Next big Cubs free agent? Theo Epstein calls contract status a nonissue


Next big Cubs free agent? Theo Epstein calls contract status a nonissue

Two years ago, Theo Epstein promised the social-media outrage over Clark the Cub would go away, that the new mascot introduced during the middle of a do-nothing offseason would eventually become “a blip instead of a cacophony, or Clark-ophony.”

This franchise needed Epstein’s image as a rock-star executive during all those Cubs Convention rollouts, slick presentations to season-ticket holders and fuzzy features on national TV.

The squirm factor, awkward silences and venting at the microphone just won’t be the same now during all those Q-and-A sessions this weekend at the Sheraton Grand Chicago.

Epstein has already built the Cubs into a World Series contender, assembling arguably the game’s best collection of young blue-chip talent, hiring star manager Joe Maddon and upgrading a 97-win team with a $272 million investment in Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward, super-utility guy Ben Zobrist and veteran pitcher John Lackey.

All that makes a new contract for Epstein – who’s now in the fifth and final season of his $18.5 million deal – feel inevitable. Except the Cubs haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Chairman Tom Ricketts – who takes a long-range view and allows Epstein to run his department – has described an extension for the president of baseball operations as just a matter of time. Just not as the surprise announcement on stage this weekend at Cubs Convention.

“Status quo in that we are completely on the same page,” Epstein said before Friday’s opening ceremony. “We just haven’t gotten around to like hammering out an actual contract. But, again, I only really think about it when you guys (in the media) ask. I see myself as staying in the exact same role for a long time – and I think Tom sees it the same way.”

[RELATED: Cubs, Jake Arrieta still need to make a deal]

By leaving the Tampa Bay Rays, Andrew Friedman not only triggered Maddon’s opt-out clause after the 2014 season, he also reset the market for the industry’s top executives with that five-year, $35 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The meter for Epstein could keep running from there.

“At some point, we’ll get around to doing a contract extension,” Epstein said. “But I actually think players deserve contracts first before front-office guys. And we’re not done with our players yet. Jake (Arrieta) probably deserves a contract before I do. In fact, I know he deserves a contract before I do, so we’ll take care of that first. And at the right time, I’m sure we’ll address my situation.”

Do you anticipate signing a new deal before spring training?

“I haven’t thought about that,” Epstein said. “Honestly, I want to get the players taken care of first, and then we’ll see where it goes from there.”

[SHOP: Gear up for another big year, Cubs fans!]

Epstein creatively worked with ownership and business operations to make this spending spree happen, and pretty much does his job without interference from above within those financial limits.

That’s a dramatic change from the gorilla-suit exit from Fenway Park and the power struggles in Boston that led to Epstein’s resignation after the 2011 season.

And Epstein clearly wants to be the executive in charge who helps finally end the century-and-counting drought and raises the World Series trophy at Wrigley Field.

“We’re ready to roll,” Epstein said. “We’re ready to go into spring training and compete. It didn’t used to be a story when the GM was under contract for a year – I guess it is now – and I haven’t been very good at it in the past with some of the stuff in Boston. But it’s seriously not a concern at all. It’s going to take care of itself. Tom and I could not have a better relationship.”

The Cubs might not need Epstein’s brand name for the same PR purposes anymore, and he doesn’t like being the center of attention anyway. But Theo’s still their biggest upcoming free agent. Imagine the cacophony – or Clark-ophony – if this doesn’t get done.

Yadier Molina is sad and Cubs fans have a new favorite GIF

Yadier Molina is sad and Cubs fans have a new favorite GIF

ST. LOUIS — The game was over and Yadier Molina knew it.

As Ian Happ turned on Sam Tuivailala's two-strike pitch in the 7th inning, Molina crumbled to the ground in defeat.

Happ's two-out double gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead they did not relinquish in a 6-3 victory Saturday night at Busch Stadium.

The Cubs had to claw back all night against the Cardinals, fighting to tie the game at two separate spots before Happ's breakthrough off Tuivailala.

Molina couldn't contain his disappointment:

Molina is a common target of ire from Cubs fans in the heated rivalry with the Cardinals, so you can bet his #SadFace led to some glee in the Chicago fanbase (just look at the comments on that Tweet):

The 35-year-old catcher just returned recently from a nearly month-long stint on the disabled list when he took a foul tip off a Kris Bryant swing to the groin on Jordan Hicks' 102 mph pitch the last time the Cubs were in town.

Molina has drawn 3 walks and has a single in this weekend's series with the Cubs, but he also committed a miscue in Friday's game, when he threw wild to first base on Jon Lester's squeeze bunt.

The Cubs are now 24-12 since they were swept in St. Louis on the first weekend of May.

Summer of Sammy: Relive Sosa's 25th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Relive Sosa's 25th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

After victimizing poor Cal Eldred for three solo shots in the first game of the series, Sosa wouldn't let the Milwaukee Brewers leave town in June 1998 without one more dinger.

He connected in the 4th inning of the series finale on June 17, 1998, a solo shot off a pitcher named Bronswell Patrick (yes, that's his real name) that went 430 feet down the left field line.

The Cubs wound up losing the game 6-5, though Jose Hernandez did make it close with a 2-run shot in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Through this game, Sosa sported a .300/.348/.917 slash line (1.265 OPS) with 12 homers and 25 RBI in 15 June contests that season. (Yes, that's a .917 slugging percentage.)

But believe it not, those June numbers are about to get even better...

Fun fact: The Cubs lineup on June 17, 1998 featured 4 hitters with a batting average of .320 or higher — Sosa (.333), Mark Grace (.347), Mickey Morandini (.320) and Matt Mieske (.323), though Mieske was a part-time player. 

The 2018 Cubs currently feature only 1 player (part-time or full-time) hitting at least .320: Albert Almora Jr. who entered play Saturday at .321.