Future GM Jason McLeod plans to finish the job with Cubs

Future GM Jason McLeod plans to finish the job with Cubs

Jason McLeod sat next to Theo Epstein on Tuesday night as the Fox Sports 1 camera zoomed in on the Cubs president behind home plate at AT&T Park. A laser-focused, stressed-out Epstein gulped while watching his team trail the San Francisco Giants, perhaps thinking about Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner in an elimination Game 5. 

It became the perfect reaction shot on national TV, an image made for Twitter GIFs, something general manager Jed Hoyer could laugh about after that stunning ninth-inning comeback that ended a National League Division Series: “Yeah, I got a lot of screen shots from various friends…you never know what position you’re going to be in or where your hand’s going to be. You try to tell yourself the cameras might be on. And then you forget every time.”

It framed McLeod on the edge of the picture, but the senior vice president of scouting and player development has been a central figure to the Cubs becoming just the third team in major-league history to win at least 100 games within four years of a 100-loss season.

With the Cubs heading back to the NL Championship Series for the second year in a row, McLeod should be in position to run his own baseball-operations department someday. “No question,” Hoyer says, McLeod is ready to be a GM. McLeod’s name usually surfaces in Internet speculation whenever a top job opens up, but his recent sit-down with the Minnesota Twins has been his only formal interview for a GM job.

Leaving Chicago would have been a difficult decision for McLeod on personal and professional levels, but the Twins ultimately offered the job to Derek Falvey – a 33-year-old administrator who just finished his first season as an assistant GM with the Cleveland Indians – and gave him the elevated title of chief baseball officer.

“If the opportunity presents itself again at some point in the future, then we’ll talk about it then,” McLeod said. “But I just couldn’t be more grateful to be here.” 

By the end of September, chairman Tom Ricketts announced a five-year extension for Epstein, a market-setting deal believed to be worth in the range of $50 million. Hoyer also signed a five-year extension, with McLeod getting two more years tacked onto his deal, keeping the band together (on paper) through the 2021 season.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

That executive timeline matches up with a spectacular array of on-field talent: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, plus rookies like Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. who are already gaining valuable playoff experience now. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team. 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.”

Epstein’s style is to listen to a cross-section of voices and mine as many sources of information as possible, but he goes way back with McLeod, to the beginning stages of their careers in the 1990s with the San Diego Padres. At a ground zero for the rebuild, Epstein memorably put it this way during an introductory press conference in the fall of 2011: “Jason McLeod is the rarest commodity in the industry. He’s an impact evaluator of baseball talent.”

McLeod’s first draft with the Boston Red Sox produced Dustin Pedroia, a 2007 American League Rookie of the Year and 2008 MVP, a back-to-back feat that Bryant might replicate in the NL. McLeod also became involved in the drafting of pieces – for Boston’s 2007 World Series team or elsewhere – like Rizzo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Clay Buchholz and Josh Reddick.  

McLeod, a former minor-league pitcher, isn’t some propeller-head. He comes across as someone you would have a beer with, an easygoing personality that meshes with scouts and staffers. But he can also speak to an ownership level, talking the corporate language of systems, processes and analytics. Working in Boston and Chicago has made him comfortable around the media.

McLeod withdrew his name from consideration while his hometown Padres searched for a GM in the middle of the 2014 season, saying he didn’t want to leave with unfinished business and miss being part of a World Series blowout in Wrigleyville.

San Diego hired A.J. Preller, who is currently serving a 30-day suspension after a Major League Baseball investigation into how he mishandled the medical information during the Drew Pomeranz trade with the Red Sox. The Arizona Diamondbacks – a franchise that can match the Padres in terms of dysfunction and instability – are now looking for a new baseball boss after firing Dave Stewart and sidelining Tony La Russa.    

McLeod isn’t seen as a fit in Arizona. For now, McLeod plans to watch the scouting-and-player-development machine Epstein promised to build on the North Side, seeing how all these magnificent talents grow up, while staying close to his family in the Chicago area. But someday, the TV cameras might be looking for McLeod in the stands during an emotionally draining playoff game.

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

The NLCS rematch will have to wait another day.

Mother Nature and the power at Wrigley Field care not for your excitement about a "big series" between the Cubs and Dodgers.

Thunderstorms rolled over the North Side of Chicago, where the Dodgers ended the Cubs' postseason run 8 months ago. 

On top of that, the power at Wrigley Field was not cooperating with the lights down the right field line going out for hours during the rain delay. 

The lights came back on at one point before again going out again roughly a half hour before Monday night's game was officially called. After a delay stretching almost three hours, word finally filtered out just before 10 p.m. the game would be postponed a day.

The Cubs and Dodgers will make the game up as part of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field with the first game starting at 12:05 p.m. and the second at the regularly scheduled time of 7:05 p.m. Tyler Chatwood will start the first game for the Cubs with Mike Montgomery slated to go Game 2.

As of 10 p.m. Monday night, the Cubs were unsure what caused the power issue at Wrigley Field but were working on fixing the problem ahead of Tuesday's scheduled doubleheader.

The evening started with the tarp being rolled onto the field by the Cubs grounds crew roughly an hour before scheduled first pitch with a forecast calling for a 100 percent chance of rain.

