Chicago Cubs

Stay or go? Veteran Cubs on the brink in Mesa

413240.jpg

Stay or go? Veteran Cubs on the brink in Mesa

Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Posted 9:05 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. The Cubs didnt want to be anywhere near bench coach Pat Listach on Tuesday morning. A tap on the shoulder meant you were wanted in the managers office.

There Mike Quade and general manager Jim Hendry informed 18 players that they were heading down the street to minor-league camp. The Turk isnt on call yet for the next rounds of cuts, but after Wednesdays off-day the Cubs have less than two weeks left in Arizona.

During his six-week audition last season, Quade didnt manage every night like it was Game 7 of the World Series. He won points and almost two out of every three games by using players the front office needed to evaluate.

But as the 25-man roster comes into focus, Quade will have to find his voice and articulate what he needs to win now.

Jims been upfront about so many of these decisions being mine, but Im always mindful, Quade said. Whos got options? Whats the contractual status?

I fully expect to have the loudest voice, at least of the group in here. And if (chairman) Tom Ricketts or Jim Hendry or (assistant general manager) Randy Bush shouts me down, thats because theyre ahead of me. Theyre my bosses. Itll be a group effort and then well put our heads together.

Hendry purposely brought in character guys on minor-league deals to add a sense of professionalism this spring. They are still hoping to fly back to Chicago.

Braden Looper

With his gray hair and stubble, the 36-year-old pitcher looks like Brett Favre, and he has ideas about retirement. Looper sat out last season to be a stay-at-home father in Chicagos south suburbs. Across the past 18 months, hes been trying to get a job with the only team he wants to play for.

Looper is still a candidate for the two open spots in rotation, along with Randy Wells, Andrew Cashner and Carlos Silva. He might be a fit as the long man in the bullpen. He becomes a free agent if he doesnt make the team and would have to decide if he really wants to walk away again.

I got a wife and three kids at home that I dont want to drag all over the place anymore, Looper said. They put up with that for a long time. I played almost (12 years) traveling all over the country and its a lot to ask of a family.

Were going to do this and see if it works out, and then Ill cross that bridge when it comes. But hopefully this works out and Ill be pitching for the Cubs.

Todd Wellemeyer

Admittedly still a little rusty, Wellemeyer has essentially thrown six innings since tearing his quadriceps last June. The San Francisco Giants were six games out of first place when they released Wellemeyer on Aug. 19. Hes waiting for his World Series ring and dealing with a sore right hip, something hes felt every spring for the past three years.

The Cubs go way back with Wellemeyer, their fourth-round pick in the 2000 draft, and they remember what he did eight years later 13-9 with a 3.71 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals. At the age of 32, he figures: If these guys dont have a spot for me, maybe one of the other teams will.

Augie Ojeda

The Cubs brought in Ojeda to help mentor Starlin Castro, and they need a utility infielder to back up their young shortstop. This is Ojedas third tour with the Cubs, and he once played for Quade at Triple-A Iowa. The manager says that when it comes to defense, you wont find them much better.

The 36-year-old Ojeda will have to beat out Darwin Barney, who is almost 11 years younger and hitting .333 this spring. Barney could also play himself into more at-bats as the second baseman.

Reed Johnson

Last month Marlon Byrd stood in front of his locker and raised his voice while talking about when Johnson makes the team. Johnson still has many allies in the organization after his two seasons on the North Side (2008-09), when Quade was his outfield coach.

Though Johnson has hit only .138 so far, the Cubs value his experience and ability to play all three outfield positions. Fernando Perez has unbelievable speed, and that could be a real asset for a team that could struggle to score runs. But Perez may need more time in Iowa to develop as a switch-hitter.

If Johnson doesnt make the club, he will become a free agent.

I know (what) he can do on the field, Quade. The fact that he played well here in this division, in this ballpark, in this city theres a lot of real good stuff that comes with Reed.

What is that worth exactly? Those are the types of conversations the Cubs will be having behind closed doors.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Joe Maddon thinks Ben Zobrist getting ejected would be a sign of the apocalypse

Joe Maddon thinks Ben Zobrist getting ejected would be a sign of the apocalypse

As the rest of the world readies for the upcoming solar eclipse on Monday, Joe Maddon is thinking about the apocalypse.

That's because Ben Zobrist very nearly got ejected from a ballgame Wednesday night, something that seemed essentially impossible just a few days ago.

When Zobrist squared around to bunt in the bottom of the ninth inning, he was peppered with a 96 mph fastball right on the leg. The Cubs veteran was initially awarded first base — which would've loaded the bases with nobody out — but then was called back by first base umpire Chris Conroy who insisted Zobrist did not pull back his bunt and thus the pitch was a strike.

Maddon raced out and very quickly got ejected from the game. He admitted it was the angriest he'd been in a Cubs uniform.

Zobrist also was giving the umpiring crew an earful about such a crucial play in a crucial spot of a tie game.

