Cubs

Theo: Dempster not the villain in trade drama

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Theo: Dempster not the villain in trade drama

After playing here for almost nine years, Ryan Dempsters legacy should be secure. But the ending bothered a certain segment of Cubs fans.
Dempster took heat for the trade that never happened, a potential deal with the Atlanta Braves that would have netted Randall Delgado, a 22-year-old right-hander who could have slid right into the Cubs rotation.
Dempster weighed his 10-and-5 no-trade rights and wasnt ready to commit last week. He held out hopes for the Los Angeles Dodgers, right up to Tuesdays non-waiver trade deadline, and wound up with the Texas Rangers.
The morning after, Theo Epstein tried to defuse any tension between a fan favorite and a new front office that tries to remove emotion from the equation. The team president wouldnt cast Dempster as the villain in this trade drama.
I dont think Ryan deserves any criticism, Epstein said Wednesday. Its not fair for anyone to criticize Ryan unless theyve been in that spot. Its a right that hes earned.
Do we wish that he would have had 12 places that were an ideal destination for him instead of one? Sure. That Atlanta deal that we had lined up I thought was an outstanding deal for the organization. Would we have liked to have executed it? Absolutely.
But in the end, my thoughts in his situation might have been exactly the same: Theres one spot I really want to go that makes sense for me for my own personal reasons, and Im not going to accept a trade anywhere else until I see if that deal can happen.
Atlanta fit Dempsters criteria: Contender, pitchers park, National League, plus his relationship with general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez because of their ties to the old Florida Marlins organization.
Epstein graduated from Yale University and earned his law degree from the University of San Diego. Epstein sounded like a lawyer poking holes in Dempsters contention that he never turned down the Braves deal.
We had a deal in place he didnt approve, Epstein said. He didnt say no. He said not now. He didnt technically say no.
He said: No, Im not going to go to Atlanta until I see about L.A. And then Atlanta very reasonably didnt want to wait around and risk not getting a pitcher.
He had a clear No. 1, which is his right, and he wanted to see that through. I dont hold that against him.
Epstein presented a timeline in which he gave Dempster advance notice two or three days before it leaked to the media that the Braves were pushing hard for a deal and the Dodgers werent showing much interest.
Epstein said he gave Dempster a heads-up before the story spread like wildfire on Twitter.
Ryan never got the opportunity for more than Id say an hour to fully contemplate Atlanta with a deal actually in place, Epstein said. I feel for him, because then all of a sudden instead of having time to contemplate it privately, he had everyone telling him what to do, everyone asking questions about it and it became a nuisance for him.
Its really hard to criticize Ryan. I think its unfortunate. But he clearly wasnt blindsided because wed been telling him for days that Atlanta was a very likely destination and pretty soon we were going to have (to) make a final decision.
Dempster, who had to deal with all the reporters by his locker, didnt seem to remember it exactly this way. Epstein remained underground and didnt tell his side of the story until after the deadline.
In the end, the no-trade rights brokered a compromise, Dempster getting the chance to win a World Series and another big contract, and the Cubs getting two prospects from Single-A Myrtle Beach, right-hander Kyle Hendricks and infielder Christian Villanueva.
It created a market of one, up until about 15 minutes to go in the process, Epstein said. It effected our ability to maximize our return, but it didnt stop us in the end from making a very productive trade for the organization taking two months of a very good veteran pitcher and turning it into the entire careers of two guys that our scouts really liked.

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: In light of recent hitting coach turmoil, who’s to blame for Cubs offensive struggles?

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Luke Stuckmeyer and Tony Andracki discuss the comments Chili Davis made after being fired as Cubs hitting coach, ask if the Cubs struggles on offense were Davis' fault or the players and what Anthony Iapoce will be walking into as he tries to gets the team back on track a the plate.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here, or in the embedded player below: