Chicago Cubs

Mooney: Cubs facing a Giant offseason

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Mooney: Cubs facing a Giant offseason

Friday, Nov. 5, 2010
6:10 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The San Francisco Giants were 41-40 on the Fourth of July and by the beginning of September there were strong odds that they wouldnt even make the playoffs.

The Giants hadnt won a World Series in 56 years or since moving to the West Coast and as soon as they clinched Monday night five of their players became free agents.

Thousands upon thousands flooded downtown San Francisco on Wednesday for the championship parade and within hours the Giants had declined their 2011 option on World Series MVP Edgar Renteria.

You could argue that there is no baseball offseason. The Cubs completed their organizational meetings on Friday in Mesa, Ariz. The free-agent market opens Sunday at 12:01 a.m. EST. And in three-plus months pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training.

Like the Giants, the Cubs may have their regrets. Combined Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand, Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome will cost around 370 million spread across 24 contract years and not one is still really viewed as a core player.

Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth could each command a nine-figure contract across the next few weeks. Philosophically and with a push from new ownership the Cubs are moving away from those types of reactionary signings.

It did not go unnoticed that the Giants leaned on four homegrown starters Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez who were responsible for eight of their 11 postseason wins.

This was not a marquee group (of hitters), Cubs manager Mike Quade said. The whole group (just) lived on that pitching and they did enough offensively (to) get things done. (The) pitching can take you a long way.

The Cubs could use another starter, and will need a first baseman, preferably someone whos left-handed. Aubrey Huff remained unemployed through the middle of January before the Giants made a minimal commitment one year at 3 million and he wound up leading the team in almost every offensive category.

The Cubs could try to find similar value and flexibility. Speculation will center on Adam Dunn, but any team looking for a first baseman will have options: Huff; Carlos Pena; Lyle Overbay; Lance Berkman.

Someone will pay for Derrek Lees leadership and Gold Glove defense and hope he gets healthy and again produces at a high level. Any team would improve with Paul Konerkos bat and clubhouse presence. Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder should hit free agency after the 2011 season.

There is also depth to the pool of free-agent relievers. Reuniting with Kerry Wood would play well at the press conference, but he will be 34 next year and went on the disabled list last summer with a 6.30 ERA.

But Wood dominated once he was traded to New York, and the Yankees are constantly trying to ensure that their bridge to closer Mariano Rivera is secure. Will another team ask Wood to close? Could he get a multi-year deal somewhere? What will be his priorities?

Teams are always searching for bullpen help, and this winter you can find former closers (J.J. Putz, Frank Francisco, Brian Fuentes), relievers from playoff teams (Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Jesse Crain) and pitchers who have done it in the American League East (Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Grant Balfour).

That could be the quickest way for the Cubs to improve. The Giants blended their bullpen pieces through the draft, trades and free agency. They finished 66-6 when leading after six innings in the regular season, and went 8-1 during the playoffs in that situation.

The Cubs went 22-32 in one-run games. Eighty-three of their games were decided by two runs or less. What if a stronger bullpen could reverse the outcome in two close games each month? That would mean 12 more wins, a total of 87, which definitely makes you a factor in a weak National League Central.

For the Cubs, payroll projections are fuzzy, beyond the expectation that it will be lower than the approximately 145 million allocated on Opening Day 2010.

Its not an issue for us, general manager Jim Hendry said. We feel like whatever number (it) is, were going to have a successful offseason and be able to add a few pieces for Mike and his staff.

Thats all part of the job. Its not a question of how much money you get to spend. Were not going to need an overhaul here. I think we all felt a lot better about the club at the end of the year, the way some of the kids progressed.

Whether or not the Cubs are overestimating their 24-13 finish, the roster will have a similar look next season. But the players on the margins can make a huge difference.

The team that holds up the trophy in any sport its whos playing the best at the end and (the Giants) were really one or two games from not getting in. So it can change that quickly, Hendry said. They had a bunch of guys that just played well together and got hot at the right time. And once you get in its like we always said if you can get in often enough then sooner or later you can knock that door down.

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

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan? Pt. 2

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan? Pt. 2

The crosstown rivalry doesn't end on the diamond.

Both Cubs and White Sox fans are highly competitive when it comes to trivia, too. 

We found that out when we bounced around Guaranteed Rate Field to quiz North and South Siders in a special edition of "Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?" 

