Cubs

Cubs won't get into a war of words with Donald Trump

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Cubs won't get into a war of words with Donald Trump

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — About to begin a season where anything but a World Series title will be considered an epic disappointment, the Cubs refused to get into a war of words with Donald Trump.

The Cubs have been on the periphery of a surreal presidential race, with Trump sending out a cryptic tweet threatening the Ricketts family last month, and then doubling down during Monday’s meeting with The Washington Post editorial board, saying ownership has done a “rotten job” running the team.

“Maybe Mr. Trump did not follow the season last year,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Maddon claimed to be unaware of the story and had a reporter read Trump’s comments back to him before Tuesday’s 9-6 Cactus League win over the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark.

After overseeing a 24-game improvement and guiding a young team into the National League Championship Series, Maddon won his third Manager of the Year award, with his own press conferences becoming must-see TV.

“I don’t want to get into a battle with Mr. Trump,” Maddon said. “I have no idea what this is all about. It’s been a very entertaining political season. It’s actually to the point now where I prefer watching Fox and CNN over ESPN any day of the week.

“I’m totally enjoying the sport right now. So regardless of what’s being said or how it’s being said, it’s just posturing, anyway.”

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Trump took aim at Cubs ownership after reports surfaced that Marlene Ricketts contributed $3 million — before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries — to a Super PAC designed to stop the Republican frontrunner.

Marlene is married to Joe Ricketts, the TD Ameritrade founder who is not a visible presence around the team. Board member Pete Ricketts — who made an appearance at Cubs camp in Mesa over the weekend — is the Republican governor of Nebraska. Board member Todd Ricketts is also heavily involved in right-wing politics and helped bankroll Scott Walker in the Wisconsin governor’s failed bid for the White House.

Staying in character, Trump didn’t offer much in the way of substance or specifics when Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt asked him about the Ricketts connection. From the transcript on the newspaper’s website:

HIATT: “You said a few weeks ago after a family in Chicago gave some money to a PAC opposing you, you said, ‘They better watch out. They have a lot to hide.’ What should they watch out for?”

TRUMP: “Look, they are spending vicious ... I don’t even know these people. Those Ricketts. I actually said they ought to focus on the Chicago Cubs and, you know, stop playing around. They spent millions of dollars fighting me in Florida. And out of 68 counties, I won 66. I won by 20 points, almost 20 points. Against — everybody thought he was a popular sitting senator. I had $38 million dollars spent on me in Florida over a short period of time — $38 million. And, you know, the Ricketts, I don’t even know these people.”

HIATT: “So, what does it mean, ‘They better watch out?’”

TRUMP: “Well, it means that I’ll start spending on them. I’ll start taking ads telling them all what a rotten job they’re doing with the Chicago Cubs. I mean, they are spending on me. I mean, so am I allowed to say that? I’ll start doing ads about their baseball team. That it’s not properly run or that they haven’t done a good job in the brokerage business lately.”

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Theo Epstein, who has a wicked sense of humor, thought about it for a moment, but the president of baseball operations declined to respond to Trump. (Epstein headlined a private Lincoln Park fundraiser for Barack Obama during the last presidential election cycle after The New York Times exposed plans for racially charged attack ads linked to Joe Ricketts.)

Chairman Tom Ricketts, who carefully watches what he says to reporters, addressed the Trump situation during his annual spring-training media session.

“We stand up for what we believe in,” Ricketts said last month. “We support the causes that we think are important. That’s what America should be. That’s who we are.”

Maddon had dinner on Monday with David Axelrod, an old Chicago Tribune reporter turned political consultant and a former senior advisor in the Obama White House. Maddon and his entourage — strength-and-conditioning coach Tim Buss and media-relations director Peter Chase — met at Mastro’s City Hall, the Scottsdale steakhouse, the night before the Arizona primary.

Maddon has a libertarian streak and a $25 million contract. He grew up in an Italian-Polish immigrant family in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining region and still returns home to support the Hazleton Integration Project, the foundation he launched to try to help ease the ethnic and racial tension in that blue-collar city.

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But Maddon didn’t want to make any endorsements or comment on Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric.

“I think it’s very wise for me not to become political,” Maddon said. “I think it’s very wise for me to remain apolitical at this point. There’s so much time left to get this thing all figured out.

