Cubs not counting out the 2012 season

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Cubs not counting out the 2012 season

Paul Maholm spent his entire career with the Pirates up until this week, so he knows a thing or two about losing.

But when when he was asked Friday at the Cubs Convention how it felt to go from one struggling franchise to another, he was quick to answer.

"No guarantee on the struggling part," Maholm said of the Cubs' 2012 prospects. "Last year, everybody expected us to lose more than 110 games and we played well in Pittsburgh. It takes 25 guys-plus to come together and play hard and expect to win. From Theo down, we're expecting to do that this year."

Maholm is the newest Cub, but he's preaching the same sentiment as long-tenured veterans.

"We're all tied for first right now. It's our job not to lose it," Ryan Dempster said.

"You may be surprised," catcher Geovany Soto said. "You could see a great team with great chemistry winning ball games. Everybody could be surprised here in August. You never know, that's why you have to come prepared."

To a man, the Cubs are positive. They believe they can conted in 2012.

But what else would they say? Why would they agree that the upcoming season could produce 90-100 losses?

"We'll never tell you that because we don't believe in that," newcomer Ian Stewart said. "We feel like we're going to come out and win games. The goal every game is to come out and win, not just to see how good you can do.

"There's been a lot of teams that have started the season with question marks that have gone on to be good teams, so there's no reason we can't do that here."

And that's the right attitude to have, obviously. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer wouldn't have brought in guys who are content with losing.

But Epstein and Hoyer have also done a good job dismantling the roster.

Last season, the Cubs struggled to a 71-91 record and a fifth place finish in the NL Central.

Gone from that lineup are Aramis Ramirez (26 homers, 93 RBIs, .306 AVG) and Carlos Pena (28 homers, 80 RBIs). Pitchers Sean Marshall, arguably the game's best reliever, Carlos Zambrano and young up-and-comer Andrew Cashner were all dealt and staff ace Matt Garza may very well be next.

Of course, the Cubs have added pieces, but not all -- like Anthony Rizzo -- are expected to have an impact on Opening Day. The ones that will may not be difference-makers. Theo and Hoyer have yet to make a big splash this offseason and one doesn't figure to be coming soon.

It wouldn't be hard to see the 2012 Cubs finish with a worse record than in '11. But the Cubs' Achilles' heel last year was a lack of rotation depth and effectiveness, and Epstein believes that weakness has turned into a strength.

"In baseball, anything can happen," Epstein said. "We might not have the most talent in the division, but I know we're going to play hard and I know we have young players with upside. We have a lot of players entering their prime. When you have that, you can surprise a little bit.

"If we stay healthy and one or two or three or four of the players that we have actually take a big developmental step forward, I think you might look up and be surprised in the middle of the summer. Especially with the depth of the starting pitching we have now.

"We have one advantage over some of the opponents we might face in that we can withstand an injury or two and still throw a very reputable starting pitcher out there every day. If our opponents can't in the division because of injuries or attrition or poor performance, then we might surprise some people."

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in roughly a month. We'll see then if this is all talk or not.

Cubs closing in on Aroldis Chapman deal with Yankees

Cubs closing in on Aroldis Chapman deal with Yankees

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs are in the final stages of a blockbuster deal that could bring superstar closer Aroldis Chapman to Chicago and would involve sending elite shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres to the New York Yankees, a source familiar with the situation said Sunday night.

The exact details aren’t clear, but the talks reached a point where the Cubs pulled Torres from the lineup at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach, at least sensing the strong possibility of a trade that would add a 105-mph closer to a first-place team that entered the year as World Series favorites.

Chapman began this season serving a 30-game suspension covered by Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy after a dispute with his girlfriend in South Florida last fall. In absorbing a supremely talented player with real baggage, the Cubs would have to believe in manager Joe Maddon’s personality and a strong clubhouse culture, figuring it might only be a two-month-plus rental before Chapman cashes in as a free agent. 

That incident scared the Cubs away during the offseason, when a Chapman trade between the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers collapsed at the winter meetings as those police reports surfaced. The Yankees waited for the price to drop and acquired the flame-throwing closer at a discount. Chapman didn’t mind the spotlight in New York, converting 20-of-21 save opportunities and striking out 44 batters in 31-plus innings.

Torres is only 19 years old and a consensus top prospect, showing up in the midseason rankings on ESPN (No. 26), Baseball America (No. 27) and Baseball Prospectus (No. 34). The Cubs had signed Torres out of Venezuela during the summer of 2013, giving him a $1.7 million bonus and trying to stockpile enough assets to build a perennial contender. It sounds like it’s almost time to cash in one of those huge trade chips. 

Cubs score five runs in seventh to power past Brewers

Cubs score five runs in seventh to power past Brewers

MILWAUKEE – The franchise sensitive to being the other team in town is catching the Cubs at the worst possible time, another you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up story coming out of the White Sox clubhouse.

