Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011
By Patrick Mooney
MESA, Ariz. Albert Pujols is baseballs biggest story. The Cubs are a big-market team that needs to fill seats and hundreds of hours of television programming. Inevitably the two will be caught in the crossfire of Internet rumors.
Already trying to shift the focus, Tony La Russa suggested Tuesday that the union will pressure Pujols to take the largest deal possible, a claim denied by the Major League Baseball Players Association. Wednesday looms as a self-imposed deadline to negotiate a contract extension.
Cubs fans can dream about stealing from the St. Louis Cardinals, but their team has more immediate issues at first base.
A serious injury to Carlos Pena would be devastating. And with Pena using Wrigley Field as a platform to launch himself back into the free-agent market, the Cubs dont have a long-term option either.
So Tyler Colvin is working out at a position that he hasnt really played since he was an undergraduate at Clemson University. Even that was in a backup role. Any hesitation manager Mike Quade may have had throwing Colvin out there near the end of last season is gone.
No backing off this year, Quade said. Youre going to see him at first base some this spring. We cant afford to get into a situation where, God forbid, something happens to Carlos. Well make sure that were protected.
Quade meant to pull Colvin aside at Fitch Park on Sunday and tell him first about these plans, but couldnt locate him in time. The manager then accidentally let it slip during his media briefing, something he regretted immediately. It didnt matter.
I knew it was coming, Colvin said. Its a great idea.
The 25-year-old outfielder doesnt get caught up in any of the hype. Hed be the last person youd expect to lash out or publicly complain about a position switch. And this versatility could be good for his career, and the Cubs need to find out whether or not he can play there.
On Tuesday he patiently answered the same questions about the freak accident that ended his promising rookie season last September. Yes, Colvin will continue to use maple bats, the same kind that punctured his chest. No, he wont play scared.
Colvin is self-contained and typically keeps his comments serious and brief. But he did joke that the Cubs will put up a protective screen whenever he plays first base.
Im going to go about my business the same way I did last year and get ready, Colvin said. You cant ever be comfortable here. You always have to try to get better, but, yeah, I know the league a little better. (And) they know me, too.
A first-round pedigree helped, but Colvin forced his way onto the team last spring by crushing Cactus League pitching. It became a billboard for everyone else in the organization. Brett Jackson, the 31st overall pick in the 2009 draft, certainly noticed.
He attacked (with) his work ethic and really made his strides getting to the big leagues and then making an impact, Jackson said. Colvin is a good example for us all. Thats the dream to come out to spring training and tear it up.
Jackson hit .297 with 12 homers, 66 RBI and 30 stolen bases during his first full professional season, 128 games split between Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. MLB.com has ranked the 22-year-old outfielder as the games No. 46 prospect overall.
Cubs ownership is clearly more inclined to invest in the player-development system, and its uncertain how eager the Ricketts family would be to put together the type of contract it will take to lure someone like Pujols to the North Side.
The front office has visions of Jackson and Colvin forming an outfield built on speed and athleticism. Given those expectations, Jackson was asked about nerves, and he sounded like the Cal-Berkeley kid he is, and nothing like Colvin.
You just got to get goofy and have a good time, Jackson said.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.