Cubs

Kyle Schwarber downplays physical transformation, but mental game might be key to resurgence

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AP

Kyle Schwarber downplays physical transformation, but mental game might be key to resurgence

Kyle Schwarber may be 25-30 pounds lighter, but he's still the same ole Schwarber.

Carrying a drink into the media scrum at Cubs Convention Friday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, Schwarber got up in his ill-fitting sport coat looking svelte (he admitted he needs a new wardrobe now).

Yes, he lost weight. A lot of it.

Yes, he was asked about it. A lot.

Like usual, Schwarber hit all the right notes as he spoke in front of cameras for around 10 minutes, explaining he wants to be quicker on the basepaths and in the outfield and would like to become more agile overall as a player.

He also understands getting in The Best Shape of His Life doesn't automatically mean he'll have a better season than 2017.

"I want to be the best player I can be and I think it starts there," he said. "It's not gonna go out there and help me hit .500. You just gotta control what you can control and this is one thing I can control.

"People are making it out to be a big deal. It's just part of the job for me and I just want to keep getting better."

Overall, Schwarber downplayed his physical transformation, saying he wasn't just worried about getting into better baseball shape or to lose weight, instead striving to be healthier overall.

He said several times he was in the best shape of his life at this time last year when he was fully receovered from his devastating knee injury, but the slugging outfielder has taken that "shape" to the next level this winter.

And since it's Schwarber, it's taken off. Because things with Schwarber tend to do that.

But the physical transformation may not be anywhere near as important as the mental evolution Schwarber's gone through after finishing up back-to-back difficult seasons.

"I've seen a lot of stuff, I guess, the last couple years with just the injury and I got sent down to Triple-A," Schwarber said. "I have to work some things out. I guess I wouldn't take anything back from the last couple years.

"Obviously it wasn't where I wanted to be, but I think it's only going to be beneficial moving forward."

Schwarber isn't spending his offseason training his brain all that much differently ithan he has n the past. He's not doing yoga like Kyle Hendricks or spending time meditating.

But he is visualizing things when he's in the cage and you better believe he has a renewed hunger after the roller coaster career he's had already in just the first three seasons. He's seen it all now and can build off that experience moving forward.

This is the same guy who has had stories told about his mental strength and attitude at Cubs Convention the last couple years. His intestinal fortitude has now become legendary in Cubdom.

At this annual get-together a year ago, Cubs personnel could not stop talking about Schwarber. Everybody seemed to have their own great story and it was retold several times how he walked into the meeting with Theo Epstein's front office before the MLB Draft and won everybody over with his desire to prove doubters wrong. There were also plenty of stories about how he made that ridiculous return from a completely torn knee to play World Series hero.

Now, after a season in which he struggled to keep his batting average over .200, turned into a part-time player and was sent down to the minor leagues to work on his swing, he's still dominating the headlines. 

And once again, he's found a way to impress the Cubs front office.

"We were actually getting ready to ask him to [lose some weight] and to have some goals in mind and then he came to see us before we actually had a chance to meet with him and he laid out his goals for the offseason and how he was going to accomplish them," Epstein said. 

"Those are exactly what we had in mind, and we're really supportive of his efforts. We've talked about some of these things in the past: getting a little more flexible, getting in a bit more shape would allow him to be more effective in the outfield.

"And sometimes it takes - as he said - a whole lifestyle change, and you can't be forced into that. That has to come when you're ready for it. And he is really putting everything into this lifestyle change: the way he eats, the way he sleeps, the way he trains, the way he lives his life day to day.

"It's the type of changes that can allow you to have a really long career, maxmimize your career. So we're happy for him and excited to see what happens next."

