Cubs

Cubs: What we learned at the winter meetings

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Cubs: What we learned at the winter meetings

Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010
1:02 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.- Rolling suitcases in hand, the baseball industry escaped to sunlight Thursday morning, getting out of the bubble. And not a moment too soon for the executives sequestered for days in their hotel suites.

Reporters scrambled around the lobby of the Swan and Dolphin resort late Wednesday night when word spread that Carl Crawford had agreed to a deal with the Red Sox. Instantly heads dropped down to BlackBerry devices to check the terms of the contract - seven years and 142 million.

At least that was real news ( props to The Boston Globe for breaking it) about an impact player. Most of the roughly 96 hours inside the Walt Disney World complex were filled with nonstop Twitter updates on fringe guys. It made you want to order room service.

"A lot of guys aren't going to the lobby and having some social hour late in the evening," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "Guys are going to their rooms because every time you talk to somebody it's on a blog. We all read stuff that we're on this guy or that guy, half the time we're not but I understand (the media) profession's changed, too.

"It's a very aggressive world (and) everyone wants to get in on some stories and sometimes we kind of smile up here. We have a social conversation with somebody or (we're) talking about something not even related to baseball, and by the time we get back to the room we're trading for so-and-so."

So before refreshing MLBTradeRumors.com one more time on your laptop, this is what we learned about the Cubs as they leave the winter meetings and head home to pay tribute to Ron Santo's extraordinary life.

Carlos Pena became the No. 1 target. Multiple sources indicated that the Dodgers had no intention of trading James Loney to Chicago, and the Cubs weren't very high on Adam LaRoche. They wanted a middle-of-the-order presence and a Gold Glove defender and found it in Pena (nevermind his .196 average and 158 strikeouts last season).

As Pena said, "Maybe they overlooked some things because they believe in my strengths, not my weaknesses."

The Cubs and Pena are using each other for a year. After the 2011 season, the Cubs are free to pursue another first baseman (Albert Pujols?) and Pena could be in line for a monster contract if he generates 30 homers and 90 RBI.
Scott Boras is the most interesting man in the world. The powerful agent isn't a Dos Equis spokesman, but he has his own unique language of 'pillow contracts' and 'platform years.' The outlines of Pena's one-year, 10 million agreement were formed with Greg Maddux, Hendry's special assistant, sitting across from his long-time agent.

"It's just very special that a man can do things on his own terms in the game of baseball," Boras said, "because the game itself is the tiger, it's the force, it's the thing that removes you in many situations from the game."

Hendry, who enjoys a good working relationship with Boras, has simply said that Maddux can have any job that he wants in baseball. Boras would never leave it at that. Imagine the conversations when he's selling his clients behind closed doors.

"Greg has so many abilities and so many aptitudes," Boras said. "Every time he is in any facet of the game, teaching, working with the team, growing the game, it allows the game to be its optimum."

Mike Quade is cool with Starlin Castro. The Cubs manager plans to travel to the Dominican Republic in January to visit with the young shortstop. Still months away from his 21st birthday, Castro is playing for Moises Alou's winter-ball team.

The media framed Quade benching Castro for two games as a turning point in his six-week job interview, but looking back the manager doesn't see it that way.

"I felt like a much bigger deal was made out of it than it should have been, but I get it," Quade said. "It had nothing to do with Mike Quade, believe me. I thought it was the right thing to do for Starlin Castro and for the organization. I believed it would benefit him and I just thought it was a good time to try and get his attention.

"You move on. It's the kind of stuff that you do on a regular basis. And you guys never hear about when you're down in Des Moines, when you're in Huntsville, Alabama, or wherever the heck else I've been. But he handled it marvelously."

There's still some money left, just not enough for Zack Greinke. Fans should lower their sights, the lobby buzz made Matt Garza sound unrealistic, as well as their expectations for Brandon Webb. The Cubs remain intrigued about the Cy Young Award winner's potential, and concerned about the health of his right shoulder.

New pitching coach Mark Riggins said he thinks there are already seven or eight rotation options to take to Arizona (the more the better) and the organization continues to discuss the possibility of making Andrew Cashner a starter.

Whether or not Cashner remains in the bullpen, the 24-year-old is a prism through which you can view the entire team. The Cubs aren't writing checks to solve their problems. They're banking on this wave of prospects.

"It's a theme that you just can't get away from, he needs to get better," Quade said. "Hopefully he's had a great winter and comes into spring training just (saying): 'Give me the ball.' That's what I expect from a young guy with that kind of talent."

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs aiming to finalize coaching staff this week

Cubs aiming to finalize coaching staff this week

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If fans are feeling impatient waiting for the Cubs coaching staff to be finalized, the front office feels their anxiety.

Jed Hoyer said Tuesday afternoon at the MLB GM Meetings the Cubs hope to settle their coaching staff before the week is up, putting an end to what he joked has been a six-week human resources process.

Theo Epstein confirmed Monday Will Venable will be back as a base coach for the Cubs in 2020, though which base is not yet certain. Venable who interviewed for the managerial vacancy this fall, spent 2019 as the first-base coach for the Cubs, but also filled in at third base early in the season when incumbent Brian Butterfield dealt with vertigo. 

In addition to Joe Maddon, Mark Loretta (bench coach), Butterfield (third-base coach), Lester Strode (bullpen coach) and Chris Denorfia (quality assurance coach) are also out.

