Cubs think big: Going deep with Carlos Pena

409370.jpg

Cubs think big: Going deep with Carlos Pena

Saturday, April 2, 2011
Posted: 1:23 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com
The white board at the front of the Cubs clubhouse on Saturday morning listed all the details, from game time (12:05) to when pitchers stretch (10:45) and position players hit in the cage (11).

It also had a little Zen philosophy written on the right side, which almost seemed out of place in a room where Jay-Zs rap music was bumping from the speakers.

You cant see the rising sun if your eyes are fixed on the setting one. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, thats why it is called present. Conquer the now!

This was less than 24 hours after an Opening Day loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Carlos Pena did not want to take credit or responsibility for those words. Technically, a clubhouse attendant wrote it in black erasable marker.

But it sums up Penas worldview. Hes been traded twice, released twice and is now working for his seventh team.

Im talking about every cell in your body, Pena said, detaching yourself from the past and detaching yourself from the future and focus on the now. I know that there is extreme power in that.

Sometimes when we try to take too much on, maybe carry some baggage from the past, (or) start thinking too far ahead into the future, then all of a sudden (were) absent from the present moment. If all of us take (the) attitude where were here today 100 percent this second, (then) we can handle that.

A few Cubs walked by the board with confused or curious looks. You wouldve guessed Pena was behind the message, and you probably couldve eliminated 90 percent of the roster without a second thought.

Manager Mike Quade has read Phil Jacksons book and actually liked it, but hadnt seen the words of inspiration by the time he met with the media in his office.

Oh, wow, the yin and the yang? Quade said. Just go play, man. I talk way too much, but Im not that philosophical. Im just like: Figure out a way to beat the Pirates. Thats all I would put on the board.

Pena is a deep thinker, an engineering student from Northeastern University, but those who know him well say its not an act. Over-analyzing the game and allowing outside forces to seep in slowed his development as a first-round pick. It probably didnt help last year in Tampa Bay when he hit .196.

Pena, who will turn 33 next month, was immediately viewed as a one-and-done player at the winter meetings when agent Scott Boras and general manager Jim Hendry announced their pillow contract.

But Pena has impressed the Cubs with his willingness to lead. He doesnt come across as a mercenary. You saw the first baseman go to the mound more than once on Saturday trying to calm down Carlos Zambrano.

Maybe living in the Wrigley Field fishbowl will get old, but right now Pena finds the cramped clubhouse to be cozy way better than people make it out to be.

Driving to work Pena sees Lake Michigan to his right and imagines what it will look like once the trees blossom and summer rolls in. He looked at Wrigley Fields architecture and absorbed the entire scene.

Its just a beautiful place (with) great energy, Pena said. (Im) like a kid, and I dont even want to lose that. I dont care (that) Im a Major League Baseball player. Ok, Im too cool for that? No, Im not.

As a young boy in the Dominican Republic, Pena would run underneath the stands at Quisqueya, and be blown away when he got out of the darkness and saw the entire stadium lit up. Some 25 years later, he had the same experience at Clark and Addison.

I walk up the ramp and you see that light at the end of the tunnel, Pena said. You come up and its like the gates of heaven have opened when you see Wrigley Field at the end. This is really a special place in every sense of the word and Im not going to hide it. Im really excited to be here.

How can Pena keep this enthusiasm up for 160 more games across the next six months? Will he hit above .200? What does he want out of his next contract?

Those are questions for tomorrow. Penas just trying to focus on today.

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

Cubs have ‘all kinds of different lines in the water’ leading up to trade deadline

Cubs have ‘all kinds of different lines in the water’ leading up to trade deadline

MILWAUKEE – The White Sox would never trade Chris Sale to the North Side and give the Cubs this year’s potential American League Cy Young Award winner to pair with the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta), the game’s most entertaining manager (Joe Maddon) and one of the most iconic venues in sports (Wrigley Field), making the biggest story in baseball ever bigger.

Silly season is already in full swing with reports that the White Sox sent Sale home from U.S. Cellular Field on Saturday…because their all-world pitcher cut up throwback jerseys he didn’t want the team to wear during his scheduled start against the Detroit Tigers.

