Cubs and Zambrano: Same as it ever was?

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Cubs and Zambrano: Same as it ever was?

Monday, Feb. 14, 2011Posted: 10:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Zambrano would often strut around the clubhouse last season wearing his T-shirt from the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. It felt like an old high school quarterback still wearing his varsity jacket years after the Friday nights lights were turned off.

A few teammates watched in amusement on Monday morning as the media gathered around his locker at Fitch Park, three or four deep, waiting to see if Zambrano would grant them an audience.

Zambrano is a great headline. But at this point, even he acknowledges that it doesnt really matter what he tells the cameras. Actions will speak louder.

I want to do more on the field than talk, he said. I dont want to say anything this year. I talk with my numbers.

The Cubs hadnt even begun their first official workout for pitchers and catchers and already it was time to dissect the latest state of Zambrano address, which lasted almost 11 minutes.

Zambrano revealed the most in what he didnt say. There were none of the clichd story lines you read about in spring training. He didnt boast about being in the best shape of his life, or worry about how his family perceives his tantrums, or claim to be a changed man.

Zambrano doesnt want to discuss the past (though he was scheduled to do a sit-down interview with ESPN). Mostly real and sometimes imagined, he can see the negative angles in questions.

Lets talk about this year, he said. I never talk about last year, what happened in the past. I want to talk about the good team that we have. I want to focus on this year and be a better player, a better pitcher. Thats what everybodys looking forward to.

Whether or not 2010 will go down as a turning point in Zambranos career, it will be remembered for the failed bullpen experiment, his confrontation with Derrek Lee, the suspension and anger-management treatment. It nearly overshadowed an 8-0 mark with a 1.41 ERA in his final 11 starts.

Mike Quades musical tastes run toward Led Zeppelin, and the manager doesnt want to completely turn down the volume on Zambrano and shut off his passions. Quade referenced a Rush lyric, freeze this moment, in describing the relative calm that came over the 29-year-old near the end of last season.

I would take that finish for six weeks and take the six months right now, Quade said. Book it who wouldnt? But thats an ongoing thing for Z and his development as an older (pitcher) learning what hes going to have to do body-wise, man-wise, all that stuff. Were all making adjustments. Were all getting older, (but) he looked like a young guy those last six weeks and I believe hes motivated.

Zambrano said he still loves playing in Chicago, which does mean something, because he has a no-trade clause in his 91.5 million contract. He said he isnt going anywhere, but added if I go to another team, Chicago will always be in my heart.

It would be far less interesting without him, because he can still make everyone smile with his one-liners.

Do you have anything to prove?

No, no, no. I leave that for the rookies.

What about the competition for the last two spots in the rotation?

Thats not my problem. Ill be there.

Of course, he said, I want to be the Opening Day starter, but its up to Quade, the man who really has to interpret Zambrano and his moods.

Hes more introspective than people realize, Quade said, especially when hes not toeing the rubber. Reflection is a great thing for all of us. Hes the only one that can address that specifically. Im not a psychiatrist or a psychologist. But you couldnt help appreciate the way he finished. That tells you a lot about somebody.

Thats the guy Im going to remember and thats the guy Im looking for.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

If Nationals are playoff preview, what should Cubs do at trade deadline?

If Nationals are playoff preview, what should Cubs do at trade deadline?

WASHINGTON – Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio has perspective after sitting through the darkest days of the rebuild, the sign-and-flip cycles and moments like “Men Playing Against Boys,” the way ex-manager Dale Sveum once sized up the team during a 2012 series against the Washington Nationals.

Bosio trusted future “World’s Greatest Leader” Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and the rest of a growing front office would deliver talent during the 101-loss season that led to the Kris Bryant No. 2 overall draft pick and the Ryan Dempster/Kyle Hendricks buzzer-beater deal at the trade deadline.   

So while Bosio is a hardened realist who understands the banged-up Cubs haven’t played up to their potential, he also knows these are first-division problems. 

“If Theo and Jed can find a way to make our team better, you can bet they’re going to do it,” Bosio said. “But at the same time, they’re not going to sacrifice our future. They know that the team (here has) a lot of holdovers from the World Series club. There’s a lot of holdovers from the team that went to the National League (Championship Series in 2015). We’ve been through that. And when it comes crunch time, we produce.”

With that in mind, a look at where things stand five weeks out from the July 31 trade deadline as the defending champs begin a potential playoff preview on Monday at Nationals Park:

• If Max Scherzer flirts with another no-hitter or a 20-strikeout game on Tuesday, the questions will start all over again about adding a hitter. Javier Baez even let this slip over the weekend after a win over the Miami Marlins: “Pretty much not having a leadoff guy right now is kind of tough.” But shipping Kyle Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa is not necessarily the start of an offensive overhaul.

“Our focus is going to be on pitching,” Hoyer said. “I would never say never to something like that, because I don’t know what’s going to present itself as we get closer to the deadline. I will say this: When it comes to our offense, I really do see it as these are our guys. We’re as deep with position players as any team in baseball. These guys have performed exceptionally well. Most of these guys have won 200 games over the last two years.

“We believe in them for a reason. We don’t have rings on our fingers without all these guys.”

• With Jake Arrieta and John Lackey on the verge of becoming free agents, the Cubs feel like they should start working on their winter plans this summer and begin remodeling the rotation. The 38-37 record makes you wonder how ultra-aggressive the front office will be to win a bidding war for a frontline starter, but the Cubs are only 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, a first-place team for now that was supposed to be rebuilding this year.   

But the Cleveland Indians got to the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 with Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Ryan Merritt making nine playoff starts combined, because they had Corey Kluber and a dynamic bullpen.

The primary focus will have to be on the rotation, but adding another high-leverage reliever to work in front of lights-out closer Wade Davis would shorten games and help preserve Carl Edwards Jr. (170 pounds) and Koji Uehara (42 years old).   

“At some point, you’re going to assess your own team,” Hoyer said. “Sometimes strengthening a strength can work. You see teams that sometimes have a good offense – and add another good hitter – and all of a sudden we’re going to beat you in a different way.”

• Without making this summer’s blockbuster deal for a closer – the way the Cubs landed Aroldis Chapman – Washington risks wasting Bryce Harper’s second-to-last season before free agency and another year of Scherzer’s $210 million megadeal.

Six different Nationals have saved games for a 45-30 team and the bullpen ranks near the bottom of the majors with a 4.88 ERA. Can’t blame that on Dusty Baker, who has notched more than 1,800 wins as a manager and guided four different franchises to the playoffs.

But it won’t be easy to find a quick fix for the Washington bullpen or Cubs rotation. The American League opened for business on Monday with only three of its 15 teams more than three games under .500, and one being the White Sox, who are (obviously) not seen as a realistic trade partner for the Cubs.

“The American League is incredibly jumbled up,” Hoyer said. “That’s why a lot of deals don’t happen this time of year, because people are still sorting it out. The next five weeks of baseball will determine a lot of that. Some of those teams that are in the race now will fall back.

“There’s a lack of teams right now that have a true sense of sellers. I think there are a lot of teams right now that are close enough that they’re not going to admit it that they’re going to be sellers. That five weeks will determine a lot about who ends up on which side of the fence.”

Preview: Cubs-Nationals Monday on CSN

Preview: Cubs-Nationals Monday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Washington Nationals on Monday, and you can catch all the action on CSN and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Monday’s starting pitching matchup: Eddie Butler (3-2, 4.19 ERA) vs. Gio Gonzalez (7-1, 2.96 ERA)

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