“I am a registered voter in Florida. I exercised my right in the primary, and I’ll continue to watch this whole thing unfold. It’s very interesting. Oh my God, I’ve never gone (home) — (or) back to the RV in this situation — and wanted to put on the news as much I want to do that right now.

“So I think from the perspective of getting more people involved — or paying attention — I think it’s all good. Now whether you agree with somebody or not, it never matters to me. I’m probably the most nonjudgmental person you’ve ever met in your life.

“It’s all about individual tastes, where you’re coming from, what do you think, and obviously it leads to some heated discussions.”

While sitting in the dugout, it took more than six minutes before Maddon got the first baseball question during his daily pregame media session.

“That’s all the political crap you’re getting out of me,” Maddon said. “You know I love all this stuff, but I’m not going there. I am not going there.”

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.

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

What should Brandon Morrow's role be in Cubs 2019 bullpen?

Since the Cubs' early exit from the postseason, many have turned their attention to the 2019 roster and wonder if Brandon Morrow will be the team's closer next year.

However, the question isn't WILL Morrow be the closer, but rather — SHOULD he be counted on as the main ninth-inning option?

Morrow didn't throw a single pitch for the Cubs after the All-Star Game, nursing a bone bruise in his forearm that did not heal in time to allow him to make a return down the stretch.

Of course, an injury isn't surprising given Morrow's lengthy history of arm issues. 

Consider: Even with a half-season spent on the DL, Morrow's 35 appearances in 2018 was his second-highest total since 2008 (though he also spent a ton of time as a starting pitcher from 2009-15).

Morrow is 34 now and has managed to throw just 211 innings in 126 games since the start of the 2013 season. 

Because of that, Theo Epstein isn't ready to anoint Morrow the Cubs' 2019 closer despite success in the role in his first year in Chicago (22-for-24 in save chances).

"[We're] very comfortable with Morrow as part of a deep and talented 'pen," Epstein said. "We have to recommit to him in a very structured role and stick with it to do our best to keep him healthy. Set some rules and adhere to them and build a 'pen around that. I'm comfortable."

Epstein is referencing the overuse the Cubs have pointed to for the origin of Morrow's bone bruise when he worked three straight games from May 31-June 2 during a stretch of four appearances in five days.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs were very cautious with Morrow early in the year, unleashing him for only three outings — and 2 innings — in the first two-plus weeks of the season, rarely using him even on back-to-back days.

During that late-May/early-June stretch, Morrow also three just 2 pitches in one outing (May 31) and was only called upon for the 14th inning June 2 when Maddon had already emptied the rest of the Cubs bullpen in a 7-1 extra-inning victory in New York.

The blame or origin of Morrow's bone bruise hardly matters now. All the Cubs can do at this moment is try to learn from it and carry those lessons into 2019. It sounds like they have, heading into Year 2 of a two-year, $21 million deal that also includes a team option for 2020.

"It's the type of injury you can fully recover from with rest," Epstein said. "that said, he has an injury history and we knew that going in. That was part of the calculation when we signed him and that's why it was the length it was and the amount of money it was, given his talent and everything else.

"We were riding pretty high with him for a few months and then we didn't have him for the second half of the season. And again, that's on me. We took an educated gamble on him there and on the 'pen overall, thinking that even if he did get hurt, we had enough talent to cover for it. And look, it was a really good year in the 'pen and he contributed to that greatly in the first half.

"They key is to keep him healthy as much as possible and especially target it for down the stretch and into what we hope will be a full month of October next year."

It's clear the Cubs will be even more cautious with Morrow in 2019, though he also should head into the new campaign with significantly more rest than he received last fall when he appeared in all seven games of the World Series out of the Dodgers bullpen.

Morrow has more than proven his value in this Cubs bullpen as a low-maintenance option when he's on the field who goes right after hitters and permits very few walks or home runs. 

But if the Cubs are going to keep him healthy for the most important time of the season in September and October, they'll need to once again pack the bullpen with at least 7 other arms besides Morrow, affording Maddon plenty of options.

When he is healthy, Morrow will probably get a ton of the closing opportunities, but the world has also seen what Pedro Strop can do in that role and the Cubs will likely add another arm or two this winter for high-leverage situations.