You can’t make this stuff up. But it’s yet another reminder of what Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer predicted leading up to the Aug. 1 trade deadline: “Expect the unexpected.”   

By late Saturday night, Twitter buzzed about a Fox Sports report that the New York Yankees are telling teams that they will hold onto All-Star reliever Andrew Miller and are moving closer toward dealing 100-mph closer Aroldis Chapman.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein never likes to rule anything out, running a front office that keeps all options open. So expect to hear more rumors about the Cubs trying to engineer a deal for a controllable starting pitcher, canvassing the bullpen market and scouting rentals like Oakland A’s outfielder Josh Reddick.

“All I know is that Theo and Jed really have all kinds of different lines in the water,” manager Joe Maddon said before a 6-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “Like any of the GMs at this time of the year, they’re always going to look to make us better. So if something makes sense to these boys, I’m sure we’re considering it.”

It’s difficult to see Reddick or the offense being a priority or a focal point when the Cubs are so loaded with position players and have plenty of short- and long-term pitching issues. But the Epstein regime has already poured so much capital into their lineup, rebuilding the franchise around hitters. Why stop now?

Epstein has also hinted the Cubs could pivot in a bad market for starting pitching or if the prices for relievers become prohibitive.

 [RELATED: Cubs ready to activate Joe Nathan, but is that enough for this bullpen?]  

“Sometimes, if the marketplace makes it hard to improve a weakness,” Epstein said, “you can compensate for that by making an area of strength even stronger. That’s not necessarily the direction we’re going to go, but it could be.”

Reddick has Boston Red Sox roots, hits left-handed and will become a free agent after this season. The Cubs just welcomed back their leadoff guy (Dexter Fowler) and have a Gold Glove right fielder with a $184 million contract (Jason Heyward) and multiple options in left field (Kris Bryant, Ben Zobrist, Willson Contreras) plus Chris Coghlan (strained ribcage) and Jorge Soler (strained hamstring) rehabbing at Double-A Tennessee.

“‘CC’ last year was really big for us and we’re still waiting on George,” Maddon said. “I wouldn’t create conjecture for or against. I mean, it’s possible, it absolutely is. They are really hunkered down trying to figure out what’s best for us right now.

“They’re probably looking at us as two different teams versus righties and versus lefties and what we need in those particular moments. And: How far is George actually? I don’t think George is that far off, and I don’t think ‘CC’ is either. But regarding my conversations with (Theo and Jed), they are looking at a lot of different options.”

Frustrated John Lackey after Cubs lose in Milwaukee: ‘This is the big leagues’

Frustrated John Lackey after Cubs lose in Milwaukee: ‘This is the big leagues’

MILWAUKEE – Cubs fans took over Miller Park again on Saturday night, booing Ryan Braun when he stepped into the batter’s box, wearing Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant and Darwin Barney jerseys and chanting “Let’s go, Cubbies!” over and over again.

Big Boy Game? Eh, not so much for John Lackey, the two-time World Series champion the Cubs imported to anchor their playoff rotation and give the clubhouse some much-needed edge. Not when it’s late July and the Milwaukee Brewers are near the ground floor of a full-scale rebuild. 

But the Brewers haven’t sold off All-Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy yet, and Lackey still looked annoyed some three hours after a game-changing play in the first inning.

“You guys can decide” if that was a double-play ball, Lackey told the reporters at his locker after a 6-1 loss. “This is the big leagues.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Lackey threw up his arms in frustration after Braun hit a groundball toward second baseman Javier Baez, who flipped the ball to shortstop Addison Russell for the second out. Lucroy, the next batter, hammered Lackey’s 93-mph fastball off a second-deck advertisement in left-center field for a two-run homer. 

Baez (age 23) and Russell (age 22) have the potential to become Gold Glove winners, already transforming this team’s defensive profile. Lackey has a reputation for being ornery on the mound and with the media. This isn’t the first time Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA) has alluded to tightening things up, and it probably won’t be the last.   

Even though you could wonder about the offense, the rush from Dexter Fowler’s return to the top of the lineup wearing off quickly as rookie right-hander Zach Davies limited the Cubs to only one run across 6.1 innings, drawing comparisons to Kyle Hendricks from manager Joe Maddon.

