Cubs

No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension

No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension

MESA, Ariz. — Whatever frustrations Pedro Strop might have kept bottled up during the playoffs didn't change how he feels about his Cubs teammates or living in Chicago or the energy at Wrigley Field.

"I think if there were any hard feelings we wouldn't be doing this extension," general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday after announcing the deal that could keep Strop in a Cubs uniform through the 2019 season.

The Cubs framed Strop's fade into the postseason background as a matter of bad timing after he tore the meniscus in his left knee in August. Otherwise, manager Joe Maddon in theory wouldn't have felt the need to push Aroldis Chapman so hard during the World Series.

The Cubs backed up their story by avoiding an arbitration hearing with a $5.5 million settlement for 2017 before camp opened in Arizona. The two sides continued negotiating, agreeing to a one-year extension worth $5.85 million and a $6.25 million club option for 2019 with a $500,000 buyout. For that sense of comfort and security, Strop sacrificed the chance to sell himself as a possible closer next winter.

"I just feel happy that I know I'm going to be here," Strop said. "I don't care about the role or whatever.

"I like to win better than roles."

It's not just a talking point with Strop, who memorably high-stepped down the third-base line next to Kris Bryant in a walk-off win that became a 2015 Sports Illustrated cover and a blown-up image players see on the way from the Wrigley Field clubhouse out to the tunnel leading into the dugout.

"I have a lot of energy," Strop said. "Every time I walk into the clubhouse, I always come in positive, you know, waking people up when they're sleeping and just trying to have good moments and just play ball, play the game the right way."

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With Wade Davis and Koji Uehara positioned to become free agents after this season, the Cubs wanted to invest in their bullpen and clubhouse, where Strop is among the most popular players and a bilingual presence buzzing around the room.

"We don't want to be in a position of always having to rebuild the bullpen," Hoyer said. "Pedro's been a rock for us down there. His pitching is a big part of why we wanted to bring him back. But it's also who he is.

"He puts every person around him in a better mood every day. This guy's always beaming. He's always in a great mood. But under that huge smile, he's an awesome competitor, and this guy wants the ball in the biggest spots. We want more guys like that."

Since coming over in the franchise-altering Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season, Strop has notched 84 holds, put up a 0.98 WHIP and a 2.68 ERA and accounted for 232 appearances. During that time, the right-hander leads all National League relievers with a .173 batting average against and ranks third in opponents' OPS (.530) and fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (10.82).

"We got these guys in our clubhouse that are just great to have (around) beyond being good," Maddon said. "He's at the top of the list. He's always upbeat. He's always ready. He's always there for somebody else. And then he's got one of the best sliders in all of baseball."

Maddon didn't show that same level of trust in Strop during the playoffs, but the force of his talent and personality — the crooked-hat look, chest-pounding celebrations and love for the game — helped change this team's identity and turn the Cubs into World Series champs.

"I felt for Pedro," Hoyer said. "I felt like he rushed as much as he could to get back on the field for the postseason, but he probably wasn't vintage Pedro Strop at any point down the stretch, just by nature of the timing. But when you look at the numbers he's put up over the last three years, he's been one of the best setup guys in the game."

How will Cubs players respond to David Ross as manager?

How will Cubs players respond to David Ross as manager?

David Ross is officially moving from "Grandpa Rossy" to "Manager Rossy."

The affable former backup catcher is not only a fan favorite, but he's immensely popular inside the Cubs clubhouse among the core group of players. 

However, that popularity has always come in a different form, as he now enters into a new dynamic as Cubs manager. Ross was first a teammate, then transitioned into a front office role with the organization, which included a vital role in recruiting Craig Kimbrel to Chicago.

Now that Ross has been tabbed as Joe Maddon's heir, how will his relationship with the players change?

The Cubs announced Maddon's departure on the final day of the regular season and in turn, immediately stoked the fires of the Ross-as-manager rumors. Players were asked how they'd feel if their former teammate became their boss, including Jon Lester, who was instrumental in bringing Ross to Chicago before 2015 as his personal catcher.

"I think that's something that you'd just have to learn as you go," Lester said. "I would like to think that [former Red Sox manager Tito Francona] was a good friend of mine, but still my manager when it came down to it. 

"Obviously the dynamic's different — I didn't play with Tito and that sort of thing, but when it came down to it, that's my boss. If he makes a decision, he makes a decision and you have to respect that."

Anthony Rizzo and Ross formed an immediate bond in 2015 and have grown very close over the last five years.

"If it's Rossy, we would obviously sit down," Rizzo said on the final day of the season. "I've talked to him about it before. He's in a really good place right now at home with his family and what he's doing and he's happy. He's my biggest mentor in the game player-wise, really, behind Joe [Maddon] and [former Cubs coach Eric] Hinske. Can it work? Yes."

Back in August, on the five-year anniversary of his MLB debut, Javy Baez crushed two homers in a Cubs win and after the game, shouted out Ross unprompted. Baez credited his former teammate for helping him understand how to keep things simple and just his natural abilities take over while allowing the game to teach him.

So it's no surprise Baez said in September he would be stoked if Ross were named manager.

"We all love David and he knows the team and the organization," Baez said.

