Results tagged ‘ Theo Epstein ’

Hof Off the Presses: May issue featuring the Cubs core

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Please don’t judge me, but …

I grew up an Atlanta Braves fan. Look, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I moved a lot when I was younger and lived in Atlanta in the early ’80s. With each subsequent move, I was able to follow the Braves because of TBS.

Here’s what I remember about the Braves from my younger days—1981 was a miserable, strike-shortened year; 1982 was a blast until the postseason (a phenomenon I didn’t realize would repeat itself throughout my adulthood); 1983 was solid; and then depression set in.

The Braves were 80-82 in 1984, and that was by far the best it would get until the franchise began its unprecedented run of regular-season success in 1991. The late ’ 80s saw a wretched slide that reached its nadir in 1988, when the team went 54-106.

54-106!

So why am I recounting this sad chapter from my childhood? I see a lot of similarities between what the Braves were doing in the late ’80s/early ’90s and what the Cubs are doing now.

In 1990, the Braves went 65-97, good for last place in the NL West, 26 games behind the Reds. In 1991, they shocked the baseball world by winning 94 games and getting all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. Since then, they’ve been one of the most stable and consistently excellent teams in pro sports.

But the Braves’ worst-to-first run didn’t come out of the blue. In fact, the team probably wasn’t as bad as its record in 1990. If you look back at the roster, it included names like Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Mike Stanton, Ron Gant and David Justice. All those players had some important things in common—they were young, untested, and between the ages of 20 and 25.

When we talked to Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein for our January issue, something he said resonated with me.

“There are two ways to really improve your team in a hurry from one year to the next,” Epstein said. “One is sign impact players or bring in impact players from outside the organization. The other is to have a wave of young talent that’s approaching their prime years at the same time.”

The Cubs might not shock the world this year, but they’re building that wave of talent—players who can grow together, win together, lose together, and ultimately figure things out together as they move into their prime years.

One of these waves is at the major league level now in Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson. Epstein calls these players the “Cubs core.” And the organization is developing another strong group in the low minor leagues with high-ceiling players like Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Pierce Johnson and Dillon Maples.

In the May issue of Vine Line, we talk to the Cubs core about what it means to them to play in Chicago and how they plan to turn potential into major league success. One thing is clear—no matter what the record said at the end of 2012 or what it says right now—these guys do not buy into the presumption that the Cubs are years away from winning.

We also check in on the new minor league affiliate that is helping develop the next wave of top talent. After eight years with the Peoria Chiefs, the Cubs switched their Midwest League affiliate to Kane County, located about 40 miles from Wrigley Field’s doorstep. There are huge benefits to having a farm team nearby, and the Cougars and Cubs both hope to take advantage of that in 2013 and beyond.

Finally, we look at the other side of the Cubs equation—the fan base. This season, the team has developed an advertising and marketing campaign based on the fierce dedication and undying passion of the best fans in the game. We talk to the stars of the new ads and the Cubs front office to find out how it all came together.

To read these stories and more, pick up the May issue of Vine Line, on sale now at select Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line today. And you can follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

Here’s to a brighter future.

—Gary Cohen

Cubs high on ESPN’s future power rankings

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Much has been written about the organizational overhaul that has occurred on the North Side since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over in November 2011. Over the last season-plus, the club has seen a dramatic improvement at both the major and minor league levels.

While many publications strongly believe in what the Cubs front office is doing, ESPN’s brain trust of baseball writers took things a step further, rating the Cubs the sixth best organization in their future power rankings.

ESPN described the piece as an attempt to measure how well teams are set up for sustained success over the next five seasons. Each team was ranked 1-30 (30 points were given if they were the best, 29 if they were second, etc.) on five different categories: major league quality, minor league quality, finances, management and mobility.

