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.

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”