Cubs

Penn State's new coach has some big shoes to fill

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Penn State's new coach has some big shoes to fill

From Comcast SportsNet

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -- New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien has agreed to become Penn State's first new head football coach in nearly a half-century. Two people in the NFL with knowledge of the search told The Associated Press on Friday that O'Brien has told them he plans to replace fired coach Joe Paterno. Another person told the AP terms and details still needed to be set, that nothing was official and there was no signed contract. The persons spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the search. ESPN, citing unnamed sources, first reported Thursday night an official announcement would be made Saturday, and that O'Brien would remain with the Patriots as an assistant through the postseason. Two people have told the AP the report was credible. Division I's winningest coach with 409 victories, Paterno was fired Nov. 9 by university trustees following 46 seasons in the aftermath of child sex abuse charges against retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. O'Brien has no apparent ties to Penn State and a proud program tarnished by a scandal that also led to the departure of school President Graham Spanier. Penn State coaches had not received any word on O'Brien or anything else related to the two-month long search as of Friday morning. A Patriots spokesman declined comment Thursday night. Messages left Friday for Penn State spokesmen were not immediately returned. Penn State athletics spokesman Jeff Nelson on Thursday night cited department policy to not comment on reports to "protect the integrity of the search." O'Brien interviewed on Thursday, his agent said. Joe Linta told The Associated Press, earlier Thursday, that O'Brien was "flattered by the interest." This was O'Brien's first year coordinating the Patriots' high-scoring offense, but he has also coached star quarterback Tom Brady since 2009 and spent 2008 coaching receivers. O'Brien recently was in the spotlight when he and Brady got into a heated argument, shown on national television, after Brady threw an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter of the Patriots' 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins on Dec. 11. "He's been a great coach and friend. We have a great relationship; probably a very unique relationship in that we communicate all the time," Brady said Sunday about O'Brien. "I always enjoy working with him and he's done an incredible job with this team and this offense." The Patriots are off this week, and will host a divisional round playoff game next weekend. They went 13-3 this season, won the AFC East championship going away, and secured the conference's No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs. New England closed the regular season on an eight-game winning streak, and scored 513 points, the most in the AFC. Brady threw for 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns, while being picked off just 12 times. "I don't know what's going to happen," Brady said when asked if he would miss O'Brien's coaching. "I hope he's here for a long time and I told him that, too." But the selection of a coach without Penn State ties may not sit well with several prominent former players or some alumni. Former standout linebackers LaVar Arrington and Brandon Short had organized a petition in support of interim coach Tom Bradley's candidacy. Short said the petition only included about 100 names after he was informed by a member of Penn State's search committee it was enough to sway their opinions. He said he planned to meet with Acting Athletic Director David Joyner on Friday in a meeting scheduled before reports began to surface about O'Brien. He would consider cutting ties with his alma mater if the O'Brien reports were true, and he said some former players -- operating independently of the official Football Letterman Club for football alumni -- might consider a lawsuit that would prevent the school from using their likenesses or images in the future. Now an investment banker in New York, Short played seven seasons with the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers. He called Bradley the best candidate for the job. "There are thousands of other players who will tell you the same thing. The administration is under the belief that if they hire an NFL coach, or someone flashy, that they will fill seats," Short said in phone interview Thursday. "As an NFL player I can tell you that there is a big difference between developing young men and recruiting, then the combine and free agency. It's two different universes." D.J. Dozier, a running back on the 1986 title team, said Thursday the search committee should poll current and former players and high school coaches in the region. He planned to sign the petition if more signatures were taken. "Give that person and that staff a chance. I believe the current staff has done a good job," Dozier said. "Unless there's politics involved, give them a chance." Some alumni also lobbied for Bradley, a 33-year veteran of the Penn State staff and defensive coordinator since 2000. Prominent donor Anthony Lubrano, a Penn State graduate, questioned the school's hiring process. "Bill O'Brien might well be a fine football coach and more importantly an even finer human being," Lubrano wrote in an email. "But by excluding the football (lettermen) from the search process, this administration has effectively communicated to them that their contributions to the Penn State family don't matter." O'Brien joined New England in 2007 following 14 seasons on the college level, including stops at Duke, Maryland and Georgia Tech. He played football at Brown -- Paterno's alma mater. The Patriots are third in the NFL overall in scoring (32.1 points per game), and second in total offense (428 yards) and passing (317.8 yards). Penn State finished a 9-4 campaign with a 30-14 loss in the TicketCity Bowl to Houston on Jan. 2. The Nittany Lions relied on defense much of the year after the offense struggled with a two-quarterback system. Penn State officials had termed the search "methodical and deliberate." Joyner said earlier Thursday he would like to have Paterno's replacement in place by Jan. 13, the start of 16-day recruiting window before high school seniors can begin to announce their official intentions to attend college on Feb. 1. Bradley, who took over for Paterno on an interim basis, was among the candidates interviewed. He was on the road recruiting Thursday.