The Cubs, who ranked 16th last year, made the league’s biggest improvement. Below is what ESPN said about the club:

Chicago Cubs
Rank: 6
Majors (points awarded): 6
Minors: 26
Finance: 24
Management: 25
Mobility: 24
TOTAL SCORE: 65 of 100

The Overview
In Theo We Trust. This club is undergoing a teardown unseen this side of Houston, but they’ve rid themselves of pretty much every significant payroll obligation beyond 2014. It’s been an encouraging rebuilding effort, though Matt Garza’s injury woes will prevent them from extracting full value for him in a trade. — Buster Olney

The Dilemma
They have made a lot of strides adding position-player talent to the organization, and now they must add arms. Most of their winter spending was on pitchers, but they don’t have a future ace in the pipeline. — Jim Bowden

The System
They’ve turned around substantially after trading Paul Maholm, spending lavishly on international free agents (when permitted) and drafting well in 2012, although most of what I like about this system is a good two years  away.  — Keith Law

In a related story, ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski projected the best 30 players in 2018, which included a pair of Cubs in the top 15: Starlin Castro (8) and Anthony Rizzo (15). Below is what Szymborski wrote about each player:

8. Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
Projected 2018 stats: .293/.341/.478, 19 HR, 4.7 WAR

Can he stay at short? The stats have generally been more positive (or at least, less negative) on Castro’s defense than the eye has been. Wherever he ends up, by 2018 he’s likely to be one of the best hitters for average over the past decade, though he’s not going to ever be a guy who racks up walks.

15. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Projected 2018 stats: .273/.356/.520, 34 HR, 4.3 WAR

Ignore Rizzo’s cup of coffee with the Padres, his .285/.342/.463 line with the Cubs in 2012 is a far more accurate representation of where he is as a player. The Theo Epstein Cubs aren’t done rebuilding yet, but if they can round up a worthwhile third baseman, the infield will already be one of the best in baseball.

Bunting competition is underway in Mesa

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For the second year in a row, Cubs manager Dale Sveum is staging a Spring Training bunting competition that includes coaches, players and—in a new twist this year—a member of the front office.

On Saturday, the front office and clubhouse staff competed in a play-in bracket. The winner of that bracket moved into the larger tournament. In a hotly contested first-round, front office matchup, Cubs baseball president Theo Epstein knocked out GM Jed Hoyer. But Epstein fell in the next round to director of baseball operations Scott Harris. Advanced scouting assistant Nate Halm, who played catcher at Miami of Ohio before graduating in 2008, won the front office competition over strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss.

Halm continued his hot streak in the first round of the official tournament on Monday, taking out Rule 5 pickup Hector Rondon. But that wasn’t the only upset of the day. Bullpen catcher Andy Lane also took down outfielder Dave Sappelt, and last year’s dark horse favorite Steve Clevenger lost handily to infielder Luis Valbuena. Other winners were James Russell, Brian Bogusevic, Edwin Maysonet, Travis Wood and Drew Carpenter.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Part 3 of our Q&A with Theo Epstein

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

For the January issue of Vine Line, we talked to Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein about the state of the organization. In part one of the interview, Epstein talked about his first year with the team and instituting the Cubs Way throughout the system. In part two, he spoke about the need for veteran leadership and the Cubs’ desire to add pitching at all levels. In part three, we talk playoffs. To read the entire interview, pick up the January issue or subscribe to Vine Line today.

VL: With one-third of the league now making the postseason, is it tempting to try to make a splash with a big-money free agent? 

TE: There’s always going to be temptation. I think 30 teams face it every winter. There’s temptation to sacrifice a little bit of your future, whether it’s in terms of your best prospects or whether it’s in terms of future dollars that you want to allocate. You might not get the most bang for your buck in those future dollars, but gosh, that player’s sitting right there for you to sign. And maybe we’re just one player away.

The bottom line is there is a time when you’re one player away. We’re not quite there yet. We’re still in the mode where we’re building toward something that’s going to provide great results for us on a consistent basis year in and year out. We want to do it as much as we can with homegrown players. We want to do it with a nucleus of players who enter their prime together, who play the game the right way and who are proud to be Cubs. Then, at the appropriate time, we’ll supplement it with the right impact free agent.

Along the way, we’re going to sign free agents. We’re going to do everything we can to have a season like Oakland had last year, or Baltimore had last year. But I think you’ll know by the talent that’s on the field and under control and under contract for a long period of time when we’re about to go on our run and extend it and sustain success.

VL: If you are at or around the .500 mark halfway through the 2013 season, do you see yourself adding pieces to make a Wild Card push?

TE: I think any opportunity to get into the playoffs is something you have to take very, very seriously. If we’re fortunate enough to be in contention this year, I think adding is something we would definitely pursue. It’s up to us to really budget our money appropriately during the offseason so we do have a little bit of room during the season. But typically when you’re having a good year, attendance is better, and you generate more revenues. I know with the Rickettses’ commitment to winning, we certainly would be aggressive and stretch and do what’s necessary to supplement that type of a team.

The preferred route into the postseason is always winning the division, but realistically, as we continue this process of trying to get better and better every year and building a strong foundation, if we have things break our way and we have a realistic chance at the Wild Card, we’re not going to be picky about how we get in. We’re going to go for it, and get in that tournament because anything can happen in October.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Part 2 of our Q&A with Theo Epstein

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

For the January issue of Vine Line, we talked to Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein about the state of the organization. In part one of the interview, Epstein talked about his first year with the team and instituting the Cubs Way throughout the system. In part two, we cover the need for veteran leadership and the Cubs’ desire to add pitching at all levels. We’ll post part three on the blog next week. To read the entire interview, pick up the January issue or subscribe to Vine Line today.

Vine Line:  What’s your philosophy on the ideal mix of star players and role players on a team?

Theo Epstein: There are two ways to really improve your team in a hurry from one year to the next. One is sign impact players or bring in impact players from outside the organization. The other is to have a wave of young talent that’s approaching their prime years at the same time. Those teams that have a bunch of players going from 23 and 24 years old, when they’re first breaking into the big leagues, to 26 and 27, 27 being the start of a player’s prime in baseball, those teams get better in a hurry.

At some point in the future, if we have a bunch of those players who are entering their prime and improving together and we supplement that with some impact signings from outside the organization, we could really see a lot of improvement in a hurry.

VL:  After losing so many veterans at the trade deadline last season, who will fill the leadership void this year?

TE: We felt like we did get in a position where we traded some solid veteran leaders last year, but we also had some remaining. Alfonso Soriano doesn’t get a lot of credit for it, but he sets a tremendous example with his work ethic and his preparation. David DeJesus, as an example, is another great leader. He took Anthony Rizzo under his wing and gave him his daily workout routine and pregame prep. The two of them started working out together and getting ready for games together. That gave Anthony the confidence that he was going to be ready every game. Now he relies on that routine as part of his own mental preparation to be able to play at a high level.

So I do think we have some veterans remaining, but that’s certainly something we take into consideration as we put the team together. We don’t want to have a team that’s young and without the proper kind of veteran guidance in the clubhouse to help them adjust and become true pros and good teammates.

VL: It seems like the system is in a much better position in the infield and outfield, but is still lacking the pitching to compete consistently.

TE: To be blunt, I think you’re right. We simply don’t have enough talent yet. We have some really interesting arms down low—we have some guys who are going to be big leaguers—but we really need to focus on acquiring impact young pitching. No matter what we do with our position player corps, we’re not going to go anywhere unless we have the arms to match. So we made it a priority in just about every deal we made to get at least one arm back. After we took Albert Almora in the draft with our first pick, I think we took eight consecutive pitchers. And we’re going to continue to hammer away at acquiring young pitching. You have to do a lot of it through volume because of the amount of attrition involved in young pitching.

VL: What about the bullpen? James Russell really grabbed that Sean Marshall spot, and Carlos Marmol not only got his old stuff back but seems to have found his fastball. Were you happy with what you saw?

