Deshaies leaves Astros to become the next voice in Cubs TV booth

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Deshaies leaves Astros to become the next voice in Cubs TV booth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. After more than two decades with the Houston Astros, Jim Deshaies is heading to the broadcast booth at Wrigley Field.

This hire might generate more buzz than any free agents the Cubs may sign this week during the winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn. The news made its way around the sprawling hotel on Monday and across Twitter before it became official: Deshaies has agreed to a four-year deal with WGN and will be partnered with play-by-play man Len Kasper.

I cant imagine anywhere else Id rather move than with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Deshaies said in a statement. My family and I look forward to meeting the great, passionate fans of the Cubs and were excited at what lies ahead in Chicago.

Deshaies replaces Bob Brenly, who left for the Arizona Diamondbacks in October, and the chance to go back to his Scottsdale-area home and call games for Fox Sports Arizona as well as its national network.

WGN -- in consultation with the Cubs and Comcast SportsNet -- decided to go with an outsider after assembling several candidates who used to play on the North Side: Dan Plesac; Rick Sutcliffe; Eric Karros; Gary Matthews; and Todd Hollandsworth.

Plesac interviewed and withdrew from consideration in the middle of November, deciding to stay with MLB Network, while Sutcliffe was viewed as a long shot from the start, given his national platform on ESPN. Plesac, who grew up in Northwest Indiana, had made a good impression while doing pre- and postgame work around Cubs broadcasts on CSN.

It was very appealing, Plesac said. It was the right job at the wrong time. I signed a new five-year deal here with MLB Network. I couldnt be happier.

One X-factor in any potential negotiation was WGNs television contract, which allows the Cubs to opt out after the 2014 season. Still, in the summer of 2011, Kasper received a five-year contract extension that locked him up through the 2016 season, which puts him on the same timeline as Deshaies.

JD is universally liked and respected throughout the game, Kasper wrote in a text message. Ive always enjoyed his work from afar. He knows the club well having done 15-18 Cubs-Astros games a year and will fit in nicely. I look forward to working with him and I cant wait for spring training.

From the beginning of the search process, Deshaies was considered a strong external candidate. Insiders reminded you that Brenly didnt have many connections to the organization when he joined the broadcast team for the 2005 season. Brenly had only worked in the WGN radio booth with Harry Caray and Thom Brennaman for two years before moving to the San Francisco Giants coaching staff in 1992.

Fans enjoyed listening to Brenly, and he developed an excellent chemistry with Kasper. Brenly was willing to criticize big-money players like Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, but he could also shift gears and talk about music and movies. Brenly and Kasper watched some bad baseball teams over the past eight seasons, but they definitely added entertainment value.

Deshaies has been a color analyst for the Astros since 1997, developing a style that sounded a lot like Brenlys approach to the games.

Deshaies has been described as someone whos comfortable talking strategy as well as pop culture. He knows pitching after throwing more than 1,500 innings during his 12 years in the big leagues, including seven with the Astros.

The Astros are splitting with Fox Sports Houston and will air games on CSN Houston in 2013, part of the sweeping changes that have recently hit the organization, from new ownership to a new front office to new uniforms to a new league.

Deshaies recently told the Houston Chronicle that he was confident he could work out a deal with the Astros if he wanted to and wasnt worried about his future.

To get a measure of how much hes respected there, just check out this headline to a story on the newspapers website, after it was reported that he had interviewed in Chicago: Say it aint so! Deshaies departure would be PR fiasco for Astros.

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night, downplaying any health concerns about their All-Star middle infielders. 

One week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, manager Joe Maddon spent part of Sunday's media session saying how he had no concerns with his World Series MVP's stiff neck and his franchise shortstop's stiff back.

"You can tell with 'Zo,'" Maddon said at the Sloan Park complex. "He'll come around and let me know specifically if he feels it's going to be anything longer than that. He's talking either tomorrow night or the next day."

Zobrist, who spent nine seasons with Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays, hasn't appeared in a Cactus League game since March 19. Maddon also signaled Russell is close to returning to action after being a late scratch from Friday's lineup.

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Not like this, but the Cubs already planned to schedule extra rest for Zobrist, given his age (36 in May), the playoff stress on his body from back-to-back World Series titles and emerging options like Javier Baez on a mix-and-match team. 

All along, Maddon hasn't worried about finding enough at-bats for Baez, knowing that injuries are inevitable and the Cubs have insurance policies up and down the roster that should pay off across a 162-game season. But in this case, it doesn't sound like the Cubs are testing that theory with Zobrist and Russell.

"None of this stuff is really threatening," Maddon said. "The trainers have no real strong issues with anything. It's almost like you'll be overly cautious right now. And that's all we're doing."

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."