Mooney: The decisions the Cubs have to make

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Mooney: The decisions the Cubs have to make

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
Posted 7:22 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Years ago, the Cubs made some of their most important decisions for 2011, when they tied up their money in Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano.

It forced them to be creative this winter, and for all the accounting tricks they still had to get lucky. They are paying Carlos Pena 10 million over a 13-month period. The first baseman got a signing bonus and deferred money on a one-year deal.

They needed Kerry Wood to take a huge pay cut to 1.5 million, when he could have demanded five to six times that amount on the open market. They sacrificed some of their best prospects to get Matt Garza from Tampa Bay in an eight-player trade.

As the Cubs near their budget ceiling, the foundation pieces are in place. Baseball Prospectus projects this as an 80-win team. But inevitably there will be health and chemistry issues, and players that exceed or fail to meet expectations.

Close to 90 percent of the 25-man roster has probably already taken shape. Between Sundays first Cactus League game and Opening Day, this is what the Cubs need to figure out. It always starts with pitching.

Rotation

The Cubs would love to see Andrew Cashner, a 2008 first-round pick, grab one of the two open spots in the rotation.

Carlos Silva went 9-3 before last years All-Star break and 1-3 with a 11.12 ERA after, so there are durability concerns. Randy Wells is probably the safest bet to be able to make 30-plus starts and throw 200 innings as a fifth starter.

Casey Coleman and James Russell might help form the rotation of the future. Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer are experienced non-roster invitees worth a look.

Bullpen

This may be the teams biggest strength.

Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall, John Grabow and Jeff Samardzija appear locked into the bullpen. That leaves two potential spots for whoever doesnt make the rotation. Cashner could slide back into his setup role.

Manager Mike Quade has said that hes open to the idea of carrying four left-handed relievers: Marshall, Grabow, Russell and Scott Maine. The Cubs could choose to take a long-range view with Russell and have him start at Triple-A Iowa.

Bench

Quade will be challenged to find enough at-bats for Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome and Tyler Colvin in the outfield. But the Cubs still need a fifth outfielder.

Fernando Perez, who was acquired in the Garza deal, is trying to reestablish himself as a switch-hitter. His speed graded out as an eight, the highest possible score on the organizations reporting system.

Im dying to see this guy play, Quade said.

With his all-out hustle, Reed Johnson built up a lot of goodwill on the North Side in 2008. He also hit .303 in 109 games for a team that won the division title.

A lot of people say that chemistry is overrated, Johnson said. (But) when youre (in a) small clubhouse and you got a lot of media every day, I think that its more important in that situation.

Its a good thing guys like Woody are back. (They) can really mesh the clubhouse and bring guys together. I remember in 08 just going out to team dinners with everybody. It was almost like a voluntary thing and you had 90 percent of the guys (there).

Jeff Baker is a glue guy in the clubhouse, and he will see time at first, second and third base. But hes not prepared to play shortstop, and the Cubs need a backup for Starlin Castro.

That competition should come down to Darwin Barney and Augie Ojeda. At 36, Ojeda is 11 years older than Barney. Ojeda also played for Quade when he managed in Iowa. This is another test case experience vs. potential.

The Cubs have survived so far without any major injuries or physical setbacks.

We open up (Sunday) with everybody getting through the first couple weeks, Quade said. Knock on wood, (were) good and now I can just hope that guys perform like they want to and stay healthy.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs aim to stay hot vs. Pirates Wednesday on CSN

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs aim to stay hot vs. Pirates Wednesday on CSN

Jake Arrieta takes the hill as the Cubs continue their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN at 6 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Jake Arrieta (18-7, 2.85 ERA) vs. Jameson Taillon (4-4, 3.49 ERA)

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Why Kris Bryant is such a money player for this Cubs team

Why Kris Bryant is such a money player for this Cubs team

PITTSBURGH — Dressed in a towel, Chris Coghlan walked through PNC Park’s visiting clubhouse late Monday night and saw the group of reporters around Kris Bryant. Coghlan wanted to get paid and talked over the interview: “Did you put it in my locker? I didn’t see anything when I got in.”