TE:  Overall, I wasn’t happy with the bullpen. It was disappointing as a whole, but there certainly were some bright spots. I think James Russell did a very admirable job continuing the progress he made toward the end of 2011, and really pitched even better when he was used deeper in the games, in more meaningful spots. He got left- and right-handed hitters out and showed a very consistent pitch mix, showed tremendous poise, and was a very reliable executor of pitches, even on the big stage. That was a big step forward for him. We see him as a guy who’s going to be in the ’pen for a long time.

And then Marmol did turn his season around. He got off to a really difficult start. I know it’s hard to look past that, but he worked really hard at following [pitching coach] Chris Bosio’s request to throw his fastball more, and all of a sudden his velocity crept up. He got some of that swing-and-miss quality back to his slider. And for the last three or four months of the season, he was a pretty good relief pitcher for us and closed games fairly consistently when we did give him that opportunity. So there were bright spots. … We just need to be more consistent from day one next year.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Q&A with Theo Epstein (Part 1)

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

It’s safe to say when President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein was brought into the Cubs organization in the fall of 2011, expectations were running a little high. A lot of pressure comes with being labeled the “boy genius of baseball” and capturing two World Series titles in Boston before the age of 34. In fact, a certain Chicago paper may or may not have run a picture of him walking on water in the past year.

But when Epstein signed on with the Cubs, he knew he and his team had significant work to do. He had no illusions about hefting the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2012 or shocking the baseball world with a lightning-quick turnaround. That’s not how Epstein did things in Boston, and it was even more unlikely in Chicago. The organization he inherited was trapped under the weight of big-money, long-term contracts with aging veterans and had a minor league system that was short on top-tier talent.

In Boston, he succeeded by developing waves of good, young players in the system and acquiring veteran free agents when the team was poised for a breakthrough. Since taking the reins, Epstein and his front office mates have significantly improved the lower levels of the Cubs minor league system by acquiring high-ceiling prospects like Albert Almora, Arodys Vizcaino and Jorge Soler. There has also been an influx of young standouts at the major league level with the rise of Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Anthony Rizzo and Jeff Samardzija.

Though the Cubs struggled last year, people throughout the game see them as an organization on the upswing. At the winter meetings in early December, Epstein commented on how players were talking about Chicago as a desirable destination because of the solid clubhouse culture and dedication to building the organization the right way. You don’t often hear about players clamoring to join 101-loss teams.

For the January issue of Vine Line, we listened in on a conference call Epstein held with Cubs season-ticket holders to talk about the past year and where the team is headed in the near future. We’ll post some of the quotes here on the blog in the next few weeks. To read the entire interview, pick up the January issue or subscribe to Vine Line today.

Vine Line: How do you feel about the direction of the team after your first calendar year with the Cubs?

Theo Epstein: My first year was terrific. I really got to know a lot about the organization, and all the players and all the systems and all the personnel we have. I feel like while it was a tough year at the big league level, we made a lot of progress behind the scenes in establishing exactly what it is we’re trying to accomplish—getting people to buy in and make some changes that are going to provide us a really solid foundation going forward. So I’m going to continue to work really hard day and night until we get there. But one year in, I actually really do like the direction we’re headed.

VL: When you were hired last fall, you talked about establishing a Cubs way of playing baseball. Do you feel the organization has made strides toward that? 

TE: We did meet last winter and define what it is that we’re going to stand for, how we’re going to play the game, how we’re going to run the bases, what type of offensive approach we want. It exists on paper, but I think it takes a while to really take hold. You almost need a generation of players to come up through the minor league system, learning the game that way, before you can feel confident that it’s going to be represented day in and day out on the field. But I did see glimpses. I think Dale [Sveum] and his staff set a pretty high standard for how players were going to prepare, and how hard they were going to hustle.

VL: A lot of payroll came off the books last year. Will that help you put a more competitive squad on the field this season? 

