As trade market heats up, Cubs know reinforcements are on the way

As trade market heats up, Cubs know reinforcements are on the way

Theo Epstein's old club, the Boston Red Sox, have already pulled the trigger on three trades this month — including Thursday's acquisition of pitcher Drew Pomeranz — before the second half of the season even opens.

But Epstein's current team has not made a move as of Friday's second-half opener against the Texas Rangers at Wrigley Field and at this point, rest might have been the biggest reinforcement for the Cubs.

The Cubs just finished playing what will likely be their toughest stretch of the season — 24 games in 24 days leading into the All-Star Break.

They limped into the midseason break going 6-15 in the final 21 of those games and watching their lead in the division dip to seven games.

A big part of that has been due to the fact the Cubs' starting rotation has struggled mightily, ranking last in Major League Baseball in WAR for July with an 8.81 ERA and 1-5 record, allowing a whopping 3.45 homers per nine innings.

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But that hasn't caused Epstein's front office to panic and rush out to acquire a new pitcher.

"There's always ways to improve the club," Epstein said before Friday's game. "All of baseball operations is hard at work on it. We were all through the All-Star Break. Had a few things going on, but didn't get anything done."

Epstein admitted the Cubs are always trying to weigh this year with the long-term goals of the franchise.

"Operating on different fronts at the same time," he said. "Always looking to try to find long-term starting pitching. That's super important. Sometimes, during a deadline could be a better forum for that than during the offseason. Sometimes it's not.

"This time of year, it's important to stay focused primarily on this year's club. You can't think too far in advance in baseball. When you have a contending club, you have a chance to do something special. But always have one eye on the opportunities that may not really help you until down the line as well."

The Cubs already have reinforcements on the way in terms of their own players getting healthy.

Leadoff man Dexter Fowler (hamstring) is on track to return from the disabled list late next week. He is in Chicago this weekend and will head out on a rehab assignment Monday.

Jorge Soler is also working his way back from a hamstring injury, but his timetable is currently unknown, though manager Joe Maddon said Soler is progressing.

The Cubs got Clayton Richard back in their bullpen after a finger issue, but it also came at the loss of Trevor Cahill, who was placed on the disabled list Friday with right patellar tendinitis.

The Cubs have some help in the starting pitching department with Adam Warren, who joined the rotation for one start right before the break and is still stretched out. 

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Warren is currently in the Cubs' bullpen, but Maddon said the plan is to insert the right-hander into the rotation again down the line to help alleviate some stress on the other five starters, though an exact timeline is unknown right now.

Beyond Joe Nathan (who is currently in Triple-A Iowa rehabbing his elbow and has progressed to throwing on back-to-back days), the Cubs are still in the market for some bullpen help and with the trade deadline just over two weeks away, there are currently 19 teams within 5.5 games of a playoff spot.

Epstein knows the market can change quickly and teams' health and desires change.

"I don't think it's productive to pigeonhole yourself to thinking, 'We need this one specific role and that's going to be the key to improving this club,'" Epstein said. "There are so many variables. Things change. The way you look right now might not be the way you look in mid-September.

"Having an open mind and understanding things are going to change — we're going to have injuries the rest of the way. We're going to have guys really step up and improve. We're going to have a lot of guys who stumble. [We have to be] open-minded to adding talented players in different roles knowing that could helps us down the line.

"The more talent you have — as long as you don't detract from the chemistry of the group — is always good."

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.