Open for business: What we learned about the Cubs in May

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Open for business: What we learned about the Cubs in May

Kerry Wood wrote the perfect ending, walking off the mound at Wrigley Field for the final time and embracing his son. Whoever cuts the highlight film for the 2013 Cubs Convention already has the feel-good moment for the diehard fans.

That it took almost three months for the new Mr. Cub and Theo Epsteins front office to agree on a one-year, 3 million contract was probably a sign.

The deal was announced last January at the convention, inside a Hilton Chicago ballroom, roughly 90 minutes after the team president said you cant make baseball decisions based on public relations.

Woods retirement may wind up being what chairman Tom Ricketts likes to call an inflection point. (So could his fathers Super PAC.)

Everythings supposed to be cold and clinical now, and this month confirmed what we already knew: No one is untouchable.

Epstein said as much this week, when reporters surrounded him during batting practice at Wrigley Field. The losing streak had reached 12 games, shattering the idea that the Cubs could contend this year.

More than two months from the July 31 deadline, people were talking about Ryan Dempsters no-trade rights, and Epstein was planning to meet again with his Opening Day starter.

Every option has to be on the table, Epstein said.

Heres the disclaimer: The Cubs would have to be absolutely blown away to deal a Matt Garza or a Starlin Castro. Youd have to get multiple impact players in return to even consider it, and those deals are increasingly difficult to engineer.

When the Cubs open a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants on Friday night at AT&T Park, they will again be trying to find out who is and who isnt a foundation piece. Thats the lens through which you can view the rest of this season.

Carlos Marmol and Rafael Dolis lost the closers job in May, and the Cubs are planning to go by committee in the ninth inning with James Russell, Shawn Camp and Casey Coleman.

As Epstein predicted, Bryan LaHair cooled off and didnt produce at a Babe Ruthian level. But no other first baseman in the National League has more home runs (10), and only Joey Votto has a higher on-base percentage than LaHairs .396.

Trying to jumpstart the lineup, manager Dale Sveum removed Castro from the No. 3 hole, opening another debate on how high the All-Star shortstops ceiling will be.

Its easy to forget, but remember that Castro is around the same age as the college players who will be taken in next weeks amateur draft. The 22-year-old already has two .300 seasons on his big-league resume, and appears to be on his way to a third.

Castro has walked five times in 205 at-bats. Can he learn to grind out at-bats and become patient at the plate?

A lot of people do, Sveum said. You understand (that) it takes time. Some guys are built to do it. Some guys take 2,000-3,000 major-league at-bats until it all starts gradually coming together. A lot of times you just get tired of it. You get tired of rolling over. You get tired of swinging at bad pitches.

Thats the maturity level that comes with major-league at-bats.

Castro is up to 1,437 plate appearances now, and hes playing for his third manager in three years. You can wonder how the losing environment will effect him.

But the Cubs didnt really explode or lash out during that 12-game losing streak. Insiders say the clubhouse is more quiet and emotionally level without Carlos Zambrano and Marlon Byrd.

Nobodys wondering whos in charge or who might get fired. Sveum and his experienced group of coaches have essentially seen it all before. They will be judged subjectively in 2012, far beyond the won-loss record (18-32).

Theyve done a really nice job of being prepared and being even-keeled during these moments, general manager Jed Hoyer said. I know sometimes people want to see throwing helmets and broken coolers and things like that.

(But) at some point were going to win seven out of eight (and) you got to stay in the middle and not (have) players feel like youre running hot and cold on them.

It wont be easy maintaining equilibrium. Alfonso Soriano smiled when a reporter asked what happened to the clubhouse wall after Wednesdays walk-off win over the San Diego Padres.

Part of it had been smashed, leaving a dent and cracks in the space between the lockers of Soriano and Dempster (who got a no-decision that afternoon).

Oh, I dont know, Soriano said. For sure, thats not me.

Those moments of frustration have been kept behind closed doors. Soriano essentially shrugged: Thats part of the game, too.

This is a business. Once the draft ends next week, the Cubs will shift gears and focus on the trade deadline. They will block out all the noise about Anthony Rizzo (and his sore right wrist heard around the Twitter world).

I understand fans have a right to be upset anytime were not playing winning baseball, Epstein said. I just think if we start making decisions based on it or scrap plans because of it (and) try to put Band-Aids on situations were doing the fans a disservice in the long run.

Ill always operate with the belief that the only way to make fans happy in the long run is to get to a point where were playing baseball in October on a regular basis. And nothing is going to get in the way of that.

Sometimes when you rip the scab off, theres some pain, until we grow some new skin and were born anew. Were going places. Its just (that) this is a tough road.

Jimmy Butler trade presents more questions for futures of Nikola Mirotic, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo

Jimmy Butler trade presents more questions for futures of Nikola Mirotic, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo

Lauri Markkanenn will be a Chicago Bull once the trade between the Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves is finalized sometime Friday when the trade call is sent to the NBA, as he’s the first domino to fall in what could be an interesting offseason to come.

