Mooney: Pujols shadow doesn't bother Pena

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Mooney: Pujols shadow doesn't bother Pena

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011
Posted 5:08 p.m. Updated 6:06 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Pena made direct eye contact and thoughtfully considered each question. He speaks in full paragraphs and certainly doesnt sound like a mercenary.

But this is business. Scott Boras, baseballs most powerful agent, described it as a pillow contract, the one-year, 10 million deal that could give Pena the platform to command three times that as a free agent.

In return, the Cubs receive a left-handed power hitter and a Gold Glove first baseman without having to make a long-term financial commitment.

I dont know if that was a technical term, Pena said Thursday with a laugh. But I dont even care what they called it. It was more just (being) happy to come to this city. When I put this uniform on, Im like, Hey man, Im here. This is my ballclub. This is my team. This is where I belong.

Before Pena had even arrived for his first day of work at Fitch Park, this arrangement led to wild speculation that Albert Pujols will be the Cubs first baseman in 2012. Some 2,300 miles away in Jupiter, Fla., Pujols reported to Cardinals camp on Thursday and reaffirmed that he wont discuss a contract extension until seasons end.

I havent even given it enough attention for it to be amusing to me, Pena said. Im here, Im a Cub today and Im just going to embrace that.

Pena will turn 33 in May and averaged 36 homers and 102 RBI across the past four seasons in Tampa Bay. But fans will look at his .196 batting average last year and wonder how far hes regressed.

Thats not me, he said. It wouldnt be intelligent on my part to carry that piece of luggage on my back (and) let it be the number that identifies me. Its not even an issue. Thats in the past. (I) know the type of player I am, so I pretty much erased that out of my mind.

Pena, who studied engineering at Northeastern University, is an analytical type. He traveled to Dallas last month to spend a week with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who broke down his swing and encouraged him to keep it simple.

The Cubs are in trouble if Pena, who dealt with plantar fascia last season, doesnt stay healthy. On Thursday he worked out at first base with Tyler Colvin and Jeff Baker, two players with limited experience at the position. He should be a resource to anyone in the clubhouse.

Hes one of the best around, (both) on and off the field, said new Cubs pitcher Matt Garza, who played with Pena in Tampa Bay. Hes always open and very, very positive. Hes just a guy who lights up the room.

The Cubs do not have a long-term option at first base, unless they fully commit to converting Colvin. You can look at Penas one-year contract as motivation or distraction, but he gets rave reviews as a teammate.

Thats a character issue, manager Mike Quade said. Whether he had a one-year, a one-week, a 10-year (deal), I think you get the same guy.

Pena dodged a question about whether he would sign another contract with the Cubs if everything broke right, saying its foolish to look too far into the future, that it will only hurt the team. Hes found a place in Chicago, but good advice would be to rent, not buy.

Still, Pena came across as genuinely excited about this opportunity. Hes looking forward to seeing 40,000 fans on Opening Day at Wrigley Field, even if its a one-time deal.

Thats going to be intense, Pena said. I cant wait to feel that type of energy, man. I keep on hearing (about) it. (But) until I experience it, I wont know exactly what (they) mean. I read about it (and) players tell me about it. But when I feel those chills myself, thats when Ill understand what being a Cub really means.

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

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

The Cubs keep raking in the accolades.

Theo Epstein is the latest to be honored, with Fortune naming the Cubs president of baseball operations No. 1 on the newly-released list of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders.

Epstein — the architect of the Cubs team that ended a 108-year championship drought — beat out such names as Pope Francis, John McCain, LeBron James and Joe Biden.

Fellow Chicagoan and White Sox ambassador Chance the Rapper also made the list at No. 46.

The rationale for Epstein includes:

In his book The Cubs Way, Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci details the five-year rebuilding plan that led to the team’s victory. The Cubs owe their success to a concatenation of different leadership styles, from the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts to the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of club president Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox. In the following passages, Verducci describes how a deeper understanding of important human qualities among his players—the character, discipline, and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders—­enabled Epstein to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports.

For more on why Epstein and the Cubs topped the list, head to Fortune.com.

Epstein had a classic reaction to the honor, texting ESPN's Buster Olney:

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house. That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball - a pastime involving a lot of chance. If Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

MESA, Ariz. — Now what? Ryan Dempster believes these Cubs are young enough, hungry enough and talented enough to become the first group to win back-to-back World Series since the three-peat New York Yankees built a dynasty with titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

But Dempster already understands the expectations at Wrigley Field this season, especially after pitching on disappointing Cubs teams that got swept out of the playoffs and working as a special assistant in Theo Epstein's front office.

"Nothing can top it," Dempster said. "You can win 162 games and sweep everybody in the playoffs and it won't be as exciting for people, other than maybe the guys playing it."

That's why Jon Lester isn't putting up the "Mission Accomplished" banner at his locker, even though the Cubs had the parade down Michigan Avenue in mind when they gave him the biggest contract in franchise history at the time. Dempster — who also earned a World Series ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox — had given Lester a scouting report as the Cubs went all-out in their pursuit of the big-game lefty.

There are still four years left on Lester's $155 million megadeal. It has been less than five months since the Cubs finally won the World Series and unleashed an epic celebration.

"Now the hard part is you don't get complacent," Lester said Wednesday after throwing six innings against an Oakland A's minor-league squad at the Sloan Park complex. "I talk about these young guys — that's where that helps. Even though you've accomplished things personally, you still want these guys to accomplish things.

"That's where that drive still gets you. You don't want to let your teammates down. You still want to be accountable for what you do. And that means showing up and doing your work in between starts and in the offseason."

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Lester believed so much in Epstein's vision, the pipeline of talent about to burst and the lure of Chicago that he signed with a last-place team. The Cubs needed a symbol to show they were serious about winning, a clubhouse tone-setter and an anchor for their rotation.

A new comfort level in Year 2 of that contract helped explain how Lester performed as an All Star, a Cy Young Award finalist and the National League Championship Series co-MVP. But Lester wants to make sure that the Cubs don't get too comfortable — or feel like they're playing with house money.

"You enjoy that, you learn from it," Lester said. "The biggest thing is not getting complacent with yourself and with your teammates. That's what drives me, making sure I'm prepared to pitch.

"I'm called upon every five days, and I have to be there. That's where that goal of 30 starts and 200 innings comes into play. I feel like if I do that, then I've done my job, for my teammates and this organization.

"The championships and the World Series — that's stuff you can't predict. It's stuff you strive to do every single year. So that's all we're going to focus on again. Our team goal again is to win a World Series."