Ricketts leaves Cubs waiting for answers

540645.jpg

Ricketts leaves Cubs waiting for answers

SAN DIEGO From the outside, it looks like the season slowly winds down in September. But when you wear a uniform for almost eight months, it comes to a complete, jarring stop.

The Cubs have tried to project the image of business as usual as they go through this transition period. But that illusion is just about over. The next general manager will decide their fates.

Chairman Tom Ricketts who addressed the team before Wednesdays game declined to comment on the search. He continues to gather information from contacts throughout the industry. He sounds ready to wait it out until he gets the answers he wants.

Well do it as efficiently and as quickly as possible, Ricketts said. But its a big decision. Theres no point in rushing it. We got to have the right guy at the right time. And however long it takes, it takes.

Ricketts met with manager Mike Quade shortly after he fired Jim Hendry, and again last week before the team left Chicago for the seasons final road trip. Quade is signed through next season, but his entire coaching staff isnt, leaving them all in limbo.

Its a big organizational decision, Quade said. Right now, its bigger than any of us, whether we like it or not. So you be patient or not (and) you say, I cant do this, Ive got to go look for work. But I think you have to keep things in perspective.

The courtesys been given to say, Look, its going to take awhile.

Ricketts recently locked up vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita with a new four-year contract because the Detroit Tigers showed interest. There was a sense of urgency because Fleita is a point man for the new academy the Cubs are planning to build in the Dominican Republic.

Oneri is a really valuable part of this organization, Ricketts said. I think that any general manager coming in would agree with that. Its just a step we took to make sure that we have good continuity and (keep) building on the things we think were doing well.

Ricketts again said that Tim Wilken does a terrific job, though the scouting director did not get a similar extension. Wilkens signed through the 2012 season and has been given the authority to renew contracts within his department.

Quade and his coaches havent received any votes of confidence like that from ownership. Among the staff, there is a level of anxiety and an understanding that the next general manager will likely want his guys.

By nature, Quade is a stubborn optimist. He never played in the big leagues and still landed his dream job. Hes been fired before and has viewed his entire career to this point as a series of one-year contracts.

It hasnt been what we hoped for, Quade said. But Im not disappointed in the way I handled things and the way I went about my business. Good seasons, bad seasons, you go home and evaluate and youre always trying to get better.

I still feel pretty good about this job and doing what I do. If somebody else has a different thought (coming) in here, then theyll make that decision.

Several high-profile players including Carlos Pena, Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Dempster could be positioned to become free agents. If the search drags on, and the Cubs are forced to make some personnel decisions, Ricketts will get input from interim general manager Randy Bush. The chairman wont rule anything out.

With more than three million tickets again sold this year at Wrigley Field, Ricketts indicated that the overall budget for baseball operations will essentially remain the same next season. It would be up to the next general manager to determine how much is allocated for major-league payroll.

The Ricketts family has talked about owning this team for generations, but the chairman doesnt view 2012 as a bridge year or see this team being that far from contention. He pointed to the Arizona Diamondbacks who went from worst to first this season and the Cubs teams Hendry rebuilt on the fly.

One thing youve seen in baseball over the last few years is that turnarounds can happen pretty quickly, Ricketts said. I dont think its meaningful to describe a year as a rebuilding year or a reloading year or any of that.

You get the right players on the team and they all stay healthy and they play hard, the team can go from 70 wins to 90 wins. It happens pretty frequently. Things turn around fast. Thats the way we look at it for next year.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs' bats go silent in shutout loss to Marlins

cubs.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs' bats go silent in shutout loss to Marlins

MIAMI – This is a 37-36 team dealing with injuries near the front of the rotation (Kyle Hendricks), the middle of the lineup (Ben Zobrist) and the heart of the defense (Jason Heyward) while a World Series legend (Kyle Schwarber) gets a few days to clear his head before reporting to Triple-A Iowa.