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

While the Cubs put the finishing touches on a lackluster loss to the Reds Monday night at Wrigley Field, the game quickly took a backseat as reports of a trade filtered through Baseball Twitter.

In came a veteran catcher — Martin Maldonado — from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Montgomery, who will live on in Cubs history books forever as the guy who threw the curveball that notched the final out in the 2016 World Series to break a 108-year championship drought.

There are many layers to this move, including the corresponding aspect of Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras hitting the 10-day injured list with a strain in the arch of his right foot. Contreras had an MRI Monday afternoon/evening, which revealed the issue. 

Contreras felt like he could play through it and passionately pleaded his case, but the Cubs want to exercise an abundance of caution with one of their most important players.

"Our medical staff feels like if he were to try to play on it, that he'd be risking exacerbating the injury and turning it into something long-term," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "So we have to get ahead of it, take it out of Willy's hands and take him off his feet. 

"We don't expect it to be longer than 10 days — that's what we hope for, anyways."

But even before the severity of Contreras' injury was known, Epstein said the team was already in talks with the Royals front office.

"We've been having discussions with Kansas City and they had an opening in their rotation after trading [Homer] Bailey and they'd been talking to a couple teams about Maldonado and we knew that," Epstein said. "We'd actually been working on a version of the deal beforehand and it was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear that Willson was gonna miss some time."

That's interesting.

So the Cubs' interest in Maldonado is not solely based on Contreras' injury, which means they value the veteran catcher as more than just a short-term, couple-week insurance policy to pair with Victor Caratini. 

On the one hand, that leaves the Cubs free to trade Caratini over the next couple weeks if a deal developed.

But the move for Maldonado also shores up a major area of depth for the Cubs, which is exactly what Epstein talked about before Monday's game, referencing the change in MLB rules that eliminated the August waiver wire deadline. Now, every team has to make their moves ahead of the July 31 deadline and that's it.

"Teams need to keep depth in mind a little bit more, that you have to anticipate where you might be vulnerable to an injury and try to build that depth up in advance — preemptively, really — knowing that there's no escape valve in August," Epstein said. "So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Well, despite fantastic seasons from Contreras and Caratini, the Cubs actually have very little in the way of catching depth beyond those two. Taylor Davis is the only other backstop on the 40-man roster and he has almost no big-league experience. When Caratini was on the IL earlier this year with a hand injury, Davis rarely played in the month-plus he was on the roster.

Even if Contreras' injury is as minor as it appears, it underscores the point that the Cubs' depth is very fragile at the most physically demanding position on the field. What would the team do if Contreras or Caratini suffered an injury in August or September?

Now, they can add Maldonado into the mix — a veteran catcher who draves rave remarks for his defense and game-calling. 

The right-handed-hitting catcher is due to turn 33 next month and is in his ninth big-league season. He hasn't done much with the bat in his career (.289 on-base percentage, .351 slugging) and that hasn't changed this year (.647 OPS), but his work behind the plate was enticing to the Cubs and their veteran-laden pitching staff.

