Cubs

ARod-Cubs drama adds another chapter as he and Joe Maddon have 'candid' conversation at Wrigley Field

ARod-Cubs drama adds another chapter as he and Joe Maddon have 'candid' conversation at Wrigley Field

Alex Rodriguez doesn't regret what he said about Yu Darvish last month in St. Louis, but he may soon.

This story will not die, but the good news is — Sunday is the Cubs' final Sunday Night Baseball game for the 2018 season. 

Rodriguez and Joe Maddon had a conversation in the Cubs manager's office before Sunday's tilt against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field and both parties came away feeling "good" and "positive."

"It was very good," Maddon said. "Alex and I had a very nice discussion. I felt good about it. Hopefully he felt equally the same. We talked openly about it.

"Under those circumstances for me, normally it's one of those things that you speak in a candid manner to one another and then you move on from there. I really believe through that conversation, we have a chance to become pretty good friends."

This all started on the Cubs' last ESPN broadcast July 29, when Rodriguez started discussing Yu Darvish's absence due to injury and how it may be perceived negatively in the Cubs clubhouse.

Maddon responded that night and then again later in the week as he called Rodriguez "irresponsible."

Yu Darvish responded to the whole ordeal last week, making a joke that if ARod texted him, he would screenshot it, print it out and frame it as bulletin-board material.

Rodriguez met with Chicago media in the press box at Wrigley Field Sunday, but spent less than a minute on the matter before scurrying off to a "rehearsal" for the game broadcast.

Here are his comments in their entirety:

"Yeah, we had a brief, very positive conversation," Rodriguez said. "Look, what's great about this is we all have the same interests — to grow the game, to highlight stories as objectively as we can. 

"Obviously you guys are in the [media] business, so you know that better than anyone. And yeah, I thought it was a very positive conversation.

Would he change anything he did or said?

"No, my job is to say it fairly and objectively and I have over 25 years in the game and I'm gonna call it as I see it," Rodriguez said. "We don't always have to agree on everything, but I do have a lot of respect for Joe and obviously the Cubs organization and I have for a long time and that hasn't changed.

"As a matter of fact, before I go to rehearsal, Joe and I have plans to have drinks together. So that's planned! That's in the books!"

As he said those last lines, Rodriguez was already starting to move away from the throng of Chicago media and when he finished, he broke for the door like he was trying to steal second base.

Maddon thought it was a good meeting. ARod felt the same way, apparently, but it's hard to glean any real context from his side of the story when he spent less than a minute addressing the issue.

Either way, both parties seem genuinely interested in leaving this little bit of drama in the past. 

This is an issue that would not have even been possible 10 or 20 years ago, in the days of sports consumption without social media. 

But Rodriguez's comments went viral immediately after he uttered them in St. Louis and the end result was a fiery Cubs response starting immediately after that game.

"For me, it's just about taking care of my group — our group — first," Maddon said. "I've often talked about circling our wagons. It's about what we think first and foremost that matters. Whether it's among the coaches, the clubhouse itself, the ownership, the front office — that's the circle you have to satisfy. 

"And that's to understand and believe that everything is well and right. For me, it's only about that. And anytime you get any kind of an outside noise coming in, it normally is just outside noise. And you gotta be able to parcel it out and understand it and make sense of it and still keep the integrity of the group together. 

"My job, I believe, is to protect my brood, quite frankly. It's no different than being a parent. So if you're gonna attack the group from the outside looking in — [the people that] raised me would have it no other way. So when you speak badly of my group — our group — it brings out the Hazleton in me, pretty much.

"So I responded, very open and candid about my comments, so we had a great conversation about that and that's pretty much where I come from. I think it's hard to argue against that. I would respect anybody having the same opinion about protecting their brood and why. So that's in a nutshell how I feel about it."

MLB Hot Stove: How Cubs are approaching the trade market this winter

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USA TODAY

MLB Hot Stove: How Cubs are approaching the trade market this winter

There's certainly a sense of urgency for the Cubs this winter, but they won't make moves just for the sake of shaking things up.

The Cubs always anticipated a window of contention for at least seven years and we're now on the backside of that estimate, with only three years until a bunch of core players like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez all become free agents.

That doesn't necessarily mean the championship window is closing (a lot can happen in three years) but it does mean there is a strong desire from Theo Epstein's front office to try to capitalize and win another ring, especially after the 2018 season ended with only one playoff game.

"Everyone who's been around the team — from the players themselves to [the media] to the fans — we all know the takeaway from that season wasn't the positives," Epstein said last week at the GM Meetings in Southern California. "It wasn't the 95 wins. It wasn't how together the players managed to be (and that takes some doing — that was a really together, connected clubhouse). It wasn't the fine, outstanding individual seasons that many of our players enjoyed. It wasn't battling through a gauntlet of 42 games in 43 days.

