Chicago Cubs

Will Zambrano, Ramirez follow Ozzie to Miami?

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Will Zambrano, Ramirez follow Ozzie to Miami?

Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011
Posted: 10:42 p.m. Updated: 12:58 a.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
SAN DIEGO Hours after being sent home from the South Side, Carlos Zambrano met Ozzie Guillen for dinner at a hotel in downtown Chicago.

This was June 25 of last year, and Lou Piniella was so embarrassed by Zambranos temper tantrum in the U.S. Cellular Field dugout that he canceled plans to go out with his family that night.

The Cubs thought it sent the completely wrong message. It also fed the perception that Guillen was the only manager who could reach Zambrano.

This isnt quite LeBron James taking his talents to South Beach to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But the Marlins could be on the verge of assembling a dream team for the Chicago media.

By luring Guillen away from the White Sox, the first domino has fallen. The next one could be Aramis Ramirez, who talks about when hes going to become a free agent not if.

Friends have told Ramirez about the speculation that the Marlins could make a run at him this offseason. He's made it known that his first preference is to stay in Chicago, though he'd void the club's 16 million option for next season in search of a multi-year deal.

The last-place Marlins are getting ready to move out of a cavernous football stadium by the Florida Turnpike and into a new retractable-roof ballpark in the Little Havana neighborhood on the old Orange Bowl site. They can sell sunshine and a quick flight home to the Dominican Republic.

They dont have a third baseman, said Ramirez, who returned from a quad injury to hit his 26th homer during Tuesday's 6-2 win over the Padres. Theyre going to have the money, so they could be one of the teams interested in my services.

Any Dominican guy is going to be willing to play there, especially if its the right situation. They got a new ballpark. Theyre going to have some money to go out and get some good players. Its a tough division, but theyre going to have the money to compete.

The question becomes how much money the Marlins would be willing to absorb to take on Zambrano, who is owed 18 million next season. Chairman Tom Ricketts is on record saying that hed have a hard time picturing Zambrano pitching for the Cubs again.

Zambrano has had little to no contact with teammates since cleaning out his locker and talking about retirement last month.

Major League Baseballs labor lawyers and the players union will process his grievance during the offseason. His house in River Forest is reportedly for sale. Its almost as if hes become a Bartman-like figure.

I think hes still in Chicago, Ramirez said, but I havent seen or heard from him.

If anyone could get through to Zambrano, it would be Guillen, his friend from Venezuela.

Its not that easy, Ramirez said. Im sure Ozzie would take him. But I dont think its Ozzies decision. Its the front office and the owner. Everybody knows Zambrano can still pitch.

Some people might be afraid of his attitude (and) the stuff hes done in the past. Hed be the first one to tell you he made a lot of mistakes. But he also would take the ball every five days.

At the very least, Zambrano will generate headlines and national media attention. The Marlins are a team that needs to create buzz to sell tickets.

Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper was the Marlins play-by-play man when they won the 2003 World Series. He remembers them drawing around 25,000 fans that September and 65,000-plus in the playoffs. Guillen was the third-base coach on that team and developed a strong relationship with owner Jeffrey Loria.

Its an event town, Kasper said. The spectacle is a really big deal down there. And anything they can do to help make that more of a place to be and I think Ozzie will do that (is) good. (He) understands the market really well and understands the organization.

Its almost in a way like hes returning home, even though it feels like hes leaving home. If there was another perfect situation for him other than the White Sox, I think the Marlins would be (it).

With Zambrano and Ramirez in Guillens clubhouse, Chicago baseball writers would not disagree. The Cubs are scheduled to visit Miami during the second week of the 2012 season. Get your recorders ready.

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

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Joe Maddon looked back on the perfect baseball storm that hit the Tampa Bay Rays and played all the greatest hits for local reporters, waxing poetic about the banners hanging inside Tropicana Field, stumping for a new stadium on the other side of the Gandy Bridge, telling Don Zimmer stories, namedropping Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and riffing on sabermetrics and information buckets.

But the moment of clarity came in the middle of a media session that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon sitting up on stage in what felt like the locker room at an old CYO gym: “We only got really good because the players got really good.”

There’s no doubt the Cubs have the talent to go along with all the other big-market advantages the Rays could only dream about as the have-nots in the American League East. Now it looks like the defending champs have finally got rid of the World Series hangover, playing with the urgency and pitch-to-pitch focus that had been lacking at times and will be needed again in October.    

Maddon essentially admitted it after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory, watching his team beat Chris Archer and work together on a one-hitter that extended the winning streak to seven games and kept the Milwaukee Brewers 3.5 games back in the National League Central.

“You’re really seeing them try to execute in moments,” Maddon said. “When they come back and they don’t get it done, it’s not like they’re angry. But you can just see they’re disappointed in themselves.

“Their mental energy is probably at an all-season-high right now.”

Six days after the Cubs moved him to the bullpen, lefty swingman Mike Montgomery took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay’s No. 9 hitter (Brad Miller) drove a ball over the center-field wall. Maddon then went to the relievers he will trust in October – Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Wade Davis – with the All-Star closer striking out the side in the ninth inning and remaining perfect in save opportunities (32-for-32) as a Cub.       

“We want to go out there and prove every day that we’re the best team in baseball,” said Kyle Schwarber, the designated hitter who launched Archer’s 96-mph fastball into the right-center field seats for his 28th home run in the second inning. “The way our guys are just going out there and competing, it’s really good to see, especially this time of year. It’s getting to crunch time, and we just got to keep this same pace that we’re going at.

“Don’t worry about things around us. Just keep our heads down, keep worrying about the game and go from there.”     

In what’s been a season-long victory lap, Maddon couldn’t help looking back when the sound system started playing The Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations” echoed throughout the domed stadium, a tribute running on the video board and a crowd of 25,046 giving him a standing ovation.

“It was cool,” Maddon said. “I forgot about the bird, the cockatoo, I can’t remember the name. Really a cool bird. I told (my wife) Jaye I wanted one of those for a while. But then again, she gets stuck taking care of them.

“I was just thinking about all the things we did. You forget sometimes that snake. I think her name was Francine, like a 19-year-old, 20-footer. And then the penguin on my chair. You forget all the goofy stuff you did. But you can see how much fun everybody had.

“I appreciated it. They showed all my pertinent highlights. There’s none actually as a player. It’s primarily as a zookeeper.”

But within the last week, you can see the Cubs getting more serious, concentrating on their at-bats and nailing their pitches. There is internal competition for roster spots and playing time in the postseason, when Maddon becomes ruthless and doesn’t care at all about making friends. This just might be another perfect storm.

Montgomery – who notched the final out in the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 – put it this way: “I feel ready for anything after how this year’s gone.” 

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Are the Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 against the Washington Nationals?

“I’m not even anywhere near that,” manager Joe Maddon said during Tuesday’s pregame media session with the Chicago media, immediately shifting his focus back to the decisions he would have to make that night – how hard to push catcher Willson Contreras coming off the disabled list, what the Cubs would get out of lefty Mike Montgomery, how the bullpen sets up – against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Players can do that kind of stuff. I don’t think managers can. Honestly, I don’t want to say I don’t care about that. I just don’t worry about that, because there’s nothing to worry about yet. Because first of all, he’s got to be well when he pitches, too.”

Arrieta had just completed a throwing session at Tropicana Field and declared himself ready to face the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. That would be the Cy Young Award winner’s first start since suffering a Grade 1 right hamstring strain on Labor Day. It would set him up to face the St. Louis Cardinals next week at Busch Stadium and start Game 162 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

“The plan is to be out there Thursday,” said Arrieta, who would be limited to 75-80 pitches against the Brewers and build from there, trying to recapture what made him the National League pitcher of the month for August. “The good thing is the arm strength is there – it’s remained there – and I actually feel better for maybe having a little bit of time off.

“The idea is to be able to be out there the last game against Cincinnati – pretty much at full pitch count – and to be ready for the playoffs.”

Five days after that would be the beginning of the NL divisional round and what could be a classic playoff series between the defending champs and Dusty Baker’s Nationals. The Cubs started Jon Lester in Game 1 for all three playoff rounds during last year’s World Series run and their $155 million ace could open a Washington series with an extra day of rest.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about that now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We have a lot of work to do, and those would be the guys that would help get us there in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to get into that situation, you’d just use all the factors. You guys all know – who’s going the best, who matches up the best, the most experienced – and we figure it out and go from there. But we’re still a good ways away from figuring that one out.”