"When (La Russa) came to Chicago, I was a fan; I didn't own the team at the time," Reinsdorf said. "He came up sometime in the 1979 season and managed in 1980, and I bought the team in 1981.
"I remember at the time I bought the team, I thought 'Well, one of the first things I'm going to have to do is fire the manager,' because the broadcasters, (Harray) Caray and (Jimmy) Piersall, kept talking about how bad he was. And then I met him and realized how wrong they were."
Eventually Ken "Hawk" Harrelson was unable to realize the greatness as well during a brief turn as general manager, and fired La Russa at the start of the 1986 season. It is a moment in Reinsdorf's ownership that he seems to regret the most.
Despite La Russa moving across the country to manage the Oakland Athletics, Reinsdorf stayed close with his former manager and the two have a unique bond to this day.
"Over the years we've really become like brothers," Reinsdorf said. "It's just a very, very special friendship. As great a manager as he is, he's a better human being. He's just a great person."
La Russa wasn't a very accomplished major league player, seeing time in 132 career games with the Kansas City/Oakland A's, the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs. And as a manager he raised eyebrows with his use of the bullpen, and a sporadic strategy of using the pitcher in the No. 8 spot in the lineup.
But he is recognized as changing the game, especially with how roles are used among the relievers in the late innings.
That is at least part of the reason La Russa will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Former White Sox player Frank Thomas also will be inducted.
"Obviously having two people connected with the White Sox going in at one time is special, but it's really special for me to see Tony go in knowing how he suffered early in his career and the abuse he took and to see that he proved all the critics were wrong," Reinsdorf said. "I just wish Harry Caray were alive."
CHICAGO -- The National League home run leader must be crushing the baseball this season, right? Anthony Rizzo couldn't have set a career high in home runs already by slapping the ball all over the field. He couldn't have raised his batting average from .233 at the end of 2013 to .285 heading into Thursday night’s game against the San Diego Padres by blooping balls in.
Or could he?
According to Mark Simon of ESPN Stats and Information, Rizzo is surprisingly making softer contact this year than he did last when he hit 23 home runs. He has 25 and counting this season.
Simon writes: “Last season, Rizzo hit the ball hard in 21 percent of his at-bats, which ranked 30th among the 356 players with at least 200 plate appearances. That put him in the top eight percent of players. He was right alongside Orioles slugger Chris Davis. This season, one in which Rizzo has already surpassed his 2013 home-run total, he’s only hit the ball hard in 16 percent of his at-bats (coincidentally, his rate is the same as Davis’ again). That ranks 138th out of 258 players. Yes, that’s right. Rizzo is hitting the ball hard at a below-average rate.”
That’s counterintuitive considering how often Rizzo has left the park and been on base. But Rizzo only has 15 doubles compared to the 40 he hit last year. He’s simply taking more advantage of the balls he’s squaring up. Instead of a double to the gap he’s leaving the park as he’s done 25 times on 57 hard hit balls. Last year he did it just 23 times on 129 hard-contact hits.
Rizzo, 24, delivered that night against the San Diego Padres, hitting No. 24 in the third inning and No. 25 in the seventh to take over the National League lead.
Barely into his professional career after being drafted by the Boston Red Sox, an 18-year-old Rizzo was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008. He went through six months of chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free.
"This one hit more at home for me," Rizzo told the Cubs website of his meeting with Mike and his family. "I usually don't get flashbacks, but I did this time."
The Cubs had four players in the midseason top 50 prospect rankings by ESPN.com's Keith Law, including three in the top 10. Kris Bryant is the top overall prospect, the recently acquired Addison Russell is fourth and Javier Baez is eighth. Jorge Soler, who was promoted to Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday night, is at No. 28. That ranking doesn't include the recently promoted Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Schwarber, who was just drafted in June, and 2012 top pick Albert Almora, who was moved up to Double-A Tennessee this week.
"That's nice in that it reflects a lot of hard work by our scouts, our player development people and the players themselves," Epstein said. "But it really doesn't mean anything. We're in last place, so almost by definition, our work lies ahead of us."
Epstein says he and his staff can't focus on those rankings, but he understands that it's fun for fans.
"True baseball fans really like young players," Epstein said. "They like following players along the whole journey, players who are homegrown they get to know and they can see play here ultimately. They really enjoy that part of it. If all goes according to plan, we'll be able to provide them that experience. Maybe a whole group players that they can get to know for a decade and appreciate and win together."
Epstein said the Cubs have work to do this offseason and even when the prospects arrive at the big league level, it will hardly be smooth sailing for a team that is headed for a second straight last-place finish.
"So what do we have to do [this offseason]?" Epstein asked. "We have everything to do. We have to continue to build an organization, and we have to continue to improve the major league team. That generation [of prospects], they're going to break in at some point and then the process of adjusting to the big leagues starts. A lot of times they have to go struggle and fail and make adjustments and find themselves. Look at [Anthony] Rizzo, look at [Starlin] Castro as great examples. We all have to be prepared for that for these young players."
The St. Louis Cardinals were unlikely winners Wednesday when they secured a bonus draft pick in Major League Baseball's competitive-balance lottery.
Theo Epstein, for one, couldn't deny feeling a tad bitter about the Cardinals' good fortune.
"They do extremely well from a baseball standpoint and from a revenue standpoint," the Chicago Cubs' president of baseball operations said Wednesday. "It's probably the last organization in baseball that needs that kind of annual gift that they receive."
The competitive-balance lottery was introduced in 2012 as a way for small-market and low-revenue teams to gain extra draft picks. There were 15 teams eligible in this year's lottery, which was made up of the clubs in the 10 smallest markets -- including St. Louis -- and those with the 10 lowest revenues.
The odds of gaining an extra pick in Round A, which takes place between the first and second rounds of the draft, are calculated in reverse order of last year's standings. But the reigning National League champion Cardinals, the least likely team to land a Round A pick, beat the odds by winning the third selection in the round.
"It's not necessarily the type of thing [the Cardinals] need, given their performance on the field and off the field," Epstein said. "They do a fantastic job, and it just doesn't seem like something they need at this point."
Competitive-balance picks are eligible to be traded, meaning the Cardinals also gained a potential trade chip just over one week before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
CHICAGO -- The San Diego Padres took care of business Wednesday at Wrigley Field, running past the Chicago Cubs 8-3. Here’s a quick look at the game:
How it happened: The Padres got on the board early as Yangervis Solarte tripled home Chris Denorfia with no outs in the first, then came around to score on a Carlos Quentin sacrifice fly. San Diego extended its lead to 3-0 in the fourth, when Chris Nelson doubled in Jeff Francoeur. In the bottom half of the inning, however, Luis Valbuena tied things up with one swing of the bat, driving a three-run homer through a strong wind and into the right-field bleachers. The Padres came right back in the fifth with a two-spot, coming off a Tommy Medica double and Rene Rivera's bases-loaded walk.
What it means: It's hard to get hung up on wins and losses with the Cubs right now, so the focus has to be on players who could be a part of the future. Despite being age 33, starter Tsuyoshi Wada is in the discussion to fill one of what could be numerous holes in the Cubs' 2015 rotation. Wada struggled in his second big league start, lasting just four innings while giving up five runs on five hits, striking out four and walking four. Wada may get another look, but there are other options knocking on the door.
Up next: The Cubs wrap up their three-game set with the Padres with Edwin Jackson taking on Tyson Ross at 7:05 CT Thursday night at Wrigley Field.
On a cool, unseasonably summer night in Chicago, Kennedy (8-9) won his third straight decision. He allowed three runs, three hits, while striking out six and pitching around a season-high five walks. He worked out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth inning.
Medica finished with three hits and drove in two runs for the Padres, who came into the game with baseball's worst batting average at .215.
Luis Valbuena hit a three-homer for the Cubs, who have lost 12 of its last 15 games.
Cubs starter Tsuyoshi Wada (0-1) allowed five runs on five hits and four walks in four-plus innings. It was his second career start after receiving a no-decision against the Reds on July 8.
