Rowand reminisces about '05 Sox 'brothers'

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
11:34
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Aaron Rowand never got a victory lap.

Traded less than a month after the 2005 World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies as part of a deal for Jim Thome, Rowand, one of the key figures of that Chicago White Sox title team, said he's been to U.S. Cellular Field only once sans uniform.

"During the [2006] ring ceremony," he said Friday. "That's the only time I've been to a game there, not playing."

Rowand last played in the big leagues in 2011 after winning another World Series with the San Francisco Giants in 2010. He will return to the Cell this summer when his White Sox title team is honored during a July 17-19 weekend series.

[+] EnlargeBobby Jenks
AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles"He looks good, he could still probably go out and throw about 98," Aaron Rowand said of former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks.
He was back in Chicago for SoxFest's celebration of the 2005 outfit, a group that is beloved on the South Side and probably underappreciated in the city. Nine members of the team were slated to attend the convention, and they were milling around the media social event before Friday’s kickoff, joking with each other and talking to reporters.

"Nobody looks like they changed," Rowand said. "Look at [former Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik] Pods. He should still be playing. Even Bobby Jenks. Other than a couple more tattoos, he looks the same. He looks good; he could still probably go out and throw about 98 [mph]."

He's not exaggerating. Podsednik looks as if he's still in playing shape. Jose Contreras looks exactly as he did 10 years ago, or about 45. Tadahito Iguchi came in from Japan, where he still plays. He hit .239 with 10 homers in 109 games for Chiba Lotte last season. Jenks had tattoos down his forearms and appeared very happy.

Several players joined White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and team vice president Kenny Williams on stage for a panel discussion later in the evening.

But the group was missing its colorful leader. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who still lives in Chicago, is currently out of the country, but he told the Chicago Sun-Times he will be in attendance for the team's reunion weekend.

Rowand said he wished Guillen and Paul Konerko were there, among others. Konerko was the last active White Sox from the 2005 team, retiring in 2014 after a yearlong farewell tour. Konerko is having his jersey number retired this summer, to go along with the statue the team presented last season.

"It's hard to believe he was the last one," Rowand said. "He did his duty. He's a wonderful teammate, a great guy and player, and to be able to see him go out the way he did, it made everybody who ever knew the guy happy."

What does he miss the most about Konerko?

"His candor," Rowand said.

Back in 2005, no one expected much from the Sox at this point in the winter, but they shot out of the gate and led throughout that season -- giving White Sox fans a season to remember -- before sweating out a late charge from the Cleveland Indians.

Once they got to the postseason, however, they lost only once, sweeping the Houston Astros in the World Series.

"I've played on some clubs with good people, good chemistry," said Podsednik, who hit a game-winning homer in Game 2 of the World Series. "But nothing like I remember here."

"Everybody cared about each other," Rowand said. "Everybody loved each other, and we had squabbles here and there, but it didn’t matter because we were brothers."

Jeff Samardzija is in comfort zone with Sox

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
6:08
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
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Jeff SamardzijaAP Photo/Andrew A. NellesJeff Samardzija, who grew up a Sox fan, is "pinching myself" with what's going on with his new club.
CHICAGO -- Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura played the last 151 games of his career over two seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, his boyhood team growing up in the area of Santa Barbara, California.

Listening to Vin Scully call his at-bats was a thrill, and he cherished the little things, such as seeing the panoramic tableau stretch out behind the Dodger Stadium outfield every time he came to the park.

At SoxFest on Friday afternoon, Ventura recounted that brief period of time during which his adult life and childhood intersected.

[+] EnlargeWhite Sox
AP Photo/M. Spencer GreenJeff Samardzija didn't hide his excitement about joining fellow newcomers David Robertson and Melky Cabrera with the White Sox.
"I think it's going to be like that for him," he said about Jeff Samardzija, his new starting pitcher.

Yes, Samardzija has many fond memories about growing up a White Sox fan in northwest Indiana, and he will be asked to recount them all season.

At SoxFest, Samardzija, a Valparaiso High graduate and famous Notre Dame football player, met with waves and waves of reporters, many of whom covered him during his Cubs tenure, which ended with a trade to the Oakland A's on July 4. The Sox landed him in a deal during the winter meetings, much to his delight.

Few players are as easygoing and down to earth as Samardzija, a media favorite on the North Side. Take his first memory of going to a Sox game:

"We had this old conversion van and we popped a flat [tire] about four miles from the exit," Samardzija said. "We're on the Dan Ryan [Expressway], and cars are going about 100 mph zooming past us, and me and my pops are down there on our hands and knees trying to fix the lug nuts. That's my first memory. Then, we went to the game and they ended up beating the Blue Jays. I was watching Carlos Delgado play. I have a lot of fond memories of being a kid, and when this happened all those memories came back and I started to relive them."

Now that's an authentic commercial for Sox tickets.

"We almost died on the Dan Ryan, but we made it to the game. Call the ticket office at …"

Samardzija is guaranteed to be on this team for only 2015 -- don't expect another summer sell-off on the South Side -- before he tests free agency. The 30-year-old is making $9.8 million this season and is expected to command a new deal worth well more than $100 million. He has said he will definitely go on the market, not only to fill his bank account, but for the good of the union.

No matter how long he'll be here, the Sox are using him on all of their marketing materials, from ticket-plan mailers to mini-calendars. They made a lot of moves in the offseason to improve an 89-loss team, but Samardzija was the biggest addition.

Immediately after the trade went down, the Sox bought a full-page ad in the Times of Northwest Indiana, Samardzija's local newspaper. The Sox are actively selling tickets to groups from that area, in which his family still lives.

"It's smart," Samardzija said with a smile when told about this business plan. "Smart. I would do the same thing if I was them."

But seriously …

"It's cool," he said. "I'm pinching myself with what's going on and how much they've thrown me in the fold, and I haven't even made a pitch for these guys. So all I can do is pitch the right way and do everything I need to do to return the favor."

That sounds like a fair deal. The Sox only expect him to pitch like an ace along Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.

Samardzija became a legitimate star last season, posting a 2.99 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 33 starts for the Cubs and A's. He started twice against the White Sox, pitching nine shutout innings in an extra-inning loss at Wrigley Field. He came to the Cell in September with the A's and threw seven shutout innings in a loss. He's allowed only three runs in 32⅓ innings in four starts against the Sox.

"I'm glad we got him on our side of the field now," pitching coach Don Cooper said. "We've seen him on the other side. He was a tough nut."

A nut that has been a major league starter since only 2012, throwing 608 innings over 99 starts. The past two seasons he's thrown more than 200 innings. With that in mind, Cooper thinks the best is yet to come.

"He's got a chance to continue to climb and really, really get better," Cooper said. "He's good now. Think about it, if he has a good year …"

Cooper's face lights up as he starts to think of the millions Samardzija will command as a free agent, before snapping back to reality.

"I'm hoping we can sign him," he said. "I'm hoping he likes what's going on. I'm hoping he sees we're going in a great direction. I hope he realizes, 'Hey, I do live down the block. I grew up here watching.' I hope it all works out."

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Michael Jordan statue moving indoors

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
12:23
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Go see the Michael Jordan statue soon, because it's going indoors.

Currently, the Jordan statue sits between the employee parking lot and the ticket office at Gate 4 on the east side of the United Center.

[+] EnlargeJordan statue
Courtesy Chicago BlackhawksThe Michael Jordan statue will be moved into a public atrium in a new office building.
The 12-foot statue, which shows Jordan soaring for a one-handed dunk, was unveiled in 1994 after Jordan's first retirement. It is a consistent tourist attraction with fans from around the world making a pilgrimage to the West Side to take pictures in front of it.

But as part of a planned 190,000 square foot office building that will be constructed on the parking lot, the team will place the Jordan statue in a public atrium on the ground floor, near a 10,000 square foot team store for the Bulls and Blackhawks.

Construction on the privately-financed building is expected to begin this spring and be completed by Fall 2016.

During that construction, the team will move the Jordan statue and the Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita statues, which are located nearby outside Gate 3 1/2, to the southeast corner of the stadium.

When construction is finished, the Jordan statue will return to its current location, but fans will only have access to it when the building is open.

“The specific hours of operation for both haven't been determined yet,” a Bulls spokesperson wrote in an email. “We know that the iconic Michael Jordan statue is a very popular attraction and that people from around the world travel to the United Center just to see it.

“We want fans to continue to visit the statue just as they always have, and we are committed to ensuring the public access to the statue continues after the construction of the new building and publicly-accessible Atrium, which is where the statue will be located.”

Bulls regain edge as Rose shows his is getting ever sharper

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
11:52
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
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video
 
CHICAGO — Fresh off an old-fashioned Bulls stampede, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich started his postgame press conference by following up on a pregame question.

“Whoever asked me that question before the game, ‘They’re not listening to Thibs and Thibs has lost them’ and that kind of bulls---, you got your answer,” he said after the Bulls’ dominating 104-81 victory Thursday night. “As I told you before the game, that’s baloney, nothing could be further from the truth. Whoever asked that question hopefully can figure that out.”

So there goes that story.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s so-called “hot seat” has been downgraded to crisp. He’s still Thibs, more paranoid than half the CIA, but the Bulls’ recent cold stretch wasn’t indicative of his coaching or his standing in the organization.

After a listless two-week stretch that saw them lose six of eight games, the Bulls (28-16) came roaring back against the Spurs. Six players scored in double figures, and Chicago outrebounded San Antonio while holding the defending champs to 37 percent shooting.

The team's defense has been uneven all season, and particularly dysfunctional over the 3½ games since Joakim Noah left the first half of a Jan. 14 loss to Washington with an ankle injury.

But Derrick Rose's offensive game has been trending upward, and he came out firing Thursday. For Bulls fans, it was a welcome sight.

Rose was aggressive from the start, scoring 22 points in 26 minutes, 39 seconds, and the Bulls followed suit.

But let’s be clear. Rose wasn’t trying to “win one for the Thibber.”

There was no real issue with the coach, beside his everyday Thibs-ness. The Bulls play for themselves, as they should.

“It don’t have anything to do with Thibs, at all,” Rose said. “The way we’ve been playing don’t have anything to do with Thibs. He’s preparing us right, doing everything and did everything possible to prepare us as a coach. It’s up to us to give the effort.”

For those who only listen to Rose to nitpick his verbiage, this has been a consistent message from him all season. And now that his game is coming more easily to him, Rose is becoming more vocal.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose, Tim Duncan
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast"I think he's getting better every week that goes by," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Derrick Rose. "He's getting more confidence."
Rose, a man who rarely shows emotion in front of crowds, called out his team Monday after a listless loss in Cleveland. The next day, the Bulls had a productive meeting, instead of practice. On Wednesday, they had a strong practice with near-full participation.

Those three days resulted in Thursday’s game, which the team led for the final 33:35 after not holding a lead for the two previous games.

Playing three quarters, Rose hit 9 of 16 shots, including 2 of 4 3-pointers, and added five assists.

Over the last five games, the light has turned on. Rose has averaging nearly 25 points during that span.

He had a bevy of throwback moves, including an outstretched, left-handed layup on Danny Green, and a crossover dribble that froze Tony Parker, which turned into a hesitation dribble to the baseline on Parker and Tim Duncan, which led to a layup. It was pretty.

“I think he’s getting better every week that goes by,” Popovich said. “He’s getting more confidence. When you come off an injury, it takes a while to get full confidence, to get up to that final gear he had when he was MVP. It takes time, but he’s getting there.”

Rose scored six points in the first quarter, nine in the second and seven in the third. He played one 45-second shift in the fourth as an homage to Blackhawks All-Stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Just kidding.

In reality, Rose was a little stiff after sitting in the third quarter. He came in for Aaron Brooks with 9:04 left in the game and came back out with 8:19 to go. Thibodeau seemed a little annoyed about it afterward, but Rose said given that the Bulls were up 21, he didn’t see a reason to return.

"I just sat for too long," he said.

Take that, minutes-counters!

Rose added that he will play Friday night in Dallas. One of Rose's confidantes told me he would make sure to remind Rose about Monta Ellis' 38-point game in the Mavericks' double-overtime victory over the Bulls on Dec. 2. Rose, his friend said, likes revenge games.

After this one, Rose talked about the importance of Tuesday’s meeting, but he added that the team’s halftime chat Thursday was also crucial.

“We wanted to come out and have the edge and play with that edge the entire game,” Rose said. “We had it the first half and came in here, talked to each other and really got on each other about coming out in the second half and coming out right.”

The Bulls scored the first seven points of the third quarter, stretching a six-point halftime lead. With 3:59 left in the third, that lead was 25. The rout was on.

Rose said the Bulls, who were still without Noah and Mike Dunleavy (also suffering from ankle issues), had to get angry.

“Get mad if they score on you, get mad if anything happens wrong, show some emotion and get mad,” he said.

But he also said the Bulls should appreciate their good fortune. After all, most of these players grew up in working households. This is still a game.

“We shouldn’t come in here and feel like we’re in a 9-to-5 [job],” he said. “And that’s no disrespect to people who got 9-to-5s, but when you play a sport for a living, you shouldn’t have that feeling. You should have that joy you remember when you were young and you was out in the park. The joy of winning games and just competing, giving your all while you were on the floor. Appreciating the game.”

For one game, that pure feeling returned. Rose wants to see it continue.

“It came back,” he said. “But we’re going to see how long it can last.”
Anthony Rizzo, Jon LesterUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesAnthony Rizzo must back up his NL Central guarantee, but having Jon Lester along will help, too.

CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo made the guarantee heard 'round the National League Central on Thursday.

Now all the Chicago Cubs first baseman, and his teammates, have to do is back it up this season and win the damn division.

Easier said than done, of course, but it's sure better than the alternative of guaranteeing half the team will be gone come August.

Rizzo guaranteeing a 2015 NL Central title means nothing, but it gave us something to talk about going into the 30th annual Cubs Convention. So we're grateful to him.

And it'll be a fun statement to pin on him every time he goes 0-for-4 and the Cubs get drilled.

"Rizzo, who guaranteed a division title in January, struck out four times in a 10-2 loss to St. Louis."

I guess that's my guarantee to you, Cubs fans.

But I like Rizzo's moxie. The Cubs need some moxie. A little chutzpah wouldn't hurt, either. As a veteran, Rizzo should speak up, just as long as the 25-year-old shows up.

After all, this isn't international politics. It's just Cubs baseball.

After the past three years, and 286 losses, there is legitimate, reasonable hope for the 2015 season, and there's nothing wrong with selling it in January.

And there's no better place to peddle hope, or blue-and-red Mardi Gras necklaces, than at the Cubs Convention, the Midwest's premier conclave of superfans wearing tucked-in Ryne Sandberg jerseys.

Cubs fans packed the main ballroom at a downtown hotel Friday night for the opening ceremonies to indulge in their wildest fantasies, only some of which involve team president Theo Epstein staring into the distance.

They stood shoulder to shoulder for a chance to applaud new Cub Jon Lester, the team's prized $155 million investment, and the face of the rebuild.

Before the hoopla, Lester met the media and was asked about Rizzo's guarantee. While Lester, the former Boston Red Sox ace, isn't much of a promise-maker, he doesn't see why one would stop at the division.

"Obviously, that's a bold statement," the left-hander, 31, said. "Obviously we're all pulling on the same rope. I don't think the end-all goal is the division. For me, every year, it's obviously nice to win the division. It's obviously nice to make the playoffs. Obviously, the end-all goal for everyone in that clubhouse, I'd imagine, is the World Series."

Obviously.

[+] EnlargeJoe Maddon
David Banks/Getty Images"When they earn that right," Joe Maddon said of the Cubs' touted prospects getting to the majors, "they have to be able to stay there."
"By no way, shape or form am I predicting a World Series win," Lester said. "But that's the goal."

Goals are good. The Cubs don't need to snow their fans anymore. This team can compete this season. I don't think they'll be printing division-champs shirts, but the goal is for the team to be interesting in August.

For Cubs fans, it has to be gratifying to root for a team whose goals are now more ambitious than flipping veterans for prospects and gracing Baseball America covers.

Winning now and building for later is that parallel-fronts thing Epstein promised when he was hired in 2011. As with the rebuilding of the Wrigley Field bleachers, the parallel fronts have been delayed a bit. Unlike the bleachers, they might be visible in April.

Winning now, or at least trying to, is why Epstein pushed one-year manager Rick Renteria out of the moving car when Joe Maddon's RV pulled up.

Maddon isn't here to wait.

"I'm glad [Rizzo] feels that strongly about it, because I feel the same way," Maddon said Friday. "I'm here to support everything that he said."

Maddon's a steadfast positive thinker, which is perfect for this franchise. By historical standards, that won't last. But there aren't many managers like him. His personality bodes well for the challenges ahead.

Maddon said he was in Chicago all week watching tape of Cubs prospects with the minor league coordinators. He loves the talent -- some players, such as Kris Bryant, ready for the majors, some a year or two away.

As with any good manager, he also sees the risks in selling youth in a sport that rewards patience.

"The challenging component is the accountability side," he said. "Young player comes up, all of a sudden he comes to the big-league level and gets a chance to become a Major League Baseball player and I don't like the entitlement program, so to speak. You have to earn that moment. So when our young guys get up there, they're going to understand they have to earn it. And when they earn that right, they have to be able to stay there."

I know what you're thinking. Sounds great. When is Bryant coming up, again?

It sounds silly, and very Cub-like, to talk about battling high expectations for a team that hasn't accomplished anything yet. But that's reality. After three years of building, fans want to see a finished product. The Cubs have serious talent, so it's not just marketing.

But most of the talent is unproven. Few players have a track record.

Unlike the Cubs' blogging community, Maddon said he hasn't fiddled with potential lineups yet.

"I'm not that guy," he said.

Naturally, I immediately asked him where Bryant is hitting. He stammered to media laughter, "I, Kris, I'm not that guy."

Maddon said he's coming in without any preconceived notions on the returning talent, and his main job as first-year manager of this club is building "relationships and trust" with the players. He's a devotee of analytics, so that helps in setting lineups. He also wants to get a feel for them as players.

"Once I'm able to do that, we can have a free flow of constructive criticism back and forth," he said.

