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.

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

At the end of the day, a loss means essentially nothing for the Cubs right now.

But the Cubs also certainly don't want to hand games to their division rival as the St. Louis Cardinals make a run at the National League wild card spots.

After the Cubs clinched homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs with the Washington Nationals' loss Friday night, they had no answer for the Cardinals in a 10-4 loss in front of 40,785 fans at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon on national TV.

A few disturbing trends popped their heads above ground for the Cubs again Saturday, including the offense's struggles at manufacturing runs, Jason Hammel getting shelled and some bullpen woes.

The Cubs had no trouble putting runners on base against Cardinals phenom Alex Reyes, but they had a tough time plating those guys, cashing in only once with a runner on third base in six tries over the first four innings.

In two of those spots, a Cubs hitter came up with only one out, but failed to bring the run home as Addison Russell struck out in the first inning and Kris Bryant popped out to shallow left in the second.

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Hammel recorded only seven outs and was tagged for six runs on six hits and a walk, watching his season ERA rise nearly 30 points to 3.83. The veteran right-hander fell to 15-10 as he attempts to make a push for one of the Cubs' final postseason roster spots.

"Honestly, I would love to be a part of [the playoff roster], as the rest of the guys on the team would love to," Hammel said. "I know there's only a certain amount of spots, so if I'm handed the ball, I'll be ready. That's the way I'm gonna view it.

"Obviously you wanna be a part of something special like that, but I think everybody here has already been a part of something special to get to this point. We're all very proud. We still got eight regular season ballgames left to build some momentum. Whether I'm on the roster or not, I'm still gonna enjoy it."

Hammel was also clearly on the wrong end of some bad luck Saturday, as the four runs he allowed in the first came via a check swing and a couple hits just out of the reach of his fielders. 

Joe Maddon won't put too much stock into one rough start in late September.

"I'm not too worried about a good or bad outing right now. I'm not," he said. "Pretty much, you know who the guy is. You know if the guy's go this stuff going on or if he doesn't. ... The greater body of work matters."

Setup man Hector Rondon struggled in his appearance, needing 26 pitches to notch just one out, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk before handing the ball off to Felix Pena.

Of course, it's also just one game and one loss for a team with 98 victories and hopes of the World Series.

Rondon had been nearly unhittable since returning from the disabled list two weeks ago and the Cubs offense had been efficient and relentless in the past four games after Maddon's meeting with the hitters earlier in the week.

Maddon also used the blowout to get regulars like Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Russell out of the lineup to help keep them fresh for October.

After the game, Maddon chose to look on the bright side.

"Our starter had a tough day today; that's it. Otherwise we did some nice things," he said, referencing the solid offensive days from Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. "We had chances to score runs - runners on third, less than two outs - and we didn't fulfill that.

"We made their starter throw 115 pitches in five innings; I think that's a positive."

The Cubs will close out their season series with the Cardinals on another nationally-televised showdown Sunday night between Jon Lester and St. Louis ace Carlos Martinez.

Cubs: Miguel Montero plays 'psychologist' to get the most out of Jake Arrieta

Cubs: Miguel Montero plays 'psychologist' to get the most out of Jake Arrieta

Lost amid the craziness of Friday's game and David Ross' emotional sendoff was Miguel Montero locking up a spot on the Cubs' postseason roster.

It's not official, of course. 

The Cubs don't have to get their National League Division Series 25-man roster until the morning of Oct. 7, Game 1.

But Montero proved his value to the Cubs, even in an 0-for-3 effort offensively.

The veteran catcher has struggled to find consistency at the plate this season, but his work behind the plate has proven invaluable, especially with reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.

Montero helped get Arrieta in rhythm Friday for a dominant performance - 10 strikeouts across seven shutout innings.

It was the first time the two had worked together in a battery since Aug. 12, with Willson Contreras catching Arrieta five times and Ross behind the dish once in that span.

"Quite frankly, I'm not gonna lie - I wanted to see that," Cubs manager Joe Maddon admitted after Friday's game. "Miggy did a great job with him. They were outstanding together."

The proof is in the numbers, too.

With Contreras over those five starts, Arrieta has posted a 4.50 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, averaging 6.4 innings per outing.

In the last six starts with Montero behind the plate, Arrieta has a 1.99 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and is averaging 6.78 innings per outing.

Of course, Montero was also Arrieta's primary catcher for the pitcher's other-worldly run to close out last season.

Maddon believes there's a comfort level there between the two and with the Cubs essentially just biding time until the postseason, now was the time to make a change and see how they worked together again instead of worrying about getting Contreras more experience.

If Arrieta can find consistency pitching at that level, it absolutely gives the Cubs a new look alongside 2016 Cy Young contenders Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.

"We work well together," Arrieta said. "I work well with Willson and with Rossy, but Miggy and I have worked together for quite a bit of time now throughout the last couple years. He knows the way my stuff works. 

"He has little nuances, little mannerisms that he makes behind the plate that can help me get back on track from time to time and it's nice to have a guy like that who can really pick things out visually and relay a message to me by something small that helps me get back in line."

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Montero admitted he wasn't even focusing on his at-bats throughout Friday's game, instead putting his full attention on getting Arrieta back on track.

It may only be one outing, but it worked, and Montero deserves credit for getting Arrieta to settle down, stop trying to be too perfect and just unleash his ace stuff.

"We have to be a psychologist. That's our job as a catcher," Montero said. "People don't realize that. People think the catcher needs to throw and hit. No, we need to be a psychologist.

"We need to know who we got out on the mound, how to talk to him, how to go about the business, how to explain to him how to do things. I like psychology a lot and he's one of the guys who you need to push him a little bit harder, and that's me.

"I'm gonna push a guy to the limits, 'cause I know I can get a lot more from him. I know who I can get a lot more from."

Maddon didn't tip his hand about who will pair up with Arrieta next start, but the Cubs don't have to make that decision right now. 

However, with a veteran catcher like Montero around who knows how to call a game and has been heralded as one of the best pitch-framers in baseball during his prime, it'd be hard to leave him off the postseason roster.

In October, the Cubs will place a premium on guys who have been there before and can work in rhythm with a veteran-laden pitching staff and in those areas, Montero has a leg up on rookie Contreras.

Montero handled his reduction in playing time gracefully when Contreras was promoted to the big leagues over the summer, but now, the 33-year-old looks to be reemerging for the Cubs as the "big boy" games loom.

"I don't know if I'm gonna catch [Arrieta] again, but I hope he keeps that momentum going, which I think is a good confidence-builder right there," Montero said. "... My main goal [Friday] was just Jake and just to get him out there and get him to throw a good game and build his confidence again.

"I went 0-for-3, but I don't care. I accomplished my goal - which was to get him to throw a good game and he did."