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.

How Cleveland regrouped and reloaded after losing unforgettable Game 7 to Cubs

How Cleveland regrouped and reloaded after losing unforgettable Game 7 to Cubs

MESA, Ariz. — As Major League Baseball officials responded to an unbelievably timed rain delay, Cleveland president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti huddled in a suite beneath Progressive Field and recognized what he saw in Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer after nine innings in a World Series Game 7.

"(We're) trying to figure out: Hey, what's going to happen here? How long are we going to have to wait? Are we going to have to pick up this game tomorrow?" Antonetti said. "I remember the look on both Jed and Theo's faces — it was the same as mine — just like exhaustion and fatigue and angst."

Soon enough, Epstein would be standing in the visiting dugout, his black suit completely drenched, winging it through a CSN Chicago postgame show interview: "Jed's in charge. I'm going on a bender."

However Cleveland fans processed the 10th inning — at least LeBron James had already delivered the city's first major sports title since 1964 — the Indians regrouped and reloaded as one of the favorites to win the 2017 World Series.

Danny Salazar — who hadn't built himself back up to full strength by the Fall Classic — threw two scoreless innings during Sunday afternoon's 1-1 tie in front of a sellout crowd at Sloan Park in Mesa. The Indians also survived and advanced into early November without frontline starter Carlos Carrasco (broken right pinkie finger) throwing a single playoff pitch or All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley (right shoulder complications) playing beyond May.

But the Indians didn't just sit back in their comfort zone this winter and simply hope for good medical reports and assume their young core players would improve. Sensing an opportunity, Cleveland swooped in around Christmastime and made a three-year, $60 million commitment to Edwin Encarnacion, who put up 42 homers and 127 RBIs last season for the Blue Jays, weakening the team that lost the American League Championship Series.

"It certainly has a positive impact on the momentum that we established and revenue heading into the following season," Antonetti said. "But I still think beyond that, it's been a big leap of faith by our ownership to really step out beyond what may make sense, just looking at where our projections might be.

"It's really a belief in our fan base that they'll continue to support our team and build on the momentum from last year."

Cleveland already paid the price for Andrew Miller — the Yankees wanted Kyle Schwarber or Javier Baez from the Cubs as a starting point last summer — and now control the game-changing reliever for two more pennant races. The Indians also invested $6.5 million in Boone Logan — a reliever the Cubs had monitored closely — when the lefty specialist lingered on the open market until early February.

Between the future Hall of Fame manager (Terry Francona), a Cy Young Award winner (Corey Kluber), the young All-Star shortstop (Francisco Lindor) and the dude from Glenbrook North (Jason Kipnis), Cleveland has way too much talent to be consumed with what could have been in Game 7.

"Hopefully, our guys learned from all of their experiences," Antonetti said. "They went through a lot last year. But I think at the same time, we have an appreciation and realize how hard it is to win, and how hard it was to get to the postseason.

"Continuing that mindset — and remembering what helped us get there — will benefit our guys the most. They'll reflect back and realize we didn't just show up and end up in the postseason and in the World Series. We started that work on Day 1 of the offseason and Day 1 in spring training."

What if… Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s takeaways from epic World Series Game 7

What if… Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s takeaways from epic World Series Game 7

MESA, Ariz. – Imagine the vibe here if the Cubs had lost Game 7, what Miguel Montero might have said to the media and how anxious the fan base would be now.

Instead of the World Series trophy on display, the sellout crowds at Sloan Park could see flashbacks to the biggest collapse in franchise history. Joe Maddon’s press briefings, regularly scheduled stunts and interactions with the players wouldn’t be quite so carefree. A rotation already stressed from back-to-back playoff runs would only have a one-year window with Jake Arrieta and John Lackey positioned to become free agents. 

“I do think about that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s just not a thought I try to keep in my head for very long, because, yeah, it is a scary thought.

“Obviously, we would be super-hungry. But there’s a daunting nature when you go that deep in the playoffs. Going through six weeks of spring training, going through a six-month regular season, going through a month of the postseason and getting back to that point is unbelievably difficult.

“It is daunting, sometimes, when you lose really late in the season, thinking about the length of time it takes you to get back to that. I’m sure that’s what Cleveland’s dealing with right now.”

The Indians crossed off Game 2 on their Cactus League schedule with Sunday afternoon’s 1-1 tie in front of 15,388 in Mesa, the beginning of the long journey they hope will finally end the 69-year drought.

Hoyer remembered looking around Progressive Field during the World Series and noticing the banners, thinking about the lineups built around Kenny Lofton’s speed, the explosive power from Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez and two-way players like Omar Vizquel and Sandy Alomar Jr.

“We were talking about it on the field before Game 7,” Hoyer said. “There’s no doubt we’re built – especially from a position-playing standpoint – to have the same players for a long time. Hopefully, we can have a lot of really great Octobers going forward. But you can never take that for granted. You have no idea what the future holds.

“You know when you’re playing in Game 7 how important it is to win in that moment, because you never know if you’re going to get back there. There are some good teams that have gotten bounced in the playoffs early or never quite got over that hump. There are some great teams that have never accomplished that.”

[RELATED: Joe Maddon misses his 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' chance]

In theory, this is just the beginning of a long runway for Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. But there is an element of luck involved and maybe the matchups won’t be quite as favorable in 2017 or 2019 or 2021. Injuries happen, priorities change, players underperform and the next impact homegrown pitcher in Chicago will be the first for the Theo Epstein administration.  

“You look at those mid-90s Indians teams,” Hoyer said. “Those teams were as loaded as you’re going to get from an offensive standpoint and all that young talent. They got really close in ’95. They got really close in ’97. They were never able to win that World Series.

“Look at that position-playing group – it’s incredible – and they never won a World Series. So being a really good team and having really good regular seasons – and actually winning a World Series – those are very different things. And there’s no guarantee that because you’re a good team you’re going to win the World Series.”    

Epstein fired manager Grady Little after the 2003 Red Sox lost a brutal American League Championship Series Game 7 at Yankee Stadium. That search process led to Terry Francona, the future Hall of Fame manager who led the Red Sox to two championship parades and guided the Indians to the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7. 

Hoyer, the former Boston staffer, spoke briefly with Francona last month at the New York Baseball Writers’ Association of America dinner. Hoyer showed up at the New York Hilton to support Bryant, the National League MVP, while Francona collected the AL Manager of the Year award.

“Honestly, there’s some awkwardness there,” Hoyer said. “We won and they lost. And no one wants to hear a lot about it. We chatted about the game for five minutes or so, mostly talking about what a great game it was.

“Forget about the victor, that was just an incredible baseball game. We’ll always be part of history. People will always mention that game among the top five or 10 games of all-time.

“But I don’t think they want that game brought up over and over. Nor would I in the same situation. I don’t love talking about Game 7 when Aaron Boone hit the home run in ’03. It’s not my favorite topic. I think it’s probably that times a hundred when it comes to Game 7 last year for the Indians.”