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Theo Epstein: ‘Ton of change is in order’ if Cubs don’t turn it around

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The Washington Nationals began June in an awful place. Everyone was freaking out and everyone assumed that their manager would be fired. They were the top choice in everyone’s “biggest busts of 2019” list.

They have a better record than the Chicago Cubs do right now. Heck, the Cubs are tied with the White Sox in the loss column.

Which sort of explains Theo Epstein taking about making big changes soon if things don’t shape up on the north side. Here he was on Chicago’s on 670 The Score yesterday:

“If we don’t snap out of this, a lot of change is called for, that’s obvious . . . We’re all really frustrated, obviously. It’s a stretch of play that nobody is proud of, nor should anybody be. It’s hard. But you find out a lot about what people are made of during stretches like these. It obviously can’t continue. It’s not acceptable  . . . if this stretch of bad play continues, then certainly a ton of change is in order.”

Of course, as Patrick Mooney points out in his column about all of this, the Cubs remain only a game out of first place in the NL Central thanks to the Brewers and Cardinals putting up equally disappointing showings thus far. If the Cubs played in the NL East they’d be six back. If they played in the West they’d be 13.5 back. In the National League they’re in a virtual tie with Washington for the second Wild Card but in the AL they’d be looking up at five teams ahead of them for the Wild Card.

So, yeah, not ideal.

What kind of big changes might Epstein be thinking about if the Cubs can’t snap out of it? Mooney talks about dealing off bullpen parts such as Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop and Brandon Kintzler, hoping Cole Hamels can get healthy and shopping him and, perhaps, canning their lame duck manager, Joe Maddon, as they look to re-load for 2020.

That’d be quite the thing given this team’s expectations. It’d be even more of a thing if the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals all continue to struggle and Epstein sees and opportunity to improve with those kinds of deals even while there’s a realistic chance to make the playoffs. The question — which I doubt Epstein would answer right now but which he no doubt has to consider — is whether it’s better to limp into the playoffs, clearly inferior to the Dodgers, Braves and other NL contenders, or if it’s better to try to re-jigger things for next year.

Which is to say: would Theo do a white-flag trade?

 

Astros defend barring reporter from clubhouse

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As we wrote about this morning, last night the Houston Astros, at the request of Justin Verlander, barred Detroit Free Press reporter Anthony Fenech from the clubhouse during Verlander’s media availability following the Tigers-Astros game. After Verlander was done talking to the press in the scrum setting — and after a call was placed to Major League Baseball about the matter — Fenech was allowed in.

As we noted, this was done in violation of agreements to which Major League Baseball, the Houston Astros and the Baseball Writers Association of America are parties. The agreements are meant to ensure full access to BBWAA-accredited reporters as long as they have not violated the terms of their credentials.  In no case do the clubs — and certainly not the players — have the right to bar access to BBWAA-accredited reporters. Indeed, the whole point of the BBWAA is to ensure such access and to ensure that teams cannot bar them simply because they are unhappy with their coverage or what have you.

This morning Verlander tweeted, obliquely, about “unethical behavior” on the part of Fenech that led to his request to the Astros to bar him. As we noted at the time, such an allegation — however interesting it might be — is of no consequence to the admission or barring of a reporter. If Fenech has acted unethically it’s a matter between him and his employer and, potentially, between him and the BBWAA. At the very least, if Verlander has a specific concern, it would be incumbent upon him or the Astros to take the matter up with either the Free Press or the BBWAA.

In light of all of this, it’s hard to make a case for Verlander’s request and the Astros’ honoring it. A few moments ago, however, the Astros released as statement on the matter which, basically, says, “so what?”

Which is to say, the Astros have made a decades-long agreement between the BBWAA and MLB regarding reporter access optional, because a player does not like a reporter who is covering him.  Someone without the power to alter the BBWAA-MLB relationship has just done so unilaterally. And they have done so in such a way that any player, should they decide they don’t like a reporter, will now presumably rely on as precedent. And, it should be noted, in doing so they gave at least some tacit credence to Verlander’s thus far unsubstantiated and unspecified allegations of unethical behavior on the part of Fenech.

It’s your move, Major League Baseball and BBWAA. Whatcha gonna do about it?