After rainout, Cubs face questions on pitching staff

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After rainout, Cubs face questions on pitching staff

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Posted: 3:52 p.m. Updated: 4:12 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Riding in their charter jet toward Phoenix, the Cubs will discuss what to do with their pitching staff.

Their decision-makers bought some more time with Wednesdays rainout. The Colorado Rockies will return to Wrigley Field for a rescheduled game on June 27 at 1:20 p.m.

The rotation lines up like this against the Arizona Diamondbacks: Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza, and thats reassuring for a 10-13 team on three-game losing streak, even if those frontline starters havent met expectations yet.

Casey Coleman who was set to start Wednesday against the Rockies will be pushed back to Sundays series finale in Arizona.

The fifth starter is still an open question. General manager Jim Hendry, manager Mike Quade and pitching coach Mark Riggins will go over the options for Monday night at Dodger Stadium.

The Cubs have been reluctant to move Jeff Samardzija (2-0, 3.14) into the rotation now that hes finally showing progress as a reliever. James Russell has struggled in his three spot starts 0-3 with a 11.17 ERA and the Cubs believe his future is in the bullpen.

Twenty-three year-old Jay Jackson a well-regarded prospect whos made two starts at Triple-A Iowa after dealing with elbow tendinitis could be the best candidate from within the minor-league system.

Weve got a long plane ride to kick some things around, Quade said. Well see where were at.

While up in the air, the staff will also try to figure out how to proceed with Randy Wells (forearm strain) and Andrew Cashner (rotator cuff strain). The Cubs declined to reveal what came out of their scheduled re-evaluations with Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, but seem to be thinking about next steps in their rehabilitations.

Everythings gone according to schedule, Quade said. Ive had some fun with them, getting after them for being payroll bandits and neither ones very happy about their (situation). Theyre champing at the bit, (but) someones got to back them down a little bit or theyll go too far too fast.

Nothing has gone according to plan with a rotation that was supposed to be one of the teams strengths. The Cubs have submitted six quality starts the lowest total in the majors and their staff's overall 4.92 ERA ranks second-to-last in the game.

There hasnt been nearly enough offense to cover up those mistakes. The average game-time temperature at Wrigley Field this season is 47 degrees, and six of the 14 home games have had starting temps of 43 or lower.

People are not comfortable with the weather, Alfonso Soriano said. As soon as we have nice weather and (get) a couple more hits, a couple more homers, I think well be in good shape.

Its not easy to play here, especially with the cold weather and the wind blowing in all the time. But we got to be patient.

Carlos Pena is still waiting for his first home run in a Cubs uniform. Aramis Ramirez has reached base safely in his first 22 games, but has generated only one homer. The team is hitting .229 with runners in scoring position.

The Cubs insist that its too early to panic, that the sample sizes are too small and everything will start to even out. Arizona would be a good place to start. Everything begins with pitching.

Its not me, Ramirez said. Were hitting .280 as a team and thats pretty good. (We) just got to keep doing it. The pitchings going to come around.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

As the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings outside Washington, D.C., their messaging might as well be: It’s the pitching, stupid.

This is an arms race that will never end, the Cubs trying to defend their first World Series title in 108 years, build out a bullpen that looked pretty thin by November and target the kind of young starter who could help anchor their rotation for years to come, ensuring Wrigleyville remains baseball’s biggest party.

The Cubs signed Brian Duensing to a one-year, $2 million contract on Friday, placing a small bet on a lefty specialist who spent parts of last season on the Triple-A level but made a good enough impression during his 13-plus innings with the Baltimore Orioles.

As executives, scouts, agents and reporters begin to flood into National Harbor on Sunday, the Cubs will intensify their search for pitching, everything from headliners to insurance policies to prospects.

“That’s been the significant bulk of our efforts,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “It’s definitely not going to be through lack of trying on our part to make that kind of deal. That’s now. That’s at the deadline.”  

The Cubs are preparing for Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta will probably be in a different uniform after signing his megadeal, John Lackey might be kicking back in Texas and enjoying retirement and Jon Lester will be 34 years old with maybe 2,300 innings on his odometer. 

The Cubs have unwavering faith in their pitching infrastructure at the major-league level, from the scouting and analytic perspectives that identified the right sign-and-flip deals during the rebuilding years to the coaching staff that helped mold Kyle Hendricks into a Cy Young Award finalist and a World Series Game 7 starter.

