In Which They Make Their Pitch (Again)

Yeah, I know, I used this pic last year. Sue me.

So where were we? Oh yes, ESPN has the Bears in the top 6 teams vying for the #1 draft pick. A lot would have to happen for that to work out but it’s nice to know people are talking about them. Oh, and if the Bears do get the pick? ESPN says they should draft a QB. Given Cutler’s insane contract and the Bears continuing ineptitude as an organization overall I don’t see that happening. But it’s fun to think about. The Bears are also a three point favorite against the Vikings this week. Since it’s a home game that’s Vegas speak for it’s a pick ‘em. I’m not sure I care enough to care at this point. Certainly the team seems to be giving not one fuck about anything right now. If they don’t why should fans?

In other news, Derek Rose had another oopsie and will be out for a bit. Given the Bulls’ history with injury reports I fully expect Rose to lose a limb before this week is done. I don’t want him to, he seems like a nice guy and all, but it just seems to be the way things are going for him.

The Hawks just continue to be the Hawks. And as maddening as that is to fans who seem to think they should remain unbeaten every season, they’ll be fine. There are players in their minor league system who could start in the NHL but prefer to stay here due to the way this team is built and their belief in the organization that runs it. That should tell you all you need to know.

So, let’s move on.

This week Rick Hahn, who still works for the White Sox, spent his time answering questions for the Trib and the Times about the Cubs. He was very diplomatic but clearly confused. He seemed very sure he was not a part of Team Theo. And I, for one, believe him.

Still, since we’re on the subject, let’s take a look at the former lovable losers. It appears that they are about to bust out the big boy checkbook and put a real team on the field. While appearances can be deceiving Phil Rogers says it may actually be true.

Who doesn’t like fun with math?

Had any National League team had a starting rotation that put up those totals last season, it would have ranked first in ERA, first in WHIP and second in strikeouts per nine innings.

Lester and Hammel were used because they represent the combination of starters that president, baseball operations Theo Epstein and executive vice president, general manager Jed Hoyer are looking to add this offseason—a big-ticket, front-end guy and a worker bee. Instead of Hammel, the Cubs could wind up with someone like Jake Peavy or Justin Masterson. If they did, the numbers would be a little less impressive.

With Peavy, the projected rotation would be coming off a season in which its five pieces went 44-35 with a 2.90 ERA, 728 2/3 innings, 1.14 WHIP and 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings. With Masterson, the numbers are 44-31, 3.23, 654 2/3 innings, 1.19 WHIP and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

However you slice it, if the Cubs add Lester in the spot occupied by Edwin Jackson—who is signed for two more years but no longer guaranteed starts—they would have a starting rotation that is capable of chasing a Wild Card, if not overtaking the Cardinals and Pirates to win the National League Central.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,’’ Epstein said. “It’s easy to talk about wanting to bring in two guys you like but a lot harder to do it. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but [the opportunity we have is] a credit to our pitching infrastructure: [coaches] Chris Bosio, Lester Strode and Mike Borzello, our catching, our advance scouting and our defense. We’ve actually had some pretty good staffs the last couple of years without household names.’’

While the Cubs won only 73 games in 2014, they finished with a 15.7 WAR on the pitching side. That was a distant second to Washington (26.2) in the NL, surprisingly ahead of teams like the Dodgers (14.2) and Cardinals (13.5).

“That would probably surprise most people,’’ Epstein said. “Without the big names, we’ve found ways to get things done with execution, good scouting, good advance scouting and pitchers taking a big step forward, guys who were bought low—like Arrieta—in trades or on the free-agent market. We have to maintain that.’’

The next moves are crucial for Epstein and Hoyer. As Epstein has been saying, this is a volatile market in which many teams are trying to make the same kinds of upgrades as the Cubs.

The Red Sox, for instance, are looking for almost exactly the same combination of starters—one stud, one worker bee to line up alongside Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly and a fifth starter from a pack of unproven candidates.

It’s probably unrealistic to expect the Cubs to cut their rotation ERA by a full run from the 4.19 figure that starters have posted in 2012-14, the three seasons of the Epstein-Hoyer-Jason McLeod rebuild, but there is a significant base of talent already in place.

Arrieta and Hendricks, acquired in trades from the Orioles and Rangers, look like long-term pieces. Holdovers Travis Wood (arbitration-eligible after a down year in 2014) and Jackson are on tenuous footing with Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront and Dan Straily on the roster, and prospects C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson and Eric Jokisch also expected to work in big league camp this spring.

It was the depth of pitching options that allowed the Cubs to trade Jeff Samardzija and Hammel last July, and a successful offseason would underscore the wisdom of the trade that brought shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney from Oakland.

As focused as the Cubs are on adding pieces, Epstein points to the continued development of Arrieta and Hendricks, as well as the power arms in the young bullpen, as vital in the effort to give Joe Maddon a winning roster.

“If we bring in a couple pitchers we believe in but the other guys regress, we’re not going to get where we want to go,’’ Epstein said. “We need to maintain the culture we have around the pitching staff, where guys see improvement, we get the most out of the pitchers—or most of our pitchers, anyway—and hopefully add a couple of pitchers to the group who have the talent and the character to take it to the next level.’’

Like Epstein said, it will be easier said than done to add the right pieces. But the result could be well worth the risks required.

Excluding Edwin Jackson the Cubs do have a pretty decent pitching staff. And teams never get worse by adding quality arms. The one thing Coach Maddon will have to address is the free swinging attitude of his young hitters. While strikeouts from a power hitter are expected and meaningless, for the most part, a team can’t have 5 or 6 guys who swing like ceiling fans at the plate. Rizzo had a boat load of homers last year and almost no RBI associated with them. You can’t win many games if all your best hitters are grabbing bench.

Another problem with power hitters is that they have a maddening way of turning triples into singles. That’s not nearly as helpful as you might think.

Speaking of the Sox, as I was earlier, sources I spoke to said they were never really in the Victor Martinez race. While they certainly need a left handed bat between Abreu & Garcia, they seem to be looking for a more long term solution. And several of them said that they believe the answer might be in their own system. Look for several young players to get some extended time at Spring Training.

That said, the Sox need pitching. Lots of it. Our buddy Phil Rogers, he works for MLB.com and is not affiliated with any team, took some time to talk to Hahn without asking him about the Cubs.

The results were much more salient.

David Robertson is a free agent. The White Sox need a closer and have the payroll flexibility to pursue him. But don’t make the mistake of trying to put one and two together.

“We don’t feel the need to go out and get a so-called proven closer,’’ White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday. “We certainly want to have multiple upgrades, and if some of those upgrades give us viable back-end options, that’s great.’’

In that sentence, the key words would seem to be “multiple upgrades.’’

The White Sox will look to spread around their spending to add at least two or three arms who can improve a bullpen that was the team’s biggest weakness in 2014, when they improved from 63-99 in 2013 to 73-89, with an eye on contending for a postseason spot in 2015.

Among the relievers who are expected to return are right-handers Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka and Daniel Webb. Hahn and his evaluators, most notably director of baseball operations Dan Fabian, have decisions to make on arbitration-eligible relievers Ronald Belisario and Javy Guerra, whose salaries could jump to an estimated $3.9 million and $1.3 million, respectively. Nate Jones, who had Tommy John surgery in late July, isn’t expected back until late in 2015.

Ideally, the White Sox would add a veteran right-hander who could be in the mix alongside Petricka for the closer’s job along with a left-hander to match up against big left-handed hitters in the seventh and eighth innings. But Hahn isn’t likely to pursue a premium piece like Robertson or Andrew Miller, who will command large contracts.

“Look, it’s been widely reported we do have a little economic flexibility this year,’’ he said. “But that doesn’t mean you necessarily run right out on the free-agent market and pick up anything you can afford.’’

Hahn said he isn’t discounting the potential of Petricka, who in his rookie season picked up a team-high 14 saves in 18 opportunities.

“He certainly did an admirable job in the role,’’ Hahn said. “If the mix we have indicated him coming back [as closer], we’d certainly have confidence in him doing that.’’

Hahn said the White Sox will explore trades to add pieces as well as pursuing free agents.

Hahn will look to upgrade the starting staff but is sufficiently encouraged by the potential of left-hander Carlos Rodon, the club’s top prospect, to believe the rotation can be strong without adding major parts.

Unless the White Sox add a right-hander to go with Hector Noesi, they could have four left-handers in their 2015 rotation, as John Danks remains a fixture. He has two years left on his contract, and the club believes he can contribute by throwing 175-200 innings with a league average ERA.

“If we wind up having a heavily left-handed rotation, it is going to be because those are the best guys,’’ Hahn said. “I don’t think anyone is going to shy away from running Chris Sale or Jose Quintana out there against a heavily right-handed lineup, given how they’ve handled that over the years. Carlos Rodon could fit into that mold in the not-too-distant future. If we were to add a starter, our preference would be from the right-handed side from the balance standpoint, but it’s a matter of looking at the five best guys who are going to give you a chance to win.’’

Hahn said he is receiving trade interest in shortstop Alexei Ramirez, but it seems the White Sox would need to be blown away by an offer.

“Given how we view our club, where we view it over the next couple of seasons, we currently view Alexei as a big part of that,’’ Hahn said. “Being strong up the middle is a priority for any good club, and we don’t intend to take a step back there. We’re open-minded, we have depth in that area, so it’s reasonable to hear his name out there. I get that. But it’s certainly not something we’re pursuing on our end or eager to convert on.’’

The same sources I mentioned earlier said that it would take a boat load of talent for the team to part with Ramirez. You don’t just dump a Gold Glove candidate / Silver Slugger winner / All-Star for a rosin bag. Besides, if someone does come calling for a short stop the Sox have several in the minors who could fetch a good young arm or two. And, while not mentioned above, it’s well known that Ramirez is a solid mentor to Abreu and the team is loathe to lose that relationship. Especially since it was relationships that brought Abreu here in the first place.

