Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010
By Patrick Mooney
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.