Epstein on why the Cubs felt it was time to move outfield prospect Jorge Soler up to Triple-A Iowa from Double-A Tennessee, where he was 415/.494/.862 in 22 games:
"With Soler, we talked about how he really looked like he was on a mission. He came off the DL without missing a beat; it was really remarkable for him to not show any signs of rust. In fact, the opposite. “Now is my time” is what he said when he was ready to come off the DL. And he just went out and kind of made a statement. It wasn’t just the numbers, but it was the quality of at-bats he was having. He was laying off tough breaking pitches, he wasn’t being overaggressive when pitchers weren’t giving him pitches to hit. He was doing a much better job of getting the ball in the air, leveraging the baseball. He hit a lot of balls hard in the past, but they’d been on the ground or hard line drives down the third-base line. Now that he’s on time and he’s feeling comfortable at the plate, he’s using the entire ballpark. He’s hitting balls out to straightaway-left field, he’s hitting balls out to right-center and he’s getting balls in the air. When you’re as strong as he is, you hit the ball as hard as he does and you can manage an at-bat as well as he does, hitting the ball in the air is a good thing and the results are going to come after that. He’s just not getting pitched to there, and he’s on a mission and we think that Triple-A is the appropriate level for him to be challenged."
Epstein on questions about Soler’s maturity and makeup:
"I think he’s always been a pretty mature kid. I think a lot of people rush to judgment with respect to his on-field makeup because of what they saw in the fall league. That’s when a lot of scouts saw Soler for the first time and he was playing hurt. He was just coming back from the stress fracture, and we asked him to take it easy on his leg. So a lot of scouts saw him jogging to first base, walking out to his position at times, and that was done in an effort to protect his leg. Now that he’s healthy, he’s playing with a little more passion. He’s on a mission. To that extent, we’ve been impressed with how he’s taken responsibility for his own development, taken accountability for being on the field and for getting where he wants to be. He basically told us, “It’s my time, watch me,” and he’s gone out and done it. And done it not only with results, but done it in a way that’s gotten our attention. And we’re rewarding him, because he looks like he’s on a mission to get to the big leagues."
Epstein on the promotion of center fielder Albert Almora from Hi-A Daytona to Tennessee after he started to turn things around with a .988 OPS in his past 27 games:
"We’ve been walking a fine line with Albert, much like with Starlin [Castro]. We asked him to focus on pitches he can drive. Instead of just being aggressive for the sake of being aggressive, be aggressive on pitches you can drive. And he really started doing that. It doesn’t always manifest in his walk totals. That’s fine. That’ll come with time to a certain extent. But he’s being more aggressive on pitches he can drive. And because of that he’s hitting the ball with more authority, he’s hitting with power and he’s had a fantastic last month. And he’s the type of player who I think plays up to the level of competition and rises to a challenge. He’s played with guys older than him his entire career, amateur and professional. We think this is a nice challenge for him. Sort of write a different story for his 2014 season. He has a chance to have a really productive development year after getting off to a tough start for a lot of different reasons."
Epstein on the demotion of third baseman Mike Olt after he produced a slash line of .139/.222/.353 in 72 games with 12 home runs and struck out in 39.6 percent of his plate appearances:
"Mike actually took the news extraordinarily well. He acknowledges that he’s gotten into a few bad habits at the plate -- bad habits that he couldn’t break out of at the big league level, especially playing sporadically. I think playing every day will be good for him. And we think that he’s got a chance to right himself just by playing every day -- being a little bit more relaxed, taking some of the things he’s practicing in the cage into the game with him and righting himself and getting back up here. I think it was the appropriate move at the appropriate time. He handled the news well, and I think he looks at it as an opportunity."
Epstein on the upcoming trade deadline:
"We certainly made our big move already; that one came on July 4. We’re not in a rush to make moves. Obviously if there’s a chance to acquire talent that could help us in the future, we’re always interested in that. At the same time, especially with the players we control beyond this year, we have to factor into the calculus how well those players fit in going forward. How well they fit into the clubhouse, what they can do for us on the field, how they mesh with the next generation of talent that might be coming up, especially for complimentary-type players. There’s value to keeping players who have roles here for the sake of continuity, leadership and performance on the field. Especially the players we control beyond this year, we’re not in any rush to make trades for the sake of making trades. The guys who are free agents at the end of the year, obviously there’s a lot of talk about those kinds of players this time of year. We’ll see what happens."
