Cubs

Epstein's search won't include Sandberg

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Epstein's search won't include Sandberg

Updated: November 3, 2011 1:01 a.m.

Theo Epsteins fingerprints will be all over the Cubs organization, from the summer league in the Dominican Republic to the cramped clubhouse at Wrigley Field.

In one of his first signature moves as the new president of baseball operations, Epstein flew to Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday and fired manager Mike Quade. The search for Quades replacement begins immediately, and will not include Ryne Sandberg.

Epstein reached out to the Phillies and asked to speak with Sandberg as a courtesy, to let the Hall of Famer know that he will not be considered for the position. In a statement that outlined the general qualities hes looking for in a manager, Epstein listed a very specific requirement.

He must have managerial or coaching experience at the major-league level.

That eliminates Sandberg, who managed his way up in the Cubs system before losing out to Quade last year. The Cardinals have asked for permission to interview Sandberg the manager at Philadelphias Triple-A affiliate as a potential replacement for Tony La Russa.

There are now three good jobs open in Chicago, Boston and St. Louis, and there will probably be some overlap on those lists. Epstein worked alongside Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington for almost a decade. They share a similar philosophy.

The Red Sox have already interviewed Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin and met Wednesday with Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum, which could speed up this process.

Its possible that well be talking to some of the same people, Cherington told Boston reporters. (But) the teams are at different stages, the cities are different. I think that the right manager in Boston is not necessarily the right manager in Chicago."

Mackanin graduated from Brother Rice High School and has been an interim manager in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Sveum was the third-base coach when the Red Sox broke the curse in 2004, and was the interim manager when the Brewers made a playoff run in 2008.

Epstein has already surrounded himself with two people who were essential to his success in Boston general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president Jason McLeod so it wouldnt be surprising if he found someone with a Red Sox pedigree.

Terry Francona, who guided the Red Sox to two World Series titles, is now a free agent, though its unclear if hed rather recharge (or if Epstein even wants to reunite). DeMarlo Hale, a graduate of Chicago Vocational High School, was Franconas bench coach in Boston the past two seasons (including that epic September collapse).

In luring Hoyer and McLeod from San Diego, the Cubs made a deal that they would not grab any other Padres employees for a certain amount of time, which eliminates Bud Black from the list.

The Blue Jays recently changed their policy of allowing employees to interview for lateral positions. This was in response to rumors about the Red Sox being interested in manager John Farrell, their former pitching coach. So Farrell will remain under contract in Toronto.

If the Cubs wanted someone with a pitching background like Black or Farrell they could inquire about Mike Maddux.

The Rangers pitching coach has shaped a staff thats won two consecutive pennants, and the rotation should be the No. 1 priority this winter at Clark and Addison. Epstein has already spoken with his brother Greg about his part-time role in the Cubs organization (family figures to be a major consideration).

When the Red Sox fired Grady Little after losing Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Epstein zeroed in on Francona and Joe Maddon, two candidates who didnt create nearly as much buzz as they do now.

Francona never won more than 77 games in his four seasons as Phillies manager. Maddon never had a full-time job managing in the big leagues before, but would later show a great feel for players in Tampa Bay. So Epstein who didnt comment beyond Wednesdays statement doesnt necessarily need a big name.

The Cubs have three coaches already signed for 2012 hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, bench coach Pat Listach and bullpen coach Lester Strode. Their fates will be determined by the next manager.

That man could also decide whether or not he wants Sandberg on staff, though that would probably be a major distraction. The Cubs are looking to start over, and Epsteins supposed to be an agent of change.

The art of leadership: How Cole Hamels is teaming with Jon Lester to run Cubs clubhouse

The art of leadership: How Cole Hamels is teaming with Jon Lester to run Cubs clubhouse

"He works out A LOT. Like 10 times a day," a Cubs staffer told me as we discussed a good time to set up a spring training feature with Cole Hamels. 

The 35-year-old lefty is oftentimes one of the first guys to arrive at the facility and there are plenty of days where he's one of the last to leave, as he gets in multiple workouts. It's no secret the guy who goes by "Hollywood" on Players Weekend, spends an inordinate amount of time keeping his body in tip-top shape. His routines and work out techniques are already trickling down and catching the eyes of his Cubs teammates.

David Bote, for example, said Hamels suggested egoscue exercises, to help with his posture and aid in putting his body back into balance.

"Instantaneous results. I really haven't put on weight, maybe 3 pounds. But, I'm apparently 2 inches taller. I was just measured!" Bote said, chuckling. "It's amazing the effects better posture has on your daily routine. I'm more open in the chest and I have a better range of motion." 

That's just one example of the 20 million reasons the Cubs thought it was worth picking up Hamels' $20 million option this offseason, as we got into more detail here:

How about Ian Happ? He not only loves hitting the golf course with Hamels, but also picking his brain about the Philadelphia Phillies teams that kept their winning core together for a window contention from 2007-11.

"[He's explained to me] how, when you have a group that's been together for 4 years, you don't let things get stale," Happ said. "How do you keep things fresh and be able to keep learning from each other and keep playing together and keep getting better together?

"That's really an interesting discussion because they had that in Philly. They were good for six years all together and he was part of that young core. So, to learn from him on how that's managed by veterans, how accountable you have to hold guys and in what situations you can be firm, is really intriguing."

Meanwhile there's Jon Lester, the other veteran southpaw who has been asked to step up with Hamels and take on more of a vocal leadership role this year with the team. It's a topic the two might have discussed over a recent round of golf or at the Coyotes game they took in together on Valentine's Day:

Hamels may not be David Ross or John Lackey (who would have never put on that sweater), but he is a guy Lester respects immensely and one who can push him on the mound and as that "vocal leader" the brass is searching for. 

"Like Jon said, it is our time to kind of be that sort of person," Hamels said. "I know we're ready to do so. It's kind of an honor. When you're able to play the game as long as we have, that's the role that you get thrust into. There's some respect that you have towards that, especially from the guys that came before you. It's something that I know Jon and I are really going to take as far as we possibly can and getting the best out of everyone."

It's a fine line to walk as a starting pitcher and not a guy in the lineup every day, but it's apparent Hamels and Lester already have the attention of the Cubs young core. And it helps that group has made it clear they want to be coached and held accountable.

"It's a tough generation in what we can do and say now," Hamels said. "I know from when I came up, it was a lot different, but it's about understanding how to deal with it, understanding personalities and also understanding constructive criticism. I think for all of us, if you want to win, if you want to be a world champion, an MVP, the Cy Young, you have to play to a certain level and you have to maintain it.

"If you want to be that, you have to act like it and then you have to hold up your end of the bargain for eight months. And if we can all push each other to do that, you're going to see some amazing things." 

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How Joe Maddon plans to tweak the Cubs' lineup situation in 2019

How Joe Maddon plans to tweak the Cubs' lineup situation in 2019

MESA, Ariz. — Did you really think the Cubs would have a set, stable lineup in 2019?

That's cute. 

It's not going to happen. Maybe someday, but not this year and probably not next season, either.

There's no one person to blame for it. Joe Maddon doesn't want a stable lineup with 7-8 regulars playing every day. Theo Epstein doesn't want it. Jed Hoyer doesn't want it. The "Geek Squad" doesn't recommend it. And the roster doesn't allow for it.

There's too much depth here (assuming everybody is healthy), but Maddon does have a different plan for navigating the ever-changing lineup within the Cubs clubhouse.

In the past, Maddon and bench coaches Davey Martinez (2015-17) and Brandon Hyde (2018) would text the lineup to players the night before a game, so everybody knew if they were starting or not before they went to sleep that night.

Maddon is going to change that up for this season, instead trying to communicate a series at a time to players.

So if the Cubs have a 3-game set beginning on a Monday night in boring ole St. Louis, for example, Maddon or new bench coach Mark Loretta would — in theory — text players on that Sunday night to let them know what the projected lineups would be for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The whole "set lineup" narrative got a lot of traction last year as an ill-informed potential reason for why the Cubs lineup may have struggled or why some young players took a step back. It picked up steam the day after the Cubs were stunned in that National League Wild-Card game when Epstein answered a question candidly by admitting some players in the clubhouse were frustrated with how often the lineup was changed around. 

