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Tulowitzki, Descalso reportedly on Cubs' radar

MLB.com @MLBastian

Given the situation surrounding shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs need to have a contingency plan up the middle for the first month of next season. Free agents Troy Tulowitzki and Daniel Descalso are reportedly on Chicago's radar as infield reinforcements.

Russell will be ineligible to play until May 3, while finishing out a 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. While he is inactive, the Cubs plan on using Javier Baez at short, creating a temporary vacancy at second base.

Given the situation surrounding shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs need to have a contingency plan up the middle for the first month of next season. Free agents Troy Tulowitzki and Daniel Descalso are reportedly on Chicago's radar as infield reinforcements.

Russell will be ineligible to play until May 3, while finishing out a 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. While he is inactive, the Cubs plan on using Javier Baez at short, creating a temporary vacancy at second base.

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Chicago could lean on Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ or David Bote as internal options for second, but the team also wants to add more depth this offseason. The Cubs are also searching for some added veteran leadership for their clubhouse. Both Tulowitzki and Descalso fit the positional need, and each has plenty of MLB and postseason experience.

According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, the Cubs are one of six teams believed to be in on Tulowitzki, who was released by the Blue Jays on Tuesday in a surprise move at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. The 34-year-old Tulowitzki is owed $38 million over the next two years, but Toronto will be on the hook for the remaining salary. Any team that signs Tulowitzki would only be required to pay him the league minimum.

Video: Tulo released by Blue Jays, enters free agency

The big question surrounding Tulowitzki is his health, given that the shortstop has not played a Major League game since July 28, 2017, due to foot and ankle injuries. He missed all of 2018 while dealing with bone spurs in each heel. Following Tulowitzki's release, the Cubs began looking into the latest on his health status. Per reports, the veteran has been working out and progressing well in California.

During the Winter Meetings, Cubs manager Joe Maddon was asked for his opinion of Tulowitzki.

"I knew, obviously, him and Longo were buds," said Maddon, referring to Evan Longoria, whom the manager knows from their years with the Rays. "I don't know health-wise where he's at. He was fabulous. When he was in Denver, I loved what I saw. That's been a while ago. I know the health has been an issue lately. I know Longo likes him a lot, which is good enough for me."

A 12-year veteran of the big leagues, Tulowitzki has played in 35 career playoff games, including during the 2007 World Series with the Rockies against the Red Sox.

Video: Daniel Descalso to become free agent ahead of 2019

The Cubs are also in "strong pursuit" of Descalso, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. The 32-year-old infielder has hit .240 (.694 OPS) over nine years between stops with the Cardinals, Rockies and D-backs. St. Louis is also reportedly interested in the utility infielder, who manned second base (52 games), third (37), first (11) and the outfield (five) with Arizona last season.

Descalso, who won a World Series with the Cardinals in 2011, hit .238 with a career-high 13 home runs, along with 57 RBIs and a .789 OPS in 138 games in 2018. He posted an 111 wRC+, indicating that he was 11 percent above league average offensively. Descalso -- a left-handed hitter -- had a 134 wRC+ against lefties (74 plate appearances) and a 107 wRC+ off righties (349 PAs) last season.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs, Daniel Descalso, Troy Tulowitzki

Lots of talk, but no big moves by Cubs at Mtgs

GM Hoyer says dialogue was 'good and productive' as club eyes upgrades to bullpen, bench
MLB.com @MLBastian

LAS VEGAS -- Cubs fans have grown accustomed to headline-grabbing moves during the Winter Meetings over the past several years. Jon Lester's blockbuster contract. Reeling in Jason Heyward. Acquiring the likes of Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis. Landing both Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek a year ago.

Here at these Winter Meetings, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer proclaimed Wednesday that the team was unlikely to make a move. As staffers at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino worked on cleaning up the convention center on Thursday, Hoyer's words proved prophetic. Chicago's front office departed Las Vegas having accomplished dialogue instead of any major deals.

LAS VEGAS -- Cubs fans have grown accustomed to headline-grabbing moves during the Winter Meetings over the past several years. Jon Lester's blockbuster contract. Reeling in Jason Heyward. Acquiring the likes of Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis. Landing both Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek a year ago.

Here at these Winter Meetings, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer proclaimed Wednesday that the team was unlikely to make a move. As staffers at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino worked on cleaning up the convention center on Thursday, Hoyer's words proved prophetic. Chicago's front office departed Las Vegas having accomplished dialogue instead of any major deals.

"Dialogue's been good for the whole industry," Hoyer said. "I just think it's been slow. I think sometimes, it probably takes a couple deals to break the ice and it hasn't happened yet. So, you guys are probably somewhat bored. It's been a slow Winter Meetings, but I know it's been productive for us.

"We've had a lot of conversations with agents, a lot of conversations with teams, a good time here with staff. So, it's been good and productive."

The Cubs did complete a small trade on Thursday, though, acquiring Minor League lefty Conor Lillis-White from Angels. The pitcher (not on Chicago's 40-man roster) is the player to be named later in last month's swap that sent Tommy La Stella to Los Angeles.

In order to dive into the deep end of the free-agent pool, the Cubs likely need to trade away a hefty contract that is already locked in place. That has created a dynamic where the team's decision-makers must wait out some of the top-tier signings to allow the marketplace to become more established. Given that, the focus of the message to fans has been that internal improvement is the priority.

Video: Will the Cubs match the Cardinals with a big move?

So, while Cubs fans undoubtedly want the club to go all in on a big-ticket free agent like Bryce Harper -- a move that would fall in line with recent offseasons and also address the need for an offensive boost -- that might not be realistic. Even before any additions, Chicago's payroll projects to be north of the $206 million luxury-tax threshold.

"You're looking at the roster and trying to find ways to make it better," Hoyer said. "But, I think as we've said all along, we really like a lot of the pieces we have. We've focused a lot this week on ways to get the maximum performance out of those guys, to maximize their talent."

BIGGEST REMAINING NEEDS
1. Bullpen help: It was revealed last week that Morrow is likely to miss at least the first couple weeks of the regular season, following a minor right elbow procedure in early November. The Cubs were already on the hunt for late-inning reinforcements, but that need is magnified now. The catch is that the Cubs may need to trade away a contract already in place to add one. Otherwise, look for Chicago to target value signings later in the relief market.

Video: With Morrow out, Cubs in market for relief pitching

2. Bench depth: While Addison Russell is finishing up his 40-game suspension -- he will be eligible to return on May 3 -- Javier Baez can handle shortstop. Chicago has internal options for second in players like Zobrist, David Bote or Ian Happ, too. But, as the short-lived acquisition of Ronald Torreyes earlier this offseason showed, the Cubs are still hoping to add a versatile defender to offer depth (especially at short) up the middle. Chicago is also exploring the backup catcher market and complementary outfield bats.

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3. Veteran leadership: When the Cubs say they want more of an edge in the clubhouse, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein does not want the message to get misconstrued. The team feels its leadership structure on the pitching side is sound, and the position players have a leader by example in Zobrist and an emerging leader in Anthony Rizzo, among others. The Cubs do, however, feel they lacked the kind of presence that David Ross brought in 2015-16 and Jon Jay in '17. The best avenue for addressing that need is through a bench player.

RULE 5 DRAFT
The Cubs have four vacancies on their 40-man roster at the moment, but they opted to pass on taking anyone in the Major League phase of the annual Rule 5 Draft. Chicago also did not lose any players in that round. In the Triple-A phase, the Cubs grabbed lefty Luis Lugo from the Royals, catcher Rafelin Lorenzo from the Pirates and righty Alexander Vargas from the Yankees. The Cubs also lost right-hander David Garner to the Blue Jays and lefty Yapson Gomez to the Indians in the Triple-A portion.

