For Theo Epstein and the Cubs, it's time to ask the right questions

For Theo Epstein and the Cubs, it's time to ask the right questions

PITTSBURGH — If there's any positive to this last week for the Cubs, it might be that everything is out in the open.

All the weaknesses, all the flaws — there's no way to sugarcoat it or turn a blind eye to it anymore.

The Cubs are what their record and their position in the standings say they are — a third-place team that is will be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention before the final weekend of the regular season.

That may not make this seven-game losing streak or the brutally frustrating series against the Cardinals any easier to stomach for Cubs fans, but it's the reality of the situation.

The next move is for Theo Epstein and Co. to try to learn and grow from it, as he said Wednesday evening in the visiting dugout at PNC Park.

"When you have the best-possible outcome and you overcome a lot of things and do some transcendent things, I think you grow from that, because you do something you haven't done before and accomplish things," Epstein said. "The middle-of-the-road outcome, you can always tell yourself whatever story you want to hear. It's a gray area. Last year, we had some issues, but we won 95 games, so you try to get to the bottom of some issues, but there's always a, 'Yeah, but we won 95 games.'

"But, when you have the worst-possible outcome like we've had recently, it reveals everything. And I think, as painful as that can be, that also creates a real opportunity for everyone to learn from it and grow. I just flew in today and I'll be with the team the rest of the trip. Just walking through the clubhouse, even for five minutes, three players come up to me and we started talking about things and they kept asking, 'What can I do different? How can we make sure this doesn't happen again?' 

"Those are the right questions for all of us, me included, the whole organization. I think it's important, if you're going to suffer through something like this, to be really determined, really dedicated to making sure that you grow from it, learn from it, and something good happens."

This will be the first time since 2014 in which the Cubs don't go to the postseason. Playing in October is the only big-league life guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras have ever known.

It ultimately doesn't matter that the Cubs lost six straight games at home by only 7 total runs. They were still losses.

It doesn't matter if the Cubs finish the season with a run differential north of +100 because they won't be going to the playoffs.

"When you go through things like this, the extreme nature of what's happened can make things clear or make things unavoidable," Epstein said. "You can't spin a narrative for yourself and avoid facing some realities. So, I think there are important things that we need to examine and fix in every aspect of our operation. I think that's the mindset we're all going to take."

So how do the Cubs go about fixing the issues at hand? 

Epstein wasn't ready to go into that just yet, but promised a more thorough evaluation of the 2019 Cubs after the season officially ends Sunday afternoon. 

Still, he and the front office might not have all the answers right away. If they did, they would've fixed things after 2018, when they finished "one game short" and vowed to come out in 2019 with a greater sense of urgency from Day 1.

"When you're heavily invested in something and — in my case — responsible for something, when it goes well and you win and a lot of people get something out of that and are happy about that, it's really uplifting and rewarding," Epstein said. "And when you're invested in something and — in my case — responsible for something, and you don't win, there is extra weight. There is burden, because you feel like you've let everybody down. So, it becomes really painful."

One such change figures to be with on-field leadership, as Joe Maddon's contract is up after this season and it's widely speculated the Cubs will move on from him and bring a new manager into the fold. 

It's certainly not fair to put it all on Maddon's shoulders. Every aspect of the organization deserves blame for how this campaign has played out. But maybe it's the right time for both sides to part ways and that would definitely qualify as change for the organization, though there's absolutely no guarantee it would help things.

At the end of the day, this roster needs work to fill some of the holes that hampered the team this season — from leadoff hitter to lack of second base production to bullpen pieces that can hold late leads consistently.

Even if the Cubs made the postseason this fall, the roster was always going to dominate Epstein's focus this winter, with a large group of names set to become free agents (Ben Zobrist, Nicholas Castellanos, Cole Hamels, etc.) and the team holding options on several more players (Jose Quintana, David Phelps, etc.).

The positive news is the Cubs have a lot of core pieces still under team control and they will definitely head into 2020 with high expectations once again.

"Absolutely, the goal is to win a championship next year," Epstein said. "One-hundred percent. That's what this organization's about and I think the thing that gets you excited — even in the face of this adversity — is waking up and trying to build the next championship Cubs team. 

"We want that to be as soon as possible. We have to build the next championship Cubs team."

