Cubs

Will Theo Epstein build 2016 ‘super-team’ or try to keep window open longer for Cubs?

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Will Theo Epstein build 2016 ‘super-team’ or try to keep window open longer for Cubs?

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Theo Epstein knows the Cubs are walking a tightrope to get back to October, trying to balance their lofty ideals about the future with the reality these next two seasons might be their best chance to win a World Series.  

Putting David Price or Zack Greinke on a team that won 97 games last season and already has Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester at the top of the rotation must be tempting.     

Especially when Arrieta is positioned to become a free agent after the 2017 season, Lester will be 32 next year and soon enough the salary structure for Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell will explode.  

[MORE CUBS: Scott Boras on Jake Arrieta's future, Cubs' 'budding garden of talent']

Plus, the Cubs have sent mixed messages about their next media deal and how soon Epstein’s baseball-operations department will be able to tap into that TV money. Does that mean waiting until 2020 for a new cable network and the huge payroll surge?  

Cubs executives checked out of the Boca Raton Resort and Club on Thursday, the end of the general manager meetings and another step into what should be a dizzying winter.

“It’s hard to argue that the next two years represent a great chance to sort of amass maybe the most talent onto a single roster that we can,” Epstein said before leaving the South Florida hotel. “Because the young guys haven’t started to make a lot of money yet and Arrieta’s locked in and Lester’s pitching at the top of his game.

“One way to look at it is (this) might be the best opportunity to have the single most talented roster that you can. But things get a little more complicated as you move forward.”

The Cubs are worried about becoming a top-heavy team, with two 30-something pitchers making around $50 million combined and taking up too much payroll space.

So maybe signing John Lackey to a shorter-term deal makes sense, since he’s Lester’s buddy, a two-time World Series champion and just went 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals during his age-36 season.

“It’s a balancing act,” Epstein said. “You want to use the dollars that you have available to your advantage, especially when you’re in a position (where) every added win has great impact.

“And then you want to try to avoid a situation where you’re tied into too many big, long contracts that may lead to dead money on the books and inhibit your flexibility in the future.

“We’re out there trying to put the best team we can on the field, given the resources that we have.”

[MORE CUBS: Dave Martinez gets chance to make pitch for Dodgers job]

The Cubs also can’t count on being so lucky or healthy next year after winning 34 one-run games and having four pitchers make 30-plus starts. Realistically, the minor-league pipeline is years away from producing impact pitchers. 

The Cubs don’t sound willing and able to go to the top of the market to sign submarine reliever Darren O’Day, but they kept rebuilding their bullpen on the way to the National League Championship Series.

So the Cubs will hope to strike gold again in the Rule 5 draft – the way they did with Hector Rondon – and find the next Trevor Cahill or Clayton Richard on a minor-league deal (while maintaining interest in re-signing Cahill and bringing back Richard).

There’s also mutual interest between the Cubs and Ben Zobrist, but at this point it’s more about monitoring the situation. The Cubs would probably need to trade one of their young hitters for Joe Maddon’s super-utility guy to become an ideal fit again. And Zobrist’s versatility appeals to teams across the board.

But building a team that’s nimble, deep and multidimensional makes sense, given the financial parameters and a division where the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates won 198 games combined this year (and the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers are clearly rebuilding and playing for the future).

“We’re right at that point in the win curve where every win that we can tack onto this roster on paper is potentially really, really meaningful,” Epstein said. “I don’t take that for granted at all.

“Those wins could be really important. They can be the difference between getting in, not getting in. They can be the difference between winning the division or winning the wild card. If things go really wrong, it could be keeping you in contention so you can reshuffle the deck midseason and still make a run at it.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Whether or not that involves signing Price, Greinke or Jordan Zimmermann, the Cubs will still be trying to build a perennial contender, especially when everyone knows winning the offseason can mean losing when it actually matters.   

“You can’t count on building a super-team and that will translate to winning the World Series,” Epstein said. “The best way to do it is have really good teams year after year, get in year after year. And eventually you’ll win it.” 

Anthony Rizzo leaves Cubs game with injury

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo leaves Cubs game with injury

In the midst of a second straight tough game against the Nationals, the Cubs were dealt another dose of bad news when Anthony Rizzo was forced out of the contest due to injury.

The first baseman was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the fifth inning with what the team called mid-back tightness. The Cubs did not have an update on his status immediately following the 7-2 loss.

Rizzo had walked the previous inning and was stranded on third base when a full-count pitch to Ian Happ was called a strike:

Rizzo made an error in each of the first two innings of the game, throwing a ball into left field when second base wasn't being covered and then dropping a throw from Javy Baez to begin the second inning.

Rizzo has dealt with back issues throughout his career, including a stint where he missed four games in mid-May.

Jonathan Lucroy hit for Rizzo in the fifth inning and doubled home the Cubs' second run of the game. He stayed in to catch while Victor Cartaini moved from behind the plate to first base.

The Cubs were already operating with a short bench since they currently have a nine-man bullpen and they had already utilized Happ off the bench earlier in the game (he was later ejected after the controversial call).

Joe Maddon has an interesting idea on how to fix the MLB Players Weekend uniforms

Joe Maddon has an interesting idea on how to fix the MLB Players Weekend uniforms

"Woof."

That's the first "word" Joe Maddon used to describe his thoughts on the all-white and all-black MLB Players Weekend uniforms and the Cubs manager may as well be speaking for seemingly every baseball fan on Earth.

The color schemes have not been a popular pick this weekend, from Dodgers manager Dave Roberts saying his team feels like they're wearing "milkman uniforms" to the endless run of Stormtrooper or Backstreet Boys jokes:

One of the biggest draws of Players Weekend is the nicknames on the back of the jerseys, but in the white uniforms, you can't even see the team's logo let alone what the jersey number or nameplate says.

That's led to plenty of ideas for improvement, including letting the home teams add color to their white uniforms however they see fit:

But Maddon had maybe the best idea on how to make the uniforms better for the 2020 Players Weekend.

"They should have every team design their own Players Weekend uniform," Maddon said. "That would be cool. Like with us, you go to [Anthony] Rizzo, [Jason] Heyward, [Jon] Lester, whomever your team leaders are and in the offseason, say, 'we're gonna do this next year, you're gonna be on the road, so consider road kind of uniform - go. You style the Cubs uniforms.'

"Then it truly is Players Weekend. I think you'd get a lot more interesting and better unigrams if you went that route."

That would be awesome and would allow for plenty of creativity from the players' end.

The other issue with the all-black jerseys is how closely they resemble the umpires' uniforms. At various points when the home team is up, it looks like there are five or six players on one side of the infield with the umpires.

It's also led the defenders to blend in with the wall at Wrigley, too.

"From the dugout, looking out, the ivy is so dark, also, so when their players are running out there, it's almost like they disappear into the ivy," Maddon said. "Again, it was not good form. There's no way I can advocate that. It's just not good form. And that's not even being a traditionalist, honestly. It's another version of the dress code - the worst dressers create dress codes."

The Cubs also had to make a change in regards to their hats for Players Weekend.

Home pitchers are not allowed to wear white caps because of the possibility the baseball will blend in with the hat as it's being delivered. So on Friday, Jon Lester wore his blue Cubs hat and the rest of his teammates followed suit in a show of uniform uniformity.

However, they all took the field with the white hats Saturday (Jose Quintana wearing a black Cubs hat) after being told they have to wear the all-white version this weekend.

So this weekend is all about the players and fun and games...but also rules and stipulations that must be adhered to.