Chicago Cubs

Cubs ownership could be open to Pujols deal

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Cubs ownership could be open to Pujols deal

Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011
Posted 11:39 a.m. Updated 6:53 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. More than 2,000 miles away, Albert Pujols casts his shadow over this entire camp. It is the baseball story that will not go away until he signs his next contract.

The Cubs hadnt gone through their first full-squad workout yet and wont play a meaningful game for another six weeks but there was chairman Tom Ricketts on Saturday morning at Fitch Park, deflecting questions about the best player of this generation.

All I know is what I read in the paper," Ricketts said before addressing the team. "I guess it just has to sit until the end of the season.

Pujols broke off extension talks this week as soon as he reported to Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Fla. Though his representation has said that theyll revisit negotiations once the season ends, it looks increasingly likely that he will hit free agency.

Ricketts once again voiced confidence in general manager Jim Hendry, but theres a belief that approval for the type of deal Pujols seeks would have to come from the ownership level. The Cubs chairman has also specifically mentioned that he would like the front office to become smarter in how it structures contracts.

Im not sure there are parameters that are officially set, Ricketts said. But well be open-minded to what we think is best for the team when that comes up.

In listening to Ricketts across the 16 months since his family purchased the team from Tribune Co., its clear that he believes in statistical analysis and the player-development system. The philosophy isnt unique to Ricketts, but he believes a contracts length is more troubling than its average annual value.

Anyone in baseball would say the length of the deal is often a bigger problem than the amount of dollars, Ricketts said. You have to be very careful if youre going to sign one of those longer deals. If youre going to take a guy on for seven, eight, nine years, you better make sure thats the guy you want.

The Cardinals reportedly discussed a Pujols deal that would be around 200 million for eight years and include a potential ownership stake in the club.

After this season, the Cubs will be shedding several big contracts worth approximately 40 million. First baseman Carlos Pena is using this as a platform year to launch himself back into the free-agent market. The noise wont be turned down any time soon.

How many major-leaguers are there? Like 300? Aramis Ramirez said. If you ask all of them, everybody wants Pujols on their team. But at the same time you got to respect we got Carlos Pena here.

Pujols could retire tomorrow and still be a certain Hall of Famer. But he will be 32 next season and its fair to wonder how his body will hold up through 2020. One freak injury could be crippling to a franchise.

This is just all just speculation. It will be a guessing game right to the moment Pujols holds up his jersey at a press conference in November or December, announcing what might be the biggest deal in baseball history.

Theres going to be a little more financial flexibility at the end of the season than weve had in years past, Ricketts said. Well have to assess the situation when we get there and see whats available.

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

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Joe Maddon looked back on the perfect baseball storm that hit the Tampa Bay Rays and played all the greatest hits for local reporters, waxing poetic about the banners hanging inside Tropicana Field, stumping for a new stadium on the other side of the Gandy Bridge, telling Don Zimmer stories, namedropping Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and riffing on sabermetrics and information buckets.

But the moment of clarity came in the middle of a media session that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon sitting up on stage in what felt like the locker room at an old CYO gym: “We only got really good because the players got really good.”

There’s no doubt the Cubs have the talent to go along with all the other big-market advantages the Rays could only dream about as the have-nots in the American League East. Now it looks like the defending champs have finally got rid of the World Series hangover, playing with the urgency and pitch-to-pitch focus that had been lacking at times and will be needed again in October.    

Maddon essentially admitted it after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory, watching his team beat Chris Archer and work together on a one-hitter that extended the winning streak to seven games and kept the Milwaukee Brewers 3.5 games back in the National League Central.

“You’re really seeing them try to execute in moments,” Maddon said. “When they come back and they don’t get it done, it’s not like they’re angry. But you can just see they’re disappointed in themselves.

“Their mental energy is probably at an all-season-high right now.”

Six days after the Cubs moved him to the bullpen, lefty swingman Mike Montgomery took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay’s No. 9 hitter (Brad Miller) drove a ball over the center-field wall. Maddon then went to the relievers he will trust in October – Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Wade Davis – with the All-Star closer striking out the side in the ninth inning and remaining perfect in save opportunities (32-for-32) as a Cub.       

“We want to go out there and prove every day that we’re the best team in baseball,” said Kyle Schwarber, the designated hitter who launched Archer’s 96-mph fastball into the right-center field seats for his 28th home run in the second inning. “The way our guys are just going out there and competing, it’s really good to see, especially this time of year. It’s getting to crunch time, and we just got to keep this same pace that we’re going at.

“Don’t worry about things around us. Just keep our heads down, keep worrying about the game and go from there.”     

In what’s been a season-long victory lap, Maddon couldn’t help looking back when the sound system started playing The Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations” echoed throughout the domed stadium, a tribute running on the video board and a crowd of 25,046 giving him a standing ovation.

“It was cool,” Maddon said. “I forgot about the bird, the cockatoo, I can’t remember the name. Really a cool bird. I told (my wife) Jaye I wanted one of those for a while. But then again, she gets stuck taking care of them.

“I was just thinking about all the things we did. You forget sometimes that snake. I think her name was Francine, like a 19-year-old, 20-footer. And then the penguin on my chair. You forget all the goofy stuff you did. But you can see how much fun everybody had.

“I appreciated it. They showed all my pertinent highlights. There’s none actually as a player. It’s primarily as a zookeeper.”

But within the last week, you can see the Cubs getting more serious, concentrating on their at-bats and nailing their pitches. There is internal competition for roster spots and playing time in the postseason, when Maddon becomes ruthless and doesn’t care at all about making friends. This just might be another perfect storm.

Montgomery – who notched the final out in the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 – put it this way: “I feel ready for anything after how this year’s gone.” 

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Are the Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 against the Washington Nationals?

“I’m not even anywhere near that,” manager Joe Maddon said during Tuesday’s pregame media session with the Chicago media, immediately shifting his focus back to the decisions he would have to make that night – how hard to push catcher Willson Contreras coming off the disabled list, what the Cubs would get out of lefty Mike Montgomery, how the bullpen sets up – against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Players can do that kind of stuff. I don’t think managers can. Honestly, I don’t want to say I don’t care about that. I just don’t worry about that, because there’s nothing to worry about yet. Because first of all, he’s got to be well when he pitches, too.”

Arrieta had just completed a throwing session at Tropicana Field and declared himself ready to face the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. That would be the Cy Young Award winner’s first start since suffering a Grade 1 right hamstring strain on Labor Day. It would set him up to face the St. Louis Cardinals next week at Busch Stadium and start Game 162 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

“The plan is to be out there Thursday,” said Arrieta, who would be limited to 75-80 pitches against the Brewers and build from there, trying to recapture what made him the National League pitcher of the month for August. “The good thing is the arm strength is there – it’s remained there – and I actually feel better for maybe having a little bit of time off.

“The idea is to be able to be out there the last game against Cincinnati – pretty much at full pitch count – and to be ready for the playoffs.”

Five days after that would be the beginning of the NL divisional round and what could be a classic playoff series between the defending champs and Dusty Baker’s Nationals. The Cubs started Jon Lester in Game 1 for all three playoff rounds during last year’s World Series run and their $155 million ace could open a Washington series with an extra day of rest.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about that now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We have a lot of work to do, and those would be the guys that would help get us there in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to get into that situation, you’d just use all the factors. You guys all know – who’s going the best, who matches up the best, the most experienced – and we figure it out and go from there. But we’re still a good ways away from figuring that one out.”