Cubs

Contracts, commitment & bearded dragons?

Contracts, commitment & bearded dragons?

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

One of the things that marriage teaches you is that when your wife sends you a text while youre working and it begins: Please dont kill me but..., that shes done something that youre not going to be happy with but its a little too late to do anything about it. Thats how life works. This latest after-the-fact communication concerns our newest family pet, but more on that later.

Speaking about not being happy, think FOX is happy with a Cardinals-Rangers World Series? I know no one at the bar is. Harrys St. Louis connection notwithstanding, the Cardinals' good fortune is another thorn in the side of the Cubs faithful. And since the team for which I have a rooting interest met their untimely, but predictable demise, (Question: When you lose to the San Francisco Giants last year because you cant hit, what should you get to strengthen your roster? Thats right, more pitching! This isnt revisionist history, Ive been ranting about this behind the bar since last October. One of my go-to truisms is that the MLB playoffs will always expose whatever fatal flaw that you have. For a team that scored 3-runs or fewer 77 times this year during the regular season, scoring 6 runs in the series final 34 innings -3 on one pinch-hit homer- comes as no surprise and was a fitting, tortuous ending! ) we need to discuss other baseball things, or should I say thing. I wonder what that is? The Theo Epstein saga has literally hijacked the conversation at the bar. Fascinated as I am, can we please get on with it?!

There are a million theories as to what is going on, but I go back to one fact: Theo is under contract to the Boston Red Sox. As George Constanza would say, this gives the Red Sox hand. (Which is not to be confused with man-hands, probably my favorite bit ever on that show.) I know this is much to the dismay of certain media members in this town who are fawning over the Cubs front office during this process and probably sharing a few Kool-aids with them as they cheer them on. Isnt it a little silly to sing their praises before this process has ended and a proper analysis of winners and losers can be assessed? Much like the ballyhooed press conference where the Cubs told the local and state governments why they should fork over cash they dont have to make improvements to Wrigley Field, this has the appearance of another cigar about to blow-up in their collective, handsome (sorry, the fawning disease is contagious!) faces.

Im only a bartender, but even I can appreciate the fact that if I want an asset from another business owner, I should first and foremost find out how much that business owner is going to want for that asset. From the countless hours that Ive watched World Series of Poker reruns in the wee hours when I get home from work, Ive learned that theres a play in poker called the check-raise. Thats where a player will usually try to hide a big hand and get others to bet when he thinks that if he puts in an appropriate size bet for his hand, he will scare everyone off. Having already put money in the pot, the initial bettor has to figure out how much that money in the center of the table means to him when the raise comes back. This play doesnt always work, but it can often lead to easy money, as when it is used, its not often a bluff. The thing that you dont know when you make the initial check is whether someone will take the bait.

In the case of the Red Sox, they know they have a play since they let the Cubs come to an agreement with Theo, even though the Cubs didnt ask what he would cost. In their haste to do something that they knew would make them look good, they forgot one of the most elementary practices of business: up-front pricing. Someone of my income level understands that. Before I can get emotionally attached to that new purchase, I need to haggle the price down to where a large investment makes sense to me. Instead, acting like a giddy school girl who got the prom date with the captain of the football team, telling all of her friends to show how cool she is, Cubs upper management was so impressed with themselves, they had to leak the agreement to a more than accommodating local media. All this did was strengthen the position of the Red Sox.

The local Cubs shills will say that Boston doesnt want an unhappy Theo around and they have to make a deal. My response to that is: Can you imagine an employee being unhappy with his work environment?? Whatever! The Cubs have put themselves in a position where they will have to pay more than they think they should because of naivete and the fact that Theo is under contract to the Red Sox. What they need to do is accept that fact and get on with it, because the option of not getting him is something that will create a more lasting negative image than the one of them standing outside Wrigley this past summer holding out their hands for money. The commitment to winning is more costly than you can imagine. Its time to go all in!

Speaking of commitment, there is something in sports that is a sign of it, as the Cubs are learning, and it called a contract. Those contracts can be a pesky thing. Just ask your Chicago Bears! Has there been a day this year when somebodys contract status hasnt been mentioned? Again this is something that a guy like me really has no idea about, although it wont stop me, or any one at the bar from commenting on it. For a fan it shows value and sets a bar for expectation. (For the Red Sox, it means that if you offer our GM 18.5 million for 4 years, he should be worth more than this years Felix Pie!) A contract is a binding agreement, unless its football. Football contracts are a ruse. In baseball and basketball they use the phrase guaranteed contract. The money signed for is the money received, unless youre Gil Meche and you understand that youve been grossly (unintentional pun, I swear!) overpaid and you retire before the last year, forfeiting 12 million.