Oh, the $60 MIL helped, to be sure, but it wasn’t the sole reason.

This just in; the Gatorade guy just scored on the Bears first team defense and the Bulls just announced a Peg Legs for Peace promotion. Make of it what you will.

CLICK HERE TO MAKE YOUR PITCH

Follow us on Twitter!

Visit us on Rebel Mouse




Email BigBadBill

In Which Enough Done Been Said

Packers - 55 / Bears - 14

Our very own Big Star has already started a thread and the comments are priceless, so I’ll send you there.

CLICK HERE IF YOU’VE GOT MORE TO SAY

Follow us on Twitter!

Visit us on Rebel Mouse




Email BigBadBill

In Which We Look to the Near Future

I have a rare day off and decided to spend it with you. You better appreciate me bitches. Oh, sure, I’m also going to spend some of it with my doctor but that’s an afterthought. It’s only you who matters to me.

You know that, don’t you baby?

Okay. Sorry about the creep factor.

Anyway, I would like to point out that, thanks to parity, 3-5 for a football team isn’t a death sentence. And, in fact, pre-parity, the 1978 Bears started out that way and ended up in the playoffs. In other words it can be done.

Now, can it be done by your Chicago Bears? Logic took one look at their remaining schedule and burst out laughing.

Logic has kind of a scary laugh.

Think Ultron on a bender and you get the idea.

Nevertheless the Bears will play the Packers on Sunday night. It was supposed to be a big game. And, for the Bears, it is. My local watering hole penned this game onto the calendar and scheduled a pig roast with all the trimmings. In August it seemed like a great way to cheer a Super Bowl bound team on to victory over the hated cheese heads. Then the season started. And it started with a resounding thud. And, despite glimpses of what we were all hoping for, it hasn’t really recovered.

But now the team has had a bye week. They’ve had an extra week to prepare for a team that they have had astounding luck against. All of it bad, Cutler is 1-10 as a starter against them, but luck nevertheless.

Mark Potash, who is legitimately smarter and better looking than me, takes a look at what fans may be in for.

After a one-week respite where Joe Maddon and Nik Wallenda provided a nice diversion, the reality of the Bears disappointing season resumes center stage this week.

It’s like waking up and realizing your nightmare was real: the Bears are still 3-5, coming off a 51-23 loss to the Patriots, with a trip to Lambeau Field coming up Sunday.

The timing couldn’t be better. Marc Trestman promised the Bears would be better after a week of self-scouting, self-evaluation and a working vacation for the players. Facing the Packers at Lambeau is an ideal setting to see just how well the Bears have learned their lessons. They lost 38-17 at Soldier Field on Sept. 28 and looked like they had no idea who Jordy Nelson was.

How well are the Bears coached? How well do the Bears learn? We’ll see about that this week. After the Jared Allen-less Bears failed to put any pressure on Aaron Rodgers in the loss at Soldier Field, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker indicated the Bears might try a different tack the next time. Usually they just try to “execute better.”

“Obviously you’re always going to go back and review and see what you can do better. We’ve done that,” Tucker said. “We’ll look to make some adjustments the next time we play those guys.”

Allen is healthy and ready to go for this one. Lance Briggs, who has missed the last two games with a rib injury, could return. End Lamarr Houston is out for the season with a torn ACL. But Willie Young, his likely replacement, is having a much better season.

Marc Trestman insists no single game is more telling than the other. That won’t fly this week. The Bears have their faint playoff hopes on the line against the Packers in a prime-time game at Lambeau Field. It’s Marc Trestman vs. Dom Capers. Mel Tucker vs. Mike McCarthy. Jared Allen vs. Aaron Rodgers. Jay Cutler vs. Sam Shields. And Brandon Marshall vs. Brandon Marshall.

2. Is Trestman’s job on the line? Probably not. But any ­speculation about the Bears making a coaching change during or even after Trestman’s second season should include the proper perspective — the Bears aren’t ­being run by Theo ­Epstein. They’re ­virtually the polar ­opposite, among the least-prone teams to make quick changes.

Since Mike Ditka was fired after the 1992 season, the Bears have had four coaches in 21 seasons, including Trestman — despite making the playoffs just five times in that span. In fact, Abe Gibron is the only Bears coach to be fired in fewer than four seasons. He was dumped in 1975 and replaced by Jack Pardee.

3. The Packers (5-3) are coming off a 44-23 loss to the Saints in New Orleans, when they’re defense allowed 495 yards. But since 2009 with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers are 17-2 coming off a loss, including 11-0 since 2011 — with three victories over the Bears.

4. Never underestimate the parity and mediocrity of the NFL. That’s not exactly how Trestman put it when he provided his players with examples of 3-5 teams that have made the playoffs in recent years — but that’s the reality of it.

Four teams in the previous three seasons have recovered from 3-5 starts to make the playoffs: the 2011 Broncos (8-8), the 2012 Bengals (10-6) and Redskins (10-6) and the 2013 Eagles (10-6). Prior to that, only 6-of-117 teams in the previous 20 years had made the playoffs after starting 3-5.

