Cubs

Kris Bryant lives up to hype, wins NL Rookie of the Year Award

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Kris Bryant lives up to hype, wins NL Rookie of the Year Award

Kris Bryant left no doubt about who should be the National League’s Rookie of the Year, unanimously winning the award after proving he’s a franchise player for the Cubs.

Bryant went 30-for-30 in first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which unveiled the results on Monday night, the beginning of a week that could also see Joe Maddon and Jake Arrieta win Manager of the Year and Cy Young awards as part of the franchise’s resurgence.

The buzz kept building as the Cubs won 97 games and finished with the third-best record in baseball. Bryant played a huge part in turning around what had been a last-place team in 2014, putting up 26 homers, 99 RBIs and an .858 OPS during an unforgettable All-Star season.

“There is a way to top this year,” Bryant said on a BBWAA conference call. “And that’s to win a World Series.”

Bryant won this in a landslide, finishing with 150 points to beat out two worthy finalists: San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Duffy (70) and Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang (28).

Bryant became the first Cub to win the award since Geovany Soto in 2008. The other Cubs: Kerry Wood (1998), Jerome Walton (1989), Ken Hubbs (1962) and Hall of Famer Billy Williams (1961).

[MORE CUBS: Cubs looking at CF options with Dexter Fowler declining qualifying offer]

As Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect heading into the season, Bryant did all this with a huge target on his back.

The Cubs put it there when they drafted Bryant out of the University of San Diego with the second overall pick in 2013, right in the middle of a long-term rebuild for Theo Epstein’s front office and the Ricketts family that would focus on scouting and player development.

But Bryant magnified it by authorizing super-agent Scott Boras to fight his service-time battle in the media, getting his own adidas “WORTH THE WAIT” billboard across the street from the Wrigley Field marquee and shooting a down-on-the-farm advertisement with a goat for Red Bull.

Whether or not Bryant becomes a huge crossover star and cashes in on all that marketing potential, he definitely proved that he could play at this level, even with only 181 minor-league games on his resume.

“I don’t think there was any pressure for myself, just because you’re surrounded by (other young players),” Bryant said. “The only expectations that really matter are the ones that you put on yourself. And I certainly exceeded my expectations this year.”

[MORE CUBS: Will Theo Epstein build 2016 ‘super-team’ or try to keep window open longer for Cubs?]

Bryant did his live shot for the MLB Network award show with a Boras Corp. logo in the background. The third baseman obviously didn’t need those seven extra games at Triple-A Iowa to get into a “defensive rhythm” in April. The Cubs used the system to delay free agency until after the 2021 season.

“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about that much lately,” Bryant said. “I said what needed to be said earlier in the year. And right now, it’s really just enjoying the award that I won and the season that we had as a team.

“Things happen for a reason. I said it before: I think I played with a little chip on my shoulder this year. And it’s good to play that way sometimes. You really want to help your team win in any way possible. And sometimes when you have something to play for, you play even better.”

For a 6-foot-5 slugger with smash-the-video-board power and a swing that generated 199 strikeouts, Bryant still found different ways to contribute to a playoff team.

A better-than-advertised third baseman, Bryant also played all three outfield positions and even made a six-inning cameo at first base, demonstrating his versatility, athleticism and unselfish attitude.

Bryant also stole 13 bases and showed such surprising speed, aggressiveness and instincts that a major-league evaluator nicknamed him “The Untaggable Man.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant jersey right here]

Bryce Harper — a Rookie of the Year in 2012 and a likely MVP winner for the Washington Nationals this season — grew up in Las Vegas playing with and against Bryant and tweeted a message, hashtagging a childhood nickname for his smooth game: “Nobody deserves it more than you brotha #Silk."

Bryant became the 20th overall player to unanimously win this award, joining a list that includes Frank Robinson, Mark McGwire, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Jose Abreu.

Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa — a player the Cubs once worked out at Wrigley Field and thought might fall to them at the sixth pick if things broke a certain way in the 2012 draft — won the American League Rookie of the Year hardware. Correa went No. 1 overall to Houston, but the Astros did the Cubs a favor the next year by passing on Bryant and taking pitcher Mark Appel.

The BBWAA voting closed before the playoffs began and the Cubs advanced to the NL Championship Series. Maddon — a two-time AL Manager of the Year with the Tampa Bay Rays — is a finalist along with Terry Collins (New York Mets) and Mike Matheny (St. Louis Cardinals). Arrieta is going up against a pair of aces for the Los Angeles Dodgers — Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.

Those trophies would be nice, but after a breakthrough season, the Cubs feel so much closer to their ultimate goal and that World Series ring.

“Twenty years from now,” Bryant said, “you’re not going to remember your batting average or how many home runs you hit in a certain season. It’s going to be the championship that you won.”

Theo Epstein’s dog damages Arizona rental property with excessive urine

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USA Today

Theo Epstein’s dog damages Arizona rental property with excessive urine

In the midst of an intensive hiring process for the new Cubs manager, Theo Epstein is being sued by an Arizona couple claiming Epstein’s dog, Winston, damaged their house. The cause of damage? Peeing excessively inside the property Epstein rented for spring training in 2015.

Yes, you read that right, Epstein’s dog peed so much he’s being sued.

The lawsuit was filed this Tuesday in Maricopa County, according to the Phoenix New Times, citing Epstein’s dog left “a terrible odor and urine-stained carpeting” in the Paradise Valley, Ariz., home where he and his family stayed.

Winston is a rescue mutt, weighing in at around ten pounds. He can’t pee that much, right?

