Bears

As Epstein reshapes Cubs, Barney hopes to be building block

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As Epstein reshapes Cubs, Barney hopes to be building block

During his Boston media tour before the Red Sox visited Wrigley Field last month, Theo Epstein mentioned several times that they liked to kick around an idea in the front office.

What if we rolled out an entire lineup of homegrown players?

But that was a fantasy world, because the Red Sox had to feed the monster and sell tickets to Fenway Park and boost television ratings on NESN. Epstein and his old bosses on Yawkey Way have gone round and round subtly trying to shift blame for those bad free agent contracts.

Long before Epstein came to the North Side as president of baseball operations, Darwin Barney played for Ryne Sandberg in the minors and talked about the Cubs doing things a certain way.

When the Cubs (33-52) go back to work on Friday at Wrigley Field against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the entire focus will be on who stays and who goes.

Barney and Tyler Colvin used to talk often about what it would be like to win big here. Barney still stays in touch with Colvin, the former first-round pick traded to the Colorado Rockies last winter in the Ian Stewart deal, one of the first moves of the Epstein administration.

Colvin went into the All-Star break as one of the hottest hitters in baseball, with five of his 13 homers coming in July. Hes batting .305 with a .961 OPS.

Im really happy for him, Barney said. Hopefully, hes found his niche. You put him in a lineup every day, hes going to produce for you. A change of scenery is kind of what he needed. Its a great place to hit over there.

Barney wasnt part of the Three Cs marketing campaign leading into the 2011 season. Only All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro remains after Andrew Cashner was sent to the San Diego Padres in the Anthony Rizzo trade.

Colvin never sought out the attention. Lou Piniella had trouble finding regular playing time for him (just ask Steve Stone), and so did Mike Quade. A shattered bat nearly went through his heart near the end of the 2010 season, and he looked lost at the plate last year.

He was all-in with the Cubs, man, Barney said. Thats the thing I loved about Colvin. For him, it was about winning.

Barney has laughed when hes seen his name on MLBTradeRumors.com. He doesnt exactly grind out at-bats (.304 on-base percentage), or hit for power (.666 OPS), but hes an elite defender at second base and a potential team leader.

Its very hard to feel comfortable in this game, Barney said. I feel like Ive underachieved in my production offensively. I feel like I can be better.

Im pleased with the way Ive played defensively, but in no way am I pleased with the results of the team. Thats what its all about. Coming into this year, I really, really thought we were going to contend, and I think we all feel (that) weve underachieved. Theres a lot of work to do.

Manager Dale Sveum an old hitting coach the front office listens to while evaluating players thinks Barney can be a very productive offensive player with a few adjustments and says theres still room to grow.

At a time when the Cubs are implementing their advance scouting system, Barney has studied the spray charts and helped make sure the shifts put them in the right position.

Factor in the diving plays to his left and his right and the sprints into the outfield, the Cubs should feel good up the middle for years to come with Castro and Barney.

The defense hes had all season long has been incredible, Sveum said. Its hard to believe that theres been a better second baseman in baseball defensively than Barney.

(This is) a guy that goes out there every single day to try to be a Gold Glover.

There are also the intangibles Barney brings as someone who helped Oregon State University win two College World Series titles. At the age of 26, hes already married with two kids. He reads books in the clubhouse. Hes managed to stayed grounded playing inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl.

This games not easy, Barney said. You got to find a way to separate this and the rest of your life. Theres a lot of times when this is all that you feel you are. (Baseballs) a lifestyle. Thats why people fall in love with it.

Keeping your sanity is just one of those things where you respect the game and you know how hard the game is.

Thats the hardest thing to do, especially in Chicago, to keep your head level when its so competitive and everybody knows that winnings what its all about.

For all the demands, distractions and uncertainty, theres still the chance to make history. That helped pull Epstein to Clark and Addison. Barney remembered talking about this with catcher Steve Clevenger.

Theres no better place to be, Barney said. Can you believe that we have the ability to do something amazing in sports here, if we were to win a championship? You dont have that anywhere else.

This is one of those places where every year we have an opportunity to do something special. Were blessed to be here and have that opportunity. Now lets make it happen.

Bears shut out (again) in NFL Network players’ poll naming Top 100 players of 2018

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USA TODAY

Bears shut out (again) in NFL Network players’ poll naming Top 100 players of 2018

No NFL season is without its snubs – Pro Bowl omissions, (insert job)-of-the-year head-scratchers, endless “rankings” of units and individuals based on some sort of logic or arcane analyses that challenge credulity.

But the Bears have received a group snub for the second straight year, something that, even discounting personality factors, can be considered a cause for concern, and escalating concern at that.

No Bear is among the Top 100 NFL players as voted on by those NFL players, in the results of the annual poll by NFL Network/NFL.com. The final 10-1 selections air Monday night on NFL Network, but any suspense involves only whether Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is the players’ choice for the No. 1 player in their game, or how the Bears can possibly match up with the L.A. Rams this season and beyond with three in the top 38 and all young (Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, Jared Goff).

