Zambrano's not out of the Cubs picture yet

588678.png

Zambrano's not out of the Cubs picture yet

DALLAS The Cubs arent talking about Carlos Zambrano in the past tense yet.

There are enough people left over from the old regime that the new administration knows Zambranos history, how he has said sorry before.

Publicly, the Cubs have presented the opportunity to earn his way back, though its unclear whether its because theyre desperate for innings or trying to create some sort of trade value.

Dale Sveum brought out a familiar talking point on Tuesday in Dallas, saying that a top three of Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Zambrano would be enough to hang in the National League Central.

The new manager hasnt spoken with Zambrano yet, but wants to get to know him and is trying to contact every player before Christmas.

I dont think theres a message you send with a guy, Sveum said. He knows his track record. Its not something I have to mention to him. He knows what hes done in the past and knows hes got to change that past. If you put those three guys at the top of your rotation, you got a chance of winning with the bullpen that we have.

The Miami Marlins remain a logical landing spot, because of Zambranos relationship with manager Ozzie Guillen, his close friend from Venezuela. People close to Zambrano say he would benefit greatly from a change of scenery, and would be hungry to prove himself again.

In trying to create the same sort of buzz the Miami Heat did, the Marlins could wind up spending more than 300 million this week on Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols. They are box-office draws and offensive catalysts. But, eventually, the Marlins will have to focus on starting pitching.

Zambrano is owed 18 million next season, while Alfonso Soriano is guaranteed 54 million across the next three years. The Cubs would have to pay a huge sum to get rid of either player.

In general, I think eating money on a deal if the return is right then sometimes it can make sense, general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Both players have no-trade rights, and the Cubs will be extremely reluctant to include those clauses in future contracts.

You never want to say never, Hoyer said, but at the same time, it was a strict policy in Boston against giving no-trades. And I think its the right policy because you end up in those situations where youre in a tough spot. Theyre to be avoided.

The Cubs will have to be creative in finding pitching solutions, because there arent many frontline starters available and the cost figures to be prohibitive. Hoyer pointed to under-the-radar signings like Ryan Vogelsong, who hadnt pitched in the big leagues since 2006 but signed late and went 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA for the San Francisco Giants last season.

Our assessment of Carlos hasnt changed, Hoyer said. Pitchings hard to find, theres no question. I think ideally you need to develop your own. But if you look at where pitching comes from, its not always the biggest names that sign at the winter meetings.

There (are) a lot of guys that have impact and you cant just focus on the big guys (because) some of the best seasons could come from guys that arent being discussed in the lobby this week.

Whoever ultimately reports to Arizona will be working with new pitching coach Chris Bosio. Sveum and Bosio go way back. They played high school football against each other in California and became teammates on the Milwaukee Brewers.

Bosio has credibility after pitching 11 seasons in the big leagues. Sveum described Bosio as a baseball rat who doesnt back down from anything.

The question becomes: Will they have to confront Zambrano?

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."