The Cubs had just won their 100th game for the first time in 81 years. Before that 12-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bryant promised Coghlan all the cash in his wallet — the meal money for this entire road trip — if the leadoff guy scored on his 100th RBI.

“He still hasn’t paid me, by the way,” Coghlan said Wednesday afternoon, hours before blasting a bases-loaded triple in the second inning of a 6-4 win. “I won’t take his money. He said he would, (but) I’m going to bust him. I just want to make him pull it out. That’s all.”

Coghlan understood how much it bothered Bryant to finish last year with 99 RBIs, how anxious he could get while being stuck on that same number again for almost a week. Once Bryant notched his 100th and 101st RBIs with his 39th home run, one of the first postgame questions was about getting No. 40.

“That’s how the world works,” Coghlan said. “Trust me, that’s on his list, to knock that off. Trust me, this guy wants to win the MVP, too.

“I think he’s going to win the MVP. But that’s how the world works: OK, now it’s 40 (homers). But if he hits like three in the next five games, (what about) 45? That’s just the way it is. You’ll never change that.

“You want to embrace that, because that’s how you don’t get complacent. But I think contentment is a wonderful attribute to obtain. And there’s a huge difference between contentment and complacency. In our society, we forget that and put the two together.”

Coghlan knows that he doesn’t have Bryant’s all-world talent, but he still recognizes the serious attitude and singular focus. At the age of 31, Coghlan has perspective as someone who became the National League’s Rookie of the Year with the Florida Marlins in 2009, got non-tendered four years later, had to sign a minor-league deal with the Cubs and got traded to and from the Oakland A’s within four months this year.

“KB is very goal-driven — that’s what makes him successful,” Coghlan said. “He has the highest expectations. What I joke with him about is (that) even when you accomplish what you want, there’s always something next that presents itself.

“But now that I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve realized: Man, there are some times I wish I would have enjoyed the moment a little bit more. Because now when you look back, you realize how tough it was.

“That’s what I try to tell him a lot — just enjoy it. I try to get him to laugh and smile because he doesn’t laugh that much. He doesn’t smile all the time.

“He’ll smile for a game-winner, but a regular one, it’s just, ‘Oh, you know, no big deal.’”

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Coghlan got an early scouting report on Bryant while having dinner with Scott Boras, the super-agent who represents several high-profile Cubs. Of course, Bryant probably would have hit the 100-RBI mark last season if the Cubs hadn’t stashed him at Triple-A Iowa for the first eight games, gaining an extra year of club control through 2021 and pushing back his free-agent clock.

“I remember talking about it with Scott,” Coghlan said. “They were like: ‘Yeah, this guy is off the charts with what he can do.’ But the No. 1 thing that we always heard was talking about how good of a kid he was. (Scott) was like: ‘You’re going to love him, because he’s just such a good kid.’

“That’s what the Cubs do so well. I think Theo (Epstein) does that so well (putting the pieces together). It’s not just about your skill set. It’s what type of teammate you are, and that stuff matters when you have to live with each other for seven, eight months a year.”

Ever since Epstein’s front office chose Bryant with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft out of the University of San Diego, Cubs fans expected a franchise player who would deliver the first World Series title in more than a century.

Bryant is following up his Rookie of the Year campaign with: a second All-Star selection at third base, the versatility to play all over the outfield and shift across the infield, 120 runs scored, a .295 batting average that’s 20 points higher than last season, a .953 OPS that’s almost 100 points higher than last season and almost 50 fewer strikeouts than his league-leading 199 in 2015.

“It’s phenomenal,” Coghlan said. “That second year, you have so many questions you have to answer. He’s in a big market, too. I was in a smaller market, but what does help him is there are so many other stars around and stories to talk about. I remember my second year, after every game — regardless of what I did — I had to answer for the team.

“What’s remarkable is his adjustments, and I don’t think people talk about it enough. They just think it’s because he’s so great and he’s always done it.

“(But) from watching, I can see his strikeout numbers are down. His swing and miss in the zone is down. He’s covering more pitches. Before, (you knew he would) have to keep making adjustments, because once they figure out his weakness, they’re going to expose that, and they did that at times last year.

“Now you look at him, you’re like: Bro, this is a whole ‘nother step forward. This is getting close to being epic.”