Love it or hate it, Cubs creating their own identity


Love it or hate it, Cubs creating their own identity

WASHINGTON — The Loveable Losers are slowly morphing into The Hateable Winners.

Well, the Cubs haven’t actually won anything yet, heading into Nationals Park on Thursday night only three games above .500, slipping to third place in the National League Central. But you could see the fireworks coming with a brash young team that’s trying to create an identity.

“Well, I don’t want us to have the identity of hitting home runs and flipping the bat and doing cartwheels around the bases,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Absolutely not. Act like you’re going to do it again.”

No, this isn’t what Professor Maddon had in mind when he got a $25 million tenure position at The Cub University: Junior Lake pimping it at home plate, shushing Miami’s dugout rounding third base and sparking a bench-clearing incident during Wednesday night’s 7-3 loss at Marlins Park.

[MORE CUBS: Joe Maddon doesn’t like Junior Lake’s ‘punk’ move]

But there was an inevitable sense that stuff like this would happen with Maddon’s liberal-arts approach and anti-rules philosophy. If you want players to be themselves, to show their emotions and not be afraid to make mistakes, then you can’t be surprised when they get carried away in the moment.

“Poor behavior is not part of what we’re looking for,” Maddon said. “There’s not even any correlation between the two at all.

“The risk is if you let them get away with it. That’s the risk for the first time. And if you don’t put a lid on it, then, of course, it can become something more complicated.”

This isn’t picking on Lake, who realized what he did wrong, took full responsibility for his actions and wanted to apologize to Miami pitcher Dan Haren, the rest of the Marlins and the kids who might be watching at home on TV.

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez Watch is heating up]

It’s just that it’s probably too late to put a lid on all this, because it’s bigger than any one moment or individual personality. It’s the “We Are Good” T-shirts and the Bloomberg Businessweek cover story trumpeting the “sports empire” now “in bloom.”

It’s all the battles with City Hall, the rooftop owners and their Lakeview neighbors in launching the $600 million Wrigleyville development.

It’s the six months it took the Red Sox to finalize compensation after chairman Tom Ricketts and president of business operations Crane Kenney hired Theo Epstein away from Boston to run the baseball side after the 2011 season.

It’s Major League Baseball getting involved again in the Maddon tampering case, with the Rays forcing an investigation that finally cleared the Cubs six months after they fired Rick Renteria and grabbed the star manager out of Tampa Bay.

It’s Anthony Rizzo predicting the Cubs will win the division in January. It’s the natural excitement after five consecutive fifth-place finishes — and what should be the pushback in a pennant race.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs lineup will miss a big presence with Jorge Soler on DL]

“We have no reason to get under people’s skin,” Rizzo said. “We should all be running the ball out hard, like we do, and hustling, like we do. We’re just playing the game hard.”

To be clear, the Cubs will need that edge and a sense of swagger to end this century-and-counting drought. Even Jon Lester — who owns two World Series rings and comes across as all business — seems to understand the postgame dance parties in the clubhouse.  

“You go back to being with the Red Sox and everything is so regimented and serious all the time,” Lester said. “You’re expected to win. And when you do win, there’s really no celebration. It’s just on to the next day. It’s nice to take (the) two minutes out of our day and really enjoy what we just did on the field.

“I haven’t been around these guys for the past couple years and seen how they take losses. But to walk in the clubhouse and see how these guys handle losses is also good. They’re pissed off. They care. That’s obviously a step in the right direction.

“Winning in the big leagues is tough. (But) once those two minutes are over, then it’s on to the next one. And these guys have done a great job of that.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs could change the equation with Kris Bryant in left field]

The Cubs are also running the risk of retaliation if baseball’s fun police doesn’t like Lake’s act or Starlin Castro’s 30-second home-run trot showing up on “SportsCenter.”

“There’s no comparison between what Castro did and what Junior did,” Maddon said. “One is absolutely, demonstratively unacceptable. And the other one is just a slow stroll around the bases. I don’t see that one as being necessarily upsetting to the other team.”

Jake Arrieta got that question after the Cubs gave Kris Bryant the silent treatment, emptying the dugout in the middle of a game against the Brewers and celebrating his first big-league homer inside Miller Park’s visiting clubhouse.

“None of us here would disrespect the game,” Arrieta said. “Don’t do things that you feel would be disrespectful to teammates (or) to the other team. And we would never do that. But at the same time, you got to have fun.

“(If) we got our ass kicked yesterday, (then) we have to come in the next day with the same mentality. Stay loose (and) confident.

“The looser you stay in the clubhouse, and off the field as a team, the easier it is to kind of turn the page and come back with no apprehension or tentativeness the next day. (You) just come out and play the game.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Would you rather see your team making enemies or remaining afterthoughts?

“(As for the) baseball purists,” Arrieta said, “the game’s going to change a little bit and you have to expect that. There are 19-, 20-, 21-year-old kids in the big leagues and the millennial fans like that stuff. It creates a little excitement.

