Armed with options, Cubs banking on Cashner

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Armed with options, Cubs banking on Cashner

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011
6:25 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs didn't plan their entire off-season around Andrew Cashner, but many ideas are bounced off his potential.

They sold their 2008 first-round pick to reporters as part of a larger youth movement. They used him in marketing and promotional materials directed at fans. They refused to include him in the package for Matt Garza.

Growing up in Texas, Cashner loved watching two pitchers in particular - Nolan Ryan and Kerry Wood. The below-market deal that Wood signed last month to come home gives the Cubs another clubhouse leader, and the flexibility to move Cashner out of the eighth inning.

After 15 years in the minors, Mark Riggins was probably due for another shot. But the new Cubs pitching coach also got the job in part because of the relationship he developed with Cashner as the minor-league coordinator (and as someone who also likes duck hunting in the winter).

Clearly the Cubs are invested in Cashner's future and will give him every chance to succeed as the front-line starter they think he can become.

The 24-year-old is confident, but not cocky, with a right arm that can throw a baseball 100 mph. He is thoughtful and accommodating with the media, but rarely strays off message.

If moving back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation stunted Jeff Samardzija's development - as some have suggested - then Cashner still doesn't care. He just wants to pitch in the big leagues.

Manager Mike Quade will have plenty of obligations at this weekend's Cubs Convention, but he will find time to reconnect with his players. Quade earned points for the way he defined roles and handled his bullpen late last season.

And Quade will need his communication skills across the next several weeks, because after Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Garza, there could be seven pitchers competing for two spots in the rotation.

"I don't get too worked up early on because, bang, all of a sudden, you blink, it's changed," Quade said Wednesday at Harry Caray's downtown. "Now you've got two additions that have specific roles (in Garza and Wood) and they've earned them, (so) the kids (are) in flux. The idea that you can never have enough pitching is huge. We got a pretty good group coming to camp, so we'll see how the back end looks as it shakes out."

The Cubs are hoping that Carlos Silva will overcome his various injuries. They know that Samardzija is out of minor-league options. They think that 23-year-old Casey Coleman (4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in eight starts) could continue where he left off last season.

They are considering stretching out James Russell, because he has four pitches and they are already stacked with left-handers in the bullpen: Sean Marshall, who no longer has the same desire to start; John Grabow, who's said to be healthy; and Scott Maine, who impressed last September.

All these moves are related and could impact what the Cubs do with Tom Gorzelanny and Randy Wells. Gorzelanny is 28, left-handed and eligible for arbitration, a combination that could make him an attractive trading chip.

Wells - who says he's quit drinking and insists that he was never out partying with the Blackhawks hours before a start last summer - should have a better handle on things in his third season as a Cub.

"I know how special it is to win in this town and help them win a championship," Wells said. "I want to be a part of it. I don't want to be the guy that misses out on it by a year by being selfish or something like that. So (I'll) do anything to help."

It will certainly be an interesting conversation if Zambrano doesn't get to make his seventh consecutive start on Opening Day. Quade, who lives in Bradenton, Fla., during the off-season, heard all about Garza last week on Tampa talk radio. The manager says he has no idea who will be starting April 1 at Wrigley Field.

"What I know is I've got three great pitchers to choose from," Quade said. "There are too many variables (now), but there's no question that Garza's in the mix. We'll take a look at Z and Demp and see where we go with that."

Ultimately, whether or not the Cubs can hang in the National League Central could come down to the depth of their rotation. Cashner and Russell are moving out to Arizona next week to prepare for a spring training that won't be about the experience of being in a big-league clubhouse this time.

Cashner hasn't really had to change his routine - 39 of his 43 minor-league appearances came as a starter - and if he performs he could make this decision very easy for the organization.

"I can only control my spot," Cashner said, "and I'm going to give it my best shot."

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor 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.