Jesse Rogers has become a staple for Chicago Cubs beat coverage. He joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000. Rogers was originally covering the Chicago Blackhawks' ascension to the Stanley Cup before he got the call to Clark and Addison.
Rogers' radio reports are a regular future, as are his chats and his Cubs blog posts at ESPN Chicago.com. He took some time to talk with me about the similarities involved in both the Blackhawks and Cubs rebuilds. If all goes according to plan, the parallels will continue.
TL: You were in the midst of a dynasty in the making, covering the Blackhawks, only to get switched over to a painful, massive rebuild with the Cubs. Have you filed a grievance yet?
JR: Ha. No. In fact, I might be the lucky one to be around both as they go from perennial loser to winner. That would be pretty cool. The Cubs are going to make some kind of a run. We know that. It’s just a matter of how good and for how long. But there will be a run of some sort. If that doesn’t happen – even it's for only a year – then Theo & Co. really failed.
TL: Seriously, what parallels jump out at you with the two organizations at this point?
JR: The most obvious one is the cliché we hear in sports all the time: You build through the draft. In the Cubs' case there is a caveat because they are trading for players at a very young age as well as drafting high. But you get the point. With these trades over the last few years it’s as if the Cubs are getting extra draft picks. Anyway, when you do that the most obvious thing happens that we all understand but sometimes overlook. You’re getting players you can mold and have through their peak years at their cheapest.
It’s kind of funny when you think about it. The system is silly. Let’s pay aging players their highest salaries after their peak years but let’s force Mike Trout to make pennies, comparatively, when he’s the one bringing in money for his team and helping them win. I’m so glad the Cubs didn’t sign Jacoby Ellsbury. My god, that would have been stupid. As is signing anyone over 30 for $100 million. Shouldn’t the Angels have won like two World Series by now? You start with a youthful core then you add that one or two pieces when you need to.
I don’t care about Yankees payroll, their runs started with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and other homegrown talent. Even they had a core of their own through their peak years. Look at what a disaster Alex Rodriguez has become. I’m not saying you don’t do a move like that if it gets you a title but don’t be fooled that’s the way to go without the rest of it in place.
And by the way I wasn’t covering the Cubs when this rebuild started a couple years ago. I don’t know if I would have been on-board or not. I probably would have as I’ve always thought it would be interesting to see ONCE in our life. But I do know this, it’s way too late to change directions.,
TL: Which of the prospects have qualities that you would compare to those present in the Hawks' core?
JR: Two very different sports but one thing I’ve found with the special athletes remains: they hate to lose more than they love to win. I see that in Jonathan Toews, for example. I don’t know which prospects have it yet. Maybe Albert Almora. Baseball is such a difficult sport and when you’re young you’re just trying to make it and survive; sometimes winning and losing can be an afterthought. I don’t really mean that but we should know who just hates to lose; it should be evident, and I’m not sure we know that yet. Maybe the better they get the more we’ll see it, because right now there is so much losing going on it would probably eat you up if you let it.
TL: We have actually heard comparisons to Jonathon Toews when it comes to young Albert Almora’s leadership qualities. Have you witnessed any evidence of this?
JR: Not in that matter. No way is he being assertive as a Class-A player in a locker room full of veterans. Toews was named captain at an early age and was in the NHL, so he automatically gets the respect. Now, I wasn’t around him in Kane County, etc. but yeah, his teammates there, and even Kris Bryant when they were together in the AFL, kind of defer to him. So he’s got that “it” thing with the younger players it looks like, but it needs to manifest itself when he gets here. And I think he’ll do it on the field more than anywhere.
TL: Who was the best player in camp in your mind?
JR: Rizzo. Loved his at-bats. I have no idea why there is so much Rizzo hate out there. I really don’t. Is it simply because he’s been handed a lot by Jed and Theo? Yeah, he hit .191 with men in scoring position. Go look at what Freddie Freeman hit before last year. Let’s give the guy a chance to improve. But he did everything you’d want – even if you’re a critic – this spring. And he was a Gold Glove finalist last season. Don’t forget that. But hey, if he regresses I’ll call him out.
TL: Who bounces back more: Castro or Rizzo?
JR: All I can go off of is what’s in front of us. One missed all of spring, the other was locked in. Maybe it doesn’t matter a month or two from now, maybe it does. But Castro being in the best mental and physical shape of his career is out the window now. He’s probably not in baseball shape and he for sure didn’t see enough major league pitching in game situations. Again, maybe it doesn’t matter. The great ones probably don’t need all that prep time, but for now I’ll give Rizzo the benefit of the doubt.
TL: How much of a distraction do you anticipate the Jeff Samardzija saga to be this season?
JR: Normally, I would say a lot but it might take away from the losing if they’re getting hammered. First, it will be the media causing the distraction, then it will be the rumors –actually that’s also the media – but those rumors will have legs for a reason. The Cubs will be fielding and making calls. It’s kind of a sad situation. He should be here, part of what might happen. I believe that. I think it’s the one monkey wrench, at least at this moment, in the whole rebuild.
TL: What can you tell us about the camp Rick Renteria has run? Anything jump out difference-wise?
JR: You definitely see the rah, rah stuff out of him. Not sure how that will play. Maybe the “higher” you are at the start means when you get knocked down by this job you won’t go all the way to the bottom. That might not make any sense but right now, with this fan base and the spotlight on this team and the losing, you need a shield and his shield is staying positive. A pessimist by nature would probably never last. Then again, a smile and a “lets get ‘em tomorrow” isn’t going to cut it either. He’ll need to find the nuance in the job.
TL: Lastly, more haunting: Chelsea Dagger or Go Cubs Go?
JR: Dagger for sure. Think about it: I’ve heard it much more. I think the Hawks scored more goals than the Cubs scored runs last year. I’ll leave you with this as there is a good chance the Cubs are leaving WGN, right? Can’t use the song anymore or lyrics have to be changed.
Hmm…ESPN kind of still rhymes. I like it.
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Filed under: Interviews