Chicago Cubs

Following Ozzie, Zambrano takes talents to South Beach

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Following Ozzie, Zambrano takes talents to South Beach

The Carlos Zambrano trade was viewed as a matter of when not if and realistically only one team would be a match.

It comes as no surprise that the Cubs are on the verge of sending Zambrano and 15 million to the Miami Marlins as part of a package for 25-year-old pitcher Chris Volstad.

Zambrano will be taking his talents to South Beach because of the strength of his relationship with Ozzie Guillen. No other manager would be so willing to take on the explosive, enigmatic pitcher.

The entire industry knows Zambranos greatest hits slamming Gatorade coolers, fighting with Michael Barrett, going after Derrek Lee, walking out on his teammates last season.

But there was Guillen, walking quickly through the lobby of the Hilton Anatole during last months winter meetings in Dallas. Trailed by reporters, Guillen explained how he had a bet with a friend that Zambrano will win more than 14 games for the Cubs in 2012.

Now if they trade him, well, Id take it, Guillen said while being hustled to yet another media stop.

The inevitable deal first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports on Wednesday and confirmed by CSNChicagos David Kaplan was ultimately just going to be about the details. Volstad is a former first-round pick whos eligible for arbitration and wont become a free agent until after the 2014 season.

The Cubs had moved on long ago, with ownership giving Theo Epstein the authority to eat the money on a sunk cost. The new president of baseball operations has preached all about accountability and clubhouse chemistry.

A rebuilding organization didnt need Zambrano taking up all the oxygen in the room. Even people close to Zambrano admitted that he could use a fresh start somewhere else, and predicted he would be hungry to prove himself all over again.

Zambrano did seem to enjoy living and playing in Chicago, even if he had strange ways of showing it. Signed as a 16-year-old kid out of Venezuela, he has spent almost half his life in the Cubs organization.

Zambrano held the hammer of full no-trade protection. But waiving those rights figured to be a formality with Guillen involved.

The good friends remained in regular communication throughout the offseason. Their families are close. They have shot commercials together back home in Venezuela.

The Marlins need rotation help, which makes paying a fourth-starter-type 3 million this season a low-risk proposition. (The contract also includes a 19.25 million long-shot vesting option for 2013, though thats only if Zambrano finishes this season healthy and among the top four in the Cy Young vote.)

For a team that has struggled to break through the clutter in the Miami market and is about to move into a brand-new stadium in Little Havana this is also another way to generate buzz.

The theory is that Guillen will be there to challenge Zambrano to stay focused and channel all that adrenaline.

Zambrano has a very good sense of humor, teasing reporters and making movie references to Rocky IV and RoboCop. People inside the Cubs organization talked about his genuine feel for his family and charitable causes.

But the Cubs also swore that the money changed Zambrano almost as soon as he signed a five-year, 91.5 million extension during the middle of the 2007 season.

It all boiled over again one night last August, when the Atlanta Braves hammered Zambrano, who threw at Chipper Jones, packed up his stuff and left Turner Field during the middle of the game. In another moment of frustration, he began telling people that he felt like he was stealing money and thinking about retirement.

It was a safe bet that Zambrano who had a 4.82 ERA when he was effectively suspended had thrown his last pitch in a Cubs uniform. He exits with a 125-81 career record in Chicago and 1,542 strikeouts, which ranks second in franchise history.

On paper, those are good numbers, but Zambrano hasnt accounted for more than 200 innings since 2007. Hes freakishly athletic, a gifted soccer player and switch-hitter who just happened to be built like an NFL defensive end. Maybe he can put it all together for one season in Miami.

But it wasnt going to happen on the North Side. There are enough holdovers from the Jim Hendry administration that Epstein knew all about Zambranos act, how many times he had to say sorry.

Surely Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum noticed that they were asked about Zambrano just about any time a microphone was put in front of their faces. Why make that the narrative?

You know what the story will be when the Cubs visit Miami April 17-19, and when the Marlins come to Wrigley Field July 17-19.

