Dunn deal? Cubs must think about defense first

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Dunn deal? Cubs must think about defense first

Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010
7:47 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Adam Dunn views himself in a way that others do not as a first baseman instead of the designated hitter who should be working four at-bats a night in the American League.

Dunn turned 31 this week and was once athletic enough to be recruited to play quarterback at the University of Texas. He is said to have the personality and swing for Wrigley Field, where he has generated 25 homers and 46 RBI in 66 career games.

Dunn would be the kind of left-handed bat that Cubs general manager Jim Hendry craves. Dunn would also be a defensive liability and another expensive long-term contract on a roster already saddled with those problems.

Even if these awards are based more on name recognition and offensive production, it was no surprise that the Cubs were shut out Wednesday when the National Leagues Gold Glove winners were announced.

You saw Alfonso Soriano hop while catching the ball, Starlin Castro slump when he couldnt make the play and Aramis Ramirez slow to react.

Your eyes told you the same thing the numbers did in 2010. The Cubs finished tied for last in the league in fielding percentage (.979). They committed 126 errors, or 25 more than the major-league average. They gave away 99 unearned runs and lost 32 one-run games.

That happened with a three-time Gold Glove winner Derrek Lee at first base for almost five months.

The Fielding Bible and its expert panel virtually ignored individual Cubs when voting on its annual awards. The online database at FanGraphs gave the Cubs an Ultimate Zone Rating of -7.3, which would slot them as a below-average, middle-tier team.

We can argue about the best way to understand and value defense, but there was a consensus on the Cubs. Whether youre looking at traditional statistics, new-wave metrics or just body language, you know that they need to improve their overall team defense.

The Cubs were outscored 767-685 last season and there is no easy way to make up that deficit, especially with a payroll that wont be increasing and more than 100 million already committed to nine players for 2011.

There will be hard choices to make at first base, with the rotation and in the bullpen. Most of the improvement will have to come from within.

Forget about the Soriano money its already gone. Yes, he will be 35 next year. And the energy he brings to the clubhouse, along with his willingness to work, isnt worth 19 million annually through 2014. But the Cubs cant write him off as a lost cause.

He hangs in there. Im so proud (that) he is committed to defense, manager Mike Quade said. He made a commitment to trying to be as good as he could there. Hes not dealing with the same lower half when he got here. We all know that.

(But) this guy will go home and work out and get himself in shape and come back expecting to have a better year next year. (I) know that he will.

The Cubs have similar hopes for a more mature Castro, who will turn 21 during spring training. Castro will be a priority for new bench coach Pat Listach, who worked with another talented rookie shortstop in Ian Desmond, the only player in the majors to commit more errors than Castros 27 last year.

Ramirez could be a free agent at this time next year. No one will really care about his defense if he makes a salary drive with 35 homers and 100-plus RBI.

Dunns talents could be unique enough to make a similar compromise. Since 2004, he has played in at least 152 games and hit between 38 and 46 homers each season. The Washington Nationals arent necessarily finished negotiating with his camp.

The Cubs and Nationals figure to take a look at Carlos Pena, whos regarded as a much better defender. Pena hit only .196 in Tampa Bay last season, but still accounted for 28 homers and 84 RBI, which would have led the Cubs in both categories.

Penas agent, Scott Boras, has shown that hes not afraid to get a client a one-year deal to restore market value and land the next big contract. Hendry will wait to figure out the shape of his roster before committing Tyler Colvin to the outfield or first base, which the 25-year-old hasnt played since college.

We think hes ready to be an everyday player, Hendry said last week. Well just see what spot we need him at before we get to camp.

The Cubs will have to weigh the unseen consequences of bad defense. Its turning over a lineup too soon, burning a reliever earlier than youd like or facing a No. 3 hitter when it should be the bottom of the order.

Better defense could reduce the pressure on all the young pitchers the Cubs think they have coming. It could give them the sense that they dont have to be perfect and can just throw strikes.

Then again, it would also help pitching with the confidence of a three-run lead after Dunn drilled another ball into the bleachers.

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

Cubs president Theo Epstein, world's greatest leader? 'The pope didn't have as good of a year'

Cubs president Theo Epstein, world's greatest leader? 'The pope didn't have as good of a year'

MESA, Ariz. – Cubs president Theo Epstein showed zero interest in playing along with Fortune magazine putting him on the cover and ranking him No. 1 on the list of "The World's 50 Greatest Leaders," or two spots ahead of Pope Francis.

"The pope didn't have as good of a year," manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday, channeling Babe Ruth.

Epstein essentially bit his tongue, responding to reporters with a copy-and-paste text message that reflected his self-awareness and PR savvy. 

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house," Epstein wrote. "The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball – a pastime involving a lot of chance. If (Ben) Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. 

"And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Epstein obviously has a big ego. No one becomes the youngest general manager in baseball history and builds three World Series winners without a strong sense of confidence and conviction. But he genuinely tries to deflect credit, keep a relatively low profile and stay focused on the big picture. 