Maddon has already talked to Lester about his role as the big-ticket addition. A guy like Lester can say he has already pitched in Boston or that he's not worried about pressure, but failing at Wrigley Field is unlike failing anywhere else in baseball. Because people expect it.

There's a fait-accompli feeling there and, when combined with high expectations, weird things tend to happen.

While Maddon isn't concerned with bad juju of Clark and Addison, he knows baseball players. He doesn't want Lester getting bogged down in the idea of being Jon Lester, $155 million savior.

"My request to Jon was do what's comfortable to you," Maddon said. "Sometimes you get a veteran player and you want to lay too much on his lap. Jon's main requirement right now is to get in shape and get ready to pitch well as Jon Lester does."

Lester, to his credit, is more of a lead-by-example guy. He's not pining for cameras or building a personal brand. He wanted the money, sure, but he seems comfortable in his own skin.

"I'm not a very vocal guy," he said. "I'm not going to walk in there the first day and say young guys need to follow me. By no means do they need to follow me. I just try to put my head down and do my work."

Talk is one thing, and it's good that Rizzo is taking that responsibility.

But Lester should provide the kind of quiet leadership the Cubs can get behind. Just put your head down and do your work.

If the Cubs have a Way, that should be it. We'll handle the hype from here.

Could 'Cutler factor' impact Bears' coach search?

January, 12, 2015
Jan 12
12:40
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Gary Kubiak decided to stay in his role with a perennial winner, rather than take over a perennial NFL team.

Can’t say I blame him.

Kubiak, the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, announced he was staying in Baltimore on the team’s website on Sunday night.

The Golden Globe for Best Decision by a Supporting Coach goes to...

[+] EnlargeMike Shanahan
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsMike Shanahan gave Jay Cutler his first starting QB job with the Broncos.
Earlier in the day, it was reported that the Chicago Bears, a team that regularly offers its on-field employees a month off in January, were going to make a “major push” for Kubiak’s services as head coach.

I guess that’s all he needed to hear to avow his loyalty to the Ravens.

Kubiak’s already been fired as head coach, in December 2013, after almost eight seasons with the Houston Texans. Why set the timer for a second one?

Because when you coach Jay Cutler, odds are you're being hired to be fired.

New Bears general manager Ryan Pace, who got the job last Thursday, has his own list for head coaching candidates, and you wonder if there are any transformational figures out there. At his introductory press conference Pace, just 37, spoke of his fondness for Sean Payton, who combined discipline and personality to remake the New Orleans Saints in his image.

The Bears have already interviewed Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is next with a Tuesday interview.

My favorite, Rex Ryan, a true transformational type, was never a candidate and signed a blockbuster deal with Buffalo.

But I have no problem with a first-time GM going with a younger first-time coach. The most important thing is that there is trust and a symbiosis between the two.

The question is: What effect will Cutler have, or is he having, on the process? Are any coaches, aside from Mike Shanahan, who seems one step removed from flying a “Hire Shanny” banner over Halas Hall, excited to lead a team with him as quarterback?

Cutler seemed to be a selling point not long ago, a ready quarterback in a league that demands one. Now, after a down season fresh off a rich contract extension, is he more of a liability?

Will Pace tell coaches that Cutler is expendable, if it’s possible to expel him?

With that uncertainty, it seems like the next coach has to be able to prosper with Cutler. It’s certainly not impossible, but it hasn’t happened too often. If I were one of his coaches, I wouldn't buy a home in Lake Forest, that's for sure.

Obviously, Kubiak, who left Denver as Cutler was coming in, didn’t seem too excited about the prospect of leading Cutler. And perhaps it just wasn't the right time for Kubiak, who just moved his family to Baltimore and suffered health problems in his last season in Houston. But it's rare to see any assistant coach turn down at least a chance to talk about a head coaching job.

Again, that's not to say Kubiak would've been the right fit. But that's where Pace finds himself less than a week into his job.

Pace looks the part, now must prove himself

January, 9, 2015
Jan 9
2:31
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
videoLAKE FOREST, Ill. -- After Ryan Pace's general manager interview Wednesday, George McCaskey, Ted Phillips and Ernie Accorsi shared a moment.

“When he left the room, Ernie, Ted and I looked at each other, and you could tell by the looks on their faces, he was the guy,” McCaskey said.

A day later, Pace was hired as the sixth general manager in Chicago Bears history. Phil Emery, we hardly knew ye.

[+] EnlargeRyan Pace
AP Images/Nam Y. HuhRyan Pace said during his introductory press conference that the Bears need to regain their identity as a tough, physical team on defense.
Now, you, me and everyone else in the free world trust exactly one guy in that room’s opinion when it comes to football matters, and it’s Accorsi, the former Giants general manager who’s now earning a nice, fat paycheck for a few weeks' work as a consultant.

So if Ernie liked him, that’s a good sign, I suppose.

Even Phillips, the team president, joked about his reputation, telling reporters, “Hey look, you guys have all convinced me I’m not a football guy, all right?”

When asked about the Bears' brain trust betting on Pace, a 37-year-old New Orleans front-office veteran, to fix this mom-and-son operation, McCaskey quoted Accorsi.

“Ernie had a good analogy,” McCaskey said. “He said when you see that great young quarterback, you've got to take him -- that's the analogy he applied to Ryan. So we think and we hope we have the right guy.”

A good young quarterback in Chicago? Does anyone here know what that looks like?

It wasn’t Cade McNown or Rex Grossman or even Jay Cutler.

In his televised introduction to Chicago, the new “great young quarterback” of the Bears' organization looked the part. He’s tall, good-looking and young. He said “sustained success” so often I believe he owes royalties to Cubs president Theo Epstein.

He didn’t have much to say, because there’s not a lot to talk about yet. His vision for the Bears is your vision for the Bears. He wants to win a lot of games behind a bunch of athletic football players.

There’s no coach yet, no coaching staff, and Pace definitely didn’t want to wade into the dangerous waters of publicly evaluating Cutler, the $54 million elephant in the room.

Pace can’t remake the guts of the football operations department until the draft, so what’s there to say to the world? Not much. Just vague statements, a joke or two, and that’s it.