Epstein on the St. Louis Cardinals once again receiving a competitive balance draft pick:
"I could talk all day about the Cardinals and how we hold them in high regard. That’s a fantastic franchise. They have been for the better part of a century. They do extremely well from a baseball standpoint and from a revenue standpoint. It’s probably the last organization in baseball that needs that kind of annual gift that they receive. It’ll just make it that much sweeter when we get to a point where we can compete with them and ultimately, we hope, prevail. It’s not necessarily the type of thing they need, given their performance on the field and off the field. They do a fantastic job, and it just doesn’t seem like something they need at this point."
Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein would not say if Soler might be headed for a big league call-up when rosters expand.
“We’re not going to make any decisions now, nor are we going to talk about possible promotions,” Epstein said. “[We’ll] just let it play out.”
Epstein did admit Soler’s presence on the 40-man roster would make a decision less complicated.
“The 40-man is always a real consideration when it comes to promotions,” Epstein said. “If a player is already on the 40 or has to be added to the roster this winter to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, it just makes it a lot easier to call him up than if you have to prematurely add a player to the 40-man just for September. Sometimes that makes roster management in the winter very, very difficult.”
Though Epstein wouldn’t elaborate any further than that, multiple sources close to the situation indicated the decision to bring up Soler this season is strongly being considered. While nothing has been finalized and the ultimate decision will be made by Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, the team's VP of player development and amateur scouting, there are strong indications that a September debut is in the works for Soler.
Soler’s contract is not that of the average minor leaguer. Not only is he on the 40-man roster, service time considerations are not an issue for him.
The slugging outfielder demolished Double-A pitching to the tune of .415/.494/.862 with six home runs and nine doubles in just 22 games prior to his promotion to Iowa. Having played just 118 games in parts of three seasons in the Cubs system -- and keep in mind, he hadn’t been playing organized baseball for nearly a year when he signed with the Cubs -- playing time is the biggest issue for Soler. Health is another issue, as the muscular righty missed much of last season with a broken foot and has seen limited time this season due to multiple hamstring issues.
When the minor league season ends after August and rosters expand in September, it makes perfect sense for the Cubs to bring Soler up to Wrigley.
Veteran Darwin Barney (designated for assignment) and rookie Mike Olt (optioned to Triple-A Iowa) are out. Moving up in the minors is 2012 first-rounder Albert Almora along with Cuban slugger Jorge Soler.
All this was going on as Arismendy Alcantara crushed his second career home run on Tuesday, Anthony Rizzo hit two more to take over the National League lead and Kyle Hendricks earned his first career win. The night prompted a few questions:
1. Were recently demoted players Barney and Olt treated fairly?
It would be hard for either player to complain as their at-bats were painful at times, but both players might wonder how their seasons may have gone if they were given everyday at-bats. Barney has more of a case, considering he was a regular player for three years including 2011 when he batted .276. He regressed under former manager Dale Sveum -- as did Starlin Castro and Rizzo -- but those two players righted the ship, getting regular playing time this season. How do we know for sure Barney wouldn't have done same?
His first real playing time this season came when Emilio Bonifacio was on the disabled list, and Barney started to come around. He was hitting .385 in July before being demoted. Most likely he would have ended up on the move anyway, considering the Cubs have higher ceiling players behind him, but Barney may always wonder if his hard work this past offseason could have paid off given the chance.
As for Olt, general manager Jed Hoyer semi-indicted the Cubs' handling of him on Tuesday in talking about Alcantara.
"One of the things we feel strongly about is when we bring these guys up, they're going to play," Hoyer said. "We're not going to bring up these guys who are our future to share time or sit on the bench."
Isn't that exactly what the Cubs did with Olt in April? Confidence is such a big part of baseball. Who's to say if the team showed more confidence in him -- while also getting every day at-bats -- he would not have improved? Maybe it was never meant to be as Olt looked more lost than ever as time went on. And at some point you have to make the most of your opportunities. But let's face facts: however the Cubs handled Olt, it didn't work.
2. Can we expect this kind of power from Alcantara moving forward?
The simple answer is yes unless pitchers find a way to limit him. That's unlikely as his switch-hitting prowess will always give him a chance to pull the ball out of the park like he did on Tuesday night when he took a low fastball on to the street behind the right-field bleachers.
That's not easy to do for a 5-foot-10, 170-pound player. Or anyone, for that matter. Rizzo made it to the top row of the bleachers on Tuesday, but Alcantara went further.
"He has some torque in his bat," Rizzo said. "It was a smooth swing."
