Boston Red Sox

Theo Epstein shoots down rumors that he might return to Red Sox

Theo Epstein shoots down rumors that he might return to Red Sox

PITTSBURGH — We don't yet know what kind of changes will take place for the Cubs this winter, but Theo Epstein made one thing certain Wednesday evening — he's not going anywhere.

The Boston Globe's Alex Speier made headlines this week when he linked Epstein to his former team, the Red Sox, as a potential name to keep an eye on to fill the club's president of baseball operations role. The Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski earlier this month, less than a year after a 108-win season and a World Series championship.

As he sat in the visiting dugout at PNC Park Wednesday evening and gave a little preview of his "State of the Cubs" address, Epstein was asked about the Red Sox link.

"Yeah, I saw that. There's nothing to that story," he said. "I'm here. We have a lot we need to work on to get back to the level we're accustomed to. I'm invested in that. That's what I'm focused on, so yeah, there's nothing to that. 

"I will say, I have really good relationships with a lot of people there. I certainly wish them the best. It's just, there's nothing to the story."

Epstein also said it's "still true" that Cubs GM Jed Hoyer and senior vice president Jason McLeod are also not packing up and heading back to Boston.

The three front office executives worked together with the Red Sox before Hoyer and McLeod left to go to the San Diego Padres. Epstein left Boston after the 2011 season to tackle a new challenge with the Cubs and is wrapping up his eighth season in Chicago.

Epstein did concede the final month of this 2019 season reminds him of the 2011 Red Sox, who held a nine-game division lead on Sept. 3 and wound up missing the playoffs altogether by going 6-18 down the stretch.

"They're different, but in terms of pain in September, yeah," Epstein said. "In my mind, I think there's some similarities as far as worst possible outcomes given where you were at a moment in time, sure."

Epstein pointed to the fact that the 2011 Red Sox were one of the best teams in baseball for most of that season, while the 2019 Cubs never really found their groove or built up any separation in the division.

Still, the expectations were sky-high for both clubs — World Series or bust.

"As far as what could've been and what was, yeah," Epstein said. "They were different teams, obviously, and this [Cubs] club had some real flaws I'm responsible for. But I do feel like we left a lot on the table. Depending on how the next few games go, we might be only the second 100-run differential team ever to not make the playoffs in this modern Wild-Card era.

"Run differential is not everything and there are well-documented reasons for why ours is potentially a little bit misleading, but it is the number that correlates best to wins out of any out there. You give me one number and ask how many games a team should win, I'll take run differential. I think it just shows what could've been. I think we're all beating ourselves up for that in some way."

J.D. Martinez? Mookie Betts? Red Sox upheaval adds big names to White Sox fans' offseason wish list

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USA TODAY

J.D. Martinez? Mookie Betts? Red Sox upheaval adds big names to White Sox fans' offseason wish list

The Boston Red Sox are in a state of change, to say the least, after firing team president Dave Dombrowski after Sunday night’s game against the New York Yankees.

White Sox fans are no strangers to this occurrence. Hawk Harrelson, in his lone year as general manager, fired Dombrowski, who was then a youthful assistant general manager with his hometown team. But they’ll be less interested in what it means for the Red Sox future and far more interested in what it means for their own team’s prospects.

While a regime change in Boston doesn’t initially seem to have much to do with the Pale Hose, already reports are describing the roster change that could be coming to Fenway Park. And that’s where the rebuilding White Sox come in.

According to the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, the Red Sox, in a bit of a financial pickle after Dombrowski inked Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi to lucrative contracts this year, will “likely end up parting with J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, or possibly even both this winter.”

Oh?

The White Sox are likely to be in the market for a right fielder this winter — or just power hitting in general — even if starting pitching might be higher on the to-do list for Rick Hahn’s front office. While current major or minor leaguers can be projected to fill in at pretty much every other spot on the diamond, right field is a mystery, thanks to injuries and under-performance that made the organization’s bunch of outfield prospects far less attractive than it was mere months ago.

Betts is Boston’s right fielder, a three-time Gold Glover out there and not even a year removed from being named the American League MVP. His numbers have dipped this season amid the Red Sox significant World Series hangover that has them 17.5 games back of the Yankees in the AL East standings. But Betts is still slashing .291/.389/.525 with 27 homers and 77 RBIs. He’s got 40 doubles for the fifth consecutive season and leads baseball with 128 runs scored. Those numbers are still obviously very good, just not the out-of-this-world figures he posted en route to a world championship in 2018.

Betts is the more attractive of the two, simply because he can do a lot more things on the field and he’s younger, 26 years old compared to the 32-year-old Martinez. He would figure to be a much better fit with the White Sox long-term plans, given his age aligns more closely with those of the rest of the team’s young core. Of course, Betts also has just one more year of team control remaining, slated to become a free agent following the 2020 season.