While Chris Sale serves a five-game suspension for playing with scissors, the Cubs will start Jake Arrieta, the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, on Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

The perception will be hot-seat manager Robin Ventura has lost control over this White Sox season, while Manager of the Year Joe Maddon actually answered a question this weekend about how the Cubs might align their playoff rotation.

One week out from the Aug. 1 trade deadline, the debates will be which players White Sox executives Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn should sell off, and which Cubs prospects Theo Epstein’s front office should put down to buy the big-ticket item for a World Series run.

Optics, marketing and promotional throwback jerseys aside, the Cubs also appear to be hitting their stride again after a much-needed vacation, winning their third straight series out of the All-Star break with Sunday afternoon’s 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.  

The Cubs did it with their $155 million ace (Jon Lester) throwing only four innings, getting charged with four runs and giving up five walks and five stolen bases. The Cubs could also absorb one quarter of their All-Star infield (Addison Russell) leaving in the middle of the game with a left heel contusion.

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The Cubs stormed back with five runs in the seventh inning as MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo delivered the biggest swing, a bases-loaded, three-run double into right-center field off lefty reliever Will Smith. 

Three sellout crowds here over the weekend watched the Cubs welcome back All-Star leadoff guy Dexter Fowler to the top of the order, give the ball to six-time All-Star closer Joe Nathan in his return from a second Tommy John surgery and keep the St. Louis Cardinals seven games out of first place heading into Sunday night and what should be a gut check for the entire White Sox organization.

“I anticipate that same wonderful crosstown rivalry kind of atmosphere, which I love,” Maddon said. “It’s great for the city. It’s great for the sport. I don’t think fans really care much about records at that particular moment. They just care about your team winning.”

Cubs: Joe Maddon trolls White Sox and explains why trade rumors would bother Chris Sale

Cubs: Joe Maddon trolls White Sox and explains why trade rumors would bother Chris Sale

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs won’t walk onto U.S. Cellular Field on Monday night wearing black “Try Not To Cut” T-shirts with a scissors image replacing the manager’s iconic glasses. But Joe Maddon still couldn’t resist trolling the White Sox after Chris Sale’s temper tantrum.

With an AWOL pitcher, a manager on the hot seat and a front office under siege, the Cubs will see what they used to be in a rivalry that sometimes brought out the worst in them.

This is Carlos Zambrano-level bizarre on the South Side, the White Sox suspending Sale for five days after their franchise player cut up 1976 throwback jerseys, creating a feeding frenzy in the middle of trade-deadline-rumor season. That speculation apparently bothered Sale, who got sent home before Saturday’s scheduled start against the Detroit Tigers, leaving the bullpen to cover for his unprofessionalism.

“It’s not easy,” Maddon said before Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “Obviously, it’s only going to occur if your team’s struggling a bit.

“If you’re doing well, that doesn’t happen. So you have the struggle of the group, and then a really good player being mentioned as a trade piece. From the manager’s perspective, it’s not as difficult as the player himself and then the inter-politics of the clubhouse. That’s where it becomes more difficult.

“You don’t even know what those conversations sound like and how that cuts at the fabric of what you’re attempting to do. No pun intended.”

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Maddon’s presence as the team’s smirking ringmaster helps a rivalry that missed larger-than-life personalities like Lou Piniella and Ozzie Guillen. The Cubs won’t see Sale until Thursday night at Wrigley Field in this season’s fourth and final crosstown game between two franchises heading in opposite directions.

Maddon remembered the end of an era with the Tampa Bay Rays, when superstar pitcher David Price got traded to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team deal at the 2014 deadline. Within the next three months, Rays executive Andrew Friedman jumped for a president’s job with the Los Angeles Dodgers, triggering an escape clause in Maddon’s contract and giving Cubs fans a new costume for that Halloween.

“It was hard for David,” Maddon said. “It really was difficult, especially if it’s your first organization. I think if you bounced a little bit, it’s not so difficult. But if it’s your first time being included in trade conversations, it’s hard for the guy.

“Regardless of knowing that you could end up in a good spot, or you’re going to be wanted, (because) there’s really actually a lot of positives attached to it. It’s still the negative – you might really like where you’re at, it’s your first organization, you have a lot of friendships.

“Awkward. It’s an awkward feeling. You adjust. Everybody does. But there’s still all this unknown stuff that is unsettling.”

Like what the media circus and the fan atmospherics will be like during those two first two games at U.S. Cellular Field. Or if Buyers vs. Sellers plays out this week and the Cubs and White Sox start making big deals. So much for the White Sox bonding after Adam LaRoche’s retirement in the middle of spring training and using that money to reinvest at the trade deadline. Or Sale smoothing everything over after torching executive vice president Kenny Williams for the way he handled Drake LaRoche’s clubhouse access.

“I’m sure it will be entertaining,” Maddon said. “The South Siders have a wonderful sense of humor that we can definitely all appreciate.”