Fortune's cover art became an older image of Epstein standing at the dugout, surrounded by reporters during a Wrigley Field press gaggle. (This was not Alex Rodriguez kissing a mirror during a magazine photo shoot.) The text borrowed from Tom Verducci's upcoming "The Cubs Way" book. 
 
Fortune still hit an Internet sweet spot and generated a lot of buzz, ranking Epstein ahead of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (No. 4), Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (No. 7) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (No. 10).

"I'm all about the pope," Maddon said. "Sorry, Pope Francis. We're buds. I'd like to meet him someday. But after all, what we did last year was pretty special. 

"Has the pope broken any 108-year-old curses lately?"

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Epstein also ended an 86-year drought for the Boston Red Sox, putting the finishing touches on the immortal 2004 team and winning another championship in 2007 with eight homegrown players. 

No matter how the Cubs try to airbrush history now, that five-year plan featured lucky breaks, unexpected twists and turns and payroll frustrations as the franchise went from 101 losses in 2012 to 103 wins last season. But even after the biggest party Chicago has ever seen, no team in baseball is better positioned for the future. And there is no doubt that Epstein is a Hall of Fame executive.  

"He's very good at setting something up and then permitting people to do their jobs," Maddon said. "That's the essence of good leadership, the ability to delegate well. But then he also has the tough conversations. 

"He sees both sides. I've talked about his empathy before. I think that sets him apart from a lot of the young groups that are leading Major League Baseball teams right now. You know if you have to talk to him about something, he's got an open ear and he's going to listen to what you say. He's not going to go in there predetermined. 

"You can keep going on and on, him just obviously being very bright, brilliant actually. He's got so many great qualities about him. But he leads well, I think, primarily because of his empathy."

That blend of scouting and analytics, open-minded nature and pure guts led to the Cubs: drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber; trading for Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Addison Russell and almost their entire bullpen; and signing transformative free agents like Jon Lester and Zobrist.            

Chairman Tom Ricketts locked up Epstein before the playoffs started last October with a five-year extension believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $50 million. Arrieta didn't laugh off the Fortune rankings.

"It just shows you all the positive that's he done," Arrieta said. "Not only here, but beforehand in Boston and what he's built for himself and for the city of Boston and the city of Chicago. It's hard to understate what he means to the organization."

How Cubs decided Kyle Hendricks would be their fifth starter

How Cubs decided Kyle Hendricks would be their fifth starter

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Joe Maddon made the obvious choice and named Jon Lester as the Opening Night starter, the Cubs manager joked about Kyle Hendricks reacting to the news by throwing stuff around the weight room.

So imagine how last year's ERA titleholder and a World Series Game 7 starter responded to the idea of being slotted fifth in the rotation.

"I heard things rattling in there," Maddon said with a laugh.

The Cubs revealed their alignment before Thursday afternoon's Jake Arrieta vs. Zack Greinke matchup at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, confirming Brett Anderson will work as a starter (for as long as he's healthy) while Mike Montgomery moves to the bullpen for the defending champs.

The Cubs want John Lackey to face the St. Louis Cardinals, so he will open as the No. 3 starter at Busch Stadium. To break up the lefties in the rotation, Anderson — who once tweeted: "Kyle Hendricks looks like he'd celebrate a World Series win with a glass of 2% milk, Oreos and a book" — will start Game 4 against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

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Whether or not the Cubs are overthinking this and overplaying their hand with a mild-mannered personality, don't expect Hendricks to rage against the pitching infrastructure.

"That's the point about our group," Maddon said. "Everybody buys in. Everybody's good. They understand being a part of the puzzle in your own unique way.

"It's kind of neat when you can have these conversations, knowing that ego's not going to play a part of it from the player coming back at you. They know it is part of the overall picture. They also know that the purpose is to try to do what we did last year.

"It's a unique situation. I'm not saying we're taking advantage of it, because everybody kind of digs it."

Whether or not Hendricks repeats his 2.13 ERA and third-place finish in the National League Cy Young Award vote, the Cubs see 200 innings as his next level after throwing 180 in 2015 and 190 last season (plus seven playoff starts combined).

"Everybody gets hung up on numbers," Maddon said. "He's definitely better than a No. 5 starter. It just happens that we're going to slot him in the five-hole coming out of camp. It's not a pecking order regarding ability by any means.

"A lot of it is just comfort zone for us with Kyle doing so well there last year. But, listen, Kyle can be a lot of people's No. 2s or even a 1 in a situation right now, too."

All along, the Cubs have coached up and managed Hendricks to the point where he could beat Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers to clinch the franchise's first pennant in 71 years.

"Why mess with that?" Maddon said. "As long as his ego doesn't force you to attempt to try to do something differently, and it doesn't, outside of throwing things a little bit. He's beautiful. We're all good."