Ryan Dempster interviewed players and others during a show Friday night, the first night of the Cubs Convention. In case you missed it, here was Dempster’s “Top 10 reasons the Cubs hired Joe Maddon:”
10. “We misheard and thought he knew [actress] Eva Longoria.”
9. “We’re trying to set the Guinness Book of World Records for most fired managers.”
8. “We needed someone who would take the leftover Harry Carry glasses.”
7. “The Cubs’ bus keeps breaking down so we figured, hey, we can use his RV.”
6. “Most managers take shots from the media; Joe Maddon buys shots for the media.”
5. “We have a young team here in Chicago, and if 60 is the new 40, well, we need someone to manage all of our toddlers.”
4. “[Model wife of former Cub David DeJesus] Kim DeJesus told us to.”
3. “He’s the son of a plumber and, let’s just face it: the Wrigley bathrooms need a ton of work.”
2. “We just feel bad for anyone who lives in Florida.”
1. “Well, because of all the other managers we tried to tamper with, none of them called us back.”
— Cash Kruth, MLB.com
Ryan Dempster knows how good a pitcher Jon Lester is, and has already talked to the free agent about how fun it is to pitch at Wrigley Field for the Cubs. Whether that helps Lester make a decision remains to be seen. Dempster, who was Lester’s teammate in Boston in 2013, made his recruiting pitch to the left-hander before joining the Cubs front office as a special assistant to Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
“Jon and I have talked about how great it is to play here,” Dempster said at the Cubs offices near Wrigley Field. “He knows that and he’s got an extremely tough decision ahead. But whatever the decision is, hopefully it’s here with the Chicago Cubs because he won’t be disappointed. I know the city of Chicago would embrace him. He’s the type of person who could pitch here and do well here. Hopefully we’re lucky enough to have him here with us.”
Lester, 30 is weighing offers from at least four teams — the Cubs, Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers — and talks between his agents and those teams were expected to continue into the Winter Meetings.
Epstein would not comment Friday on any specific negotiations, but did say the Cubs were not delaying any other talks with free agents or teams regarding possible trades while waiting for Lester to make a decision.
“We’re working on a lot of fronts,” Epstein said. “When there’s a potential impact player involved, it does shape a little bit the course of your short-term thinking. If you get a player who makes a significant difference in the standings, you prioritize creating a winning roster immediately around that player.
“If the offseason goes in a slightly different direction, you would continue to build more organically and continue to think a little bit longer term,” Epstein said.
Dempster said he was impressed by how prepared Lester is before his starts.
“Here I was, a guy who played 16 years in the league, and I’m supposed to be the veteran leader and I watched him and felt like I wasn’t doing enough,” Dempster said of their days together with the Red Sox. “If we could add him here, he’d step in front of everybody and all the young guys could sit and watch and learn from him. He’s just a tremendous pitcher and a tremendous human being and would be a great addition to any team.”
And now, Dempster said, Lester is seeing the reward of all that hard work by being offered lengthy contracts that will likely top $130 million.
— Carrie Muskat
Ryan Dempster doesn’t have an office yet at the Cubs complex near Wrigley Field but he lives close enough to the ballpark that it will be no problem for him to come over whenever needed in his new role. Dempster, 37, who did not pitch in 2014, officially announced his retirement as a player on Friday but also has a new job as a special assistant to Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
Dempster left the game on a high note as part of the Red Sox World Series championship team in 2013. He said it wasn’t a tough decision to retire.
“I think just going through this past season and not missing it as much as I thought I would made the decision a lot easier,” he said. “I had a great year off. I got to travel a lot, spend a ton of time with my kids — things I never got to do — and I got to go out on top and win a World Series. Now I can be on the other side in the front office and help get a World Series here to Chicago with the Cubs because that’s what I dreamt about as a player and that’s what I want as a front office member.”
Dempster pitched for the Cubs from 2004-12, first as the closer, and then as a starter. In his 16 seasons in the Major Leagues, he compiled a 132-133 career record and 4.35 ERA in 579 games, including 351 starts.
— Carrie Muskat
When James Russell was a rookie reliever in Cubs camp, his locker was one of the wobbly extras in the middle of the room near the showers at Fitch Park. Ryan Dempster was a starter then for Chicago.
“I was terrified,” Russell said about being in his first big league camp. “The first person who actually came up to say something to me was ‘Demp.’ He said, ‘Hey, man, there’s an open locker next to me. Why don’t you get out of that rollaway locker and come put your stuff in here?’ I wasn’t going to do it.
“The next day I come in, and all my stuff’s right next to him,” Russell said. “The stuff he does for young guys and the team is amazing.”
On Sunday, Dempster announced that he is not going to pitch in 2014 because of health reasons. One of the most popular players in the game, the right-hander, who played for the Cubs from 2004-12, will be missed.
