Chicago Cubs

Listening to Cubs, Epstein saw no reason to trust Zambrano

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Listening to Cubs, Epstein saw no reason to trust Zambrano

Like a smooth politician, Theo Epstein went on a listening tour after he took this job to find out what went wrong. The overwhelming response from players and staffers: Carlos Zambrano had to go.

The Cubs reached a point of no return on Aug. 12 last season, when Zambrano left Turner Field during the middle of a game and headed to the teams luxury hotel in downtown Atlanta.

The official end of an era came Thursday, with the Cubs trading Zambrano and roughly 15.5 million to the Miami Marlins for Chris Volstad, a 25-year-old right-hander for the back end of their rotation.

Zambrano waived his no-trade clause to play for old friend Ozzie Guillen, who might be the only manager in baseball not afraid of this experiment blowing up in his face.

I'm not big on labels (or) reputations dictating how I treat people or how I think about people, Epstein said. This was one where it was really consistent. Every player that I talked to articulated to me that Carlos had really violated their trust.

When you're talking about physical altercations with teammates repeatedly (and) physically walking out on the team its very hard to then have that player come back in the clubhouse and be trusted.

Do I believe in second chances? Yes. Do I believe in third chances? Yes, in some cases even fourth chances. But I think you have to be realistic about it (when) youre trying to establish a certain sense of unity (and purpose) in the clubhouse. (You) have to have accountability.

Zambrano voided a potential vesting option for 2013, which would have been triggered with an unlikely top-four finish this season in the Cy Young vote.

For the final bill, the Marlins will subtract whatever Volstad earns through arbitration a projected 2.5 million from the 18 million owed to Zambrano in 2012. The Cubs will pay the difference.

Zambrano and the players union also settled their grievance over the approximately 3 million he didnt get in the final weeks of last season. That temper tantrum will essentially cost Zambrano six days pay (600,000), though he recoups 2.4 million.

The night Zambrano told people he felt like he was stealing money and ready for retirement, Epstein was still running the Red Sox, a team that would wake up the next morning in first place, two games up on the hated Yankees and 29 games over .500.

An epic collapse the Boston media produced sensational stories about players drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games helped push Epstein to the North Side.

The president of baseball operations publicly allowed for the possibility of Zambrano earning his way back onto the team. Back in November, Epstein and Zambrano were part of a group that had lunch at the Goose Island brewpub in Wrigleyville, where the pitcher made it known that his first choice was to stay in Chicago.

Epstein said the Cubs would explore trade possibilities. Zambrano and Guillen stayed in touch throughout the offseason. It was no secret that South Beach would be a very soft landing spot.

The people whove been around the situation over the years have heard before that theres going to be change, Epstein said. Theyve heard before that theres going to be a new attitude and they've been burned physical altercations, deserting the team. (There) was a breakdown of trust.

It made it clear in my mind this wasnt just a sort of mob mentality. There wasnt unfair momentum to run this guy out of town. This was a very legitimate situation. It would have been difficult for him to re-establish himself (and) earn the trust of his teammates back (and) for us to establish the kind of culture that we want in the clubhouse.

The notebooks are going to fill up fast in Little Havana, where the Marlins need to sell tickets to the state-of-the-art ballpark theyll unveil.

Zambrano can show the beat writers the correct way to break a bat over your knee, where you should hold your hands. The key, he said one morning last year inside the Wrigley Field dugout, is where you hold your hands and making sure to focus on one spot in the middle.

If you go too far one way or another, Zambrano explained, youll wind up on the disabled list. That was Big Z, swinging from one extreme to another, laugh-out-loud funny to vein-popping angry.

Will Zambrano snap? Even Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest didnt seem to be completely sold.

We went with Ozzie on this one, Beinfest told Miami reporters. We think the change of scenery will be beneficial to (Zambrano). Is everything going to be perfect and is it going to be incident-free? I think it would be hard to say that given the guys history, but Ozzie is very confident he can help him.

Stay tuned. But Epstein made sure he wasnt going to be the one getting calls from reporters late at night, asking for comment on what Zambrano did this time.

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

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USA TODAY

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

Jon Lester isn’t expected to be on the disabled list for long, which of course is great news for the Cubs.

But while he’s there, it’s once again time for Mike Montgomery to audition for a spot in the team’s 2018 starting rotation.

The Cubs are facing the possibility of losing two members of that starting staff this offseason, when both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be free agents. Montgomery seems like a logical replacement, but he’ll need to be better than he’s been as a starter this season. He’s put up a 5.13 ERA in eight starts.