The Bears are in a tough spot. But the league is so volatile from top-to-bottom and from week-to-week, that it’s not quite the long shot it once was.

5. Be that as it may, that still makes the game against the Packers on Sunday night a virtual must-win scenario for the Bears. Only 1-of-75 teams to start 3-6 have made the playoffs. But again, it’s recent — the Redskins in 2012 won their final seven games to finish 10-6.

The common denominator in each of those recoveries was a manageable schedule. The 2013 Eagles played one playoff team on their road to the playoffs — and that was the Packers without Aaron Rodgers. The 2012 Redskins also played just one playoff team on their road to the playoffs. The 2012 Bengals beat six straight non-playoff teams to clinch a playoff berth.

The Bears? They have four games against teams currently in the playoffs — the Lions (6-2) home-and-away; the Cowboys (6-3) and the Saints (4-4, but leading the NFC South). And that doesn’t include the Packers (5-3), who figure to make the postseason.

6. Sometimes it’s just not your year. The Bears started the same five players on their offensive line for all 16 games last year. But the five starters from last season have already missed 10 starts this season. The Bears have started six combinations in eight games. Only Kyle Long (knock on wood) has started every game.

Guard Matt Slauson’s season-ending torn pectoral muscle epitomizes the change in fortune. He suffered the injury going all out with the Bears losing 48-15 in the fourth quarter.

“It was a play where I really wanted to get a big-time shot on a guy and I gave it all my power. And it just blew,” Slauson said.

Slauson had started 64 consecutive games in the NFL since becoming a starter with the Jets in 2010. “Before this year I hadn’t had an injury hold me out of a game since high school,” he said.

7. If Trestman had decided to name team captains for the second half, Slauson would have been a good choice. So would Ryan Mundy, Tim Jenning, Matt Forte and Jermon Bushrod — all players who not coincidentally have experience with winning teams.

Mundy, Bushrod and Jennings have been a part of Super Bowl-winning teams, Forte played in the NFC Championship Game in 2011 and Slauson was a part of Jets teams that went to the AFC Championship game in 2009 and 2010. It’s unfortunate that they are background voices with the Bears.

8. Slauson said he already has talked to offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer about having an active role with the team in the second half of the season.

“I said, ‘Look, I want to be as involved as you guys will let me.’ So I’m still going to participate in meetings. I’m going to help wherever I can,” Slauson said. “I don’t know if they’re going to let me out on the field during practice. I would like to be. But I think that’s an organizational call. I don’t think they like doing that.

“But I’d like to be out there. I feel with my knowledge and experience I can help a lot. So even if I’m [at Halas Hall] in the mornings for meetings, I think I can do a lot of good and Kromer was very supportive of that. I want to stay around. I want to help.”

9. Ex-Bears Player of the Week — More than likely, two-time winner Kyle Orton had a really good week during the Bills’ bye, but not on the field. So Henry Melton takes the honor with 1 1/2 sacks, a tackle-for-loss and three quarterback hurries in just 27 snaps during a 28-17 loss to the red-hot Arizona Cardinals.

Melton, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3 against the Steelers last year with the Bears, is only a part-time player for the Cowboys, but Rod Marinelli is getting the most out of him.

Playing just 44 percent of the defensive snaps, Melton has five sacks, four quarterback hits and 14 hurries this season and ranks 11th among defensive tackles in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

10. Packers cornerback Sam Shields, who has four interceptions in 10 games against the Bears — including one he returned 62 yards in Week 4 — is doubtful with a knee injury he suffered against the Saints. Davon House would replace him. … The Bears are 0-4 against teams with winning records this season — one of six teams without a victory over a winning team. … The Bears’ three victories are over teams with a combined record of 7-19 — the 49ers (4-4), Jets (1-8) and Falcons (2-6). … Julius Peppers, playing 71 percent of the Packers’ snaps, has four sacks, a forced fumble and an interception return for a touchdown. But Clay Matthews has just 2 1/2 sacks. … There have been 317 pick-sixes thrown in the NFL since Aaron Rodgers’ lone pick-six (in 3,523 career attempts) against the Buccaneers in 2009. Drew Brees and Matt Stafford have 12 in that span — the most in the NFL. Jay Cutler has eight.

Clearly Mark wants you to cry.

You know what? Screw it. The Internet Archive has added 900 classic arcade video games that you can play for free online. They also have almost every antique console game as well. So if you pine for your Watara SuperVision system, they’ve got you covered.

Playing Astro Fighter with your friends has got to be better than watching the Bears.

CLICK HERE TO ABANDON ALL HOPE

Follow us on Twitter!

Visit us on Rebel Mouse




Email BigBadBill

In Which It’s a Maddon, Maddon, Maddon World

The Cubs have decided to try on their big boy pants and try and put a real team on the field. Many opine that they have done this before only to rip out the, still beating, hearts of fans. And, that’s kind of true. Dusty Baker - IN DUSTY WE TRUSTY - cam here to win it all, made the playoffs a couple of times and watched fans blame some dude in the stand for his team’s inability to win it all even though all they needed was 32 outs. Or 5, depending on your point of view.

Lou Piniella - SWEET LOU!! - came to town as a confident, successful, manager and he left in the middle of a season to go talk to fish.

Both were broken men by the time Cubdom was done with them.

So expectations were ramped down, and I do mean ALL THE WAY DOWN. Cubs fans then lived through the Quade/Sveum/Renteria eras. Theo Epstein found scapegoat after scapegoat .... umm, sorry, I mean promising new blood that will be expertly placed to work with young players.

Of course the reason they had to work with young players was due to the fact that Theo, for good reason, dumped the major league roster he inherited.

For the record, I was not a fan of this move when he did it and I’m not now. I still think the major league club could have been competitive while the farm system was rebuilt. But no one asked me and, to be fair, the team has greatly improved its crop of young talent.

But this hire feels different. Not just because Maddon bought every single reporter at the press conference a drink, although that was fun, but just the general vibe. These are not your ancestors’ lovable Cubbies. Team Theo is ruthless. They will toss anyone, walk over anything, and crush all who get in their way on the path to winning.

And Cubs fans are starting to buy in. Already slightly disturbing when on their home turf I actually had one toss this little bon mot my way; “I don’t care if they sell babies to the sex trade as long they win.”

Yeah, such warmth, don’t you agree?

I get it, though. Mother’s Day & Workman’s Compensation, weren’t invented the last time the Cubs began a season that resulted in them winning it all. Hell, Cy Young was a pitcher and not an award. It’s been a while.

So they got their guy.  You can forget about Renteria, they have. Phil Rogers takes a look at what fans can expect in 2015.

Joe Maddon’s a manager, not a magician. He’s certainly not a mathematician, at least not a conventional one. He proved that with his slogan for the 2008 Rays.

Nine equals eight, it said on the T-shirts.

Maddon’s target was to improve by 27 wins—an almost unimaginable goal—and he asked his hitters, pitchers and fielders to deliver nine more wins per unit, which would get the team to that number. His theme was nine players doing their best for nine innings every day would make the Rays one of the eight playoff teams at the end of the season.

“When you’re trying to make these quantum leaps, you have to simplify it,’’ Maddon said on Monday at the Cubby Bear, a bar across the street from Wrigley Field. “It was all about presenting a realistic, not unreachable, game plan going into that season. I spent a lot of time thinking about that.’’

The season that Maddon brought out that slogan, the Rays improved from 66 wins to 97, and a trip to the World Series. It was an astounding feat, which encouraged him to attempt one that, at least on the surface, would be even greater—winning a championship with the Cubs.

“This is a once-in-107-years opportunity for me,’’ Maddon said, referencing the historic drought that stretches to 1908.

His timing couldn’t be better.

After a three-year talent roundup by Theo Epstein’s front office, the Cubs are far better positioned for a run near the top of the National League than any time in the last century, since the years when Frank Chance was their manager.

They’ve never had this much young talent on the 40-man roster and coming fast in the farm system, and as a bonus, they’ve got two of their best veterans (Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro) locked up to contracts and probably have more payroll flexibility than any other team. Oh, and for good measure, they are getting their revenue streams cranked up with a stadium overhaul and new broadcast contracts.

Having spent three days in Chicago last August, when serendipity found him inside Wrigley Field for the first time ever, Maddon realized the Cubs were going places.

“Why would you not want to accept this challenge?’’ Maddon said. “In this city, in that ballpark, under these circumstances, with this talent, it’s an extraordinary moment. Not just in Cub history but in baseball, today’s game, this confluence of all these items coming together at the same time, it’s pretty impressive.’’

From 2008 through ‘13, Maddon’s teams in Tampa Bay averaged 91.7 wins, second only to the Yankees in the Major Leagues. He did that with an average Opening Day payroll of $57.9 million, which ranked ahead of only the Pirates and Padres.

So to recap, 28th in spending, second in winning. No wonder Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, and general manager Jed Hoyer hopped on a commercial flight from Chicago to Pensacola, Fla., with a connection in Atlanta, to visit Maddon at an RV camp shortly after Major League Baseball informed them that Maddon had exercised his opt-out clause with the Rays. He had joined owner Stu Sternberg and GM Andrew Friedman in working wonders for nine seasons, but Friedman’s decision to jump to the Dodgers changed everything.

No Cubs manager has lasted more than five seasons since Leo Durocher was fired in 1972. Maddon, 60, received a five-year contract—the same term Epstein got when he was hired three years ago—but the expectation is he’ll be in place a lot longer.

“Sixty is the new 40,’’ Maddon said, laughing.

Epstein refers to the silver-haired Maddon as “our long-term manager’’ and “a real difference-maker for us.’’ Maddon’s track record says he will be exactly that, especially if the front office does a good job adding onto a base built around Kris Bryant, the Minor League Player of the Year; slugging middle infielder Javier Baez, Cuban right fielder Jorge Soler and, in the wings, shortstop Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, a catcher with an impact bat.

Maddon is as intelligent as he is detailed, and he is as inspiring as he is detailed. He has figured out how to get the most out of his players, and it has as much to do with how he treats them as people as it does seeking platoon advantages or using the numbers provided by his analytic staff.

“When you have talented players, which we do, you put them in the right situations, where they’re not afraid of making mistakes,’’ Maddon said. “Any player who plays for me, or us, can never be afraid of making a mistake. That’s the worst thing you can do—to coach aggressiveness out of a player, to coach fear into a player.’’

You can come up with a long list of players who have performed better for Maddon than any of the other managers they’ve played for. For starters, consider how much better Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Matt Garza and Yunel Escobar have played for the Rays than elsewhere.

Don’t be surprised if Arismendy Alcantara turns into an electrifying player next year or if Castro finds himself as one of Maddon’s so-called super-utility players when the more fundamentally solid Russell is deemed ready to take over shortstop. Maybe Junior Lake will find his confidence.

Maddon is a big believer in the philosophies espoused in “Blink,’’ the Malcolm Gladwell book about trusting the intuition produced by life experience and research. He’s not a guy who believes that players have to “grind’’ over the long season, at least not until they step into the batter’s box or onto the field.

“I’m not a big pregame guy,’’ he said, adding that he doesn’t believe in getting to the ballpark early and going home late, just because it might tell others that you care. He said on Monday that he actually believes one reason hitting totals are down around baseball is because batters take too many swings in the cage, wearing themselves down when they’re trying to get locked in.

Interesting idea, huh?

Here’s another one.

While it remains to be seen if the Cubs can add talent like Jon Lester, James Shields or Russell Martin through free agency, Maddon believes the Cubs can make an immediate jump from 73 wins into the postseason in 2015.

“I’m going to be talking playoffs next year,’’ Maddon said. “I’ll tell you that right now. I can’t go to Spring Training saying any other thing. Why would you report? It’s all about setting your standards, your goals high, because if you don’t, you might actually hit them, and that’s not a good thing. We’re going to set our standards high, absolutely. I’m going to talk playoffs, I’m going to talk World Series this year. I promise you. I am, and I’m going to believe it.’’

As for the Billy Goat, Maddon isn’t superstitious.

“I’m going to see how this is all going to play out,’’ Maddon said. “It’s in our future. There’s no question about that. I don’t know exactly when that’s going to happen, but in my mind’s eye, we’re going to make the playoffs next year. That’s how I’m going to approach next season.’’

You can bet he’ll have a slogan when he rolls into Mesa, Ariz., in February, and a very competitive team when September comes around. But October is the month driving his hiring, and the foundation is in place to play games then too. Maddon’s “extraordinary moment’’ looks like the start of something big at Wrigley Field.

Maddon is famous for being unconventional and much will be made of his use of zoo animals (Chicago has 2 world class zoos he can work with) and his themed road trips (I see flappers for some reason) and basically being he guy who can work with what he’s given, which is going to be key for the Cubs.

Maddon’s teams play tight defense, rely on consistent pitching and timely hitting. All things this club of defensively challenged free swingers is not built to do.

Now the real fun begins. Do the Cubs bring up the kind of players Maddon has had success with? Will he remold himself to to fit in with what Team Theo has given him? Will he bring a championship to Chicago or will he end up in a gutter clutching a Clark doll and peeing on is hands?

I know what fans are thinking. Elliott Harris spoke with a legal bookie who is just shaking his head.

From the fine folks at Bovada, (www.Bovada.lv, Twitter: @BovadaLV) comes this from sports book manager Kevin Bradley: “Even though the Cubs were rumored to name Joe Maddon their new baseball manager, we still opened them at 50-1 to win the World Series last Thursday morning. The media hype surrounding the Cubs hiring Joe Maddon and now them actually hiring Joe Maddon, has convinced the average bettor to bet them regardless of the odds forcing us to drop them all the way down to 20-1.Wh ile I think he’s a tremendous manager and that the Cubs have a bright future with many young major leaguers and prospects, I was comfortable taking money on them at those 50-1 odds and wasn’t going to over-adjust based on a manager, but the overwhelming amount of wagers on the Cubs to win the World Series forced our hand.”

If you want to make a quick buck head on over to Wrigleyville.

CLICK HERE TO SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

Follow us on Twitter!

Visit us on Rebel Mouse




Email BigBadBill

In Which the Nice Guy Finished Last

Since the Bears are off today and my Halloween prediction for Derek Rose came true the very next day I guess we should talk about the Cubs. As I noted on October 29, before it became official, the Cubs ponied up around $25 MIL to get their man. Then they tossed another $2 MIL into the fire to get rid of the guy they already had.

To say that emotions are mixed on these moves would be an understatement. On the one hand they got the best guy around to do the job they need done. On the other hand they showed a level of reptilian behavior not normally associated with the lovable Cubbies.

Well, times change.

The Ricketts brought in Team Theo to change things up. And that he has. He dumped all hope at the major league level so that the Cubs could finally have a farm system. No player was untouchable. Jeff Samardzija was the ace of the franchise until he wasn’t any more. Josh Hammel was a pitcher to build around until he wasn’t any more. Matt Garza was a reason to hope for a better world until he was shown the door. I could go on but you get the idea.

We’ll ignore Edwin Jackson for now.

The one promise that kept getting made was “When the time’s right we’ll start making moves.”

It seems that time is now.

Rick Telander says that, as bad as the Cubs handled this, it may all be worth it.

It would have been nicer if Joe Maddon had come to the Cubs under cleaner circumstances. But he’s here now, and Rick Renteria has been sent packing.

(Thanks, Rick! Somebody had to be the sacrificial lamb, the fall guy, the scapegoat. That’s what they call guys in your position, you know.)

Maddon is such a respected architect of team-building — doing so much with so little — that it’s unfortunate he became a free-agent manager when he did. Renteria was the placeholder, like Dale Sveum before him, marking time until the Cubs put the hammer down and actually try to contend for a title.

Maybe that time is now.

It came at least a year too early, maybe two. Yet the Cubs felt they had to make the move right now or possibly forever lose the chance to get a quality field general such as Maddon. So somebody had to get hurt. Renteria.

This is the payday Maddon had been building toward, no doubt coveting. A two-time Manager of the Year for the small-market Tampa Bay Rays, he wasn’t in the elite class, pay-wise. Now he’s signed with the Cubs for a rumored $25 million for five years. Paying off the final two years of Renteria’s contract costs the Cubs about $2  million.

That makes three Cubs managers in less than three years, and a bundle of money paid. That’s not to mention the mercenary attitude this now puts on display. We’ll assume this means Theo Epstein and Co. are fully open for cutthroat business.

We’ll assume the young guys will continue to develop under Maddon, talents such as Javy Baez, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, even Starlin Castro, 24, and Anthony Rizzo, 25. We’ll assume the Cubs will have money to go after quality free-agent pitching, which they need after the Edwin Jackson fiasco and the losses of Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija.

We’ll also assume that minor-league phenom Kris Bryant, 22, will actually play third base at Wrigley Field before hell freezes over and hit big home runs while doing it. And, lastly, we’ll assume Epstein means what he said while defending the affront to Renteria and the moral dilemma it created: ‘‘[B]e loyal to Rick or be loyal to the organization.’’

Verdict?

Sucks for you, Rick.

‘‘In this business of trying to win a world championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has priority over any one individual,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘We decided to pursue Joe.’’

In other words, nobody is untouchable. Everybody is expendable. A vow means little. A promise, less. What the Cubs say one day can change when the wind blows another day.

There’s a good chance this loyalty issue will vanish when, and if, Maddon, 60, succeeds at Wrigley Field. Maddon’s a fun guy who is good with players and media alike. And winning will sate the starved Cubs faithful like steaks in a wolf den.

But this is devious nevertheless. Assuming the Cubs didn’t blatantly tamper with Maddon, whom Epstein had interviewed for the Boston Red Sox manager’s job a decade ago, the sticky situation arose because Maddon had an opt-out clause in Tampa, and that was seemingly triggered when his longtime general manager friend Andrew Friedman recently left for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

So here we are.

The Cubs sent out a highly unusual and carefully worded statement Friday, stating unequivocally that Renteria was ‘‘fired.’’ The reason? For not being Joe Maddon.

Usually such missives talk about ‘‘reassignment’’ and ‘‘change in direction’’ and ‘‘mutual agreement’’ and the like. Not this one.

The cold-bloodedness of it, with a plea to fans to understand ‘‘a sensitive situation,’’ put that old phrase about the Cubs being lovable losers into the dustbin once and for all.

New York Daily News baseball writer Andy Martino talked to a bunch of baseball people about Maddon and the Cubs and the unspoken rule that managers don’t seek jobs held by other managers.

‘‘The whole industry is talking about what a classless act [this is],’’ one high-ranking major-league executive told him.

‘‘I am shocked he would do this,’’ said another.

‘‘It’s sad to see that happen to a good man,’’ said yet another, meaning Renteria.

And then there was this from ‘‘a baseball official who has participated in several managerial negotiations and hires’’: ‘‘It is just plain wrong. . . . I have never seen it happen. You have every right to go after a vacant job. There is no vacancy here.’’

Wrong.

That is, correct.

One exec I talked to said the optics on this just plain sucked. Especially after the way the Cubs treated Dale Sveum. They fired him to get a manager who was never available. At least this time they insured that the guy they wanted was actually unemployed.

I know that Tampa is looking to file tampering charges but I doubt that will get very far. All evidence thus far points to events being fortuitous and not salacious.

Then again, who knows what the people on the inside of this know. When the Cubs landed Team Theo they avoided formal charges by entering into a contract with the Red Sox that cost them players, money and precluded them from poaching any other execs. A fact they forgot a year or so later and of which they were reminded forcibly.

Oh well. It’s the Cubs.

Paul Sullivan thinks that, optics aside, this was a great move.

The November edition of Vine Line, the Cubs’ monthly magazine their the marketing department produces, includes a story on manager Rick Renteria under the headline “Exit Interview.”

It turned out to be a prescient headline, though the subject had no idea he was about to be replaced as manager, as his final comment on Cubs’ fans attests:

“We hope as we continue to move forward, we give them a lot to cheer for.”

The Cubs are moving forward all right, and putting Renteria in the rear view mirror.

After waiting for years for an opportunity to manage in the majors, Renteria was fired Friday, ending a week of rampant speculation. The opportunity to hire Joe Maddon trumped the Cubs’ feelings for Renteria, so the dirty deed was done (albeit not dirt cheap).

It was a stunning reversal of fortune for the genial and overly optimistic Renteria, who was touting the Cubs’ playoff chances during his introductory news conference last winter.

“I know everyone thinks I’m nuts,” he said. “But I feel like any team has a chance to move forward if you really believe in the confidence in a team growing up, preparing on a daily basis, knowing what you really want to do and giving yourself a chance to fight and play.”

We wondered how long it would take to wipe that grin off Renteria’s face, and we finally got the answer Friday.

Renteria’s year on the North Side soon will be forgotten, and he will go down in Chicago sports history as a sunnier version of Terry Bevington. Many of his moves were “odd,” as he freely admitted, though he chalked it off to the “process.” His challenges on calls became so frequent we often wondered if he was just getting exercise jogging out to the umpire.

And Renteria’s opening remarks on the Cubs contending in 2014 were a prelude to the type of similarly ridiculous statements he made all season. They often were preceded by the words “quite frankly,” which implied he was being direct instead of obfuscating on the subject at hand.

Of course, that’s what the Cubs wanted — a non-offensive, un-quotable, half-glass-full kind of leader to replace the brusque and openly critical Dale Sveum, who often referred to Starlin Castro’s focus issues as “brain farts” and once threatened to demote Castro and Anthony Rizzo to Triple-A Iowa.

So, did the Cubs treat Renteria fairly?

As fairly as any of the other Cubs’ employees who were dismissed over the last few years, from the traveling secretary to secretaries. The Cubs, like any other business, have the right to hire and fire whoever they want, and they have dismissed employees who did their jobs much better than Renteria did his.

This is how it has been since John McDonough left for the Blackhawks and business President Crane Kenney’s power base strengthened under the Ricketts’ family. As one veteran Cubs’ employee told me last spring, “We used to be a corporate-owned team run like a family, and now we’re a family-owned team run like a corporation.”

As embarrassing as it is to Renteria to be a one-and-done manager, President Theo Epstein is on a “Steinbrenner-ian” pace when it comes to firing managers. He has fired three (Mike Quade, Sveum and Renteria) since 2011, paying all three not to manage.

Epstein inherited Quade when taking over the Cubs and had no intention of keeping him, even though he made Quade go through a seven-hour interview before canning him. Quade told WMVP-AM 1000 the next day “there was very little that was left unsaid or talked about. … I enjoyed it very much and felt pretty good.”

That was a horrible assumption, one of many Quade made during his brief tenure. Sveum repeated the “I didn’t see it coming” narrative after the 2013 season when he insisted he was surprised to be let go with a year left on his contract.

Sveum, the Royals’ hitting coach, appears happy in his post-Cubs life, and said during the World Series he doesn’t expect to be offered another managerial job.

“I don’t hold my breath,” he said. “I was fortunate to get a job because of my past with Theo. I’m not a politician. I don’t go out searching for a job. That’s just what it is.”

Epstein wished Renteria well in his lengthy statement and said he “no doubt (will) make an excellent major league manager when given his next chance.”

Like Sveum, Renteria shouldn’t hold his breath. Considering his age (52) and the lack of opportunities that crop up, he may have managed his last major league game.

Maddon will be a breath of fresh air, a throwback to the dinosaurs like Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog, Sparky Anderson and others who were honest and open about their teams. It’s the way Chicagoans prefer, as evidenced by Mike Ditka’s continuing popularity.

In an interview with Maddon last year at Tropicana Field, I asked him if there no longer was a place in the game for managers who speak their minds.

“I would hope so,” he replied. “Because I would have a hard time if that were (not) the case.”

Quite frankly, hiring Maddon was the right move.

Now that the Twins have hired Paul Molitor as their new skipper there are no head manager jobs for Renteria to get.

That said, he was a well respected bench coach so I imagine someone will find him a job somewhere.

Looking back on the events that got us where we are now I guess I can only say that the Cubs handled this as only the Cubs can. Since Uncle Tom came to town they have made one clunky move after another. Listing them all would require a separate blog post.

Still, when all is said and done, if Maddon wins and wins a lot, no one will care. But if this defensively challenged group of free swingers performs the way defensively challenged groups of free swingers normally do, which is not very well, then this is going to get ugly fast.

CLICK HERE TO JOIN THE FRAY

Follow us on Twitter!

Visit us on Rebel Mouse




Email BigBadBill