Q rating: Cubs trying to create some buzz

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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.

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.