He’ll get another opportunity to show his stuff over the next week or so, as he makes one or two spot starts with Lester on the shelf resting up his left lat tightness and general shoulder fatigue.

“I don’t want to see anybody get hurt, especially our ace. But it’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to going out there and helping the team win,” Montgomery said over the weekend. “I’m going to go out there and prepare and be ready to help this team get to the playoffs.”

Montgomery doesn’t have to worry about instilling confidence in his bosses. Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein both lauded Montgomery’s efforts since he was acquired about a year ago, in the middle of the 2016 team’s march to that curse-smashing World Series win. It was Montgomery who earned the save in Game 7.

And again this season Montgomery has given plenty of reason for those guys to have confidence in him. He’s turned in a strong 2.57 ERA in 27 relief appearances, one of the more reliable arms out of what is becoming an increasingly shaky bullpen. This past Thursday, he relieved the early-to-depart Lester, pitching 4.1 shutout innings and allowing just three hits and a walk against the Cincinnati Reds.

Throw in the versatility of being able to effectively switch between starting and relieving, and that’s a recipe for sticking on a big league roster.

“He’s good about bouncing back and forth,” Maddon said. “He’s been invaluable to us the last couple years. He’s still learning his craft. Every time I talk to him it’s kind of like the little lightbulb constantly goes off for him regarding his stuff and how to utilize it. That’s what I’ve been talking about with him the last couple years. This guy’s got all kinds of tools in the toolbox but he doesn’t really know how to utilize them all, and I think he’s finally understanding the cutter, the curve, the changeup to go with the fastball. He’s one of those guys that he should never get wild with his fastball because his pitches are so good and he can throw them for a strike.”

Montgomery’s reliability has been enough that Epstein said there’s no plan for the Cubs to add another starting pitcher before this month’s waiver trade deadline. Of course, the fact that Lester’s injury isn’t as bad as initially feared and the July acquisition of Jose Quintana factors into that, as well.

“We’ve expended a lot of prospect capital trying to make this team better. We think it’s just a start or two (that Lester will miss), and Mike Montgomery is more than capable of filling in,” Epstein said. “He’s thrown the ball really well, like what we saw from him (Thursday). So we’re going to fill that vacancy internally with Mike and go from there.”

While every start made by any pitcher this season seems important — the Cubs entered Monday’s day off with just a two-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central standings, with a playoff spot hardly guaranteed — Montgomery’s efforts could have just as great an effect on next season. If Arrieta and Lackey both end up departing via free agency, the Cubs will need some replacements. Montgomery figures to be among the first options, especially if this midseason audition goes well.

Of course, Montgomery is happy to do whatever he needs to to help his team. He’s not complaining about a bullpen role or one that has him shuttling between the relief corps and the rotation. But he admitted that starting is his goal, meaning the importance of this moment likely hasn't been lost on him.

“Yeah, absolutely, I wanted to start. But also I wanted to be a guy who could fill another role and hopes that makes our team better,” he said. “If me starting makes us better in their mind, then that’s what I want ideally. But I’ve realized I can’t always control that, I can go out there and pitch well. If I pitch well, they’re probably going to give me more opportunities, which is probably going to lead to starting.

“I think it’s because I spent five years in Triple-A from the time I was 21 and I had a bigger ego. And then you realize that you just want to be in the big leagues and that Triple-A kind of stinks. I think it’s just how I’ve gotten to this point. And coming here last year from a team that was trying to get in the playoffs to a team that was clearly going to win the division, you realize that your role isn’t to come here and start making demands, it’s to come here and just do your job.”

Right now, the Cubs need Montgomery to fill the void while Lester rests up. And if he can make his starts look a little more like his bullpen outings, he’ll do just that. And if that’s what happens, maybe they’ll call on him next season to do a whole lot more.

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now: Cubs' first baseman named NL Player of the Week

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USA TODAY

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now: Cubs' first baseman named NL Player of the Week

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now.

And Major League Baseball noticed.

Rizzo was announced as the National League Player of the Week on Monday after a terrific performance last week.

The Cubs' first baseman collected 12 hits, drove in 13 runs and slashed a ridiculous .429/.484/.750.

The Cubs had a pretty good week as a team, too, winning five of their seven games against the visiting Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays.

They take their three-game winning streak to Ohio to start a three-game set with the Reds on Tuesday.