White Sox

Theo Epstein doesnt regret the Kerry Wood deal

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Theo Epstein doesnt regret the Kerry Wood deal

About 90 minutes after Theo Epstein said you cant make baseball decisions based on public relations, Kerry Wood walked out onto the balcony and heard the roar inside a Hilton Chicago ballroom.

It was a made-for-TV moment, Kid K returning just in time for the start of the Cubs Convention last January.

It had taken almost three months to reach a modest agreement a one-year, 3 million deal that contained a 3 million club option for 2013 (with no buyout).

Near the end of the 2011 season, Wood had joked about losing all his negotiating power by saying hed either pitch for the Cubs or else retire.

But Wood had built up capital with chairman Tom Ricketts and former general manager Jim Hendry. The talks stalled with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, the new administration.

Wood said at one point he had come to terms with another team and was waiting to get the call for a physical.

During his farewell press conference on Saturday at Wrigley Field, Wood made a point to thank Epstein and Hoyer for bringing him back. Relations seem to have improved. The Cubs president would do it all over again.

If youve got 3 million, Epstein said, and youre looking for a veteran reliever with swing-and-miss ability who has a chance to really perform and help, you could do a lot worse than Kerry Wood.

It made sense from a baseball standpoint and it just didnt work out. Thats the way things go. Kerry didnt know it wasnt going to work out either. (But) he really handled himself well and I dont really regret it.

Obviously, no one has a crystal ball, but I think you can never go wrong investing in good people as a rule. If it works out or not that particular time you know what well get the next one.

Epstein was in Chestnut Hill, Mass., on Thursday scouting for the draft when he got a call from Wood around 10 minutes before the Boston College-Duke University game was about to start.

This made it official, though for several days Epstein had an idea that Wood was heading in this direction. They had informal discussions about Woods post-playing career last winter, and Epstein would welcome him into the front office as a special assistant.

Thats all whenever hes ready to talk about it, Epstein said. I always recommend the guys take a period of time completely away from the game.

Its important to get that separation to stop seeing the game as a player and start to see it from a little bit of distance. But he knows that the door is completely open, whatever he wants to do. I can only imagine the benefit that hell have for young pitchers in our organization.

It will be cool to show him the scouting side of things, too. You never know when someone might have a knack for that and really like it. Theres scouting, theres player development, theres the daily machinations of the front office. (Hell) continue his big influence on the community here. So theres more than a full plate awaiting him whenever the time is right.

Epstein found fame inside the superstar culture of the Boston Red Sox. The Yale University student was a summer intern with the Baltimore Orioles during the second half of Cal Ripken Jr.s career. He worked for the San Diego Padres during Tony Gwynns final years.

It can be a really tough dynamic, Epstein said. Because of that, I have even more admiration for how Kerry handled himself. Its very hard for players to evaluate themselves clearly and to know when it might be time. (Its being) able to see their careers and their abilities from 10,000 feet instead of from right up close.

We didnt want him to walk away, but he knows himself better than anybody. I think he did it for all the right reasons. He showed a lot of maturity. I have a lot of respect for how he went about it.

Epstein admitted that he doesnt have the same history with Wood as others in the organization, or the fans in the bleachers. The Cubs president is still new to all this.

But Epstein was struck on Friday while watching Wood walk off the mound and hug his son Justin by the dugout.

The part that resonated most with me, and probably most people, is seeing his son, Epstein said. It was such a genuine moment. I think everyone whos a parent can relate to that. It was really special, genuine and authentic.

You hate to see him have to walk away sooner rather than later. But if it had to happen, its hard to script it any nicer.

Aaron Bummer praises White Sox in all aspects, ready for team to 'catch fire'

Aaron Bummer praises White Sox in all aspects, ready for team to 'catch fire'

Starting pitching. Relief pitching. Hitting.

Save defense, that about covers the ingredients necessary to be a well-rounded ball club, a team capable of winning a lot of games, a division title and potentially a World Series championship.