Rick Renteria added: "He's got some strength. Great hands. You can see even when he takes batting practice, when he barrels a ball, it seems to travel."
3. Is Kyle Hendricks the real deal?
Yes. Or at least it looks like it, but we'll have a better idea after he works his way through the league once or twice. Although no one is saying he's the next Greg Maddux, you can see why there are comparisons. He doesn't throw particularly hard, but he makes the right pitch at the right time. He throws to contact when needed and goes for the strikeout when necessary. On Tuesday, San Diego Padres hitters were 0-for-10 with runners on base. That's coming through when it's needed the most. Juxtapose that against Edwin Jackson or even Travis Wood this season. They haven't made that big pitch. It's way early, but that's when lofty predictions are made. Hendricks is the real deal.
4. What do the promotions of Albert Almora and Jorge Soler mean?
It was a bit of a surprise to see Soler moved up to Triple-A Iowa, considering he only played 22 games for Double-A this year due to injuries, but he was a man among boys there, hitting .415 with six home runs. His numbers were even more impressive since returning from hamstring issues. The Cubs probably want a better challenge for him. Since he's under contract for a total of nine years, there are no monetary or contractual concerns about bringing him to the majors in September if the Cubs want to. How he performs in Iowa over the next five to six weeks will help make that determination. The fact that he hasn't played much this season also points to a possible call-up after the minor league season is over.
Almora simply got back to being himself at the plate, and the Cubs know he can handle himself in the field. His promotion will probably come later than forecasted as he got away from his mechanics earlier this year. Either way, he was probably only going to move up one level this year and now that he has he's back on the right track.
5. Will Javier Baez or Kris Bryant make it to Wrigley Field this year?
Baez seems to be on track, especially since moving from shortstop to second base.
"It's fun to watch the boxes scores in Iowa or Tennessee, but I don't think every time you switch a guy's position or a guy has a big night guys shouldn't be looking or clamoring for a promotion," Hoyer said.
Hoyer went on to say that the reason they essentially moved Baez now is because he was meeting their offensive challenges, and they felt comfortable with a new one. Sounds like there's one challenge left: doing it in the big leagues. And the fact of the matter is both Junior Lake and Alcantara moved positions shortly before being called up. If Baez doesn't make it before season's end it would be a surprise.
Bryant is still in his first full professional year of baseball, and the Cubs can sell him and the public on that notion while saving money. If he stays in the minors until mid-April of next year he won't become a free agent until after the 2021 season. If he comes up before then, he's free after 2020. Baez might be younger, but he's been around longer, and the Cubs may not have the same kind of monetary concerns with him. He'll come up, Bryant won't. And Hoyer said Bryant's focus is still on playing third base not the outfield.
Almora had been red hot for Single-A Daytona since overcoming early-season struggles. He has 14 hits in his last seven games, which included hitting for the cycle last week. His batting average is up to .280, though he only has 12 walks all year.
Soler has been dealing with hamstring problems in both his legs for most of this season, but since getting healthy he also has been hot. He was hitting .405 in 84 at-bats in Double-A with seven home runs and 27 RBIs in just 28 games this season. He was hitting .459 since his return from rehab, with six of his seven home runs coming over the past 14 games.
Soler signed a 9-year, $30 million deal in 2012 but has been slowed by foot and leg injuries until recently.
CHICAGO -- On a day when Chicago Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo hit two home runs, stud prospect Arismendy Alcantara hit one onto Sheffield Avenue and the Cubs promoted two of their other big-time prospects -- Jorge Soler and Albert Almora -- it was 24-year-old Kyle Hendricks who should steal all the headlines.
The Cubs need arms to go along with all these bats, and Hendricks might be a keeper after earning his first career win over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night.
"Definitely the best day of my life," Hendricks said after the Cubs’ 6-0 victory snapped their five-game skid. "First major league win. It's what you work for since you were a little kid playing T-ball. I can't put it into words."
Kyle Hendricks performed to his potential on Tuesday, tossing seven scoreless innings to earn his first win with the Cubs.
With all that soft throwing, Hendricks lasted seven innings, giving up just five hits, three walks and no runs while using only 83 pitches.
"He kept his pitch count down,” Rizzo said. “Especially in the conditions today."