That leaves the coaching staff as follows:

Manager — David Ross
Bench coach — Andy Green
Pitching coach — Tommy Hottovy
Associate pitching coach, catching and strategy coach — Mike Borzello
Hitting coach — Anthony Iapoce
Assistant hitting coach — Terrmel Sledge
Bullpen coach — Chris Young
Base coach — Will Venable
Base coach — open
Quality assurance coach — open

It's actually been longer than six weeks since the Cubs informed Maddon they intended to move on from the World Series-winning manager, but it hasn't even been three weeks since the Cubs officially hired David Ross as the replacement. 

But the offseason is fully in gear now and the Cubs would like to turn their full attention to the roster.

"We'd love to get [the coaching staff] done by the end of the week," Hoyer said. "I don't know if that's realistic or not, but that'd be a great goal. We're starting to put together some meetings and stuff with those guys coming to Chicago, so it's not like we're not moving forward with stuff. But I do feel like it's time to have that locked down."

Ross has obviously had a say in the new additions to the staff, going through what Hoyer called a "crash course" in interviewing and hiring coaches. Ross doesn't have much experience working with Green — the most important of the new hires — but he has worked closely with Hottovy and Borzello in the past from his days as a player. He's also been around those guys and the other holdovers on the coaching staff while serving as a special assistant in the front office the last three seasons.

Still, Hoyer said the Cubs are cognizant of Ross' need to have somebody on the coaching staff he trusts. 

"You want guys to fill certain roles on your staff — coaching, strategy, etc." Hoyer said. "But there's also a camaraderie you want to create. There's a relationship with the manager that you want to give that manager. It's a really hard and lonely job at times. 

"Having someone on that staff that you trust that you've known from the past that you can vent to or grab a beer with or grab breakfast with and talk about it, I think that's really important."

Once the final two spots on the coaching staff are finalized, Ross can also turn his attention to pressing matters like immersing himself in the Cubs' behind-the-scenes processes with the research and development staff and the rest of the front office.

Ross has some knowledge of that from his front office work over the last three years, but he also was enjoying time in retirement with his family in addition to his duties as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN.

"The best way he can hit the ground running is just become really familiar with all of the stuff that we do in the office even beyond what he's already done," Hoyer said. "Using it as a great learning winter for spring training, it's really important from an organization standpoint and a message standpoint. I know he wants to hit the ground running and the best way to do that is to be in the office as much as possible to be able to map out spring training."

What Scott Harris' departure means for Cubs

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AP

What Scott Harris' departure means for Cubs

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Even before the offseason started, the Cubs knew this was going to be a winter of change behind the scenes — on the coaching staff, in player development and scouting and in the big-league front office.

One change they weren't necessarily anticipating was losing Scott Harris to the San Francisco Giants.

Harris had spent the last seven years with the Cubs, working up to an assistant GM role and emerging as one of the most trusted voices in the front office under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. The Giants officially introduced Harris as their new GM Monday, leaving the Cubs with even more turmoil to address this winter.

In September, the Cubs had already moved Jason McLeod over to the big-league front office from his previous role as vice president of amateur scouting and player development, but McLeod won't be an exact replacement for Harris. Instead, the Cubs will spread Harris' responsibilities around — at least in the short term — and allow younger internal options an opportunity to step up and earn expanded roles.

"We're thrilled for Scott," Epstein said. "It was an opportunity he couldn't turn down — a No. 2 of another storied franchise in his hometown; it was just too good to be true. We're thrilled for him, but it was bittersweet. We loved working with him and he was a big part of our culture and guys around the major-league team love working with him. 

"It will leave a pretty significant void that we'll have to fill. We'll distribute a lot of his responsibilities around to a few different people internally and reevaluate as we continue to look outside, if there happens to be the right fit outside the organization, too."

It won't be easy for the Cubs to replace Harris, as they viewed him internally as a potential GM down the road. At the moment, he was a valued and trusted voice inside the front office at a critical time in the organization as they work to set themselves up for the future beyond their current window of contention that is set to close after the 2021 season.

"He's got incredible work ethic," Epstein said. "He's got significant intellectual capacity, but he's very down to earth, fun to be around. He doesn't tell you how smart he is. He's one of the guys everyone loves going to to share things and pick their brain. He's got good feel managing up, managing down, managing laterally, good feel with the players and uniform personnel. He'll do a really good job over there."

Now the Cubs will have to move on, though they're not in any rush to do so. 

After announcing a host of moves as part of their internal shake-up last month, the Cubs are still looking to hire a scouting director from outside the organization. Epstein confirmed they have interviewed close to 10 candidates and the Cubs are "reaching the final innings" in that process.

The same way they search for the next star player, the Cubs are also searching for the next front office star — the next Scott Harris, if you will.

"Anytime you have the opportunity to fill a spot — and there is some real turnover in our organization this year — I think you're always looking for somebody with potential to impact years down the line beyond the scope of responsibility you're hiring for," Epstein said. "This gives us anther big bullet to fire in our hiring, but we might not necessarily rush out and do it right away. 

"We have a lot of qualified people internally, too, who might take off with new responsibilities, so we'll see. We'll weigh that, but we are definitely looking outside. Same with scouting director — we're looking for an impact hire in that role." 

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