Theo delivers trade-deadline reality check: No one player from the outside will fix Cubs

Theo delivers trade-deadline reality check: No one player from the outside will fix Cubs

“Oh my God,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, dropping into his seat in the Wrigley Field interview room after Thursday’s 11-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. “Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to talk about. That game goes in the trash can as quickly as any game you’ve ever played.”

What about this entire season? Too soon? Probably, but team president Theo Epstein sent the message loud and clear before the first-place Brewers absolutely blitzed the defending World Series champs, opening up a 4.5-game lead in the National League Central and showing the system-wide issues with a 42-43 team.    

Even in welcoming back favorite son Kyle Schwarber from Triple-A Iowa, Epstein sounded a little cranky. Maybe it was a combination of the sweltering heat inside a home dugout packed with reporters, the TV guy who kept poking him with a microphone and versions of the same questions about the inconsistent Cubs.   

“Look, if we can improve the club through trade, we will,” Epstein said. “But our biggest fixes are inside the clubhouse. This is a team that’s largely the same club that won 200 games, averaged 100 wins a year over the last two years.

“There’s not a player that we realistically can bring in from the outside that’s going to spur us to play at that level.

“We’re going to get to a point of playing at that level because of the guys who are here. And of course, we’re going to work hard and do what we can for the club. It might happen. It may not happen. But the biggest fixes rest in the talented players that we have.”

Translation: Figure it out, Joe. The players can’t count on the trade-deadline “boost” Jon Lester just talked about on the Fourth of July. Don’t waste your time making fantasy-baseball trades on Twitter. 

If anything, Epstein’s front office might look to buy low on raw talent and plan for the future, the way they did last year with Mike Montgomery, who walked off the mound on Thursday afternoon with runners on the corners and one out in the third inning and the Cubs already down 5-0.

You heard more boos when lefty reliever Jack Leathersich walked three straight batters – including pitcher Zach Davies – to force in the sixth and seventh runs. You heard sarcastic cheers from the crowd of 41,576 when Leathersich struck out Jesus Aguilar to end the inning, the Cubs now trailing 9-0.

The week after dumping Miguel Montero for his critical comments/over-the-top honesty – and summoning Victor Caratini from Iowa – Epstein was noncommittal about adding an experienced catcher.

“Maybe, if the right veteran guy is out there, sure,” Epstein said. “We also really like the way Caratini handled his first start and we look forward to him getting the opportunity to play a little bit more, too.

“But if the right guy is out there, and the right trade is out there, sure. If not, I’m pretty confident in what Victor brings to the table. He carries himself more like a veteran than a typical rookie catcher with how calm he is behind the plate.”

The Cubs had long admired Jonathan Lucroy, but never felt like Milwaukee would deal him to a division rival, and it’s not clear how much they’re interested now that the Texas Rangers have put him on the trading block. Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila sounds like the more realistic target in any Justin Verlander speculation. 

“You can’t put too much stock in rumors,” Epstein said. “Every player out there on a team that isn’t in first place will come up in a rumor. Sometimes there’s something to it. Sometimes there’s not. You guys can do your own analysis.”

This is the takeaway that would have sounded unthinkable in spring training: A season that began with talk about the Cubs becoming a dynasty could become more and more about player development and gearing up for 2018, even while staying in the NL Central race.

“That’s probably where the greatest improvements will come,” Epstein said, “the talent that rests inside our clubhouse, inside of the players who are wearing Cubs uniforms right now.

“We’ll do what we can to augment that. There’s not going to be a fundamental shift in the player personnel that we have. We like our club. We don’t like the way we’ve played to date.”

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.