A stretch-shooting big man from Arizona who shot 42 percent from 3 last season, Markkanenn is a native of Finland who’s more of an offensive threat rather than a defender and rebounder at seven-feet tall. He averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds for Arizona and has been regarded by many scouts as the best shooter in the draft.

With the Bulls bringing up the rear in that category, one assumes he’ll add a level of versatility if he can see the floor—which brings the Bulls to some offseason decisions they’ll have to make once free agency begins and even before. Markkanenn conceivably brings Nikola Mirotic’s future into question, as Mirotic is a restricted free agent this summer and Mirotic was on the trade block by the Bulls for the better part of last season as he had an underwhelming year trying to fill the role of a stretch-shooting big man.

But officials with the Bulls say Mirotic is still a priority for the Bulls and because he’s restricted, they control the process of his free agency. Mirotic shot 41.3 percent and averaged 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds, as the Bulls still consider him an asset for the present and future as they’ll play a new style of basketball next season.

One would think Mirotic will command a salary at least around $10 million as the NBA’s salary cap will balloon to $99 million with a luxury tax line of around $119 million.

Rajon Rondo’s future has yet to be decided, as the Bulls acquired a point guard in Kris Dunn they’ve long eyed and presumably one they feel will be their future at the position.

Bulls officials stated they’ll wait until next week before making a decision on Rondo, but one wonders if they’ll go full youth movement, especially with wanting Dunn to succeed after a rocky rookie year in Minnesota and already having Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne under contract for next season.

Rondo has a $3 million buyout the Bulls can exercise that will make Rondo a free agent or they’ll pay Rondo $13.3 million next season.

[MORE: After trading Jimmy Butler, Bulls select Lauri Markkanen] 

And then there’s Dwyane Wade, who opted in to his deal of $23.8 million for next season. Wade came to Chicago for a number of reasons, notably the salary and chance to play with Butler. With Butler gone and the Bulls changing their direction of the franchise, one wonders how Wade sees himself next season and how the Bulls see Wade with their young players.

Unless Wade wants out, the Bulls are headed into the free agency period thinking he’ll be back next season, and considering the Bulls have to spend up to 90 percent of their salary cap, his money helps them keep their books afloat, even as Butler’s affordable max salary exits and the controlled rookie-scale salaries of LaVine, Dunn and Merkkanenn enter Chicago for a future unknown

Jose Quintana turns in stellar outing as White Sox crush Twins in series finale

Jose Quintana turns in stellar outing as White Sox crush Twins in series finale

MINNEAPOLIS -- Guess who’s back?

Jose Quintana turned in the kind of game on Thursday afternoon that reminds you why he has been one of baseball’s top pitchers the past few seasons. Working with a swing-and-miss curveball and another shocking barrel of run support, Quintana waited out a near five-hour delay to produce a stellar outing. Quintana struck out nine batters in 6 2/3 scoreless innings as the White Sox avoided a sweep with a 9-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins in front of 27,684 at Target Field. Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier and Matt Davidson all homered for the White Sox, who finished with 18 hits and a 3-3 mark on their road trip.

After making several baby steps in his past few starts, Quintana ran wild in the series finale against a Twins team that he has always struggled against. While he worked deliberately, Quintana never got into trouble facing a team against whom he was 6-8 with a 4.28 ERA in his career.

The left-hander used a nasty, biting curveball along with sharp fastball command to keep Minnesota hitters off balance. Quintana struck one batter in each of the first five innings before he picked up steam. He struck out two batters each in the sixth and seventh innings and is averaging a career best 8.97 strikeouts per nine innings this season.

He struck out Miguel Sano three times in three trips and never allowed a man past second base in a 113-pitch effort. Quintana allowed five hits and walked none.

Quintana has a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts as he’s allowed 19 hits and six earned runs in 24 innings. He has walked eight and struck out 24.

[MORE: White Sox will give Tim Anderson freedom to make mistakes

The White Sox offense made it all much easier for Quintana for a second straight start. Six days after they produced an early four-spot for Quintana against Toronto, the White Sox scored five times and knocked Minnesota starter Nik Turley out in the first inning.

Showing no signs of malaise after a 290-minute rain delay, Abreu and Frazier each blasted two-run homers off Turley to put the White Sox up 4-0. With two outs and Turley gone, Adam Engel singled off reliever Buddy Boshers to make it 5-0 in the first.

The White Sox continued to add on for Quintana as Kevan Smith and Engel each singled in runs in the third to give the 2016 All-Star pitcher a seven-run cushion. Engel finished with four hits and Smith tied a career high with three.

Davidson increased the lead to 8-0 in the fifth inning with a 427-foot blast off Craig Breslow, his 17th homer. Davidson also singled, doubled and walked. The White Sox scored once more in the seventh when Tim Anderson (two hits) doubled in a run off Breslow.

After they produced 22 runs of support for Quintana in his first 13 starts this season, the White Sox have scored 20 in his last two.