Cubs

Theo Epstein's laser focus on Cubs winning the World Series

theo-epstein-2016-super-team-insider-slide.png

Theo Epstein's laser focus on Cubs winning the World Series

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Cleveland Browns executives visited Wrigley Field last summer, trying to get a better sense of how the Cubs set up their organization and determine if a Major League Baseball approach could work in the NFL.

The Browns met with multiple front offices throughout the game, learning more about how progressive teams prepared for the draft, incorporated analytics and structured player-development systems.

That’s yet another sign of how far the Cubs have come from being the Lovable Losers, now viewed as a cutting-edge franchise that’s built to win for years to come, whether or not this season ends with a championship parade down Michigan Avenue.

So the news that shocked The Dawg Pound and “Moneyball” fans didn’t surprise the Cubs in January: The Browns hired Paul DePodesta away from the New York Mets and made him their chief strategy officer.

To be clear, Theo Epstein isn’t about to move his family to Cleveland or branch out beyond fantasy football. But with the president of baseball operations now in the fifth and final year of his contract, it’s fair to wonder if the Cubs will eventually have to compete with something beyond baseball.

“Not necessarily,” Epstein said. “Personally, I don’t know enough about football to contemplate something like that. I’m not even thinking in terms of anything but baseball. All of us are so all-in to win the Cubs a World Series. It’s all we think about besides our families.”

As the Cubs prepared to end spring training and leave Arizona last week, Epstein didn’t sound like a new contract would be finalized by Opening Day, or at all concerned about the pace of negotiations with chairman Tom Ricketts.

“It’s status quo for now,” Epstein said. “I’m not a player. It’s not as big a deal.”

[MORE CUBS: How Cubs broke down Anthony Rizzo and built him back up]

After waiting out the 286 losses between 2012 and 2014, Epstein isn’t about to let someone else take the credit and potentially leave a gap in his Hall of Fame resume after winning two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox.

The 2016 team that runs out onto the field at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Monday night is Epstein’s vision — a relentless American League-style lineup, Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta staring down Mike Trout and seemingly unlimited possibilities for star manager Joe Maddon.

This isn’t Boston. The Ricketts family has been willing to play the long game and give Epstein almost all the creative freedom he wants. The spending spree that zoomed toward $290 million this offseason turned down the simmering frustrations over major-league payroll.

The first game for this ownership group came on Opening Day 2010, when Jason Heyward blasted a three-run homer off Carlos Zambrano in his big-league debut with the Atlanta Braves. That 16-5 loss at Turner Field set the tone for the teardown. After Game 2, Lou Piniella’s screaming could be heard through the closed door and the walls of the manager’s office.

“The only thing I would say that has changed perception-wise is that they’re ready to try and win now,” Heyward said. “You always knew the fans supported the team. And it’s a great city to go play baseball.

“It’s just an exciting time to be a Cub.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Heyward signed the biggest contract in franchise history — eight years and $184 million guaranteed — and there will be times where the Gold Glove outfielder feels like an afterthought. That shows how much talent the Cubs have assembled — and how circus-like Maddon’s atmosphere has become.

“Why would you want to go (somewhere) with 10,000 strong in the ballpark and predicted to finish last?” Maddon said. “Why would you ever want to be there? I’ve been there, actually. It’s no fun. I’d much rather have a raucous, crazy ballpark, great fan base, high expectations and trying to live up to (that).”

Epstein understands all the unique opportunities ahead and sees the next wave of talent moving toward Wrigley Field, with MLB.com putting six Cubs on its top-100 prospects list and ESPN ranking the farm system fourth in the game, even after graduating a rookie class that included Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber.

DePodesta played football and baseball at Harvard University and worked as an executive for Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s. As New York’s vice president of scouting and player development, DePodesta helped build the Mets team that swept the Cubs out of last year’s National League Championship Series.

Whatever comes next — and whenever that happens — Epstein knows that he has unfinished business in Chicago.

“I’m not thinking that far ahead,” Epstein said. “I’m not thinking past winning our last game of the year, honestly.”

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

The changing of the guard continues for the Cubs this offseason. 

After the team hired a new hitting coach yesterday, it was reported today that they're losing a front office member: 

Rehman, who has been with the Cubs in the same position for the last seven years, will reportedly head up the Rangers' analytics department. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rehman's role was " evaluating existing systems, and recognizing and applying solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization." 

All reports indicate that he'll be doing similar analytic-based work with the Rangers. 

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis didn't go all scorched earth on the Cubs in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, but he had quite a lot to say after being ousted by the organization after just one year as the hitting coach.

The Cubs made Davis the scapegoat for an offense that faded down the stretch, struggling for the entire second half and scoring just 1 run in three of the final four games of the year.

When he was hired a year ago, Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon talked up Davis' impressive resume that includes a 19-year MLB career, two separate stints as a successful hitting coach with the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox and a philosophy that they hoped would withstand the test of time in the game today, preaching more contact and using the opposite field.

Throughout the 2018 season, Maddon often commended Davis for his ability to communicate with players, particularly in the area of mental approach to each at-bat.

Now that the dust has settled a bit on his firing, Davis felt he had some issues getting through to some Cubs players.

I learned a lot this year," Davis told the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. "I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I'll be dealing with in the clubhouse. I hope the next guy connects better with the players, because I felt that there were multiple players there I didn't connect with. It wasn't that I didn't try; it just wasn't there.

The Cubs hired Anthony Iapoce as their new hitting coach Monday afternoon. Iapoce comes over from the Rangers and has a direct link to John Mallee, who was the Cubs' hitting coach for three seasons before being let go when Davis became available last winter. 

Iapoce also spent three seasons with the Cubs as a special assistant to the GM, overseeing the organization's minor-league hitting from 2013-15. Presumably, he found a way over those years to connect with the Cubs' top young hitting prospects — guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras that are now leading the big-league lineup.

Hopefully he has better success at this than I did," Davis said of Iapoce in the Sun-Times article. "But regardless of who's there, certain players there are going to have to make some adjustments because the game's changed and pitchers are pitching them differently. They're not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They're pitching away from that. They're going to have to make that adjustment whether I'm there or not.

Davis had a whole lot more to say on the matter and I encourage you to read the full interview with Wittenmyer over at ChicagoSunTimes.com.

A healthy Bryant very likely could've changed everything for Davis and the Cubs' 2018 lineup. Contreras hitting like he's capable of in the second half would've made a huge difference, as well.

But the end result is a finish to the 2018 campaign that was viewed universally as a disappointment — particularly in the offensive department — and the Cubs are left with their third different hitting coach in three seasons.