Amid moves, Riggins named pitching coach

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Amid moves, Riggins named pitching coach

Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
2:49 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. Mark Riggins traveled all across the country to watch these pitching prospects, leaving his home in Kentucky to spend around 125 nights each year in a hotel.

Riggins would visit Boise, Idaho, Daytona, Fla., Des Moines, Iowa, a week at each minor-league affiliate to see if they lived up to the hype.

Larry Rothschild didnt seek out the attention, but he cut a familiar figure, sitting next to one Cubs manager after another in the dugout, getting tangled up in the cautionary tales of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.

Most fans wont recognize the new guy with the moustache. But in a move that reinforces their belief in the systems young arms, the Cubs promoted Riggins from minor-league coordinator to pitching coach on Monday to replace Rothschild.

On Day 1 of the winter meetings inside the Walt Disney World complex, that passed as a major announcement for a team with limited payroll flexibility.

The Cubs arent going to be major players in the free-agent market. They are scheduled to meet with agent Scott Boras soon Carlos Penas name will come up as a first-base option and will continue to look for a starting pitcher and a right-handed reliever.

Whichever way the first move may go, general manager Jim Hendry said, that might effect the way you do business for the other couple pieces.

Until dominos start to fall there were rumors linking the Cubs to Adrian Gonzalez and James Loney in unlikely trade talks they will have to look at solutions from within.

The Cubs have locked in Sean Marshall as their eighth-inning reliever, but internally theyre still debating whether Andrew Cashner should be moved to the rotation. It will depend on the other offseason moves.

Riggins spent the past three years as minor-league pitching coordinator, monitoring the impact players the Cubs are counting on for 2011 and beyond. Before that he lasted 29 seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, serving as their pitching coach under Joe Torre in 1995.

Riggins has followed Cashner since he was selected 19th overall in the 2008 draft and helped him work on a changeup during the Arizona Fall League. Riggins believes Cashner has enough pitches to be a front-end major-league starter.

There will be plenty of other projects, especially if the available money is spent on a first baseman. Riggins will try to get through to Carlos Zambrano and salvage the 10 million investment the Cubs made in Jeff Samardzija.

On some level Riggins will have to be a psychologist.

Thats what the game is calling (for) now. These guys are a little different as far as their makeup, their confidence levels, Riggins said. They need to be patted on the back a little more from when I (first started). You have to treat each guy individually. He might have some problems at home, how he was brought up, his parents, his family.

You have to work a lot on the mental side with the guys to keep them going every day.

Communication skills helped Mike Quade earn his promotion. Though Riggins admitted that he hasnt spent much time with the new Cubs manager, he feels they come from the same place. Both will be 54 next year and spent too many seasons in the minors waiting for an opportunity like this.

Rothschild appeared ready to return for his 10th season as Cubs pitching coach he had already exercised his 2011 contractual option but was lured away by the New York Yankees and the chance to train near his family's home in Tampa, Fla.

Rothschild enjoys a good reputation throughout the industry, and there will be few financial limitations placed upon his new pitching staff. But it seems like the Cubs are not going for names, and instead trusting the people they already have in place.

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

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

MESA, Ariz. — Now what? Ryan Dempster believes these Cubs are young enough, hungry enough and talented enough to become the first group to win back-to-back World Series since the three-peat New York Yankees built a dynasty with titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

But Dempster already understands the expectations at Wrigley Field this season, especially after pitching on disappointing Cubs teams that got swept out of the playoffs and working as a special assistant in Theo Epstein's front office.

"Nothing can top it," Dempster said. "You can win 162 games and sweep everybody in the playoffs and it won't be as exciting for people, other than maybe the guys playing it."

That's why Jon Lester isn't putting up the "Mission Accomplished" banner at his locker, even though the Cubs had the parade down Michigan Avenue in mind when they gave him the biggest contract in franchise history at the time. Dempster — who also earned a World Series ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox — had given Lester a scouting report as the Cubs went all-out in their pursuit of the big-game lefty.

There are still four years left on Lester's $155 million megadeal. It has been less than five months since the Cubs finally won the World Series and unleashed an epic celebration.

"Now the hard part is you don't get complacent," Lester said Wednesday after throwing six innings against an Oakland A's minor-league squad at the Sloan Park complex. "I talk about these young guys — that's where that helps. Even though you've accomplished things personally, you still want these guys to accomplish things.

"That's where that drive still gets you. You don't want to let your teammates down. You still want to be accountable for what you do. And that means showing up and doing your work in between starts and in the offseason."

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Lester believed so much in Epstein's vision, the pipeline of talent about to burst and the lure of Chicago that he signed with a last-place team. The Cubs needed a symbol to show they were serious about winning, a clubhouse tone-setter and an anchor for their rotation.

A new comfort level in Year 2 of that contract helped explain how Lester performed as an All Star, a Cy Young Award finalist and the National League Championship Series co-MVP. But Lester wants to make sure that the Cubs don't get too comfortable — or feel like they're playing with house money.

"You enjoy that, you learn from it," Lester said. "The biggest thing is not getting complacent with yourself and with your teammates. That's what drives me, making sure I'm prepared to pitch.

"I'm called upon every five days, and I have to be there. That's where that goal of 30 starts and 200 innings comes into play. I feel like if I do that, then I've done my job, for my teammates and this organization.

"The championships and the World Series — that's stuff you can't predict. It's stuff you strive to do every single year. So that's all we're going to focus on again. Our team goal again is to win a World Series."

Cubs remember Dallas Green's impact on Wrigley Field

Cubs remember Dallas Green's impact on Wrigley Field

MESA, Ariz. — Dallas Green pictured what the Cubs have now become, striking gold in the draft, swinging big deals and pushing to modernize Wrigley Field. The Plan, The Foundation for Sustained Success, all those buzzwords had parallels to the 1980s franchise built in Green's image.

Green — a larger-than-life presence in some of baseball's most intense markets — died Wednesday at the age of 82 after a colorful career and a battle with kidney disease.

Green spent 46 years with the Philadelphia Phillies, guiding them to the 1980 World Series title and working at virtually every level of the organization. Green also pitched eight seasons in the big leagues and managed both the New York Mets and Yankees. But Green clearly raised expectations in Chicago, where he drew up the rough blueprint the Theo Epstein regime would follow 30 years later.

"Absolutely, there's no question," bench coach Dave Martinez said. "He had a vision. He was trying to build an organization from within."

Green took over baseball operations on the North Side and made a franchise-altering trade in 1982, using his Philadelphia connections to steal future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa for Ivan de Jesus.

Green's scouting department would draft Greg Maddux, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston. Trading for Rick Sutcliffe in the middle of the 1984 season led to the club's first playoff appearance since the 1945 World Series. Signing Andre Dawson to the blank-check contract helped fuel a 93-win season in 1989.

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Green had already been fired after repeated clashes with Tribune Co. bosses and a last-place finish in 1987. The force of Green's personality also helped the Cubs finally install lights at Wrigley Field in 1988.

"What a good baseball man," said Martinez, who got drafted by the Cubs in 1983 and lasted 16 seasons in the big leagues. "He could be hard, at times, but you respected that from him. He gave me and a bunch of other players I came up with the chance to play. And I can honestly say he really loved all of us kids. He thought at one point that we were going to be something special — if we would have stayed together.

"We thought we would be there together for a long time. It didn't work out that way, but he knew talent."

Even before this generation of Cubs executives traded for Jake Arrieta and Addison Russell — and drafted Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber — general manager Jed Hoyer understood the challenge Green undertook.

"When we first got to Chicago," Hoyer said, "you look back and think about what other times in the history of the Cubs did people try to do something similar to what we were doing. Really, him taking over in the 80s and building the '84 team is probably the most similar when you look at it. Some of those great trades that he made — those gutsy trades that he made — are pretty similar in a lot of ways.

"Were it not for a couple big breaks, they might have been able to end the curse a lot earlier."