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.

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

CSN will also carry the live audio call of Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully during Sunday's game as the SportsNet LA audio feed will be featured during the third inning.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester vs. Kenta Maeda

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Cubs: Jason Hammel still fuming after Joe Maddon’s quick hook at Dodger Stadium

Cubs: Jason Hammel still fuming after Joe Maddon’s quick hook at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – Even from the upper levels of Dodger Stadium, inside the Vin Scully Press Box, you didn’t need binoculars or a lip reader to tell that Jason Hammel wanted nothing to do with Joe Maddon. 

Not this early on Saturday afternoon, not when the Cubs pitcher came into a possible playoff preview with a 13-6 record and a 3.07 ERA. An animated Hammel gestured toward home plate and walked off the mound in the middle of the third inning, continuing a sometimes awkward/usually productive relationship with the star manager that dates back to their time together as Tampa Bay Rays.    

The media waited several extra minutes outside the visiting clubhouse after a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers while Hammel met with Maddon in his office. Maddon’s postgame press conference then lasted almost eight minutes, giving Hammel time to shower and change into his street clothes. Hammel was still fuming by the time reporters wandered over to his locker.

“That’s between me and Joe,” Hammel said. 

Hammel – who normally enjoys the back-and-forth exchanges and gives insightful answers, even to uncomfortable questions – declined to get specific about the meeting, the decision-making process or how to work with Maddon.  

“That’s a conversation for me and him,” Hammel said. “There’s no reason for that to be in the papers. It’s a professional way of working through it. We’ll leave it there.” 

No, Hammel doesn’t get much latitude, even during his 11th year in the big leagues and a strong individual season that had so far answered questions about a second-half fade. But Maddon didn’t like what he saw against a stacked left-handed Los Angeles lineup.

Maddon walked out from the dugout with two runners on and one out in the third inning. Adrian Gonzalez loomed next, trying to extend a 3-1 lead with one big swing. Maddon summoned Rob Zastryzny from the bullpen and watched the rookie lefty get two groundball outs.  

“I didn’t even pitch today in my mind,” Hammel said. “I barely threw 40 pitches, so this is a side day for me.”

Zastryzny looked extremely impressive, retiring 11 of the 12 batters he faced, eight days after getting called up from Triple-A Iowa and making his big-league debut, showing that he could become an X-factor for October.

“He was not happy with me taking him out that early,” Maddon said of his conversations with Hammel. “I can understand why, because it’s happened in the past. But I just didn’t see the game straightening out.

“Watching them one time through, it looked like they were on him a little bit. And I thought that was a great lineup for ‘Rob Z.’ One of the things with bullpen arms – I want to put them in a meaningful spot. 

“I didn’t see it happening for ‘Hammer’ today, and that’s cool, because he didn’t throw that many pitches. He’s going to be very well-rested for his next start. But it also illustrates ‘Rob Z’ and what he can do for us in the future.” 

No, Hammel didn’t look all that sharp, giving up five hits to the 12 batters he faced, including a first-inning homer to Corey Seager and three consecutive hits to begin the third. But Hammel is also a respected veteran teammate who helped the Cubs transform into a playoff team last year and build baseball’s top-performing rotation this season. 

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Who cares? The Cubs are still 36 games over .500 and began the day with huge leads over the St. Louis Cardinals (14) and Pittsburgh Pirates (16.5) in a watered-down division. 

Well, Hammel is a guy who feeds off confidence and positive reinforcement. The Cubs might need him in October, especially if John Lackey (shoulder) experiences a setback before coming off the disabled list or another starter gets hurt down the stretch.  

“It is what it is,” Hammel said. “The guys fought hard. ‘Z’ did a hell of a job coming out of the ‘pen.”

Then again, the Cubs already think Mike Montgomery could develop into a good big-league starter – the lefty swingman got a longer leash given this particular Los Angeles matchup on Friday night – and thought enough of Zastryzny to make him a second-round pick out of the University of Missouri in 2013.

But for now, Maddon allowed Hammel to take advantage of his open-door policy and vent.

“I want them to be able to do that,” Maddon said. “I have a reason why I did it. I’m not going to hide about anything. It’s not like I just picked that out of the hat and chose to do it today. 

“You just got to shoot them straight back. And hopefully they can deal with it. There’s a great line: ‘Honesty without compassion equals cruelty.’ So at some point, you got to understand your audience, too.”

Joe Maddon defends bunt decision after Cubs can’t knock out Dodgers phenom Julio Urias

Joe Maddon defends bunt decision after Cubs can’t knock out Dodgers phenom Julio Urias

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs had Julio Urias and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the ropes, but couldn’t knock out the young lefty from Mexico who’s drawn comparisons to franchise icon Fernando Valenzuela and could be the next star to burst from this pitching-rich pipeline.  

The Cubs created their “you go, we go” sense of momentum on Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium with Dexter Fowler drawing a leadoff walk and MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hitting back-to-back singles into right field to generate the game’s first run.

Urias had already thrown 17 pitches in the first inning when manager Joe Maddon instructed cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist to try to bunt for a hit. It became an easy out for Urias, who then struck out Addison Russell and Jorge Soler looking and began to find his rhythm during a 3-2 victory in front of 49,522 at Chavez Ravine. 

“Second and third was kind of a nice spot to be,” Maddon said. “(Zobrist) could have hit into a double play. He’s the one guy who’s heavy groundball against that particular pitcher. 

“I actually like the bunt for the hit right there, (because) we had (already) scored (and) Addison’s been a pretty good RBI dude. I thought it was a nice move right there (to) at least get one (run) out of that. 

“You got him and Soler coming up versus a left-hander who’s a little bit shaky right there – I kind of liked it.”

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The Cubs had roughed up Urias during his second career big-league start on June 2 – or two-plus months before his 20th birthday – by hitting three homers and scoring six runs off him in five innings at Wrigley Field.   

But Urias – who pitched at four different minor-league levels last season – clearly has an accelerated learning curve. He managed to last six innings this time and didn’t allow another run after that early flurry, finishing with eight strikeouts against two walks.  

Urias has gone 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his last six games (four starts), helping bail out a $250 million team and a fragile rotation that’s used 14 different starting pitchers. If the Dodgers (72-57) can get Clayton Kershaw back to full strength, keep Rich Hill healthy and continue to bring along Urias, then the Cubs might have some matchup nightmares in October. 

“(Urias is) all of what they think he is,” Maddon said. “The kid was outstanding. He knows how to elevate against the guy you’re supposed to elevate against. He knows how to throw the ball down against the guy you’re supposed to throw the ball down to. He’s got a nice move to first base. He handled himself well at the plate. And he’s 20 years old. That’s pretty good.”