Your 2011 Cubs begin with Ramirez, Zambrano

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Your 2011 Cubs begin with Ramirez, Zambrano

Monday, Oct. 4, 2010
4:39 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Aramis Ramirez stood in front of his locker and sort of laughed and shook his head late Sunday afternoon when a reporter mentioned Carlos Zambranos latest comments.

The night before, on the other side of the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park, Zambrano responded to a question about offseason needs by saying he wants the Cubs to sign 6-foot-6-inch, 285-pound slugger Adam Dunn as a way to protect Ramirez and Marlon Byrd in the lineup.

After being Zambranos teammate for parts of eight seasons, Ramirez is almost numb to all this. Ramirez can be a bit of a loner, but hes honest, and even at the end still realized the implication was calling out someone else in the room.

When you add a guy like that he hits 40 homers every year it wont hurt, Ramirez said. But like I say, thats not my job and we got a guy right now playing first that I dont want to disrespect. Zambrano can say whatever he wants, but (Xavier) Nadys (been) playing there every day now and hes a free agent and I dont know what theyre going to do.

Ramirez is certain what hes going to do with his 14.6 million player option for next season, and that might be the easiest decision surrounding the Cubs the next four months.

Ill be here next year, he said Sunday after Game 162 in Houston.

And that is as good a place as any to start looking ahead to Opening Day 2011, the Cubs subject to Zambranos whims, needing Ramirez to again play like an All-Star and not knowing what they can and cannot afford.

The team charter flying back to Chicago wasnt crowded Sunday night, with most of the players already moved out and scattering across the country from Houston. By Monday afternoon, the Wrigley Field clubhouse was almost entirely empty, and Zambrano was said to be involved in a minor car accident leaving the parking lot.

Fair or not, whatever Zambrano says or does will make news. No one can match what he did in his final 11 starts 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA for an entire season. Everyone will be curious to see how he responds after a few bad games, and if those anger-management sessions will have a lasting impact.

Id like to think hell never have any adversity again, but we know thats not true, Mike Quade said. This has been a really, really nice couple months for him and I think hell take it into this winter and Im confident that hell come back next spring not forgetting whats happened.

If Quade returns as manager and he likes the odds of that happening then he will likely see many of the same faces in Mesa, Ariz.

In the final weeks of the season, Nady was the only player getting questions about his upcoming free agency. He will turn 32 next month and the Cubs have liked him as a prospect since he was in high school.

All of Nadys numbers this season .256 average, six homers, 33 RBI come with an asterisk because of the elbow-reconstruction surgery he underwent in July 2009. He enjoys playing in Chicago and expects to be at full health in 2011.

But realistically first base might be the one position where the Cubs can upgrade. The outfield is still crowded and the middle infield will be young and cheap.

The Cubs are already committed to around 102 million next season for Zambrano, Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Silva, Byrd, Jeff Samardzija and John Grabow.

The Seattle Mariners will continue to pay for part of Silvas salary, and maybe general manager Jim Hendry can get creative again with Fukudome, who has no-trade protection and is entering the final year of his 48 million deal.

Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall and Geovany Soto all enjoyed outstanding seasons and will be eligible for arbitration and nice raises. Each was signed and developed by the organization, which is supposed to be the model going forward.

The only indication chairman Tom Ricketts has given is that payroll will probably be lowered from its 2010 level (approximately 145 million). That will again place the burden on the players you already know, guys like Zambrano and Ramirez.

If youre going to start with a club thats going to contend, or youre putting something together, its wonderful to have a bunch of young guys, Quade said. But nine times out of 10 you better have some stalwarts. (You) start with guys who have a history and you say, Look, here are our guys that we can quote-unquote count on. All those veterans will be a huge part of (this).

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

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs turned Theo Epstein’s “Baseball is Better” speech from his first Wrigley Field press conference into a marketing pitch that might distract fans for a moment from an awful big-league product.          

The 2017 “That’s Cub” ad campaign actually uses what started organically years ago within the farm system, two words that recognized a great at-bat or a heads-up play or a defensive stop.    

Business vs. baseball is no longer the dominant storyline it had been during the early phases of the Wrigleyvile rebuild. Business and baseball are booming for what’s become Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.

It’s just interesting that a franchise valued at north of $2 billion has found so much inspiration on the back fields of this spring-training complex, where staffers you wouldn’t recognize get to work before dawn and players you’ve never heard of dream about their big break.

It’s not just drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And trading for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell. And hiring a manager obsessed with T-shirts. Baseball operations became a marketing department, selling prospects to Cub fans, the Chicago media and the gurus putting together the rankings – and trying to get buy-in from players who all think they belong in The Show.

Minor-league field coordinator Tim Cossins gets credit for “When It Happens,” a theme that didn’t simply revolve around 1908 and the championship drought. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, suggested pairing the W flag with that phrase, and it became this ubiquitous idea around the team.   

“We tied everything into it,” McLeod said Sunday at Sloan Park. “When that time comes, when it happens, can you lay the bunt down? When it happens, can you execute a pitch? Can you go in and pinch-run, steal the base when the time comes?

