Q rating: Cubs trying to create some buzz

362876.jpg

Q rating: Cubs trying to create some buzz

Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011
8:32 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Maybe next week, while running baseball clinics in Italy, Mike Quade can escape all the questions.

Quade will likely view this through the prism he sees everything else, whether its a racing form or the thick binder of statistics on his desk. He will weigh the possibilities, play the percentages and realize: It is worth it. This is part of the job.

Even if Quade isnt entirely comfortable with some of the public aspects of being a major-league manager in 2011, he will still be front and center this weekend at the Cubs Convention.

Cubs executives wont be hanging a Mission Accomplished banner across the lobby of the Hilton Chicago. This offseason at Wrigley Field has seen an Undercover Boss cleaning toilets, two college football teams running at the same end zone, ownership asking local government for help and strangers weeping at Ron Santos memorial.

But the baseball operations department has achieved its three primary objectives, all with only about 10 million to spend this winter on a first baseman, a veteran reliever and a No. 2 starter.

If you are a Cubs fan, you will be impressed by how polished and intelligent Carlos Pena comes across (while wondering if hell hit .196 again).

You will appreciate that Kerry Wood values family and loyalty over greed (and hope that he doesnt get injured again).

You will be intrigued by Matt Garzas talent (as well as the potential of the five players it took to get him).

That wont erase the memories of an underachieving team, or automatically fill all those empty seats you saw in the bleachers. The 13-game plan that went on sale Thursday is a new way of doing business, part of the makeover.

A team official said that by Friday, when the convention opens, the Cubs will have sold roughly the same amount of tickets to the event as recent years, but acknowledged that hotel bookings have been soft.

In terms of a Q rating, the Cubs will be running behind the Bears and LeBron James at the United Center. And a source indicated that Santos replacement will not be announced this weekend, so they wont make headlines that way.

Still, the question-and-answer sessions with baseball management and business operations should feature some entertainingly awkward moments. The Ricketts family will have to defend their record after their first full year of ownership.

Fans will want to know: why Ryne Sandberg wasnt hired (relative lack of experience); who will bat leadoff (Blake DeWittJeff Bakerdepends on the matchups); and who will start Opening Day (Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster or Garza).

The second-guessing isnt why Quade will be leaving the country. But soon decisions will have to be made, the names on the big board in Jim Hendrys office coming to life.

It will be difficult to not bump into one of Sandbergs former teammates at the hotel. Time will tell if the general manager made the right call, which team chairman Tom Ricketts has said was all Hendrys.

If some are skeptical, the man who managed 2,378 games in the minors has already convinced the people that matter.

We feel like Q is one of us, catcher Koyie Hill said. There are a lot of different temperaments and personalities in a clubhouse. To get a guy in charge and feel like hes a part of what youre trying to do hes not just showing up and putting the lineup up but hes literally a part of the groupthat goes a long ways.

We really appreciate the honesty and the effort that he gives every day. I think youll see us give that back.

For someone with such a blue-collar approach, Quade is a bit of a foodie. On Wednesday he visited his old high school in Mount Prospect, a place filled with memories. One night next week, somewhere near Bologna, he might enjoy an Italian meal, sip a fine glass of wine and reflect on how far he has come and how much work he still has to do.

I will not change, Quade said on the final day of last season. Whether thats good or bad for the marketing department, youll have to talk to them.

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

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

As the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings outside Washington, D.C., their messaging might as well be: It’s the pitching, stupid.

This is an arms race that will never end, the Cubs trying to defend their first World Series title in 108 years, build out a bullpen that looked pretty thin by November and target the kind of young starter who could help anchor their rotation for years to come, ensuring Wrigleyville remains baseball’s biggest party.

The Cubs signed Brian Duensing to a one-year, $2 million contract on Friday, placing a small bet on a lefty specialist who spent parts of last season on the Triple-A level but made a good enough impression during his 13-plus innings with the Baltimore Orioles.

As executives, scouts, agents and reporters begin to flood into National Harbor on Sunday, the Cubs will intensify their search for pitching, everything from headliners to insurance policies to prospects.

“That’s been the significant bulk of our efforts,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “It’s definitely not going to be through lack of trying on our part to make that kind of deal. That’s now. That’s at the deadline.”  

The Cubs are preparing for Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta will probably be in a different uniform after signing his megadeal, John Lackey might be kicking back in Texas and enjoying retirement and Jon Lester will be 34 years old with maybe 2,300 innings on his odometer. 

The Cubs have unwavering faith in their pitching infrastructure at the major-league level, from the scouting and analytic perspectives that identified the right sign-and-flip deals during the rebuilding years to the coaching staff that helped mold Kyle Hendricks into a Cy Young Award finalist and a World Series Game 7 starter.

Mike Montgomery notched the final out against the Cleveland Indians and the Cubs see him as their next big project. The lefty checks so many of their boxes, from age (27) to size (6-foot-5) to pedigree (former first-round pick/top prospect) to the change-of-scenery confidence boost/mental reset.

Forget about the White Sox trading Chris Sale to the North Side and don’t just think about obvious names or trade partners. Maybe it’s making a deal for a guy you never heard of before and sifting through the non-tender bin. (As expected, the Cubs offered contracts to arbitration-eligible pitchers Arrieta, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm before Friday’s deadline. Their 40-man roster stands at 35 after non-tendering lefties Gerardo Concepcion and Zac Rosscup, right-hander Conor Mullee and infielder Christian Villanueva.)

Remember how team president Theo Epstein framed the Montgomery trade with the Seattle Mariners this summer – comparing him to All-Star reliever Andrew Miller – and that gives you an idea of how they can address their pitching deficit this winter. 

“If your scouts do a good job of identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction – and you’re willing to take a shot – sometimes there’s a big payoff at the end,” Epstein said.   

While the Cubs did Jason Hammel a favor by cutting him loose and allowing him to explore the market as one of the best pitchers in an extremely weak class of free agents, Montgomery has only 23 big-league starts on his resume. 

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

The Cubs had five starters make at least 29 starts this year, while four starters accounted for 30-plus starts in 2015, a remarkable run that led to 200 wins.

“As we’ve talked about so many times,” Hoyer said, “we do have an imbalance in our organization – hitting vs. pitching – and we’re trying to make sure we can accumulate as much pitching depth as possible. 

“We were very healthy this year, which was wonderful and a big part of why we won the World Series. I don’t think you can always count on that kind of health every single year. Building up a reservoir of depth – preferably guys you can option (to the minors) – is something (we’re trying) to accomplish.”  

The Cubs have Jorge Soler stuck in a crowded outfield plus the types of interesting prospects who appear to be blocked – catcher Victor Caratini, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder/outfielder Ian Happ – to make relatively painless trades for pitching (if not the kind of blockbuster deal that dominates coverage of the winter meetings).

Lefty reliever Brett Cecil getting a four-year, $30.5 million deal and no-trade protection from the St. Louis Cardinals became another sign of how shallow this free-agent pool is for starting pitchers and a reflection of a postseason where the bullpen became a major storyline.

The idea of Kenley Jansen intrigues the Cubs – and Aroldis Chapman made a favorable impression during his three-plus months with the team – but Epstein’s front office already made the major upgrades for 2017 by spending nearly $290 million on free agents after the 2015 playoff run. Philosophically, the Cubs also see smarter long-term investments than trying to win a bidding war for a guy who might throw 70 innings a year. 

With that in mind, the Cubs could get creative and have looked at free agent Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals who didn’t pitch this year after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  

Remember that Chapman left the New York Yankees and joined a team that had a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. If Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. can’t handle the late shifts, then the Cubs could always go out and trade for another closer in the middle of a pennant race.    

The Cubs have the luxuries of time, zero pressure from ownership, their fan base or the Chicago media and a stacked, American League-style lineup. 

“Right now, we could go play from an offensive standpoint and feel very good about our group,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to still continue to look to improve the depth in our bullpen, improve the depth in our starting rotation. Those are things that probably never go away. You probably never stop trying to build that depth.” 

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

LeBron James is coming to town, and he will be all decked out in Cubs gear.

The Cavs are in Chicago to take on the Bulls Friday night at the United Center and it's time for LeBron to pay up on his World Series bet with Dwyane Wade.

The two former teammates made the wager during the World Series as LeBron's hometown Indians took on Wade's hometown Cubs, with the loser wearing the winning baseball team's gear when they showed up in the opposing city. This is LeBron's first trip to Chicago this season.

Wade and LeBron already acknowledged they're having fun with this and have a whole spectacle planned with a national TV audience.

LeBron told the Akron Beacon Journal he's not going to try to take the easy way out and just toss on a Cubs jersey. He is planning socks, hat, pants and possibly more. But he won't wear cleats or bring a glove with him.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

When the Cubs won it all a month ago Friday, Wade posted an Instagram photo of LeBron wearing a Cubs uniform:

And ESPN had a cutout of LeBron sporting a No. 23 Cubs road gray jersey outside the United Center Friday morning:

CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill wonders whether LeBron will don signature Joe Maddon glasses, too.

This is gonna be fun, you guys.