Ramirez and Soriano have something to prove

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Ramirez and Soriano have something to prove

Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011Posted: 6:40 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Whether or not you think Aramis Ramirez gets his uniform dirty often enough, you cannot argue with the numbers when hes healthy. And you may not like Alfonso Sorianos contract, but forget it that money is already spent.

The Cubs can talk about young players and the system but they need to maximize Ramirez and Soriano to contend. Combined, they will make more than 33 million this season. They understand that things arent getting any easier.

Im 100 percent, Ramirez said Saturday. I just got to stay on top of everything my shoulder, my thumb, everything. I just got to work a little harder. The older you get, its a little tougher.

Back in the Dominican Republic this winter, Ramirez added several pounds on purpose, while Soriano focused on his legs, even if he will never run the way he once did.

Ramirez will turn 33 in June, but this will be his 14th season in the majors, and it has taken a toll on his body. He has played more than 145 games just three times in his career. The Cubs hold an option for 2012 either pay him 14.6 million or buy him out for 2 million.

Theres no other place that I want to be, Ramirez said. But well see what happens. I dont know what they think. Im still under contract for this year.

The 35-year-old Soriano is halfway through his 136 million deal. The Cubs will have to think about pulling Soriano late in close games, but he will continue to work on his defense and wants to be a nine-inning player every day, though they have three other outfielders.

Soriano has dealt with the loss of his mother, who died of a heart attack last month in the Dominican Republic.

My mom is everything for me, he said.

Soriano still had a big smile and a handshake for everyone on Saturday morning, and he automatically is an energetic presence in the room.

Soriano just checked his numbers from last year 24 homers in less than 500 at-bats. That is a unique skill. He drove in 79 runs, which isnt overwhelming, but its also the highest total during his four years in Chicago.

Why not? he said when asked about hitting for more power.

It is the same calculus for Ramirez. He believes he will produce if he can avoid the collection of injuries that conspired against him last season. He was hitting under .200 after the Fourth of July, and was ultimately limited to 124 games. Yet, he still reached 25 homers for the eighth time in his career.

The next free-agent class of third basemen is weak, and its easy to imagine Ramirez being the most coveted if hes cut loose. He doesnt know how much longer he wants to play, but could force the Cubs to pick up the option if he can put together another good year.

Mike Quade talks fast and he speaks with his hands. Standing beneath a gray sky, the Cubs manager addressed his players on one field at Fitch Park before the teams first full-squad workout.

Quade did not stay on the sidelines Saturday, taking a lead off second base while demonstrating one drill for bunt defense.

Im not reinventing the game, he said. But we wanted to talk specifically about something as simple as a No. 1 bunt play with runners at first and second. (They) ran it for Casey Stengel. So Mike Quades not coming in here changing stuff. But there are points of emphasis within that play that I think give you an edge.

The veterans responded well to Quade during his six-week audition last season, and the next seven months will depend in part on how he connects with players like Ramirez and Soriano. His first speech to the entire group contained a simple message.

We touched on effort, Quade said, and the fact that I dont think theres any shortcuts to being a good team.

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. 

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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.