Cubs

Long-term deal for Theo Epstein can wait with Cubs in playoff race

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Long-term deal for Theo Epstein can wait with Cubs in playoff race

PITTSBURGH – Theo Epstein could be in position to reset the market for baseball executives as the Cubs potentially turn into a monster franchise.

But with one year left on his deal after this season, Epstein again confirmed that he hasn’t had any substantial talks with chairman Tom Ricketts about a long-term extension.

“Literally not even a thought in my mind,” Epstein said before Tuesday’s doubleheader showdown against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. “I think it’s just something that we’ll probably pick up when we’re done playing, whenever that is.

“I have no concerns or worries about it whatsoever. Tom and I see things the same way. We know this is a beginning for this organization. We all want to see it through.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs shouldn’t take their window to contend for granted]

While working within the franchise’s financial parameters, Epstein appreciates the way Ricketts lets him run the baseball-operations department without interference. Ricketts also has an interest in scouting and player development and a personal presence around the organization that does not go unnoticed by staffers.

Ricketts already extended president of business operations Crane Kenney – who is responsible for securing the team’s television future and overseeing the Wrigley Field renovations – through the 2019 season.

Andrew Friedman – another bright, young executive who views players as assets and still values old-school scouting – figures to be a reference point for Epstein. The Los Angeles Dodgers lured Friedman away from the Tampa Bay Rays last year with a reported five-year, $35 million contract.

Epstein doesn’t anticipate a major front-office shakeup, which would seemingly discount the possibility of Jason McLeod becoming a general manager somewhere else this offseason.

[MORE CUBS: Ready or not, Cubs will find out if bullpen is ready for October]

Epstein and McLeod have been tight since the early stages of their baseball careers, working for the San Diego Padres in the mid-1990s. McLeod – the senior vice president of scouting and player development – has been a strong voice for drafting first-round picks like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.

“We have a pretty tight-knit group,” Epstein said. “This is a great time to be a Chicago Cub, whether you’re in uniform or in the front office. I don’t really worry about losing people.

“But if we do, I think we have a really deep organization. There’s another layer ready to step up. We have some depth in the front office. We’re a great team in the front office. And I expect us to stay together for awhile.”

Epstein left the Boston Red Sox for a president’s title and a direct report to ownership in Chicago after an epic collapse at the end of the 2011 season. Those Red Sox of fried-chicken-and-beer fame had been 30 games over .500 on Sept. 3 – in second place in the American League East and nine games up on Joe Maddon’s Rays – and didn’t make the playoffs.

So while the postseason forecasts on Baseball Prospectus (98.4 percent) and FanGraphs (99.3 percent) projected the Cubs as locks before Tuesday’s doubleheader, Epstein said he isn’t working hard on the roster for a wild-card game yet.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“After living through 2011, I don’t take anything for granted,” Epstein said. “I’m well aware of how momentum in September can take on a life all its own and effect the standings.

“It’s important to just keep focused on that day’s game, keep knocking out your wins, storing them and things will be OK if you just take care of your own business.”

After writing off three major-league seasons (286 losses), firing three managers (Mike Quade, Dale Sveum, Rick Renteria) and planning so much around the future, Epstein is going to try to sit back and enjoy the moment.

“The nucleus of the team is in place now and going to be together for awhile,” Epstein said. “It’s obviously a process of many years to try to build the organization into a position to where we can have the requisite talent and depth and makeup – and the right people – to try to compete and play your best baseball at the time when it matters most.

“We’re partway along in that journey. And then the cool part is you get to all be together and write the next chapter.”

The Cubs will never go with a set lineup, but it's time to accept the reality of this offense

The Cubs will never go with a set lineup, but it's time to accept the reality of this offense

There is no quick fix for what ails the Cubs offense.

Manny Machado would certainly help. That much is certain.

But dropping one of the game's elite hitters into any lineup would help boost that team's offensive profile. The only question is: Would the long-term cost be worth it for a short-term gain?

Because Machado wouldn't cure everything with this Jekyll and Hyde Cubs offense.

After hammering Reds pitching in Cincinnati last weekend, the Cubs managed to score just 1 run against the Indians in 18 innings and they didn't even have to face Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco.

They went a combined 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position.

It was also the 42nd different lineup the Cubs have rolled out this season in 46 games.

That's been a point of contention for many, many fans wishing Joe Maddon would stick with one set lineup from 1-through-8 in the order. 

But that will never happen. 

For starters, this way does work. The 2016 Cubs boasted 130 different lineups throughout the course of the season and we all know how that year finished.

A set lineup also won't work because this isn't 1970 and some players are better than others for different matchups against opposing starting pitchers (like Albert Almora Jr. vs. left-handed pitchers and Jason Heyward vs. right-handed pitcher). Also, players need rest to ensure they'll be fresh for the stretch run in August and September and the postseason after that.