TE: One thing to keep in mind, in previous years, the payroll had been artificially high, where there was sort of a habit of signing players like Carlos Peña and deferring a lot of the money into future years’ payrolls. Last year, for example, we were paying a lot of Carlos Peña’s money, even though he was playing for the Rays. And when [the Cubs] signed draft picks a lot of times, a good portion of that money was pushed off into future years’ budgets. Next year, we’re going to be paying for drafts from a year or so ago. So we’re really trying not to continue that practice. We’re trying to be very transparent about where we are, addressing our issues in the current year and planning for a better future. But there’s certainly going to be no shortage of investment in this team as we continue to try to build toward a foundation that’ll provide playoff teams year in and year out.

VL:  There was a strong emphasis on fundamentals starting in Spring Training, but there were an alarming number of mental mistakes this year. How do you address that going forward?

TE:  I think there are certain elements of fundamentals that we did do well. I thought we caught the ball extremely well in the outfield. I think we had great defensive positioning from the first game of the season to the last. But especially with the baserunning—it’s some absent-minded baserunning. That’s something we really need to improve. I think it just goes to show that simply emphasizing it isn’t enough. We have to continue to hammer it year in and year out so it becomes part of our culture, and continue to focus on players who have the right kind of instincts and the right kind of game awareness so those mistakes are very much the exception, not the rule.

VL: Does that make developing through your system doubly important because it allows you to teach the same philosophy from rookie ball all the way up to the big leagues?

TE: Absolutely. I think it also eliminates excuses. When you have a player who’s new to the organization and, let’s say, he makes the third out of the inning at third base or tries to steal third base with two outs, you can ask him what he was thinking, and he’ll always have an explanation. There’s not much you can do about it except say, “Don’t let it happen again.” When a player comes through the Cubs system, if he hasn’t figured that out by the time he’s out of rookie ball, then we’re doing something wrong.

We did spend a lot of time this winter codifying the Cubs way of playing the game, which addresses everything, including all the fundamentals defensively and baserunning, and our players are immersed in that in the minor leagues. Really, they should know it backward and forward by the time they get to Double-A. [When] they’re starting to approach the big league radar screen, they have no excuses.

Cubs Convention kicks off next Friday

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Ready to get the 2013 baseball season started? The Cubs campaign kicks off next weekend, Jan. 18-20, at the 28th Annual Cubs Convention, held for the first time at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in downtown Chicago. The event will feature more than 75 current, past and future Cubs players and coaches, and will offer more than 100 photo and autograph opportunities.

The Opening Ceremony begins on Friday, Jan. 18, at 5 p.m., and will feature player and alumni introductions on a red carpet runway that will offer special VIP access to children 16 and under. Following the Opening Ceremony, guests will find some of their favorite Cubs throughout the hotel for an exciting Autograph Hunt Game. The evening will conclude with longtime Cubs Convention favorite Cubs Bingo, led by Wayne Messmer, as well as a live radio broadcast of WGN Sports Night.

Saturday’s program continues the gaming fun with the return of Cubs Jeopardy, which pits alumni pitchers Milt Pappas, Scott Sanderson, Lee Smith and Rick Sutcliffe against alumni position players Jose Cardenal, Jody Davis, Randy Hundley and Todd Walker. Cubs Family Feud makes its Cubs Convention debut Saturday afternoon, as Cubs alumni Bobby Dernier, Jon Lieber, Gary Matthews and Billy Williams take on current Cubs Michael Bowden, Shawn Camp, Brett Jackson and Ian Stewart.

Fans can meet many of the club’s offseason acquisitions—including pitchers Scott Baker, Scott Feldman and Edwin Jackson; catcher Dioner Navarro; and outfielder Nate Schierholtz—at the Meet the New Cubs session hosted by new television analyst Jim Deshaies and play-by-play broadcaster Len Kasper.