THE BOTTOM LINE
"We're in the position where we don't feel like we've put our absolute best foot forward in every possible way, the way we wanted to the last couple years. We have to be loyal first to the organization and do everything we can to try to improve. We're doggedly trying to improve and get the most out of our guys and have the best possible group going forward." -- Epstein

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Bryant 'in great shape,' has no limitations

Cubs not expected to be trying to sign close friend Harper
MLB.com @MLBastian

LAS VEGAS -- Kris Bryant made his way through Mandalay Bay on Wednesday afternoon, took an elevator to the upper tier of the Delano Hotel and swung by the Cubs' suite. The visit was planned, but it was more about the team checking in on Bryant's offseason than Bryant asking about the team's roster plans.

One thing Bryant did not need to ask about was superstar free agent Bryce Harper. It is no secret that Bryant and Harper -- who both live in Las Vegas -- are close friends. If the Cubs' third baseman wants to know the latest on Harper's free-agency tour, he can just fire off a text or ask the next time they're taking in a Golden Knights hockey game.

LAS VEGAS -- Kris Bryant made his way through Mandalay Bay on Wednesday afternoon, took an elevator to the upper tier of the Delano Hotel and swung by the Cubs' suite. The visit was planned, but it was more about the team checking in on Bryant's offseason than Bryant asking about the team's roster plans.

One thing Bryant did not need to ask about was superstar free agent Bryce Harper. It is no secret that Bryant and Harper -- who both live in Las Vegas -- are close friends. If the Cubs' third baseman wants to know the latest on Harper's free-agency tour, he can just fire off a text or ask the next time they're taking in a Golden Knights hockey game.

"He's got a pretty direct source," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer quipped.

While Harper would immediately impact Chicago's offense, the club is not expected to be at the forefront of the pursuit of the free agent due to its current payroll restraints. If the Cubs can trade a hefty contract to free up funds, it would become a different story. As things currently stand, the club is focused on improving the lineup from within. Bryant plays a large role in that equation after a left shoulder injury sapped his slugging percentage last summer.

Beyond chatting with Bryant, the Cubs' brass also continued dialogue with agents and rival teams about free-agent and trade concepts. Hoyer noted, however, that the team was unlikely to leave Las Vegas with any transactions across the finish line.

Standing atop a large black equipment box on Wednesday afternoon, agent Scott Boras loomed over a massive crowd of media in front of a Christmas tree. Boras offered a "happy holidays" to reporters and then embarked on a 56-minute discourse with Harper as the focal point. Boras, who also represents Bryant, noted that the Cubs' star is more than on the mend.

Video: Scott Boras discusses the market for Bryce Harper

"He's fine. He looks great," Boras said. "I just saw him. He's in great shape."

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein recently noted that Bryant is "progressing without limitations" and will follow his usual routine of ramping up his hitting program in January. If Bryant arrives to Spring Training with no lingering effects from last season's shoulder issue -- one that required two trips to the disabled list -- the Cubs' lineup will appear more potent by default.

During the 2018 campaign, Bryant posted a 125 wRC+ overall -- indicating that he was 25 percent above league average offensively -- but it was a tale of two seasons for the slugger.

Bryant posted a .524 slugging percentage through May 31 and saw that rate plummet to .400 from June 1 through the remainder of the regular season. His hard-hit rate (95-mph exit velocity or higher) was 27 percent after June 1, compared to 39 percent over the first two months, per Statcast™. Bryant also had the highest pulled ground-ball rate (69.3 percent) among the 176 right-handed hitters with at least 75 grounders.

The Cubs are optimistic that Bryant's offseason regimen will put the shoulder problems in the rearview mirror.

"He's working out close by here at UNLV, so we invited him in," Hoyer said. "It's good to see him. He looks great. He looks like he's focused. I think all the players we've talked to this winter, I think there's an added motivation when you had that extra month off that you didn't want to have off. I think he's excited and ready to go."

There is also the backdrop of the 26-year-old Bryant being eligible for arbitration for the second time this offseason, following a $10.85 million salary that set a first-year arbitration record last winter. Last month, a report surfaced that the Cubs -- in need of creativity in order to add a significant contract -- would be open to trading Bryant under the right circumstances.

Epstein has since clarified where things stand on that front publicly, and he has also talked to Bryant about the rumors.

"He wasn't concerned about it, but it's always good to hear," Epstein said last week. "I think our only relevant thinking there is probably what led to the report anyway, which I think I was asked a question: Do we have any untouchables? And the answer is no. There are enough limitations anyway in trying to get better. You don't want to impose an artificial one on yourself.

"I think in the same breath there, I said there are some players who are so talented, so well-rounded, so impactful, when you look at what they can do, their performance on the field and their impact on the franchise more broadly, that it's virtually impossible to find a match."

During Boras' press conference, the agent was asked if Chicago would be a more attractive destination for Harper if he knew Bryant (eligible for free agency in 2022) was going to be there long-term. The White Sox have been more strongly linked to Harper than the Cubs at this point in the winter.

Boras said he could not answer that specific question, adding that Harper's decision will not be centered around his friendship with Bryant.

"K.B. and Harp have a great personal, professional relationship," Boras said. "I think a lot of their conversations are about hitting -- really about hitting. I think they enjoy one another, but I think they also understand, these decisions, and what owners do, is really independent of their relationship. They don't have a lot of control over it."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Expect a more hands-on Maddon next season

MLB.com @MLBastian

LAS VEGAS -- Joe Maddon walked through the throng of reporters on Tuesday afternoon wearing one of his designer jackets. This one was black with white sleeves and a famous photograph of Salvador Dali covering the back. The portrait was surrounded by splashes of vibrant colors and Dali's wide eyes peered through a catcher's mask.

It was vintage Maddon, who sat down for a wide-ranging discussion on Day 2 of the Winter Meetings at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. The Cubs manager did his best to brush aside the fact that the team has put talks of an extension on hold, and chose instead to steer the focus on the task at hand. That includes, in Maddon's view, getting back to his coaching roots in the season ahead.

LAS VEGAS -- Joe Maddon walked through the throng of reporters on Tuesday afternoon wearing one of his designer jackets. This one was black with white sleeves and a famous photograph of Salvador Dali covering the back. The portrait was surrounded by splashes of vibrant colors and Dali's wide eyes peered through a catcher's mask.

It was vintage Maddon, who sat down for a wide-ranging discussion on Day 2 of the Winter Meetings at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. The Cubs manager did his best to brush aside the fact that the team has put talks of an extension on hold, and chose instead to steer the focus on the task at hand. That includes, in Maddon's view, getting back to his coaching roots in the season ahead.

"I definitely don't want the emphasis on me," Maddon said. "We want to get beyond all this. I am very happy with my stature and my status. The Cubs have taken extremely good care of me and my family to the point that I could never repay them enough."

Video: Maddon talks about his current contract with the Cubs

Until Maddon signs a new contract, however, it is inevitable that much of the emphasis will be on him and his approach in getting the Cubs back on track following last season's abrupt exit from the October stage. Maddon has a few new coaches -- pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and hitting coach Anthony Iapoce among them -- and there is a strong chance Chicago prioritizes internal improvement over big-ticket offseason additions.

That means Maddon and his staff must pore over what happened to the offense down the stretch, look in the mirror in terms of how things were handled and formulate plans and adjustments for 2019. The Cubs manager noted that he has had more conversations with players, coaches and front-office members than is typical for this stage of the offseason. He said the ideas are flowing, including his own about returning to a more hands-on managerial style.

That includes enhancing his already-strong communication skills. Along those lines, Maddon said he has been reading "Managing Millennials for Dummies." After hearing some laughter, the Cubs manager made it clear this was not one of his jokes.

"That's classic Joe," said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

Tweet from @MLBastian: Maddon���s designer jacket of choice today: Dali wearing a catcher���s mask. (Photo via @TBTimes_Rays) pic.twitter.com/ArrDAwdwHE

Maddon's current reading material aside -- he is also working through a book titled "Anti-social Media" -- Epstein said having the manager more involved on the coaching front is an important step.

