Cubs think Ian Stewart can put it all together

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Cubs think Ian Stewart can put it all together

MESA, Ariz. Three words have followed Ian Stewart from the Colorado Rockies. The Cubs used them to sell the trade to the media. Their new third baseman has other ideas. It wont really matter if he finally puts it all together.

I dont look at it as a change of scenery, Stewart said. In the early parts of the offseason, when my name was being thrown around, it was kind of upsetting to me, because I had grown up with them and I had been there for almost 10 years. I didnt go out of Colorado the way that I would have liked to or pictured it.

But when you hear a team like the Cubs, (a) storied franchise, and Theo Epstein (is) interested in you and they feel like you can do well, that just speaks volumes. It boosts your confidence and makes you feel good about the person (and) the type of player that you are.

The Cubs are betting that Stewart can approximate the player the experts thought he would become when he was coming out of high school in Orange County, California. The 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft will turn 27 on Opening Day. The clock is ticking.

At the winter meetings in Dallas, where everyone seemed to be chasing Albert Pujols rumors, the Cubs quietly worked on this deal.

One of the first moves of the Epstein administration was trading Tyler Colvin (another change-of-scenery candidate) and DJ LeMahieu for Stewart and pitcher Casey Weathers.

Stewart generated 25 homers and 70 RBI for the Rockies in 2009, before dropping to 18 and 61 the next season. He spent parts of last year at Triple-A Colorado Springs and on the disabled list (right hamstring, left wrist) and didnt hit a single homer at the major-league level.

You just got to give him the at-bats and let him feel comfortable, manager Dale Sveum said. Just give him the job (and) let him know hes going to be out there every single day. Hes got incredible power and athleticism. He catches the ball. Hes a two-way player from the left side of the plate with power, which just doesnt come along every day, especially at third base.

If Jim Hendry were still general manager, the Cubs almost certainly would have brought back Aramis Ramirez, who never really connected with the fans and turned off some media members with his body language. But they were still talking about a Silver Slugger winner.

In Stewart, Epstein saw a player who should be in his prime and will be under club control for the next three seasons. If this works out, and Starlin Castro continues to develop, the Cubs wont have to worry about the left side of their infield.

He pretty much told me: Youre our third baseman. We want you (to) play every day, get all your at-bats, have a great year, go out and have fun, Stewart said. Just to hear that from a guy of his stature and his position with the team is very comforting. It just builds a lot of confidence.

To get a jump on the season, Stewart came to Arizona over the winter for a minicamp run by hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. No need to mention change of scenery. There is opportunity here. Everything is in place for Stewart to show that he belongs and that the Rockies were wrong.

I dont feel like now I can just sit back, Stewart said. Its definitely not a thing where I feel like I can just relax now. It gives me even a little more drive.

Joe Maddon offers up Cubs strength coach to be Madonna's trainer

Joe Maddon offers up Cubs strength coach to be Madonna's trainer

MESA, Ariz. — Think the stir-crazy Cubs have been in Arizona long enough? Near the end of a camp that has been relatively tame — at least compared to last year's parade of mimes, zoo animals and karaoke jams — manager Joe Maddon heard about Madonna's contest to find a new dance trainer and immediately thought of the man behind those gonzo stunts.

Because that's what a three-time Manager of the Year does. So the organization's content arm put together a one-minute clip nominating strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss, releasing it to 1.7 million followers on Friday through the @Cubs Twitter account.

"We're hoping that Madonna has an opportunity to check that out," Maddon said at the Sloan Park complex. "We're willing to send even more information — whatever she possibly needs — to see that our guy's the best."

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Set to synthesized 1980s-style music, the aerobics video is rated more PG than the actual "Bussy" experience. The Cubs didn't show Buss leading the team stretch in a Speedo and a Lucha Libre mask. A slow-motion part of the montage does feature Buss standing alone in the clubhouse, dousing himself in beer during a clinching celebration.

"We could have made it more edgy," Maddon said. "There were so many more ways to go with it. I was kind of pleased with it. I thought it presented his abilities very well. His physique was presented in a manner that she could be duly impressed with the fact that our strength and conditioning coach fashions that form."

What if Madonna steals Buss from the Cubs?

"We could share somehow," Maddon said. "She'll fire him after a couple weeks anyway."

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Jake Arrieta is a Cy Young Award winner who won't get the Opening Night assignment. John Lackey is a No. 3 starter already fitted for his third World Series ring. Kyle Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA last year and won't start until the fifth game of this season.  

Do you feel like this is the best rotation in baseball?

"We're up there, yeah," Arrieta said after homering off Zack Greinke during Thursday afternoon's 5-5 tie with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. "I think on paper – and with what we've actually done on the field – it's tough to not say that.

"We like the guys we have. People can rank them, but time will tell. Once we get out there the first four or five times through the rotation, I think you can probably put a stamp on it then, more so than now. 

"But, yeah, we stack up just as well as anybody out there, for sure."  

Arrieta made it through five innings against the Diamondbacks, giving up three runs and eight hits in what figures to be his second-to-last Cactus League tune-up before facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 4. 

The New York Mets blew away Cubs hitters with their power pitching and game-planning during that 2015 National League Championship Series sweep. The Washington Nationals are trying to keep Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg healthy and already watched Tanner Roark deliver for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. 

The Cubs dreaded the idea of facing Johnny Cueto in a possible elimination game at Wrigley Field last October. The Los Angeles Dodgers almost became a matchup nightmare for the Cubs with lefties Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill during the 2016 NLCS.

But slotting Hendricks at No. 5 – five months after he started a World Series Game 7 – is a luxury few contenders can afford. 

"That just speaks to our length in the rotation," Arrieta said, "and being able to keep relievers out of the game, longer than most teams. That's a big deal, especially when you get into July and August. 

"Obviously, Kyle could be a 1 or 2 just about anywhere. Not that he's not here. We've got several of those, which is a good problem to have. It's going to be favorable for us when there's a No. 4 or No. 5 guy in our rotation going up against somebody else's. Our chances are really good, especially with our lineup." 

Arrieta talked up No. 4 starter Brett Anderson as "a little bit like Hendricks from the left side" in terms of his preparation, cerebral nature and spin rate, a combination that makes him an X-factor for this rotation and an organization starved for pitching beyond 2017. 

The if-healthy disclaimer always comes with Anderson, who played with Arrieta on the 2008 Olympic team and has been on the disabled list nine times since then. Coming out of high school, Arrieta initially signed to play for Anderson's father, Frank, the Oklahoma State University coach at the time, before going in a different direction in a career that wouldn't truly take off until he got to Chicago. 

"We're all looking forward to seeing how we pick up where we left off," Arrieta said. "Judging by what we've done this spring and the shape guys are in and the health – I don't see any reason we can't jump out to an early lead like we did last year and sustain it throughout the entire season."