“The big ‘When It Happens’ is when we win, of course, but for us in (player development), it was about everything that we’re going to be asked to do in that moment: Are you going to be ready when it happens?”

Now what? The defending World Series champs are going with: “Where It Happens.”

A bullet point from Epstein’s bio in this year’s media guide references how his first three first-round draft picks with the Cubs “combined to set up the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when Schwarber singled and (Albert) Almora pinch-ran, moved to second on Bryant’s deep fly to center, and scored on Ben Zobrist’s double.”

“We’re never going to forget about the importance of young players,” Epstein said. “There’s definitely a lot of talented, interesting prospects still in the system and sometimes they get a little overshadowed because of the star young players we have at the big-league level and how quickly some of those guys moved through the system. But there’s a lot of talent there.

“We’re going to lean on young players beyond our prospects, not just in trades, but also to provide organizational depth and also to serve as the next generation, the next infusion of talent at the appropriate time.

“But it’s a process. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in development for all these guys. And we have a ton of faith in our player development operation to help these guys along the way.”

So Ian Happ will start the season one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa and see if some combination of injuries and his switch-hitting skills and defensive versatility gets him to the North Side at some point. Or used as a trade chip for pitching, the way third baseman Jeimer Candelario and catcher Victor Caratini appear to be blocked.

Joe Maddon already compared Eloy Jimenez – who can’t legally buy a beer in Wrigleyville yet – to a young Miguel Cabrera or Edgar Martinez. The Cubs are practically begging for someone like Eddie Butler to pitch his way into the 2018 rotation.

By Monday morning, when the full squad reconvenes after a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the Cubs could start making cuts and shaping their Opening Night roster. But the Cubs are going to need so much more than the 25 players who will be introduced next Sunday at Busch Stadium. Maddon used 26 pitchers and 149 different lineups last season. This is “Where It Happens.”

“If this particular group of youngsters were in a different organization that had a greater need right now, you’d probably hear a lot more about these guys,” Maddon said. “But the fact that they’re stuck behind a Bryant and a Russell and a Javy (Baez) and a Rizzo and a (Willson) Contreras and a Schwarber, et cetera, et cetera, it becomes more difficult to really push or project upon these guys.

“But I think these young guys have gone about their business really well. If it’s bothering them or if they’re concerned about that, they’re not showing that. I think they’ve put their best foot forward.”

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs studied all the MRIs and analyzed every pitch Wade Davis threw last season, poring over the information on the All-Star closer. During the winter meetings, Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore even took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to give Davis a physical exam.  

The Jorge Soler trade wouldn’t be announced until athletic trainer PJ Mainville met with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley. The Cubs got another read on the flexor strain in his right forearm that twice put Davis on the disabled list last season.

Davis now has a 19.64 ERA through five Cactus League appearances – and the complete confidence of a manager who isn’t connecting those dots.

“The injury’s really not an issue,” Joe Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “He feels really good right now. He kind of thought that whole thing was a little bit overblown last year, according to (what he told) me. Because even in talking to him in the offseason: ‘I’m fine. I’m good. I feel really good.’”

Maddon managed the Tampa Bay Rays while Davis broke into the big leagues as a starter and began the transition to reliever. Everything clicked in Kansas City’s bullpen, with Davis blowing away hitters and notching the last out of the 2015 World Series.

“I’m watching him,” Maddon said. “He’s throwing the ball really well easily. That’s what’s really encouraging to me. From the side, there’s no bumping and grinding and…” Maddon made a grunting noise to illustrate his point: “There’s none of that. It’s easy. I look up at the gun and I’m seeing 94, 95 and sometimes 96 (mph). It’s like: Wow, I have never seen him do that in camp.”

Across the last three seasons, Davis allowed three home runs while piling up 234 strikeouts in almost 183 innings. This spring, he has twice gotten only one out, like Saturday’s 29-pitch, four-run appearance against the Colorado Rockies. Overall in March, he’s given up eight earned runs, nine hits and five walks in 3.2 innings.  

“Honestly, I’ve known him long enough that it’s not” a concern, Maddon said. “You’re not going to believe this, but he’s actually throwing better than he normally does in spring training. The biggest problem he’s having right now is command.

“Velocity looks good. The break on the breaking ball looks good. He’s just not throwing the ball where he wants it. And this guy is normally the kind of pitcher that can dot it up really well.

“But everything else looks really good to me, (because) I had him back with the Rays and in spring training you always saw him throwing like 86, 87, 88 (mph). I’m seeing easy 94-95. I’m seeing sharp break on some breaking stuff. It’s just bad counts and bad command right now.”

This isn’t the Cubs saying Carlos Marmol or Jose Veras is our closer. A guy with a 0.84 ERA in 23 career playoff appearances doesn’t care about Cactus League stats. As long as Davis is healthy, there should be no doubts about the ninth inning. Check back next week amid the sea of red at Busch Stadium.

“A lot of it’s just an adrenaline rush sometimes,” Maddon said. “A lot it’s just a moment that you can’t recreate here. You can’t do it. It’s impossible.”