"He's an established catcher in the league who does a lot of great things behind the plate," Epstein said. "He can really receive, he can really throw. He's caught playoff games. He's handled some of the best pitchers in the game; he's a favorite for pitchers to throw to.

"He's very calm back there, very prepared, calls a great game, really soft hands, lot of experience, lot of savvy and someone who we think can step in and share the job with Vic and get up to speed really quickly in what we hope is a brief absence from Willson."

The Cubs haven't yet shared a plan for how they plan to manage the roster crunch for all three catchers when Contreras returns from injury in a week or two, but that might be because they don't yet have a plan. That's more of a "cross that bridge when it comes" type of situation.

When everybody is healthy — if everybody is ever healthy all at the same time — the Cubs could carry three catchers and utilize Contreras' ability to play the outfield and Caratini's first/third base versatility. They could also option Caratini to the minors for a couple weeks and bring him back up when rosters expand in September or if another injury strikes.

Either way, the Cubs front office, coaching staff and pitching staff can rest easier knowing they have another experienced backstop on the roster. 

The other aspect to all this, obviously, is in the Cubs bullpen and starting depth. Montgomery is out, which means there is an easy open spot on the roster for Alec Mills, who is making a spot start Tuesday while Cole Hamels continues to rehab his oblique injury.

In the longer term, this could be a good thing for the Cubs bullpen, as Montgomery was miscast and rarely used as a short-inning reliever. The 30-year-old southpaw last threw on July 2 and has only made five appearances in the last month. 

Montgomery was slowed by injury in spring training and then again in the first couple weeks of the season, but he had been building up his workload of late - throwing at least 2.1 innings in each of his last three outings. Still, the Cubs opted to go with Mills Tuesday against the Reds instead of Montgomery and they also had Tyler Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay in the rotation at various points earlier this season.

Montgomery hasn't started once in 2019, but he made 28 starts in a Cubs uniform, including 19 last year while filling in for the injured Yu Darvish.

The Cubs clearly feel good enough with their rotation depth as is (Mills, Chatwood, Alzolay) and Hamels' return looks to be right around the corner, so the writing was on the wall that Montgomery wouldn't get many chances to start in the short or long term in Chicago.

It's also good for Montgomery, a guy who got the last out in the World Series and did everything asked of him in his three-plus years in Chicago, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. 

Now he gets an opportunity to start, which he's been vocal about wanting to do, and he'll be thrown right into the fire — the Royals have him penciled in to start Friday...in Cleveland.

How's that for full circle?

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

When general manager Rick Hahn has talked about bringing up key prospects, he says he wants those players to be able to come up to the majors and stay there. That won't be the case with Zack Collins.

The White Sox sent the catcher down to Triple-A Charlotte following Monday's 5-2 loss to the Royals. No corresponding move will be made until Tuesday, but it is expected Welington Castillo will return from his rehab stint and rejoin the White Sox.

Collins was called up on June 18, but only played in nine games with seven starts in his 28 days on the big league roster. Collins drew a pinch-hit walk in his first plate appearance at the Cubs on June 19. He then homered two days later in his first start in Texas.

After that, Collins struggled. He goes back to Charlotte after hitting .077 (2-for-26) with five walks, the one home run and 14 strikeouts in 31 plate appearances.

It's unclear if Collins had a chance to stick on the roster or if the plan was for him to go back to Triple-A once Castillo was ready to return. Collins certainly didn't do himself any favors at the plate, but he also didn't see regular playing time.

Collins, a first-round pick in 2016, was seen working out at first base in fielding practice before games, but he stuck to catcher and DH. He could have played some first base or DH when Castillo returned. However, the White Sox claimed A.J. Reed off waivers and he debuted after the all-star break. Reed has taken the at-bats at DH, leaving Collins without regular at-bats.

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