Cubs

Dale Sveum will put the Cubs on edge

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Dale Sveum will put the Cubs on edge

Dale Sveum studied the way Joe Torre communicated in the dugout. He sensed that Tony La Russa was always thinking several innings ahead. He noticed how Jim Leyland was able to motivate.

As a player, Sveum pulled pieces from all those managers. He was once the hotshot prospect, an injury case, a fringe player, even sticking around after he was released as a bullpen catcher on the 1998 Yankees team that won the World Series.

Sveum played with future Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor in Milwaukee. He worked for Terry Francona and navigated the superstar culture around the Red Sox. He watched Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun develop and get the Brewers back into the playoffs.

The guy nicknamed Nuts believes that, deep down, 99.9 percent of all players want to be looked in the face and told to get their crap together.

Thats what Sveum told the media last November, after the Cubs introduced their 52nd manager in franchise history. Soon it will no doubt be the message in Arizona, where he will run his first big-league camp.

When the guys arent hustling, you make them accountable for it, Sveum said last month. I dont really care how much money theyre making, or how many years they have in the big leagues. Theyre still embarrassing the team and theyre embarrassing the organization.

Everybodys treated the same. I dont care if youre a rookie or a guy that has 15 years in the big leagues. If youre doing something I dont like or youre embarrassing the organization, Im going to say something to you. It might come to where you have to bench guys. Thats just the bottom line.

Those applause lines were like throwing red meat to the diehards at the Cubs Convention. But will the players listen?

Pitchers and catchers officially report on Feb. 18. A group has already gathered at Fitch Park in Mesa, a short ride from Sveums offseason home. Even if the players dont yet know their new manager all that well, several have done their research.

From talking to players that (hes worked with), they have nothing but great things to say, pitcher Matt Garza said. Hes a players guy. Hes been through the grind and he knows what its like and he knows what its gonna take to win. And thats what Im excited about.

The players once lobbied for Mike Quade, another first-year manager who promised to drive home fundamental play (and didnt last).

Sveum should benefit from the instant credibility that comes from playing 12 seasons in the big leagues. He was also able to have a voice in assembling his coaching staff. He wont have to deal with Carlos Zambrano.

Perhaps most importantly, everyone knows that Theo Epstein picked Sveum to be the front man for this rebuilding project.

Sveum played for some great managers, but people have almost described him as an NFL coach with the countless hours spent breaking down video and obsessively charting plays. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin got used to showing up at his Miller Park office and finding Sveum already at work.

Sveum knows that information might yield an advantage only once a series. But all that adds up and certainly resonates with the Cubs president of baseball operations.

(Sveums) somebody who believes in hard work, preparation, respecting the game, having your teammates back, Epstein said. Whats really hard in todays baseball for managers is to connect with players and win their respect and admiration without enabling them and coddling them. Thats a typical players manager that you hear sometimes. Basically, he lets the players do whatever they want.

Often times, that becomes a popular manager, but it doesnt necessarily create the type of discipline that you need. (But) Dales been the best of both worlds. Players get to know him in that he works so hard. (They) like him and they play so hard for him. At the same time, he holds them to really high standards.

I guarantee you every single player is going to run as hard as they can, 90 feet, down to first base.

Thats what the Cubs will be selling after a winter in which they passed on the big-ticket items. Right now, this team is mostly nameless and faceless in Chicago. But it wont stay that way forever.

At the convention, a fan asked Sveum about Nyjer Morgan, an instigator for a Brewers team that wasnt shy about talking trash or choreographing over-the-top celebrations. For an organization looking for an identity, the answer was revealing.

You have to have some cockiness on the field, Sveum said. You dont want to take anything away from guys.You have to throttle it. (But) when you do irritate the other team, (it) means youre doing something (right).

You never show the other team up. But when you come to play, your team should have some kind of identity (instead) of being a vanilla team (where) youre just going out there and going through the motions. It makes a big difference to have some guys out there with personality and showing some emotion.

Bryce Harper, Scott Boras and the Cubs: Attempting to read between the lines

Bryce Harper, Scott Boras and the Cubs: Attempting to read between the lines

LAS VEGAS — Superagent Scott Boras held court at his annual Winter Meetings press conference Wednesday afternoon, standing on a box in front of the large Christmas tree at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

His meet-ups with press are always entertaining and while Boras griped about the amount of teams rebuilding/retooling, he did not call out specific clubs for being unwilling to spend money, as he has done in the past. 

