Cubs, WGN pick Moreland to replace Santo

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Cubs, WGN pick Moreland to replace Santo

Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011
Posted 11:41 a.m. Updated 10:18 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. The next voice of summer knows it will be strange to hear someone else calling the action from the press box high atop Wrigley Field.

Nobodys going to replace Ron Santo, Keith Moreland said. All I can do is keep the seat warm.

The Cubs and WGN Radio announced Wednesday that Moreland will follow the legendary broadcaster, who died in December and left a city and generations of fans in mourning.

The team will wear No. 10 uniform patches this season. A collage of Santo photos will be the 2011 media guide cover. In August, his statue will be unveiled outside the stadium.

There is no comparing Moreland to a franchise icon, but hes well-prepared for this high-profile job. Moreland played six seasons for the Cubs (1982-87) and has extensive experience as an analyst at the University of Texas, where hes worked football and baseball games for 25 seasons combined.

Im just going to be me I can probably butcher the English language with the best of them, Moreland said. I do understand the game. I feel very confident (talking strategy). My (style) might be a little bit more analysis than you did with Ron, but Im also a guy that likes to have fun.

The 56-year-old Moreland receives a three-year deal to team with Pat Hughes, who balanced out Santo and gave a touching eulogy at his funeral.

Chemistry is something that needs to be nurtured, Hughes said. Im going to try to tap into (Morelands) knowledge. No matter how long youve been around the game, (there) are certain things that a guy who never played in the big leagues just cannot know as well as an ex-player what its like to try to hit a 95 mph fastball.

Like Moreland, Dave Otto had filled in for Santo over the years and emerged as another finalist for the job. WGN sports director Dave Eanet praised Ottos work, but said he does not have a specific role lined up for this season.

Texas and ESPN are set to launch a new 24-hour television network in September. Moreland, who earned his degree in Austin, said he will not be involved: I am 100 percent totally committed to the Chicago Cubs and WGN Radio.

Santo meant so much to all kinds of people, for the way he played the game, his 21 seasons on the radio airwaves and the millions of dollars he raised for diabetes research.

Moreland completely understands Santos legacy. His reception could depend on whether or not the Cubs are turning Wrigleyville into a huge block party again, or slogging through another disappointing season.

I hope we have a good Cubs team to cover, Hughes said. That would make all the difference in the world, because the audience always thinks youre doing a better job when you have a winning team. They are happy with the information you are delivering every day.

Pujols watch

If Hughes and Moreland need to fill air time, or get through a rain delay, they can talk about Albert Pujols. Right or wrong, everyone else in baseball will be linking the Cubs with the games best player.

It came into sharper focus as Wednesdays deadline to negotiate a contract extension imposed by Pujols expired without the 31-year-old slugger and the St. Louis Cardinals reaching an agreement.

Roughly nine months before Pujols could potentially become a 300 million free agent, manager Mike Quade didnt want to be drawn into the conversation.

Thats their deal, Quade said. I cant be preoccupied. You hear: Is that going to affect this or that? Look, theyre going to be a good team. He isnt going anywhere. Thats for damn sure right now. Hes going to be somebody we have to get out and somebody we have to beat. I dont care what happens contract-wise with him.

Im looking forward to seeing Carlos Pena knock the daylights out of the ball. Thats all that really matters to me right now.

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

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.