"He's not content. He's looking to get better," Epstein said. "The good news is that this is a situation where the players just want more of Joe. They like Joe. They love the impact that he has on them when he speaks to them and when he's doing real hands-on leadership. You're in trouble when you players who want less of the manager. That's when you're in trouble. We have players who want more of Joe and they're going to get it."

Maddon echoed that in his comments on Tuesday.

"With all the new coaches this year and still a lot of young players being developed," Maddon explained, "I think it's more important that I get more involved on the field a little bit more often. Now, it's not going to be a dramatic difference. I don't want to paint that kind of a picture, but my roots are to be on the field. My roots are I do like to coach, and there's a distinct difference between managing and coaching, like you all know.

"So, having this opportunity to get back out on the field more in a coaching role a little bit more often, I'm looking forward to it."

Video: Hoyer talks Cubs' plans at the Winter Meetings

Maddon also wanted to dismiss the idea that the lack of a contract extension has anything to do with he and Epstein not seeing eye to eye philosophically.

"The concept that Theo and I have any kind of disengagement or lack of philosophical sameness is untrue," Maddon said. "We have great conversations and we're definitely almost 100 percent on the same page all the time. It's a great conversation. So when you hear things like that ... just know that we are on the same page and philosophically really aligned well.

"So when I have to answer those questions to my mom, that makes it more difficult."

That elicited some laughter from the gathered crowd.

"When Beanie hears that stuff, that's what bums me out a little bit," Maddon quipped.

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Beyond Maddon's contract situation, much of the focus this offseason has been on the Cubs' perceived financial situation. Even before any additions, the team's payroll projects to be in the neighborhood of the $206 million luxury-tax threshold, and likely higher. Barring trades to shed contracts in place, it does not appear that the Cubs can target a marquee free agent like Bryce Harper.

As has been the case with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer in recent conversations with reporters, Maddon emphasized the fact that -- while the Cubs do have needs to address this winter -- the bulk of the improvement needs to come from within.

"We feel like we have a lot of that stuff already there that we've got to get more out of," Maddon said. "We have it. These guys are that level of a player. They're going to show that within the next couple of years. So from our perspective, and I totally agree with this, we have what we need.

"Of course, [the front office is] going to go out and do a couple of things -- absolutely. But, we've got to extract from the group that's already there what we believe are their potentials. And I'm in agreement."

Maddon does not want to only see that process through 2019, either. He said he hopes to be managing the Cubs in 2020 and beyond.

"Let's just win the World Series and see how that all plays out," Maddon said.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Cubs braced for 'best division in baseball'

Maddon jokes he's mad at D-backs for trading Goldy to Cards
MLB.com @MLBastian

LAS VEGAS -- The Cubs have seen enough of Paul Goldschmidt over the years to become annoyed by his prodigious home runs. Now, Chicago will be seeing a lot more of the slugger after a trade last week not only strengthened the Cardinals, it raised an already-intimidating bar for the National League Central crown.

"I don't like the Diamondbacks right now at all," Cubs manager Joe Maddon quipped on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings.

LAS VEGAS -- The Cubs have seen enough of Paul Goldschmidt over the years to become annoyed by his prodigious home runs. Now, Chicago will be seeing a lot more of the slugger after a trade last week not only strengthened the Cardinals, it raised an already-intimidating bar for the National League Central crown.

"I don't like the Diamondbacks right now at all," Cubs manager Joe Maddon quipped on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings.

The question on the mind of Cubs fans is this: How will Chicago respond?

A year ago, the Brewers went all in, reeled in both Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich and walked away with a division title after defeating the Cubs in a Game 163 tiebreaker at Wrigley Field. St. Louis landed Goldschmidt this winter in its effort to end a three-year postseason drought. The Pirates have a solid foundation with their pitching, and the Reds are trying to back their potent lineup this winter by acquiring some powerful arms.

If the Cubs want to counter the Cardinals, the obvious move to steal the headlines and answer Chicago's need for offensive help would be to sign blockbuster free-agent Bryce Harper. Given the Cubs' current payroll situation, however, that kind of move looks unlikely unless the team can first free up some considerable funds by trading some large contracts.

Video: Hoyer talks Cubs' plans at the Winter Meetings

The public message so far from Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and Maddon has been that the team's improvement needs to primarily come from within. Hoyer was asked this week if all the impact moves within the NL Central are a sign that rival teams view the Cubs as vulnerable.

"No," Hoyer replied. "We did win 95 games last year, so I don't think that they look at us as vulnerable. But I think this is the natural timing of these different teams. Milwaukee probably got good in 2017 about a year ahead of schedule. But they've been regrouping and then they were going to be good and they were aggressive last winter with Cain and with Yelich. And the Cardinals, with their baseball tradition and missing the playoffs three years in a row, I think we expected a move like that, and they obviously got a great player in Goldschmidt.

"So I think it's more based on timing. These teams have been gathering assets and accumulating assets. So I think that the reason this division's going to be so balanced is just the timing is all coming together. Usually, you have bigger cycles. When the other team's timing goes up, someone else is coming down. We just don't have the teams coming down in this division."

Video: Maddon talks early postseason exit, 2019 motivation

Maddon called the NL Central the best division in baseball.

"Team for team, I think we're the best," Maddon said. "Playing the Cardinals is no fun again. And the Pirates continue to get better. They made some really good deals. Milwaukee showed their mettle last year. Cincinnati, we've had decent success against them. They've had a lot of good players come through the door.

"Our division is going to be very difficult this year. You've got to win your division overall. You've got to build up some spread there. And it's not going away."

Maddon smirked when he was asked what Goldschmidt adds to the Cardinals.

"Did you ever see him play against us?" Maddon said to an eruption of laughter.

For his career, Goldschmidt has a 1.011 OPS in 22 games at Wrigley Field to go along with a 1.170 OPS in 43 games against the Cubs overall.

"I have a total appreciation for this guy's game," Maddon said. "He's kind of like, when he sashays into the clubhouse and everybody sees him walking in there, they all become better. That definitely makes them much more difficult to beat next year."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Cubs seek clubhouse leaders as Meetings open

Hoyer says veteran presence probably lacking last season
MLB.com @MLBastian

LAS VEGAS -- In this era of advanced analytics, there are still intangible elements that even the most forward-thinking teams value. Attempting to quantify the impact of veteran leadership is an impossibility, but plenty of clubs still believe that quality can affect a clubhouse and an organization's culture.

An offseason ago, the Cubs felt that the core group in place -- the bulk of which went through the run to the 2016 World Series triumph -- was ready to lean on its experience rather than requiring a veteran to step up as the primary voice of accountability. Now, as Chicago is trying to harness this fall's frustrations as fuel for 2019, the front office is intent on injecting leadership via an outside source this offseason.

LAS VEGAS -- In this era of advanced analytics, there are still intangible elements that even the most forward-thinking teams value. Attempting to quantify the impact of veteran leadership is an impossibility, but plenty of clubs still believe that quality can affect a clubhouse and an organization's culture.

An offseason ago, the Cubs felt that the core group in place -- the bulk of which went through the run to the 2016 World Series triumph -- was ready to lean on its experience rather than requiring a veteran to step up as the primary voice of accountability. Now, as Chicago is trying to harness this fall's frustrations as fuel for 2019, the front office is intent on injecting leadership via an outside source this offseason.

"I think it was a miscalculation on our part," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I think we felt like we got to a place where those things would maybe take care of themselves, because we had this group together for so long. And we probably realized that that wasn't accurate."

Hoyer spoke on Monday evening from within the team's vast suite high in the towers of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, where all was quiet on the Cubs' front throughout Day 1 of the Winter Meetings. With the colorful lights on the Las Vegas Strip sprinkling behind him, Hoyer detailed a day filled with meetings with representatives of free agents and rival teams to discuss trade scenarios.

Hoyer also reiterated the theme of this offseason, that the team's main concern for next year is finding ways to get the players already in place to improve. That message is based on the fact that the Cubs' payroll already projects to be more than $200 million before any additions, creating a situation in which the team will likely need to shed money to sign any significant free agents.

