Cubs second-base question will be open-ended

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Cubs second-base question will be open-ended

Thursday, March 11, 2011Posted: 8:30 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

PHOENIX The Cubs are two weeks away from Opening Day and everyone wants to know what Mike Quade will do with the rotation, how his lineup will fall and who will play second base.

The daily speculation misses a larger point about the Cubs manager. Quade wouldnt have reached this point if he was inflexible. He wouldnt have survived 17 seasons managing in the minors if he couldnt adapt to his surroundings. He kept his dream job because of how he handled his personnel.

The thing about Q is he knows youre going to need all 25 guys, Jeff Baker said. He made it very clear that hes going to keep everyone involved.

With so many jobs already decided at this point in camp, second base is one of the final frontiers where the media can second-guess Quade. The Cubs are not about to trade for Michael Young. They like their internal options in Baker and Blake DeWitt.

Quades position is that both deserve a serious look and will get opportunities. In the end, he says, Players usually make those decisions for you.

Baker turns 30 this summer and realizes how quickly you age in this game.

He was an All-American at Clemson University and rose quickly through the Rockies system. He was given 299 at-bats in Colorado in 2008 and hit .268 with 12 homers and 48 RBI. He doesnt want to only face left-handers in Chicago.

Obviously, Id like to be an everyday guy, Baker said. Everyone in here wants to do that. No one aspires to be a utility bench guy. But at the same time, if thats what my job is, Ill go out there and try to do it well.

Baker, whose father is a retired U.S. Army colonel, was born in West Germany and grew up all around the world. He makes friends quickly and moves easily through the various groups in the clubhouse. He wont complain and will do whatever he can to help DeWitt, a former Dodgers first-round pick with something to prove.

Greg Maddux the front-office assistant who once played with DeWitt in Los Angeles recommended him in the Ted LillyRyan Theriot deal last summer. DeWitt is only 25 and serious about his craft. The Cubs believe he has potential to grow offensively, especially through his work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

Im going to give it everything I have every day, DeWitt said. If that turns into 400, 500 (at-bats), whatever, it doesnt matter to me concentrate on winning and the rest will take care of itself.

DeWitt is hitting .171 this spring, while Baker is at .394. Quade prides himself on being someone who looks inside the numbers, but he doesnt even have to do that to know thats not a big enough sample size.

Good teams always have players that exceed expectations and their career numbers. Maybe the Cubs will hit on a second baseman, but that position will not make or break the season. That depends more on Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and what looks like an improved bullpen.

Between 2004 and January 2012, the Cubs will have paid Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena close to 184 million combined. They invested their money in corner infielders, not to mention the outlay for Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome.

Baker and DeWitt fit this team at this moment. Since Ryne Sandbergs last game in 1997, the Cubs have used seven different starting second basemen on Opening Day in the past 14 years. We know it wont be Mike Fontenot again on April 1.

Until then, the questions will keep coming. Will Soriano have a bounce-back year? Can Starlin Castro hit leadoff? How good can Geovany Soto be? The answers will be revealed across the next six months.

This lineup is evolving, Quade said. Maybe I accidentally put a lineup out there that just wears the baseball out and I dont have to change. But I think that realistically well have to mix and match and then performance matters.

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

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”