Additional Saturday sessions include:

  • Ricketts Family Forum—Tom, Laura, Pete and Todd Ricketts speak with Len Kasper and fans about their experience as team owners over the past three years.
  • Meet Cubs Baseball Management—President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, Executive Vice President/General Manager Jed Hoyer, Assistant General Manager Randy Bush, Assistant General Manager Shiraz Rehman and manager Dale Sveum speak about the club’s recent moves and what lies ahead for the 2013 season.
  • From Draft Day to the Big Leagues—Cubs minor league prospects Dallas Beeler, Matt Szczur, Robert Whitenack and Tony Zych discuss what it’s like to get drafted by the Chicago Cubs and advance through the minor leagues.
  • Dale Sveum and the Coaching Staff—The Cubs manager, bench coach Jamie Quirk, hitting coach James Rowson, assistant hitting coach Rob Deer, bullpen boach Lester Strode, first base coach Dave McKay and third base coach David Bell speak with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies about what’s in store during the staff’s second year.
  • For Kids Only Press Conference, presented by Advocate Health Care—A unique Q&A session where kids ask the questions to Darwin Barney, David DeJesus, Brooks Raley, Anthony Rizzo and Chris Rusin.
  • Renew Wrigley Field—Cubs executives discuss ideas to preserve and renew iconic Wrigley Field based on input from Cubs fans, season ticket holders and the community.
  • Not for Women Only—Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, James Russell, and Travis Wood discuss their personal sides and lives off the field.
  • WGN Radio’s Sports Central—This live broadcast with WGN Radio’s Jim Memolo and Glen Kozlowski will feature segments with David DeJesus and Matt Garza; Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija; Tony Campana and Starlin Castro; and Brett Jackson, Edwin Jackson and Anthony Rizzo.

Sunday’s program features two panel sessions to close out the Convention:

  • Down on the Farm—Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod, Director of Pro Scouting Joe Bohringer and Director of Player Development Brandon Hyde will be joined by Cubs farmhands Chris Rusin and Josh Vitters to give a breakdown of the Cubs minor league teams from Iowa down to Mesa. Hosted by Vine Line editor Gary Cohen and broadcaster Dave Otto.
  • Stat Sundays—Broadcasters Jim Deshaies, Len Kasper and WGN’s Bob Vorwald offer insight into the statistics they analyze and feature during Stat Sundays throughout the season.

In addition to the sessions highlighted above, the Convention includes many new and returning activities throughout the weekend for fans:

Rookie of the Year Movie Night, presented by the Cubs Kids Club, makes its Cubs Convention debut. Fans can eat popcorn and relax with family and friends Saturday evening while watching the popular film, Rookie of the Year.

Walgreens Field is a new miniature turf diamond that gives kids a fun place to take practice batting, play pick-up wiffle ball games or participate in professional instructional clinics as part of the Baseball Interactive Zone. Cubs players and coaches will pair up with Illinois Baseball Academy instructors to conduct a series of training opportunities for fans of all ages throughout the weekend.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago is giving fans the chance to test their play-by-play broadcasting skills in a custom-built fantasy broadcasting booth. Guests will call a pre-recorded play in the booth, then download a recorded copy of their work for keeps.

MLB Network’s Strike Zone allows fans to test their arm speed and win prizes at an inflatable speed pitch.

The Sony PlayStation Gaming Zone gives attendees a chance to take a break from the action to play MLB 12 The Show at one of several Sony PS3 kiosks.

The LEGOLAND® Discovery Center returns with an area dedicated for families to exercise their creativity with the small building blocks.

American Girl’s Activity Area features activities inspired by American Girl dolls and the chance to win a new doll and book.

The Chicago Sun-Times Photo Kiosk lets fans have their picture taken for the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times with customizable headlines that make for a memorable souvenir.

Fans can learn about or contribute to the history of the Cubs franchise in collaboration with team archivists. Historical pieces of memorabilia will be on hand for viewing, and guests can receive professional tips on how to preserve their own valuable keepsakes. Attendees are invited to share their personal stories with a video crew, and they may be used in future promotions or publications.

Limited individual weekend passes for the 2013 Cubs Convention are still available for $60 per pass plus convenience fees. Visit www.cubs.com/convention or call 1-800-THE-CUBS. A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Chicago Cubs Charities. To date, Cubs Convention has raised approximately $4 million for Chicago Cubs Charities.

