Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Posted: 8:00 PM
By Patrick Mooney
PHOENIX Michael Young is a six-time All-Star, but at this moment he represents virtually everything the Cubs are trying to move away from: Hes 34 years old and owed 16 million annually through the next three seasons.
You saw the future on an 80-degree afternoon at Phoenix Municipal Stadium: Starlin Castro at shortstop, Tyler Colvin in right field and Andrew Cashner on the mound.
The Cubs want financial flexibility and expect those three homegrown players to be performing near an All-Star level before Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2014.
Cashner hadnt heard that his name was mentioned in unfounded internet trade rumors, nor does he really care. Hes as close to untouchable as anyone in the organization. His accelerated growth is key to putting the team over the top.
Cubs sources insist that theyre not talking with the Texas Rangers about Young, and emphasize that they are comfortable with using Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt at second base. Besides, Baker already has a plan in place to take the job from DeWitt.
Every day when he comes to the park, Baker said, I try to slash his tires.
Your 2011 Cubs are built upon pitching, and Tuesdays 8-1 victory over the Oakland As was another test run for the 24-year-old Cashner, who is virtually guaranteed a spot on the major-league roster. The only question is whether he makes the rotation.
Cashner felt like he had his best stuff all spring, but quickly ran his pitch count up to 70 and was removed with one out in the fourth inning. He gave up one run on two hits, struck out two, walked three and hit a batter.
Over in Mesa, Randy Wells continued to make his case for the rotation, extending to five innings and giving up three runs, two earned, in a 4-2 split-squad loss to the Colorado Rockies. There could be room for both Wells and Cashner as the fourth and fifth starters.
Through four games, Cashner hasnt blown everyone away (3.97 ERA), but he also hasnt done anything to lose a job or make anyone second-guess the decision to stretch him out. Hes a first-round pick the organization believes in fully.
He enjoys starting and hes put his heart and soul into it, manager Mike Quade said. I dont think theres something in the back of his mind, saying: Im really a reliever. I think hes bought into this completely and hell continue to get better.
Cashner is willing to work and he has so much potential upside that the Cubs want to use him for 150 to 200 innings each season, not 70. He just needs to learn how to do it consistently for 100 pitches a night, not 25.
Its not my decision, Cashner said. Id love to start, but the only thing (Im) trying to do right now is prepare myself for the season, whether Im starting or relieving.
The other day Cashner broke down some video with Greg Maddux, the front-office assistant who watched Tuesdays start from the dugout. After each inning Cashner spoke with the future Hall of Famer about pitch selection, what to throw hitters in certain counts and what to look for in swings.
Its pretty mindboggling, Cashner said. You just got to be always listening whenever hes talking, because hes quiet and you never know what youre going to get.
Until Young demanded a trade out of Texas, he had built an excellent reputation as a total professional and clubhouse leader. But the Cubs already like their mix of personalities, so Young wouldnt be a huge net gain there. Kerry Wood is said to have already improved the teams chemistry, plus hes made himself available to all the young pitchers.
Cashner a laid-back Texan who has drawn comparisons to Wood didnt ask to be put out front in Cubs marketing campaigns. He didnt hype himself as the next big thing. He goes where hes told and keeps it simple.
To be honest with you guys, I dont read anything yall write, Cashner said. I think I can be a good pitcher. I just need more experience. The more I pitch, the better Ill throw.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.