Mooney: Rothschild picks up 2011 option

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Mooney: Rothschild picks up 2011 option

Monday, Oct. 11, 2010
5:25 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Like everyone else, Larry Rothschild is waiting to see who will be the Cubs manager next season. But that uncertainty didnt stop the pitching coach from exercising the 2011 option on his contract.

Rothschild had until Monday seven days after the end of the regular season to make that decision, though it doesnt necessarily guarantee that he will return for his 10th season as Cubs pitching coach.

It was the logical, expected move for the Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate, who has survived several regime changes since coming back home to Chicago.

Some have been interim replacements and others have been managers of the year. But so far Rothschild has worked alongside Don Baylor, Rene Lachemann, Bruce Kimm, Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Alan Trammell and Mike Quade.

Rothschild will have to come to an agreement with the next Cubs manager or else explore his options outside the organization. Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo is signed through 2012 but the rest of the staff doesnt have that kind of security.

Rothschild appears to be a natural fit with Quade, who is the leading candidate of a group that includes Ryne Sandberg, Eric Wedge and Bob Melvin. Quade frequently deflected praise for the teams 24-13 finish toward his pitching coach and bullpen coach Lester Strode.

You guys know how close I am with those two guys and how much respect I have for them, Quade said during the final week of the season. The (players) deserve the credit but those guys spend a lot of hours with them and they do a great job. They miss nothing.

Rothschild also has an ally in Carlos Zambrano, who hes worked with since 2002, when Kerry Wood and Mark Prior combined to make 52 starts. Rothschild could guide the next generation of Cubs pitchers Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, Chris Archer and no one is better prepared to try to reach their enigmatic 91.5 million ace.

Hes been outstanding for me, Zambrano said. Hes been my mentor, my teacher, (but) this is a business. And whatever they (want) to do, theres nothing we can do about it.

Any pitching coach will need to maintain a relationship with Zambrano who has a no-trade clause and two guaranteed seasons left on his contract to rediscover the pitcher who went 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his last 11 starts.

That coach will also likely lobby management to add another starter to replace the 47 wins and more than 700 innings Ted Lilly accounted for in three-and-a-half seasons until the Cubs traded the veteran left-hander to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Cubs still led the National League with 96 quality starts. That means their starting pitcher went at least six innings and allowed three runs or less almost 60 percent of the time and yet they still finished 75-87 and never rose above .500 at any point all season.

Overall, the pitching staffs 4.18 ERA ranked 13th in the league. The Cubs had finished top-five in that category in each of the previous three seasons.

Rothschild can also point to the development of Sean Marshall (2.65 ERA in 80 appearances) into one of the best setup men in baseball, and the emergence of Carlos Marmol (38 saves) as a dominant closer.

But Rothschild doesnt market himself as a guru and rarely goes out of his way to speak with reporters on the record and get his name in the newspapers.

He just generally enjoys what he does, Randy Wells said. I dont think he needs to have the press or the fans (give) him the credit that he deserves. (He) just kind of sits back, watches the results and takes pride in his staff (for how) they go about their business.

The Cubs rotation could feature Wells and Tom Gorzelanny as the fourth and fifth starters next season. Each turned 28 over the summer and spent part of the 2009 season on the Triple-A level. They have felt their confidence rise and fall.

In between starts, Rothschild runs the meetings that review the mechanics and psychology of pitching. Within the next two weeks, Rothschild will likely have a similar conversation with the Cubs manager, articulating his philosophy and figuring out what adjustments need to be made.

He understands everybody, Wells said. He gives you that mutual respect. Theres no his-way-or-the-highway-type thing. Its: Lets find out what works and lets exploit it. He watches film and studies scouting reports and comes up with a game plan. Its up to us to execute it.

But when things arent going right hes the first one there to help. (He) never point fingers. Its always: Lets find a solution.

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

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.