Bulls

Kaplan: Trading Castro should be on the table

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Kaplan: Trading Castro should be on the table

With the First-Year Player Draft in Major League Baseball scheduled for Monday, the Chicago Cubs have a chance to add impact players to a fairly weak farm system as they own four of the first 67 selections. The draft is not considered exceptionally strong in position players, but pitching does have solid depth throughout the draft and the Cubs are most definitely in the market for power arms.

With Jason McLeod now in charge of the Cubs scouting department and Tim Wilken -- one of the best evaluators in the game -- crisscrossing the country to see all of the top players, the Cubs have a chance to restock a system that is woefully short on impact players who can play a prominent role in the core of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyers rebuilding plan.

However, while the draft is the lifeblood of the system, the Cubs also have an opportunity to turn a down 2012 season at the major-league level into a major component of their organizational overhaul.

That opportunity will take tremendous guts to execute because it will require completely gutting the major league team of most anything of value. That includes star shortstop Starlin Castro, who is one of the better young hitters in the game, but is also a question mark defensively and does not have a plate approach that is in line with Epsteins vision for how the game should be played.

What I am in favor of is a systematic dismantling of the big-league team that trades anything of value for players that embrace the EpsteinHoyer philosophy and replacing those parts with young prospects that the Cubs can build with and grow with.

Will it upset the fan base to trade Starlin Castro? Absolutely. However, that doesnt mean it is the wrong decision if it makes you a better team down the road. After all, isnt that what the Cubs are trying to build towards?

Castro is a wonderfully talented player who should be one of the games best hitters for the next 15 years. He is a solid athlete and he will probably be a perennial all-star for the next decade or more. And that is why the Cubs must do all they can to see what the market will bring for a player of his abilities.

Why not see if a contender will overpay to add his bat? What about a team that is in serious need of a star to excite their fan base? One has to believe that Castro would summon quite a haul if he were traded and that haul could be far more valuable to the Cubs than what he currently brings to a team going nowhere in 2012.

The same goes for Matt Garza, who is a rare commodity in the game. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff and he is not saddled with a long term contract that limits who can afford him. The Cubs control his rights for another full season and he could be the piece that a contender needs to add to their rotation to put them over the top.

Yes, the Cubs do need pitching and Garza is a fine piece to a rotation. But what could the Cubs add in the right deal to the right team? They must explore all of their options to see what they can get back in a trade.

Ryan Dempster is another attractive trade piece because he is a solid starter and he has no long-term contract to deal with. He is a free agent after this season, so a contender can acquire him and then decide if he is worth the investment going forward. He is also one of the best clubhouse guys in the game so he can make an impact on a contender in a variety of ways which increases his trade value.

Other pieces that the Cubs have that could interest a contender include Jeff Baker whose versatility makes him highly valuable to a contending team. He can play first, second, third or the corner outfield spots and he is a solid pinch hitter and also has a little bit of power in his bat.

What about Geovany Soto, who is currently rehabbing an injured knee but is expected back on the roster soon? There are a number of teams that need catching help and if the Cubs are willing to pay some of his remaining salary, there should be some teams willing to trade for him.

Is Soto the Cubs catcher of the future? Absolutely not. He is questionable at calling a game and his offense is mediocre at best. The fact that the Cubs are paying him 4.3 million speaks to how ridiculous salaries are in the game.

I would much rather see Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger share the catching duties every day for the rest of the season so that the organization knows what they have for the future. If one of them can assume the role of starter, then that is one less problem area that the Cubs need to address. If not, then it is better to find out now. Soto, though, could net something in a trade as some contenders, such as the Washington Nationals that are dealing with injuries and could use a veteran presence for the rest of the season.

There should be no untouchables on this roster and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer should explore every possible deal that moves veterans who will not be a part of the future and moves salary off of the books so that the Cubs have some flexibility in the free agent market next winter. That means trading some popular names who the fanbase likes. But Epstein and Hoyer cannot worry about upsetting the fan base and hanging on to players who are not in their long term plans.

So who would I keep that is on the major league roster?

Jeff Samardzija is the Cubs biggest surprise of the season as he has shown that he can be a major part of the rotation for a long time to come. He is a power pitcher who has transformed himself from thrower to a pitcher who really seems to understand what it takes to be a consistent winner in the big leagues. He is also a solid guy who is well liked in the clubhouse and he should be a fixture on the North Side for the next several years. Beyond that, there is nothing else left that I wouldnt trade in the right deal.

This season has to be about two things and that is clearing out players who dont figure to be a part of the future and finding out exactly what is on the roster that can fill a need long term. Thats it.

The 2012 Chicago Cubs have no chance of winning consistently and no chance of turning around a rough start to their season.

But none of that matters. All that does matter is using this season as a lab experiment to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and the big league club. Anything other than that is a waste of a season that offers that opportunity. And these types of opportunities dont come along very often.

All in all, there is not much on the current roster that looks like it will be a lock to be here when the rebuild turns from also-ran to contender status in 2014 or 2015. That means the Cubs front office has to get as much as they can for just about anyone on the roster despite how painful it may be in the short term to the fan base and ultimately attendance and perception.

Epstein has been given a rare opportunity in sports by having an owner who is committed to the long-term plan and is willing to also show the patience to let it play out. He and Jed Hoyer cannot squander this opportunity no matter how loud the protestations get from the fans and the media.

In the end, if they build a consistent run of high-level success, the pains of 2012-14 will be a distant memory. And that is all that matters.

With revamped roster, Bulls begin quest for playoffs on road vs. Hornets

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USA Today

With revamped roster, Bulls begin quest for playoffs on road vs. Hornets

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- On April 28, 2017, the Celtics ended the Bulls’ lone season of what Rajon Rondo brilliantly called “The Three Alphas,” closing out the first-round playoff series in six games.

As the Bulls begin their 54th season in franchise history Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C., only Denzel Valentine and Cristiano Felicio remain from that roster.

When John Paxson first succeeded Jerry Krause in April 2003, he took two years to similarly flip the roster, keeping only Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry.

This makeover was Paxson’s doing, beginning with the June 2017 trade of Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves. His last complete overhaul produced 10 playoff appearances in 11 seasons, albeit with only five series victories in that span.

Wednesday night begins the quest for sustained success.

“We have revamped this roster in a big way and a way in that we can look at this team and we see real talent,” Paxson said back on the team’s media day in late September. “We see a versatile roster. We see depth on this roster. We see some leadership on this roster which we haven’t had.

“And because of that our goals this year are really simple. First and foremost, we want to compete at a high, high level. And when you compete at a high level, you have an ability to be a playoff-caliber team. And we set that as a goal. (Coach) Jim (Boylen) talks about it. He’s not afraid of it. And our guys through their work have shown us that they want to make that commitment. So we feel good about that.”

There’s plenty to feel good about during a preseason. That’s when each team’s regular-season record is unblemished. The tests start for real against the Hornets, followed by Friday’s visit to Memphis.

Four of the Bulls’ first five games are on the road but all are against teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs last season. Saturday’s home opener is against the defending NBA champion Raptors, who defeated the Pelicans in overtime Tuesday night in their first game since Kawhi Leonard left for the Clippers.

Plenty has to go right for the Bulls to make the jump from 22 victories to the playoffs. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen need to step towards stardom. Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young need to continue being the low-maintenance complementary pieces they've shown to be during their careers. Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. need to stay healthy. Coby White and Kris Dunn need to contribute off the bench.

Still, the bottom portion of the Eastern Conference playoff picture is wide open. The Bulls know this. It’s why Boylen indeed gave voice to the goal on that same September media day.

“Our goals for the season are to make the playoffs,” Boylen said then. “And every day to prepare like we’re a playoff team. Every day to work like we’re a playoff-bound team. I’m excited for that. I think that’s the only way to do it. There’s no way that we were going to stand up here and say, ‘Hey, I hope we can win 10 more games or we hope we can be better.’ We want to get to the mountain top.’’

The games count for real starting Wednesday. It’s time to start climbing.

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

Source: Cubs set to hire David Ross as new manager

According to David Kaplan, the Cubs have made their decision on a new manager. And to no surprise, they've landed on David Ross.

Ross was widely speculated as the heir apparent to Joe Maddon and that's exactly how the situation has played out. The team also interviewed current bench coach Mark Loretta, first-base coach Will Venable and former Cubs player and Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

Ross retired after the 2016 season and has spent the last three seasons working in a special assistant role in Theo Epstein's front office while also serving as an MLB analyst/broadcaster for ESPN. He has not coached or managed at any level. 

During his two years as a player with the Cubs, Ross was an integral part of changing the culture inside the clubhouse and is revered as a legendary leader to all the young players that came up and helped end the 108-year championship drought. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant affectionately dubbed him "Grandpa Rossy" and he rode that popularity on the shoulders of his teammates in a Rudy-esque celebration after Game 7 and then a stint on "Dancing with the Stars." Every time he is shown on the video board at Wrigley Field, it elicits a deafening cheer from Cubs fans.

Even three years since he last donned the uniform, Ross' impact remains and the Cubs have been searching for the type of clubhouse leadership he provided. Earlier this season, Javy Baez brought up Ross unprompted, mentioning advice from his former teammate that he still thinks about on a daily basis.

The question was never really if and more about when Ross was going to get a chance to manage the Cubs in the future. Just last fall, he was brought up as a potential option to replace Brandon Hyde as Maddon's bench coach, but Ross still wanted to spend time with family in retirement and wasn't yet ready to commit to the grind of a long season. 

Still, Epstein mentioned at the GM Meetings last November that he and the front office were pushing Ross to be around the team more in 2019. GM Jed Hoyer followed that up at the Winter Meetings in December talking about how much of an impact Ross has on these players and the level of trust that's already inherent within this group.

Apparently, Ross is now willing and able to put in the 7-to-8 month time commitment to step in as the Cubs' new manager. When it was officially announced Maddon would not be returning, Ross was on ESPN's Baseball Tonight and expressed interest in the job and Epstein confirmed the next day Ross was on the team's list of managerial candidates.

Epstein mentioned he would prefer hiring a manager with big-league experience and the main theme of his end-of-season press conference was all about change, not hanging their hats on 2016 and climbing out of the "winner's trap." But they still opted for Ross as the organization's new field general.

"I always have greater comfort level hiring for roles in which the person has done the role before, especially with manager," Epstein said on the final day of September. "I think there are ways for that to be overcome. There’s a lot of different ways to get experience in this game. Beliefs, skills, personal attributes, those can outweigh a lack of experience, but experience certainly helps.

“David Ross has a lot of great things going for him, I would say. His connection to the players on this team, and especially his connection to the 2016 team, are not necessarily assets that distinguish him. Those are not necessarily things that are gonna be important to us.

“I think Rossy is a really attractive candidate, and he’s gonna be evaluated on the merits, what he can bring to the table as a major league manager given his skills, given his experiences, given his world-view, given what he knows about winning, all those things.”

We now know how that evaluation process has played out.

The question now becomes — how would the Cubs players handle Ross as a manager, moving from friend and teammate to boss? 

We'll find out in the coming months.