"It's such a non-sophisticated conversation," Maddon said. "I don't know how it begins. I've heard it from old baseball dudes — I think fathers pass it down to sons on occasion. It's like teaching your kid how to drive a stick shift; it just gets passed along.

"I try not to comment on it, because really, it's such a poor discussion. There's no sophistication to it whatsoever. It makes zero sense. It doesn't belong in today's game and actually it never belonged in anybody's game."

So what can the Cubs do to find more consistency on offense?

Honestly, not much beyond just continuing to develop. Remember, this is still a very, very young and inexperienced core of position players and growing pains are inevitable.

It's also the nature of the game right now with strikeouts way up and basehits down. 

Offense is naturally an ebb-and-flow, up-and-down kind of thing. Words like "feel" and "confidence" are thrown around so often because they matter.

But with the way baseball has gone, the peaks and valleys have become as prevalent as ever. Try to point to other teams right now that have had no trouble scoring runs on a consistent basis this season.

The Yankees are close, but that's one team. The Braves and Red Sox are the next two closest, but they're not without flaws.

Atlanta has scored just 3 runs in their last 3 games as they dropped a series to Jake Arrieta and the Phillies this week. The Red Sox haven't score more than 6 runs in a game since April 30.

It may seem like the Cubs are on a roller coaster all on their own, but that may just be because of HOW they go through valleys. 

The Cubs still struggle with runners in scoring position, ranking 26th in baseball in that area (.222 AVG). They rank 24th with runners in scoring position and 2 outs (.194 AVG).

But delve deeper and you'll see the Cubs actually rank near the top of baseball in RUNS in such situations. 

With guys in scoring position, they sit 5th in MLB wiith 168 runs. With guys in scoring position and 2 outs, they rank 6th in runs, ahead of the Yankees.

So they're giving themselves plenty of opportunity by getting guys on base and in scoring position often.

Another elite hitter would help things, sure. You could say that for any team in baseball.

But the simple fact of the matter is the Cubs are 4th in MLB in runs scored, 2nd in OBP, 3rd in OPS and 5th in SLG.

They do feast on poor teams and have trouble scoring against better opponents, but every team has that issue to some degree.

Getting Anthony Rizzo — whose 2018 OPS (.661) is almost 200 points below his career mark (.842) — back to his standard MVP-candidate level would certainly help matters, too.

The Cubs are on the right path — trying to use the whole field, hit the ball on a line more, make more contact — but it's not something that will become consistent parts of their respective offensive profiles overnight.

Maddon was actually OK with where his team was at before being shut out Wednesday night.

"I think a lot of guys are doing pretty well right now," Maddon said ahead of the Cubs' 1-0 loss. "...Overall, I kinda like what I'm seeing on the offensive side. I just think that OK, are we doing a better job of not chasing? I think so.

"Are we utilizing the opposite gap a little better? I think so. Strikeouts, I don't think anybody's overtly striking out too much right now. So I kinda like what we're doing with the bats. I kinda do. ... I think a lot of guys are starting to get it."

But there is still one area Maddon will never be satisfied with — getting runners home from third base with less than 2 outs.

"Of course," Maddon laughed, "I'm gonna talk about that for the next 10 years and I'm not gonna like it, probably."

Theo Epstein on Manny Machado rumors: 'It's honestly something we're looking at and just rolling our eyes at'

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USA TODAY

Theo Epstein on Manny Machado rumors: 'It's honestly something we're looking at and just rolling our eyes at'

Despite the MLB trade deadline being two months away, rumors of the Cubs potentially acquiring Orioles' shortstop Manny Machado have intensifed recently. Regardless, Cubs president Theo Epstein made his point on the rumor frenzy quite clear Thursday.

"I can say with regards to this particular spasm of media frenzy, it is outrageously outsized when you compare it to the reality of the situation," Epstein said Thursday on 670 The Score.

Machado is having an unbelievable season with the Orioles, hitting .328 with 15 home runs and 43 RBIs entering Thursday. If traded, he would undoubtedly provide a boost to any ballclub, but that is a big "if."

Of course, the MLB season is not even two months old yet, which Epstein pointed out as being a big factor in the situation.

"It's May," he said. "We're still figuring out who we are as a team this year. We're still figuring out our place in the division.

"There's an atypical amount of trade discussion in May this year, which is essentially nil."

Rumors of the Cubs being a potential player in acquiring Machado make sense. At 15-34, the Orioles have the worst winning percentage (.306) in the MLB. With their current positioning, trading Machado could start a rebuild that the Orioles might just need. The Cubs have a 24-year-old shortstop in Addison Russell that the Orioles could acquire to a) replace Machado and b) use as the face of their rebuild.

Be that as it may, Epstein said the rumors are something that the Cubs are "just rolling our eyes at."

"I understand it's natural for people to connect the dots and there to be this kind of frenzy from time to time, but it's honestly something we're looking at and just rolling our eyes at," he said. "It's not like July, where every now and then there's lots of coverage on deals that are actually being discussed or actually might happen.

"This one is just out there in fantasy land at this point."