With cuts coming, it's decision time for Cubs

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With cuts coming, it's decision time for Cubs

Monday, March 21, 2011
Posted 6:42 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

TEMPE, Ariz. Mike Quade doesnt act like the smartest guy in the room, and he genuinely enjoys the give and take within every argument. But the Cubs manager might not get everything he wants.

Behind closed doors on Tuesday morning, Quade will meet with general manager Jim Hendry, assistant general manager Randy Bush, pitching coach Mark Riggins and bench coach Pat Listach.

Together they will break down the entire roster, identifying who still has a chance to make the team and who doesnt. They will analyze the depth at each position and rank players. They will assess the entire pitching staff and make contingency plans, in case someone gets injured.

You try to look at every angle, every possibility, Quade said. The picture (should) be a lot clearer (by) Wednesday after weve had a chance to digest this and figure out what were doing.

When the decision-makers walk out of that meeting, they will be some 240 hours away from Opening Day. This is what they will be talking about.

Blake DeWitt

Cubs staffers rave about DeWitts work ethic. On a recent morning at HoHoKam Park, DeWitt was the only player on the field, taking grounders from coach Ivan DeJesus and throwing to Listach at first base.

The 25-year-old DeWitt is a former first-round pick and a left-handed bat, but sources confirm that hes not yet out of minor-league options. Hes hitting .163 this spring, while utility infielders Jeff Baker (.395) and Darwin Barney (.371) make claims on the second-base job.

DeWitt is not a naturally gifted defender and needs to work on his double-play pivot, especially after spending so much time playing third base with the Dodgers. Quade was asked if DeWitt still has a spot on the roster.

Right now he does, Quade said, but theres some guys pushing him, and we aint left yet, so well see.

Reed Johnson

The fifth outfielder looks like it will be Johnson, who becomes a free agent if he doesnt make the club but will likely force the Cubs to make a change to their 40-man roster.

The 34-year-old is hitting only .206, but hes remembered as a key contributor to the 97-win team in 2008 and a solid veteran presence.

Fernando Perez, who turns 28 next month, might be the fastest guy in camp. But he has struggled at the plate (.161) and committed two errors in the outfield, showing that the rest of his game may need to catch up to his speed.

Im still learning about Fernando, Quade said. Thats a much tougher feel for me than Reed. I think we have a real feel for who he is, no matter what takes place.

Welington Castillo

A month away from his 24th birthday, Castillo is hitting .706 and has displayed what Quade calls a game-changing arm. But the Cubs view Geovany Soto as a foundation piece, so the young catcher can either sit the bench at Wrigley Field or play every day at Triple-A Iowa.

Koyie Hill has gone 1-for-27 (.037) so far, but is well-respected for how he handles the pitchers and what he does behind the scenes. The Cubs place a high value on his experience.

With Castillos bright future in mind, Quade has a good feel for what should be done.

Wow, hes a talented kid, Quade said. Hell continue to mature and if he can handle the mental part of the game, I think weve all watched some pretty darn good physical tools.
Bullpen

This meeting will take place the day before Carlos Silva is scheduled to throw again, and the Cubs will have to figure out how to salvage a pitcher guaranteed 13.5 million. Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner appear to be the fourth and fifth starters.

Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer are non-roster players with long resumes that could get consideration as the long man. James Russell, who was being stretched out, threw about 10 pitches on Monday in a minor-league game, which shows he could again be part of the Cubs bullpen.

Whatever the group decides, Quade will have to make the pieces fit.

Quade has been fired from other organizations for speaking his mind. But he enjoys a close relationship with the front office, and helped them out by pushing young players late last season. This is, after all, Hendrys hand-picked manager. They share a similar enough philosophy.

I expect the facts to win out in all these situations, Quade said. I have no doubt that people will enlighten me (about) contractual issues (and) options. All I can do is take a look at what Ive seen (here in Arizona and) in the past.

I (dont) have to (decide everything). Im not an ego guy. I want to do the right thing. I understand theres a lot more than just my opinion involved here.

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

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."