Theo Epstein Speaks: Russell to Hang Back in AZ, Cubs MVP Candidates, Mekkes, Webster, More

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Theo Epstein Speaks: Russell to Hang Back in AZ, Cubs MVP Candidates, Mekkes, Webster, More

Chicago Cubs

Cubs President Theo Epstein went on 670 The Score yesterday and his comments about preparing his team to sell at the trade deadline if things went awry resulted in keyboard mashing all across the Cubs Blogoverse. Including right here at Bleacher Nation! (Don’t get all bent out of shape – what Epstein said was extremely sensible.)

But he discussed a whole lot more than that in his 22-min interview, and that is what we’re going to get into right now, bullet-style. Cool? Cool. (The full interview is embedded at the bottom of this post.)

  • Okay, before we get into the baseball stuff, here’s a no-context, ridiculous Theo Epstein quote: “I opened the door and yelled ‘Fire,’ and he squeezed the thing – instant, like, white mushroom cloud in Jed’s room. And out comes a coughing Jed Hoyer wearing nothing but his tighty whities covered in white fire extinguisher.”
  • Just because Addison Russell has taken steps forward and is getting into Spring games does not mean he’s magically further down the line in his return to the team after a domestic violence suspension. “It’s not time to celebrate it or to talk about being done or anything of that nature.” Epstein said. If he was in the bottom of the second at the outset of Spring Training – a metaphor Epstein used to describe his rehabilitation – he’s only in the top of the third now.
  • On the actual logistics of his return, Russell will stay in Arizona for the length of his suspension, working out and preparing for the season. Epstein also revealed that he’s eligible for a 7-game rehab assignment towards the end of April before a potential return.
  • Epstein thinks too much has been made about the Cubs ability to connect with millennials – Joe’s “Managing Millennials for Dummies” book came up in the conversation – and thinks it’s not really anything new. “It’s common sense. You’ve gotta find a way to communicate with the most important people in the organization, which are the players …. Simply telling someone what to do, without telling them why or without making them feel connected doesn’t work at all these days.” The 30-minute speeches or a long session where you’re just giving orders “doesn’t work anymore.”
  • According to Epstein, urgency, as a concept, speaks more to a mindset than an everyday physical exertion. And to that end, Epstein imagines the Cubs will take more pre-game batting practice this year, but they’re still not going to do it everyday. It’s a balance, no doubt, but Epstein doesn’t want guys having slow swings come August, because they’ve overworked themselves in April. He also doesn’t want players to lose structure, because that, itself, can prevent overwork (some guys just don’t pace themselves well enough on their own).
  • “The sense of urgency will come more on the mental side through a recognition that every game counts …. Every single day is an opportunity to step on someone’s throat and to separate ourselves from the division. We’re not going to give away getaway days, we’re not going to settle for two out of three, we’re not going to ease into the season. We’re showing up to assert ourselves from game one through game 162. I think that’s how you use a sense of urgency the right way.”
  • This is the point in the interview when Epstein discussed the openness to selling at the deadline if necessary. Read Brett’s post yesterday for full comments and reactions to those words.
  • Theo Epstein discussed the rotation as having both a high ceiling – given the upside in that group – but also a high floor, because of the grizzled veterans in spots one through five: “We have guys who know how to pitch even without their best stuff.” Epstein also mentioned that Jose Quintana looks better than he ever has in a Cubs uniform. On Yu Darvish, Epstein said he doesn’t even want to talk about it, because he’s looked so good. Which lol … Epstein’s not really a superstitious guy.
  • Epstein refused to pick any one guy for a “breakout” this year, but he did point to Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras as guys who look very good, very early after some injury/mechanical issues last year. He called them both MVP candidates. Epstein also discussed Kyle Schwarber returning to his roots with his swing, which we discussed in greater detail here.
  • Allen Webster is one reliever who’s impressed Theo Epstein early this Spring, and the same can be said about Dakota Mekkes: “He’s succeeded at every level he’s ever been – against the odds, you can say, because he’s not a guy who throws particularly hard or has a great breaking ball, but just a great competitor … he’s looked really good in camp, too.”

You can catch the full interview right here:

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami