Sandberg: 'Lot of possibilities' for Phils' lineup

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Sandberg: 'Lot of possibilities' for Phils' lineup

The Phillies still haven't gotten any younger this offseason, a fact that manager Ryne Sandberg is reminded of often.

So how does the skipper plan to handle his aging lineup during the upcoming season?

"Well, I think that's all part of my job with an experienced group and that means quality bench guys,” Sandberg said during Tuesday's edition of Philly Sports Talk.

"Freddy Galvis, he's the type of player that I'd be comfortable having him out there two or three or four times a week giving guys blows. Whether it's Kevin Frandsen at second base for a game or two or Darin Ruf, whoever the case may be, I think that's where the bench players come into play with the regulars that we have.”

Sandberg understands that players like Galvis and Ruf are extremely important for an older team trying to stay healthy.

“Keeping the experienced players healthy is key,” Sandberg said. “I know that they're still going to have productive years and with Ryan Howard enjoying an offseason of getting his workouts in and trimming down and getting in baseball shape, he's a big guy right in the middle with some people around him. So I think that's key with the guys we have.”

The potential starting lineup for the Phillies that includes Carlos Ruiz, Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cody Asche, Dom Brown, Marlon Byrd and Ben Revere would have an average age of 31 years. However, the manager doesn’t think the Phillies are done adding to the lineup just yet and has higher expectations.

"That's where it stands right now,” Sandberg said. “Another thing we'd like to do is add some possible depth in the outfield defense, primarily a right-handed centerfielder. So we've got some time before the first day of spring training, but that's another possibility and another added guy, depth in the outfield, with improved defense and a right-handed bat. But when you look at that lineup top to bottom, there's a lot of possibilities and flexibility.”

Sandberg also stated that the Phillies have options within the organization.

“Cody Asche got some nice experience last year, he said. “I think he got tired at the end of the season just because it was the first long year for him. But he shows a good line-drive stroke, and really came a long way on the defensive side at third base for the last six, seven weeks that we saw him.

“I'm anxious to see [Maikel] Franco in spring training. I hear great things about him. The right-handed bat, good at third base, can play some first base. But he was in High-A last year. I'm anxious to see him. So he's another guy that will come into camp and see what he does. Maybe some other options there."

Cubs reward Theo Epstein for turnaround with 5-year extension

Cubs reward Theo Epstein for turnaround with 5-year extension

CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts had dinner with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein in Arizona around the start of spring training.

If Epstein had any doubt about a contract extension, it ended right there. And on Wednesday, it became official.

Chicago announced a five-year extension, rewarding Epstein for an overhaul that has the long-suffering franchise eyeing its first championship since 1908.

"He started it off by saying some really nice things about me that might have hurt his leverage a little bit, and then I returned the favor by telling him that even if we couldn't work out a contract it would get awkward because I would just keep showing up to work," Epstein said. "As an employee, I will. I kept ruining my leverage."

The deal comes with the Cubs wrapping up one of the greatest seasons in franchise history and their fans believing this just might be the team to end the 108-year World Series title drought.

Chicago reached 100 wins for the first time since 1935 and was a major league-leading 101-56 heading into Wednesday's game at Pittsburgh. The Cubs clinched the best record in the majors with more than a week left in the regular season.

"In the five years under Theo's leadership, he has brought in a strong executive team and acquired and developed some of the best players in the game," Ricketts said. "Now, the results are on the field."

Terms were not disclosed.

It looks like Epstein isn't the only Cubs executive with a new deal. He said contract extensions for general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod will probably be announced in the next day or two.

Epstein, who was in the final season of a five-year deal when he left Boston in October 2011, had repeatedly said a new contract was a formality, that there were more immediate priorities. Ricketts had echoed that and indicated in the spring that he was prepared to make him one of the highest-paid executives in baseball.

"There was never any real drama throughout the summer," said Ricketts, adding the agreement was finalized a few days ago.

What took so long?

"We sat down at spring training, had a nice dinner, talked about getting an extension done," Ricketts said. "Basically, I told him I thought he was the best in the game at what he did. He told me no matter what I paid him he wasn't going to leave Chicago, so we were off to a good start. We checked back in on it a couple times during the summer. There was no real time pressure."

The new deal is a reward for a striking transformation that began with the arrivals of Epstein along with Hoyer and McLeod -- his friends from Boston -- following the 2011 season.

The Cubs tested some fans' patience by taking the long approach rather than going for a quick fix, but they have seen the benefits the past two years. Chicago is eyeing even bigger things after breaking out with 97 wins and reaching the NL Championship Series last season.

"When you have great leadership at the top, it usually filters through the rest of the group," manager Joe Maddon said. "A successful organization has that. We have that. I was very happy to hear the news. I'm very happy for Theo and his family and of course, us. It is great. It's a feel-good story. He deserves it. He's earned it. I'm very happy for him."

High draft picks such as 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant made big impacts, as did a number of trade acquisitions, including last season's NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo and potential Gold Glove shortstop Addison Russell.

The hiring of NL Manager of the Year Joe Maddon and signing of starter Jon Lester before the 2015 season showed just how serious the Cubs were about jumping into contention. And the additions of three-time Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward, pitcher John Lackey and veteran infielder Ben Zobrist along with the re-signing of outfielder Dexter Fowler this past offseason added to an already deep roster.

Throw in the emergence of Kyle Hendricks as a Cy Young candidate, and the Cubs are widely considered a postseason favorite.

There were missteps along the way, but the Cubs are in a far different and far better place than they were five years ago. And if they win it all under Epstein, it won't be the first time he helped end a long championship drought.

Before he took aim at the Billy goat curse, he took down the Bambino.

Epstein oversaw two World Series winners in nine seasons as Boston's general manager.

In Chicago, Epstein parted with high-priced veterans and loaded up the minor league system while expanding the team's scouting and analytics operation as part of an overhaul that saw the organization get stripped to its studs.

The Ricketts family also invested heavily in infrastructure in recent years, including new training facilities in the baseball-rich Dominican Republic and the spring training home in Arizona. They are also overhauling Wrigley Field and the surrounding neighborhood.

"There really wasn't anything important to me besides finding common ground, making sure that we could stay and see this thing through," Epstein said. "Our mission has not been accomplished yet."