Cubs agree to terms with RHP Edwin Jackson

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After narrowly missing out on free agent starter Anibal Sanchez last month, the Cubs rang in the New Year by coming to terms with right-handed pitcher Edwin Jackson. The 29-year-old signed a reported four-year, $52 million deal—the largest given out by Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer during their brief tenure—and should be a key piece of the Cubs’ rotation in 2013 and beyond.

“He fits very well on the team in 2013, but we think he fits even better with the team going forward as a core member of what we’re trying to build here in Chicago,” Hoyer said. “His talent, his age, and everything we’ve learned about him as a teammate were all part of the reasons we decided to add him to the roster.”

Jackson has called more than a few places home since his 2003 debut with the Dodgers. The 6-foot-3 power arm, who has averaged 94.1 MPH on his fastball throughout his career, was selected out of high school in the sixth round of the 2001 draft by Los Angeles, and was the youngest player in the National League in 2003 and 2004. He was traded to the Rays in 2006 and got his first regular work in a major league rotation in 2007. After the Rays’ 2008 playoff run, Jackson’s travels really started.

Since 2009, the starter has had stints with the Tigers, Diamondbacks, White Sox, Cardinals and Nationals. The Cubs will be the seventh team Jackson has played for since 2008 (excluding his trade from the White Sox to the Blue Jays, who sent him to the Cardinals later that day, on July 27, 2011).

“It definitely feels great [to have signed a long-term deal],” Jackson said. “I think the most assuring part is that you have a chance to relax and know that you’re going to be somewhere for a while. You don’t have to feel like you have to prove yourself every year. I think it’s definitely going to help for me to just go out and have fun and not have to worry about anything else.”

Jackson spent last season with the NL East champion Nationals, where he posted a 10-11 record and a 4.03 ERA. The Nationals did not tender Jackson a qualifying offer, so he will not cost the Cubs a draft pick.

In 10 major league seasons, Jackson owns a 70-71 record with a 4.40 ERA and 969 strikeouts in 1,268.2 innings (6.9 K/9). He has reached 31 or more starts in each of his last six seasons, has recorded double-digit wins in each of the last five seasons and has exceeded 180.0 innings pitched in each of the last five seasons. The 2009 All-Star with Detroit also pitched a no-hitter for the Diamondbacks in 2010 and won a World Series with the Cardinals in 2011.

“Edwin is 29 years old, and he’s already had six consecutive seasons of making 30-plus starts,” Hoyer said. “He’s proven his durability, he’s proven his talents, but he’s also still at an age where we think he can get even better.”

The Cubs have been extremely aggressive in remaking their rotation this offseason. Prior to the Jackson signing, they had already signed starters Scott Baker, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva to complement Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood.

“As a pitching staff, when you get pitchers that are competitive and pitchers that want to go out and win, it definitely helps,” said Jackson, who pitched alongside Garza in Tampa Bay. “Everyone is pulling on each other’s coattails, and it’s a positive competitiveness.”

Jackson has a 1-2 career record at Wrigley Field with a 7.94 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 17 innings.

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Hot Off the Presses: Vine Line’s January issue with Theo Epstein

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The start of 2013 ushers in year two of what has been a fairly sizable overhaul of the Cubs’ philosophy. This will be the second season for Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, Dale Sveum, et al. When the new front office took hold last year, they talked about instituting a “Cubs Way” of playing the game. They codified it, put it in writing and started to implement it at all levels of the organization.

It’s about strong fundamentals, hustle, making good decisions on the field and building through the system with cost-controlled, homegrown, young talent. Of course, a complete philosophical overhaul doesn’t happen overnight.

“I think it takes a while to really take hold,” Epstein said. “You almost need a generation of players to come up through the minor league system, learning the game that way, before you can feel confident that it’s going to be represented day in and day out on the field. But I did see glimpses.”

