Cubs

Theo Epstein speaks for all Cubs fans as he sums up the frustrating season to date

Theo Epstein speaks for all Cubs fans as he sums up the frustrating season to date

If you were listening to 670 The Score Thursday morning, nobody would blame you if you confused Theo Epstein for a random Cubs fan.

But that wasn't Bob from Berwyn chatting with David Haugh and Mike Mulligan about the infuriating 2019 season the Cubs have played to date — it was the president of baseball operations for the club, who told it like it is and pulled no punches.

Like usual, Epstein was measured in his response, but his frustration was palpable, as he explained how there are simply no excuses for the way the Cubs have played this year and especially lately. 

He did not point to the recent string of injuries as a reason or use any other potential excuse in the books to explain away the fact that this team woke up Thursday morning tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the second Wild-Card spot. 

When asked which area of the Cubs' game has been inconsistent, Epstein offered his take:

"I just think our failure to play up to our ability, play up to our potential," Epstein said. "We just lost two games in a row to a team that I think we're more talented than (we have a 150-run differential better than), we were just caught from behind by a team that our run differential is over 100 runs better than. But they're playing better ball — the Brewers. And they just beat us five out of seven in huge games and we put them back in the race. 

"It's just the inability to show up and play winning baseball, for the whole to be as good as the sum of the parts. It's not right now. I think our guys said it [Wednesday] night — we're not playing good baseball. We're playing bad baseball. We [have the] second-most errors in the league, most outs on the bases in the league — those things chip away at your margin for error. When you do those things, you can't just roll out and have your talent win games and that's the reality of where we are at this point. Those are some of the attributes that have marked our play this year. 

"The only good news is we are very fortunate that we have a chance with a few weeks left to change that script. If we finally start playing good baseball on a consistent basis and show up every night and win a bunch of games, we can change the script of what the 2019 Cubs will be known for. That's an opportunity that should not be taken lightly because at this point in the season, I don't think any of us associated with this team are going to be proud of what our identity is here for the 2019 Cubs, what we're going for — those things we just talked about. 

"We're the only ones who can get ourselves out of this. All we have to do is play really good baseball for a couple weeks, so we should relish that opportunity to change the script here."

After the Cubs closed the gap in the division to only a 4-game deficit with a win Monday night in Nico Hoerner's debut against the Padres, the Cardinals lost back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday night. Yet the Cubs couldn't draw any closer, losing a pair of games to a Padres team that has been well out of the playoff race for weeks. 

Meanwhile, the Brewers lost Christian Yelich for the season, yet they won both games Tuesday and Wednesday night, moving into a tie with the Cubs for the final playoff spot in the NL. This is the same Brewers team that looked to be falling out of it as the calendar moved into September, but — as Epstein said — the Cubs let them back into it with subpar showings on back-to-back weekends.

This season, the Cubs have essentially had just one good stretch, where they went 22-6 from mid-April to mid-May. But since then, they've gone 52-54 and that includes the addition of Nicholas Castellanos and Craig Kimbrel:

Epstein's 19-minute interview was jam-packed with interesting tidbits from the leader of the Cubs baseball department, but the overall point was apparent — he is frustrated by the way this team has underachieved for over a calendar year now. 

Even in talking about Jason McLeod and his lateral move from overseeing player development and amateur scouting to senior vice president of player personnel, Epstein drove the same point home:

"Really, this is about the organization and getting some fresh perspective and some change," Epstein said. "Clearly, for over a year now, we haven't been getting the most out of our talent. We haven't been getting the most out of our big-league roster. So there's gotta be some small things that we can tweak, adjust, do a little bit differently short-term, medium-term, long-term to try to get more out of that. 

"Jason's a great baseball guy; he's a fresh set of eyes. If he's around the team more, it gives a new perspective that maybe he'll say something that helps a player or helps the front office or helps Joe [Maddon] or a coach just with a new set of eyes.

"We're taking a fresh look at every aspect of the organization."

That sounds like a man looking to make some major shake-ups with the Cubs this winter if they can't turn things around over the next two-and-a-half weeks.

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

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USA TODAY

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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