Ozzie: If Cubs dont want Zambrano, Id take him

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Ozzie: If Cubs dont want Zambrano, Id take him

DALLAS Ozzie Guillen said he has a bet with a friend he wouldnt say who or for how much that Carlos Zambrano will win more than 14 games for the Cubs in 2012.

Guillen and Zambrano regularly send each other text messages and have plans to meet up soon. Theyve shot commercials together. Theres the sense that these two friends from Venezuela could be reunited as Miami Marlins.

He wants to be in Chicago, Guillen said Wednesday while walking through the lobby of the Hilton Anatole. Now if they trade him, well, Id take it.

People close to Zambrano have suggested that he could really use a fresh start in a new city. In theory, he would be motivated to prove all the doubters wrong. He will turn 31 next season and could be had at a discount.

The Marlins manager predicted that Zambrano will bounce back for the Cubs in 2012 and floated the idea that theyre going to handle him a little bit better with Theo Epstein in charge.

This kids got a lot left, Guillen said. (If) he wins some games the fans are going to forget (about it). Thats the way it is in Chicago. He plays good, hell be fine. People love him in Chicago. You watch. People are just mad at him because of what he did. But you win a couple games and you put the fans back in your pocket.

Epstein knows all about Zambranos long history, his conflicts with teammates and management and walkout last summer. The president of baseball operations has offered the enigmatic pitcher a chance to earn his way back to being a Cub again if relationships are repaired and certain conditions are met.

As far as his attitude, I think its in the right place right now, Epstein said. (I) listened when I first got here. A lot of people told me that hes been in this place before and its fallen apart when theres been any kind of adversity on the field or in the clubhouse.

So hes got to prove himself. Its not enough to say that things are better. I told him that to his face when we met: You have to go out and prove it. Words dont matter anymore.

There are going to be a lot of people who dont believe it no matter what you say or do. So theres an even bigger burden than usual on you and its your last strike.

Am I hopeful or optimistic? I think it can work, but hes got to demonstrate through his actions (that) it can and will work. And I think we have a chance to have a really good pitcher if he does those things.

The Cubs dont view this as a gamble. They absolutely need pitching and can let it play out for a few months. Zambrano has begun throwing again in Venezuela after a line drive gashed his face in winter ball.

The Marlins arent in a rush either, because they can try to lower what theyd have to kick in for the 18 million left on the final guaranteed year of Zambranos contract. There wont be much of a market. Only one team can leverage this relationship.

We talk as friends, Guillen said. We talk about the problem he had in the past (and) we talk about how (much) better its going to be. (We) talk about what type of pitcher he could be.

Guillen might be the only one who could convince Zambrano to waive his no-trade rights and realistically try to maximize his talents.

Its something that (gets) confused, Guillen said. Because every time I say I talked to Zambrano, all of a sudden people think I talk about contracts and moving him to the Marlins. Thats tampering.

Guillen paused and cracked a joke that got people laughing: We do that on the side.

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.”