Zobrist was not ejected and the Cubs eventually won two batters later, but had the game continued, Zobrist would've had a tough time controlling his anger moving forward.

Envisioning Zobrist getting ejected elicited laughter from Maddon, who said it would've been more entertaining to see Zobrist get tossed than Kris Bryant's ejection last month.

"This would've been really good," Maddon said. "Because he would've had like contrived anger after the fact. Had the game continued, I really believe something may have occurred that we've never seen before. 

"You got the eclipse coming up Monday. You got Zobrist arguing with an umpire and possibly getting kicked out and an eclipse within three or four days. That's where you worry about the apocalypse at that point."

Zobrist is one of the most mild-mannered players in the game and has never been ejected in his 12-year career. Maddon always says that whenever Zobrist is actually arguing with umpires, he must really have a point, especially on a religious day like Sunday.

However, the well-respected 36-year-old just had an issue over the weekend where he struck out looking in Arizona to end the game and petitioned hard for robot umps and an electronic strike zone.

"It keeps happening to Zo, of all people," Maddon said. "I mean, Zo does not deserve this. If any baseball player does not deserve that kind of inequities, it's him. 

"Listen, I really believe had I not done that and the game ended differently, you might've seen Zo's first ejection."

It was Maddon's second ejection of the season and he expects to get fined after laying into the umpires 15 minutes after the game ended in his media session. 

He said he has no grudges to carry over into Thursday and doesn't anticipate the umpires will, either.

Wednesday's ejection reminded Maddon of the time a few years ago when he "ejected" three umpires from a game on the South Side of Chicago when he was managing the Tampa Bay Rays.

But he doesn't get tossed as much now with instant replay really cutting down the need to argue.

"That thing yesterday is not reviewable," Maddon said. "So when it's not reviewable, that's where you could get upset. Check swings, hit by pitch in that situation. There's not a whole lot to get angry with anymore.

"Balls and strikes? But it's so hard to argue balls and strikes from the side [in the dugout]. I can see up and down; I can't see in and out. I'm really wrong a lot on in and out, so I don't even say anything anymore. And so again, it's just about moments like that that are not reviewable, those are the ones that I think can create a little bit of a stir.

"But it doesn't happen that often. I'm not looking for it just to go argue. I just thought it was egregiously bad yesterday."

There is currently a report filed with the league about the incident, though that is standard procedure for any ejection.

Maddon said twice during his postgame rant Wednesday that he's "playing nice in the sandbox" with the league. When asked about what he meant by that, he gave a cryptic answer:

"There's other things that nobody's aware of that I've been playing nice in the sandbox about."

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

Fuming over ninth-inning call, Joe Maddon is done with playing nice in MLB sandbox: ‘That’s asinine’

A walk-off win in the middle of a pennant race didn’t dull the edge in Joe Maddon’s voice, the Cubs manager blasting Major League Baseball and expecting to be fined for his rant in the Wrigley Field interview room.    

“That’s asinine,” Maddon said after Wednesday night’s 7-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, fuming over the ninth-inning at-bat where Ben Zobrist showed bunt and got drilled by Wandy Peralta’s 96-mph fastball. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakney signaled for Zobrist to jog to first base, only to have first base umpire Chris Conroy call strike two.

“Listen, I don’t even know what to say about that call,” said Maddon, who stormed onto the field and got ejected for the second time this season. “We’ve had different things happen, and I’ve been playing really good in the sandbox. Really good. And I’m not right now. That call cannot be made under those circumstances.

“I can understand if the guy’s actually swinging, and all of a sudden you get like a check swing. But he’s bunting – and then trying to get out of the way – and you’re going to call a bunt?

“There’s no way any hitter under those circumstances – with the ball coming at his thigh – is going to bunt through it and then get hit in the thigh.

“That really almost did cost us the game. Fortunately, we came back, they made their wild pitch. But I’ve been playing good in the sandbox. That was wrong.”

Zobrist – who called for an electronic strike zone after watching a controversial strike three end Saturday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field – still managed to put the ball in play, move up Javier Baez and Jon Jay and keep the pressure on the last-place Reds.  

“I tried to pull the bat back, but there was nowhere for me to go,” Zobrist said. “It started right at me, and was going down towards my ankle, and I could not physically pull it back and still pull my ankle up at the same time. I tried to pull my ankle up and (Conroy) thought I was offering at it, apparently.”

Imagine the reaction if the Cubs hadn’t regrouped and maintained a 1.5-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

“I know that instant replay is not perfect,” Maddon said. “But all this little minutia needs to be looked at as we move this along, because that impacted the game. That’s bases loaded, nobody out. It’s a different at-bat for (Albert) Almora. It’s a different thought for their pitcher. Everything’s different. The world rotates differently at that point.

“To influence a game like that is wrong. And, listen, the guy’s a good guy. I think he’s a good umpire. But I’m not going to concede consistently to these guys. You can’t make that mistake.”