Cubs

What does Epstein mean by 'The Cubs Way?'

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What does Epstein mean by 'The Cubs Way?'

Theo Epstein had enough self-awareness to promise that he wont answer every question by referencing his time with the Red Sox, even if thats exactly who the Cubs want to be.

Professionally, Epstein had started to become stale after almost 10 years in Boston. He also understands that his staff cant rest on what they did at Fenway Park. He promised that his front office would have a research and development wing to discover that cutting edge.

Because everyone understands that this is the information age. The Cubs will focus more on on-base percentage and run prevention. They need to see more pitches, make starters work and wear out bullpens. They have to improve their defense, because they werent very good in that phase by just about any advanced metric or eye test.

But every organization looks at the numbers and hopes to build up the farm system and create chemistry. The Cubs are looking to answer: Whats next? And define what, exactly, is The Cubs Way?

The offseason officially begins after the final out in Fridays World Series Game 7. Epstein went underground after Tuesdays press conference at Wrigley Field and brought in his inner circle, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, two Padres executives he used to work closely with in Boston.

So theyll continue to gather information. They have to make quick decisions on: manager Mike Quade and his coaching staff; the 16 million club option on Aramis Ramirez (which he can void); and Ryan Dempsters 14 million player option.

Epstein took this presidents job because he wanted to look at the bigger picture and create a vertically-integrated system where theyre playing the game the same way in the Dominican summer league, rookie ball, at Double-A Tennessee and Wrigley Field.

This isnt revolutionary, and it wont happen overnight. But Epstein will have a chance to help write the scouting and player development manuals, like he did in Boston, and remake this organization in his image.

Epstein will be given more resources than anyone else in the National League Central, and a direct report to ownership, so there will be no excuses.

During his first session with the Chicago media on Tuesday, Epstein went along with a question about last summers draft. The Cubs were aggressive and took risks and wound up spending close to 20 million in the draft and international signings.

Heres how Epstein described the reaction in the Red Sox war room: They finally get it. Theyre going for it.

The dollars that we spend in the draft (and) internationally (are) the best investments that we make, Epstein continued saying. It was a clear philosophical change (and) it got everyones attention in the game. It certainly aligns well with my vision for how to run a baseball operation.

McLeod has a good relationship with Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken, and the idea is that Epsteins front office will pool their resources, not shut out the Jim Hendry loyalists.

McLeod found impact players like Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury. Baseball America had his drafts among the top five in three of his first four years as Red Sox scouting director.

Epstein kind of rolled his eyes at the mention of Carmine, the computer system thats been played up in the media. He made it clear that decisions wont be made a by a laptop, that his staff will combine objective analysis with old-school scouting.

The way to see the player most accurately, to get the truest picture, Epstein said, is to put both those lenses together and look through them simultaneously.

Again, these arent earth-shattering concepts, and Epstein would admit as much. But its a clear vision that shouldnt get much interference from anyone else in the organization. He built up capital with a five-year contract and those two World Series rings.

In explaining his decision to leave the Red Sox, Epstein cited Bill Walshs theory that coaches and executives shouldnt stay around a team longer than 10 years. Walsh was 47 years old when he took over the San Francisco 49ers.

Now its time for Epstein to innovate and refine his West Coast offense.

Tom Ricketts mentioned how he sensed that Epstein wasnt content and still felt hungry. The chairman is betting that Epstein, at 37, is not one of those post-prime free agents being paid for past performance instead of future results.

Theres not one way to play this game, Epstein said. The Cubs Way will be a dynamic, living, breathing entity that changes every year.

Jason Heyward getting back to 'who he's supposed to be' in Cubs lineup

Jason Heyward getting back to 'who he's supposed to be' in Cubs lineup

This is the Jason Heyward the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed him to an eight-year deal in December 2015.

Back then, the Cubs believed Heyward had more power to tap into from his 6-foot-5, 240-pound, linebacker-esque frame. 

It didn't play out that way initially, with Heyward hitting only 26 homers to go along with a .367 slugging percentage and .688 OPS in his first three seasons in a Cubs uniform.

But all that has changed this year.

Heyward is on pace for 26 homers in 2019 — which would equal that three-year total — and his 71 RBI pace would be his highest since 2012, when he drove in 82 runs.

The 29-year-old hit his 15th homer of the season Sunday and it marks the first time he's eclipsed the 15-homer threshold since that same 2012 season, when he hit 27 dingers as a 22-year-old with the Atlanta Braves.

The power is the area that jumps off the page right now about the new and improved Heyward, but that carries with it a grain of salt that must be taken with everybody's longball total in the game right now. But his walk rate (11.6 percent) is the second-best mark of his career to only his rookie season in 2010. He's also pulling the ball less than he ever has and utilizing the middle of the field more while his hard and soft contact rates are far and away better than they've ever been in a Cubs uniform. 

All told, this is not the same hitter Cubs fans saw in the first three years of Heyward's megadeal.

"He's set up a little bit differently," Joe Maddon said. "Right now, his confidence is soaring. That ball was properly struck [Sunday afternoon] and he's been doing that often — even his basehits.

"... He's set up a little bit differently, but honestly, I think it's a confidence thing right now. He's feeling so good about himself. He's on the barrel more. I mean that's obvious. You don't see the ball off the weaker part of the bat nearly as often as we've seen in the past. I think that's the primary difference — the ball's off the barrel. 

"His hands are really alive. I love that the ball's still line to line, but the power is still showing up. I think that's exactly who he's supposed to be."

Sunday's homer was the game-winning hit for the Cubs and Heyward put his team in front once again Monday night with an RBI groundout to plate Kris Bryant in the fourth inning before a bullpen/defensive meltdown in the seventh inning. Oh yeah, and he got the game-winning knock in the bottom of the eighth inning Friday immediately after the Cubs gave the lead right back to the Pirates in the pivotal first game coming out of the All-Star Break.

He's been a difference-maker in this Cubs lineup all year, even as they search for more consistency and steady production. 

Heyward has gone from a guy who was on the bench in some of the most important games in the 2016-17 postseason because of his offensive issues to an integral part of this team's run production.

He's shown flashes of this in the past, including a month or so in the early part of last summer where he got really hot. But this has been sustained offensive production. In every month but May (when he batted .186 with a .618 OPS), Heyward has hit over .300 with an OPS well above league average, including a .968 mark in June and .992 in April.

But right now, he's not getting into all that. He's just trying to ride the wave of a long season.

"I don't try to break it down at all, honestly," Heyward said. "Just keep it simple and just stay in tune to what I got going on — first at-bat or whatever. It is kinda simple when you just look at it — not dwell on the negative, don't get too deep on that. 'Cause you're gonna fail. Just kinda choose how you want that to happen and make the best."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Gallagher Way it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night!

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Gallagher Way it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night!

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi live from Gallagher Way for this edition of Baseball Night in Chicago.

Listen to the full podcast episode in the embedded player below: