Ramirez in, Sandberg out as Cubs plan for 2011

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Ramirez in, Sandberg out as Cubs plan for 2011

Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010
Updated 7:39 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

In your mind, it will be impossible to divorce Ryne Sandberg and the Cubs. His retired No. 23 flies at Wrigley Field. Fans still wear his jersey. A generation of prospects loved playing for him.

But after four years managing in the minors, preparing for a job he ultimately didnt get, Sandberg has left the organization and is free to explore opportunities elsewhere. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry confirmed Wednesday that the Hall of Famer decided not to return to Triple-A Iowa next season.

I dont think that was ever in his plans to be in the minor leagues after this year, Hendry said on a teleconference. Hell always be welcome here. He knows that for the future. If he chooses he wants to come to spring training, it would be great.

A coaching job on a major-league staff would be the logical next step in Sandbergs career, but Hendry thought it would be unfair for Mike Quade to have to deal with the shadows of a franchise icon in his own dugout.

Hell always be a beloved Cub and hopefully well hook up in the capacity that he feels appropriate in the near future, Hendry said. Well treat him with the respect that he deserves. If another club wanted to pursue him, we certainly would do nothing to ever stand in his way.

As Day 2 of their organizational meetings unfolded in Mesa, Ariz., the Cubs finalized their staff, making official the hire of Pat Listach as bench coach and promoting Dave Keller from minor-league hitting instructor to major-league assistant.

These are some of the first dominos falling as the Cubs prepare for next season:

Hendry has not sat down yet with chairman Tom Ricketts to discuss the final payroll number for 2011. But the Cubs have already budgeted 14.6 million for Aramis Ramirez. The third baseman, as well as his agent, Paul Kinzer, gave several indications that the player option will be exercised. The front office is just waiting on the paperwork.

It was just kind of a general understanding, Hendry said. We never even gave it a thought. There was never a discussion from his camp that he was considering not coming back.

Without knowing how much the Cubs will have to spend this offseason, or what the free-agent market will look like, its difficult to set priorities or project what sort of other offers might be out there for Kerry Wood. But its obvious that the Cubs could use a veteran reliever, and Wood still maintains strong connections to Chicago.

Everyone knows I have a wonderful relationship with Kerry and that will be a life-lasting one, Hendry said, but to get into specifics now before weve ever (looked) into what direction were going to would be quite foolish.

All these decisions are related, especially if the Cubs have the flexibility to sign only one high-impact player. Tyler Colvin is 25, left-handed and athletic. He needs to be in the lineup every day. Exactly where depends on if the Cubs are accounting for Adam Dunns 40 homers next season, or invest in a cheaper option with more defensive range.

Everybody was kind of anxious (at the end of last year with Colvin): Are we going to give him a shot to play first base? Quade said. But hes an excellent outfielder, making progress with the bat and hes going to play somewhere. (The front office) will put the roster together and well see.

Outfielder Brett Jackson another first-round pick by scouting director Tim Wilken withdrew from the Arizona Fall League with an infection in his leg, which is said to be different from the heel injury that limited his playing time during last months Pan-Am Games qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico.

The Cubs are optimistic that Jackson along with Team USA teammate Chris Archer could be contributors on the major-league level sometime in 2011.

Ricketts has stressed player development, which should empower scouts and minor-league staffers. The baseball operations department welcomed the news that the Cubs will likely remain based in Arizona at a gleaming new complex with initial starting costs around 100 million.

As Hendry said after Proposition 420 passed by a huge margin late Tuesday night, Nobody from our end (ever) wanted to leave.

In a statement released Wednesday, Ricketts thanked voters for a show of tremendous support in a particularly difficult economy and indicated that the Cubs will work with the city of Mesa to finalize an agreement and begin the design and construction of the new facilities and the Wrigleyville West retail center.

The Cubs would have been isolated training in Naples, Fla., wasting time on long bus rides and alienating a core group of fans.

We dont know if Ricketts would have really moved the team and ended an almost continuous presence in Arizona since 1952. But as Sandberg discovered, there is only so much room for sentiment right now within this organization.

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

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Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”