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.

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How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

How Ian Happ helped the 2017 Cubs find their identity

In the span of just over a week, Ian Happ has gone from arguably the Cubs' biggest trade piece to the 2017 savior.

OK, "savior" is extreme, but Happ has been an unlikely stabilizing force for the defending world champions.

In a week's worth of big-league action (seven games), Happ has smacked six extra base-hits, scored seven runs and posted a 1.182 OPS. But his impact has been so much more than just the numbers on the back of his Topps card.

Happ's presence has helped the Cubs reinvent themselves.

The plan heading into the 2017 season was to have Kyle Schwarber lead off and Ben Zobrist reprise his 2016 role as lineup protection for Anthony Rizzo.

But with Schwarber struggling atop the order, Happ's presence has freed up the ever-patient Zobrist to become the team's new leadoff as the week-old rookie is now protecting a perennial MVP candidate in Rizzo.

"It's all based on Ian Happ," Joe Maddon said. "I'm still very aware of protecting Rizzo. And that's where Zobrist came in handy. Now to this point, I'm looking at last month's numbers, Zo's really ascending and Schwarbs has come back a little bit regarding just getting on base.

"So Zo's the most likely candidate among all the groups to try to get on base more often and Rizzo's still protected with Ian. Just moving everybody down one slot with Ian there taking the role of Zobrist, I kinda wanted to give it a try."

It's only one game, but the refurbished lineup scored 13 runs Sunday, collecting 10 extra-base hits and scoring in seven of eight offensive innings.

Happ was right there in the middle of it all, smoking a 108 mph double off the right field wall in the first inning and doubling again later in the game. 

Zobrist homered. Rizzo homered. Bryant — who said hitting third is where he's most comfortable in the lineup — crushed a pair of homers and reached base five times. Schwarber went 1-for-3 with an RBI and a walk.

With Happ's presence bumping Schwarber down in the order, Maddon also has moved back to hitting the pitcher last.

"In my mind's eye, I'm more able or wanting to hit the pitcher ninth again because Schwarber is moved back," Maddon said. "Part of the method was to try to feed Schwarber with a nine-hole hitter."

With Happ in the lineup, the Cubs are averaging 6.3 runs per game. 

Again, it's a small sample size and the Cubs were due for an offensive explosion after a slow start to the season, but Happ has been a central figure.

"Nothing surprises me [with him]," Bryant said. "We all saw what he can do in spring. It's not surprising at all. He's definitely provided a spark for us since he's been up.

"He's just been great out there, moving all over the field. I don't even know what his main position is, but if it's center field, he's out there doing a good job, too."

Willson Contreras helped provide the 2016 Cubs with a jolt of energy when he made his debut in mid-June. Happ is doing the same thing this season, though his arrival has come a month earlier in the 2017 campaign.

Happ has only played one full season of professional baseball and appeared in just 91 games above A-ball before making his big-league debut.

But he's looked like he belongs from the outset, blending into a clubhouse that has welcomed so many young position players over the last few years.

Maddon's message to Happ upon arriving was simple: Why don't you stay a while?

It's not as catchy as "try not to suck," but it has helped Happ relax.

"Sometimes, we underestimate the impact we have on anybody," Maddon said. "In my situation, as a manager to the player, so you say something like that just trying to get somebody to relax and who knows?

"Like Javy with 'try not to suck' a couple years ago, who knows how it's processed and how it permits the player to process the day? I knew how good [Happ] was in spring training, I knew how good he's been this season and I just know how he is.

"So there was no reason for him not to approach it like, 'I want to stay a while.'"

Happ spent most of his time in the minors as a second baseman, but with Baez and Zobrist around, Maddon doesn't see a way to work the rookie in the infield at this time.

But then again, two weeks ago, nobody could fathom how the Cubs could possibly work another position player into the lineup on a consistent basis, but that's worked itself out. Right now, it's Albert Almora Jr. being relegated to the bench as Happ has taken over in center field.

Of course, there's still more than four months left in the season and things will undoubtedly change again. 

But for now, Happ has forced the issue and altered the entire identity of the 2017 Cubs.