Are the White Sox that kind of team? Do they have all those necessary ingredients in the cupboard?

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It's going to take some time to find out whether that's the case or not, especially in this most unusual of seasons. Like any team — and any team on the rise, in particular; the last time these White Sox played regular-season baseball, they were wrapping up an 89-loss campaign — there are questions, some of them big. Can Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada still put up huge numbers if their good fortune from 2019 decreases? Will Luis Robert's jam-packed toolbox translate to instant major league mastery? And what the heck are the White Sox going to get out of Dylan Cease, Reynaldo López, Michael Kopech and Carlos Rodón?

But if the team can receive positive answers to those questions and more, then things could be looking up fast. In a squeezed-down, 60-game season where a fast start is mandatory, those answers will need to come in a hurry.

Are they capable? They sure look it.

"We've got a lot of young guys that can catch fire," White Sox reliever Aaron Bummer said Thursday. "That's kind of what they always say, it's always catching fire at the right time. We've got a young group of guys mixed in with a whole bunch of veterans that have been there and done it.

"I'm excited to get everybody together, and hopefully we can ride that wave, hopefully we start out strong. A lot of people have said, you can break it down into three seasons: You're going to win 20, you're going to lose 20, what are you going to do with the other 20? Hopefully we're going to go out there, catch fire and win a whole bunch of games."

Winning a whole bunch of games is obviously every team's goal on the doorstep of the regular season. And truly, every team might be in the mix to do just that in this two-month dash to the postseason.

But the White Sox do appear well equipped, and the combination of young players who broke out in a big way last season and the veteran additions that Rick Hahn's front office made over the winter has the possibility to make them the most balanced group in a three-team race for the AL Central crown. The Minnesota Twins swing some serious sticks, and they added perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson to that already ferocious lineup. But will the pitching staff past José Berríos match the fear the offense strikes in opposing clubs? The Cleveland Indians might still have the best starting rotation in baseball, even after dealing away Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber. But can their top-heavy lineup match the quality of their arms?

The White Sox boast a remade lineup, now featuring Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación, Nomar Mazara and Robert to go along with Moncada, Anderson, Eloy Jiménez and José Abreu. Bummer, a pitcher, sees plenty of reason his fellow hurlers should be scared.

"Abreu, Encarnación, Eloy," Bummer said, merely listing the trio he had to face in Thursday's intrasquad game, when he coughed up a parrot-producing homer to Encarnación. "It's not going to stop. I think the depth of that lineup has gotten a whole lot longer, and I'm glad that they're all on our side."

The starting rotation has new faces, too, chiefly free-agent adds Dallas Keuchel and Gio González, two accomplished arms who have playoff experience. Match that with Lucas Giolito, fresh off an All-Star campaign, and the collection of talented, if not completely proven, young arms — the aforementioned Cease, López, Kopech and Rodón — and it's a deeper group than what the team was ready to break camp with in March.

"It's fun to watch those guys compete," Bummer said. "You see the pure stuff of Giolito, Cease and Rodón. It's pure ability, it's pure stuff. And then you have the veterans, Keuchel and Gio González, who have been there, done that, and they pitch. They go out there and they dominate with their ability to pitch. And even adding Lopey to the mix. Lopey's stuff is unbelievable.

"There's six guys out there right now, I'll roll with them over anybody. I'll roll with that starting rotation. They get as far into the games as possible, and hopefully the bullpen can go out and go save a bunch of wins for them."

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And then there's Bummer's unit, the bullpen, which was a strength for the White Sox last season. Bummer, Alex Colomé, Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero made for a dependable group of late-inning options, and that group's grown with the addition of Steve Cishek, who made so many high-leverage pitches for contending Cubs teams in recent seasons. Throw in a potential bounce-back candidate in Kelvin Herrera, and there's impressive depth here, too.

