The Rundown: Fans’ Attachment to Front Offices, Kris Bryant and Cole Hamels Anxious to Get Started, Mets GM Pushes for Executive Home Run Derby

Sometimes I think that baseball fans have become a little too attached to their favorite front offices. So in that respect, it’s nice to see Cubs fans pressing Theo Epstein a little this winter. The Cubs have a few question marks right now and they’re pretty much the same each year, or so it seems.

  • They still need a true leadoff hitter
  • The bullpen needs the same type of length the everyday lineup sports
  • A backup catcher with the experience to handle a veteran rotation would be nice
  • They haven’t been able to develop any quality big league pitchers
  • Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, anyone?

It’s been an especially trying offseason for Epstein and Jed Hoyer because of their decision to retain Addison Russell. I suppose we can add the fact that Joe Maddon is entering his walk year as the team’s manager but that’s been addressed, and it seems like all parties are on the same page entering spring training.

This despite the shade Maddon’s son threw at the Cubs in December.

For the most part, however, Cubs fans have trusted almost every word that comes out of Epstein’s mouth since he bolted the Red Sox for the biggest gentrification project in Lake View – rebuilding the entire Cubs organization. If you take a look at the state of the franchise from top to bottom, the 2011 version of the Cubs seems almost unrecognizable. Epstein was the preeminent executive in baseball when the Cubs hired him, and he still may be.

Further, he essentially broke the mold for the stereotypical big man on campus for major league teams. Most teams now employ young, analytics-driven front office executives who manage all facets of the organization to some degree. That includes their direct reports, many of whom have similar backgrounds. Indeed, the typical MLB front office boasts an executive hierarchy that would make many governments or billion dollar corporations jealous. And that makes sense because baseball is a $10 billion business now.

With the unsettling news that the player/owner divide is expanding rapidly, it seems that, for the most part, front offices remain devoid of criticism on that front. They’re an extension of ownership, no doubt, but that perception seems to be lacking in the battles being waged with respect to the future of the game.

We view our front offices as rock stars. As fans have grasped the analytics side of baseball, general managers have become as idolized as some of the best players in the game. The image that our front offices may employ a type of slimeball similar to Matthew Lillard’s character in Trouble With the Curve doesn’t exist. Fantasy baseball is as big as the game itself and those of us that play fancy ourselves as the true heroes of today’s game: the guys that make all the decisions.

Baseball looks to be headed for its first work stoppage since 1994-95, when the game went into forced hibernation for 232 days, causing the cancellation of 938 games plus the 1994 playoffs and World Series. It took a judge’s ruling to force the players to go back to work and for the owners to allow that to happen. As with every work stoppage, the players union and ownership bore the brunt of fan criticism while front offices seemed to reside far away from the battlefield.

When we speak of collusion among ownership, we’re really talking about the guys that make all the operational decisions. They’re in the trenches, yet they take none of the shrapnel. Back in ’94, most GMs were of the old-school variety, ex-players or baseball lifers that worked their way up through the coaching ranks and into the front office. Dallas Green is a prototype of the GM that we most recognize from that era. But those dinosaurs died off a long time ago. They escaped our wrath because, frankly, we were not as invested in their day-to-day operations back then as we are with modern front offices.

There’s a great line in the movie The Right Stuff: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” Without players, there’s no baseball. It would seem to me, particularly in this age of news overload and social media, that owners and executives would do more to appease players. The impending work stoppage, at least as I see it, is on the individuals entrusted to run organizations as much as it is the owners.

Cubs News & Notes

Thursday Stove

Darius Rucker of Hootie & The Blowfish predicts the Reds will emerge as 2019 champions. Someone should remove the grip he has on Thom Brennaman’s Kool-Aid.

Former Giants manager Frank Robinson, the only player to win the MVP award in both leagues, is in failing health. Robinson was the first African-American manager in the National League and the first to manage in both leagues. He has been dealing with health problems for months and last appeared at a major baseball event in July, when he traveled to Washington, DC, to take part in All-Star Game festivities.

Machado’s timeline to decide on where he wants to play has left the Phillies and White Sox, and to some extent, the Yankees, in free agency limbo. The 26-year-old shortstop is said to be the preferred free agent for each of those teams.

Former Padres draft pick Chris Nunn is getting a second chance at a major league career thanks to a viral video posted on Flatground App, a new platform designed by the engineer behind the Pitching Ninja Twitter account.

Greg Holland signed a one-year deal to pitch for the Diamondbacks.

Yasiel Puig is happy in Cincinnati. The Reds acquired the slugging outfielder, along with Matt Kemp and Alex Wood, from the Dodgers in the biggest trade of the offseason.

Danny Farquhar hopes to resume his playing career with the White Sox. The reliever nearly lost his life at Guaranteed Rate Field on April 20 last year when he suffered a brain hemorrhage after pitching an inning of relief.

Major league teams have incorporated the lessons from sabermetrics about the aging curve and are acting accordingly. That’s the company line regarding free agency this year.

On Deck

Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen has challenged his fellow GMs to a home run derby. Who wants to see Hoyer take a few cuts? We already know Epstein can go yard on Ryan Dempster.

Extra Innings

Peter Moylan is pissed and he wants everybody to know why.

Thursday Walk Up Song

The Weight by The Band featuring the Staple Singers. What a perfect version of this song. Rick Danko is spot on and Mavis Staple’s groan at 1:24 is goosebump-inducing. But the best part of the song is Levon Helm.

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