Chicago Cubs

Look for Cubs to target pitching at Winter Meetings

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Look for Cubs to target pitching at Winter Meetings

Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010
5:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. During what could have been his last night on the job, the media found Mike Quade to be in a particularly good mood.

Sitting behind a desk after Game 161, Quade defused any tension around Carlos Zambrano. If Zambrano glared at teammate Bobby Scales for his defensive mistakes, or sulked when pulled for a reliever, the manager said he didnt see anything.

Quade speaks in rapid bursts and his defense of Zambrano came quickly. He had already set the press conferences tone by teasing one reporter who always asked about the upcoming starting pitchers.

Whats the rotation look like for the rest of the way? Quade said, laughing. The rotation is Dempster and Ill see you guys next year maybe.

Yes, Ryan Dempster did start the final game of last season and should get the assignment for Opening Day 2011. And Quade eventually earned two guaranteed years on his new deal.

But as executives, scouts and agents gather inside the Walt Disney World complex this week for Major League Baseballs annual winter meetings, some of those same questions linger.

The Cubs' rotation has volume, but not definition, and the bullpen could use a right-handed piece. Those will be areas to monitor when the market officially opens Monday at the Swan and Dolphin resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Four years ago, Jim Hendry was rushed from the meetings to an Orlando-area hospital with chest pains, but that didnt stop the general manager from signing Ted Lilly for 40 million.

That worked out for everyone, as Lilly delivered 47 wins and more than 700 innings in three-plus seasons. It wont be easy to replace that sort of production, much less Lillys accountability and refusal to make excuses.

Budget constraints likely wont allow Hendry to make a huge splash in free agency. Forget Cliff Lee and the nine-figure contract a bidding war with the New York Yankees will generate.

From there, the drop-off is steep toward back-of-the-rotation types not unlike Tom Gorzelanny, Randy Wells, Carlos Silva and Casey Coleman. It will force the Cubs to ask themselves: At what price are any of these pitchers better than the ones we already have?

Some linked to the Cubs Jake Westbrook (St. Louis Cardinals), Jon Garland (Los Angeles Dodgers), Javier Vazquez (Florida Marlins) have already found riches elsewhere. The same thing has happened to a shrinking market for first basemen.

Adrian Gonzalez trade talk has dominated the run-up to the meetings. Lance Berkman is heading to St. Louis and Aubrey Huff will remain a World Series hero in San Francisco. It would be shocking if Paul Konerko doesnt re-sign with the White Sox and join Adam Dunn on the South Side.

All that could drive demand for Carlos Pena a Scott Boras client even higher.

The Cubs have a reported interest in Brandon Webb and the one-time Cy Young Award winner seems to fit the profile of what theyre looking for value and upside though theres inherent risk with someone whose right shoulder hasnt allowed him to pitch since April 6, 2009.

However, when the 2011 staff takes shape, it will not be listening to Larry Rothschild anymore. Look for the Cubs to announce the hiring of their new pitching coach this week. Theres a sense that an internal candidate such as Mark Riggins or Lester Strode will be promoted.

Maybe a new voice can help Gorzelanny and Wells gain focus and confidence. Quades presence helped young pitchers like Coleman and Andrew Cashner relax during the final six weeks of last season. Even Zambrano seemed to benefit from a fresh start.

(Quade) did a good job he deserved it, Zambrano said. Hes very professional (and) very respectful and hopefully we can do a lot of good things for him next year.

No one knows if Zambrano has figured it out yet. Internal improvement isnt guaranteed, though its also not unreasonable to think it could happen. It wont help sell tickets this winter, but the man in the dugout will be more convinced than the fan base. He owes a lot to those players.

This has been all about the pitching, Quade said that night in Houston, near the end of his 37-game audition. Those guys on the bump have been special this entire time. Im day to day.

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

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.