"All those things are realities, but those aren't the takeaways from the season. The takeaways are that we got caught from behind and we had opportunities to put that division away and to make another postseason run and for myriad reasons, it didn't happen. So we damn well better be honest with ourselves about the reasons why it didn't happen and find ways to fix it, otherwise what the hell are we doing here?

"So yeah, we're not gonna sit here and celebrate 95 wins. We're gonna be pissed off about the way the season ended and it doesn't matter if I'm pissed off — our players are pissed off. And they know that they have an opportunity to be part of something special. They basically built it and helped build it. And we want to take full advantage of it.

"You can't take anything for granted in this game. You look up and it goes really fast — teams don't stay together forever and we need to find ways to take advantage of this great opportunity that we have. ... This has been a real winning group the last four years and that was a real low moment for us, 95 wins or not. And we don't want to live through that again."

Even reading those words on a screen, it's easy to feel Epstein's emotion and that sentiment undoubtedly rings true throughout ever corner of the fanbase.

The Cubs clearly want to fix their offense that faded down the stretch and they've already made a change with the hitting program, inserting Anthony Iapoce as hitting coach to replace Chili Davis. The pitching staff was handed a nice boost of consistency immediately after the World Series ended when the Cubs chose to pick up the options for Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana and Pedro Strop.

Given the current financial landscape, it's hard to see the Cubs landing either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in free agency.

Which leaves the trade market as the most likely way to retool the 2019 roster.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said last week he and the Cubs front office were spending more time talking to executives from other teams than agents of players on the open market.

The Cubs also aren't interested in making any knee-jerk reactions to a team that still found a way to 95 games despite injuries and ineffectiveness from the group's top players — Bryant, Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Willson Contreras, etc.

"We do feel like our answers are internal," Hoyer said. "We need to focus on getting our players to maximize their potential. With that said, I think we're open to business and listening and [the trade market] will probably be our focus more than shopping at the top of the [free-agent] market."

The main areas of focus Epstein's front office is working to address this winter include the lineup and the bullpen. It's easy to see how a trade for an impact reliever can develop given the Cubs' plethora of young position players with potential.

The Cubs would love to add more established, consistent hitters to augment their lineup and help avoid the Jekyll and Hyde nature of hot streaks and slumps brought about by so many young players still finding their way in the big leagues.

But how would a hitter-for-hitter type of deal work out if the Cubs want to truly take their offense to another level?

"There's lots of different ways to do it," Epstein said. "You can trade up the service time clock. You can trade backwards for more years of control. You can trade for an established guy. You can trade for somebody you think is ready to break out. There's no one way to do it. You can trade two comparable players with different shapes if you think it benefits you."

The last idea is particularly intriguing as the Cubs have plenty of hitters in the same high-strikeout/slugging mold.

Epstein and the Cubs teased a potential offseason of trades last winter and wound up retaining all of their young hitters.

But that theory didn't translate to on-field results, as the Cubs led baseball with 40 games of scoring 1 or 0 runs (including Game 163 and the Wild-Card contest). Couple that with the fact the season was over before the sun came up on Oct. 3 and it's safe to say the organization is approaching this winter differently.

"We're gonna be open-minded about trades and we still are," Epstein said. "We may make many trades. We may make a couple small trades. We may make no trades. What we're definitely going to do is hold ourselves to a higher standard with how we perform, how we execute.

"The job is not just accumulating talent. The job is winning baseball games. We have to get our players to perform and we have to be at least one game better than we were last year."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry 'we had Baez ahead of Lindor in the draft'

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry 'we had Baez ahead of Lindor in the draft'

David Kaplan and Luke Stuckmeyer are joined by former Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry.  In part 1, Hendry looks back at some of the players he drafted during his time with the Cubs and getting a deal done with Theo Epstein at the trade deadline in 2004.

00:45 - What he does now for the Yankees

02:30 - How involved is a GM with drafting a player

04:30 - Looking back at the drafting of Javier Baez

05:45 - What made Javier Baez so appealing as a draft pick

09:00 - Josh Donaldson moving to 3rd base after the Cubs drafted him

11:45 - On having to trade prospects at the trade deadline to put the team over the edge for a postseason spot

13:10 - Looking back at the 2004 3-way deadline trade that brought Nomar Garciapara to the Cubs

14:35 - On Willson Contreras' growth in the Cubs organization

16:40 - On going over budget to sign Starlin Castro

17:20 - Carlos Zambrano's growth within the Cubs organization

19:10 - How good could Gleyber Torres be?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: