Dempster - not Zambrano - to start Opening Day

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Dempster - not Zambrano - to start Opening Day

Monday, Feb. 21, 2011
Posted 11:29 a.m. Updated 5:25 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Ryan Dempster represents what the Cubs would like to project.

Hes the player that young pitchers model themselves after. Hes an established figure in the community through his charity work. He also had enough clubhouse juice to feel comfortable publicly lobbying for Mike Quade to get the managers job last year.

Quade joked that he would milk this for as long as possible, but pitching coach Mark Riggins needed to know in order to schedule out the next five-plus weeks. So on Monday morning the manager called Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza into his office at Fitch Park.

Quade earned the respect of his players through direct communication and reasoned explanations. He informed them that Dempster would start Opening Day at Wrigley Field on April 1, followed by Zambrano and Garza against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

That was really cool, Dempster said. It would be so easy to talk to us each as individuals. But isnt that what were trying to get away from? I think were trying to be a team and unite as much as possible. I know Z was really happy for me. He told me so himself. That probably meant just as much as Quade telling me.

Theres no doubt Zambrano took pride in making six consecutive Opening Day starts, a franchise record. The last time someone else got the assignment was Kerry Wood in 2004. The numbers 1-2 with a 6.99 ERA seem to suggest what Zambrano has admitted: He got too jacked up for those games.

Quade made the decision in part to line up Zambrano for the seasons third series in Milwaukee, where for his career hes 9-5 with a 3.19 ERA at Miller Park. That includes the 2008 no-hitter he threw there in a game relocated because of Hurricane Ike.

(Zambrano) said that I deserved it, Dempster said. It takes somebody big to say that too, especially when you started that many Opening Days in a row. I know hes excited for his start.

Garza won an ALCS MVP award with Tampa Bay and has pitched at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. But Quade feels this will give him a chance to absorb Wrigley Field and a new league for a few days.

Zambrano finished his workouts and left the complex to take his family to the airport before the media had a chance to get his reaction. The Cubs are saying its all good. Its also a window into where Quade feels his relationship is at with Zambrano.

Its a pretty good sign of maturity, and its a sign of a guy that is a good teammate, Quade said. It goes to the three of them and their character and it goes to my feel on Z and how hed handle it. (This) let me emphasize that they are a group."

Dempster said he was surprised by the news, but it wasnt hard to see this coming. This was earned. The reliable right-hander made Opening Day starts in 2001 and 2002 for the Florida Marlins. He went 15-12 with a 3.85 ERA last year and led the team in quality starts (23). He has accounted for 30-plus starts and at least 200 innings in each of the past three seasons.

Last year the Cubs absorbed their worst loss on Opening Day since 1884, a 16-5 defeat in Atlanta that set the tone for all the wrong reasons. They need a good start. Theres no other pitcher in the room that the Cubs would rather follow.

I dont know that Demps status in the clubhouse could really get any better to be honest with you, Quade said. Thats how much respect they have for him and, I think, all three (pitchers). Performance has a lot to do with that. And I hope theyll feed off each other and theyve got each others back when theres a poor performance: Someone picks the next guy up.

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

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

After helping bring a World Series title back to the North Side, Aroldis Chapman is headed back to New York.

The former Cubs closer signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees, according to FOX's Ken Rosenthal.

He was acquired by the Cubs in July in exchange for pitcher Adam Warren and prospects Rashad Crawford, Billy McKinney and Gleyber Torres.

Chapman notched 36 saves and owned a 1.01 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and recorded 90 strikeouts across 26 2/3 innings with the Cubs during the regular season.

He appeared in 13 postseason contests, where he registered a 3.45 ERA,1.09 WHIP and 21 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. 

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Before making the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees, the Cubs checked in with the Kansas City Royals about Wade Davis and found the asking price to be Kyle Schwarber. 

The psychology and the supply-and-demand dynamics are different in July. Schwarber had been damaged goods, still recovering from major knee surgery and months away from his dramatic return in the World Series. Davis also could have impacted two pennants races for his new team instead of one.
 
By the time a $10 billion industry reconvened this week outside Washington, D.C., for the winter meetings, the small-market Royals could compromise with Jorge Soler, betting on his long-term upside and facing the reality that their World Series closer could have been part of a mass exodus of free agents after the 2017 season.

The Cubs also checked into the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center knowing that Soler is a diminishing asset for a loaded team at a time when his best attribute – right-handed power – could be found on the free-agent market in sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo.  
     
“I think there’s some great baseball ahead for him,” team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday night after the Cubs finalized the Soler-for-Davis trade. “I think it’s more likely that he reaches his ceiling now than it was 24 hours ago, because he’s got a chance to play every day.” 

Soler became a top priority within the first weeks of the Epstein administration as Cubs officials scouted the Cuban defector in the Dominican Republic before Thanksgiving 2011, picturing him as a building block for future playoff teams at a renovated Wrigley Field. 

Even chairman Tom Ricketts met with Soler’s camp during a trip to the Dominican Republic before the Cubs won the bidding war and the prospect signed a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract in the summer of 2012. 

Years later, manager Joe Maddon would describe Soler as Vladimir Guerrero with plate discipline, the kind of talent who would be drafted No. 1 overall if he had been born in South Florida. 

Soler showed flashes of superstar potential. He absolutely crushed the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2015 playoffs (2.341 OPS) and will get a well-deserved World Series ring. But he didn’t look like a complete player or an athlete the Cubs could count on to stay healthy, profiling more like a designated hitter in the American League.

“When George was playing sporadically, he became a little bit more of an all-or-nothing power threat,” Epstein said, “because it’s hard to get into a good rhythm and you’re not seeing pitches as much. You’re not recognizing spin the same way. 

“When he’s locked in, he can work really good at-bats. And he’s a hitter – not just a power hitter. So I think it’s more likely now that his potential gets unleashed at some point. We’re rooting for him.”

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Maybe Soler – who still hasn’t turned 25 yet – can avoid some of the leg injuries as a part-time DH and put it all together in Kansas City as the Royals try to balance the present, the future and their financial realities. But the Cubs are a win-now team that believes Davis could get them the final out of the 2017 World Series. 

An October legend (Schwarber) and a $184 million Gold Glove defender (Jason Heyward) would keep blocking Soler at the corner spots in Wrigley Field, where a National League MVP (Kris Bryant) and a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist) can move away from the infield. Javier Baez is another versatile, well-rounded player who would continue to marginalize Soler. 

“It became tough for us,” Epstein said, “with Schwarber looking like he’s destined to play quite a bit of left field. Not ruling catching out as an option to some extent, but he’s going to play a lot of left field. 

“And with Javy’s emergence – and what that means for Zobrist’s possible role in the outfield as well at times – it just became tougher and tougher to see George getting regular at-bats with us. 

“We felt like he needed to play – and it would have been a tough fit.”

It would have been even tougher to trade a spare outfielder during his fourth season in the big leagues. Stashing Soler – who has 27 career homers in less than 700 big-league at-bats – at Triple-A Iowa wouldn’t have been the answer. 

The Cubs saw this day coming. Schwarber wrecked his knee in early April and Soler injured his hamstring two months later and wound up missing two months.

“He just couldn’t quite stay healthy enough,” Epstein said, “and kind of slumped at the wrong time and started to get hot right before he got hurt.

“That was kind of how we envisioned it: ‘Hey, if there’s an opportunity, this guy can take the job and run with it – and then we have an even more valuable trade chip – or we’ve got an everyday leftfielder/middle-of the-order bat.’ It just didn’t quite come together. 

“But I think this trade – despite that – recouped a lot of his value. It made sense for him, for us and for the Royals.”