In reality, it will be difficult to transition from teammate and mentor to boss. Maddon found a way to be both mentor and friend to this group of Cubs players, but he obviously never played with any of them and he came to Chicago with an already impressive resume as a manager and coach.

Ross doesn't have that same experience to fall back on, but the Cubs are confident he's up to the challenge because when it boils down it, so much of the job is based off communication. 

What Ross has working in his favor that the other managerial candidates like Joe Espada lacked was an immediate rapport with the front office and the core guys in the clubhouse. There's already a built-in level of trust between him and Rizzo, Baez, Lester, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward and a host of others — including Kimbrel (the two were teammates in Atlanta). The guys he hasn't played with have at least seen him around Wrigley Field or the spring training complex in his front office role the last three years.

That preexisting relationship will be a huge advantage immediately, as it eliminates the time another candidate would've needed to earn the trust of the players on the roster. Plus, the relationship between Ross and Epstein's front office is already so far advanced for a first-year manager that there's an instant level of understanding and rapport before he's even officially introduced into the role.

During his time in the clubhouse, Ross was known to be direct and honest, holding his teammates accountable and helping the young players realize their potential without crushing their spirits. That's not an easy task for a backup catcher in the twilight of his career to accomplish.

Still, the Cubs' choice to go with Ross seemed at least somewhat contradictory when presented against the backdrop of change Theo Epstein emphasized in his end-of-season press conference. The Cubs president talked at length about the organization's need to stop looking back at 2016 and avoiding the "winner's trap" of sticking with things that worked years ago but might not be the best avenues to success today.

In that same presser, Epstein also insisted Ross' connection to the players left over from the World Series championship team was not the main reason they were considering the former catcher as manager. 

"His connection to the players on this team and especially his connection to the 2016 team are not necessarily things that are going to be important to us," Epstein said. "...It's not necessarily a detriment, either, as long as you trust the person to handle it the right way and trust the players to handle it the right way. It's something you have to consider.

"I'm just saying, what we're looking for is someone who's a great manager for the Cubs moving forward. Certainly not looking backwards and not with undue emphasis on a couple players there might be a personal [connection]. That's not a major factor for us."

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

According to David Kaplan, the Cubs have made their decision on a new manager. And to no surprise, they've landed on David Ross.

Ross was widely speculated as the heir apparent to Joe Maddon and that's exactly how the situation has played out. The team also interviewed incumbent bench coach Mark Loretta, first-base coach Will Venable, Astros bench coach Joe Espada, and former Cubs player and Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

The Cubs had whittled down their options to Ross and Espada, with both candidates coming in earlier this week for a second interview:

Ross retired after the 2016 season and has spent the last three seasons working in a special assistant role in Theo Epstein's front office while also serving as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN. He has not coached or managed at any level. 

During his two years as a player with the Cubs, Ross was an integral part of changing the culture inside the clubhouse and is revered as a legendary leader to all the young players that came up and helped end the 108-year championship drought. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant affectionately dubbed him "Grandpa Rossy" and he rode that popularity on the shoulders of his teammates in a Rudy-esque celebration after Game 7 and then a stint on "Dancing with the Stars." Every time he has been shown on the video board at Wrigley Field, it elicits a deafening cheer from Cubs fans.

Even three years since he last donned the uniform, Ross' impact remains and the Cubs have been searching for the type of clubhouse leadership he provided. Earlier this season, Javy Baez brought up Ross unprompted, mentioning how Ross told him that this game teaches you something new on a daily basis.

The question was never really if and more about when Ross was going to get a chance to manage the Cubs in the future. Just last fall, he was brought up as a potential option to replace Brandon Hyde as Maddon's bench coach, but Ross still wanted to spend time with family in retirement and wasn't yet ready to commit to the grind of a long season.

Still, Epstein mentioned at the GM Meetings last November that he and the front office were pushing Ross to be around the team more in 2019. GM Jed Hoyer followed that up at the Winter Meetings in December talking about how much of an impact Ross has on these players and the level of trust that's already inherent within this group.

Apparently, Ross is now willing and able to put in the 7-to-8 month time commitment to step in as the Cubs' new manager. When it was officially announced Maddon would not be returning, Ross was on ESPN's Baseball Tonight and expressed interest in the job and Epstein confirmed the next day Ross was on the team's list of managerial candidates.

Epstein mentioned he would prefer hiring a manager with big-league experience and the main theme of his end-of-season press conference was all about change, not hanging their hats on 2016 and climbing out of the "winner's trap." But they still opted for Ross as the organization's new field general.

"I always have greater comfort level hiring for roles in which the person has done the role before, especially with manager," Epstein said on the final day of September. "I think there are ways for that to be overcome. There’s a lot of different ways to get experience in this game. Beliefs, skills, personal attributes, those can outweigh a lack of experience, but experience certainly helps.

“David Ross has a lot of great things going for him, I would say. His connection to the players on this team, and especially his connection to the 2016 team, are not necessarily things that are gonna be important to us.

“I think Rossy is a really attractive candidate, and he’s gonna be evaluated on the merits, what he can bring to the table as a major league manager given his skills, given his experiences, given his world-view, given what he knows about winning, all those things.”

We now know how that evaluation process has played out.

The question now becomes — how would the Cubs players handle Ross as a manager, moving from friend and teammate to boss? 

We'll find out in the coming months.