In the January issue of Vine Line, we sat in on a conversation between Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and season ticket holders that touched on a range of topics, from the overall management philosophy to offseason acquisitions to the optimal way to build a winner. Epstein knows what he’s doing takes time. He also knows there were two teams that shocked the baseball world with fast turnarounds this season in Oakland and Baltimore. He wants to win as quickly as possible, but he’s going to be smart about it. The goal isn’t third place; it’s a World Series title.

The New Year has also brought a few new arms to the starting rotation: right-handers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman. Both will put on Cubs pinstripes for the first time this season, and both have something to prove. Baker, a consistent starter who has spent his entire career in Minnesota, is coming off Tommy John surgery. Feldman, who pitched on two World Series teams in Texas, has spent the last few years shuttling back and forth between the Rangers’ rotation and bullpen. In Chicago, he’s firmly penciled in as a starter, a role in which he won 17 games as recently as 2009.

And while everyone else is looking forward this month, we take a look back into Cubs history at the short and fascinating life of the Chicago Whales, a Federal League team that was the first to call Wrigley (or, as they knew it, Weeghman Park) home. The Whales and Cubs have similar DNA—they shared an owner (Charles Weeghman), several players (Joe Tinker, Mordecai Brown, etc.) and one very famous stadium.

To read these stories and more, pick up the January issue of Vine Line, on sale soon at select Chicago-area retailer. Or subscribe to Vine Line today.

Cubs introduce reliever Fujikawa

Fujikawa

The Chicago Cubs introduced Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa Friday morning after signing the righty to a two-year deal worth $9.5 million with vesting options for a third year.

“It’s always nice when a player really wants to be a Cub,” said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer. “I think he made that very clear, and we’re very happy to have him. He had a wonderful career in Hanshin for the Tigers, and we hope he has a long and wonderful career here with the Cubs.”

Fujikawa, 32, joins the Cubs after pitching all or part of 12 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League. The right-hander went 42-25 with 220 saves and a 1.77 ERA (136 ER/692.1 IP) covering 562 appearances—all but 14 as a relief pitcher. Fujikawa twice led the league in holds (46 in 2005 and 30 in 2006), twice led the league in saves (46 in 2007 and 41 in 2011), and posted a 1.32 ERA or lower in four of the last five seasons. He won the Central League Most Valuable Set-up Pitcher Award in 2005.

“I know that the team is very young,” said Fujikawa through a translator. “I am a veteran. I will try to led the young players, as well, and try to compete to win for the Cubs. I know what they’ve done last year, and hopefully we can do better next year. I’d like to be part of the building process for the Cubs future.”

Fujikawa made his professional debut in 2000 and saw his first run of success in 2005, when he posted a 1.36 ERA in a league-leading 80 appearances. Two seasons later, the Tigers moved him to the full-time closer role. Last year, Fujikawa went 2-2 with a 1.32 ERA and 24 saves in 47.2 innings.

He was a member of Team Japan in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics and also pitched in the 2008 Olympics, but according to Hoyer, Fujikawa will not pitch in the WBC this year.

The Japanese star features a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and complements it with a forkball and a slow curve.

“He’s been known in Japan as a guy who can really pitch with his fastball, which is really important. He’s not a guy who tricks you. He actually comes right after guys,” Hoyer said. “Guys who rely too much on trickery can often be guys the league figures out quickly. And our hope certainly is that because he pitches with his fastball, he’ll be able to pitch to a game plan and be able to establish himself and have a nice run.”

Although Fujikawa ended his Japanese career as a closer, he said he’s happy to pitch in whatever role the team asks of him. Both Hoyer and baseball president Theo Epstein stressed that Carlos Marmol will likely start the season as closer after pitching well in the second half of 2012.

“Our goal is to have the best bullpen possible, and you don’t have a good bullpen by having one good pitcher throwing the ninth inning,” Hoyer said. “[Marmol] goes into the season as the closer. Our goal is to have a seven-man-deep bullpen of good arms, and Kyuji certainly adds to that.”

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