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Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

In the wake of the cheating allegations surrounding the Houston Astros, multiple parties have weighed in with their takes on the situation, and this includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish. He stated that this past season, he had noticed "weird behavior" from batters. Bleacher Nation then tweeted out a video showing Darvish stepping off the mound in a matchup against Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers, stating that he stepped off the mound because Yelich's "eyes move first...I'm not sure what he is trying to do."

Darvish then went on to elaborate that he wasn't trying to accuse the Brewers of stealing signs, rather that he was just stating what he had noticed in terms of batter behavior. Darvish made a minor grammar mistake, saying "your" instead of "you're" and when he responded to try to clarify that, it may have accidentally caused more confusion, as some mistakenly thought he was saying that Yelich indeed was stealing signs, but this was not the case.

That didn't stop Yelich from sounding off on Darvish with quite a harsh response, a response that was so harsh that some were shocked at the nature of it.

MLB free agent Josh Donaldson chimed in, humorously stating that he could definitely  use some help hitting off of Darvish and jokingly asked for what tips Yelich might have. 

Darvish then retweeted a few tweets that illustrated the point he was trying to make. 

Darvish also responded to Donaldson, saying that he doesn't think the third baseman needs any help hitting off of him either. 

At the end of the Darvish seems to be in a good place, and from his Twitter interactions, it is clear that he was not as upset or offended over the situation as Yelich was. 

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How the Cubs can get a Javier Báez deal done now


How the Cubs can get a Javier Báez deal done now

With the MLB GM Meetings now over, the Cubs will turn their attention to seeing how their fact-finding mission will influence their offseason makeover of the entire organization.

As Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday, the Cubs and Báez’s camp have begun negotiating a long-term contract extension. While many have speculated that Báez could command a massive salary that would rank among the top of MLB in terms of the total value, the Cubs do have some leverage. Báez still has two more years of club control, which should help to suppress the contract’s total value.

Put yourself in Báez’s shoes. If the Cubs offered you a six-year deal, would you do it? If you say yes, you have lifetime security for you and generations of the Báez family. However, you could be leaving money on the table because you would never reach free agency in the prime of your career.

Rejecting an offer of that size means you would have to perform at a level among the best players in all of baseball for two more seasons, and you would have to avoid serious injury as well. Báez plays with a flair and a passion that also puts his body in harm’s way on a daily basis.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, 27, is two months older than Báez and the highest paid shortstop in baseball at $20 million per season. He signed a six-year, $120 million contract in 2019, which runs through the 2026 season.

Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor — who was selected No. 8 overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, one spot before Báez — will also be a free agent after the 2021 season. He made $10.55 million in 2019 and is projected to make $16.7 million in 2020.

Báez is projected to make $9.3 million.

So, would Báez accept a deal that would protect him against injury and set him up with lifetime security, knowing that with two more seasons before free agency he would potentially leave significant money on the table?

There could be three elite shortstops on the free agent market after the 2021 season: Báez, Lindor and Trevor Story of the Rockies. This may affect what each guy could make on the open market and what they might be willing to accept in a deal now. 

Add in the fact that there will be a new MLB collective bargaining agreement by the time those three stars hit the market, and there should be some impetus for them to get a deal done now. Multiple MLB front office sources expect Lindor to be dealt before he reaches free agency and some of those same sources believe Story could be traded before then as well.

What about a deal that helps the Cubs achieve payroll flexibility in 2020 and 2021 and locks Báez in long-term?

A former high-ranking MLB executive suggested a deal structure that pays Báez $10 million in 2020, $16 million in 2021, plus six additional years at an average annual value of $23 million. That would bring the total value of the contract to $164 million.

Add in two club options for an additional two seasons at $30 million each and it allows Báez to have the largest contract of all active shortstops in MLB. Total value of the deal: $224 million; guaranteed value of the deal: $164 million.

A deal structured like that gives the Cubs certainty with one of their most talented and marketable players and protects Báez from serious injury for the rest of his career.

Would he sign a deal structured like that? I know I would. There is no greater feeling in the world than long-term financial security. A deal structured like this is a win-win for both sides.

If the Cubs won’t give Báez a deal in this ballpark, then they have to think about moving him now. You can’t allow a player of his magnitude to reach free agency and you absolutely cannot lose him to another team. He is on a potential Hall of Fame track and he is one of the most charismatic players in all of professional sports.

This deal has to get done.

If the Cubs can sign Báez for less than the aforementioned deal, then they should consider themselves very lucky.

Either way, get a deal done. Javy Báez has to be priority No. 1.

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