Cubs still waiting on final roster answers

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Cubs still waiting on final roster answers

Thursday, March 24, 2011Posted: 1:15 p.m. Updated: 4:24 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Mike Quade loves the ponies and spent four years managing Triple-A Iowa. This has the feel of a Des Moines caucus, and is being covered like a political horse race.

Its all whos up, whos down and whos surging ahead that day. A week out from Opening Day, the Cubs are putting the finishing touches on their roster, but delaying the major decisions on their pitching staff until the weekend.

Heres what we know: Jeff Baker and Darwin Barney have made claims on the second-base job by hitting above .350 and with their steady defensive play. Reed Johnson a 34-year-old veteran valued for his experience and clubhouse presence will be the fifth outfielder.

Phase 1 is done, Barney said. Im breaking with the Chicago Cubs. Its pretty amazing. Now the focus is on the team its on winning.

The Cubs appreciate Barneys intangibles he won the College World Series twice at Oregon State University and the 25-year-old represents another player drafted and developed by the organization.

Blake DeWitt has essentially made the team, but will again start working at third base an idea the Cubs had resisted and transition into more of a utility role. The 25-year-old has struggled at the plate (.167) and there are concerns about his range and ability to turn the double play at second base.

You still got to perform, Quade said. I can be as excited as I want about the possibilities of Blake DeWitt getting better and having a better season than he has this spring. If I didnt believe that, he wouldnt be on the club.

But suddenly (Baker and Barney) are making a case for themselves. And so now versatility becomes as important as anything.

The picture became clearer on Thursday when the Cubs optioned outfielder Fernando Perez to Triple-A Iowa and sent infielders Bobby Scales, Scott Moore, Augie Ojeda and Matt Camp to minor-league camp.

Perez was included in the Matt Garza deal and the Cubs would like to see him develop in Iowa. He turns 28 next month and has unbelievable speed but needs to improve his jumps and the angles he takes in the outfield.

Besides, the Cubs were already comfortable with Johnson, who made many friends during his first tour on the North Side (2008-09). Fans loved his reckless style and enjoyed watching him dive at the wall.

Johnson feels like he has rediscovered his swing after working closely with Rudy Jaramillo. Johnson remembers that the hitting coach basically turned around Mark DeRosas career in Texas.

Johnson signed a minor-league deal in January because he was so familiar with the organization. But he also noticed how non-roster players are on their own schedules and even take their drug tests at a different time.

Youre given all those constant reminders. (You) try to forget about it but stay focused, Johnson said. About a week to 10 days ago was really where I just put the confidence in myself (to say): Hey, Im going to make this team. And thats the way its going to be.

Yet the biggest question remains: Who becomes the fifth starter?

Andrew Cashner will start Saturday against the Rangers and try to eliminate Carlos Silva from consideration.

Silva had the best outing of any candidate on Wednesday one run in six innings but his spring ERA is still 10.90. There are concerns about how engaged and effective Silva will be for an entire season.

Cashner has a guaranteed spot on the roster and proved himself as a major-league reliever last season and could be another weapon in what looks like a very good bullpen. It has to be tempting to consider that possibility.

No temptation at all right now, Quade said, because that would do us no good if Im running him out there as a starter and not taking that seriously, or all of a sudden on the basis of four or five starts abandoning this completely.

The only time that Ill consider the other side of it is when his success as a starter or lack thereof has come to the point where we need to talk about whats best for him and the club. But right now I think we continue to let him pitch and let this play out.

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

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."