined 134 games for the Orioles. 

However, his 2018 numbers are encouraging for a guy coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon with a 3.68 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 14.2 IP. And when you factor in the pedigree the Cubs would be adding to the back end of the bullpen on top of his expiring deal at the end of 2018, it would make the Cubs bullpen lethal in the postseason. 

There will be other suitors for Britton who could likely offer more in terms of prospects in return, but if the Cubs are serious about adding someone like Britton, they could always dip into their MLB roster and part with a Victor Caratini-type player. Infielder David Bote has also impressed with his surprise season, showing he can contribute in multiple roles. 

But the Cubs would be solving essentially two issues with one guy in Britton, with his ability to close and experience in late-inning situations while also replacing Mike Montgomery in the bullpen, who may be staying in the rotation longer than expected. He's also an upgrade over Brian Duensing, who has been ineffective this season, and Randy Rosario who seems more like smoke and mirrors and has never pitched in the postseason. 

Jed Hoyer did say earlier this week the Cubs will be adding depth before the trade deadline, but the asking price for arguably the best available reliever remaining on the market could end up being too rich for the Cubs to stomach. But it clearly won't stop them from at least weighing all options.