Cubs need Soto to come back even stronger

Cubs need Soto to come back even stronger

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Posted: 9:12 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

HOUSTON The look Carlos Zambrano gave Geovany Soto said it all: What are you doing here?

To the 40,000 fans at Wrigley Field and everyone watching at home it appeared as if the Cubs were discussing strategy on the mound. This was 2008 late in Sotos Rookie of the Year campaign and already he had a sense of the moment and a gift for putting people at ease.

The catcher didnt plan it. He just started moving his mouth without making any actual sounds.

I had nothing to say to him, Soto recalled. I just wanted to go out there and calm him down. I just didnt know how to. So I (figured): Let me see if he can laugh at this.

Soto hasnt used the mime trick again, but he will have to be creative as the Cubs try to weather the storm and keep their pitching staff together after the injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner.

Sotos job is to keep Zambrano focused and get Matt Garza up to speed on the National Leagues hitters.

Its on Soto to prepare James Russell for his first big-league start and guide three relievers Jeff Samardzija, Jeff Stevens and Marcos Mateo who combined have a little more than a year of major-league service time.

Theres Soto blocking another darting slider from Carlos Marmol with the game on the line.

(Geos) awesome, Wells said. Hes constantly (chatting). You always feel like hes in the game and you always feel like hes out there with your best interests in mind.

Soto has earned the pitchers respect by doing his homework, gathering as much information as he can each day. You cant buy those relationships or his status in the clubhouse.

As much as anyone, the 28-year-old Soto is a billboard for the organizations player-development model, an infielder signed out of Puerto Rico and converted into an All-Star catcher.

Welington Castillo, the systems 23-year-old catching prospect, has looked promising. But with another big season, Soto could be in line to talk about an extension that would buy out his two remaining years of arbitration.

Soto has already gone through what Cashner, Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro are facing as second-year players. There will be increased expectations and demands on their time. The novelty will begin to wear off.

Its a learning process, Soto said. (You) take the positive stuff out learn the lesson so you dont make the same mistakes.

Soto answered any lingering questions about his maturity last season by generating 17 homers, 53 RBI and an .890 OPS that led all catchers in the majors with at least 300 at-bats.

But his impact goes beyond the box score, as a patient hitter who sees a lot of pitches and will no doubt produce more than the .182 average he woke up with on Tuesday morning.

A 6-foot-1-inch, 218-pound man who has dealt with some weight issues in the past even moves well on the bases.

Ive said this for years and people laugh at me but one of the best baserunners on this club is my catcher, manager Mike Quade said. He gets great secondary leads. He has good instincts. (You) watch a deep fly ball to right-center that may or may not be caught and instinctively hes at the bag and ready to roll.

Quade once managed Soto at Triple-A Iowa and thinks the catcher is throwing as well as he has in years.

Thats a byproduct of the shoulder surgery he underwent last September. This is usually when he would start to feel roughed up after the long spring training and the grind of getting used to playing again every day.

In one answer, Soto described the feeling in his right arm as great, unbelievable and awesome.

That attitude is why teammates are drawn to Soto. They listen, even when he doesnt say anything.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for 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.