Mike Montgomery notched the final out against the Cleveland Indians and the Cubs see him as their next big project. The lefty checks so many of their boxes, from age (27) to size (6-foot-5) to pedigree (former first-round pick/top prospect) to the change-of-scenery confidence boost/mental reset.

Forget about the White Sox trading Chris Sale to the North Side and don’t just think about obvious names or trade partners. Maybe it’s making a deal for a guy you never heard of before and sifting through the non-tender bin. (As expected, the Cubs offered contracts to arbitration-eligible pitchers Arrieta, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm before Friday’s deadline. Their 40-man roster stands at 35 after non-tendering lefties Gerardo Concepcion and Zac Rosscup, right-hander Conor Mullee and infielder Christian Villanueva.)

Remember how team president Theo Epstein framed the Montgomery trade with the Seattle Mariners this summer – comparing him to All-Star reliever Andrew Miller – and that gives you an idea of how they can address their pitching deficit this winter. 

“If your scouts do a good job of identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction – and you’re willing to take a shot – sometimes there’s a big payoff at the end,” Epstein said.   

While the Cubs did Jason Hammel a favor by cutting him loose and allowing him to explore the market as one of the best pitchers in an extremely weak class of free agents, Montgomery has only 23 big-league starts on his resume. 

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

The Cubs had five starters make at least 29 starts this year, while four starters accounted for 30-plus starts in 2015, a remarkable run that led to 200 wins.

“As we’ve talked about so many times,” Hoyer said, “we do have an imbalance in our organization – hitting vs. pitching – and we’re trying to make sure we can accumulate as much pitching depth as possible. 

“We were very healthy this year, which was wonderful and a big part of why we won the World Series. I don’t think you can always count on that kind of health every single year. Building up a reservoir of depth – preferably guys you can option (to the minors) – is something (we’re trying) to accomplish.”  

The Cubs have Jorge Soler stuck in a crowded outfield plus the types of interesting prospects who appear to be blocked – catcher Victor Caratini, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder/outfielder Ian Happ – to make relatively painless trades for pitching (if not the kind of blockbuster deal that dominates coverage of the winter meetings).

Lefty reliever Brett Cecil getting a four-year, $30.5 million deal and no-trade protection from the St. Louis Cardinals became another sign of how shallow this free-agent pool is for starting pitchers and a reflection of a postseason where the bullpen became a major storyline.

The idea of Kenley Jansen intrigues the Cubs – and Aroldis Chapman made a favorable impression during his three-plus months with the team – but Epstein’s front office already made the major upgrades for 2017 by spending nearly $290 million on free agents after the 2015 playoff run. Philosophically, the Cubs also see smarter long-term investments than trying to win a bidding war for a guy who might throw 70 innings a year. 

With that in mind, the Cubs could get creative and have looked at free agent Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals who didn’t pitch this year after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  

Remember that Chapman left the New York Yankees and joined a team that had a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. If Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. can’t handle the late shifts, then the Cubs could always go out and trade for another closer in the middle of a pennant race.    

The Cubs have the luxuries of time, zero pressure from ownership, their fan base or the Chicago media and a stacked, American League-style lineup. 

“Right now, we could go play from an offensive standpoint and feel very good about our group,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to still continue to look to improve the depth in our bullpen, improve the depth in our starting rotation. Those are things that probably never go away. You probably never stop trying to build that depth.” 

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

LeBron James is coming to town, and he will be all decked out in Cubs gear.

The Cavs are in Chicago to take on the Bulls Friday night at the United Center and it's time for LeBron to pay up on his World Series bet with Dwyane Wade.

The two former teammates made the wager during the World Series as LeBron's hometown Indians took on Wade's hometown Cubs, with the loser wearing the winning baseball team's gear when they showed up in the opposing city. This is LeBron's first trip to Chicago this season.

Wade and LeBron already acknowledged they're having fun with this and have a whole spectacle planned with a national TV audience.

LeBron told the Akron Beacon Journal he's not going to try to take the easy way out and just toss on a Cubs jersey. He is planning socks, hat, pants and possibly more. But he won't wear cleats or bring a glove with him.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

When the Cubs won it all a month ago Friday, Wade posted an Instagram photo of LeBron wearing a Cubs uniform:

And ESPN had a cutout of LeBron sporting a No. 23 Cubs road gray jersey outside the United Center Friday morning:

CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill wonders whether LeBron will don signature Joe Maddon glasses, too.

This is gonna be fun, you guys.