There’s a lot of work to do in a very short window. Emery lasted three years at the job, Marc Trestman just two as head coach. The Bears bottomed out at 5-11 in 2014, their worst record in a decade.

The roster isn’t rife with talent, and there are some expensive questions to answer. There are schematic questions, philosophical quandaries. But really, there’s only one acceptable result.

“This is a winning league. You must win,” Pace said. “We’re all judged on wins and losses. I understand that. In fact, I thrive in that. I know I’m evaluated on wins and losses. As far as the time frame and all that, I’m not concerned with that. I want to win. I want to win.”

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Cubs sell naming rights to spring training home

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8
1:47
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs announced their first modern naming-rights deal, selling the name to their spring training home to Chicago-based Sloan Valve Company.

Cubs Park, opened last year in Mesa, Ariz., will now be known as Sloan Park. The multi-year deal, which makes Sloan, a manufacturer of commercial plumbing products, a Cubs' legacy partner and the "Official Water Efficiency Partner," is for seven figures annually.

Sloan Valve, located in Franklin Park, Ill., about 13 miles west of Wrigley Field, is a privately-owned “leading global manufacturer of water-efficient solutions” that was founded in the glory days of the Cubs, 109 years ago.

On its website, Sloan’s vision is described as “providing smart, clean and sustainable restroom solutions.” And yes, Sloan executives know you’ve been making toilet humor about this deal on Twitter.

“Growing up in this business, no smart-ass can miss the opportunity to make a toilet joke, me included,” Sloan President and CEO Jim Allen said in a phone interview. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re serious businessmen and we take business seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. “

Allen’s great-grandfather started the business in 1906, two years before the Cubs' last World Series title, and now it’s a global company. Allen, who grew up in River Forest and moved to North Shore suburb of Kenilworth during high school, noted that Sloan products are in the White House, the new Freedom Tower, and even new buildings in Mecca.

But, as Allen asked a reporter: “Have you ever heard of us before today?”

“We want to raise awareness of our brand, and a stadium is a great showcase,” Allen said. “I was there when Cubs Park opened in Mesa. It’s beautiful. It has our equipment already. This relationship also allows us to use it as a marketing platform.”

Wrigley Field has had Sloan products -- valves, fixtures, etc. -- since it opened in 1914, and yes, Sloan manufactures the famous troughs in the men’s bathrooms, which are grandfathered in under current plumbing code.

With the Wrigley rebuild starting this offseason, Sloan will work closely with the Cubs on making the stadium “green” and “efficient.”

“We want to help the Cubs meet their water-efficiency needs and improve the bathroom experience,” he said.

When the stadium renovations are finished, expect to see a couple “showroom” bathrooms. When the bleachers are finished this season, there are expected to be updated bathrooms. Sloan will also have “fixed signage” in the visiting team’s bullpen.

The company is the sixth legacy partner of the Cubs. The others are Anheuser-Busch, ATI Physical Therapy, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Under Armour and Wintrust.


Don't expect Bears to rock the boat with new hires

January, 7, 2015
Jan 7
4:31
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Phillips/McCaskeyAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhGeorge McCaskey and the Bears have a tendency to play it safe rather than institute real change.
CHICAGO -- To borrow a phrase popular around these parts back in the day, change is something I believe in.

After all, change is something for which we assemble, something we argue about, and at times, demand.

But when it comes to the Chicago Bears, if you demand change, you might as well spit in the wind during Peak Bear Weather. Because change is still a four-letter word in Lake Forest.

[+] EnlargeChicago Bears, Emery, Trestman
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhPhil Emery and Marc Trestman are out, but will it be more of the same with whoever replaces them?
Real change, I mean. Not cosmetic alterations, not shuffling in Halas Hall expats and friends of friends. Not giving power to the same guys over and over again.

Remember the “massive change” press conference of 2010?

After the expected, necessary firings of general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman last week, there was a lot of buzz about a sea change inside Halas Hall, where previous McCaskeys let the Bears flounder for years under Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron.

Not even the laziest McCaskey would’ve let Emery and Trestman return after this past season.

But the reality of what we saw the Monday after the regular season ended were two well-meaning neophytes in George McCaskey and president/consigliere Ted Phillips explaining the obvious (The Bears were a joke this season) and going over the process to find the family’s latest savior (It'll work!).

They dabbled in organizational philosophy and vague assurances. They kept saying “foreclose” like it was the game played by the cops in “Super Troopers.”

No need to ridicule these guys. But they didn’t, and don’t, inspire any confidence that the Chicago Bears will change under new management.

Hiring “Football Guy” Ernie Accorsi as an advisor, the big news out of the meeting, was a smart move -- and surely no guarantee of success. After all, the final decision comes down to a “collaboration” between Phillips and McCaskey. Accorsi, the former New York Giants GM and “old school” steward is just a guide.

The Bears are a mom and pop shop that rarely make the playoffs. They aren't cheap, as has been their reputation in the past, when it comes to players. But this ain't JerryWorld either.

There's a reason people aren't falling over themselves for these open jobs. Some of it is Jay Cutler and the lack of talent on the roster. Some is the Bears are a cornerstone NFL organization in name only. They are the embodiment of the league's past.

Former Bears scout Chris Ballard, now a player personnel chief in Kansas City, interviewed with the trio Wednesday and has been a local favorite since before Emery was officially axed.

Given that he’s turned down other general manager interviews leads you to believe he’s confident in this landing spot. Ballard worked for 12 years in Halas Hall under Jerry Angelo and briefly, Emery. He’s well-respected, but once you get into the insular world of anonymous league execs, who isn’t?

“[Ballard] should be a lock unless they want to totally move on from the [former general manager Jerry] Angelo ties,” a scouting director who has worked directly with Ballard told ESPN NFL Nation reporter Michael C. Wright. “If [the Bears] don’t hire Ballard, they would be making a big mistake. ... He’s more qualified than anybody I have ever been around in this business."

Given that this person worked with Ballard, you have to listen to these plaudits and still reserve judgment.

“He’s got a great head of hair,” Bears guard Kyle Long noted on the “Carmen and Jurko” show Wednesday afternoon. “He’d give Jay [Cutler] a run for his money.”

Duly noted.

I was in favor of forgoing all attachments to Bears Past, regardless of their qualifications, and snagging a young personnel executive from, say, the Green Bay Packers.

I also wanted Rex Ryan, the erstwhile Jets coach who would completely and positively change the franchise for the better. He’s a culture builder, a change agent. An establishment coach who acts like an outsider.

Again, I was way off. That’s why they don’t hire me as a consultant.

Ryan won’t be interviewed. No Packers will be smuggled south.

Accorsi, obviously, knows what he’s doing as he steers Lake Forest’s Bunk and McNulty to their next lead.

The idea of paying a consultant to tell you to hire a guy who already worked at Halas, who will then, in turn, hire Dave Toub, who coached here for nine years, well, is pretty funny.

It reminds one of when Tom Ricketts hired an advanced statistical analyst to figure out who would be Jim Hendry’s ideal replacement and he came up with no-name Theo Epstein.

Good ROI on those hires.

(Read full post)

Bulls' Butler, Dunleavy out against Celtics

January, 3, 2015
Jan 3
1:33
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls will be without two starters Saturday as small forward Mike Dunleavy and shooting guard Jimmy Butler won’t suit up against the Boston Celtics.

Dunleavy, who jammed his right ankle in Thursday’s win over Denver, hadn’t missed a game since joining the Bulls before the 2013-14 season.

Butler, who has played in 31 of 33 games this season, is out on bereavement leave.

Butler’s absence puts more pressure on point guard Derrick Rose to carry the offense.

Butler is in the midst of a breakout season, averaging a team-high 21.9 points to go with 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He had 26 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the Bulls’ 106-101 win over Denver on Thursday.

He missed the team’s first two games of the season in October but since then has averaged 40 minutes per game.

Dunleavy is averaging 9.6 points while playing nearly 30 minutes a game. He’s shooting 41.7 percent on 3-pointers.

Chicago (23-10) is already without rookie small forward Doug McDermott, who had his knee scoped in December.

Kirk Hinrich, who just came back after a five-game injury absence, and Tony Snell will likely start. Hinrich is listed as probable with a right hamstring ailment.

Aaron Brooks keeps knocking 'em down

January, 3, 2015
Jan 3
10:00
AM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Few, if any NBA players, are as comfortable in the lane as Aaron Brooks.

Not just the painted area of the NBA, either.

“Aaron’s a hell of a bowler,” childhood friend Nate Robinson said. “He’s probably the best bowler in the NBA.”

[+] EnlargeAaron Brooks, Nate Robinson
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesKeeping Aaron Brooks out of scoring position is a tough job, even for old friend Nate Robinson.
This is not a secret, as Brooks has hosted a charity bowling tournament in his hometown of Seattle and once bowled a 299, according to league sources (an old Q&A on the Nuggets website). His parents met in a bowling alley, and he spent weekends bowling as his parents participated in leagues.

So this made me wonder: How in the heck did Brooks lose the Chicago Bulls' recent charity bowling tournament to Australian rookie Cameron Bairstow?

“We bowled one frame,” Brooks said with a dismissive sigh. “It’s a one-frame tournament. He got a lucky strike. I’m pretty good. I’ll let my stats speak for themselves.”

Brooks and Robinson, who faced each other in the Bulls’ 106-101 win over Denver on Thursday, grew up together in Seattle’s basketball hotbed.

While Robinson prefers pingpong to bowling, both played basketball, football and ran track in an environment full of future professional athletes.

What was Nate -- still a fan favorite in Chicago for his one season here -- like as an 8-year-old?

“Same,” Brooks said. “Same, just bigger than everyone. Smaller, but physically bigger than everybody. Phenomenal athlete. You just had this sense that whatever he wanted to go pro in, he was going to do it. I know a lot of people say that loosely about kids. I never really say that, but for him, whatever he picked that he was going to do professionally, it was going to work out.”

Robinson loves talking about the “206,” where fellow NBA players like Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, Tony Wroten, Martell Webster, Rodney Stuckey and Zach LaVine, among others, all hail from.

What’s a Seattle basketball player like?

“We have fun,” Robinson said. “We just hoop, however it comes. We have fun and hoop, that’s it. That’s all we know how to do.”

“It’s weird, because you don’t really think about it like that, but I guess we’re all scorers,” Brooks said. “We have an edge to us. Being on the West Coast, it seems like it’s always East Coast bias for basketball. You kind of take that with you when you go on the court.”

Brooks is averaging 10.8 points and 3.1 assists, playing 20 minutes a game at a position where the star, Derrick Rose, has missed time and has minutes restrictions, and the backup, Kirk Hinrich, just missed the last five games. All three can play both guard positions, giving coach Tom Thibodeau multiple backcourt options.

Robinson thrilled, and scared, Bulls crowds two seasons ago when Rose was recovering from ACL surgery. Last year it was D.J. Augustin, who was signed off a quick stay on waivers after Rose hurt his other knee.

Both players turned their Chicago stops into multi-year deals elsewhere. It helps that Thibodeau's offense lets point guards attack.

“I know Aaron,” Robinson said. “For him he’s got a lot to prove after playing in Houston and not getting a contract that I thought he deserves and he thinks he deserves. For him, this is just a statement year for him to show teams, and other GMs around the league, not just the Bulls, that he can play.”

Brooks signed a one-year deal for $1.145 million this past summer. Back in the 2009-10 season, Brooks averaged 19.6 points per game for the Rockets, who drafted him in the first round in 2007. But he’s bounced around the league, with Houston trading him twice and waiving him once from 2011 through 2014.

"He kind of got lost in the shuffle," Thibodeau said.

Robinson, who is one year older than Brooks, wants to see him stick in Chicago, where Brooks and Rose made a formidable offensive duo.

“I hope it’s not a one-stop-shop type of deal,” Robinson said. “Especially with what he’s doing. Past years, they’ve shown they don’t want to keep guys who come in like myself and Aaron for too long. They had D.J. Augustin, who came in last year and did a hell of a job last year and look what happened.”

After the Bulls’ Christmas win against the Lakers, Thibodeau gave Brooks the Thibs seal of approval.

“He’s got a lot of toughness; he’s real smart,” Thibodeau said then. “His speed is something that’s hard to deal with. He creates scoring opportunities, he’s great in the pick-and-roll. He knows how to find people, and he has all the tricks. For a guy that’s small, he can finish around the basket. He knows how to use the board, he knows how to extend, get the ball away from the body against shot-blockers. He’s not afraid to get in there. He’s tough. He’s a hard guy defensively; he’s going to battle. He’s a hard guy to post up. He’s just tough, tough. The guy’s a winner.”

Injury update: Mike Dunleavy didn't practice with a "jammed" ankle, Thibodeau said. Dunleavy hurt the ankle on defense in the third quarter Thursday and didn't return. He is questionable for Saturday's game against Boston. He hasn't missed a game since joining the Bulls last season. Pau Gasol had the day off from practice. He's listed as probable with a left chest contusion.

Thibodeau's Bulls still getting it done on D

January, 2, 2015
Jan 2
4:09
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Through 33 games, the Chicago Bulls are giving up 98.5 points per game, up nearly seven points from their NBA-leading average last season.

The Bulls are also scoring nearly nine more points per game, from last to eighth at 102.6 per game. So with better pace, comes the consequences, more points allowed.

But don’t tell Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau his defense, which set a franchise record with 18 blocked shots on Thursday in a 106-101 win over the Denver Nuggets, is slipping.

Thibodeau credited the Bulls' defense for triggering a second-half comeback after a sluggish first half. Pau Gasol set a career high with nine blocks, five of them coming in the third quarter, when the Bulls outscored Denver 35-21.

“We’re fourth in field goal percentage defense -- I think that says something,” Thibodeau said after Friday’s practice. “I think we’re fourth in rebounding margin. I think we’re first in 3-pointers made against, first in 3-pointers allowed. So I guess it’s OK. But we’re getting there.”

There was definitely a light “I can rip my team, but you can’t” vibe to his answer, and when he was told the Bulls are actually second in 3-pointers allowed, he looked straight ahead and said, “I stand corrected.”

Besides that, he was dead on. The Bulls are fourth in field goal percentage allowed at 43.2 percent, fourth in rebounding margin at +2.8, a steady improvement since the beginning of the season, second in 3-pointers made per game at 6.1, and first in 3-point attempts allowed per game at 17.4.

They are 10th in points allowed, which isn't bad. Thibodeau thinks that’s more due to the uptick in scoring in the league and a lot of teams, the Bulls included, going with small lineups in certain situations to maximize 3-point shooting.

In Thibodeau's previous four years as head coach, the Bulls finished first, third, first and second in points allowed.

According to Basketball-Reference.com, after Thursday’s games, NBA teams were averaging 100.5 points per game, down a half-point from last season’s final average. Shooting percentages and pace ratings were also slightly down from last season.

Before last season, there were three straight seasons where NBA teams averaged less than 100 points.

For a little historical perspective, from the 1995-96 season through the 2007-08 season, NBA teams averaged less than 100 points. Before the 1995-96 season, NBA teams averaged more than 100 points since the late 1950s.

While he looks and acts like a classic old-school coach, Thibodeau is a stats geek. He designed his own Player Efficiency Rating as a young assistant coach. He has a gift for understanding and translating numbers into lessons and game plans for his players. He covers it up with excessive bluster on the sideline.

Thibodeau said the three defensive areas that are most important to him are the classic ones: field goal percentage, 3-point defense and rebounding margin. Then he looks deeper like how they’re containing pick-and-rolls, broken down into variations of personnel and nuance.

There's always something to examine, but he likes the effort so far. One figures the Bulls will get even better as the season progresses.

“I always think we can do better,” Thibodeau said. “I think we can do a lot of things better on both sides of the ball.”

Crazy bad season warrants a look back

December, 30, 2014
12/30/14
10:00
AM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
TrestmanAP Photo/Mike RoemerJay Cutler and Marc Trestman were just one part of the drama that surrounded the Bears all season.


MINNEAPOLIS -- At the end of an odd, buzzy, viral season for the Chicago Bears, one that ended with the clean-sweep firings of GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman, I kicked it around over e-mails with Bears beat writer Jeff Dickerson.

JG: Well, JD, it’s been a fun season. Fun for us, I mean. Not so much for the Bears fans, or the team or really anyone in Halas Hall. Certainly, this season has had a lot of memorable moments, and almost none of them were positive.

Remember the Emery-Trestman bye-week press conference? Emery was asked if Brian Urlacher’s criticism of Jay Cutler bothered him, a pretty benign question at the time.

Here’s Phil’s loquacious answer:

"No, it didn't bother me. Everybody is entitled to their thoughts and opinions," Emery said. "It did hit a research project for me, so I went back and looked at their time together on the field at the same time starting the game healthy, they played 38 games together and during those games, they were 26-12. So, they definitely won together. When Jay was off the field and Brian started, they were 1-6. When Jay was on the field without Brian, they were 9-12. So the only thing that I can get from all that is they were really good for each other. They're both fine football players, lead in their own way and are both great for the organization. So, no, it didn't bother me."

(Read full post)

Jay Cutler handles benching with the utmost professionalism

December, 18, 2014
12/18/14
6:31
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Football players talk a lot about the importance of "tape."

Tape is where you find answers and tape is where you want to shine. In what might have been his last news conference at Halas Hall, Jay Cutler got some great stuff on tape.

For a guy known for a lack of composure on the field, he continued his impressive streak of keeping it together under duress off the field.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen
Joe Sargent/Getty ImagesJay Cutler admitted he did not take the news well when he was told he would be benched for Jimmy Clausen.
In his first comments since his surprise benching by coach Marc Trestman on Wednesday, Cutler impressed NFL people from coast to coast. He was self-effacing, respectful, funny and insightful in talking to local reporters, a group with which he has had an up-and-down relationship.

It was the second straight week in which he looked a lot more professional than Trestman, who has been reduced to a defensive, mournful soul who is likely seeing the end of his professional dream.

There are no winners in the Bears' situation, save for Jimmy Clausen, who gets his first start since 2010 this Sunday against the Detroit Lions. At 5-9, the Chicago Bears aren't just subpar, they're getting embarrassed on a weekly basis. Cutler has been part of the problem, and in this case, he's the scapegoat for the organizational dysfunction that has crippled the historic franchise.

Chicago is used to the Bears missing the playoffs, but we're in rare territory here as the Bears are operating like the Oakland Raiders.

While Cutler's reputation as a sourpuss has been solidified through years of televised grimacing, he has been very good with Chicago media this year in his podium appearances. He even joked about the now-famous miscommunication Monday night when he answered three questions in the postgame media room and left before reporters had scurried over from the locker room.

"Glad you guys could make it," he said. "I missed you after the game."

It figures this happens now. Cutler isn't going to win a Super Bowl in Chicago, but he won the room in Lake Forest. I can't speak for anyone else, but I found him sympathetic Thursday. If he's gone, he's going out, well, professionally.

(Read full post)

For Cubs, $155 million bet on Lester is an absolute must-win

December, 15, 2014
12/15/14
7:58
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Jon LesterAP Photo/Paul Beaty"That's the biggest thing for us" with Jon Lester, Theo Epstein said -- "the comfort level."

CHICAGO -- For the rest of his career, Jon Lester's name will be synonymous with his contract.

As in, "Jon Lester, who signed a $155 million deal in 2014 ... "

When you're Lester, who agreed last week to a six-year, $155 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, that's what happens.

Poor guy, right? If we all had those kinds of problems on our shoulders. I'd take that kind of stress for several fewer zeroes.

But being the $155 million ace for the Cubs is real pressure, and there are outsize expectations that come with such a grandiose amount of money -- and those aren't imaginary. Being the face of the much-touted rebuilding process only adds more layers.

For all the talk about the "new" Cubs, the organization has made this season -- and the ensuing ones -- an all-or-nothing chase for a World Series, or, as Cubs president Theo Epstein put it Monday, "the single greatest pursuit left in sports." When you dump three seasons to build up from the studs, there is an expected payoff.

So Lester has to be a $155 million pitcher, a $20 million-plus-per-year pitcher. Some guys can't handle that. Some think they can, but they can't.

Lester, a serious man with a serious mien, doesn't seem to be worried.

"I played in Boston for eight years," he said at his introductory news conference at the Spiaggia restaurant on North Michigan Avenue on Monday afternoon. "I think I'm pretty prepared for a lot of things. You just have to accept it. I can't change it now. It's obviously next to my name, it'll always be next to my name, whether it's a good start or bad start. It's how I go about my work. I just have to believe I'm going to be prepared for every start, and that's all I can control."

Lester has won two World Series rings, but that's in the past. He's in Chicago now, where people expect the worst and always, always follow the money. But Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer go way back with Lester from their Boston days.

[+] EnlargeJon Lester
David Banks/Getty Images"I like to win," new Cubs ace Jon Lester said. "People who know me know I'm not very happy when we lose or I lose."
"There won't be any surprises," Epstein said. "That's the biggest thing for us, with the comfort level. Sooner or later, someone was going to have to put their trust in us, we were going to have to put our trust in someone. To do it with someone you know well, there won't be any surprises off the field, there won't be any surprises in the clubhouse, there won't be surprises on the field. He is who he says he is."

That's a sentence that stuck with me. He is who he says he is.

"I like to win," Lester said. "People who know me know I'm not very happy when we lose or I lose."

Lester said Epstein and Hoyer convinced him the Cubs were ready to win in 2015, which has been the new organizational mantra since the end of the 2014 season. I agree, if winning means 82 games. But I like the attitude, and if you want someone to project you're for real, Lester is the guy.

Lester said he enjoys talking to teammates about former teams. He talked to Jeff Samardzija in Oakland about the Cubs' ascent, and said Ryan Dempster, a former Boston teammate now working as special advisor to Epstein, gave it to him straight.

What did he ask Samardzija?

"If everything I was hearing was true, as far as about winning," he said. "Are these guys close? That was my question to Jeff. Are they close? Are they there?"

Obviously, Lester said, the answer was a good one.

When you ask Epstein about the lefty, he ticks off words like "serious" and "driven" to illustrate his character.

"He's at his best in the most important moments, I think because he's so driven and focused and not swayed by outside variables like pressure or tension, things of that nature," Epstein said.

But it's not just about character. No one signs a pitcher and calls him a flake or a doofus. It's about talent. Can Lester, who had a fantastic contract year for Boston and Oakland last season, maintain his level of performance through his 30s?

"He's really, really good," Epstein said. "Let's start with that as a baseline."

But he also will be 31 when he throws his first pitch as a Cub. The Cubs are in fantastic financial shape, with a slew of young, cost-controlled hitters with the team or in the minor leagues. Still, $155 million is $155 million.

Did I mention his deal is $155 million?

Throughout the past couple months, Epstein has described free-agency chases of this magnitude as a high-stakes game of poker, not for "the faint of heart." But as would any professional gambler, the Cubs crunched the numbers. They know the percentages and think they will work out in their favor.

Lester did his research, and so did the Cubs.

"Historically, nine-figure deals for starting pitchers in their 30s haven't worked out," Epstein said. "So you're looking for ways to make the best bet in an inherently risky endeavor. There are a lot of mitigating factors in there, but I'm not going to say it's without risk, because it's not without risk. Contracts like this always carry risk. Jon, we've been around him since he's 18. So I know exactly what shoulder program he's been on since he was 18. I know how well he's executed that shoulder program, how diligent he was. I know what his MRIs look like.

"He's left-handed, and left-handed pitchers tend to perform better throughout their contracts than right-handed pitchers," Epstein continued. "He's got the right kind of pitch mix that will allow him to age gracefully. He doesn't get hitters out just one way, especially now that his curveball is back in the mix, where he's working both sides of the plate. The cutter is a weapon that ages very well. If you look at Andy Pettitte, he aged extremely well through his 30s. He's a reasonable [comparison]. The second half of Jon Lester's career you want to look like Andy Pettitte."

When people talk about the next stage of using advanced analytics to predict performance, it's all about forecasting health, specifically pitching health.

"There's a lot of time and money spent to figure out a way to keep a pitcher 5 percent healthier," Epstein said. "That could mean tens of millions of dollars."

The Cubs made their bet on Lester staying healthy, and he made his bet on them being able to win. Is he the right man for the job? At $155 million, he better be.

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