There's no answer to Cubs leadoff question

There's no answer to Cubs leadoff question

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010
9:51 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

ST. LOUIS The Cubs have used three managers to put eight different players in the leadoff spot this season. Before heading off into retirement, Lou Piniella mentioned that a presence at the top of the order is one piece the organization needs to identify in the future.

The daily questions about the lineup wore on Piniella, who was even asked if he thought about moving Alfonso Soriano back up to leadoff as the Cubs struggled to score runs this season.

Only one player in the National League woke up Wednesday morning with more than 33 stolen bases. There was Houstons Michael Bourn atop the leader board with 50.

Twenty-five years ago at the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis, that would essentially amount to a first half of the season for Vince Coleman, who led the league with 110 in 1985.

The game goes in cycles and it has phased out players like Juan Pierre. If the Cubs are stretching to find one, then they are in line with the rest of the industry.

When Mike Quade took over the team on Aug. 23, he looked at the numbers, saw Blake DeWitts on-base percentage (.360) and put him at the top of the order. It wasnt a permanent move because Quade plays matchups.

Jeff Bakers .346 average (47-for-136) against left-handers means he will hit there as well. It is a narrow window into a managers mix-and-match philosophy.

Qs not afraid to think outside the box, Baker said. I dont have the prototypical leadoff speed, but at the same time, Im going to try to make an aggressive base-running move and (get on base) against those lefties.

Bakers gone 11-for-24 (.458) in the six games hes hit leadoff since Aug. 29. At the age of 29, he doesnt want to be thought of as a platoon player. He can be used at three infield positions as well as play the outfield, which would make him a useful piece for the 2011 roster, though not a long-term answer at leadoff.

Versatility it can be a blessing and it can be a curse, Baker said. Id like to play every day somewhere. (When) an opportunity comes (and) youre in the position I am, you got to make the most of it.

Darwin Barney is 24 and approaching the same crossroads in his career. Hes worked at second base, subbed for Aramis Ramirez at third and started at shortstop on Wednesday night in St. Louis as Starlin Castro rested a bruised hip.

Even Barney has found himself at leadoff for two of the 21 games hes appeared in since his promotion Aug. 12. The rookie entered Wednesday hitting .406 (13-for-22) in his last 11 games. His defensive instincts are a given. If he produces offensively, maybe he could be more than a utility infielder. Thats what the Cubs are trying to find out.

You never want to put a cap on anybody, Quade said. Hes a bright kid that brings some intangibles.

Barney won a state championship in high school, a gold medal at the World University Games and back-to-back College World Series titles at Oregon State University. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft, one of several homegrown players currently filling the roster.

Im just trying to find my place on this team, Barney said. I dont know what the teams trying to do when they move forward. Were winning games right now. (Were) working on getting better and us young guys (have) to.

Everyone is waiting on answers as the Cubs try to rebuild for 2011. Baker entered spring training competing against Mike Fontenot at second base, a job that went to Ryan Theriot when Castro made his big-league debut in May. Fontenot and Theriot were traded away this summer, leaving openings at second and leadoff. It will be an interesting offseason.

Sometimes when you want something so bad, (you) try to do a little too much and you find yourself back in that utility role, Baker said. (But) Im at the point now where Ive been around long enough to know that as long (as) you have a functional job youre not just kind of buried somewhere you got a chance to help the team win.

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

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Within the first several weeks of the Theo Epstein administration, the Cubs finished second in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, though nowhere close to the $51.7 million the Texas Rangers bid for the exclusive rights to negotiate a six-year, $60 million deal with the Japanese superstar.

The Cubs will probably have to wait a few more months for their next shot at Darvish, who is “unlikely to move” before the July 31 trade deadline, a source monitoring the situation said Monday. Darvish means enough to the franchise’s bottom line as a box-office draw and magnet for corporate sponsors that the Rangers would be reluctant to trade a player with global appeal and potentially jeopardize that relationship heading into free agency this winter.

Beyond the possible impact on re-signing Darvish, that would also mean foreclosing on a season where Texas is only 2.5 games out of an American League wild-card spot, making this final week critical to the buy-or-sell decision.

The Cubs would obviously prefer to stay out of the rental market after shipping two top prospects to the White Sox in the Jose Quintana deal. Quintana’s reasonable contract – almost $31 million between next season and 2020 once two team options are picked up – creates financial flexibility for a free-agent megadeal (Darvish?) or the next big-time international player.

But the cost of doing business with the White Sox probably means the Cubs wouldn’t have the super-elite prospect to anchor a trade for Darvish, anyway. That would be another obstacle in any possible deal for Sonny Gray, with an AL source saying the New York Yankees are going hard after the Oakland A’s right-hander (and have a deeper farm system and a greater sense of urgency after missing on Quintana).

All that means Kyle Hendricks could function as the trade-deadline addition for the rotation, with the Cubs instead trying to shorten games and deepen their bullpen by July 31.

After spending more than six weeks on the disabled list, the Cubs activated Hendricks for the start of this week’s crosstown series, watching him pitch into the fifth inning of Monday’s 3-1 loss to a White Sox team that had lost nine straight games.

[Willson Contreras may be ‘the f------ Energizer Bunny,’ but Cubs still need to get another catcher before trade deadline]

Hendricks is a rhythm/feel pitcher who blossomed from an overlooked prospect in the Texas system into a piece in the buzzer-beater Ryan Dempster deal at the 2012 deadline into last year’s major-league ERA leader.

Hendricks clearly isn’t locked in yet. He gave up eight hits, but minimized the damage against the White Sox, allowing only one run while putting up five strikeouts against zero walks.

“He wasn’t as normal,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The velocity was still down a little bit. There was not a whole lot of difference between his pitches. He was not what you would call ‘on.’ He would be the first one to tell you that. He looked fine delivery-wise, but the ball just wasn’t coming out as normal.”

Hendricks described his fastball command as “terrible,” called his secondary pitches “OK” and ultimately came to this conclusion: “Health-wise, everything felt great, so we’ll take that. Just got to get back (to my routine).”

The biggest takeaway is Hendricks didn’t feel any lingering effects from the right hand tendinitis that was initially classified as a minor injury in early June. Meaning the Cubs (51-47) are just about at full strength and have another week left to upgrade the defending World Series champs.

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?

Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?

The crosstown rivalry doesn't end on the diamond.

Both Cubs and White Sox fans are highly competitive when it comes to trivia, too. 

We found that out when we bounced around Wrigley Field to quiz North and South Siders in a special edition of "Are You Smarter than a Cubs/White Sox Fan?" 

Watch the video above as we pitted fans against eachother for the chance to win a killer shirt.