In football, the phrase is guaranteed money. That is the money that a player will receive, most of it up-front or in bonuses, in addition to game checks. If he can avoid a career ending injury, he will only get game checks as long as the team thinks hes serviceable. Chester Taylor signed a four-year deal last year and this year? He gone! At least he got his guaranteed 7 mil! In the NFL there is no long-term security unless youre one of the top 1 and get huge guaranteed money. (Why does that sound familiar?) Thats why I never really had a problem with hold-outs in football. That is a cut-throat business and everybody understands. A player needs to get his cash when he can, if not, its gone forever, just like he is. In the case of Lance Briggs, hes in the 4th year of a 6th year contract, one that hes probably over-performed. Hes 30 and in his 9th year in the league, a time and age where the clock is ticking ever faster towards the end. He also remembers at the same age three years ago with four years left on his deal, Brian Urlacher was able to renegotiate his deal to add an extra year and 18 million. Maybe not the best PR move on Lances to ask for more cash, and then a trade, but considering the teams precedent I can understand where hes coming from. My guess though is that this will be his last year as a Bear because of his ability to be outspoken and I dont think hes viewed by ownership in the same favorable way that Urlacher iswas.

And judging by his comments about a disconnect between the players and front office this week on Countdown to Kickoff, I dont think Im giving a shocking opinion. He gone! The thing that baffles me is the Matt Forte situation. After a sensational rookie year, he came back to earth and looked like he had lost a step in year two, but since then hes been lights out! In the last two years hes averaging almost 5 yards per carry and over 10 yards per catch, those are explosive numbers. Oh, and hes yet to miss a game and by the way, have you ever seen the Bears offensive line?! Hes in the last year of his rookie deal, a time when teams almost always extend or come to a new agreement for fear of losing a cornerstone player, but it hasnt happened in Fortes case. It makes you wonder what the real story is. It doesnt make sense to not make a deal. I personally am amazed that Forte continues to play with the amount of money he is risking to lose if he gets injured. It makes me want him to get paid even more. You know his teammates notice. Thats one bad dude. He has shown exceptional commitment to the Bears organization, its time they showed it back. Pay the Man!

So back to the text I received from the boss. Im at an age where my philosophy on life is simplification, if you have a choice. Life is going to do its best to throw you enough curveballs so why tilt the advantage? But most times I dont have a choice. I deal with the public sentiment that is within my house. When everybodys happy, life is good. So while Im not necessarily pleased with a new non-human addition in my house, I understand that there can be positive benefits to it. Its called the ability to adapt and to see situations from more than one viewpoint. The rest of my household is ecstatic. There something good in that. And, Im confronted with a situation I cant change, so why go there? The Cubs and Bears have every right to go down a path of their choice for the many reasons they choose to do so, but they also have the ability to think outside of the box that they have put themselves into. Im not saying that they have to change their philosophy, but maybe take a more long-term view. Once Epsteins here, we hopefully can put all of this how-not-to make deal behind us and usher in a new age of Cubs history, but for the love of all that is good can we just get it done? If I read one more article by the baseball writers in this town that begins with: Sources say my heads going to explode. As for the Bears, I have a feeling that the story of disenchantment is going to be a theme for the whole year. But there is one way to stem that tide, if they just get past their fear of commitment, and have a happy locker again, besides winning games that is. But that will be another story for another day! And for any of you that want a laugh, just google bearded dragon and know that Mr. Red Bow Tie now has one residing in his house. We traded cash to acquire him and he now has a lifetime contract.

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

How you evaluate Cole Hamels’ 2019 performance depends on which half of the season you look at.

Hamels was the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher through June, putting his name firmly in the conversation to make the All-Star Game. Through his first 17 starts, he held a 2.98 ERA, with 97 strikeouts and 35 walks in 99 2/3 innings.

That 17th start – June 28 against the Reds – represented a turning point for the left-hander, however. After throwing one warmup pitch ahead of the second inning, Hamels took a beeline for the Cubs’ dugout, exiting the game with a left oblique strain.

Hamels quickly detecting the strain was key, as he avoided a more significant injury and only missed one month as a result. However, he never got back to his pre-injury level after returning. In 10 starts, he posted a 5.79 ERA, walking 21 batters in 42 innings as opponents slashed .315/.397/.506 against him.

Which of the two pitchers does Hamels more closely resemble at this point? That’s what teams will have to evaluate this offseason, when the soon-to-be 36-year-old lefty hits free agency for the first time in his career.

On top of his oblique strain, Hamels also missed a start in September with left shoulder fatigue. By the time he returned, the Cubs were eliminated from postseason contention, but he wanted one last chance to show what he’s capable of before free agency.

“I don’t want to put that in the back of teams’ heads of how I finished,” Hamels said the day before his final start of the season. “I think I’m capable of what I was able to do in the first half - that’s who I am - and I can still get those good results for hopefully [the Cubs], if they consider that.

“But also, for other teams to know that I’m not the type of player that’s on the regression. This is what we’re gonna expect. It’s more so what I was able to do in the first half - the type of player that I am and the results that I can get out on the field.”

He certainly backed those words up, shutting down the Cardinals – who hadn’t clinched the NL Central yet – in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Hamels pitched four innings, allowing no runs on just two hits.

Hamels looked stellar in that game, but it doesn’t change the fact that returning from an extended injury absence isn’t easy on pitchers. They need time to regain command of their pitches, plus any amount of arm strength lost during their time on the shelf.

Hamels made two rehab starts at Triple-A before rejoining the Cubs on Aug. 3. He was determined not to return too quickly, as he did so with the Rangers in 2017 after straining his right oblique. That wound up negatively affecting him the rest of the season.

Still, maybe one or two more starts this time around would’ve served him well, though he felt that he could compete at the majors without his best stuff. Plus, it’s not like he was guaranteed to find his groove again by pitching in more minor league games.

Results are all that matter in the big leagues, however, and they show that while the Cubs starting rotation was okay, it wasn’t the difference maker capable of leading the team to October, as anticipated. Cubs starters finished the season with a 4.18 ERA, 10th in MLB and sixth in the National League.

Hamels’ post-injury woes played into those numbers, and he’s determined to bounce back in 2020 to prove his second half performance was a fluke. His first half showed that he still can pitch at a high-level, but he may not be in the Cubs’ plans for next season, regardless.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the team’s rotation at his end-of-season press conference. “It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well.

“We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Those comments seem to indicate that Hamels won’t be back next season. The Cubs have Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills as internal rotation options for 2020 and could look outside the organization for more. Hamels also made $20 million in 2019, so freeing up his salary would help the Cubs address other roster needs.

The Cubs could do a lot worse than having a healthy Cole Hamels in their rotation, though. He’s enjoyed a resurgence since the Cubs acquired him and has had plenty of success against the NL Central and at Wrigley Field overall during his career:

vs. Brewers: 20 starts, 8-5, 3.53 ERA
vs. Cardinals: 17 starts, 5-6, 2.21 ERA
vs. Pirates: 13 starts, 5-4 record, 2.52 ERA
vs. Reds: 20 starts, 11-2 record. 2.30 ERA
at Wrigley Field: 25 starts, 7-4 record, 2.20 ERA

Granted, a large portion of those starts came earlier in his career. But with how competitive the NL Central was in 2019 and will be in 2020, the results can’t be ignored.

“Obviously I do very well at Wrigley, so I hope that’s a consideration - I love to be able to pitch there,” Hamels said about the Cubs possibly re-signing him. “For some reason, it’s just the energy and I’ve mentioned it before, it’s baseball to me. And that’s what I really feed off of and that’s hopefully what they think about.”

But if the Cubs decide to part ways with Hamels, he’ll have his fair share of suitors. The Brewers and Reds each could benefit from adding starting pitching this offseason, and Hamels would bring a ton of experience to two squads that will be competing for postseason spots in 2020.

“Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are gonna think about it,” Hamels said with a laugh. “If you have to come to Wrigley three different times [as an opponent], I don’t pitch bad there.

“I just want to win. I think that’s it. When you get the taste of it early and then you don’t have it for a while, that’s what you’re striving for. To play this game and in front of sellouts and the energy and the expectation of winning, it’s why I enjoy the game.

“That’s what I want to be able to continue to do for the few years I have left.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

Matt Nagy says Mitch Trubisky's Week 7 struggles due to poor footwork

Matt Nagy says Mitch Trubisky's Week 7 struggles due to poor footwork

Fundamentals can often make or break a quarterback's career. For the Bears third-year signal-caller, Mitch Trubisky, he's struggling with one of the most important aspects of quarterback play: footwork.

Coach Matt Nagy met with the media at Halas Hall on Monday and confirmed most of Trubisky's struggles in the Bears' 36-25 loss to the Saints in Week 7 were the result of sloppy footwork.

"The No. 1 thing I came away from was footwork. I thought footwork was just OK. And then the footwork leads to a little bit of better decisions/accuracy with throws. There was some times where there were some backpedals or movement in the pocket could've been a little better or different.

"You look at the one throw on 3rd-and-five, the second possession of the game, he's hit that all week and missed that, that was the start, and then there was a few others one. The other one that I thought was a bigger error by (Trubisky) at that position was we had a 1st-and-10 at the 24-yard line going in and we took a sack for eight yards and that was an RPO. That's a learning tool for him. Hey, we call a run-pass option and we're just a little bit off in our progression on that play and we ended up losing eight yards. Now it's 2nd-and-18, now you're back to 3rd-and-14 and we have and incomplete pass and we gotta grind to make three points.

"For me, playing the position, when you have sloppy footwork, it can lead to other issues. And I think that's what we saw."

Trubisky ended the game completing 34-of-54 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns, but most of those stats were accumulated during garbage time, which Nagy dismissed as irrelevant. It's obvious Nagy is being careful with his words and, somehow, is still putting a positive spin on some pretty harsh criticism of Trubisky. 

If a quarterback is feeling the pass rush and dropping his eyes too early, which Nagy suggested is happening with Trubisky, and their footwork and accuracy are sloppy and inconsistent, the likely end result is a switch at the position. That isn't going to happen in Chicago, but it's Nagy's honest assessment of Trubisky's play on Sunday is at least a sign (even if it wasn't as harsh as it could've been) that the protective gloves will soon come off.

We just aren't 100% there yet.

"The growth of this offense needs to be better," Nagy said. "That territory, that position (quarterback), it always starts there. It always does. What I have to remind everybody else is there's other parts to this system. It's not just the quarterback play. I think we know what those other parts are that we need to play better at. Collectively, not just at the quarterback position, we need to be a little better." 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.