The Cubs are the defending champs, but they really don’t have much of an identity beyond that, unsure what they’re going to get from one night to the next and still searching for that sense of rhythm 45 percent into the season.

Friday’s 2-0 loss to the Miami Marlins followed a familiar pattern for a team that’s been at the .500 mark at 15 different points this season and has been shut out six times already. 

Pitching and defense became the backbone for a World Series team, but the Marlins needed only three hits to score two runs (one earned). John Lackey gave up his 21st home run – he allowed 23 in almost 190 innings last year – in the third inning when Giancarlo Stanton launched an 83-mph pitch 458 feet beyond Marlins Park’s garish pink-flamingos-and-palm-trees sculpture.   

The night after blitzing Miami and scoring 11 runs, the Cubs managed only six hits against right-hander Jose Urena and three different relievers. 

Joe Maddon on Ian Happ: ‘Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen’

Joe Maddon on Ian Happ: ‘Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen’

MIAMI – The Cubs factored Ian Happ into their preseason plans, hoping he could give the team a shot of adrenaline at some point and play well enough to be marketed as a trade chip in a blockbuster deal for pitching.

But the Cubs couldn’t have projected this for late June: Happ batting third behind Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, the switch-hitting presence and middle-of-the-order force needed with Ben Zobrist on the disabled list and Kyle Schwarber about to get a mental reset at Triple-A Iowa.

“Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen, when you look at the size and how far the ball goes,” manager Joe Maddon said Friday at Marlins Park. “It’s a unique combination of size and strength. You normally see a bigger guy with that kind of juice."

Happ (6-foot, 205 pounds) also patrolled right field that night – one of four different positions the rookie has handled so far – with Gold Glove defender Jason Heyward also on the disabled list and the Cubs in scramble mode.

The Schwarber demotion is a reminder of how hard this game is, how quickly it can spin out of control and how small sample sizes can be misleading, even on the biggest stages against some of the best pitchers on the planet.

But check out Happ’s first six weeks in The Show projected as a 162-game average on Baseball-Reference.com: 46 homers, 97 RBI, .916 OPS and 199 strikeouts.

“He’s just really interesting,” Maddon said. “Now you’re seeing him hit better from the right side, too, which is really going to matter. That really makes him a threat. You put him in the lineup based on that.”

The shorthanded Cubs have needed Happ – at the age of 22 – to protect Bryzzo Souvenir Co., add another layer of Zobrist versatility and learn it all on the fly for a team with World Series expectations.

“He’s pretty self-confident,” Maddon said. “There’s times I can tell when it’s beating him up a little bit when he goes through some of those funks where maybe he’s chasing pitches out of the zone. But he seems to rebound very quickly. Strong-minded. Strong-willed. Very confident individual.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs hopeful Kyle Hendricks returns before All-Star break]

Two weeks into Happ’s big-league career, Maddon got questions about how long the Cubs will be patient and what they would need to see out of him before thinking about a return trip to Des Moines.

Though Happ was hitting .207 as recently as last week, his average has jumped roughly 40 points. He’s homered eight times in his last 13 starts. Fifteen of his 21 RBI have come with two outs. His OPS hasn’t fallen below .741 at any point this season.

“That’s adjusting,” Maddon said. “You get here, nobody really knows you, they throw you pitches, you hit ‘em well. And all of a sudden, you stop seeing those pitches. You’re not going to see them again until you stop swinging at the stuff that they want you to swing at.

“He’s done a pretty good job of laying off the bad stuff. That’s why it’s coming back to him. He’s really reorganized the strike zone here.”

That whole process sped up on Schwarber, who lost the swagger and the ability to crush fastballs that made him such a dangerous hitter. Happ doesn’t have it all figured out, but by the look on his face and the sound of his voice, you would have no idea whether or not he’s hitting. 

“Unbelievable guy,” said Happ, who’s tight with Schwarber. “He’ll go down, rake, be back soon and do what he’s capable of doing, which is hitting the ball hard all over the ballpark. He’s done it his whole life. And he’ll continue to do it.”