Mooney: Cubs model will be building from within

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Mooney: Cubs model will be building from within

Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010
7:20 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

In a letter sent to season-ticket holders on Oct. 8, Tom Ricketts highlighted two men who could walk through OHare International Airport without being noticed by Cubs fans.

Ricketts praised Tim Wilken as one of the best scouting directors in baseball. The chairman also credited vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita for a minor-league system that went 374-316. Only the St. Louis Cardinals finished with a higher overall winning percentage among their farm clubs in 2010.

In style and tone, it distanced Ricketts from the wealthy owner thinking of himself as a master of the universe. There will be days in the future where he stands in the Wrigley Field stadium club next to the free agent holding up a new Cubs jersey as the flashbulbs pop all around them.

But a purchase that took his family several years to complete was finalized on Oct. 27, 2009. One year later, looking back on a deal that cost more than 800 million, its become clear that the model will be to build the Cubs from within.

Remember that the next time someone wishes on Cliff Lee coming to Chicago.

Thats not to say its impossible. Just that it sounds out of character for the Cubs to win a bidding war between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers for a pitcher who will turn 33 next season and is probably looking for a contract that compares to CC Sabathias seven-year, 161 million deal.

In his state-of-the-team address, Ricketts mentioned Wilken and Fleita before Jim Hendry, though both are deeply connected to the Cubs general manager.

Wilken who joined the organization almost five years ago grew up with Hendry in Dunedin, Fla., and his first-round picks are finally beginning to show in Chicago. Fleita who oversees the minor-league affiliates and international operations played for Hendry at Creighton University.

Looking at the big picture, they will be just as important as manager Mike Quade, if not more influential. Even Quade who managed 17 seasons in the minors and four at Triple-A Iowa fits into the vision of promoting from within and becoming more cost-effective.

A letter that ran 28 paragraphs contained no reference to Lou Piniella, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster or Alfonso Soriano. Ricketts did point to Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, Andrew Cashner and Casey Coleman.

All need to take the next step in 2011, but we are very encouraged to have a group of young, homegrown players emerge as regulars in 2010, Ricketts wrote. It is my strong belief that, in the end, it is organizations with strong farm systems that win championships and I am convinced that our organization is making progress (in) what had been a weak spot.

The baseball operations department will assemble for organizational meetings next week in Arizona. The offseason agenda could include: an established starting pitcher to account for Ted Lillys 200 innings; a first baseman to replace Derrek Lee in the middle of the order; andor a veteran reliever to stabilize the bullpen.

Ownership has indicated there will probably be a drop from the payroll level on Opening Day 2010 approximately 145 million and financial commitments for next season begin around 125 million.

But the overall baseball budget is supposed to remain the same. The expectation is that whatever funds are cut from the major-league payroll will be diverted to amateur signings, international scouting and minor-league infrastructure.

The development process has already begun. By sometime in 2011, the homegrown core could include three-fifths of the rotation (Zambrano, Coleman and Randy Wells), the back end of the bullpen (Cashner, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol) and several key position players (Castro, Colvin and Geovany Soto).

Privately, the Cubs are hoping that outfielder Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick, could have an impact next year. They look at Wilkens track record after his involvement in the signings of Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Carlos Delgado and Alex Rios during his 25 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays.

There will likely be several versions of the blueprint. Before reaching their first World Series game in franchise history on Wednesday night, the Rangers cycled in and out of rebuilding phases.

At the 2007 deadline, Texas dealt Mark Teixeira to the Atlanta Braves for a package that yielded an All-Star shortstop (Elvis Andrus) and an All-Star closer (Neftali Feliz). Three years later, the Rangers traded four prospects to get Lee, perhaps the most clutch postseason pitcher of his generation.

The San Francisco Giants invested almost 200 million in three players Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand and Mark DeRosa who were nonfactors as they won the National League pennant.

But the Giants had insurance after developing four good starters and a dominant closer Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Brian Wilson. They found inexpensive help for their lineup with Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell.

Ricketts can be patient because there is a belief his family will own the team for generations. Ownership has also shown that it will be rational, analyzing five million data points before finding out where supply meets demand and setting ticket prices for next season.

But the system cant carry an entire 25-man roster. Just ask the Rangers or Giants. The Cubs will need to get creative before being able to send out invoices for playoff tickets.

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

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."