“He’s one of the more standup guys in baseball,” Russell said. “Him and [Alfonso] Soriano were two of the coolest personalities you could ever meet.”
The Cubs players learned of Dempster’s early retirement during their morning stretch.
“Me and Jeff [Samardzija] were really, really surprised,” Russell said. “Just to even think of him not taking the ball [is tough]. He’s one of the guys who no matter what, if he’s hurting, he’s out there grinding and trying to do what he can do to help the team.”
If this is the end of his career, Dempster finished on a high note, winning the World Series with the Red Sox. The last time Russell communicated with Dempster was in October when he sent a congratulatory text.
In nine seasons with the Cubs, Dempster was 67-66 with a 3.74 ERA and 87 saves. He signed after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and took over as closer from 2005-07 before returning to the rotation. In ’06, he led the National League in games finished.
But it was Dempster’s sense of humor and personality that endeared him. He’d always invite players to his house, even if it was just to play video games. Dempster organized a Cubs’ “American Idol” competition one spring, which Russell took part in.
After one season, he took Russell and Andrew Cashner to the United Center in Chicago to watch the Blackhawks practice. Then they got a tour of the locker room and were allowed to suit up and skate.
“They let us go out and raise hell on the ice,” Russell said. “I’m sure Ryan is the only one who could get that worked out.”
Whether Dempster, 36, returns is up to him.
“You know he’s doing it for the best interests of his career,” Russell said of the early retirement. “I’d love to see him come back and play. He’s still got plenty of years on his arm. It’s sad to see that happen to a guy who is so well respected around baseball, and especially as well respected as he is in the city of Chicago and the guys in the locker room.”
— Carrie Muskat
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports the Brewers, Red Sox and Angels are among the teams pursuing Ryan Dempster, who was believed to be seeking a three-year deal. Dempster, 35, compiled a 3.38 ERA in 173 innings for the Cubs and Rangers last season. The right-hander also has been linked to the Dodgers, Twins and Cubs, but the Cubs most likely would not offer a three-year contract.
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer was asked this week if the team would consider a long-term, multi-year commitment to a pitcher.
“It’s so early in the offseason, it’s hard to assess that kind of question,” Hoyer said. “Two of the main guys we targeted going into winter were [Scott] Baker and [Scott] Feldman. We felt both guys were very similar and thought they would both benefit coming to the National League. We felt they would both have upside left, both were young. Whether we would add a guy on a multi-year commitment, I think that depends on the player and the opportunity for us.”
Baker and Feldman both signed one-year deals with the Cubs this month.
— Carrie Muskat
The Cubs need at least two starting pitchers. One free agent available is Ryan Dempster. GM Jed Hoyer said he’s had some contact with Dempster’s rep.
“It’s preliminary,” Hoyer said of the talks. “A lot of players will end up expressing interest. … Certainly [Dempster] pitched well here for a long time and people in Chicago respect what he’s done here and they should. Obviously, there’s mutual respect there.”
Dempster, 35, was dealt to the Rangers at the Trade Deadline. The right-hander was 5-5 with a 2.25 ERA with the Cubs, and went 7-3 with a 5.09 ERA with the Rangers.
— Carrie Muskat
The 2012 season was obviously a disappointment in terms of the final record, but Theo Epstein said he was encouraged by how the Cubs established a better culture and by some of the additions.
Fans will still have to be patient, said Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, who met with the media one day after the team wrapped up the season at 61-101.
“Having not been here previously, I think there was a real improvement in the culture around the team and the mood around the clubhouse,” Epstein said Thursday at Wrigley Field. “Despite being a losing club — and we can’t get away from that, we were a losing club — there was a real professionalism, a real spirit of unity, a real effort to play hard every day, to have each other’s back, to prepare.
“We had our lapses,” he said. “We had plenty of bone-head plays on the bases and things that shouldn’t happen, but on a whole, it was more of a winning atmosphere than you typically see around losing clubs. That’s something we can build on, that’s something we’re going to expect, that’s going to be the standard, that we can continue to build on.”
A lot of the credit for that change goes to first-year manager Dale Sveum and his staff. That could make the Cubs more attractive to free agents. Epstein said they will be looking at free agent pitchers to fill some of the holes in the rotation created by the trades of Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm.
“Players want to play for certain managers,” Epstein said. “I guarantee you, starting today and throughout the whole winter, players will be talking about how great it is to play for Dale Sveum and be part of this clubhouse we have here.
“I’ve also heard that players want to be part of the solution here, and want to be part of the club that ultimately wins a World Series here,” he said. “We have an opportunity as well. With a certain tier free agent, we can sell opportunity.
“I think Paul Maholm would tell people he’s really glad he signed here. … I think he feels good about his Cubs experience, and would come back here in a second if he got the opportunity.”
* * *
Epstein would prefer the roster was 100 percent homegrown. But some of the top prospects need more time. Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson, who struggled in two months with the big league team, were both told they will open next season at Triple-A Iowa. Epstein said Vitters has had a tough time initially at every level he’s advanced to. The third baseman batted .121 in 36 games with the Cubs. Jackson’s swing wasn’t ready, Epstein said, but they wanted to promote the outfielder so Sveum and interim hitting coach James Rowson could work with him. Jackson finished at .175 with 59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats.
“I think he’ll have a much more productive offseason because of what he was exposed to than if he had stayed at Triple-A,” Epstein said.
Rowson, who took over in May when Rudy Jaramillo was dismissed, will either remain with the big league team or could return to his duties as Minor League hitting coordinator.
* * *
The 2012 season is significant because it’s the year Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora joined the organization, Epstein said. Rizzo took over the No. 3 spot in the lineup when promoted from Triple-A on June 26. Soler, a 20-year-old Cuban outfielder, signed a nine-year, $30 million deal in June, and Almora was the team’s first-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft. Other highlights for Epstein included Javier Baez, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in 2011, who made progress in his development; Darwin Barney, who proved to be one of the elite defensive second basemen; and establishing the scouting and player development infrastructure.
The Cubs drew 2.8 million fans this year, the first time they did not reach 3 million since 2003. Fans can expect more growing pains.
“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Don’t worry about 101 losses because we have a magic plan to win the World Series in 2013, and it’s going to happen — be there now,'” Epstein said. “I think what we’re trying to communicate is there is a plan, there is a vision. It might be a little bit longer term than we all want it to be but we’re committed to it. There’s great reward at the end. You can’t guarantee results. But I’ll tell everybody, we won’t be satisfied unless we’re in the postseason year in and year out.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise, he said, was veteran Alfonso Soriano, 36, who hit 32 home runs and set a career-high with 108 RBIs.
“Coming in here, I actually had a little trepidation of how we’d handle him and the contract and if his skills declined, how we’d handle playing time,” Epstein said. “I’ll be honest, it wasn’t something I was looking forward to. Those concerns proved to be completely baseless. What a pleasant surprise he turned out to be.”
However, Soriano’s trade value is high. He has two years, $38 million remaining on his eight-year contract, but also has 10-and-5 rights.
“If teams pursue him in a trade, we’ll consider it,” Epstein said. “If we trade him, we’re losing something, so we have to get something back in return to justify that.”
* * *
Despite the losing record and long hours, Epstein did enjoy his first summer in Chicago, saying it was a very livable city for him and his family. After a company softball game Friday, it’s back to work for 2013.
“My hope is that years from now, when we’re celebrating successes year in and year out, we look back at 2012, and say, ‘Look how far we came,’ and I think we will,” Epstein said.
— Carrie Muskat
Jason Berken inserted himself into the Cubs record books on Thursday. In the second inning, Berken struck out four — Ryan Hanigan reached on a wild pitch — and is the fifth pitcher in franchise history to do so. The list includes Jim Davis (May 27, 1956), Bill Bonham (July 31, 1974), Kerry Wood (Sept. 2, 2002) and Ryan Dempster (Oct. 4, 2009). That also ties a National League and Major League mark, shared by many.
“I didn’t realize it until I sat down in the dugout,” Berken said. “That’s cool, I guess. By no means am I going for strikeouts.”
He was effective with his sliders and able to get ahead in the count. That helped.
“I’m not going to try to get used to that,” he said of the strikeouts. “I’d much rather have early contact versus a strikeout.”
— Carrie Muskat
Sunday’s game is the 10th of 20 in a row for the Cubs, and manager Dale Sveum says the bullpen is holding up pretty good so far. After closing the series against the Giants, the Cubs play the Nationals in a four-game series starting Monday. Sveum will give some of the players a breather but he’ll pick his spots.
“I think it’s Dale knowing the guys,” Anthony Rizzo said about time off. “We talk all the time, and he knows where I’m at. This game will get to you. You take the day off, relax, watch from [the bench], learn a thing or two, and keep going every day.”
Said Sveum: “I’ll give them days off if its called for or we’re not playing contending teams.”
However, since Nationals are contending team, expect the regulars to play this series. The Cubs haven’t seen the Nats since the first series of the season. Chicago’s lineup was much different then. On April 5, Ian Stewart was at third base, Marlon Byrd in center field, Geovany Soto catching, Jeff Baker at first base, Ryan Dempster pitching. Stewart is on the disabled list after wrist surgery but the rest of the players are gone via trade.
— Carrie Muskat