Cubs

Theo Epstein's message from Cubs: 'If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we're buying'

Theo Epstein's message from Cubs: 'If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we're buying'

Kyle Schwarber walked into Wrigley Field around 12:58 p.m. on Tuesday — or more than six hours before first pitch — to study video of Bronson Arroyo and the Cincinnati Reds bullpen, hit in the cage and go through his normal pregame routine. This had nothing to do with his .179 batting average and says everything about why the Cubs have so much faith in him.

“I always get here around then,” Schwarber said. “It’s just me. I don’t feel like being rushed. I always want to settle in.”

Schwarber isn’t going anywhere and you could already see this kind of 9-5 slugfest coming — a 40-year-old finesse pitcher on the mound, 87-degree weather, 20-mph winds and the defending World Series champs playing a team that lost 94 games and used a No. 2 overall draft pick last year.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein called it before Schwarber snapped an 0-for-17 streak in the second inning by crushing a 74-mph Arroyo pitch that landed near the top of the right-center field bleachers. The Statcast projections came in at 462 feet and 107.4-mph exit velocity.

“If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we’re buying,” Epstein said. “If they want to sell low, we’ll buy low. He’s going to have tremendous production at the end of the year. He’s going to have a lot of big hits to help us win games. It just means there’s a lot of hits out there for the rest of the year.

“He hasn’t gotten on track yet, but we have no doubts that he will.”

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It became personal for Epstein when the Cubs drafted Schwarber and made him untouchable in trade talks last summer, even as he recovered from major surgery on his left knee. It didn’t matter what the rest of the industry thought of the Indiana Hoosier or if it might be perceived as a reach with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft or what the best team in baseball needed at the deadline.

Schwarber gave Epstein flashbacks to his time with the Boston Red Sox — a combination of David Ortiz’s left-handed power and Dustin Pedroia’s energy, intensity and clubhouse influence.

So there would be no overreacting to a leadoff guy now hitting .187 after a 2-for-4 night in the middle of May. Schwarber is still among the National League’s top 10 in walks (24) and pitches per plate appearance (4.4) this season — to go with his five career homers in 14 playoff games and unbelievable 7-for-17 comeback during last year’s World Series.

“I don’t blame ‘em,” Schwarber said of the doubters. “I wish that they could feel what I feel. Obviously, I feel terrible when you’re not helping your team or anything like that. But I’m going to go out there every day and I’m going to help my team win. Today was a good day.”

Epstein sounded surprised/annoyed when a reporter asked: At what point does the slump become deep enough — or how long — before you consider the possibility of sending Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa?

“When we feel like that’s the right thing for him and the team,” Epstein said. “When we think he’s not giving himself a chance up there. We don’t think he’s close to that at all. If you look at his (at-bats) lately, there are still some ones where he’s kind of missing heaters that he normally clobbers. But there was a ton of contact this weekend (in St. Louis). I think he’s really close.”

That’s how Epstein views the 19-19 Cubs as a whole — on the verge of a breakout that will overwhelm the blah start to the season. After building the franchise around hitters through draft picks, trades and free agents, Epstein so far only sees Kris Bryant as a “net positive” offensively through mid-May.

“We have a ton of supremely talented offensive players,” Epstein said. “They’re going to reach their level by the end of the year and the numbers on the back of the baseball card are going to look like they always do. So what it tells me is we’re going to have five or six guys get really hot at the same time.

“Like I said with Schwarber, the same applies to the team. If people want to sell low on the Cubs, sell their stock, we’ll buy. We still really believe in this team. We know how good we can — and will — be when we get it locked in.”

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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