The lawsuit states the dog "peed prolifically in the $1 million house, staining tile and stone flooring, wood door jams, cabinets, and furniture."

John and Mary Valentino referenced a 2017 quote by Epstein as proof that Winston had a peeing problem. When asked about being named the world’s greatest leader by Fortune magazine after the Cubs 2016 World Series win, Epstein said: “I can’t even get my dog to stop peeing in the house.”

Epstein left the rental property two weeks early due to a scorpion infestation later was shown a repair estimate of $51,405, according to the report.

Julian Green, the Cubs vice president of communications, told the New Times the lawsuit was “baseless.” He also said that an exterminator discovered 45 scorpions on the property that “put (Epstein’s) family at risk every time they put their children to sleep.” The Epsteins moved into a different house for the last two weeks of spring training.

The owners kept the $5,000 security deposit, and according to a source the Epsteins did not hear from them again for more than four years until the suit was filed Tuesday.

When asked about the lawsuit, Epstein replied, “As I said, we have no untouchables. Winston is definitely available in the right trade.”

We’ll be keeping tabs on this story as it unfolds. In the meantime, it’s good to see Epstein still has a sense of humor, even with a dog urine lawsuit and a Cubs managerial search on the line.

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On and off the field, Nico Hoerner proved he should be a big part of 2020 Cubs

On and off the field, Nico Hoerner proved he should be a big part of 2020 Cubs

Even before his surprise mid-September call-up, things were shaping up for Nico Hoerner to be a big part of the 2020 Cubs.

Now it looks like a certainty after the way he played in his 20-game cup of coffee in the final few weeks of 2019.

The organization's top prospect excelled at every level after the Cubs made him a first-round pick (24th overall) in June 2018. A broken wrist cost him two months this summer, but when he returned to Double-A Tennessee, the Cubs had him playing second base and center field in addition to shortstop, his natural position. That only boosted his value, as the Cubs clearly have holes at both center and second that they need to address this winter.

When he was pressed into duty after injuries to Javy Baez and Addison Russell, Hoerner proved the moment was certainly not too big for him. He hit .282 with a .741 OPS and 17 RBI in 20 games while playing solid defense at shortstop and displaying his great contact skills. 

While it's not unheard of for 22-year-olds to come up and immediately make an impact in the big leagues, Hoerner's case was particularly impressive given he played just 89 minor-league games and had not taken an at-bat above the Double-A level.

And Hoerner didn't just turn in solid production on the field — he was actually credited with helping provide a spark to the rest of the club, even though the season ultimately didn't end up the way the Cubs wanted. 

"He's been a little bit of a spark plug for us," Jon Lester said at the beginning of the Cubs' final homestand. "Any time you add energy like that, especially the naiveness of it — just not knowing what to expect and just going and playing baseball. Sometimes we all need to get back to that. Sometimes we all need to get back to just being baseball players and not worry about what else is going on surrounding us."

His former manager, Joe Maddon, called Hoerner a "differencemaker" down the stretch and felt confident he could stick at shortstop long-term.

It was also Hoerner's attitude and temperament that really drew rave reviews. Everybody — from Maddon to Theo Epstein to fellow teammates — were blown away by his sense of calm and confidence even while playing in pressure-packed big-league games. Those are the intangibles the Cubs have loved about Hoerner since they drafted him and don't expect that to change anytime soon.

"This is the type of human being he is," Epstein said. "He processes things really well he has strong character, he's in it for the right reasons, he's got a great family. He's really an invested member of the organization, a teammate and a winner."

This is the way he's always been, as his mom, Keila Diehl, explained to Kelly Crull in an interview on NBC Sports Chicago's broadcast on Sept. 14.

"He's just not full of himself," Diehl said. "He could be, and he's just not. ... He's just like this nice, ordinary guy — no attitude. Always brings a lot of energy and positivity to any team he's on."

That's exactly the guy we saw in Chicago in the final three weeks of the season. 

So as he recovers from his first full season of professional ball, Hoerner is in a position to forge a huge role for himself in Chicago next year. At the moment, it's reasonable to expect that to come at second base, but his ability to play shortstop might very well make Russell expendable this winter, especially with MLB Trade Rumors projecting the latter would be due $5.1 million in arbitration in 2020. 

The Cubs made it a point to get Hoerner some playing time at both second base and center field in the final two games of the 2019 season and he could at the very least offer a depth option in the outfield. 

His versatility, intangibles, and competitive drive present an intriguing package and his offensive skillset can help bring some diversity to the Cubs lineup. Hoerner is not really a power hitter at this point in his career but his hand-eye coordination and contact ability provide a refreshing style to this offense.

Simply put, Hoerner is just a good *baseball* player and profiles as the type of guy that can help any winning team in some capacity. 

The only question now is: Will the Cubs stash him in the minors for the early part of the season or let him continue to develop at Wrigley Field?

“We don’t ever draw it up that a player’s gonna skip Triple-A," Epstein said at his end-of-season presser. "It’s not determined yet where Nico’s gonna start next season, but given his mental makeup, given his skillset, who he is as a person, we felt that was something under the extraordinary circumstances that he could handle. I think it’s important that player development continues at the major-league level. 

"These days, it’s becoming a younger player’s game. If you look around baseball, the best teams have young players dominating. Yes, it’s not linear. There’s gonna be regression at the major-league level. But our players have had some real regression that’s taken them a while to dig out from. That’s something that we have to solve — finding ways to finish development off as best you can in the minor leagues, but understanding too that you need to create an environment at the major-league level with players who are expected to perform night after night are still developing, still working on their weaknesses, still making adjustments to the league." 

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