Martinez, meanwhile, might have been heading toward free agency this winter anyway. His monstrous contract allows him to opt out after this season, as well as after next season and after the season after that. He, too, was an MVP-caliber hitter in 2018, and he, too, is experiencing a backslide from those elite numbers, owning a .308/.384/.577 slash line to go along with his 35 homers and 95 RBIs. Again, still very good.

Martinez is not known as a quality defender, though that wouldn’t necessarily prevent him from playing right field for the White Sox. He’s started 35 games in the outfield for Boston this season and has played 486 career games in right. That includes during the three and a half seasons he terrorized the AL Central as a member of the Detroit Tigers.

Martinez, too, would be a natural fit at designated hitter, where he’s played the bulk of his games this season. This is all speculation, of course, but would the White Sox add Martinez as a DH, it would force Jose Abreu to be an everyday first baseman (where he’s played a lot more than initially anticipated, anyway, considering how poorly Yonder Alonso’s brief tenure with the team went) and potentially limit Zack Collins, just returned from a highly successful offensive stint in the minor leagues, to backup catcher, where there are a lot of questions over his defensive future.

If Martinez doesn’t opt out, he and Betts would both need to be acquired via trade. That’s where things could get tricky for the White Sox. The aforementioned rash of injuries and under-performance wasn’t limited to the team’s outfield prospects this season, also affecting many pitchers, as well. The point being that it might be rather difficult to create an alluring package of prospects that would net a player of this status.

It doesn’t mean it’s impossible. But the most attractive names in the White Sox system — Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, Michael Kopech, Andrew Vaughn — figure to be key parts of Hahn’s long-term rebuilding plan. So those guys aren’t going anywhere. And then it becomes difficult to envision a guy one year removed from an MVP win or a top-five MVP finish being acquired for a package built around second-tier prospects.

Remember what it took for the Red Sox to fetch Sale from the White Sox in 2016. The White Sox don’t have prospects the caliber of Yoan Moncada and Kopech that they’d be willing to part with this winter.

But if Martinez hits the open market, then there’s no reason the White Sox — who have pledged to be aggressive with money to spend an offseason after they tried and failed to bring Manny Machado to the South Side — can’t go after that kind of big fish.

Certain baseball people already seem to be mentioning the White Sox and Martinez in the same breath.


It seemed like the market might be light this winter after the flurry of extensions that locked up so many expected free agents. But between Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon and these two suddenly available Red Sox, there will be plenty of high-level names that if acquired would help kick the White Sox rebuilding project into overdrive and make the 2020 season look like a contending one.

It’s still September, but the Hot Stove is already simmering.

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Cubs release 2020 schedule with some interesting changes

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USA TODAY

Cubs release 2020 schedule with some interesting changes

Mark your calendars now for March 26, 2020, when the Cubs will open up a brand new season of action in Milwaukee against the division-rival Brewers.

Major League Baseball released all the tentative schedules for next year and the Cubs will cross off both openers before the first of April — the home opener is slated for March 30 against the Pirates, so roughly a 40 percent chance of snow baseball. 

Frigid temperatures at Wrigley for early-season games aren't new, but this is the first time ever the Cubs will open a season in Milwaukee. 

The Cubs also are making some big changes with the games at Wrigley Field, as every weeknight contest before Memorial Day and after Labor Day will start at 6:40 pm now. That pushes first pitch up 25 minutes during the school year (which could also help if weather is an issue for early-season games). 

Here are some other notable games on the Cubs' 2020 schedule:

—The Cardinals' first trip to town comes April 10-12 for a three-game weekend series at Wrigley Field. Milwaukee isn't in Chicago until May 11-13 for a mid-week series. 

—The Cubs play the AL East in Interleague matchups in 2020 and that includes a visit from the Boston Red Sox to Wrigley Field in June (19-21). The Red Sox haven't played at the "Friendly Confines" since 2012.

—The Cubs also host the Tampa Bay Rays July 3-5 and have a home-and-home series with former coach Brandon Hyde and the Orioles (in Baltimore April 14-15, in Chicago June 2-3).

—The AL East tour also includes a trip to the Bronx to play the Yankees (June 26-28) and a series north of the border against the Toronto Blue Jays (Aug. 14-16). 

—The Crosstown series will once again be a four-game set, with two games at Wrigley July 20-21 and two games on the South Side (July 7-8). 

—The Cubs finish the year with 10 of their final 12 games at home, including yet another season-ending series with the Cardinals — this time at Wrigley Field Sept. 25-27. 

—The Cubs also play the Cardinals in London June 13-14 and have a pair of off-days before that series plus another one after.

—As far as off-days are concerned, the breaks seem to be spread out more evenly for the Cubs in 2020 compared to this year. The breakdown by scheduled off-days per month:

March: 1
April: 3
May: 3
June: 4
July: 3 (plus All-Star Break)
August: 3
September: 3

Here is the complete 2020 regular season Cubs schedule: