What's next for Cubs after Pena signing?

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What's next for Cubs after Pena signing?

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted 10:14 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - No doubt the Cubs have stayed in the headlines, but until Wednesday they hadn't been involved in many baseball rumors, much less actual news.

This has been the "Undercover Boss" offseason, the marquee painted purple for a college football game and fans mourning Ron Santo outside Wrigley Field, the renovation of which still remains a political flash point.

But by signing first baseman Carlos Pena, the Cubs addressed their single biggest need and put the focus back on the field. And general manager Jim Hendry insisted that he's not finished.

With the deferred payments on the 10 million deal, Hendry can keep searching for a right-handed reliever and another starting pitcher through trades and the free-agent market.

The Cubs continue to do background work on Brandon Webb's medical reports and there is the sense that they will be among the final two or three teams he eventually chooses from.

Webb finished first or second in the Cy Young Award voting for three consecutive years but hasn't pitched in a real game since Opening Day 2009.

If Webb's right shoulder checks out, the Cubs could be interested. They seem inclined to take a chance on a pitcher like that rather than make a blockbuster deal. One source indicated that Zack Greinke is completely out of their price range.

For now you can stop asking questions about Tyler Colvin playing first base, at least through 2011, after which the Cubs will shed approximately 40 million from their payroll. The contracts of Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Silva will be off the books by the 2012 season.

The Cubs could allocate some of those resources to Pena if he reverses his trend line - you get the feeling Chicago talk radio will have a hard time letting go of that .196 batting average last season - but if not they'll move in another direction.

Pena, who will turn 33 in May, should be motivated to market himself for that next window of opportunity. On a roster where Alfonso Soriano is still only halfway through his 136 million contract, it seems like a reasonable investment.

And on a team that was flawed defensively by any metric - the problems weren't isolated to Soriano - Pena is supposed to approximate three-time Gold Glove winner Derrek Lee. Pena's presence - as well as the natural growth of a second-year player - should make Starlin Castro a more reliable shortstop.

"We needed to play better defense," Hendry said. "Our defense in hindsight was not good and that affects a lot of things. First base is always a category where you can find different types of players. He's a rare guy that has that much power and plays (great) defense."

Pena is thoughtful and articulate and seemed totally at ease on Wednesday with round after round of interviews. It sounded like he won't be flustered by all the attention inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl. We'll see what type of player he can still be.

"I know that I have more (to) offer," Pena said. "I put that behind me. I still have to make peace with it, learn from it and make sure that I grow and use it to my advantage.

"In boxing terms (I have) a tough chin. (I) can take some punches. I can stay in the ring. I'm still standing."

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

Cubs-Pirates game ends in a 1-1 tie

Cubs-Pirates game ends in a 1-1 tie

PITTSBURGH – This definitely felt like something out of spring training, with Thursday night’s game between the Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates suspended as rain kept pouring down on PNC Park, ending after five innings in a 1-1 tie.

Major League Baseball considered this an official game – its first tie since it happened to the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros on June 30, 2005 – and stats will still count after an 83-minute rain delay. But there is no need to make it up with the Cubs having already clinched the National League’s No. 1 seed and the Pirates eliminated from wild-card contention.

The last time the Cubs finished in a tie: a 2-2 five-inning draw with the Montreal Expos on May 28, 1993 at Wrigley Field.

    

Questions about Soler, Coghlan, Almora Jr. as Cubs shape playoff roster

Questions about Soler, Coghlan, Almora Jr. as Cubs shape playoff roster

PITTSBURGH – As the Cubs shape the edges of their playoff roster, there are more outfield questions than answers: Is Jorge Soler running out of time? Will Chris Coghlan be ready? Can Albert Almora Jr. handle October?           

After two MRIs on his right side came back clean, Soler rejoined the team on Thursday at PNC Park, so he could work with the training staff and hitting coaches. Yes, Soler shined during seven playoff games last year – putting up three homers, three doubles, five RBI and six walks – but he’s only gotten nine at-bats within the last two weeks and the Cubs sound like they are losing patience. 

“It’s not awful – I don’t think it’s dire,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He needs to get going, though. We got to find out. This is one of those things you want to test. But if you test too soon, then it could totally take him out of an entire postseason. 

“You got to be careful, in a sense. He felt pretty good today, from what I was told. It’s just once in a while he just feels it in a very, very, very minor way. From a training perspective, it’s all good. We just have to wait for him to say: I feel up to par.”      

Coghlan left cleat marks on the W.B. Mason advertisement on PNC Park’s left-field wall during Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, spraining his left ankle while jumping for a ball hit over his head.

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Coghlan called it a day-to-day issue and didn’t sound worried about where he fits into the playoff picture. Writing off his struggles with the Oakland A’s – and appreciating the opportunity after getting traded back to the Cubs midseason – the left-handed hitter is batting .326 with a .954 OPS through 18 games in September.

“I’ve been real productive,” Coghlan said. “At this point, they already know what type of player I am. It feels good for me just to contribute to the team. (It’s) fun to be out there playing more often and producing at the level that I know I can.” 

It’s unclear if Soler and Coghlan will play during this weekend’s end-of-the-regular-season series against the Cincinnati Reds, but the Cubs don’t necessarily need to see them in action at Great American Ball Park. 

Injuries could potentially create a spot for Almora, a 22-year-old rookie with first-round pedigree and a high baseball IQ who’s viewed as a future Gold Glove-level defender.

“He’s always ready to play,” Maddon said. “And if you put him in any situation, he’s fine.”