So with the Cubs' payroll a huge storyline (and mystery) this winter, let's look at the comments from Boras about the market for his star client, Bryce Harper:

"This is not a race where every car is labeled."

"There's a lot of people that want to keep what they're doing very private, which is usually practice with a major free agent."

"Some clubs are more open and direct about what they're doing and some clubs really want a very private process for them."

Well he may as well have just labeled the Cubs here. I mean, this is as obvious as it gets. (sarcasm font)

In all seriousness, this is the second time Boras has hinted at more teams being in on Harper than the public knows about. He shared a similar sentiment at the GM Meetings in southern California last month:

It makes sense. If a team truly wanted to try to depress the market for Harper and avoid paying him mind-bending money, they would play their cards close to the vest. It's also a competitive disadvantage to let your rivals know you're in on a guy like Harper.

That doesn't mean the Cubs are one of those "mystery teams" but if they had already closed the door on signing Harper, you can be sure Boras would've called them out for it. He's done it in the past whenever big market teams publicly claim they don't have the resources to pursue Boras' top clients.

Of course, this could also be Boras' way of acting like the market is bigger for his client than it really is. If he can place doubt in the minds of owners that there are a lot more suitors that aren't publicly known, that could also help drive the market up.

When asked specifically about the Cubs' financial situation this winter, Boras responded with:

"I'm not gonna address every team specifically, but in today's game, the franchise value of these clubs has gone up in the last three or four years and how these clubs are successfully operated. Give the owners a lot of credit, because their valuations have gone from $4 and $500 million to over $2 billion. For a club that bought themselves at $20 million, $80 million, $300 million, they're enjoying franchise values of a billion-and-a-half to  in some instances, $4 or $5 billion."

In the same vein, when Boras was asked about Kris Bryant's future with the Cubs (he's a free agent in three years and has already reportedly turned down an extension from the team), the slick agent once again mentioned the valuations of MLB clubs without singling out the Cubs:

"Those are things I can't answer. You got franchises that are as successful as many of them are, they have the potential and ability to [spend money]. I mean, these franchises are worth billions of dollars more than when they purchased them. So their decision-making power and what they choose to do, they just have the wealth to do whatever they feel is best for their club."

Again, Boras is not calling out the Cubs in specific, but he's also clearly pushing his agenda that teams should not be as worried about the luxury tax as they appear to be.

Baseball is the only major American sport without a salary cap, though the new luxury tax restrictions is sort of acting like one with all the penalties in place for crossing that barrier.

The Cubs, meanwhile, are on pace to have the highest payroll in franchise history in 2019 and should soar well past the $206 million luxury tax threshold by the time they're done adding to their roster this winter. It's possible Theo Epstein and Co. will somehow find a way to shed salary this offseason, but could they open up enough room for Harper's $30+ million projected annual average salary while still adding a veteran backup catcher, middle infield depth and a couple relievers?

We're still not sure when Harper will sign, but it's looking less and less likely a decision will come down while the entire league is in his hometown this week.

Boras confirmed he and Harper have met with every club they needed to on the free agency tour, but wouldn't state which clubs. While Manny Machado is set to embark on a free agency tour where he visits each franchise, teams have come to Harper and Boras over the last month either in Las Vegas or at Boras' offices in Los Angeles.

At this point, Boras said it's more about negotiating terms and details than initial meet-and-greet stuff.

As for timing, Boras certainly doesn't seem to be in any rush.

"In the end, all organizations are going to look back on this opportunity," Boras said. "They're gonna look back on it and they're gonna say, 'What should I have done?' 'How should I have done it?' 'What steps should I have taken?'

"These are pivotal moments. There's a lot of organizations and general managers will be evaluated by what they did do or didn't do when you have the availability of a player like this."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Checking in with Joe & Theo at the Winter Meetings

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Checking in with Joe & Theo at the Winter Meetings

Tony Andracki goes 1-on-1 with manager Joe Maddon at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. The Cubs manager touches on his efforts to put art back into the game, his biggest challenge in 2019, the Cubs' sense of urgency and his thoughts about Matt Nagy and the Bears (:30).

Plus, we catch up with Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, who discusses internal team leadership, whether or not the Cubs are close to a deal and how Maddon is changing up his coaching style (5:45).

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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