Theo Epstein believes Cubs are selling themselves now


Theo Epstein believes Cubs are selling themselves now

Jason Heyward didn't choose to come to the Cubs based on a pitch by Theo Epstein's front office.

In an industry where money is the bottom line, Heyward left millions on the table to make Chicago his home and become a big piece of "The Plan."

The upstart Cubs look like a contender for years to come with a young core in place riding on the heels of a 97-win regular season and a visit to the National League Championship Series.

[RELATED - Why Jason Heyward chose Cubs over Cardinals]

And Heyward got to see it firsthand, watching the Cubs clinch the NLDS at a raucous Wrigley Field while sitting in the other dugout as a member the St. Louis Cardinals.

"As far as recruiting goes, they didn't have to do too much," Heyward said. "They let the product on the field speak for itself."

These days, the Cubs are selling themselves.

"That was probably the best recruiting we could have done was having Jason there for the NLDS with Wrigley just going absolutely bananas and our young players putting on a pretty good show and our pitchers stepping up," Epstein said after the Cubs introduced Heyward in a press conference Tuesday. "It was just a wonderful baseball experience.

"As much as we all enjoyed it and our fans enjoyed it, I think the players who were right in the middle of it recognized that it was something special. It really helped.

"We didn't have to heavily recruit Jason Heyward because he's very self-aware. He knows what's important to him and what he was looking for in an environment and he really sort of targeted us as a place of interest."

With the young core already having success at the big-league level, one of the game's top managers in Joe Maddon and a Wrigley Field renovation project that will include a new home clubhouse for the 2016 season, the Cubs sat in an entirely different position in free agency this offseason.

Heyward didn't have to listen to Epstein's front office make a sales pitch about why he should put his faith in the Cubs and sign with a last-place team the way Epstein and Co. sat down with Jon Lester last winter.

[RELATED - Joe Maddon feels like Cubs won baseball lottery again with Jason Heyward]

And this year, the promotional video the Cubs showed free agents had quite a bit more substance with the playoff run leading the way.

"We updated the video again this year," Epstein said with a smile. "We had a lot better material to put in the video this year to explain what we were trying to accomplish as an organization and what we see our future and how we treat players and how we treat families.

"[Heyward] got a copy of it and watched it and I think that sort of laid the foundation for the recruitment. But in the end, I think it was a very intelligent young man making a great life decision. He knew what he wanted and there was mutual interest."

It's quite a progression from the offseason the Cubs had just a few years ago, when Anibal Sanchez used the offer from Epstein's front office to drive his price up and ultimately re-signed with the Detroit Tigers for an $80 million deal prior to the 2013 season.

Now, the Cubs are getting players to put pen to paper and hop on board for less money than they had elsewhere.

The Cardinals and Washington Nationals reportedly offered Heyward a deal in the neighborhood of $200 million total and he opted for the Cubs' $184 million instead.

Ben Zobrist signed with the Cubs for $56 million over four years even though the San Francisco Giants and Nationals offered $60 million over the same span.

Epstein said it was the same thing for John Lackey and even confirmed that Trevor Cahill - who finished the 2015 season with the Cubs and re-signed for one year and $4.25 million - had more money on the table with another team.

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"It's up to each player," Epstein said. "I think players definitely notice how much fun our guys were having this year. It's a credit to our fans for creating a wonderful atmosphere, to Joe Maddon and his coaching staff for setting the right tone for the players and letting them be themselves and then our guys.

"It doesn't feel like settling when you talk about the players that we have and how much they support each other and how much fun they have playing the game. It's obvious from across the field.

"We've had four acquisitions take less ... Lackey, Zobrist and Heyward all really demonstrated their desire to be here. Cahill has experienced firsthand how much fun it is to be here.

"That's really sort of an honor and a credit to the organization that [chairman Tom Ricketts] has built."

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

If baseball wants stars that transcend the game, they need guys like Javy Baez on the field MORE, not less.

That whole debate and baseball's marketing campaign isn't the issue the Cubs took exception with, but it's still a fair point on a nationally-televised Saturday night game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Baez was ejected from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when he threw his bat and helmet in frustration at home plate umpire Will Little's call that the Cubs second baseman did NOT check his swing and, in fact, went around. 

Baez was initially upset that Little made the call himself instead of deferring to first base umpire Ted Barrett for a better view. But as things escalated, Baez threw his bat and helmet and was promptly thrown out of the game by Little.

"I don't think I said anything to disrespect anything or anyone," Baez said after the Cubs' 6-3 loss. "It was a pretty close call. I only asked for him to check the umpire at first and he didn't say anything.

"I threw my helmet and he just threw me out from there. I mean, no reason. I guess for my helmet, but that doesn't have anything to do with him."

Baez and the Cubs would've rather Little check with the umpire who had a better view down the line, but that wasn't even the main point of contention. It was how quickly Little escalated to ejection.

"We're all human," Baez said. "One way or the other, it was gonna be the wrong [call] for one of the teams.

"My message? We're not animals. Sometimes we ask where was a pitch or if it was a strike and it's not always offending them. I think we can talk things out. But I don't think there was anything there to be ejected."

Upon seeing his second baseman and cleanup hitter ejected in the middle of a 1-0 game against a division rival, Joe Maddon immediately got fired up and in Little's face in a hurry.

Maddon was later ejected, as well, and admitted after the game he was never going to leave the field unless he was tossed for protecting his guy.

"He had no reason to kick him out," Maddon said. "He didn't say anything to him. I mean, I watched the video. If you throw stuff, that's a fine. That's fineable. Fine him. That's what I said — fine him — but you cannot kick him out right there.

"He did nothing to be kicked out of that game. He did throw his stuff, whatever, but he did not say anything derogatory towards the umpire.

"...You don't kick Javy out. If he gets in your face and is obnoxious or belligerent or whatever, but he did not. He turned his back to him. That needs to be addressed, on both ends."

Maddon and the Cubs really want Major League Baseball to get involved in this situation. 

There are many other layers to the issue, including veteran Ben Zobrist having to come into the game as Baez's replacement. Maddon was not keen on using the 37-year-old Zobrist for 1.5 games during Saturday's doubleheader and now feels like he has to rest the veteran Sunday to lessen the wear and tear of a difficult stretch for the team.

There's also the matter of the groundball basehit in the eighth inning that tied the game — a seeing-eye single that just got past Zobrist as he dove to his left. It tied the game at 3 and the Cardinals took the lead for good the following inning.

Does Baez make that same play if he were out there instead of Zobrist? It's certainly possible.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Maddon said. "Again, listen, if it's deserved, I'm good. It was not. They don't need me out there, we need Javy out there.

"And it surprised me. I stand by what I'm saying. It was inappropriate. MLB needs to say something to us that it was inappropriate because it was and it could've led to the loss of that game."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 37th 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.

Sosa's 37th homer of the 1998 season was a big one, an opposite field blast off the front row of fans in right field and into the basket at Wrigley Field.

The eighth-inning 3-run shot gave the Cubs some insurance in a game they ultimately won 9-5 and the Wrigley faithful responded by throwing a bunch of trash on the field.

Earlier in the contest, Sosa tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth inning. He finished with 4 RBI, giving him 93 on the season with more than 2 months left to play.

Fun fact: Vladimir Guerrero was the Expos' No. 3 hitter for this game an dhe also hit a homer (his 20th). Now, Guerrero's son is nearing his MLB debut as a top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

Fun fact No. 2: Mark Grudzielanek - who later played for the Cubs in 2003-04 - was Montreal's No. 5 hitter for the game at Wrigley. He was traded 10 days later from the Expos to the Los Angeles Dodgers for another fellow Cub - Ted Lilly.