Cubs

Kap: No LaMar for Cubs; Fleita contract heralded

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Kap: No LaMar for Cubs; Fleita contract heralded

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
Posted: 5:38 p.m.

By David Kaplan
CSNChicago.com Insider Follow @TheKapman
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Late Tuesday evening Twitter was ablaze with rumors that the Cubs had identified Chuck LaMar as perhaps their next general manager. That tweet from the Daily Heralds Barry Rozner started a chain of rumors that linked LaMar to Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken to Ryne Sandberg and had people believing a hiring was imminent.

As I started reading the tweets and texts that came my way I was stunned that people actually started to believe that LaMar was a viable candidate for the job. He was the GM in Tampa for eight seasons and had seven last place finishes. In addition, people that I spoke with Wednesday were not at all complimentary about his tenure or his ability to be a good fit in that job for the Cubs.

The truth of the matter is this: Chuck LaMar is not going to be the next general manager of the Chicago Cubs and his sudden resignation from the Philadelphia Phillies organization does not have any tie to the Cubs. LaMar could resurface in a job with the Atlanta Braves organization where he spent a good portion of his career, but he is not believed to be a GM candidate for any of the openings expected in baseball this winter. Wednesday afternoon he also confirmed to a Philadelphia broadcaster that we here at Comcast SportsNet know that he is not talking with the Cubs about any position.

In addition, while Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts is taking heat for signing Oneri Fleita to a new four year contract as farm director, the people within baseball that I spoke with have praised Ricketts for hanging on to a very valued employee.

I have known Oneri for 20-plus years and he is as good as it gets. He is bilingual, which is a huge plus in his role, he put the entire Latin American operation together and that includes a network of scouts that will go with him wherever he goes," one GM candidate told me. "In addition, the Cubs new 50-acre facility in the Dominican Republic is being put together under his direction. So to lose him would be a major blow to the entire organization.

The other aspect of the Fleita extension that no one seems to be talking about is why people are so convinced that he will stay in his current role. He has a ton on his plate, so what is to say that his job description wont change once a new GM is hired? Couldnt a new GM tailor the revamped front office the way that he wants it and still have Fleita in a very important role with a different title?

Whatever his role is, it is obvious that he is a valued and trusted member of the front office and had he hit the open market he would have had a number of great offers. Instead, the Cubs were proactive and hung onto someone who is good. What a novel concept--hanging onto a good employee--and for that people are critical? That is ridiculous.

In addition, people in other organizations, and whose opinions I trust, are all telling me that they are chuckling at the perception that Ricketts hasn't taken his ownership duties seriously.

One NL West executive told me this: I wish I had an owner as committed as Tom Ricketts is. He spent 20 million on amateur signings and he is spending an unbelievable amount of money to build a state of the art academy in the Dominican Republic. We are all a little jealous of the commitment the Cubs have made to rebuild their organization.

Ricketts has traveled to every minor league affiliate, traveled to the draft and he has made it clear to every scout and coach in the organization that if they need anything to get the job done that he will see to it that they have everything they need to compete with anyone in the game.

Now, if you want to criticize the Cubs here is something worth criticizing them for: In another lost season they continue to play veteran players at the expense of youngsters who may or may not be a part of their future.

With Carlos Pena hitting .226, how can Mike Quade defend playing him regularly over Bryan LaHair, who may or may not be a prospect?

LaHair just put up ridiculous numbers in Triple-A, hitting .331 with 38 home runs and 109 RBIs. His 1.070 OPS was the highest of any player in baseball. I know he is 28 and he is not considered an elite prospect, but stranger things have happened than a 28-year-old finally making it big. How do you know if you dont give him a chance?

The same goes for Tyler Colvin and Tony Campana. Are they considered elite prospects? Probably not, but unless you play them regularly, how are you ever going to know?

David Kaplanpublishes his thoughts at The Kapman on CSNChicago.com every Monday,Wednesday, and Friday and whenever major news breaks. Follow him onTwitter @thekapman.

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

It was never going to be perfect.

But Major League Baseball’s coronavirus testing system needs to be good enough.

That may not seem like an especially high bar to set.

But so far it has been a difficult one for baseball to clear.

In fact, the latest example of baseball's biggest challenge in pulling off a 60-game season played out at Wrigley Field on Monday. That's when the team that by all indications has done the best job of establishing and following safe practices had its manager and five other “Tier 1” members of the organization sit out activities “out of an abundance of caution” because their latest COVID-19 tests, from Saturday, remained “pending.”

Tier 1, by the way, comprises the 80-something members of the organization with the highest access, including players and coaches.

The results had been analyzed. But as pitching coach Tommy Hottovy explained, they appeared to be in a batch of samples that included at least one positive test, the batch involving multiple teams. So they were retested. Five of those retested samples, including manager David Ross’, were negative, the team said late Monday, with the sixth considered “compromised” and another test done.

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The sixth did not belong to a player.

Give the Cubs another gold star for getting through yet another round of tests — and yet another glitch in that process — without having a player test positive.

But give MLB another kick in the ass. The testing issues don’t seem to be as bad as they were throughout the league that first holiday weekend of processing. But it hasn’t fixed this thing yet, either.

Whether it’s a lab-capacity issue, a quality issue or a shipping issue, it’s not even close to good enough.

Not for 30 teams barely a week from leaving their individual training-site bubbles to start playing each other for two months. Not when more than one-third of those teams play in locales considered hot spots for the pandemic. Not in the world’s most infected country.

“We do feel comfortable in this bubble that we’ve kind of created here,” said Hottovy, who was hit hard by the virus for a month before camp started. “When the season starts though and we start traveling and we start putting ourselves in some different circumstances, we just don’t know what to expect with that.

“We’re still taking this day-to-day for sure.”

Players across baseball, including Cubs star Kris Bryant, said they were upset and surprised at how unprepared MLB’s testing system appeared to be when camps opened. Two weeks of testing later, and just enough issues persist to make the league’s entire 2020 undertaking look more tenuous than ever.

The season starts July 23. That’s not much time to get it “good enough” — never mind to get it right. But, again, we're not asking for perfection.

The league protocols require testing thousands of players and other team personnel every other day through the end of the season.

Imagine sitting a manager and three or four players from a single team on a game day because of “pending” or “compromised” test results. Imagine that happening two or three times a week to various teams. Or worse — imagine a given team doesn’t exercise “an abundance of caution” and puts the players or staff in question on the field or in the dugout and clubhouse anyway.

“The only concern that I have right now is how long the test will take to get the results back,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said on Thursday. “Other than that, I don’t think I am at risk inside of the ballpark because the Cubs have been doing the best they can to keep us safe in here."

“I don’t have any concerns about my teammates, because I trust them. I know we all are doing our best to keep [each other] safe, and that way we can have a season this year.”

Contreras expressed tolerance with the system so far and was reluctant to point a finger at MLB or anyone else.

“But how can that get better?” he said. “I have no answer for that.”

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is as much as it matters that an answer is found quickly.

Players, staff and their families already have taken on the daily stress and anxiety of this health risk and the every-other-day process of holding your breath until the next result comes in.

“You get that test day coming up when you might get results, and it’s a little bit of that unknown, a little bit of anxiety of, ‘Have I done everything right?’ “ Ross said. “You start running back the day since you’ve been tested and what you’ve done, where you’ve gone, who you’ve been in contact with, just in case something bad may come back on your test. It’s real.”

Thirteen players, including Giants star Buster Posey, already have declined to play this season, all but one without a pre-existing condition that would qualify as “high risk” under the agreement between players and management.

Angels superstar Mike Trout heads a list of several more who have talked openly about opting out at some point, depending on how things look as we get closer to games.

That includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish, who said Sunday, “I still have concerns” and that he has not ruled out heading home if he doesn’t feel it’s safe anymore for him or his family to keep playing.

Maybe Trout, Darvish, Posey and the rest of those players have the right idea.

In fact, maybe we’d all be better off if baseball rededicated its testing capacity to a general public that suddenly is facing shortages again in a growing number of hot spots.

But if baseball is going to stick to its plan and try to pull off this season, then it needs to get this right. Right now.

Nobody’s expecting anything great at this point. Maybe not even especially good. But good enough? In the next week or so?

Would that be too much to ask?

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How Cubs' Jon Lester just got 126 innings closer to returning to Chicago in 2021

How Cubs' Jon Lester just got 126 innings closer to returning to Chicago in 2021

One more year of Jon Lester?

A few months ago that looked uncertain at best — figuring to come down to a $25 million decision for the Cubs to mull at the end of this season (or a $15 million decision, given the $10 million buyout on the option clause).

But the vesting part of Lester’s hefty seventh-year option on his original six-year, $155 million contract suddenly looks tantalizingly within reach for the longtime ace.

Major League Baseball and the union have finalized an agreement on multiple details for calculating contracts in 2020, including vesting contract options, according to documents obtained by NBC Sports Chicago.

Performance thresholds for vesting options will be prorated for the 60-game season and rounded up to the next out. 

So that 200-inning threshold Lester needed to reach to assure the additional $25 million year — a threshold he hasn’t reached since 2016, when he was 32?

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In a season only 37.04 percent as long as normal, that means 74 1/3 innings earn the extra year.

It’s still roughly the same average of innings for 12 projected starts (6.17) this year as it would have been for 32 (6.25) in a full season.

But that’s a lot fewer potential aches, pains and injuries to navigate for two months compared to six months — and a stretch that doesn’t include the bone-chill cold of April and weather volatility of May.

Lester, who ranks eighth on the all-time list of postseason innings pitched, said when spring training opened in February he “obviously” wanted to finish his career as a Cub.

“Hopefully, I have a good year, and it’s null and void, and we don’t have to talk about it,” Lester said then of trying to vest the option.

“I signed here hoping that the option was kind of going to take care of itself and [I’d] finish out the seventh year. After that, I can’t predict tomorrow, let alone what’s going to happen two years down the road.”

Lester pitched in his first intrasquad game of the restarted training period on Sunday and looked strong enough to get sent out to face two more batters after finishing his scheduled two innings — retiring seven of nine, with one reaching on an error and another on a 15-foot tapper in front of the plate.

“He was commanding all of his pitches,” catcher Willson Contreras said. “From what I saw, he’s looking in good shape.”

Monday's agreement between MLB and the union also included details on calculating awards bonuses, roster bonuses and contract escalators. And unlike the normal injured list, players won't lose "active time" on the roster while on the COVID-19 IL.

The Athletic was first to report Monday's agreement.

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