The list of Cubs players eligible for the Hall of Fame this year will make you feel so old

The list of Cubs players eligible for the Hall of Fame this year will make you feel so old

This morning, Major League Baseball announced the 2019 Hall of Fame ballot, and that sound you hear is the overwhelming rush of Cubs fans nostalgia:

Juan Pierre! Ted Lilly! Pierre spent three of his 14 seasons in Chicago, spending one season (2006) with the Cubs and two (2010-2011) with the White Sox. Lilly pitched for the Cubs from 2007-2010. The two join Sammy Sosa, Fred McGrith (a stretch) and Manny Ramirez (a STRETCH) as the Cubs' representation on the ballot. 

Speaking of Ted Lilly, former Cubs GM Jim Hendry was recently on the Cubs Talk podcast, where he talked about signing Lily from his hospital bed. It's worth checking out! 

Jim Hendry recounts the time the Cubs nearly signed Jim Thome in free agency

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AP

Jim Hendry recounts the time the Cubs nearly signed Jim Thome in free agency

Could you imagine Jim Thome wearing a Cubs uniform?

What about Raul Ibanez? Pudge Rodriguez?

Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry stopped by the CubsTalk Podcast recently with David Kaplan and Luke Stuckmeyer and the current New York Yankees executive dropped a couple of big names when asked who he wished he could've signed.

The most notable player was Jim Thome, a Hall of Famer revered by White Sox fans for his time on the South Side.

Thome was a free agent in the winter before the 2003 season and according to Hendry, the Cubs would've signed him if not for Hee Seop Choi.

"Oh yeah," Hendry said. "Well Jim and I were old friends — for how well you could be. I mean, he grew up in Illinois and I had gotten to know him over the years. Love Jim Thome. And Jim Thome, I'm convinced today, if we didn't have [Choi], would've been a Cub. ... I remember having a couple chats with Jim over the years and I know part of him would've really wanted to."

Hindsight is 20-20 so it's funny to look back and think Choi — a failed prospect who was out of the majors before his 27th birthday — was the reason the Cubs couldn't get one of the greatest sluggers of the decade. But at the time, Choi was looked at as a potential star — a 23-year-old ranked by Baseball America as the No. 22 prospect in the game.

And like Hendry said, neither Choi nor Thome could play anywhere else.

Thome ultimately signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and would've made a major difference on the 2003 Cubs (he led the NL with 47 homers and drove in 131 runs with a .958 OPS), but it all worked out pretty OK for the Cubs. The next offseason, Hendry traded Choi to the Marlins for Derrek Lee and the big first baseman wound up having a fantastic career with the Cubs.

"Obviously Derrek played great for us and if it weren't for Albert Pujols, Derrek would've been MVP once or twice," Hendry said. "But yeah, who wouldn't have wanted Jimmy? If it was an American League team, I would feel comfortable saying that could've happened."

Thome played for the Phillies for three years before being traded to the White Sox, where he became an instant fan favorite. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Among the other moves that he wished he could've pulled off, Hendry — who served as the Cubs GM from July 2002 until August 2011 (shortly before Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over) — threw out a 2008 trade for Raul Ibanez that fell through.

The veteran outfielder/DH was already 36 in 2008, but hit .293 with an .837 OPS, 23 homers and 110 RBI in 162 games for the Mariners. Part of the issue, Hendry said, was the crowded outfield the Cubs already had at the time — including Alfonso Soriano, Jim Edmonds and Kosuke Fukudome.

The Cubs led the league in runs scored that year en route to 97 wins but they failed to win a single postseason game, scoring only 6 runs against the Dodgers in a three-game NLDS sweep. L.A. needed only 7 pitchers in that series - all of whom were right-handed - while the Cubs' top 6 hitters were all right-handed as well, illustrating the major problem in Hendry's eyes.

Hendry also confirmed the Cubs were never close to signing Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez prior to the 2003 season, but did say the Hall of Fame catcher came to Wrigley Field for lunch and a meeting (though the two sides never even exchanged numbers).

Rodriguez ultimately signed with the Florida Marlins...who came within five outs of being eliminated by the Cubs in the NLCS only to rally back to win the series and then claim a championship over the Yankees.

But you knew that already...