Theo delivers again as Cubs get huge boost in shocking Jose Quintana trade with White Sox

Theo delivers again as Cubs get huge boost in shocking Jose Quintana trade with White Sox

Cubs president Theo Epstein didn't hide his frustrations with an underachieving team hovering around .500, subtly calling out manager Joe Maddon in on-the-record group interviews, saying how the clubhouse didn't play with enough edge and the answers would realistically have to come from the 25 guys already in the room.

But "The World's Greatest Leader" — Fortune magazine's call — doesn't view things in absolutes. Epstein is always thinking three-dimensionally, analyzing the situation from 30,000 feet and never ruling anything out. Even when it looked like the organization-wide Cubbie envy would stop the White Sox from dealing one of their success stories to the North Side.

In a season where Epstein had already tried so many different forms of shock therapy with the defending World Series champs, the Cubs acquired Jose Quintana in Thursday's stunning crosstown trade with the White Sox, trying to jumpstart a 43-45 team out of the All-Star break while still building their rotation for the future.

This is the price for a frontline starter, even one with a career losing record (50-54) and a 4.49 ERA this season: stud outfielder Eloy Jimenez; 100-mph right-hander Dylan Cease; plus Class-A infielders Matt Rose and Bryant Flete.

But all those prospects are years away from Wrigley Field, if they ever make it at all. Even Jimenez, a blue-chip talent with the size, approach and right-handed swing that reminded the Cubs of a young Kris Bryant, hadn't made it to the Double-A level yet.

Quintana alone won't fix the Cubs. It's not like he will help them hit with runners in scoring position or tighten up the defense or heal all the nagging injuries that have contributed to the win-one, lose-one inconsistencies.

This does jolt the clubhouse, change the vibe around the team and give the 2017 Cubs an All-Star level pitcher for 14-ish starts.

[MORE: Why the Quintana trade makes perfect sense for everybody involved]

This is also insurance against Jake Arrieta and John Lackey leaving after this season. The Cubs dreaded the idea of having to replace at least 40 percent of their rotation this winter, knowing agents and other teams would sense the desperation.

As an added bonus, the Cubs will keep Quintana away from the Milwaukee Brewers, the first-place team they trail by 5.5 games in a National League Central race that just got a lot more interesting.

Ultimately, this is still a play for the future, with Quintana under club control through 2020 and the Cubs betting on his medical outlook and sturdy, reliable performance (at least 32 starts and 200 innings in each of the last four seasons).

Jimenez and Cease might become stars on the South Side as the White Sox methodically undergo a full-scale rebuild. But the Cubs are dealing from a surplus of position players and operating under the belief that young pitching goes poof.

The Cubs used money saved from Kyle Schwarber's below-slot deal in the 2014 draft to give Cease a seven-figure bonus and supervise his recovery from Tommy John surgery, hoping the volume/risk-management approach would yield some trade chips and/or the homegrown starting pitcher that has eluded the Epstein administration.

It's the same playbook the Cubs used in last summer's blockbuster "If not now, when?" trade with the New York Yankees for Aroldis Chapman. And the winter-meetings deal with the Kansas City Royals for All-Star closer Wade Davis. Except Quintana is viewed as a long-term building block for the next great team in Wrigleyville, not a mercenary or a one-year guarantee.

The rush of adrenaline will eventually wear off after Quintana's arrival, and the Cubs will find out if those answers really will come from within and when this World Series hangover will finally end.

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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Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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