“If there is a line and there are boundaries, then we won’t cross those. But we’re still going to have fun.”

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Barring a Cubs-Angels World Series, the Wrigley Field faithful might not have much of an opportunity to welcome Joe Maddon back to The Friendly Confines.

It didn't take long for Maddon to find a job, as he reportedly agreed this week to join the Los Angeles Angels as their next manager. This was a widely speculated move after the Angels let go of manager Brad Ausmus just one year into a three-year contract immediately after the Cubs announced they were parting ways with Maddon. 

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers, Maddon's deal will likely be for three years at $4-5 million a season:

Maddon came up as a coach in the Angels system, referencing his three decades there often during the course of his five years in Chicago.

Once the Cubs got rid of Maddon, it was obvious he would have plenty of suitors, as just about any team with a managerial vacancy would be interested in the future Hall of Famer. But instead of going to an up-and-coming team like the Padres or a squad on the cusp of the playoffs like the Phillies, Maddon opted to return to his baseball home.

That means he will most likely not face off against the Cubs over the next couple of seasons, as the Cubs hosted the Angels in 2019 and are not slated to play each other again until 2021 (which will take place in L.A.). Barring the aforementioned World Series meeting, Maddon and the Cubs likely won’t cross paths in Chicago for the next few seasons.

It also means Maddon will get to team up with the best player in the game (Mike Trout) and an exciting young two-way star (Shohei Ohtani) while inheriting a roster that otherwise has some major flaws. The Angels have struggled to build up a roster around Trout over his nine seasons, making the playoffs just once in 2014 and getting bounced from the ALDS by the Kansas City Royals that season.

But the Angels do have some intriguing prospects coming up the system — led by outfielder Jo Adell — and Maddon has experience taking a team and elevating them to contender status immediately. He also carries immediate clout that will help draw free agents to L.A., as he did in Chicago with Jon Lester.

Maddon will be reunited with former Cubs fan favorite Tommy La Stella, who was starring for the Angels earlier this season before a leg injury sent him to the shelf for several months.

In many ways, this is an ideal fit for Maddon, who will get to stay in a big market with a team willing to spend and a roster that at least has some incredible talent from Day 1. It would obviously be a difficult task to try to overtake the juggernaut Houston Astros in the AL West, but he accomplished a similar feat in Chicago when he led the Cubs past the Cardinals in Year 1 (and kept the Cards out of the playoffs for the next three years until their return to October baseball this fall).

The Cubs, meanwhile, have not yet announced a new manager, though David Ross still looms as the favorite to take over Maddon's former gig. Theo Epstein's front office interviewed Mark Loretta, Will Venable, Joe Girardi and Ross earlier this month and also planned to talk to Joe Espada and Gabe Kapler this week.

Epstein said the Cubs are "full speed ahead" to hire a new manager, so expect them to move quickly to finalize Maddon's heir.

Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason


Bold predictions for the Cubs' 2019-20 offseason

The Cubs are just a couple of weeks away from a pivotal offseason that could see a lot of change coming to Chicago's North Side.

Then again, we thought the same thing a year ago and it turned out Theo Epstein's biggest move last winter was signing Daniel Descalso to a two-year deal.

But after missing the playoffs in 2019, the Cubs are now at a crossroads as an organization. 

The NBC Sports Chicago crew previewed the offseason on the latest CubsTalk Podcast with some bold predictions for the winter.

Listen here and check out the fearless calls below:

(Note: Rationale and more context on each bold prediction in the podcast.)

David Kaplan

1. Cubs are going to take a page out of the Yankees' book and retool on the fly rather than go all-in to contend in 2020.
2. Jose Quintana has thrown his last pitch as a Cub.
3. This will be the second-to-last offseason for Theo Epstein as the Cubs president of baseball operations.

Kelly Crull 

1. Cubs re-sign Nick Castellanos and trade away Kyle Schwarber.
2. Tyler Chatwood will be in the 2020 rotation.
3. John Lackey will be named quality assurance coach on David Ross's coaching staff. (Kidding, but only kind of...)

Tony Andracki

1. Before the Cubs play a Spring Training game, Javy Baez will sign an extension that will keep him in Chicago through at least 2023.
2. Willson Contreras will be traded this winter and the Cubs will get some much-needed pitching help in return.
3. Cubs sign Howie Kendrick this winter as the professional bat and lefty-masher they craved in 2019.
4. Ben Zobrist will return on a one-year deal and finish his playing career in a Cubs uniform.
5. David Bote, Albert Almora Jr. and Addison Russell will all be traded or non-tendered this winter as the Cubs remake their bench/depth.

Jeff Nelson

1. Willson Contreras will sign a contract extension.
2. Ben Zobrist will return as a player/coach.
3. Jose Quintana will be traded for minor league depth.
4. Terrance Gore will be signed to be the 26th man on the roster under the new rules.