Cubs lean on Dempster as the face of franchise

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Cubs lean on Dempster as the face of franchise

Thursday, March 31, 2011
Posted: 5:14 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Its hard to remember now, because you can see his image on the front of the building, next to the Wrigley Field marquee. But Ryan Dempster was essentially damaged goods when he first signed with the Cubs.

Dempster hadnt yet turned 27 and he was already on his fourth organization. He was almost six months removed from Tommy John surgery by January 2004. It would have been difficult to envision him as he is today the face of the franchise.

But at 1:20 p.m. on Friday, Dempster will stand on the mound at Clark and Addison as a billboard for everything the Cubs are trying to project. He is a family man, a trusted teammate, a good citizen and lets not forget their most reliable pitcher.

There is the Opening Day assignment against the Pirates. But April 1 also marks the second birthday of Dempsters daughter, Riley, who has battled DiGeorge syndrome, a developmental disorder that impacted her ability to swallow. It will be time for the family to reflect.

Shes come a long way in two years, man, thats for sure, Dempster said. Its been pretty special to watch what shes been able to do and do for other people. It will be a fun day.

On a cold December night, Dempster and his wife, Jenny, hosted a fundraiser for their charitable foundation inside a Lakeview pizza joint. There Kerry Wood and general manager Jim Hendry reconnected hours after Ron Santos funeral.

Before leaving, each went up to Dempster separately and essentially said the same thing: If hes serious, Im serious. The 1.5 million deal to make Wood a Cub for life was in sight.

Dempster never carried the same weight of expectations as Wood once did, but hes also grown up before our eyes.

All about winning

Dempster will turn 34 in May and has reached that point in his life where hes become almost corporate. When ESPN visited Fitch Park during spring training, he climbed aboard the bus and did his impression of Matt Foley, Chris Farleys old character on Saturday Night Live. But that wacky side isnt seen as often anymore.

Im a husband and father of three now. I find that a lot of my free time is with them, Dempster said. My little guys not even five yet and he does his little Harry Caray in the backseat its pretty funny. (But) there is definitely greater responsibility as you get older. I leave that up to the younger guys now to have that kind of fun.

The work is its own reward. Dempster keeps himself in excellent physical condition and has accounted for at least 31 starts and 200 innings in each of the past three seasons. But personal numbers dont consume him.

Dempster volunteered to defer part of his 12.5 million base salary last year so that the Cubs could add another player. Though its believed that he was paid the entire sum in 2010, the offer said everything about his priorities.

I was just going to get the money one way or another, said Dempster, who seemed reluctant to talk about it. It just seemed like if we needed a little bit extra, (then) you give me mine a little bit later and help the team get a little bit better.

It didnt quite work out like we were supposed to. But I think you see that with guys as you get older. You (just) want to win. When youre younger you want to win, too, but youre trying to establish yourself in your career. As you get older, really the only thing that matters is winning a World Series.

Risk-reward

That focus doesnt surprise Hendry, who never viewed Dempster as a risk. As a high school kid in British Columbia, Dempster once signed with Notre Dame to play for Paul Mainieri, one of Hendrys best friends and the current LSU coach.

The Cubs knew Dempster had a strong family background and would bring intangibles to the clubhouse.

When you take chances on people that (are) coming off injuries, Hendry said, the work ethic and character of the guy plays huge. (We) liked him as a pitcher before he got hurt, and we knew enough about him as a man that he was certainly worth taking a gamble on.

The Rangers chose Dempster in the third round of the 1995 draft and he never wound up playing for Notre Dame. He turned pro in every sense of the word.

Pitchers on other teams are jokingly called punters, because they are viewed as specialists, situational players completely divorced from the daily rhythms of the game.

But theres no doubt that Dempster has become a team leader, the veteran that young pitchers model themselves after.

In Arizona Dempster led a group of teammates on a hike up Camelback Mountain. And one free afternoon he finished playing Xbox with James Russell and suggested that they get off the couch and drive over to Tempe to watch Cubs-Angels in the rain. No one does that in the Cactus League.

You got to keep it fun and relaxed, Russell said. Thats what Ryan does so well. (For) four days hes joking around, having a good time. (But) when its his fifth day, you see him (and) its like a different person.

The future

Even with a higher public profile, Dempster still shows that Canadian sense of humor. After a recent start in Arizona, a reporter mentioned how Matt Garza likes to work on different pitches in spring training. Dempster was asked if he also likes to experiment.

I try to stay away from that kind of stuff, Dempster said. Oh, youre talking about baseball.

Dempster said he hasnt decided what hell do with his 14 million player option for 2012. The Cubs love the joy Dempster takes out of competing, how his work habits impact the rest of the clubhouse. But they also felt the same way about Ted Lilly, and hell be wearing a Dodgers uniform this season.

Id like to play here and win here, Dempster said. (Ill) just keep going out and doing my job. Wherever the cards fall, they fall. (I) dont really care to go anywhere (else but) thats a long ways down the road.

Its a business that Dempster tries to remember as a kids game. It's clear he wants to stay on the North Side. How much longer does he want to pitch?

Until I cant get anybody out anymore, Dempster said. What am I going to do? Work?

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

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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