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.

Wade Davis trade would give Cubs a proven October closer

Wade Davis trade would give Cubs a proven October closer

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Cubs are reportedly moving closer toward acquiring Wade Davis — an All-Star closer who’s already notched the final out of the World Series — in a deal with the Kansas City Royals that would involve outfielder Jorge Soler.

The Cubs are making pitching their top priority this week at the winter meetings as they build out the team that will defend the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years. If healthy, Davis would provide exactly the kind of late-game force the Cubs were looking for when they checked into the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C.

At a time when Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen are looking to smash the record contract the San Francisco Giants just gave Mark Melancon (four years, $62 million), the Cubs could stay flexible for the future and mitigate risk with Davis, who will make $10 million in 2017 and can become a free agent after that season.

“We’re still talking about a lot of things,” manager Joe Maddon said before the Davis reports surfaced late Tuesday night. “We’re always looking to augment bullpens. Bullpens are so different on an annual basis. And I think every organization — especially after this (postseason) — is looking to reinvent their bullpens in different ways.”

The Royals had been at the forefront of that movement, using Davis as part of a deep, powerful bullpen that helped them shorten games and win back-to-back American League pennants and the 2015 World Series.

Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays teams originally groomed Davis as a starter before flipping him to the Royals as part of the blockbuster James Shields/Wil Myers deal in December 2012.

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Davis blossomed in Kansas City, putting up ridiculous numbers as a setup guy/closer. He allowed zero homers in 2014 (1.00 ERA) and 2016 (1.87 ERA) and gave up only three in 2015 (0.94 ERA). During that time, he piled up 234 strikeouts against 59 walks in 182 2/3 innings. He has a 0.84 ERA in 32 1/3 career postseason innings.

Davis, 31, dealt with a strained right forearm this year, but injuries have been a recurring issue for Soler, who would be getting squeezed for playing time even when healthy at Wrigley Field.

The Cuban outfielder has shown flashes of his enormous potential since signing a $30 million contract in the summer of 2012. But Soler (.762 career OPS) looks more like a designated hitter who might benefit from a change of scenery to help unlock some of those physical gifts.

Soler still hasn’t turned 25 yet — or come close to playing a full season in the big leagues — but this is why the Cubs stockpiled so many hitters and prepared to make trades for pitching.

Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop almost disappeared during the playoffs, though the Cubs think that can be largely written off as late-season injuries and issues of timing and sharpness. The Cubs believe in Carl Edwards Jr. but still had to carefully manage his innings and appearances during his rookie season.

This wouldn’t necessarily stop with Davis, either. The Cubs plan to give Maddon some shiny new toys in the bullpen.

The second-guessing follows Joe Maddon from World Series to winter meetings

The second-guessing follows Joe Maddon from World Series to winter meetings

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — At least 10 cameras lined up in a cramped corner of a huge hotel ballroom to capture Joe Maddon’s media session late Tuesday afternoon. For almost six minutes, reporters fired off Game 7 questions as the Cubs manager explained his thinking during the World Series.

And then a beat writer abruptly switched topics and asked who would hit leadoff once Dexter Fowler is gone.

“I don’t know, that’s a really good question,” Maddon said. “We’ve talked. There are some brilliant people standing around me right now.”

For a moment, Maddon sounded a little annoyed and defensive during Day 2 of the winter meetings. But the guy who designed “The Process is Fearless” T-shirts will point to the results from that instant classic against the Cleveland Indians.

“It’s fascinating to me regarding the second-guessing, because the only reality I know is that we won,” Maddon said at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C.

“We have oftentimes in the past talked about ‘outcome bias.’ Or if people would anticipate, had you done something differently, would it have turned out better?

“But better than winning — I don’t know what that is.”

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There won’t be enough space on Maddon’s Hall of Fame plaque to bullet-point all the twists and turns during those 10 innings in Cleveland, how he pulled Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks in the fifth and brought $155 million reliever Jon Lester into the game with a runner on base, a situation the Cubs wanted to avoid, in case that triggered the yips.

Maddon wrote off Aroldis Chapman giving up a game-tying, two-run homer to Rajai Davis in the eighth inning as a matter of location — not velocity — even though the closer wound up throwing 97 pitches in Games 5, 6 and 7 combined.

If anything, Maddon might have to do more of the convincing within his own clubhouse. Jason Heyward watched from third base as the manager ordered Javier Baez to bunt on a 3-2 count in the ninth inning and felt compelled to call a players-only meeting inside a Progressive Field weight room during the 17-minute rain delay.

“You can’t control the narrative when the game is in progress,” Maddon said. “I’ve talked about the barroom banter. And I definitely know that I was able to fill up — based on my decision-making in that game — a lot of barroom banter throughout the Chicago area, or nationally, internationally.

“But the point is, when you work a game like that, there’s not an eighth game. There’s only a seventh game. Everything that you saw us do that night, I planned out before the game ever began and felt really strongly about it — and still do.

“Just take away one hit by Davis, it worked out pretty darn well. But then you have to give our guys credit for the way we withstood the onslaught and eventually won the game.”

Ultimately, an 8-7 victory ended the 108-year drought, meaning Maddon should someday have his own spot in Cooperstown.

Instead of taking a public victory lap — the way his players have celebrated on “Saturday Night Live” and the talk-show circuit — Maddon went into decompression mode. Maddon bought a Dodge Challenger Hellcat muscle car, saw “Hamilton” on Broadway and partied at the Zeta Psi fraternity house for the Lafayette-Lehigh football game at his old stomping grounds in Pennsylvania.

Without Maddon, the Cubs don’t win 97 games and two playoff rounds last year, which opened the floodgates for nearly $290 million to spend on free agents. But after “Embrace The Target,” Maddon will have to come up with a new message for the 2017 Cubs, a group that might find some of his tactics a little old.

“You still want to ‘Try Not To Suck,’ but you can’t wear that out,” Maddon said. “I really feel confident. I like our group a lot. If you look at our core group and what we did last year — the youth, the inexperience turning into experience, the authenticity of our players — I want to believe (in) the humility of our players.

“All those things (are) what I’m going to rely on. That’s going to permit us — beyond our skill abilities — (to) be good for a period of time.”