The Rundown: Cubs Turning Page on Focus, Jason Kipnis Signs Minors Deal, Taijuan Walker Throws for Cubs, Epstein and Maddon Differ on Departure

Even though spring training hasn’t officially opened, the Cubs have enough early reports to make things feel legit. Perhaps more than the men in workout gear, it’s the media swarm that tells you baseball is really underway. The pictures on Twitter, some of which come from an actual camera rather than from a 2004 Motorola Razr, tell hundreds more words than tweets ever could, but the social media coverage of interviews and pressers is equally invaluable.

Before I continue, I should probably clarify something about the beat writers: No one’s actually got a phone that old. Not after Gordon Wittenmyer and Mark Gonzales finally upgraded to iPhone 4’s at the end of the season. I’m not sure about the guys from The Athletic, but Sahadev Sharma managed to snap a picture of his new Jordans. Speaking of which, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian is the one with the camera.

 

Tuesday was pretty active in terms of Cubs news, mainly due to the first official press conference of the new season that featured David Ross, Theo Epstein, and Jed Hoyer. Though there were several mildly interesting points on the whole, things got sidetracked a bit with questions about Joe Maddon’s assertion that he knew he wanted out of Chicago midway through the season.

Citing philosophical differences that mainly came down to the front office telling him what to do, Maddon said that he’d have left even if the Cubs had been more successful. That seems a little dubious on the surface given what he’d said last season, though it’s easier to be honest when you’re removed from the situation. Epstein’s response cast further doubt on the veracity of Maddon’s claims.

“That would conflict with some of the things that he and his agent were saying and doing towards the end of the season,” Epstein told the media in Mesa. “It doesn’t mean it’s not true. And if that’s how he feels, especially with the benefit of hindsight, then I’m not going to dispute it.

“But that doesn’t really reflect the conversations we were having. Up until the very, very end, the last day or two when we talked about it just being best for everybody.”

Regardless of who’s being honest to what degree — for what it’s worth, I tend to lean toward Epstein here — the fact of the matter is that the partnership wasn’t going to work any longer. There is no denying that Maddon led the Cubs to their most successful run in living memory, nor is there any denying that things weren’t as sharp over the last couple seasons as they needed to be.

We’ll see how that changes this season under Ross, who figures to have the core group intact for at least the first half of the season. Epstein downplayed the rampant Kris Bryant trade rumors as a function of an overzealous media, saying it was all an exaggeration of the team’s willingness to listen on deals and that the Cubs have now “turned the page” on their focus. Again, the veracity of those statements is perhaps best left unscrutinized.

The Cubs will still make moves, they’ll just be more of the minor-league variety. One of those already took place yesterday, with another potentially in the offing.

Cubs News and Notes

  • The Cubs signed Jason Kipnis, who you may have heard is a Northbrook native and Glenbrook North alum, to a minor-league deal that will be worth $1 million plus incentives if he makes the roster. Though that isn’t a given, the Cubs’ prolonged pursuit if veteran second base help signals their desire to let Nico Hoerner marinate at Triple-A a little longer. But don’t worry, this isn’t a redux of the Bryant situation. For one, Hoerner has already debuted. More than that, the Cubs would like to develop him as a leadoff hitter and give him a little run in center.
  • In news that snuck beneath my radar Tuesday, former Mariner and Diamondbacks pitcher Taijuan Walker threw for the Cubs as he attempts to catch on with a new team. Once considered a potential top-of-the-rotation candidate, Walker has struggled to stay on the mound consistently and has thrown just 14 innings over the past two seasons after undergoing elbow reconstruction in 2018. His fastball, which once sat in the mid-90’s, clocking just 85-88 mph during a recent workout for teams doesn’t speak well of his recovery. But he’s still only 27 and could have a rebound in him yet.
  • Marquee Network announced that Mark Grace has been hired to help out with pre, post and in-game coverage. With full understanding that it costs a lot of money to start up a new venture like this, it continues to amaze me that the Cubs have spent more to hire retired players to cover the team than they have to sign current players to fill the roster.
  • Adbert Alzolay may have won the annual Best Shape of His Life Award, though it wasn’t relayed in those terms. He also got married recently, so congrats. Despite noticing Alzolay looking a little more svelte when we spoke at Cubs Convention, I wanted to avoid the inevitable BSHL talk until someone else broke the seal. He’s always been fit, which is no surprise because his father is a personal trainer, but he really ramped up the cardio recently. You can hear him talk about toward the latter portion of our interview.

Other Notes

I didn’t want to put it at the beginning because loyal readers probably figured it out on their own, but I’m filling in today because Mike Canter had to stay in the hospital overnight. He already shared that on social media, so I don’t feel bad putting it out there in this column. Mike’s got a battle ahead of him and he’s going to need your help in whatever form you can provide it, be that emotional or financial.

Far be it for me to speak for him, but I know writing this column — and the interaction with its readers — means a lot to him and really helps with everything. As such, I’d ask each of you who sees this to offer up a kind word or a prayer or a few bucks if you have some to spare. And please register to be an organ donor if you haven’t already.

They Said It

I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been as much turnover as we expected. All along, we weren’t going to force change. We were seeking it in certain areas and seeking improvement in certain areas, but I feel like any time you go out there saying, ‘We need to accomplish change just for change’s sake,’ you probably make bad deals and you make a tricky situation worse.” — Theo Epstein

Duh, don’t trade any of my All-Stars.” — David Ross

Wednesday Walk Up Song

Turn the Page, by Bob Seger. Originally released in 1973, the song remained virtually unknown to the general public until Seger used a live version of it on his Live Bullet album three years later. It gained new life a quarter century after that when Metallica covered it for their Garage, Inc. album. That song, partially fueled by a controversial video starring adult film icon Ginger Lynn, remained at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart for 11 consecutive weeks. That’s the longest streak in the bands history, believe it or not.

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