Chicago Cubs

Ramirez, Cubs auditioning for their next GM

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Ramirez, Cubs auditioning for their next GM

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
Posted: 9:59 p.m. Updated: 10:33 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
Aramis Ramirez could have walked after the 2006 season. He made the salary drive, generating 38 homers and 119 RBI for a last-place team that lost 96 games. He was a free agent in control of his own destiny.

Ramirez can be quiet and reserved, while Jim Hendry never seemed to stop talking. But they were always straight-up with each other, and thats why they got along so well. They agreed to a five-year, 75 million deal.

When that 2012 option worth 16 million comes due, Ramirez wont have that trust factor with the next Cubs general manager (assuming hes in place by then). Ramirez could also void the deal and become the best third baseman by far on the market.

With three weeks left in this lost season, no one knows what direction this franchise will take.

You can look for a quick fix in ticket sales and TV ratings by making a huge splash with Prince Fielder. You can test the fans patience by tearing it all down and completely rebuilding with homegrown players. You can split the difference by adding two starting pitchers to hang around .500 and compete in a mediocre division.

If Hendry was still in power, Ramirez might be looking at a multiyear extension. Now everyone in the clubhouse is auditioning for their next general manager.

I could have gone to another team, Ramirez recalled. I chose to stay here. My familys comfortable and thats the key. If Im by myself, I can be anywhere. It doesnt matter to me. Its just going to be baseball anywhere I go.

The baseball stuff is one thing, (but were) comfortable and I was told we were going to compete and we did. Ive been in the playoffs three times.

I knew that being in Chicago (with a) big-market team, they were going to allow us to get some good players. And weve competed almost every year since Ive been here.

Now nobody knows whats going to happen.

Ramirez lofted a two-run double into left field during Wednesdays 6-3 win over the Reds, giving him his 86th and 87th RBIs of the season.

They wont build a statue of Ramirez outside Wrigley Field, but he needs one more home run to join Hall of Famer Billy Williams as the only players in Cubs history to hit at least 25 homers and 30 doubles six times. His offensive profile will be difficult if not impossible to replace in 2012.

The Cubs could go young at third base with DJ LeMahieu, the first player from their 2009 draft class to make it to the majors. They could have another opening at first base if they dont re-sign Carlos Pena (whos already owed 5 million in January 2012, the final installment of his one-year pillow contract).

The fans and media seem to be divided on Bryan LaHair, the Pacific Coast League MVP who has spent parts of the past six seasons on the Triple-A level and will turn 29 next month. Does LaHair have to overcome labels?

In all honesty, sure he does, but not with me, manager Mike Quade said. People are going to have opinions and it is a bit unusual to have spent as much time he has in the minor leagues (without) a shot.

The hell with labelsif you can hit, you can hit. And hes going to get an opportunity to swing the bat here (and) well see if he cant make an impression.

Thats what these final few starts are all about for Casey Coleman, whos trying to show hes the guy who went 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in eight starts late last season.

Looking ahead to a 2012 rotation that is filled with question marks almost certainly Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, probably Randy Wells, maybe Andrew Cashner Coleman knows how much is riding on this month.

Everybodys playing for a job next year, Coleman said. There are some guys with guaranteed contracts, but you never know what teams watching. The new GM Im sure will come in and look at the last part of the season (in terms of) performance. So you just never know.

This is a Twitter world where Chuck LaMars abrupt resignation as Phillies assistant general manager had people connecting some dots late Tuesday night and putting him in Chicago. The Cubs will try to block out all the noise, even though they know changes are coming.

You still have the same goals on the field, said outfielder Lou Montanez, a September call-up. You dont pay much attention to whats going on (upstairs). Its too much of a distraction to worry about that.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

MILWAUKEE – Teammates swarmed Kris Bryant in Miller Park’s visiting dugout late Thursday night, flinging sunflower seeds and forming a mosh pit around the National League’s reigning MVP.

Are you not entertained? The Cubs haven’t always played with this urgency or made it easy while nursing a World Series hangover. But they can feel it now, how close they are to October and how much they learned last year while making history.

It’s too early to pop champagne bottles, but the Cubs won a huge swing game in the NL Central race, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning when Bryant blasted Oliver Drake’s 92-mph fastball off a beam underneath the gigantic video board.

