Cubs: What we learned at the winter meetings

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Cubs: What we learned at the winter meetings

Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010
1:02 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.- Rolling suitcases in hand, the baseball industry escaped to sunlight Thursday morning, getting out of the bubble. And not a moment too soon for the executives sequestered for days in their hotel suites.

Reporters scrambled around the lobby of the Swan and Dolphin resort late Wednesday night when word spread that Carl Crawford had agreed to a deal with the Red Sox. Instantly heads dropped down to BlackBerry devices to check the terms of the contract - seven years and 142 million.

At least that was real news ( props to The Boston Globe for breaking it) about an impact player. Most of the roughly 96 hours inside the Walt Disney World complex were filled with nonstop Twitter updates on fringe guys. It made you want to order room service.

"A lot of guys aren't going to the lobby and having some social hour late in the evening," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "Guys are going to their rooms because every time you talk to somebody it's on a blog. We all read stuff that we're on this guy or that guy, half the time we're not but I understand (the media) profession's changed, too.

"It's a very aggressive world (and) everyone wants to get in on some stories and sometimes we kind of smile up here. We have a social conversation with somebody or (we're) talking about something not even related to baseball, and by the time we get back to the room we're trading for so-and-so."

So before refreshing MLBTradeRumors.com one more time on your laptop, this is what we learned about the Cubs as they leave the winter meetings and head home to pay tribute to Ron Santo's extraordinary life.

Carlos Pena became the No. 1 target. Multiple sources indicated that the Dodgers had no intention of trading James Loney to Chicago, and the Cubs weren't very high on Adam LaRoche. They wanted a middle-of-the-order presence and a Gold Glove defender and found it in Pena (nevermind his .196 average and 158 strikeouts last season).

As Pena said, "Maybe they overlooked some things because they believe in my strengths, not my weaknesses."

The Cubs and Pena are using each other for a year. After the 2011 season, the Cubs are free to pursue another first baseman (Albert Pujols?) and Pena could be in line for a monster contract if he generates 30 homers and 90 RBI.
Scott Boras is the most interesting man in the world. The powerful agent isn't a Dos Equis spokesman, but he has his own unique language of 'pillow contracts' and 'platform years.' The outlines of Pena's one-year, 10 million agreement were formed with Greg Maddux, Hendry's special assistant, sitting across from his long-time agent.

"It's just very special that a man can do things on his own terms in the game of baseball," Boras said, "because the game itself is the tiger, it's the force, it's the thing that removes you in many situations from the game."

Hendry, who enjoys a good working relationship with Boras, has simply said that Maddux can have any job that he wants in baseball. Boras would never leave it at that. Imagine the conversations when he's selling his clients behind closed doors.

"Greg has so many abilities and so many aptitudes," Boras said. "Every time he is in any facet of the game, teaching, working with the team, growing the game, it allows the game to be its optimum."

Mike Quade is cool with Starlin Castro. The Cubs manager plans to travel to the Dominican Republic in January to visit with the young shortstop. Still months away from his 21st birthday, Castro is playing for Moises Alou's winter-ball team.

The media framed Quade benching Castro for two games as a turning point in his six-week job interview, but looking back the manager doesn't see it that way.

"I felt like a much bigger deal was made out of it than it should have been, but I get it," Quade said. "It had nothing to do with Mike Quade, believe me. I thought it was the right thing to do for Starlin Castro and for the organization. I believed it would benefit him and I just thought it was a good time to try and get his attention.

"You move on. It's the kind of stuff that you do on a regular basis. And you guys never hear about when you're down in Des Moines, when you're in Huntsville, Alabama, or wherever the heck else I've been. But he handled it marvelously."

There's still some money left, just not enough for Zack Greinke. Fans should lower their sights, the lobby buzz made Matt Garza sound unrealistic, as well as their expectations for Brandon Webb. The Cubs remain intrigued about the Cy Young Award winner's potential, and concerned about the health of his right shoulder.

New pitching coach Mark Riggins said he thinks there are already seven or eight rotation options to take to Arizona (the more the better) and the organization continues to discuss the possibility of making Andrew Cashner a starter.

Whether or not Cashner remains in the bullpen, the 24-year-old is a prism through which you can view the entire team. The Cubs aren't writing checks to solve their problems. They're banking on this wave of prospects.

"It's a theme that you just can't get away from, he needs to get better," Quade said. "Hopefully he's had a great winter and comes into spring training just (saying): 'Give me the ball.' That's what I expect from a young guy with that kind of talent."

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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