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.

Why Dodgers could be a playoff problem for Cubs

Why Dodgers could be a playoff problem for Cubs

LOS ANGELES – Imagine a Los Angeles Dodgers team doing more with less getting Clayton Kershaw back to start Game 1 of a playoff series. That could become a nightmare matchup for the Cubs, if Rich Hill stays healthy and continues his late-career renaissance, and if rookie phenom Julio Urias saves enough bullets for October.   

“They would be a tough team,” said Ben Zobrist, a World Series hero last year with the Kansas City Royals, the switch-hitter the Cubs signed with October specifically in mind. “We would have our hands full because of all the lefties they have. 

“We have to do a better job against lefties overall – and figuring out how to just get more runners on base. We tend to rely on the homer a little bit too much. And in those situations, (we) have to find a way to just take our hits and hit line drives around the park.”

On Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, the Cubs didn’t have any answers for Brock Stewart, a 24-year-old right-hander out of Illinois State University who matched $155 million lefty Jon Lester for five scoreless innings. The Dodgers manufactured a 1-0 victory, and might have swept the best team in baseball out of Chavez Ravine if not for Kris Bryant’s MVP game on Friday night.

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“They have a veteran group on the field,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They’re always able to come up with another pitcher somehow. They got a really good bullpen. For right now, they’ve been utilized a lot, so I don’t know how that’s going to hold up, but they are good.”

Maddon couldn’t resist taking a few passive-aggressive shots, but he did compare this Los Angeles bullpen to the 2002 Anaheim Angels team that won the World Series and gave him a championship ring as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach.
  
Kershaw (11-2, 1.79 ERA) appeared to be rolling toward his fourth National League Cy Young Award when he went on the disabled list with lower back pain in late June.

“Kershaw coming off a back injury, you just don’t know,” Maddon said. “Hill’s good. He’s reinvented. He’s a curveball pitcher and all that kind of good stuff. So, of course, they can be good.”

Maddon wondered how Urias – who settled down after a rocky start to win a 3-2 game on Saturday – would hold up at the age of 20 after throwing only 80-plus innings combined last year at four different minor-league affiliates. 

“The biggest concern would probably be that he would run out of gas,” Maddon said, “not being used to pitching that late into a year. And I know they’re mindful. I know they’re going to do things to restrict him, whatever. But that would be the biggest concern there.”

[RELATED: With John Lackey ramping up for return, could Cubs go to six-man rotation?] 

The Dodgers (73-57) built a lineup around professional hitters like Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick. They have a two-way catcher (Yasmani Grandal), their own 22-year-old All-Star shortstop (Corey Seager) and a lights-out closer (Kenley Jansen).

“They’re in first place,” Lester said. “I don’t see why they should be overlooked. I don’t feel like they’re overlooked. Being a part of West Coast baseball for a couple months (with the Oakland A’s), I think really everything on the West Coast gets overlooked. I think it’s the time difference and a lot of other factors that are going on. But they’re a good team. They’ve been a good team.”

Maybe the Dodgers will expend too much energy trying to fend off the San Francisco Giants, and there are conditionals to Kershaw, Hill and Urias. But that left-handed-heavy rotation could mean the Cubs will be slamming their bats and helmets in frustration in October.  

“I’m not there yet,” Maddon said. “I’m not worried about the Dodgers. I’m worried about getting our guys healthy and us playing the game properly. If it comes to that, I would be more than happy. I would be ecstatic about facing them in the latter part of the season. They can throw as many lefties as they want. They’re good, but I can’t worry about the Dodgers.” 

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs return home to face Pirates Monday on CSN

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs return home to face Pirates Monday on CSN

Jake Arrieta and the Cubs return home to battle the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, and you can catch all the action on CSN at 7:05 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Steven Brault (0-1, 3.60 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (16-5, 2.62 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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Theme trip: Cubs break down at Dodger Stadium with miscommunication between Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist

Theme trip: Cubs break down at Dodger Stadium with miscommunication between Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon watched John Lackey board the team bus on Sunday morning wearing a Team USA onesie. The Cubs manager later noticed Aroldis Chapman in pajamas in the clubhouse on his way out to the dugout for his pregame media session at Dodger Stadium.
 
“We’ve created our own little culture, our own little identity,” Maddon said. “I just love the fact that they buy into those moments. Your stars are buying into it.”
 
The Cubs are in their own world, followed like rock stars on the road, freed from baseball’s unwritten rules and checked out from the daily anxiety and scoreboard-watching stress during a normal pennant race. 

But the Cubs weren’t in a playful mood after a 1-0 loss, even as they changed into their onesies – Mr. Peanut, Yoda, Stars and Stripes, camouflage – for the flight home from the West Coast. Almost exactly a year after Jake Arrieta threw his no-hitter here, the Cubs had their in-house TV crew shooting the postgame scene inside the locker room – look at us! – while Dodger Stadium security kicked out the Chicago reporters waiting to take pictures outside the clubhouse.   

The Cubs got a reminder that the Dodgers are a team to be reckoned with, that every-pitch focus matters, that communication will be essential in tight playoff games. That’s what this felt like, a crowd of 44,745 erupting in the eighth inning after a replay review that lasted 96 seconds confirmed the call on the field.

The Cubs lost their composure, Trevor Cahill hitting Andrew Toles with a pitch and then jamming Howie Kendrick. Cahill fielded the groundball and threw it into right field. An intentional walk to Corey Seager loaded the bases, setting up a battle between Carl Edwards Jr. and the heart of the Los Angeles lineup.

The rookie unleashed a 97-mph fastball and struck out Justin Turner on a foul tip. Edwards then went right back at Adrian Gonzalez, inducing a chopper toward third baseman Javier Baez, who made the split-second decision to throw to second, where Seager’s right foot crashed into second just before Ben Zobrist’s left foot touched it.

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“We just didn’t communicate,” Baez said. “I completely forgot about who was running down the line. We weren’t holding at first with the bases loaded. Obviously, he had like a huge lead. But in the moment, I was going back with the groundball and I saw Zo going full speed to the bag.”

But Zobrist had been playing deeper in right field to defend Gonzalez, a left-handed slugger and a slow runner. The margin for error is razor-thin when the Cubs needed 10 innings to secure a comeback win on Friday night – and the Dodgers responded by winning one-run games on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

“I feel like the responsibility falls on me being the veteran,” Zobrist said. “It’s a tough play. It’s a reaction play. It’s a feel play. But if we communicate ahead of time, then he knows right away when he catches the ball, you go to first base with it. 

“He can’t (put) the blame on himself. It’s everybody out there. It’s more my responsibility being the older guy out there. He’s still very young and playing all over the place. And sometimes we can all get, I guess, a little bit lackadaisical with our communication.”  

If anything, Maddon was more bothered by Baez not running out a pop-up in the fifth inning, part of an 0-for-4 day and a 3-for-27 road trip that to this point had highlighted his Gold Glove defense. 

“This kid has as much instinct for the game as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Maddon said. “He just misread the moment right there. I would like to believe they’re going to communicate in the future.”

The Cubs would still leave Los Angeles with a 14-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, their magic number to clinch the division down to 20 after a 5-4 road trip. With such a huge cushion, the Cubs also got a chance to remember what it’s like to play in front of a huge crowd where every pitch has consequences.  

“I don’t think that really matters,” said Jon Lester, who got the no-decision after six scoreless innings and didn’t look thrilled to be wearing a onesie. “Everybody here has been in playoff situations now. It’s kind of like we don’t really have to prep for anything anymore. These are situations now that guys are used to. Just go play.”