Zambrano was gold for the Chicago media. The Cubs world will be a far less interesting place without him. But in the end, both sides needed this divorce.

In thick of tight division race, Cubs add catcher Rene Rivera: 'You can't have enough experience'

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USA TODAY

In thick of tight division race, Cubs add catcher Rene Rivera: 'You can't have enough experience'

If this was 2016, the Cubs might not have bothered to acquire Rene Rivera.

But this isn’t 2016.

The Cubs have a vastly different catching situation than they did a year ago. But even more importantly, they’ve been unable to build any sort of lead in a crowded National League Central race.

Rivera, claimed off waivers from the New York Mets on Saturday morning, almost surely won’t end up being the guy who fuels the Cubs’ pulling away from the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. But with Willson Contreras on the disabled list, Miguel Montero on the Toronto Blue Jays, Alex Avila not even a month into his Cubs tenure and Victor Caratini just 17 games into his big league career, adding an extra veteran presence behind the plate seems like a pretty good idea.

“It’s like you can’t have enough pitching. You can’t have enough experience, depth-wise, especially at that position,” manager Joe Maddon said Saturday. “So I though we were very fortunate to be able to do this right now. Theo (Epstein, team president) told me about the potential yesterday, obviously it happened.”

This time last season, the Cubs had a reliable 1-2 punch behind the plate with Montero and Contreras. And more notably they had a double-digit lead in the NL Central standings. There’s been an awful lot of change since, with Montero’s brutal honesty getting him shipped off to Canada and Contreras injuring his leg in San Francisco.

Fortunately for the Cubs, they invested some of their last remaining minor league capital in acquiring Avila. Avila won’t replicate the kind of offensive production that made Contreras the hottest hitter on the team, but he’s a very capable starting catcher during Contreras’ time on the shelf.

And while Caratini has been fine — in fact, he’s hitting .400 since Contreras went down and collected three hits in Friday’s win over the Blue Jays — the Cubs are no longer about getting guys experience in August and September. The stakes are much higher.

The Cubs might’ve been an unstoppable juggernaut during the 2016 regular season. This year, though, has been a much different story, and a playoff spot is hardly a certainty.

Rivera isn’t going to solve the problems that have made it so the Cubs are stuck fighting for the crown of a middle-of-the-road division. But he’ll bring veteran experience to a playoff race that could last all the way until the season’s final days.

Rivera has been playing big league ball since 2004 but has totaled just nine years of major league service since then, serving in backup roles and just twice appearing in more than 100 games in a season. The Cubs raved about his defensive ability Saturday — as well as the eight homers he hit in 54 games for the Mets this season.

“He’s very good. Saw him with different teams, we’ve all seen him. He’s got a great reputation,” Maddon said. “Nice fella. Very good defensive player, great reputation. And he's got some pop, too. He hit a couple home runs. So that veteran kind of presence, the depth that it provides is all good stuff.”

No announcement has been made about the active roster. Minor league pitcher Aaron Brooks was designated for assignment to make room for Rivera on the 40-man roster. But the general thinking is that Caratini will head back to Triple-A Iowa.

“He’s done really well,” Maddon said of Caratini. “The way he’s blocked pitches in the dirt has been spectacular. I’ve enjoyed watching his receiving and his blocking, too. The pitchers have been really happy with him. … He’s very aware of building relationships with his pitchers, which I like. And it seems as if the pitchers are into him, too.

“There’s a great future for him in this game.”

But right now, the Cubs need all the experience they can get.

The worst seventh-inning stretch performances of all time

The worst seventh-inning stretch performances of all time

Just 14 years ago, Cubs fans heard quite possibly the worst rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" ever. 

Ozzy Osbourne, lead vocalist for Black Sabbath, took the mic that 2003 afternoon at Wrigley and made eardrums bleed. It was that painful. 

It got "In the Loop" thinking, what were some other horrendous singing performances? 

From Da Coach to Scottie Pippen, the video above mashes up the worst of the worst.