Look for Cubs to target pitching at Winter Meetings

332620.jpg

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.

Cubs tinker with rotation for series in Boston

Cubs tinker with rotation for series in Boston

With all the off-days in the season's opening month, it's given the Cubs an opportunity to tinker with their rotation.

They're shaking things up with the order again ahead of the three-game set against the Red Sox in Boston. The Cubs will roll with Jake Arrieta Friday on CSN, John Lackey Saturday and Kyle Hendricks Sunday. 

Hendricks just threw Tuesday night in the second game of the Pirates series in Pittsburgh. He enjoyed the best start of his 2017 season, allowing six baserunners in six shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 4.50 and WHIP to 1.27.

Despite the strong start, the 2016 MLB ERA leader wasn't willing to say he's "back."

"It's just one start," he told reporters Tuesday night. "It's not a "back" thing. I'm not in the zone, dialed in like I was last year. That was a completely different feeling and sensation.

"[But I] felt a lot better. It's more on track."

Brett Anderson will get an extra day and is on track to start the first game back at Wrigley against the Philadelphia Phillies Monday.

Assuming there are no other changes to the rotation, Jon Lester will follow Anderson before the Arrieta-Lackey-Hendricks trio goes again.

The Cubs won't have another off-day until Thursday, May 11 and are set to play 13 games in 13 days.

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Gift Ngoepe might not have had the weight of the world on his shoulders but he felt like a continent was counting on him.

Ngoepe, the first African to reach the major leagues, singled in his first plate appearance and Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the first with a home run Wednesday night to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Ngoepe was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and entered the game in fourth inning as part of a double switch and finished 1 for 2 with a walk. The 27-year-old South African, who signed with the Pirates in 2008 as an amateur free agent, led off the fourth with a hit off winless Cubs ace Jon Lester.

"To accomplish this only for me but for my country and my continent is something so special," Ngoepe said. "There are 1.62 billion people on our continent. To be the first person out of 1.62 billion to do this is amazing."

It was so special that Ngoepe nearly broke into tears when he trotted from the dugout to take his positon at second base.

"I told myself not to cry because I'm in the big leagues and I'm a big guy now," Ngoepe said with a smile. "(Catcher Francisco) Cervelli hugged me and I could feel my heart beat through my chest."

A year after winning 19 games in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908, Lester (0-1) is still looking for his first victory after five starts. The left-hander was tagged for six runs - five earned - and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"It's probably the best I threw the ball all year," Lester said. "That's baseball."

Wade LeBlanc (1-0), who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of rookie Tyler Glasnow, got the win.

The fifth leadoff home run of Harrison's career keyed a two-run first that included an RBI double by Cervelli. Andrew McCutchen and Phil Gosselin hit run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that pushed the Pirates' lead to 5-1.

After the Cubs got within two runs, Josh Bell gave the Pirates a 6-3 lead with a solo home run in the sixth inning off Lester. The rookie first baseman has reached base in 11 straight games.

Anthony Rizzo's two-run homer deep into the right-field stands in the eighth inning off Daniel Hudson drew the Cubs within 6-5. Tony Watson then got the last four outs for his seventh save in as many chances.

Glasnow remained winless in nine career starts, allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings and requiring 89 pitches to get 10 outs.

Rizzo had four RBIs and Kris Bryant had three hits as the Cubs lost for just second time in eight games while stranding 13 runners. The Pirates won for the third time in nine games.