Only a light rain fell until a downpour began around 8:15 p.m.:

That lasted only about a half hour before the grounds crew came back out around 8:45 p.m. to partially remove the tarp and attempt to get the field ready to play.

The only issue at that point was the light and a sinister forecast.

"It takes 45 minutes to get the field ready to play," said Julian Green, Cubs director of communications. "So once you take that tarp off, you saw them putting the chalk lines down, getting ready.

"We wanted to be ready — even in the face of rain — if the lights came back on, we wanted to make sure we could play baseball, even if it was a limited window of opportunity."

As of 11 p.m., that second bout of rain had yet to materialize, but the lights issue also wasn't corrected and play on the field would've been impossible.

Fans lingered throughout the stadium for nearly three hours before an official conclusion came down. The Cubs kept the same announcement on the right field video board about the weather delay while the left field video board displayed the Brewers-Pirates and other MLB games.

This is the only trip to Chicago the Dodgers make throughout the 2018 season so the two teams and Major League Baseball did all they could to try to get a game in and avoid any issue where these two teams would have to play on a mutual off-day later in the year. 

The Cubs were in the midst of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days without a day off. They're still on that same schedule, though now with an unexpected day off Monday and a doubleheader Tuesday.

The Cubs are no stranger to postponements this season as wacky weather has continued to hamper this MLB season.

"Not only for the Chicago Cubs, but Chicago in general, this has been a really interesting spring and summer season," Green said. "We're taking our licks just like everybody else is.

"Our plan is to play baseball tomorrow and make sure we can accomodate fans as best as possible. So fans who have tickets to tonight's game will be able to use them for tomorrow."

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

Whatever Kris Bryant does from here, it's just frosting on the cake that is his legacy.

That's one way to look at the lasting impact of a guy like Bryant, who morphed from "The Chosen One" as the No. 2 overall pick. He's lived up to the hype from Day 1, has a Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Award in his trophy case and — most importantly of all — led the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

A slump in May and June of 2018 won't tarnish that legacy.

But you can also forgive Cubs fans if they're growing a little antsy with their stud player. 

Just rest easy that he's growing a little antsy, too.

After chronicling his "temper tantrums" and actually admitting he gets so angry he is prone to breaking bats in frustration (still find that really hard to believe) last week, Bryant still isn't quite over his slump.

Maybe he's just simply trying to do too much right now.

"Kris is fine," Jon Lester said. "I mean, I think anytime you have a guy like that, he's got such high expectations not only of himself but the other people outside of the baseball world.

"I think he feels that — he feels pressure from his teammates, he feels pressure from himself and he wants to perform and he wants to do well every night. When he doesn't, it seems like he just keeps adding on. The rock on his back gets a little bigger every time."

As recently as May 22, Bryant was hitting .303 with a 1.007 OPS.

But since then — a span of 21 games — he's hitting just .241 with a .316 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage, good for a .627 OPS. More alarming than anything, he's struck out 28 times in 87 at-bats, taking a step back in the area he has made the most improvement in since breaking into the league in 2015.

The power has been an issue for even longer. Bryant just recently went a month without a homer before sending one into the bleachers Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Still, since May 15, he has only 8 extra-base hits (7 doubles and that 1 homer) in 27 games.

The struggle is real right now, but that hasn't stopped the Cubs from going 17-11 during Bryant's dip in power.

GM Jed Hoyer reiterated again that Bryant is the last guy the Cubs worry about in the big picture.

"The way he runs the bases, the way he plays defense, I feel like he's contributing to wins even when he might be struggling at the plate a little bit," Hoyer said Monday evening. "With guys like him, I always look at it and think to myself — that means a hot streak is right around the corner.

"I said that about Anthony [Rizzo] in April when he was struggling and he's been great since May 1. I think Kris will have the same kind of turnaraound. With him, it's just a matter of when he breaks out.

"Over the course of the season, every great player goes through one or two big slumps. We're in a strange sport where even the greatest players are not slump-proof. He'll get out of it and we'll all reap the benefits when he does."

Even with the struggles, Bryant ranks 23rd among position players in WAR (Fangraphs) with 2.3, pacing the Cubs in that category. That still puts him on pace for a roughly 6-WAR pace, which would be his lowest throughout his MLB career but is still very clearly elite.

In an effort to get him back to the "KB" we've seen so much over the last four years, Joe Maddon has twice resorted to bumping him to the top of the lineup, including Monday night's game against the Dodgers.

Maddon is hoping a move to the leadoff spot will reinstill in Bryant's head that he doesn't need to be a power hitter to help the team win.

For right now, it works. After all, Bryant is still tied for 9th in baseball in OBP (.389). 

"You really do start trying too hard," Maddon said. "You try to force things as opposed to letting them come to you. Especially a power guy that's not hit home runs in a bit. My take on power guys is that it normally is cyclical. They'll get it for a while, then they'll get away with it, then it comes back."

Like Hoyer, Maddon talked up Bryant's abilities as a "winning player" in every other area of the game even when he's not going yard. That includes his daily hustle and effort.

"When a guy like him goes through this moment, I want him to focus on that — not homers," Maddon said. "He probably hears that way too much about the power situation and I'm really not interested in that. 

"Put him back in the leadoff spot for the reasons I just said — he can help win a game in so many different ways and I want him to just focus on that. ... He needs our support; he's gonna get it. I just put him in that top spot to readjust how he's thinking and that's all."