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.

Forget winter of change, 'status quo' might be the new normal for Cubs

Forget winter of change, 'status quo' might be the new normal for Cubs

For the second straight offseason, Theo Epstein teased a winter of change after a disappointing end to the campaign.

And for the second straight offseason, the Cubs showed up for the annual fan convention without many significant changes to the roster. 

The fanbase has grown impatient and frustrated and itching for ways to improve upon a 2019 team that openly admits it did not perform up to its potential. 

"I understand the frustration," Epstein said Friday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. "There's a lot of days I'm frustrated, too, where you look out and there's a great fit on a player who you know you can recruit and sign a reasonable deal that he's worth and you can't get that player and that's frustrating.

"But that's the reality. Every club every winter has a certain landscape, certain paramaters they have to operate under. There are going to be times that we're gonna be really aggressive and have a ton of flexibility and every player is a possibility for us. We knew this was gonna be one of those offseasons where we were gonna be more active in trades than free agency and so there are days where we wake up frustrated or go home at the end of a long day frustrated. 

"So I certainly understand that from the fans, but then, I also look at the talent that we have on paper and I talk to our players and I get excited about how good of a team we can be."

The parameters the Cubs are working under includes a payroll that is already projected over the luxury tax for a second straight season, which the club wants to get back under and reset. That means the Cubs have yet to commit one single dollar in guaranteed big-league money this offseason, instead operating on the fringes of the roster to take fliers on pitchers (like Casey Sadler, acquired Friday) or position players (such as Hernan Perez on a minor-league deal) rather than re-signing Nicholas Castellanos or adding a bullpen piece with a long track record of success.

Epstein knows this isn't an ideal way to build a contender, but the Cubs aren't blowing it up, either. They're stuck in something of a baseball purgatory, trying to win in 2020 but also recognizing the need to improve the long-term health of the franchise. That means resetting the luxury tax, adding long-term pieces and potentially trading away short-term assets.

"We were an 84-win team last year, but underlying stats projected out, we were probably a 90-win team," Epstein said. "Not to say we didn't have issues — we did. Not to say we don't have holes now — we do. But there's significant upside with this group of players. We're not gonna whistle past a graveyard. We're gonna carry more risk into this year than we want to. More risk into this year than we traditionally have in the past and it's our job to operate our way around that.

"...We're gonna carry risk in the 'pen this year and we have to find a repeat where we find value in guys and guys improve and step up. We have risk with our rotation health. We don't have the type of depth and redundancy you'd like to have. And then at a couple positions, there's gonna be some risk with guys with real upside, but guys who if things don't break our way, we could have holes out there. And so that's on us and something we have to continue to plan for every single day. But we have real upside at every position, too."

Fans can laugh and scoff as Epstein and David Ross and the players talk about the potential for the 2020 Cubs to win the World Series or exclaim they're hopeful for the season ahead. But what else do you expect them to say? It'd be silly for the president or a manager or the star of a team to say "No, we don't expect to win this year." Especially when a team has as much talent on the roster as the Cubs have...even if there are holes and risks and not an ideal amount of depth.

Epstein is right — the 2019 Cubs *should have* finished with a 90-72 record instead of an 84-78 record. That's projected based off the Cubs' +97 run differential. The 89-73 Brewers, meanwhile, were projected for only an 81-win season based on their +3 run differential. 

However, those numbers are ultimately meaningless. The reality is the Brewers were in the playoffs (even if only for one game) and the Cubs spent the entire last week of the regular season knowing they weren't going to be partaking in any October action.

After another disappointing finish, Epstein and the Cubs brass wanted change. In a perfect world, they'd already have it — a reshaping of the roster to shake things up and get a different mix than the team that has fallen short of expectations the last two seasons.

But this isn't a perfect world and the Cubs front office isn't going to force things. They won't make a change just for change's sake.

"We're not in a position where we have to do anything," Epstein said. "I think you want to always avoid being put in a corner where you have to make a deal and your back's against the wall and you're gonna take any deal that's out there. We're not at all in that position, but looking at the horizon of the next two years, I think you would be wise at some point to do something that looks out a little bit more for the long term and a little bit less for the short term. But that doesn't have to happen now. We're not in a position where we have to move anybody.

"...What's most likely is status quo — it's hard to get long-term extensions done, it's hard to get trades done. We have what we feel is a pretty good club. We're trying to compete this year and we're not in a position where we have to do anything."

That's certainly a change from the tone set forth by Epstein in his end-of-season presser on the final day of September. But while the roster is essentially intact, the Cubs gave the rest of the organization a major face-lift, from the coaching staff to the scouting department to the strength and conditioning staff. 

Status quo is a good thing for those Cubs fans hoping Epstein's front office doesn't trade away their favorite player.

Kris Bryant is in attendance at Cubs Convention this weekend, but he's also dealing with a bout of the flu, so he did not speak to the media and had to pass on his now-annual segment on the Ryan Dempster show (which was anything but..."boring").

Epstein joked they might be doing a Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope where the Cubs lull everybody into the idea that nothing will happen this winter only for some major news to come down in the three weeks between the Convention and spring training. 

Things can change in a hurry when it comes to trade talks, but it's becoming more and more likely the Cubs will report to their complex in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 11 with a "status quo" roster.

Cubs add another pitcher to the bullpen mix

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USA TODAY

Cubs add another pitcher to the bullpen mix

A few hours before the 2020 Cubs Convention kicked off, Theo Epstein's front office was hard at work adding another pitcher to the bullpen mix.

It's not a big name fans are itching for, but the Cubs acquired right-handed pitcher Casey Sadler from the Dodgers Friday afternoon. The Cubs sent minor-league infielder Clayton Daniel to LA in return. 

Sadler, 29, was designated for assignment by his former team earlier in the week. He has 42 career MLB appearances under his belt, 33 of which came last season between the Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays (1 start). 

Sadler performed well in 2019, posting a 4-0 record, 2.14 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, but only had 31 strikeouts in 46.1 innings. He had more success missing bats in Triple-A, with 12.3 K/9 in 38.2 innings last year.

This brings the Cubs' 40-man roster to 39 with a little less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. The move fits the theme of the offseason where Epstein and Co. are taking fliers on all the buy-low pitchers they can as a volume-game approach to building a pitching staff.

Sadler is out of minor-league options, so he should get a shot at cracking the big-league bullpen out of camp.

At the moment, Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck look like the only locks for the Opening Day bullpen, but a host of others will be in the mix in Arizona, including:

Ryan Tepera (free agent)
Trevor Megill (Rule 5 pick)
Dan Winkler (free agent)
CD Pelham (waiver pickup)
Brandon Morrow (minor-league free agent)
Duane Underwood Jr. (out of minor-league options)
Alec Mills (out of options)
Adbert Alzolay
Dillon Maples
James Norwood

There are a lot of question marks building a bullpen out of that group, especially considering the proven names the Cubs lost from last year's club (Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Brandon Kintzler).

Daniel, 24, was the Cubs' 31st-round pick in 2018 out of Jacksonville State University. He reached Double-A Tennessee last season and hit .305 with a .799 OPS, 2 homers and 21 RBI in 67 minor-league games a year ago.