Video: With Morrow out, Cubs in market for relief pitching

So, while a big-ticket star like Bryce Harper might not be a realistic fit as the Cubs' roster is currently constituted, the team will focus on finding affordable reinforcements for the bullpen, depth pieces for the infield and outfield and perhaps a backup catcher. As Chicago sifts through its long list of bench possibilities in the process, veteran leadership will be a key attribute.

"I thought we were a little bit lacking in that last year," Hoyer said. "Not so much on the pitching side. On the pitching side, I think we do have that to a certain extent. On the position-playing side, we don't. And that's something we felt like we missed last year."

Winter Meetings auction includes booth meet and greet

It is not all that common for a front office to be so blunt about its need for leadership, especially when the team in question is coming off a 95-win campaign, won a World Series two years ago and has more victories than any team in MLB over the past four years combined. Yet, Hoyer feels the absence of that kind of addition last winter became glaring as the season progressed.

During the 2017 campaign, outfielder Jon Jay was added to the fold and -- once he felt comfortable in the clubhouse -- he emerged as a vocal leader behind the scenes. Before that, veteran catcher David Ross famously served as a leader through the Cubs' rise through the 2015-16 campaigns. Ross is still around the team now as a special assistant to baseball operations.

"We didn't have anyone like that on the roster last year," Hoyer said. "I did think there was a bit of a void, to be honest with you. And that's not to say that we don't have a bunch of guys that have leadership qualities. We absolutely do. But, we have such a young group. They're even young now. They might be experienced and have won a lot, but they're still very young.

"And I think having someone who's been through the game a little bit longer with a little more perspective that can help out with some of the difficult times, I think is important. And I think we had that in '15, '16, '17 with more guys than I mentioned -- I cherry picked a couple -- but with a number of guys."

During a gathering with reporters at the Cubs' offices at Wrigley Field last week, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein shed a little more light on what he felt was lacking in that regard.

"There was a bit of a sense of inevitability of success," Epstein said. "Players deal with sort of the narrative of the season in different ways. With our players, there was a sense that things would be fine in the end. With the length of the season and our talent, it would take care of itself. We're the Cubs. We'll be there. I think in a lot of ways that was a lesson learned."

Hoyer noted that no moves were imminent for the Cubs as of Monday evening, and the GM predicted that conversations with agents would gain momentum in the coming days due to the volume of free agents still on the market. Within those conversations, Chicago will keep searching for a veteran voice to help fill last season's void.

"I still just think that the right guy with the right professionalism does make a difference."" Hoyer said.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Maddon reading a Managing Millennials book

You know all about Joe Maddon by now -- the Cubs manager, who helped guide the team to its first World Series title since 1908 a couple seasons ago, is quirky. Who else would cite Michael Scott from "The Office" as an influence?

Also quirky? Millennials. That's what anybody outside that age range (roughly 22-37, depending on your source) likes to suggest about them, at least.

Lee Smith earns election to Hall of Fame

Premier closer (478 saves), six-time All-Star (2,866 hits) get call via Today's Game ballot
MLB.com @RichardJustice

LAS VEGAS -- Lee Smith was perhaps the most feared reliever of his generation and helped define the closer's role in the modern game during 18 seasons in the Majors. Harold Baines was far different, stoic and shy, a craftsman who produced 2,866 hits with one of the sweetest swings of his day.

These two very different men will be forever linked after learning on Sunday that they'll be members of the Baseball Hall of Fame induction class of 2019.

LAS VEGAS -- Lee Smith was perhaps the most feared reliever of his generation and helped define the closer's role in the modern game during 18 seasons in the Majors. Harold Baines was far different, stoic and shy, a craftsman who produced 2,866 hits with one of the sweetest swings of his day.

These two very different men will be forever linked after learning on Sunday that they'll be members of the Baseball Hall of Fame induction class of 2019.

Video: Gammons reacts to Smith, Baines being elected to HOF

Smith and Baines were selected by the Today's Game Era Committee, a 16-member panel appointed by the Hall of Fame to review players retired for at least 15 seasons who were passed over by the Baseball Writers' Association of America as well as managers, umpires and executives.

Complete Hall of Fame coverage

Smith was a unanimous selection, while Baines got 12 of 16 votes to clear the 75 percent threshold for induction. Meanwhile, Lou Piniella, who managed five teams to 1,835 wins, the 16th most in history, fell one vote short with 11. Seven finalists received fewer than five votes.

Neither Smith nor Baines came close to being inducted by the BBWAA during their time on the ballot. Smith was named on more than 50 percent of ballots just once in 15 years (2012, 50.6 percent). Baines topped out at 6.1 percent in his fourth year and fell off the ballot after receiving fewer than the required 5 percent in 2011.

Video: MLB Tonight on Lee Smith entering the Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, who made the announcement on MLB Network, said such committees "were established as a sort of a court of appeals or an opportunity in the event over time it was felt somebody slipped through the cracks."

Smith and Baines didn't seem to mind the long wait. Smith, 61, retired after the 1997 season with more saves than any player before him. His 478 saves are third all-time behind Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.

"I never, never, never gave up hope," Smith said, "and then when they started the second-chance ballot, I thought my chances got a little better. Today was probably the most nervous I've been with this Hall of Fame voting thing."

Video: Smith, Baines enter HOF on Today's Game Era ballot

Baines, 59, played 14 of his 22 seasons for the White Sox, who selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1977 Draft. He played for five teams in all and finished with 488 doubles and 384 home runs.

"Wasn't really expecting it, but very grateful that it happened," Baines said. "I have four wonderful kids who are very proud of their dad today."

Video: Harold Baines on learning about induction into HOF

Smith was joined by Rivera and Hoffman as the only closers with at least 10 seasons of 30-plus saves. Hoffman was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018, and Rivera, in his first year on the ballot, is expected to be part of Smith's induction class.

Smith pitched in an era when closers routinely pitched more than an inning. He got at least four outs for 169 of his 478 saves and had 12 straight seasons of at least 60 appearances, a Major League record. He's also the only reliever with 13 straight seasons of 25-plus saves and 10 straight of at least 30. He finished top five in Cy Young voting three times.

Smith initially resisted efforts by the Cubs to move him to the bullpen, but it cleared his path to the Majors and eventually the Hall of Fame.

"You gotta have really thick skin," Smith said of the role. "But you know the one thing I learned really myself, was like when you're going good, don't get too high, and when you're struggling a little bit, don't beat yourself up.

"If I could go home and put my head on the pillow and say, 'I did the best I can that day.' If you go out there and you make quality pitches day in and day out, good things are going to happen."

Video: MLB Tonight on Baines entering the Hall of Fame

Baines served as a designated hitter for 1,643 of his 2,830 career games, and his entrance into the Hall of Fame could help the case of Edgar Martinez, who fell just short of BBWAA induction (70.4 percent) in 2018.

"Everything I hear or read, DH is really not part of the game, I guess," Baines said. "But I disagree. It's part of the game. You should recognize the DH as a part of the game until they get rid of it. Maybe this will open up doors for some more DHs."

The Today's Game Era Committee is one of four Eras Committees -- along with Modern Baseball, Golden Days and Early Baseball -- that provide an avenue outside BBWAA voting to make the Hall. Others on this year's ballot were Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, George Steinbrenner and Piniella.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Leal makes AFL's Top Prospects team

MLB.com @wboor

Braxton Davidson's dramatic walk-off homer in the 10th inning back on Nov. 17th lifted the Peoria Javelinas to back-to-back Arizona Fall League titles and signified the end of the AFL season.

However, here at MLB Pipeline, coverage of the AFL is constant. Following the on-the-field play, we have released our top 10 breakout prospects, the top 25 prospects of the AFL and our All-Arizona Fall League Team.

Braxton Davidson's dramatic walk-off homer in the 10th inning back on Nov. 17th lifted the Peoria Javelinas to back-to-back Arizona Fall League titles and signified the end of the AFL season.

