Cubs

Cubs trying to protect their farm system from Red Sox

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Cubs trying to protect their farm system from Red Sox

Tom Ricketts told Jim Hendry he would be fired on July 22. They buried the secret and the chairman kept his general manager on the job for almost a month, right up to and through the trade deadline.

The Cubs left their roster mostly intact, sending only Kosuke Fukudome and almost 4 million to the Cleveland Indians for two prospects. Several players had no-trade rights, and there wasnt a blockbuster deal to make, but fans wanted to see some change.

At the news conference on Aug. 19, Ricketts was asked why Hendry was the one working the phones.

Nothing was all that compelling, Ricketts said that day. If you look at the trade deadline stuff, I think a lot of people have this perception that its a great chance to retool your organization. But teams are careful with their prospects these days.

People are a little more thoughtful about giving up a high-end prospect for an existing star. There wasnt anything out there that we thought was best for the organization.

The Cubs feel like theyre getting a rock star in Theo Epstein, and the Boston Red Sox know that. There really arent many high-end prospects to be had in this negotiation, and thats why the Cubs desperately want to hang onto them.

Industry sources have said how Ricketts and team president Crane Kenney did this deal backwards, that they should have completed the compensation part first, before coming to terms with Epstein.

The White Sox already had a compensation agreement in place with the Florida Marlins when Ozzie Guillen was released from his contract last month.

By Wednesday, there was some optimism that the talks had progressed. The feeling is that it will take two prospects the Marlins set that precedent in the Guillen deal to free Epstein from the final year of his contract in Boston.

All indications are that the new head of baseball operations will be coming to Chicago within the next few days. Commissioner Bud Selig would have to green light any formal announcement during the World Series.

As much as Major League Baseball doesnt want to distract from the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers, thats already happened with the protracted Epstein talks.

The next windows to unveil Epstein at a stadium club press conference could be the World Series off-days scheduled for Friday and Tuesday. A potential Game 7 would take place on Oct. 27.

The Cubs a franchise that has essentially been in a holding pattern for almost three months, since the moment Ricketts told Hendry he was fired wont want to have it drag out that long. Their calendar year for employee contracts runs through the end of October. They also have organizational meetings tentatively scheduled for the middle of November.

Thats a time for Epstein to get a deeper understanding of whats coming next. In trying to place a value on their general manager, the Red Sox wont be overwhelmed by what the Cubs can realistically offer.

The Tampa Bay Rays raided the system last winter in the Matt Garza deal, grabbing five players, including three Baseball America judged to be among the top 10 prospects in the organization. That haul included pitcher Chris Archer (No. 1), plus shortstop Hak-Ju Lee (No. 4) and outfielder Brandon Guyer (No. 10).

There may not be any future All-Stars that are easy to identify in this organization. The Cubs certainly havent set the industry standard, but the player-development system isnt quite as bad as its been portrayed in the Boston media.

There is the sense that Brett Jackson is a five-tool player who does everything well, though there may not be an exceptional part to his game. He still could be roaming the Wrigley Field outfield next summer.

If Trey McNutt had put together a stronger season, he might have been included in the rotation plans for 2012. But given that there are so few impact arms at the highest levels of the system and that the rotation should be the No. 1 priority this winter its difficult to see the Cubs giving up their top pitching prospect.

Cubs people will remind you that Josh Vitters just turned 22, and can still show everyone why he was the third overall pick in the 2007 draft. They think that by 2014, the athleticism that made Matt Szczur an NFL prospect could turn him into the leadoff hitter theyve been searching for all these years.

Double-A Tennessee featured 12 Southern League All-Stars and advanced to the championship playoff round for the third consecutive season.

No one at the bargaining table truly knows how good these players are going to be. Theyre all just guessing, though Epstein has a good track record of putting the right people in place, which is why the Red Sox should make demands.

But its about time to let Epstein get to work and start building around Garza and Starlin Castro.

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: