Cubs waiting to see what message front office sends at trade deadline


Cubs waiting to see what message front office sends at trade deadline

The Cubs won’t feel the same hangover after the July 31 trade deadline. Now it’s just waiting to see how strong the adrenaline boost will be for the playoff hunt.

“We’re used to selling right now,” said Anthony Rizzo, who’s matured into a two-time All-Star first baseman during this rebuilding process. Rizzo’s definitely noticed a lot less clubhouse chatter about all the rumors.

“There’s not guys saying: ‘Oh, where am I going? Where am I going? Where am I going?’ It’s more of a (feeling like): ‘Let’s just keep winning. Keep winning — and see what we do.’”

The Houston Astros jumped the market on Thursday, acquiring lefty Scott Kazmir from the Oakland A’s for an A-ball catcher (Jacob Nottingham) and an A-ball pitcher (Daniel Mengden), which could set some sort of baseline if the Cubs settle for a rental pitcher.

The Cubs will get an up-close look at a potential building block on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where Cole Hamels is scheduled to make what could be his final start in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.

[MORE CUBS: Source: Cubs chasing Cole Hamels, David Price not in play yet]

There are many obstacles to a Hamels deal, from the financial restrictions imposed on Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department, to the awkward power structure in Philadelphia, where general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is on the hot seat and Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick is working with incoming president/ex-Cub Andy MacPhail during the transition.

Remember, in the past the Phillies haven’t liked the idea of Javier Baez as a centerpiece to any Hamels deal. And the middle infielder hasn’t played in a game with Triple-A Iowa since early June while waiting for his fractured finger to heal (though his rehab assignment should ramp up soon).

Starlin Castro is a three-time All-Star, but his trade value has nosedived to the point where the Cubs are probably stuck with him (and his bounce-back potential) for now. Castro’s .582 OPS ranks 22nd out of the 23 qualified shortstops in the majors.

Still, Epstein’s style is to kick the tires on everything and never rule anything out, so you know the Cubs will do something to upgrade a team that’s 51-43 and holds a half-game lead over the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card.

“It just sends a message to the clubhouse that they believe in us,” veteran catcher David Ross said. “We believe in each other. Especially on winning teams, you believe in one another. You believe you’re good. And then when the front office even backs you with that, it just sends more confidence to the guys.”

[MORE CUBS: Trade Watch: Aramis Ramirez is headed back to the Pirates]

Epstein hates the Us vs. Them storyline, pointing out how aggressive the Cubs have been in fast-tracking Kyle Schwarber, patching up the bullpen and accepting the “Super Two” financial implications with Kris Bryant and Addison Russell.

Manager Joe Maddon will take Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks: “You can put them up against any top four with any team in baseball.”

But with Tsuyoshi Wada, Clayton Richard, Dallas Beeler and Donn Roach going 2-for-12 in quality starts, the Cubs at least need someone to stabilize the back of the rotation.

“Everybody else does, (too),” Maddon said. “Honestly, everybody’s looking for that other guy.”

Ross remembered the bounce the Boston Red Sox got from that three-team deal involving the White Sox and Detroit Tigers on July 31, 2013. Jake Peavy was six years removed from his Cy Young season, but he went 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA in 10 starts for the Red Sox down the stretch (and had three up-and-down outings in the playoffs).

[MORE CUBS: Cubs have big plans for Kyle Schwarber]

“At the time, he was probably the best starting pitcher available on the market,” Ross said. “They gave up a guy — Jose Iglesias — who’s really good. So you saw the sacrifice they made to go get another starting pitcher that you needed.

“It was like: ‘Wow.’ And who knows what would have happened without him? But we ended up winning the World Series.

“It just solidifies (that) everybody’s on the same page. Sometimes, you hate to feel that business side creep in, but it’s part of it.

“As a team, you get that boost when they get a strong player. But it’s not like you lose confidence when they don’t, either. It’s kind of a looking-back thing that I’m able to do right now.”

Epstein also looks back on the history of deadline deals and feels like those trades usually favor the sellers. It helped lay the foundation at Wrigley Field and will certainly influence how much of the future the Cubs are willing to sacrifice now.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Once Ryan Dempster stopped playing “Golden Tee” in the office and agreed to go to the Texas Rangers, the Cubs could cash in his final 12 starts in 2012 and add Hendricks to their farm system.

“We got a good group here,” Hendricks said. “It just seems like we can’t hit that stride that we want to hit. But the guys in this clubhouse can definitely get it done.

“It’s just — I don’t know what it is — something’s just got to change. Something’s got to click. But it will.

“If we get some guys at the deadline, or if something happens, great. But if not, we’ll be fine, either way.”

Rizzo — who picks his spots when he wants to send a message through the media — put it this way: “As of now, if the season ends, we’re in the playoffs. That’s where we want to be.”

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.