Mooney: Soto looking to take charge

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Mooney: Soto looking to take charge

Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011
Posted 6:37 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Geovany Soto looked around the room and realized how much things had changed. Theres no Moises Alou, no Henry Blanco, no Sammy Sosa or his boom box.

At 28, Soto may feel a little older, but insists that hes in great physical shape. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last September and is working out at Fitch Park without any restrictions.

The Cubs described it as a routine procedure, and Soto said it only shaved off a little bit of the bone, without touching any ligaments or muscles. That is part of the normal wear and tear on a homegrown catcher whos entering his 11th season in the organization.

With that comes status, and Soto expects to be a more vocal leader this season, a more visible presence in the clubhouse.

We need to pick it up, he said. Last year we had all kinds of problems. I dont have any problem with taking charge and telling anybody theyre slacking.

Soto does not exclude himself from that assessment. Hes been told how great he is after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2008. Months later, he went through the embarrassment of a failed drug test at the World Baseball Classic. Last offseason he changed his diet and remade his body.

It paid off last year: Sotos .890 OPS was higher than any other major-league catcher with at least 300 at-bats. He hit .280 with 17 homers and 53 RBI in 105 games. Hes also drawn praise for how he handles a pitching staff, as someone who doesnt care if he goes 0-for-4 that day.

Soto was born in Puerto Rico, moved to New York as a young boy, and then moved back to San Juan before being chosen in the 11th round of the 2001 draft. He moves easily through the different groups in the clubhouse.

The fact that hes bilingual its like having a manager on the field, vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita said. Its another quality as a leader, (but) hes just a guy that people gravitate to.

Fleita has stressed the importance of learning English to younger catchers like Welington Castillo, who regularly consults with Soto. They ask Soto about little things, like whether or not they can wear a fleece to the workout. In meetings, bullpen sessions and two different languages, Soto goes between the coaches and pitchers, relaying their thoughts on mechanics.

Its a little bit difficult for us, the Latin players, Castillo said. (But) you got to adapt to this country. This is our dream and we got to play for it and fight for it.

If Mike Quade has one regret its getting his degree in business not Spanish from the University of New Orleans. He also managed Soto at Triple-A Iowa and watched the catcher develop up close.

Whether its Venezuela or Dominican, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Quade said, theres a mutual respect going around all over the place. (Sotos) huge in that and thats an evolving thing with him. It doesnt become a rah-rah thing or a guy thats teaching all the time. I always think that gets a little bit overplayed. You lead by example and you lead by experience.

It did not go unnoticed that the Cubs recently rewarded another homegrown player. They bought out Carlos Marmols first year of free agency with a three-year, 20 million deal. Soto got a huge raise to 3 million this year and is eligible for arbitration for two more seasons. He could be in line for an extension.

That sort of stuff (can) get your attention, Soto said. As a ballplayer, you know thats there. But you also need to come to the field every day and just worry about whatever you can control. You can control getting here early. You can control the hustle. You can control good attitude. Whatever plays out, plays out.

Maybe it ends like this: The next wave of Cubs standing around their lockers explaining what Soto meant to them.

It feels kind of good that Ive stuck around this (long), Soto said. Hopefully (its) for 20 more years.

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

Why Joe Maddon won’t tone down the stunts at Cubs camp

Why Joe Maddon won’t tone down the stunts at Cubs camp

MESA, Ariz. – Joe Maddon teased reporters when pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona one week ago, promising the Cubs wouldn't tone down the gimmicks now that they're World Series champions: "We already have something planned for the first day that you might not want to miss."

A weekend of rain in Mesa postposed the first full-scale full-squad workout until Monday, and the wet grass meant the big reveal had to wait until Tuesday morning, when gonzo strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss drove a white Ferrari onto the field for the team's stretching session.

The bearded man they call "Bussy" rocked sunglasses, a gold chain around his neck, brown dress shoes and the same navy blue windowpane suit he wore to the White House. The overarching message as Buss blew kisses and Cypress Hill's "(Rock) Superstar" and Jay Z's "Big Pimpin'" blasted from the sound system: Humility.

"I hope everyone gets the sarcasm involved," Maddon said.

So, uh, no, the Cubs aren't going to dial it back or turn the zoo animals away or worry about the target they proudly wore on their chest last year.

"I don't know if the mime's coming back or not," Maddon said during the welcome-to-camp press conference. "Could you do a mime two years in a row? I don't know if that's permissible under MLB rules somewhere. I don't think you can bring a mime back two years in a row.

"Magicians are OK. You can anticipate a lot of the same, absolutely."

Before rolling your eyes at a star manager who loves the spotlight, it's important to note that the stunts are largely Buss productions.

"A lot of times, I'm not even aware," Maddon said. "He just knows he's got my blessings. He knows he does not have to clear it with me, unless it's absolutely insane. It works pretty well this way."

While every Maddon dress-up theme trip doesn't get universal love in the clubhouse, Buss has a unique way of getting millionaires to pay attention, almost tricking them into doing work.

"He's got several well-endowed players on the team that support his histrionics," Maddon said.

[MORE CUBS: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field]

Since taking over this job in 2001, Buss has survived multiple ownership structures (Tribune Co., Sam Zell, Ricketts family) and the Andy MacPhail/Jim Hendry/Theo Epstein transitions in the front office, working for managers Don Baylor, Rene Lachemann (interim), Bruce Kimm (interim), Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Mike Quade, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria.

"He must have some good photographs, right?" Maddon said. "He's a different cat. He's a weapon."

Buss can clearly get along with almost any kind of personality. But it took Maddon – and the explosion of social media – to give him this kind of platform.

"No, nothing's changed, man," Maddon said. "It's all the same in regards to 'the same,' meaning the methods, the process. I just got aired out by one of our geek guys for not using the word ‘process.’ It’s true. Last year, I used the word ‘process’ often. I’m going to continue to use it a lot again this year.

"Why were we able to withstand the word 'pressure' and 'expectations' as well as we did last year? Because we weren't outcome-oriented. We were more oriented towards the process. Anybody in your job and your business – if you want to be outcome-oriented – you're going to find yourself in a lot of trouble just focusing on that word.

"It's all about the process. Our process shall remain the same, absolutely it shall. Hopefully, we're going to add or augment it in some ways that can be even more interesting and entertaining."

The irony is that the Cubs have repeatedly used outcome-based thinking in defending Maddon's decisions during the World Series. But the manager obviously deserves so much credit for creating an environment where this team could play loose and relaxed and not collapse under the weight of franchise history.

"Our guys are pretty much in charge of the whole thing," Maddon said. "I love the empowerment of the players. I love that they feel the freedom to be themselves. If they didn't, maybe Jason (Heyward) would not have gotten the guys together in a weight room in Cleveland after a bad moment.

"All those things matter. And you can't understand exactly which is more important than the other. So you just continue to attempt to do a lot of the same things. Process is important, man, and we're going to continue along that path."

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

PHOENIX – Rob Manfred is open to the idea of an All-Star Game at a fully renovated Wrigley Field, but the Major League Baseball commissioner won't make any guarantees about the 2020 target date the Cubs have proposed in a joint lobbying effort with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office.

"I'm not going to get into specific years," Manfred said Tuesday during a Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore. "Because there's a number of clubs – we're fortunate – that have interest in particular years. And I don't want to say anything that would suggest that I'm anywhere near making a decision."

During last month's Cubs Convention, president of business operations Crane Kenney expressed optimism in a Super Bowl-style bidding process, and not the old way of simply alternating the showcase event between the American and National leagues each year.

The Cubs will point to their starring role in a World Series that beat the NFL's "Sunday Night Football" in head-to-head TV ratings and saw more than 40 million people tune in for Game 7. By 2020, the $600 million Wrigleyville development is supposed to be finished, and Emanuel helped broker the deals that moved the NFL draft to Chicago the last two years after a long run at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

"I will say this: A renovated Wrigley Field would be a great location for an All-Star Game," Manfred said. "Chicago is a great city. And over time, we have tried to go to cities that would be great locations for the game – and to reward cities that had made substantial investments in either new or renovated facilities."

The Cubs still see potential roadblocks, needing City Hall's help with an increased security presence around an urban neighborhood ballpark that hasn't hosted the Midsummer Classic since 1990.

Kenney also acknowledged that All-Star Games have been used as bargaining chips in public negotiations in cities like Miami and Washington – Marlins Park (2017) and Nationals Park (2018) will make it four straight All-Star Games for NL stadiums – while the Ricketts family used private mechanisms to fund the project after striking out on other proposals.