"It's exciting," Bummer said. "You add in Cishek, you add in a full season of the guys like Marshall, Jimmy Cordero, and there are a lot of guys out there. There are guys hungry for a nice bounce back between Kelvin and Jace (Fry). I think everybody's hungry to go out there and do their job.

"I would stack us up, I think we're seven or eight deep out there, to go out there and get competitive outs. As long as we keep ourselves in games, I think our bullpen is going to be a pretty good strength moving forward."

What else could the White Sox ask for?

Listing the roster doesn't win games, of course, but adding everything up, stacking all the positives up in one place, it's easy to see why this team could be capable of making some real noise, even in this strangest of seasons.

Hahn will point to the high volume of these guys who are under team control deep into the future, and his rebuilding effort has always targeted a contention window that gets propped open for years. That also looks possible.

All the White Sox need to do is open it. The postseason expectations that dominated the pre-shutdown era of 2020, from SoxFest in January through the abrupt end to spring training in mid March, showed how serious the White Sox are about doing that opening this year. And as Bummer and so many others on this team will tell you, the months-long layoff didn't change those expectations one bit.

The future, especially in this season, under these circumstances, is unpredictable. But no matter where you look on this roster, the White Sox look capable of grabbing that future by the horns.


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No regrets for Cubs' Javy Baez in not reaching extension deal before pandemic

No regrets for Cubs' Javy Baez in not reaching extension deal before pandemic

 

Cubs shortstop Javy Baez doesn’t know any more than anyone else where baseball’s economics and player salary markets are headed in the next year or two as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

But the two-time All-Star expressed no regret about not accepting a club offer during negotiations on a long-term extension over the winter and said he felt no “rush” to resume talks in the uncertain climate.

 

Baez, the 2018 MVP runner-up who is eligible for free agency after next season, had expressed optimism that talks were “progressing” in March before the pandemic shut down sports — and all extension talks.

 

“It’s been really difficult with all this happening right now,” said Baez, whose family all stayed healthy through baseball’s shutdown and who looks in good shape after working out during that time with brother-in-law Jose Berrios, the Twins pitcher.

 

“We have really good communication and relationship between me and the owners and obviously my agent,” Baez added. “I think when this [is in the] past, I think we’re going to talk and stay in touch and see what happens from here on, and with the season.”

 

Teammate Kris Bryant, long considered a sure thing to test the open market after the 2021 season, said Monday the pandemic and first-time fatherhood has made him rethink things that are important to him — including, potentially, the Cubs and what it might take to stay with them.

 

But predicting where payroll budgets, industry revenues and consequently player markets will be even two or three years from now is all but impossible during a pandemic with no end in sight.

 

All of which could render many players and teams’ best intentions moot for now.

 

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said this week.

 

Baez, who has a 2020 salary of $10 million (prorated for the shortened season), was the primary focus of the front office much of the winter as it tried to lock him up as a part of the next contending core it envisioned.

 

He said he has bigger things to worry about now as the team tries to stay disciplined and committed to pulling off a 60-game season.

 

“Obviously, everybody wants to get paid, but we’ve got to wait for the right time,” he said, “and both sides are going to see and know what’s right for each other. I’m not in a rush. I’m worried right now about getting back on the field and playing regular games and trying to win in this season that is going to be so weird.

 

“Obviously with this happening right now it’s going to change everything. It already changed 2020; it’s going to change the next two years I think.”

 

Baez said the decision to play was not really difficult and he didn’t consider opting out.

 

“I feel like everybody’s dealing with the same thing,” said Baez, who among other things keeps his free agency timeline intact by playing and being credited with a full season of service time for 2020. “Some of them have got contracts; some of them don’t.

 

“I’ve got one year [more] I’m going to be in arbitration. We’ll see. They know me. I’m pretty sure every team knows me and knows what I can do. I’m not in a rush. We’ll just see what happens this season and how it goes for me and with this 60 games and be ready for next season.

 

“We’ll see.”