The Cubs watched it ricochet back onto the right-center field grass for a go-ahead two-run homer, bumping up the division lead to 4.5 games while cutting the magic number to clinch the division down to six.

After a head-spinning 5-3 victory that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes and ended at 11:08 p.m., Bryant didn’t sound surprised or overexcited, the same way he didn’t overreact when the Cubs struggled to gain traction before the All-Star break and the Brewers swept the defending World Series champs two weekends ago at Wrigley Field.       

“We’ve done that so many times,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a nice run with that. I guess it is experience. The heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game’s on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.”

So did the Brewers pushing their bullpen so hard this week trying to catch up that Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have to admit “their A-listers were not available,” meaning Corey Knebel, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader. Classic response from Bryant, who has 28 homers and likes to think of pitchers as nameless, faceless opponents: “I didn’t find out their top three guys were down until after the game was over.”

Maybe that changes the ninth-inning rally against Jeremy Jeffress where Ian Happ sprinted for a “Respect 90” single and scored the game-tying run when Javier Baez delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. But the Cubs are in their element now, playing games that matter, not what-if.

“I just think we like loud,” Maddon said. “I think we’re a little bit like adrenaline junkies with the fact we’re used to 40,000 people a night.”

Just look at the stone face Wade Davis made in the ninth inning, escaping a bases-loaded jam by striking out Domingo Santana swinging at an elevated 95-mph fastball and forcing Orlando Arcia to chop a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. The All-Star closer who’s 32-for-32 in save chances went back out for the 10th inning and struck out the side to notch the win. That is a five-out playbook Maddon can use in October.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said of the playoff atmosphere in a road stadium filled with Cubs fans. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the moment itself instead of having to create it yourself. You feel that.”

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

MILWAUKEE – This was the type of game Jake Arrieta visualizes, a loud atmosphere with 35,114 fans on their feet and an opponent that really doesn’t like the Cubs at all.

This one would ultimately be out of his hands, lasting 10 innings and almost 4 hours on Thursday night at Miller Park, but Arrieta looked like a Game 1 starter as the Cubs roared back for a 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Those playoff plans are coming into focus, the magic number to win the National League Central title down to six and Arrieta managing the Grade 1 right hamstring strain that has been one of the biggest question marks hanging over the defending World Series champs.

“It’s just good to be back out there,” Arrieta said. “These are big games, and I want to be a part of as many as I can, especially to try and clinch the division as quick as possible and then kind of line things up for us in October. But we got to get there first.”

Arrieta threw his first real pitch in 18 days at 7:16 p.m., firing a 92-mph fastball toward Brewers leadoff guy Eric Sogard and giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline. That always wears off, but the Cubs are a different team when Arrieta sticks his chest out and triggers his perfect posture into a crossfire delivery.

Arrieta looked sharp in his first real action since Labor Day, even as his five-inning, 71-pitch limit exposed how fragile this pitching staff might be right now. If it’s not Jon Lester laboring at the top of the rotation, it’s the softer spots in the middle of the bullpen, or questions about how much wear and tear the Cubs can take after a deep playoff run in 2015 and last year’s World Series madness stretched into early November. 

But Arrieta basically picked up where he left off as the NL pitcher of the month for August, realigning his unique mechanics and generating enough power from his right leg, restarting the momentum in a second half where he’s shown the flashes of dominance you saw during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. 

Arrieta exited this game with a 2-1 lead – before it spun out of control – and passed one test by hustling to cover first base to complete an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the fifth. He walked just one of the 20 hitters he faced and could really only regret one pitch in the fourth inning, the 92-mph fastball Domingo Santana drilled off the batter’s eye in center field.

“I felt OK,” Arrieta said. “I can tell that something happened. I think it’s just the residual feeling of something like a hamstring strain. But no pain, really no discomfort. That’s a good sign.

“Tomorrow is the biggest indicator moving forward of how we’ll be able to approach this. I don’t see any reason that I won’t feel good tomorrow.”

Arrieta is scheduled to make two more regular-season starts, but this dramatic comeback means the Cubs might be able to treat those as controlled experiments instead of must-win situations.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” Arrieta said. “This is a really awesome time to be in an organization like this, in a division like the NL Central, where there’s a couple teams that have playoff aspirations in mind. If we take care of business here over the next few days, we get a couple steps closer.”