Villanueva sees Cubs going to the next level

Villanueva sees Cubs going to the next level
February 13, 2013, 5:00 pm
Share This Post

MESA, Ariz. – Carlos Villanueva watched the Milwaukee Brewers go all-in, dealing for CC Sabathia in the middle of the 2008 season and firing Ned Yost that September.

The Brewers captured the wild card, but it wasn’t enough for interim manager Dale Sveum to keep the job.

“Every single person in that clubhouse wanted him back to manage the next year,” Villanueva said Wednesday at Fitch Park.

Even Milwaukee insiders wondered why Sveum was passed over for Ken Macha after that playoff run, and again in November 2010, when the Brewers hired Ron Roenicke instead.

One of the more intriguing offseason storylines was how Sveum survived 101 losses with his reputation not only intact, but enhanced, and his influence growing inside the organization.

In the age of e-mail and text messages, Cubs president Theo Epstein predicted the word would get out and free agents would want to play for Sveum. General manager Jed Hoyer indicated the front office runs every trade target and free agent by the manager to get his input.

Relationships mattered as the Cubs sold Villanueva on Sveum and Chris Bosio, the former advance scout and pitching coach in the Brewers organization, as well as their vision for the future.

Villanueva, 29, should get a chance to showcase himself as a starter at some point over the course of a two-year, $10 million deal that’s an insurance policy against the health risks in the rotation.

“Bringing in guys like Jed and Theo here, they’re not messing around,” Villanueva said. “They’re going to spend the money. They’re re-doing the clubhouse. They’re going to have a new facility here. All the signs point toward improvement, and that’s what you want.

“You don’t want to be on a team that’s (willing) to lose 90, 100 games every year and (be like): ‘Oh, let’s just get the draft picks, let’s just sign people and in 10 years we’ll…’

“Some guys don’t care, but I do. I’ve been in the league for a couple years now and I’ve been in the playoffs once and that was the most fun I’ve ever had in my career.”

Actually, this front office and the Ricketts ownership group has been quite willing to endure a few bridge years, build through the draft and wait for players to develop. But with enough pitching depth, it shouldn’t look like a Triple-A product again.

Villanueva threw 125-plus innings as a swingman for the Toronto Blue Jays last season and should benefit by moving out of the American League East. He went 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA in 22 relief appearances and limited opponents to a .211 average. For now, he projects as a bullpen piece.

Villanueva showed glimpses of his potential as a starter last season, notching 86 strikeouts against 25 walks in 92 innings. He allowed three runs or less in 11 of his 16 starts, looking sharp enough in July (4-0, 1.93 ERA) and August (1-4, 3.41 ERA) before fading in September (0-3, 8.10 ERA).

Scott Feldman also signed here for the chance to start, and Travis Wood may have an edge for the final spot in the rotation as a left-handed option. But the Cubs aren’t going to rush Scott Baker as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, and they need contingency plans in case Matt Garza gets injured or traded.

Villanueva has heard all the questions throughout his career.

“I have a generic answer,” Villanueva said. “I feel I can contribute as a starter at a higher level. (But) in the end, I’m team property. So the fact that they brought me in and told me – ‘We see you as a guy who’s going to make a lot of starts for us’ – I have no reason not to believe it. So I’m sticking to what they said and getting myself ready for 200-plus (innings).”