Aramis, Pena & Big Z: Moving on with mixed results

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Aramis, Pena & Big Z: Moving on with mixed results

Remember when things seemed so daunting for the St. Louis Cardinals?

They had just lost out on the Albert Pujols sweepstakes, as the perennial MVP candidate put his faith in the Angels and went West. Tony La Russa was not going to return as manager and Dave Duncan, arguably the best pitching coach in the game, was slated to miss the entire season for personal issues.

That was just 10 short months ago. Now, the Cards are only one victory away from a second-straight NL pennant.

A lot can change in a year.

Take a look at the Cubs. They finished the 2011 season packed with valuable veterans -- Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena and Carlos Zambrano -- and promising youngsters -- Tyler Colvin, D.J. LeMahieu, Andrew Cashner and Chris Carpenter.

All seven of those guys were gone before spring training even started. While the Cubs struggled to a 101-loss season, let's check in on how this group fared.

Aramis Ramirez

Ramirez and the Cubs were synonymous since that fateful 2003 season. He was a staple at third base, bringing consistency to the position for the first time since the Ron Santo days. At age 33, he didn't fit in the Cubs' rebuilding plan and wound up signing with the Brewers, where he almost made Milwaukee forget about Prince Fielder.

Ramirez put together a very solid season, leading the league in doubles (50) and tied for first in extra-base hits (80) with teammate Ryan Braun, whom Ramirez protected in the lineup all year. The Brewers didn't end up making the playoffs, but Ramirez helped key a strong run towards the end of the year and finished with 27 homers, 105 RBI (his first 100 RBI season since 2008), a .300 average and a .901 OPS.

Carlos Zambrano

Big Z was the longest tenured Cub on the roster last year and after a blow-up in Atlanta last August, the soap opera that is Carlos Zambrano came to an end in the Cubs clubhouse. He racked up 125 victories and 1,542 strikeouts in more than 300 games (282 starts) over an 11-year span.

He was dealt to Miami this winter, teaming up with friend and manager Ozzie Guillen, and was deemed as a potential sleeper for the NL Cy Young by former teammate Matt Garza. Zambrano had no such luck, as, after a hot start, he struggled and wound up in the bullpen to finish the season with a 7-10 record, 4.49 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.

Carlos Pena

Pena was only a one-year rental and had a very solid 2011 season, walking 101 times and slugging 28 homers while playing very good defense at first base and bringing a positive attitude in the clubhouse.

But his age (33 this winter) and the arrivalemergence of Anthony Rizzo and Bryan LaHair made Pena expendable this winter and he was not re-signed, instead opting to go back to Tampa Bay. There, Pena hit 19 homers and drove in 61 runs, but managed just a .197 average and .684 OPS, a far cry from his career numbers (.234 and .822, respectively). 2012 marked the second season in the last three in which Pena failed to hit even .200.

Tyler ColvinD.J. LeMahieu

Anybody who's followed the Cubs over the past year has likely heard the much-publicized deal that sent Colvin and LeMahieu to Colorado for Ian Stewart and minor-league pitcher Casey Weathers. Neither Colvin (a former first-round pick) nor LeMahieu (a former second-round pick) was guaranteed to have a place to play in 2012 and the Cubs needed a third baseman, so they took a gamble on a low-risk guy in Stewart. It was Theo Epstein's first trade in the Cubs' front office and hasn't worked out in his favor to date, as Stewart struggled to find consistency at the plate before being shut down with a wrist injury halfway through the season.

Both young players wound up having fairly productive seasons for the Rockies, but they combined for just 34 walks in 699 plate appearances. That kind of aggressiveness doesn't fit in Theo's vision for the Cubs, despite the fact they both hit close to .300  (Colvin -- .290; LeMahieu -- .297) and Colvin added some power, with 55 extra-base hits, including 18 homers.

Andrew Cashner

Cashner was considered to be a major piece for the future when Theo and Co. took over as a flame-throwing right-hander who had as high upside as anybody in the Cubs' system. But after arm issues sidelined Cashner for most of the 2011 season, the new front office was hesitant to put Cashner in the taxing position of a starting pitcher, and traded him to the Padres for Rizzo.

