Amid empty seats, Cubs build for next year

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Amid empty seats, Cubs build for next year

Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010
Updated 7:18 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Wrigley Fields smallest crowd in almost four years came out on Monday night to honor Andre Dawson. The Hall of Famer admired throughout the bleachers for playing the game the right way walked through the right-field gate on knees that had gone through 12 surgeries.

That box-office draw was sapped by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the worst team in baseball, and the frustration building through a Cubs season that hasnt lived up to expectations. School will be back in session and people are focused on the Bears and their fantasy football drafts.

While the White Sox have added Manny Ramirez for the stretch run, the Cubs have been importing players from Triple-A Iowa. A fraction of the 29,538 fans accounted for Monday night got there early enough to see Dawson. It has not gone unnoticed.

Obviously, you want every seat full every game, chairman Tom Ricketts said. The attendance has been very, very strong in the grandstands, but certain day games and the last couple night games the bleachers were softer.

We got to put a winning product on the field to make sure all the seats are full every year.

Amid the empty seats, the Cubs hung on to beat the Pirates 5-3 on Wednesday afternoon to win a series, their second under new manager Mike Quade and first this season against Pittsburgh (44-89). They used six pitchers and 11 position players in front of 33,555 fans.

Tom Gorzelanny dropped to his knees after a line drive hit his left hand in the third inning. X-rays taken at Northwestern Memorial Hospital were inconclusive, though a displaced fracture has been ruled out. He will undergo a CT scan on Thursday on the top of his left pinky.

In relief Thomas Diamond gave up two runs in 1 23 innings, but still earned the first big-league win of his career. He got a beer shower in the clubhouse afterward and planned to give the ball to his 19-month-old son.

Before the game, Darwin Barney was running in from third base to practice catching pop-ups. Until this series, his previous experience at the position included one inning last year in the minors, two more in spring training and a state final Little League game when he was 12.

My dad put me at third because this team loved to bunt, Barney said, so (we) shut that game down.

Thats what it has come to for the 57-77 Cubs auditions on the major-league level. Barney is trying to stick as a utility infielder, Quade wants to manage this team next season and rookie pitchers are hoping to show they belong.

Were here because we want to help this team win, Barney said. Im trying to learn as fast as I can, so I can be that guy that can help the club out. Im not trying to go out there and still be learning on the job.

Sink or swim, its kind of a team thing. Were trying to really pick this team up.

The Cubs have approximately 103 million already committed for 2011. That does not include arbitration-eligible players and the nice raises due closer Carlos Marmol and catcher Geovany Soto.

Nor does it factor in what contracts general manager Jim Hendry might be able to shed in the offseason, or the money it will take to fill out a 25-man roster. Ricketts hasnt set the budget for next season yet, but it will be influenced in some way by ticket sales.

Yeah, theyre related, Ricketts said. Obviously, more attendance generates more revenue. More revenue gives you more flexibility to be able to increase your payroll. (But) we have a real strong fan base. Hopefully well put a very attractive product on the field next year. Attendance we did pretty well this year even with kind of a tough season.

Ricketts is right in that the Cubs have so far drawn 2,632,366 fans and are on pace to hit the three-million mark. That total would outperform all but three or four teams in baseball, but not necessarily their own recent history.

In April a Team Marketing Report study one the organization disputed found that the Cubs will have the highest average ticket price in the majors this season at 52.56. Even in rebuilding mode, theres no guarantee the cost wont rise again.

We dont have a pricing strategy for next year locked down, but well see, Ricketts said.

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.