However, here at MLB Pipeline, coverage of the AFL is constant. Following the on-the-field play, we have released our top 10 breakout prospects, the top 25 prospects of the AFL and our All-Arizona Fall League Team.

Of course, there's always room for more accolades and that's just what we have below as the Arizona Fall League announced its 2018 Top Prospects team on Monday morning.

The team, selected by league managers and coaches, recognizes players who distinguished themselves against other top prospects throughout the AFL. Voters were asked to consider not only a player's AFL performance, but also their Major League projectability.

Catchers

Daulton Varsho, D-backs No. 5 prospect: Varsho, who put together four multihit efforts over a five-game span, hit .262 and drove in nine runs in 18 games.

Keibert Ruiz, Dodgers No. 2 prospect (No. 39 on Top 100): Ruiz played in just 13 games, but left a strong impression on the league's managers and coaches. The 20-year-old hit .286 with six RBIs and also drew six walks while striking out just twice.

Video: Top Prospects: Keibert Ruiz, C, Dodgers

First Base

Tyler Nevin, Rockies No. 11 prospect: Nevin hit a career-best .328 over 100 games during the regular season and carried that momentum with him into Arizona. Nevin got off to a fast start in the AFL, opening play with a 10-game hitting streak. From there, it was more of the same. The 21-year-old was the AFL's only .400 hitter and ran away with the batting title, slashing .426/.535/.593 and also finished third in the league with 20 RBIs.

Video: SRR@PEJ: Nevin recovers nicely to end the 3rd

Evan White, Mariners No. 5 prospectWhite, who collected 14 RBIs over 18 games, hit .257 with a pair of homers in the AFL. White put together a nine-game hitting streak from late October to early November and also stole two bases after stealing just four during the regular season.

Second Base:

Keston Hiura, Brewers No. 1 prospect (No. 30 on the Top 100): Hiura's ability to hit was no secret -- something his 70-grade hit tool clearly indicated. However, just because it was known that Hiura can hit doesn't mean that watching him do so was any less impressive. The Brewers top prospect went to Arizona to work on his defense and while he made strides in that department, it was his offense that led to him MVP honors. Hiura, who hit .323, led the league in hits (31), RBIs (33) and total bases (54). He also hit the only grand slam of the AFL, put together 11 multihit games and turned in two five-RBI performances.

Jahmai Jones, Angels No. 4 prospect: Jones, coming off a season during which he hit just .239 over 123 games, hit .321 with two homers and 11 RBI in 19 AFL contests.

Third Base:

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays No. 1 prospect (No. 1 on Top 100): Guerrero entered the AFL as the most talked-about prospect and certainly didn't disappoint. Guerrero picked up a trio of hits on Opening Day and kept the hits coming as he began the season with a 13-game hitting streak. The 19-year-old also impressed on the league's biggest stage, hitting a 117 mph double in the Fall Stars Game and concluded his stint in Arizona with a .351 batting average.

Video: Chisholm on Vlad Jr.'s Fall League performance

Yu Chang, Indians No. 6 prospect: Chang, who also played in the 2017 Fall League, put together a strong offensive showing. The shortstop hit .337, thanks in large part to a stretch where he strung together eight multihit efforts over 12 games. Chang also finished tied for third in total bases (45) and fourth in hits (29).

Shortstops:

Cole Tucker, Pirates No. 5 prospect: Tucker's .370 average certainly jumps off the page, but the 22-year-old impressed defensively as well. Tucker's 11 multihit games tied for the league lead (Hiura) and his 30 hits left him tied for second. Tucker also impressed off the field, reguarily staying after the game to take photos and sign autographs and was honored with the league's sportsmanship award.

Video: Cole Tucker talks about his Fall League experience

 Lucius Fox, Rays No. 9 prospect: Fox, who hit .326 over 21 games, put together an eight-game hitting streak in mid-October and tied for second in the league with 10 multihit games. Fox also drew 16 walks and stole seven bases.

Outfielders:

Luis Robert, White Sox No. 4 prospect (No. 44 on Top 100): Robert missed a little bit of time with a minor injury during the AFL, but still hit .324 over 18 games. The winner of the week five Player of the Week Award, Robert put up a 14-game hitting streak from Oc. 9 to Nov. 9. The hitting streak was the longest in the AFL since 2014.

Cristian Pache, Braves No. 6 prospect (No. 68 on the Top 100): Pache hit .279 and turned in four straight multihit games in late October, but the 20-year-old may have been even more impressive defensively. Pache showed off his 60-grade arm and his 70-grade speed on numerous occasions in the outfield and also used that speed to steal three bases.

Ryan McKenna, Orioles No. 12 prospect: McKenna hit .315/.410/.457 over 127 games during the regular season, his best season since the Orioles picked him in the fourth-round of the 2015 Draft, and continued the breakout campaign in Arizona, where he hit .344/.474/.590.

Sam Hilliard, Rockies No. 9 prospectHilliard played in just 16 games, but the small sample size didn't keep him from producing. Hilliard had multiple hits in nearly half (seven) of the games he played and finished with two homers and a .328 average.

Daz Cameron, Tigers No. 8 prospectCameron stole 24 bases in the regular season and then swiped nine bases, which tied him for fourth, during the AFL. The son of former Major Leaguer Mike Cameron hit .342 over 20 games.

Nick Heath, Royals: Heath posted a .427 on-base percentage and once he got on base, he made the most of the opportunities. The Royals prospect led the AFL in stolen bases (13) and runs scored (21), while batting .338 over 21 games.

Designated Hitters:

Peter Alonso, Mets No. 2 prospect (No. 58 on the Top 100): Alonso tied for the Minor League home run lead with 36 during the regular season and then tied for the AFL lead with six. In addition to his six homers, Alonso also hit seven doubles and often showed off his power with eye-popping exit velocities.

Video: EAST@WEST: Alonso lays out for impressive diving stop

Will Craig, Pirates No. 16 prospectCraig tied with Alonso and Davidson for the home run title, while also hitting .304 over 21 games.

Starting Pitchers

Nate Pearson, Blue Jays No. 4 prospect (No. 90 on the Top 100): Pearson racked up 23 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings and although his ERA sat at 6.20, he did spin three scoreless outings. What's more, Pearson garnered plenty of attention during the Fall Stars Game when his fastball was clocked at 104 mph.

Video: EAST@WEST: Pearson flashes 101 mph+ with regularity

Erick Leal, Cubs: Leal nearly finished the AFL with a perfect 0.00 ERA, but gave up seven runs (six earned) in his final start. The right-hander began the AFL with a 19 1/3-inning scoreless streak and finished 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA over six starts.

Relief Pitchers:

Melvin Adon, Giants No. 19 prospect: Adon, a hard-throwing right-hander, was consistently missing bats out in Arizona. Adon notched 21 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings and limited opponents to a .163 batting average against. He was particuarily tough on right-handers as they managed to hit just .091 against him.

Justin Lawrence, Rockies No. 16 prospect: Lawrence tied for the AFL lead with three saves and used a nasty fastball-slider combo to strike out 13 batters in 10 2/3 innings.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.

Theo: Internal growth more vital than FA splash

MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- The view from the third floor of the Cubs' offices off Waveland Ave. offers a look over the left-field wall of Wrigley Field. On Thursday afternoon, the famous ballpark sat cold, empty and under renovation in the midst of a winter that arrived far earlier than the team had hoped.

"The end of the season is not something that we should avert our eyes from," said Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations. "It can be a great teaching tool for next year."

CHICAGO -- The view from the third floor of the Cubs' offices off Waveland Ave. offers a look over the left-field wall of Wrigley Field. On Thursday afternoon, the famous ballpark sat cold, empty and under renovation in the midst of a winter that arrived far earlier than the team had hoped.

"The end of the season is not something that we should avert our eyes from," said Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations. "It can be a great teaching tool for next year."

