Chicago Cubs

Mooney: Cubs prepare for long winter

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Mooney: Cubs prepare for long winter

Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010
4:10 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

HOUSTON Lou Piniella and a few of his staffers gathered in the lobby bar of a downtown Atlanta hotel on April 5 to watch Duke and Butler play for college basketballs national championship.

Hours earlier, in front of new ownership and the 53,081 fans at Turner Field, the Cubs absorbed their worst opening loss since 1884. Whatever reservations they may have had about the roster and a pitching staff that gave up 16 runs that day they couldnt have seen all this coming.

The Cubs wouldnt spend a single moment above .500 and play for three different managers. Core members of the teams that won back-to-back division titles Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot would be traded.

Carlos Zambrano would be shipped to the bullpen, banished to the restricted list and perform like one of the best pitchers in the National League.

Rookies Tyler Colvin, Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner contributed faster than anyone expected. Colvin (pneumothorax) and Carlos Silva (cardiac ablation) would discover medical terms no one else had ever heard of before.

The season ended at 3:40 p.m. Sunday at Minute Maid Park with a 4-0 loss to the Houston Astros and now the question is where the Cubs transition from here.

Its a bittersweet kind of day, manager Mike Quade said. It will take about a month for me to get to ready to say whatevers going to happen (that) Im ready to get back into it. These guys finished like they meant business and Im real proud of that.

The players will go hunting and fishing. Within the next few days general manager Jim Hendry who doesnt need to meet with any more outside candidates will begin serious discussions with chairman Tom Ricketts about who should manage the Cubs in 2011.

With a 24-13 close to the season, Quade enjoys almost unanimous support in the clubhouse.

Hes done an amazing job, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. Hes been great to us and hopefully weve been good in return. Ive enjoyed every minute of him as a manager and hopefully hell have the chance to come back.

Several weeks ago, when a 75-87 record seemed absurdly optimistic, the Cubs pulled their advance scouts off upcoming opponents and redirected them to track players who were approaching free agency or might be available this winter.

Within the next few weeks, Hendry will assemble his talent evaluators and begin to prioritize offseason needs. He doesnt know how much money he will have to spend.

Opening Day payroll began around 145 million. The team has approximately 125 million committed for next season. Ricketts has indicated that payroll will drop from the 2010 level.

Tom and I have not had any final conversation in any way, shape or form about what the payroll number will be (or) what my thoughts are on improving the club, Hendry said. I take into consideration all the people that work out on the road doing the dirty work (scouting for us) before I talk to Tom about what we really think we need.

Hendry expects to see Zambrano, who has a no-trade clause in his 91.5 million deal, wearing a Cubs uniform next season.

Ive never assumed that he really wanted to go, Hendry said. He earned the contract that he got and Ive always assumed that he would be pitching for the Cubs. Im glad that hes obviously righted the ship and had a really good ending.

The Cubs, Zambrano and Quade will be eyed with the same suspicions. Some will question just how reliable those September numbers will be when making projections for 2011.

It depends on whether you think Zambrano can be trusted for 30-plus starts and at least 200 innings next season. And you might wonder how those young relievers will respond when Quade brings them into a game in the heat of a pennant race.

Decision-makers throughout the organization will be working under enormous pressure to guess right. The hope is that there will be a carryover effect into spring training, that six weeks can translate into six months, and that there will be a sense of momentum through Opening Day 2011.

A good April can set off everything, Alfonso Soriano said.

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

Anthony Rizzo, the greatest third baseman ever?

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo, the greatest third baseman ever?

Look out, Kris Bryant: Anthony Rizzo might be coming for you.

After Bryant suffered a left hand contusion in the top of the eighth inning during Tuesday's 13-9 win over Cincinnati, Joe Maddon shuffled his infield by moving Rizzo from first to third base for the first time in his career to replace the reigning NL MVP and it didn't take long for the Cubs to take advantage of the rare occurence on social media:

Pretty amazing that in one season he's been dubbed the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time and best third baseman ever.

Here's another cool fact:

Earlier this season, Rizzo became second-base eligible in ESPN and CBS Sports fantasy leagues because of a weird rule that allows him to switch positions with how the Cubs defend certain bunt situations. 

At this rate, he may become eligible for every infield position. Next up, shortstop?

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel. Jon Lester, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras all work out with the Cubs before their game. Which player’s return with have the biggest impact down the stretch?

Plus, the guys discuss how many snaps Mitch Trubisky should take with the first team, debate who won the big Cavs/Celtics deal and Scott Paddock drops by with the latest NASCAR news.

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below.