While Carpenter goes down in history, McNutt stays with Cubs

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While Carpenter goes down in history, McNutt stays with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. The black Jaguar pulled into the parking lot right around 8 a.m.

Chris Carpenter and Trey McNutt got out of the sports car on Tuesday and walked toward the Cubs complex. Carpenter punched in the key code at Fitch Park, and McNutt followed his roommate through the glass doors.

That morning, Carpenter would be called into an office and told that he was traded to the Boston Red Sox as the compensation for Theo Epstein. McNutt would have to call his wife for a ride back home to North Scottsdale.

I feel like Im in high school, McNutt said.

McNutt had his wife take their pickup truck to work. Out of nowhere, a 32nd-round pick from small-town Alabama had emerged as arguably the organizations best pitching prospect, a player the Red Sox targeted once Epstein decided to leave for a presidents job with the Cubs last October.

The long-winding negotiations went in a different direction. So Carpenter, who described the day as kind of surreal, becomes the answer to a baseball trivia question.

My name will go down in history, I guess, Carpenter said.

The Cubs selected Carpenter, 26, out of Kent State University in the third round of the 2008 draft. He made his big-league debut last season, but struggled during his transition to being a reliever at Triple-A Iowa, posting a 6.53 ERA in 22 games.

Still, the Red Sox are getting a power bullpen arm who can throw close to 100 mph.

I appreciate everything the Cubs have done for me, Carpenter said. Its been a great organization over the past four years and Im looking forward to going to Boston and helping them win now.

If youre going to pick two teams to play for, why not the Cubs and the Red Sox? You cant complain about that.

While the Epstein compensation drama played out, Carpenter and McNutt lived and trained together throughout the offseason. They talked about it during the Arizona Fall League with Andrew Cashner, another name floated, and since traded to the San Diego Padres.

The Red Sox had zeroed in on the 22-year-old McNutt, a potential mid-rotation starter Baseball America judges to be the organizations fourth-best prospect heading into 2012.

Instead, McNutt was planning to spend the rest of Tuesday helping Carpenter load up his car, which will be shipped to Red Sox camp in Florida.

I just hate it for him that he has to leave right at the last second, McNutt said. Its just a big hassle. Spring trainings already stressful enough, especially when youre trying to win a job and now hes got to worry about packing up all his stuff and moving all the way across the (country).

But hell be fine.Ive never met a guy (tougher) than him mentally, so I dont think this is going to bother him. It wont faze him.

So McNutts life wont be turned upside down. Maybe one day hell make it to the show and become part of those Cubs teams Epstein promises will be playing annually in October.

But for now, all this meant was that McNutt could move to a different part of the place they shared with two other Cubs minor-league players. Carpenter had the master bedroom, and McNutt was calling it. Baseball history could wait. The guy just needed a ride home.

One guy was living in the living room, McNutt said. Well all have a bedroom now.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with Jed Hoyer

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Luke Stuckmeyer talk about the first week of spring training. 

The two discuss ace contracts, leadoff intimidation and give their thoughts on the Sammy Sosa saga. 

Plus CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney goes one-on-one with general manager Jed Hoyer. 

Listen to the Cubs Talk Podcast below. 

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

Cubs eager to see the Jason Heyward relaunch in Cactus League

MESA, Ariz. — Cactus League stats are supposed to be irrelevant, especially for the guy with the biggest contract in franchise history. Jason Heyward already built up a reservoir of goodwill as a former All Star, three-time Gold Glove defender and World Series champion. The intangibles got Heyward $184 million guaranteed, and the Cubs are hoping a new comfort level will lead to a Jon Lester effect in Year 2 of that megadeal.

But Heyward will still be one of the most scrutinized players in Mesa after an offseason overhaul that tried to recapture the rhythm and timing he felt with the 2012 Braves (27 homers) and break some of the bad habits that had slowly crept into his high-maintenance left-handed swing.

"If there's ever any doubt," Heyward said, "then you probably shouldn't be here."

Heyward will be batting leadoff and starting in right field on Saturday afternoon when the Cubs open their exhibition schedule with a split-squad game against the A's at Sloan Park. If Heyward has anything to prove this spring, it's "probably to himself, not to us," general manager Jed Hoyer said, backing a player who does the little things so well and commands respect throughout the clubhouse.

"There's going to be growing pains with making adjustments," Hoyer said. "He'll probably have some good days and some bad days. But I think the most important thing is that he feels comfortable and uses these five weeks to lock in and get ready for the Cardinals."

The Cubs are betting on Heyward's age (27), track record (three seasons where he showed up in the National League MVP voting), understanding of the strike zone (.346 career on-base percentage) and willingness to break down his swing this winter at the team's Arizona complex.

At the same time, Heyward realizes "it's just the offseason" and "a never-ending process in baseball." There are no sweeping conclusions to be made when the opposing starting pitcher showers, talks to the media and leaves the stadium before the game ends.

"I'm not sitting here telling you: 'Oh, I know for sure what's going to happen,'" Heyward said. "I don't know how it's going to go. But I know I did a damn good job of preparing for it."

[MORE CUBS: No hard feelings: Cubs and Pedro Strop look to future with contract extension]

Manager Joe Maddon — who gave Heyward nearly 600 plate appearances to figure it out during the regular season (.631 OPS) before turning him into a part-time outfielder in the playoffs (5-for-48) — usually thinks batting practice is overrated or a waste of time. But at 6-foot-5 — and with so much riding on an offensive resurgence — Heyward is hard to miss.

"I can see it's a lot freer and the ball's coming off hotter," Maddon said. "But it's all about game. I'm really eager for him, because everybody just talks about all the work he's done all winter.

"Conversationally with him, I sense or feel like he feels good about it and that he's kind of at a nice peaceful moment with himself. So it will be really fun to watch."

A 103-win season, an American League-style lineup that scored 808 runs, a new appreciation for defensive metrics and a professional attitude helped provide cover for Heyward, who largely escaped the wrath of Cubs fans with little patience for big-ticket free agents.

"Baseball is a game that's going to humble you every day," Heyward said. "You're going to fail more times than you succeed, so it's all about how you handle it, as an individual and as a group. We handled it the best out of anyone last year as a team. And that's why we were able to win the World Series.

"There's always things you feel like you need to work on. You can ask guys who had the best years — there's always something they're trying to improve on and something they don't feel great about at a certain point in time during the year.

"I just happened to have a little bit more breaking down to do. A lot of things allowed me to just kind of pause (and) look forward and not really think about trying to compete and win a game. Let's just get some work done."