[RELATED: Cubs ready to activate Joe Nathan, but is that enough for this bullpen?]

And Cubs fans started heading toward the exits in the eighth inning after Mike Montgomery – the high-upside lefty Theo Epstein’s front office acquired in advance of the Aug. 1 trade deadline – gave up a three-run homer to Kirk Nieuwenhuis that made it a beat-the-traffic game.

Nieuwenhuis (.195 average entering Saturday) had led off the fourth inning by homering off Lackey, who put together his first quality start since June 30 but still hasn’t earned a win since June 8. 

“They just purely beat us,” Maddon said. “Give them credit.”

The Cubs (58-38) say they aren’t scoreboard watching now, even though the St. Louis Cardinals (52-45) have closed to within 6.5 games in a division race that looks much tighter now. 

“No, you can’t,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “They’re playing well. They’re a good team. They know how to win. That’s what they have done for a long time. It’s not going to be a cakewalk. But that’s the way baseball is. We know that. Everyone knows that.”  

Cubs ready to activate Joe Nathan, but is that enough for this bullpen?

Cubs ready to activate Joe Nathan, but is that enough for this bullpen?

MILWAUKEE – It takes some imagination to picture the Cubs surviving three playoff rounds and winning a World Series Game 7 with this bullpen.  

Starting pitcher Jason Hammel looks at rookie right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. and says: “He’s definitely not afraid. He weighs probably 140 pounds and he can attack a ton worth of weight.”

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein trades for lefty Mike Montgomery and looks back on how Andrew Miller reinvented himself with the Boston Red Sox, transforming into an All-Star reliever for the New York Yankees.  

Now the Cubs are banking on a 41-year-old dude who hasn’t pitched in The Show in almost 16 months, trying to make a comeback from a second Tommy John procedure on his right elbow.  

The Cubs will activate Joe Nathan off the 60-day disabled list before Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, adding a six-time All-Star closer who ranks eighth all-time with 377 career saves.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

“I do like the names,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Is it enough? I think it is. But you have to consider that with both Edwards and Joe, you would not really push, push, push, either. 

“So you talk about consecutive appearances – or three-out-of-fours – that would be kind of tough to do with these guys. There are different little caveats attached that I have to be careful with (and) not push them too hard.  

“I don’t know if there is enough yet – just based on the ability to use guys based on where they’re coming from physically.”

Epstein made it clear that the Cubs didn’t cut themselves off from bigger deals leading up to the Aug. 1 deadline by packaging two lower-profile minor-league prospects (first baseman Dan Vogelbach and pitcher Paul Blackburn) in the Montgomery deal with the Seattle Mariners.

Epstein has also pointed out that the Cubs won 97 games and two playoff rounds last year while rebuilding their bullpen on the fly, relying on guys like Clayton Richard and Trevor Cahill (who’s rehabbing a knee injury at Triple-A Iowa).

And that you don’t really need an eight-man bullpen for October, because Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester should be pitching deep into games, leaving the high-leverage situations for Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and whoever else emerges across the next two-plus months.

[RELATED: The next Andrew Miller? Mike Montgomery wants to show what he can do for Cubs bullpen]

Maddon sees the potential for Edwards – who has a 1.93 ERA and 16 strikeouts against four walks through 14 innings – to grow into an even bigger role out of the bullpen. Maybe the Cubs find another grab-bag surprise or two (Brian Matusz, Jack Leathersich) from a minor-league system that lacks premium pitching talent.

“You just don’t know,” Maddon said. “It looks good on paper, but you got to get them out there and play it. From my perspective, for them to be good, I think you can’t push their button too often. You got to hold back.”

Whether or not the Cubs have the trade chips and the appetite to deal with the Yankees or trade for another high-octane reliever, they need to find out what they have in Nathan, who made 11 appearances combined with Iowa and Double-A Tennessee. 

“It sounds like he’s ready to rock and roll,” Maddon said. “We have to see what he looks like, first of all. You hear different things. But I would bet that whatever he’s been throwing, it’s going to be even a little bit more once he gets here with the adrenaline pumping back in the big leagues.”