During a gathering with reporters, that was the prevailing theme throughout a half-hour interview session in advance of next week's Winter Meetings. The Cubs are facing sky-high expectations from a fan base craving another World Series triumph, but also face the realities of an escalating payroll that comes with a maturing core and past free-agent blockbusters.

While there is an outpouring of public cries for the Cubs to toss luxury tax threshold concerns aside in favor or going all in for prized free-agent Bryce Harper, the club's primary focus is on how to get the players in place to improve. Epstein and Co. should never be counted out when it comes to making eye-popping offseason splashes, but the message right now is that such a move would require creativity.

"We're not ruling anything in. We're not ruling anything out," said Epstein, repeating his comments from last month's GM Meetings. "It's just it's still the status that we have is we'd have to get really creative to add dollars of real significance. That's still the case. Things would have to be sequenced in a certain way."

Translation: Unless Chicago can trade some hefty contracts, do not expect a marquee free-agent signing this offseason.

Video: Cubs would have to make moves before pursuing Harper

Epstein rattled off a handful of key bullet points during the back-and-forth with the media. The Cubs won 95 games in a season deemed a disappointment. The team has produced more wins than any other Major League team over the past four years combined. The players who were young, emerging stars during the run to the 2016 World Series are entering their prime years. The Cubs are four years into their seven-year window with the core group.

There is no doubt that there are needs to be addressed this offseason, but Epstein believes the biggest need of all is to get more out of what the Cubs already have locked in. In order to bounce back from the 86 wRC+ posted by the lineup over the final two months of last season, the Cubs need a healthy Kris Bryant and bounceback showings from the likes of Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr., Addison Russell and Ian Happ, among others.

"I understand the desire for a big name every winter," Epstein said. "And there will be winters when we do acquire big names and there's going to be winters when we don't acquire a big name. I don't know what category this winter will fall into yet, but there's a chance that it's going to be a winter where we don't acquire a big name from outside the organization. That does not represent failure.

"We should be judged on the product on the field and we should be judged on the games we win and we should be judged on whether we make the playoffs and we should be judged on how we perform in October. And we have a highly-motivated group based on nothing else than how last season ended."

All of that said, Epstein noted that he had engaged multiple teams in a variety of trade discussions. He said some trade talks could "transform" the Cubs' roster in sweeping fashion. Other talks are more complementary in nature. If there are no headline-stealing moves, the fact remains that Chicago needs bullpen help to go along with a utility infielder, possibly a backup catcher and perhaps a role-playing outfielder.

Video: MLB Tonight on the Cubs' offseason needs

At the moment, the Cubs' payroll projects to be right around the first luxury tax threshold of $206 million when factoring in projected arbitration salaries, pre-arbitration players, guaranteed deals and other financial components. So, Chicago's maneuverability may be limited unless it can complete the daunting task of trading contracts like the ones belonging to Jason Heyward ($106 million remaining through 2023) or Tyler Chatwood ($25.5 million through '20).

Epstein is also prioritizing injecting some veteran leadership into a clubhouse that may have grown so accustomed to success in recent years that it became detrimental last season.

"There was a bit of a sense of inevitability of success," Epstein said. "With our players, there was a sense that things would be fine in the end. With the length of the season and our talent, it would take care of itself. We're the Cubs. We'll be there. I think in a lot of ways that was a lesson learned."

With or without a big free-agent signing like Harper, Epstein stressed the importance of the players taking that lesson to heart.

"This year is really a reckoning in a lot of ways," he said. "We do have a lot to prove. It sounds funny coming off 95 wins, but I feel like we underperformed. And I think you're going to see a really highly-motivated group of players out there. Whether we have a big offseason or a more nuanced offseason, you should judge us on how we play next year."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Morrow had elbow surgery, may miss start of '19

MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- The Cubs were already in the market for bullpen help this offseason. That need became even more apparent on Thursday, when it was revealed that Brandon Morrow underwent a procedure on his right elbow last month.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced that Morrow had an arthroscopic debridement performed on his throwing elbow on Nov. 6 to clean up some cartilage in the joint. Morrow is not scheduled to resume throwing until early February, putting his availability for the start of the season in jeopardy.

CHICAGO -- The Cubs were already in the market for bullpen help this offseason. That need became even more apparent on Thursday, when it was revealed that Brandon Morrow underwent a procedure on his right elbow last month.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced that Morrow had an arthroscopic debridement performed on his throwing elbow on Nov. 6 to clean up some cartilage in the joint. Morrow is not scheduled to resume throwing until early February, putting his availability for the start of the season in jeopardy.

"He's feeling really good one month post-op," Epstein said. "Feb. 6 is sort of the target date for him to start throwing. That probably doesn't give him enough time to be fully 100 percent and ready Opening Day, but we think shortly thereafter."

Last offseason, the Cubs signed Morrow to a two-year, $21 million contract that includes a $12 million team option (or $3 million buyout) for 2020. In 35 appearances out of Chicago's bullpen last season, the right-hander posted a 1.47 ERA with 31 strikeouts, nine walks and 22 saves. Morrow landed on the disabled list on July 19, and he was declared done for the season in September due to right forearm inflammation and a nagging bone bruise.

Video: CHC@SD: Morrow tosses scoreless 9th for his 22nd save

"As we gave him plenty of time to heal from the bone bruise, he felt a lot better," Epstein said. "But, his elbow didn't feel perfect. It didn't feel quite as he was expecting it should feel as the bone bruise was allowed to heal. So ... we made the decision to go in and just do a quick scope."

Epstein said the Cubs remain focused on acquiring relief help, especially in light of Morrow's situation.

"It kind of underscores the need for depth and late-game options early in the year," Epstein said. "For him, I think it'll be a positive. It'll mean that we've completely addressed the issues that were bothering him last year instead of waiting for him to come back to make sure. And then also it could really help him be strong late in the season as well."

Worth noting
• Cubs manager Joe Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times last month that he planned on getting more involved in hands-on coaching next season. During Thursday's news conference, Epstein said Maddon's remarks merely reflected the organization's emphasis on having a heightened sense of urgency during the 2019 campaign.

"We're all accountable -- me, especially -- for what happened last year," Epstein said. "That's the first step. And then it's, 'How do I get better?' If that wasn't our best, what is our best and how do we get there? And I think that's the mindset Joe is in. ... I think it's sort of a return to his roots. The Joe Maddon who's buzzing around in the middle of all the action, talking to his players all the time and really engaged with what's going on on the field and in his players' lives, that's the very best Joe Maddon.

"And I think if he can make small adjustments to give even more of himself to that pursuit, then the whole organization is going to be better off. He's really excited about sort of the challenge that this year presents for him and for us, and I'm excited by his attitude about it."

• Esptein said the Cubs "owe our fans a great deal of transparency" when it comes to the situation surrounding shortstop Addison Russell, who will be ineligible until May 3 while finishing a 40-game suspension for violating MLB's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Russell was tendered a contract on Friday and the organization issued statements about working with the shortstop on a treatment plan, among other initiatives involving addressing the issue on a larger scale.

"Given the way we're handling this," Epstein said, "it's appropriate for the public to hold us accountable for our words and make sure that those translate into actions. I can just tell you that we're certainly intent on it. There's work that's going on with that in various corners of the organization every single day."

• Epstein noted that head athletic trainer PJ Mainville recently checked in with Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish, who underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow on Sept. 12. Mainville reported that Darvish is doing well in his rehab and could resume a throwing progression in the next couple weeks.

• Kris Bryant, who was hampered by a left shoulder injury for much of last season, is doing well in his offseason program. Per Epstein, Bryant currently has no limitations in his workouts, but he noted that the third baseman does not typically ramp up his hitting program until January.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs, Brandon Morrow

Hottovy pitching coach as Cubs finalize staff

MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- Wrigley Field is not the only aspect of the Cubs that has undergone renovations. For the second offseason in a row, the ballclub has dealt with changes to the leadership structure of its coaching staff under manager Joe Maddon.

On Thursday, the Cubs officially announced the makeup of their staff, which was highlighted by the hiring of Tommy Hottovy as the team's new pitching coach. Anthony Iapoce was previously unveiled as the Cubs' new hitting coach earlier this offseason, marking the third different pair of pitching and hitting coaches in three years for Chicago.

CHICAGO -- Wrigley Field is not the only aspect of the Cubs that has undergone renovations. For the second offseason in a row, the ballclub has dealt with changes to the leadership structure of its coaching staff under manager Joe Maddon.

On Thursday, the Cubs officially announced the makeup of their staff, which was highlighted by the hiring of Tommy Hottovy as the team's new pitching coach. Anthony Iapoce was previously unveiled as the Cubs' new hitting coach earlier this offseason, marking the third different pair of pitching and hitting coaches in three years for Chicago.

Hottovy takes over for Jim Hickey, who stepped down due to undisclosed personal reasons last month following a one-year stint on Maddon's staff. That came after the Cubs parted ways with Chris Bosio after the 2017 season. While there has been turnover in the main role, one constant behind the scenes was Hottovy working closely with the coaching staff.

"Tommy's been a really valued member of the staff for four years now," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said on Thursday. "Tommy's a tremendous communicator, a great worker, a great teammate down there. He's got good relationships with the pitchers. He's a problem solver. He's really adept at using the vast resources and technology that we have at our disposal to help pitchers get better."

Hottovy, whose previous role has been described as a run prevention coordinator, worked with the staff for the past four years in the formulation of game plans, while assisting pitchers in daily game preparation. In the process, he also formed a strong rapport with catching and strategy coach Mike Borzello, who now has associate pitching coach added to his job description.

After exploring some external candidates for the pitching coach job, the Cubs felt that keeping Hottovy and Borzello together, and retaining long-time bullpen coach Lester Strode, was the best approach.

"Tommy, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode have been a significant part of our successful pitching infrastructure," Epstein said. "We wanted to maintain that continuity as best we could. Tommy was someone who was actually asked about by another club as a pitching coach. I think we would've lost him but for this move. That's not why we made it. He was the best person. And those three individuals -- Tommy, Borz and Lester -- those are the right guys."

The Cubs also announced Thursday that Terrmel Sledge was hired as the team's new assistant hitting coach, and Chris Denorfia was added as the new quality assurance coach. The rest of Maddon's staff is returning for next season.

Iapoce was the Rangers' hitting coach for the past three seasons, following three years in the Cubs' organization as a Minor League hitting coordinator. He and Sledge will aim to help the core group of Chicago's lineup get back on track after the team's offensive struggles in the second half last season.

Last season, the Cubs turned in a .265/.345/.426 slash line in the first half, compared to a .249/.316/.389 mark after the All-Star break.

"We're mindful that we want change in the way we play," Epstein said. "We want change in how well we play. We want real change in our offense. We want to learn from the second half of the season. We have a lot of ideas on how we can get there. Some involve help from outside the organization and some involve really digging in with the players and the coaches that we have and affecting change."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Each team's best 1st-rounder of the past decade

MLB.com

The release of the 2019 Draft Top 50 list had the MLB Pipeline staff thinking about Drafts in years past. Teams always want to get that first pick right, and there have been some real home runs hit in the first round.

Who were the best first-round picks for each team over the last decade? MLB Pipeline dug through the first rounds of the last 10 years (2009-18) and picked the top first-rounder for each organization. Only those chosen in what was the official first round each year were considered -- no supplemental picks were allowed. The 2014 Draft has been the most fruitful, with six players from that first round making the list. The Drafts from 2012 and 2009 are right behind with five selections, with the latter boasting the player who has to be the single best first-round selection over the last 10 years.

The release of the 2019 Draft Top 50 list had the MLB Pipeline staff thinking about Drafts in years past. Teams always want to get that first pick right, and there have been some real home runs hit in the first round.

Who were the best first-round picks for each team over the last decade? MLB Pipeline dug through the first rounds of the last 10 years (2009-18) and picked the top first-rounder for each organization. Only those chosen in what was the official first round each year were considered -- no supplemental picks were allowed. The 2014 Draft has been the most fruitful, with six players from that first round making the list. The Drafts from 2012 and 2009 are right behind with five selections, with the latter boasting the player who has to be the single best first-round selection over the last 10 years.

AL East

Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays, 2012 (No. 22 overall)
Stroman's profile scared away many teams in the 2012 Draft, but the Duke product has done his part to overcome the stigma associated with being an undersized right-hander. Though he regressed in 2018, while dealing with right shoulder fatigue and, later, a blister issue, Stroman posted back-to-back 200-inning seasons (2016-17) and has been worth 10.6 WAR over five seasons with the Blue Jays.

Manny Machado, SS, Orioles, 2010 (No. 3 overall)
Machado made the jump straight from Double-A to the Majors as a 19-year-old in late 2012, and quickly became a star. His 33.8 WAR is the highest among 2010 first-round position players, second only to Chris Sale, and after helping guide Baltimore to two postseason appearances as a four-time All-Star, Machado netted the organization five Top 30 prospects when it dealt him to the Dodgers this past July.

Ryne Stanek, RHP, Rays, 2013 (No. 29 overall)
Drafting in the first round has long been a problem for the typically savvy Rays, and even their selection of Stanek isn't a hands-down win for the organization, considering he was viewed as a starter (before needing hip surgery) out of the Draft. That said, the right-hander emerged as a legitimate late-inning weapon (and, at times, an "opener") for the Rays in 2018, when he compiled a 2.98 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings over 66 1/3 innings (59 appearances).

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Red Sox, 2015 (No. 7 overall)
Benintendi went from unheralded Arkansas freshman to consensus College Baseball Player of the Year as a sophomore, soaring up Draft boards in the process. The Red Sox had him No. 2 on theirs (behind Dansby Swanson), which he justified by becoming a regular in their 2018 World Series championship lineup just 13 months after signing.

Video: 2015 Draft: Red Sox draft OF Andrew Benintendi No. 7

Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees, 2013 (No. 32 overall)
Judge was the second of three Yankees first-rounders in 2013, sandwiched between Eric Jagielo (No. 26) and Ian Clarkin (No. 33), and lasting that long because there were questions about how well his massive raw power would translate into production. After only hitting 18 homers in three years at Fresno State and 56 in three seasons in the Minors, he exploded for a rookie-record 52 in 2017.

AL Central

Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians, 2011 (No. 8 overall)
Cleveland landed perhaps the best player in a historically good first-round class, as Lindor has become one of the faces of game while totaling 23.9 WAR -- second to Mookie Betts (35.2) among 2011 draftees -- and leading the Indians to an American League title (2016) since his debut in '15, when he finished second in AL Rookie of the Year Award voting. Entering his age-25 season, he's garnered All-Star honors and finished Top 10 in MVP voting in each of the last three years.

Aaron Crow, RHP, Royals, 2009 (No. 12 overall)
The Royals haven't fared well in the first round during the last decade, though Crow made the All-Star Game as a rookie in 2011, and was an effective reliever for four seasons until he blew out his elbow shortly after a trade to the Marlins. Cristian Colon (No. 4 overall, 2010) didn't have as much sustained success but delivered the championship-winning hit in the 2015 World Series.

Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers, 2018 (No. 1 overall)
Perhaps this one is more aspirational because he's thrown only 13 2/3 career innings since being the top pick in last June's Draft, but Mize should be able to use his three plus pitches and his plus control to move quickly through the Tigers' system. Look for him in Detroit sooner rather than later.

Alex Kirilloff, OF, Twins, 2016 (No. 16 overall)
The rules for this story don't allow for a supplemental first-round pick to be chosen, otherwise Jose Berrios might be the guy. But after missing the 2017 season, Kirilloff erupted in '18, his first real full season, and is looking like one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball.

Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox, 2010 (No. 13 overall)
After 2010's Big Three of Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon and Machado, Sale should have been the next player taken. But teams psyched themselves out over worries about his low arm slot and desire for a big league contract (typical for top college arms at the time), allowing the White Sox to steal him at No. 13. He was saving games for Chicago by September and has been an All-Star in each of his seven seasons as a starter.

Video: WS2018 Gm1: Sale K's Dozier to start off World Series

AL West

Matt Chapman, 3B, A's, 2014 (No. 25 overall)
Chapman emerged as the A's next homegrown star in his first fully healthy season, as he ranked third in WAR (8.2) among all position players, finished seventh in AL MVP voting and took home the revered Platinum Glove award as baseball's best defensive player. His 11.7 WAR in 229 career games is tops among positional players from his Draft class -- ahead of even Trea Turner (10.4), who's played 360 games.

Mike Trout, OF, Angels, 2009 (No. 25 overall)
The teams that say they had Trout No. 2 on their board are sort of like the million people who say they were present for The Shot Heard Round the World. Their loss was the Angels' gain, obviously, as he's turned into one of the game's top stars, with seven All-Star appearances and two MVP Awards.

Carlos Correa, SS, Astros, 2012 (No. 1 overall)
George Springer (No. 11, 2011) and Alex Bregman (No. 2, 2015) can also make a case, but our choice is Correa. A series of impressive pre-Draft workouts gave him late helium and made him the first Puerto Rican taken with the top choice. He won AL Rookie of the Year Award honors in '15, then received All-Star recognition and won a World Series two year later.

Video: ALCS Gm1: Correa knocks go-ahead single in 6th

Mike Zunino, C, Mariners, 2012 (No. 3 overall)
Zunino struggled for several years after being rushed to the Major Leagues and hit .207 over 2,000 plate appearances with Seattle. His combination of right-handed power and strong defense behind the plate, however, became increasingly valuable, especially with the quality of the position on the decline across the Majors.

Lewis Brinson, OF, Rangers, 2012 (No. 29 overall)
The Rangers' 13 first-round picks from the last decade have produced only three big leaguers and a combined -0.4 WAR so far. An exceptional athlete who has yet to hit in the Majors, Brinson went to the Brewers in a deal for Jeremy Jeffress and Jonathan Lucroy in July 2016, and to the Marlins in a trade for Christian Yelich last January.

NL East

Kyle Wright, RHP, Braves, 2017 (No. 5 overall)
The Braves hoped Wright would move quickly when they took him with their first pick in the 2017 Draft out of Vanderbilt. Starting his first full season in Double-A was a good sign and reaching Atlanta before the year was over was ahead of schedule, even for a fast-tracker.

Christian Yelich, OF, Marlins, 2010 (No. 23 overall)
One of the 2010 Draft's better hitters as a California prep, Yelich reached the Majors in mid-2013 and received a seven-year, $49.57 million contract extension two years later. He hit .290/.369/.432 (18.6 WAR) over 643 games with Miami, and then helped the organization restock its farm system with four prospects, including Brinson and Monte Harrison, when they dealt him to Milwaukee last offseason. In his first year with the Brewers, Yelich won the batting title (.326) and powered the club to the National League Championship Series en route to MVP honors.

Video: NLCS Gm7: Yelich crushes solo homer to right-center

Michael Conforto, OF, Mets, 2014 (No. 10 overall)
It took the Oregon State product only a year to get to the big leagues, and while his performance has been a little up and down, he's hit 56 homers the last two years and has an All-Star nod already on his resume. Still only 25, he has already amassed nearly 1,400 Major League at-bats.

Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals, 2010 (No. 1 overall)
The Nationals' selection of Harper with the first pick in the 2010 Draft forever changed the course of the franchise, as it gave the club a player with near-immediate impact potential as well as generational-star upside worthy of building around. Over seven seasons with the Nats, Harper -- a six-time All-Star and the 2015 NL MVP -- hit .279/.388/.512 with 184 homers in 927 games, good for a 27.4 WAR.

Aaron Nola, RHP, Phillies, 2014 (No. 7 overall)
Nola took his combination of solid stuff and outstanding command and made a beeline to Philadelphia, joining the rotation in just over a year following his selection. And the 25-year-old is just getting going, making his first All-Star team and finishing third in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2018.

NL Central

Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers, 2017 (No. 9 overall)
The Brewers' track record with first-round picks isn't great, but Hiura could soon help reverse that trend. After leading all Division I hitters in average (.442) as a UC Irvine junior, Hiura raked his way up to Double-A this past season and then took home MVP honors in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. He still needs some more time in the Minors, but it shouldn't be long before Hiura is driving in runs from the middle of Milwaukee's order.

Jack Flaherty, RHP, 2014 (No. 34 overall)
The Cardinals have had some solid back-half-of-the-first-round selections, like Michael Wacha and Kolten Wong, but Flaherty made it to the big leagues in 2017, then finished fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting in '18. Flaherty will be only 23 in 2019, so the best may be yet to come.

Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs, 2013 (No. 2 overall)
Bryant had a stunning junior season at San Diego, swatting 31 homers to not only lead NCAA Division I but also topping 223 of the 296 teams at that level. He raced to the big leagues, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and encoring with an NL MVP Award and World Series championship the next season.

Video: STL@CHC: Bryant belts a towering solo homer to center

Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates, 2011 (No. 1 overall)
Cole's 17.4 WAR is more than double any other Pirates' first-rounder in the last decade. Perhaps his tenure with Pittsburgh was up and down, but he made the All-Star team, finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting and made three postseason starts in 2015. He's also topped 200 innings in three of the last four years (albeit the last one coming for the Astros).

Mike Leake, RHP, Reds, 2009 (No. 8 overall)
Leake spent exactly zero days in the Minor Leagues between getting drafted and his Major League debut, breaking with the Reds' rotation on Opening Day in 2010. He's compiled more WAR than any Reds first-rounder in the last 10 years (15.6) and his trade to the Giants in 2015 netted them Adam Duvall (two years of 30-plus homers) and Keury Mella, who should contribute to the pitching staff in '19.

NL West

A.J. Pollock, OF, D-backs, 2009 (No. 17 overall)
When Pollock was coming out of Notre Dame, he was a solid college performer, but one who didn't have a plus tool, so some thought he might end up a bit of a tweener. There have been some injuries, but there's also been an All-Star appearance and a Gold Glove as an everyday center fielder, one who is currently coveted on the free-agent market.

Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers, 2012 (No. 18 overall)
After taking pitchers with their previous six first-round choices -- landing Clayton Kershaw and five non-impact big leaguers -- the Dodgers changed course and went for Seager, who was one of the better all-around high school bats but also came with some signability concerns in the first Draft with bonus-pool rules. He signed for $2.35 million ($400,000 above the assigned value at No. 18) and proved well worth it, earning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2016 and All-Star recognition in each of his two full big league seasons.

Zack Wheeler, RHP, Giants, 2009 (No. 6 overall)
He wasn't a cornerstone of World Series championships like Giants 2006-08 first-rounders Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, but the guy who followed them has been a quality big league starter when healthy. Wheeler didn't last long with San Francisco, however, going to the Mets in a 2011 trade for Carlos Beltran.

Trea Turner, SS, Padres, 2014 (No. 13 overall)
Turner played the first half of his pro debut on borrowed time, as he'd already been dealt to the Nationals as part of a three-team trade with Tampa Bay (that netted the Padres Wil Myers) by the time the 2015 season began. He's emerged as one of the more impactful young players with the Nats.

Video: Draft 2014: Padres draft SS Trea Turner No. 13

Kyle Freeland, LHP, Rockies, 2014 (No. 8 overall)
The Rockies hoped for Kyle Schwarber or Nola, but the Cubs and Phillies foiled those plans and led them to Freeland, whose elbow worried some clubs because he had arthroscopic surgery as a Denver high schooler. He had bone chips removed from his elbow in 2015 but has been otherwise healthy, winning 11 games as a rookie in '17 and finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting last season.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.