The Cubs were in win-now mode when they traded for Kevin Gregg in November 2008, trying to build off two straight division titles while Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. froze the payroll and had the franchise up for sale.
The uniform looks the same, and a 6,000-square-foot Jumbotron doesn’t dominate Wrigley Field yet. But the landscape has changed so much between the new Ricketts ownership group and Theo Epstein’s front office. The clubhouse is quiet and drama-free -- no Milton Bradley -- and Carlos Zambrano’s off to play independent ball with the Long Island Ducks.
Barring another major turnaround, there’s also little doubt the Cubs are going to be sellers this summer.
So once manager Dale Sveum finally admitted the obvious and named Gregg his closer before Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals -- “He’s earned it” -- the questions immediately turned to the idea of getting flipped at the trade deadline.
“I’m not worried about that,” Gregg said. “I don’t think about it that way. I’m here now. That’s all I can control. The way they handle that going forward -- that’s up to Theo and those guys. They’re going to decide how they want to build this team for now and in the future.
“But I’m excited to be here and be a part of this team. And I will be -- until told otherwise.”
Sveum’s reaction to the Cubs getting Gregg on a minor league deal could be summed up with two words: “Thank God.”
Released by the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 3, Gregg signed with the Cubs 12 days later and couldn’t have scripted it any better. He hasn’t allowed a run through nine appearances, going 5-for-5 in save chances and stabilizing a bullpen that has now blown nine saves.
“It’s a position I’ve coveted for years now,” Gregg said. “I want to be ‘The Guy’ at the end of the game.”
Sveum didn’t hesitate to pull Carlos Marmol in the ninth inning on Opening Day in Pittsburgh, putting the $9.8 million closer on notice and making it clear he’d use all endgame options. Marmol’s now back setting up for Gregg -- the job he had during most of the 2009 season -- and being the lightning rod for angry fans.
Kyuji Fujikawa (strained right forearm) needed only 16 pitches to get through two scoreless innings with Double-Tennessee on Wednesday, meaning he should be activated Friday in Washington. But the guy who finished more than 200 games in Japan -- and remains under club control through 2015 -- won’t go back to closing right away.
“Officially, unofficially, you see the way the game’s been dictated and the way I’ve pitched,” Gregg said. “The way [Sveum’s] used me -- I think it speaks for itself.”
Gregg has notched 149 career saves, a resume that could make him attractive to contenders as the July 31 deadline approaches. The Cubs may have caught lightning in a bottle.
“[With] the problems we’ve had, it’s just a great pickup,” Sveum said. “He’s ran with it and done a heck of a job. He’s a veteran guy that doesn’t panic. He’s been in those situations before. Those last three outs aren’t made for everybody.”
The Cubs will be analyzing all their short-term assets this summer, because they’re no longer in go-for-it mode.
Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza have been answering questions about trade rumors for years. The front office could build packages around starting pitching (Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva) and outfielders (David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz).
And there will be a new closer building value in the ninth inning.
“I hope we can contend,” Gregg said. “We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve been on the wrong end of close games. And if that switches around a little bit, we’re in a whole different spot right now.”