Mooney: Sandbergs imprint wont disappear

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Mooney: Sandbergs imprint wont disappear

Friday, Oct. 22, 2010
7:45 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

There are days where Wrigley Field can just sell itself.

Thats why it will cost as much to see the Marlins, Astros and Reds on three Saturday afternoons next summer when schools out, weathers ideal, and tourism spikes as it will to watch the White Sox, Yankees and Cardinals.

The Cubs understood the demand after analyzing five million pieces of data from the past five years and revealed their new and most expensive marquee pricing tier before they finally decided on their manager for 2011.

Ryne Sandbergs name might have meant something at the box office. When Sandberg brought his Class-A Peoria team to Wrigley Field in July 2008, the Cubs sold 32,103 tickets, or 23,109 more than they did two years later when the Hall of Famer wasnt managing the Chiefs.

But fans today are also more sophisticated than theyve ever been before. In high definition they can watch virtually any game across the country. Online they can reference box scores from shortly after World War I, or look up the terms for Carlos Zambranos 2013 vesting option.

They play fantasy baseball and quote new-wave statistics like VORP and UZR. It was never going to be as simple as installing Sandberg in the dugout and waiting to pass the three-million mark in attendance.

At the same time that information overload the obsession with organizational rankings and prospect lists will probably yield a greater appreciation for the work Sandberg has done the past four years.

Especially if in the future you regularly hear Go Cubs Go walking out of the stadium after James Russell and Andrew Cashner jog in from the bullpen. And you notice more people wearing Tyler Colvin jerseys in Wrigleyville. And you see Casey Coleman throwing to Welington Castillo every fifth day.

There is an entire generation of players signed and developed by the Cubs who were born after Sandbergs MVP season in 1984. They played for him at Peoria, Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.

It was an awesome experience for all of us. He shows a lot of confidence in you and lets you play, Coleman said. Just because he didnt get the job here, I think he set himself up for other jobs all over the place.

Jim Hendry has said that Sandberg will absolutely be welcomed back into the organization if he doesnt find a major-league coaching job.

Hendry admits that he is more visible in the clubhouse than most general managers. He doesnt have the Ivy League pedigree of some of other executives in the game who are more comfortable in a boardroom with a spreadsheet. His background is in coaching and scouting, so he listened when the Cubs supported Mike Quade.

Managing is handling people, communicating with people, being upfront (and) having your convictions, which Mike does, Hendry said. You cant fool players. You cant be one way (one) day or (another way) the next. (Quade) set the rules and regulations. They followed them.

Some have wondered why we should even pay attention to the player endorsements. After all, they looked like a 100-loss team before Quade took over. Well, it mattered to Hendry.

Ryan Dempster the first player to publicly lobby for Quade to return is the company man. He deferred part of his 2010 salary so Hendry would have more flexibility to pursue a free agent last winter. Ownership has supported Dempsters charitable foundation and the young pitchers look up to him.

Given Dempsters stature within the organization he was the only player spotted at Quades introductory press conference this week it was impossible for the media to ignore his support.

Aramis Ramirez who said no one could have done a better job than Quade with this roster could have instead just cut-and-pasted one of his standard responses: I get paid to play third base. You got to ask Jim Hendry that question.

Ramirez didnt answer that way and you have to put this all in context. Of course the players brought up from Triple-A would never rip Sandberg when asked about the manager in Des Moines. But there were specific, telling moments.

Darwin Barney a natural shortstop blocked by Starlin Castro recalled how Sandberg went over every situation that could come up at second base and explained in detail how to turn the double play when they knew a promotion was coming soon.

Micah Hoffpauir was lost when he didnt make the Cubs out of spring training and hit .196 during his first two months in Iowa. Sandberg encouraged Hoffpauir, telling him to relax and reassuring him that he would carry the team. Hoffpauir finished at .283 with 22 homers and 95 RBI in 118 games.

Throughout the system, Sandberg played a part in their educations. The past three years Coleman pitched for Sandberg at three different affiliates and then went 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in his eight starts with the Cubs.

Colemans father and grandfather pitched in the majors and its impossible to answer the nature versus nurture question but he appreciated how Sandberg understands what it takes to make it there and excel.

You see eye to eye with him and a lot of players love that, Coleman said. Everyone thought this was supposed to be Rynos job, but (with such a strong finish under Quade), its really hard to change that.

Sandberg wont be standing on the top step of the dugout at Wrigley Field next year, but he wont be forgotten, and not just because his numbers retired there.

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

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs turned Theo Epstein’s “Baseball is Better” speech from his first Wrigley Field press conference into a marketing pitch that might distract fans for a moment from an awful big-league product.          

The 2017 “That’s Cub” ad campaign actually uses what started organically years ago within the farm system, two words that recognized a great at-bat or a heads-up play or a defensive stop.    

Business vs. baseball is no longer the dominant storyline it had been during the early phases of the Wrigleyvile rebuild. Business and baseball are booming for what’s become Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.

It’s just interesting that a franchise valued at north of $2 billion has found so much inspiration on the back fields of this spring-training complex, where staffers you wouldn’t recognize get to work before dawn and players you’ve never heard of dream about their big break.

It’s not just drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And trading for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell. And hiring a manager obsessed with T-shirts. Baseball operations became a marketing department, selling prospects to Cub fans, the Chicago media and the gurus putting together the rankings – and trying to get buy-in from players who all think they belong in The Show.