Watch the video above as we pitted fans against each other for the chance to win a killer shirt.

With or without Justin Verlander, Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to stay in first place: ‘We have the pieces’

With or without Justin Verlander, Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to stay in first place: ‘We have the pieces’

The Cubs already have a Cy Young Award winner, someone who was transforming into the hottest pitcher on the planet around this time in 2015, and then beat the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in last year’s World Series.

So the Cubs can keep discussing Justin Verlander and trying to figure out the price point where it makes sense, what caliber prospects they would have to give up and how much money the Detroit Tigers would have to kick in to cover a bill that could soar toward $90 million. 

But Jake Arrieta showed why the Cubs might finally start to run away from the division and become a very dangerous team in October, dominating the White Sox on Wednesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field during an 8-3 win that vaulted them into first place in the National League Central.          

“We expect to remain in first place,” Arrieta said. “We know it’s going to be a tough task, but that’s kind of what you deal with at the highest level of sports. You expect to have really good competition from teams that are either equal with you or close behind.

“We feel like we have the group to separate ourselves at this point in time and remain in first place for the remainder of the way.”

The Cubs probably don’t have the blue-chip prospects – and the appetite to raid their farm system again – to blow away the Oakland A’s and win a bidding war for Sonny Gray. The Cubs kick the tires on everything, but Yu Darvish would be a rental and the Texas Rangers are torn over what to do with their Japanese star. 

This is another reason why the Cubs are focusing on adding a veteran backup catcher and strengthening the bullpen before the July 31 trade deadline: Arrieta Watch is back, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning in front of a sellout crowd of 38,517 before Omar Narvaez drilled a ground-rule double into the right-center field seats.  

The Cubs are 10-2 since trading for Jose Quintana during the All-Star break, erasing a 5.5-game deficit against the Milwaukee Brewers heading into this weekend’s showdown at Miller Park. At 53-47, the Cubs are a season-high six games over .500, and it all starts with pitching.  

“I think we’ve got the pieces to get it done,” Arrieta said. “If there’s a situation where we can get another guy and not lose any key players, it might work in our favor.

“Obviously, when we traded for Quintana, that’s a huge addition to our ballclub. This guy’s really good. He works his butt off. And just seeing how he carries himself in between starts is a really great sign. To have a guy like that who works extremely hard and cares about the team winning ballgames – you can’t replace that.

“That trade right there in itself is one that’s going to pay huge dividends for this ballclub, not only for this year, but for the next couple years. But we’re a great team right now, and I think we have the pieces to get it done.”  

Arrieta was on cruise control until Yoan Moncada launched his 98th and final pitch – an 0-2 curveball – 409 feet over the center-field wall with two outs in the seventh inning. Arrieta only allowed those two hits, giving up two runs and finishing with five strikeouts against two walks, continuing the correction super-agent Scott Boras predicted when the Chicago media and Cubs fans wondered about his flashes of diminished velocity and spikes in hard contact during a free-agency push.

Arrieta has methodically put together 10 wins and three straight quality starts after the All-Star break, chopping his ERA down from 5.44 in the middle of May to 4.03. Ricky Renteria’s White Sox are obviously tanking for the future and there are a lot of conditions attached to this statement: 

But if Arrieta pitches like this, Jon Lester continues to be one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation, Quintana excels in a pennant race and Kyle Hendricks regains his feel and rhythm after six-plus weeks on the disabled list, then the Cubs might have a better playoff rotation than the one that ended the 108-year drought.     

“We’re feelin’ it,” Arrieta said, thinking back to last summer, when Theo Epstein’s front office added 100-mph closer Aroldis Chapman to a team with close to a 99-percent chance of making the playoffs. “I remember last year we were in this clubhouse around this same time, and it’s no different.” 

Look at the competition: The Washington Nationals might be forced into adding a frontline starter now that Stephen Strasburg is headed to the 10-day disabled list with a nerve impingement in his right forearm. The Los Angeles Dodgers are hoping a strained lower back won’t stop Clayton Kershaw from making a few tune-up starts in September before becoming their Game 1 starter in October.

With or without Verlander, the Cubs are ramping up to defend their title.

“I’m going to continue to get stronger as the year progresses,” Arrieta said. “I feel like my best baseball, my best pitching, is still ahead of me. And I’m ready for it.”