"This year, I'm gonna make a solid attempt to put series out at a time," Maddon said. "And then again, I'm not even sure if that's gonna work well or not because a guy might be upset for two days knowing he's not gonna play until the third. So you don't know how this is all gonna play out. 

"But it's there. This is how we're gonna play it. If you don't like it, come see me — this is why I'm doing it, this is the reason, etc. I really believe that the guys are gonna be fine with all of that. Just the interaction right now, I think guys have grown up a bit and understand when you don't play, it's not because someone doesn't like you.

"Part of it is developmental, part of it is matchup. Some of it's trying to put you in a situation to make you look better. It takes time for young players to understand it. I think veterans get that a little bit better. Even though a veteran might want to play more often, he understands his role may be in this and it might be the best thing for him. It just takes time."

Maddon and the Cubs rolled out 152 different lineups in 163 games last year (not including the pitcher's spot), so yeah, there was quite a bit of change. 

And that will continue again, maybe even moreso than last year. The only real change among the position player group at the moment is Daniel Descalso in for Tommy La Stella, and Descalso figures to draw more starts than La Stella did during his Cubs tenure.

We know Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant are going to play every single day they're healthy and now Javy Baez is in that mix after last year's breakout season. Willson Contreras will still probably receive the lion's share of playing time at catcher (4-5 starts a week, at least).

But beyond that, everything's in flux — including where everybody bats in the order on a given day.

Ben Zobrist will be 38 in May and the Cubs found a nice rhythm and routine with his playing time last year, only starting a couple games in a row before some off time.

Albert Almora Jr. will play center field (and probably lead off) against left-handed starting pitchers and some righties. Ian Happ will still see plenty of time in center against right-handed pitchers when Almora is on the bench.

Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward will start in left and right field, respectively, against right-handed starting pitchers. Their playing time against southpaws is still to be determined, and Heyward could also shift to center on occasion.

Descalso will play some second base and will also move around the field in a similar fashion as Zobrist. Happ may be in the second base mix, too, and will back up the corner infield spots in addition to his outfield time.

And the Cubs can't just give up on David Bote and banish him to the bench full-time at age 25 with only 210 big-league plate appearances under his belt, so there has to be time for him to start on occasion, too.

Oh yeah, and there's Victor Caratini (or whoever else is backing up Contreras) drawing a couple starts a week.

That's a long, winding way of spelling out — this Cubs position player group is packed with depth and they now no longer have a guy perfect for the bench/pinch-hitting role the way La Stella was. 

The Cubs are still going to play matchups, as most good teams around baseball do. Why consistently throw out a lefty who struggles against southpaws when you have a right-handed hitter available to plug in?

Plus, this model helps maintain rest and avoids running players into the ground when the Cubs hope — and expect — to be playing deep into October again this fall.

The starting lineup is almost never about who's hot and who's not.

"The guys that are more situational or platoon sometimes might read the fact that they had a good day or a bad day that they don't play the next day is because they had a bad day," Maddon said. "No. 'This is a better matchup for this fella and not you.' Self-evaluators, guys really coming to terms with that. Sometimes, it's difficult.

"...It's just the way it is right now and I'm OK with that. But you hear more about it now, there's more of an ability to publicly complain via different methods and so it becomes more of an issue. [In the past], guys would feel that way, but they wouldn't say anything."

Maddon admitted he probably has roughly a player a month, on average, come into his office to discuss their frustrations over playing time or lineup changing. He prefers that straight-up, eye-to-eye method and a private conversation behind closed doors to hash the problem out and communicate through it.

But none of those meetings will drastically change the Cubs' plan of action.

Any grand delusions about consistent, stable lineups are just history — and rather ancient history, at that. Look around the game — the Dodgers, Astros, Red Sox, Brewers all use ever-changing lineups to try to maximize matchups and skillsets.

The Cubs were built this way by design, with the depth to withstand all the metaphorical curveballs thrown your way amid a long season.

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