Minor-league field coordinator Tim Cossins gets credit for “When It Happens,” a theme that didn’t simply revolve around 1908 and the championship drought. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, suggested pairing the W flag with that phrase, and it became this ubiquitous idea around the team.   

“We tied everything into it,” McLeod said Sunday at Sloan Park. “When that time comes, when it happens, can you lay the bunt down? When it happens, can you execute a pitch? Can you go in and pinch-run, steal the base when the time comes?

“The big ‘When It Happens’ is when we win, of course, but for us in (player development), it was about everything that we’re going to be asked to do in that moment: Are you going to be ready when it happens?”

Now what? The defending World Series champs are going with: “Where It Happens.”

A bullet point from Epstein’s bio in this year’s media guide references how his first three first-round draft picks with the Cubs “combined to set up the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when Schwarber singled and (Albert) Almora pinch-ran, moved to second on Bryant’s deep fly to center, and scored on Ben Zobrist’s double.”

“We’re never going to forget about the importance of young players,” Epstein said. “There’s definitely a lot of talented, interesting prospects still in the system and sometimes they get a little overshadowed because of the star young players we have at the big-league level and how quickly some of those guys moved through the system. But there’s a lot of talent there.

“We’re going to lean on young players beyond our prospects, not just in trades, but also to provide organizational depth and also to serve as the next generation, the next infusion of talent at the appropriate time.

“But it’s a process. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in development for all these guys. And we have a ton of faith in our player development operation to help these guys along the way.”

So Ian Happ will start the season one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa and see if some combination of injuries and his switch-hitting skills and defensive versatility gets him to the North Side at some point. Or used as a trade chip for pitching, the way third baseman Jeimer Candelario and catcher Victor Caratini appear to be blocked.

Joe Maddon already compared Eloy Jimenez – who can’t legally buy a beer in Wrigleyville yet – to a young Miguel Cabrera or Edgar Martinez. The Cubs are practically begging for someone like Eddie Butler to pitch his way into the 2018 rotation.

By Monday morning, when the full squad reconvenes after a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the Cubs could start making cuts and shaping their Opening Night roster. But the Cubs are going to need so much more than the 25 players who will be introduced next Sunday at Busch Stadium. Maddon used 26 pitchers and 149 different lineups last season. This is “Where It Happens.”

“If this particular group of youngsters were in a different organization that had a greater need right now, you’d probably hear a lot more about these guys,” Maddon said. “But the fact that they’re stuck behind a Bryant and a Russell and a Javy (Baez) and a Rizzo and a (Willson) Contreras and a Schwarber, et cetera, et cetera, it becomes more difficult to really push or project upon these guys.

“But I think these young guys have gone about their business really well. If it’s bothering them or if they’re concerned about that, they’re not showing that. I think they’ve put their best foot forward.”

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs studied all the MRIs and analyzed every pitch Wade Davis threw last season, poring over the information on the All-Star closer. During the winter meetings, Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore even took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to give Davis a physical exam.  

The Jorge Soler trade wouldn’t be announced until athletic trainer PJ Mainville met with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley. The Cubs got another read on the flexor strain in his right forearm that twice put Davis on the disabled list last season.

Davis now has a 19.64 ERA through five Cactus League appearances – and the complete confidence of a manager who isn’t connecting those dots.

“The injury’s really not an issue,” Joe Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “He feels really good right now. He kind of thought that whole thing was a little bit overblown last year, according to (what he told) me. Because even in talking to him in the offseason: ‘I’m fine. I’m good. I feel really good.’”

Maddon managed the Tampa Bay Rays while Davis broke into the big leagues as a starter and began the transition to reliever. Everything clicked in Kansas City’s bullpen, with Davis blowing away hitters and notching the last out of the 2015 World Series.

“I’m watching him,” Maddon said. “He’s throwing the ball really well easily. That’s what’s really encouraging to me. From the side, there’s no bumping and grinding and…” Maddon made a grunting noise to illustrate his point: “There’s none of that. It’s easy. I look up at the gun and I’m seeing 94, 95 and sometimes 96 (mph). It’s like: Wow, I have never seen him do that in camp.”

Across the last three seasons, Davis allowed three home runs while piling up 234 strikeouts in almost 183 innings. This spring, he has twice gotten only one out, like Saturday’s 29-pitch, four-run appearance against the Colorado Rockies. Overall in March, he’s given up eight earned runs, nine hits and five walks in 3.2 innings.  

“Honestly, I’ve known him long enough that it’s not” a concern, Maddon said. “You’re not going to believe this, but he’s actually throwing better than he normally does in spring training. The biggest problem he’s having right now is command.

“Velocity looks good. The break on the breaking ball looks good. He’s just not throwing the ball where he wants it. And this guy is normally the kind of pitcher that can dot it up really well.

“But everything else looks really good to me, (because) I had him back with the Rays and in spring training you always saw him throwing like 86, 87, 88 (mph). I’m seeing easy 94-95. I’m seeing sharp break on some breaking stuff. It’s just bad counts and bad command right now.”

This isn’t the Cubs saying Carlos Marmol or Jose Veras is our closer. A guy with a 0.84 ERA in 23 career playoff appearances doesn’t care about Cactus League stats. As long as Davis is healthy, there should be no doubts about the ninth inning. Check back next week amid the sea of red at Busch Stadium.

“A lot of it’s just an adrenaline rush sometimes,” Maddon said. “A lot it’s just a moment that you can’t recreate here. You can’t do it. It’s impossible.”