This year’s blanking follows a shutout in last year’s poll, which represented returns from more than 900 players. This year the number was more than 1,100, making the rankings more than simply the opinion of an individual or even small group.

Making them more disquieting from a Bears perspective is the fact that this marks a de facto third consecutive year that the Bears approach a season without a player whose peers rate him among the top 5 percent in the game. Because the 2016 survey (coming out of the 2015 season) listed running back Matt Forte (No. 90) as the lone Bear, and he was on his way to the New York Jets by the time his number was called.

Rankings based on opinions can skew strangely. Akiem Hicks’ absence from the top 100 is more puzzling than his finishing out of the Pro Bowl money. Same with Eddie Goldman, maybe even Leonard Floyd, to name a few.

But they aren’t there yet. And whether the Bears are bottom-third in pass protection, Nick Kwiatkoski is top-five inside linebacker, or who has a high rating in Madden ’19 can all be classed as cred-lite.

Not so easily dismissed when the evaluation is the aggregate take of nearly two-thirds of the league.

More to the concerning side, some correlation may be drawn between that index of star power and team performance, either cause or effect, or both. The last time the Bears had more than Forte representing them in the Top 100 was 2014, meaning coming off the 2013 season. That Top-100 included Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Tim Jennings and Forte – from the last Bears team (8-8) to win more than six games in a season.

Enough fingers were pointed at Marc Trestman and then John Fox for what happened on the field. But the New York Giants (2) and Houston Texans (4) had fewer wins than the Bears last season but still were represented on the players’ honor roll.

“I need to point the finger at myself as well,” GM Ryan Pace said in the wake of firing Fox. “Our record is a reflection on me as well. But I feel good about where we’re at right now. I feel much better about where we’re at right now than at this time last year and that starts with the quarterback position. We have a 23-year-old quarterback that we feel very good about that we need to build around. We need to build upon that core and fortunately we have the resources to do that.”

One of Pace’s mandates has been to bring Bears talent to a level competitive with at least the NFC North. The more than 1,100 players canvassed don’t think it’s happening: The Bears are one of only four teams (plus Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and the Jets) not represented in the top 100, while Detroit (2), Green Bay (7) and Minnesota (5) have multiple selections. Even the 0-16 Cleveland Browns boast a pair – wide receiver Jarvis Landry, running back Carlos Hyde) by virtue of their offseason moves.

Getting down to Bears cases

The Bears may be convinced that Mitch Trubisky is a franchise quarterback, but his 12 starts apparently didn’t show enough for his peers to vote him into elite status. Deshaun Watson (No. 50, six starts) and Jimmy Garoppolo (No. 90, five starts) fared better in the balloting.

Trubisky goes into 2018 as the fourth-best quarterback in a four-quarterback NFC North. Player voting pretty much confirms that, leaving him off a list that includes Kirk Cousins in Minnesota (No. 94), Matthew Stafford in Detroit (No. 31) and Rodgers (top 10). And Trubisky knows he’s got some catching up to do.

“I just feel like I know what to expect more on a day-to-day basis,” he said during minicamp. “What I need to do, how I can make my teammates' job easier — and just continue to set goals. Weekly goals, short-term goals, continue to meet those goals, keep raising the bar and get better each and every single day.”

Jeffery and Marshall are Bears no longer, but Allen Robinson is, which Pace has wagered heavily will be a very good thing. Robinson’s peers in the past have agreed: Robinson was pegged at No. 31 in 2016, coming in off his 80-1,400-14 season of 2015. He came back to produce 73-883-6 in 2016 but finished off the list, perhaps not entirely surprising after his Jaguars went 3-13 in 2016. The Bears are gambling that Robinson will return to his elite form from last year’s torn ACL; the rest of the NFL has effectively said “prove it.”

Jordan Howard’s fit in the offense of Matt Nagy/Mark Helfrich has been and will be debated until he proves himself conclusively as a receiver. And Howard and Tarik Cohen may be popular among rankers of backfields.

But not yet with their peers. Neither made the players’ list, while New Orleans placed Alvin Kamara No. 20 and Mark Ingram 43rd among the top six running backs, which include Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt.

Floyd, Goldman and Hicks? Too many Pro Bowl selections ahead of them, at least at this point.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Reacting to Round 1 of NHL Draft

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Reacting to Round 1 of NHL Draft

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Round 1 of the 2018 NHL Draft.

They discuss the pair of puck-carrying defensemen that the Blackhawks selected on Friday, Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin. When can we expect to see these first-round picks play in the NHL?

Boyle also goes 1-on-1 with Boqvist and Beaudin. The guys spoke with Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville on Friday.

The guys also share their biggest takeaways from those interviews, which includes your daily Corey Crawford update and Quenneville appeared excited that the team has plenty of cap space to spend in free agency.

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