Bears

What the Epstein-Hoyer-McLeod connection means for the Cubs

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What the Epstein-Hoyer-McLeod connection means for the Cubs

Dave Roberts wasnt surprised to see how the dominoes fell across the country last October, reshaping front offices from Boston to San Diego.

Roberts played with Jason McLeod at Rancho Buena Vista High School in San Diego before earning his degree from UCLA.

Roberts is still reminded almost daily of The Steal in the ninth inning of Game 4 in the 2004 ALCS. That began an epic comeback against Mariano Rivera and the Yankees. That Red Sox team made Theo Epstein a legend throughout New England.

Roberts transitioned his career by going to work for Jed Hoyers baseball operations department in 2010, first as a special assistant and then as the Padres first-base coach.

So Roberts knows the three Cubs executives who took on the biggest challenge left in sports.

Those guys have a great relationship, a great chemistry, Roberts said Tuesday. They have a trust. In this game, when youve got those components, then ultimately theyre going to cross paths again. It was a pretty good system (that worked) for them before. So you would expect something similar here in Chicago.

Sitting in front of his locker inside the cramped visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field, Roberts looked up from the USA Today sports section. Inside, it had a picture of Epstein, who had to meet the press and answer for a 12-game losing streak.

The Cubs (17-32) won again on Tuesday, this time 5-3 over the Padres. Jeff Samardzija went seven innings and earned the win on his bobblehead day. Epsteins front office can use him to a build a rotation. Heres hoping the marketing department features him in the next ad campaign.

Yeah, you dont want to pitch bad and go outside and see your bobblehead smashed all over the pavement, Samardzija said. I wanted to just keep the game close and hopefully people will go put them in their room or something now, instead of in the trash.

The development of Samardzija (5-3, 3.09 ERA) has been one of the better story lines this season. Power arms will be a focus as McLeod runs pre-draft meetings this week in Chicago.

The Astros once picked McLeod the great-grand nephew of Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell in the 44th round of the 1991 draft.

He was a big right-handed pitcher with a good arm, Roberts recalled. He was always a student of the game. He kind of took his career as far as it was going to take him as a player, and then got on the coaching side of things. Hes always been a great listener and continued to hone his evaluation skills.

To this day, he is one of the best evaluators in the game.

McLeod earned that reputation by delivering Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Daniel Bard and Clay Buchholz to the Red Sox and watching that 2007 World Series run.

A new labor deal, which severely limits spending in the amateur draft, will make that job even more difficult. Its much harder to overwhelm two-sport athletes with big contracts, the way the Cubs once did with Samardzija.

McLeod is on the clock. So are the scouts who had to carry video cameras to every game and store all the data medical, family, statistical, anecdotal in the new Bloomberg computer system.

He sees a lot of things that many people dont see, Roberts said, a lot of different intangibles in players, the stuff that people dont really look for. Its just amazing all the information that you can kind of come up with and have at your disposal (to) sift through and make a selection.

McLeod and Hoyer felt like they left the Padres (17-34) in a better place, even though they lasted only two seasons. Last winter, the industry viewed San Diego as a top-three system. Privately, some have suggested that Epstein wouldnt have taken the Cubs job without them.

With Jason and his crew, Roberts said, were going to enjoy the fruits in the years to come in this system. (It) was a loss for us, but he put some things in place that were going to continue to build on.

(The Cubs have) a plan (and) with the resources that they have, it should ultimately work out pretty well.

The entire focus is on June 4, when the Cubs will make the sixth overall pick. Heres a sign of how all-in they are for the draft and how much they respect the managers evaluation skills Dale Sveum has watched video of certain hitters they might select.

It will take years before we know if Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod were right or wrong.

They have short memories in Boston, where Epsteins legacy took a hit with bad contracts, fried chicken and beer in the clubhouse, and an epic September collapse. But you cant forget those two World Series banners at Fenway Park. Red Sox Nation got everything it ever wanted.

Things like that just dont happen overnight, Roberts said. With this fan base loving the Cubs unconditionally, its even better when youve got a regime coming in with a plan in place thats shown its worked (before). I definitely expect these guys to kind of right the ship.

Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

Chris Simms says Bears are a dangerous team entering Week 15

The Chicago Bears have completely flipped the narrative of their 2019 season over the last three weeks, thanks in large part to Matt Nagy's offense finally resembling the 202-level that was promised last summer.

It may have taken quarterback Mitch Trubisky a little longer than expected to arrive this year, but if his last two games are an indication of his development in his second season under Nagy's tutelage, the Bears have a bonafide quarterback. And it's been a while since that could be said.

"Mitchell Trubisky is hot, there's no doubt about it," NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms said Thursday. "He seems so much more comfortable. Decisive. He's accurate with the football. Running around at the proper time. I don't think it was all Mitchell Trubisky's fault with the struggles of the offense, either."

Those struggles spanned the first half of 2019 when Chicago seemed incapable of sustaining drives or scoring points. It began with Week 1's three-point output against the Packers and continued through Thanksgiving Day when Trubisky finally got his mojo back, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdowns.

With Trubisky clicking, and the running game receiving a jolt from rookie David Montgomery's productive back-to-back weeks in which he's averaged more than four yards per carry in successive games for the first time all year, the Bears appear capable of beating just about anyone. 

They'll need to. If Chicago wants to keep their weak playoff pulse going, they have to win-out. And that includes games against the Packers, Chiefs and Vikings. 

The odds seem stacked against them, and it's their own fault. It took way too long to get the offense going, but it's better late than never. 

According to Simms, the Bears are that team no one wants to play.

"They're a dangerous team right now. They really are."

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Whether the Cubs trade a member of their position player core this winter — i.e. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras — is to be determined. Both have been fixtures in rumors this offseason, and the Cubs may make a deal to replenish their barren farm system and retool their roster with the organization’s long-term stability in mind.

Yu Darvish, on the other hand, is a different story.

No, the Cubs won’t be trading Darvish this winter, despite the inquiries they received at the Winter Meetings this week, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

A year ago, this would be an entirely different conversation. Darvish was coming off a disappointing debut season on the North Side in which he made eight starts and posted a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings. He didn’t throw a single big-league pitch after May 20 due to a lingering arm issue that led to surgery last November.

2019 was only Year 2 of the lucrative six-year contract Darvish signed in February 2018. But between the injury and his struggles before it that season, the narrative entering 2019 was shifting towards Darvish being a potential bust.

The narrative around Darvish is obviously much different now, thanks to the stellar second half performance he put together last season. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old delivered a 2.76 ERA, striking out 118 batters compared to a mere seven walks in 81 2/3 innings.

Not only was Darvish walking the walk, but he was talking the talk. He was determined to turn things around after posting a 5.01 ERA in the first half, asking then manager Joe Maddon to start the Cubs’ first game after the All-Star break. The result? Six innings of two-hit, no-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk. Darvish's comeback was officially on.

Bust? Darvish is far from it now. He opted in to the remaining four years of his contract earlier this offseason, calling the Cubs "perfect" for him.

If the Cubs were entering a rebuild, fielding Darvish trade offers would make plenty of sense. He's owed $81 million through 2023, a bargain compared to the deals Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million — Yankees) and Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million — Nationals) earned this offseason. Darvish's contract is desirable, and trading him would help alleviate the Cubs' notoriously tight payroll situation, freeing up money for them to put towards other needs.

But the Cubs aren’t rebuilding, and trading Darvish would create a tremendous hole in a rotation with plenty of uncertainty after next season. José Quintana is set to hit free agency after 2020 and Jon Lester could join him, if his 2021 option doesn’t vest (he must pitch 200 innings next season for that to occur). Heck, even Tyler Chatwood's deal is up after 2020.

In one season, Darvish has elevated himself to the No. 1 pitcher in the Cubs rotation. The Cubs won't be better next season if they trade Bryant or Contreras, but they'd still be competitive and acquire assets for the future.

One player doesn't make a team in baseball, but the Cubs need Darvish in their rotation, not someone else's. Unless they're absolutely blown away by a trade offer, Darvish isn't going anywhere.

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