The 26-year-old right-hander had a solid year for San Diego, hurling a 4.27 ERA and 1.32 WHIP while striking out 52 in 46.1 innings. But most of that was as a reliever -- he started just five games -- and he spent time on the disabled list, while Rizzo emerged as a franchise cornerstone for the Cubs.

Chris Carpenter

The rest of the players on this list either had significant playing time in 2011 or figured to be a big part of 2012 and beyond, but Carpenter was a 25-year-old middle reliever with upside for more if he could harness his 100 mph fastball. His claim to fame, of course, was as the compensation for Theo Epstein, making the trek to Boston.

An elbow injury derailed most of Carpenter's 2012, but he came back strong, posting a 1.15 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in 15.2 innings in Triple-A Pawtucket before appearing in eight games for the big-league Red Sox, struggling to the tune of a 9.00 ERA and 2.83 WHIP.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Rule 5 pick Dylan Covey takes advantage of showcase as White Sox down Indians

Rule 5 pick Dylan Covey takes advantage of showcase as White Sox down Indians

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — If Carlos Rodon starts on the disabled list as expected, the White Sox won't turn to any of their vaunted top prospects in the interim.

The news on Rodon has been encouraging so far as no structural damage has been discovered. Still, the White Sox won't clear Rodon until after he receives a second opinion on Monday. While the length of Rodon's absence won't be determined for several days, the White Sox are certain of one route they won't take — they don't want to disrupt the development of their young starting pitchers. Were a DL trip for Rodon necessary, the White Sox would likely select either Saturday's starter, Dylan Covey, or minor leaguer David Holmberg over their top prospects. Covey made a strong impression on Saturday afternoon with 3 2/3 scoreless innings pitched and the White Sox rallied for a 10-7 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark.

"When you have an opportunity to stabilize action or movement for players it serves them better," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "They get a little more comfortable where they're at. They get comfortable with the staffs they're working with and the information they're gathering, being in a routine. It is a little disruptive going from team to team to team. It happens, but it's not the most conducive (to learning)."

The White Sox are all about development this season. Therefore, they have no plans to call upon Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carson Fulmer or Michael Kopech unless they're A) ready and B) throwing every fifth day in Chicago. Renteria's comments Saturday reiterated Rick Hahn's earlier message, saying the club doesn't want to disrupt the development path.

That puts Covey, a Rule 5 draft pick in December, with a decent opportunity to make the club out of camp. Covey commanded the strike zone on Saturday only hours after Renteria said he hoped to see the young right-hander replicate an Arizona Fall League performance that initially warmed the White Sox up to him.

Aside from a two-out walk in his final inning, Covey was sharp the whole way. He allowed three hits and struck out three.

"My last couple of outings I was definitely feeling the stress," Covey said. "I was kind of pitching a little passive, pitching to not make a mistake instead of just going right after guys. So today and yesterday I just thought I'm just going to throw every pitch with conviction and see what happens. I got a lot of weak contact today and some swings and misses, so I felt good."

Covey threw 44 pitches, 27 for strikes. He potentially could stay in Arizona on Thursday and make an additional minor league start to build arm strength, which would get him to roughly 60 pitches before the regular seasons started.

The White Sox don't officially need a fifth starter until April 9 and they're off the following day. That break could allow the White Sox to start Covey as part of a bullpen day. Covey said he recently changed his mindset after lackluster results in relief this spring. The right-hander has a 6.94 ERA this spring in 11 2/3 innings.

"Obviously my last two outings out of the pen I wasn't getting crushed, but I just wasn't commanding the ball or commanding the count as much as I would like to be," Covey said. "The mistakes get hit a little harder when you're falling behind in the count. Today I wanted to have the mindset of attacking hitters, throwing everything down in the zone and going right after them, and it worked out."

The White Sox blasted six home runs in the contest, including a majestic, go-ahead grand slam by first baseman Danny Hayes in the top of the ninth inning. Hayes is hitting .351/.400/.595 with two homers and is tied for the team lead with 13 RBIs this spring. Jose Abreu, Nick Delmonico, Cody Asche, Everth Cabrera and Jacob May also homered for the White Sox.