Cubs

After sweep, Zambrano's talking retirement again

260233.jpg

After sweep, Zambrano's talking retirement again

Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010
Updated 12:34 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

ST. LOUIS There was Carlos Zambrano sitting with his teammates, laughing at the Ace Ventura movie playing in the clubhouse. And there was Zambrano dancing by his locker, singing a Bob Marley song.

No one knows for certain if this peace will last, or if the suspension and anger-management counseling he received will become a turning point in his career. But hes already thinking about the end.

Just as Zambranos again performing like the elite pitcher the Cubs thought he would be, he again talked about retirement after Wednesdays 7-3 victory over the Cardinals, which capped their first three-game sweep in St. Louis in more than 22 years.

This will be my last contract. I dont think I will be playing anymore (after that), Zambrano said. Life is short, believe me, and sometimes you miss very important people, like my daughter.

Sometimes you miss things in life because of baseball you shouldnt miss. I want to be there for my daughter. I dont want anything to happen, especially in my family. Baseball, believe me, takes a lot of time from us.

Zambrano made similar noise about walking away from the game after earning his 100th win last year in Cincinnati. The 29-year-old has two more seasons guaranteed on his 91.5 million deal, plus a vesting player option for 2013 that is dependent upon where he finishes in the Cy Young voting the next two seasons.

It appeared completely out of reach when Zambrano was sent to the bullpen early in the season, and after he got in Derrek Lees face on June 25 and alienated himself from his teammates.

But Zambrano is 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his seven starts since rejoining the rotation, which is what the Cubs thought they were paying for when he signed that big contract in August 2007.

Theres a calmness right now, manager Mike Quade said. He seems in charge both on the mound and off the mound. He pitches with emotion you know that. But hes just handling things as well as Ive seen. Instead of trying to figure out why, I just tip my hat and say, Good for you.

Three nights at Busch Stadium and the Cubs (65-81) beat a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate (Jamie Garcia), a 2010 All-Star (Adam Wainwright) and a Cy Young Award winner (Chris Carpenter).

Zambrano pitched better than them all in front of the 41,145 fans who watched playoff hopes vanish for the Cardinals (74-70).

Zambrano went six innings and allowed two runs one earned on a night where he saw his velocity at 88, 89 mph on the radar gun. He was mixing his slider and curveball, showing he can get outs without blowing the ball by hitters.

You roll along with a career for five, six, seven years, Quade said, and all of a sudden things get a little tough. You got adjustments to make if you want to keep playing.

Zambrano said he was serious about the retirement promise. He was philosophical about how different his season might have been if the Cubs didnt try to convert him into an eighth-inning reliever, saying things happen for a reason.

And he seemed reflective when he had to leave the team last month to visit his nephew in intensive care at a hospital back home in Venezuela.

Zambrano took his time before meeting with the media late Wednesday night, but every five days he always seems to have something interesting to say. "My agent always tells me Im unique," he said as postgame interview ended, and theres no arguing that point.

I want to enjoy the game as much as I can the next two, three years on my contract, Zambrano said. A friend of mine one time told me that any time Im batting, I look excited, I look happier than when Im pitching. I want to mix it up. (I) want to have the same joy, the same motivation I have when Im hitting.

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

Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse

1023_jim_hickey.jpg
USA TODAY

Why Cubs should make Jim Hickey an offer he can't refuse

Monday’s interview with Jim Hickey in Chicago — roughly 72 hours after the Cubs fired pitching coach Chris Bosio and within a week of manager Joe Maddon saying “of course” he wanted his entire staff back — is a first step in the reboot at Wrigley Field.

Maddon would probably like to have that answer back, knowing he could have softened the language with corporate speak and created some wiggle room in the middle of a National League Championship Series where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game.

But Hickey, the former Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach, is a familiar face and an expert voice at a time when Maddon’s honeymoon period appears to be over, repeatedly first- and second-guessed about his decisions, from the World Series Game 7 the Cubs won last year through a frustrating 43-45 start to this season and deep into another playoff run.

That staff is already in flux, with bench coach Dave Martinez scheduled to interview with the Washington Nationals for Dusty Baker’s old job and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske now leaving to take a lead role with the Los Angeles Angels hitters.

Here’s why the Cubs will probably have to make Hickey an offer he can’t refuse:

— A rival scout noticed how often Maddon looked like a solitary figure in the dugout, standing there looking down at his lineup card. Whatever friction Maddon felt with Bosio — a big presence who pitched 11 seasons in the big leagues and isn’t afraid to tell you exactly what he thinks — Hickey is someone the manager trusts after their eight seasons together with the Rays.

Maddon insisted he wasn’t maneuvering behind the scenes when he reached out after Hickey surprisingly parted ways with Tampa Bay in October, but it still showed the depth of their relationship: “I called him to console a friend.”

— While working for the Boston Red Sox, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer got an up-close look at what Hickey did in the American League East, helping build the small-market contender that advanced to the 2008 World Series, the beginning of five seasons with at least 90 wins in six years.

Between his time with the Rays and Houston Astros, look at the All-Star pitchers Hickey has worked with: Chris Archer, David Price, Alex Colome, Brad Boxberger, Matt Moore, Fernando Rodney, James Shields, Rafael Soriano, Scott Kazmir, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge and Roger Clemens.

— Hickey can also offer unique insight into Alex Cobb, a free agent the Cubs will have to do more background work on as they try to replace 40 percent of their rotation. Cobb — who went 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA in 115 career starts for the Rays — just turned 30 and has only 700 innings on his major-league odometer after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in the middle of the 2015 season.

“He has a talent that most organizations search for relentlessly,” Cobb told the Tampa Bay Times after Hickey left the Rays with a year remaining on his contract. “He will have a great time being a free agent.

“I’m not going to try to explain how great Jim Hickey is. There’s really nothing I can say that would speak louder than his track record. All I can say is how fortunate I was to have him when I got to the big leagues. No one could have prepared me better.”

— Beyond the connection to Maddon, Hickey is someone who knows Chicago after growing up on the South Side, and that hometown draw will probably matter at a time when the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals are among several marquee teams in the market for a new pitching coach that now might be thinking: "Better Call Boz."

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

In latest twist to Cubs-Nationals, Dave Martinez will interview for Dusty Baker's old job

Dave Martinez – Joe Maddon’s bench coach during unprecedented runs of success with the Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays – is ready to step outside of the star manager’s shadow and run his own big-league team.

A Washington Nationals franchise coming off back-to-back division titles – while having some big personalities in the clubhouse and obvious internal issues – could still be that ideal opportunity.

The Nationals have reached out to set up an interview with Martinez, a source said Monday, confirming a Washington Post report in the wake of Dusty Baker’s messy exit, eight days after a massively disappointing playoff loss to the Cubs.

Martinez had been an X-factor in Washington’s search two years ago, when negotiations broke down with Bud Black and the Nationals eventually circled back to Baker, the former Cubs manager.

Martinez has the built-in credibility that comes from playing 16 seasons in the big leagues, which would be an asset for a team that has Bryce Harper entering his final season before free agency and Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation.    

Martinez, who is fluent in Spanish and analytics, spent the last 10 years working as the bench coach for two data-driven organizations, putting him at the cutting edge of defensive shifts, bullpen management and game-planning systems.    

While Maddon thrives in the front-facing aspects of the job, dealing with the media before and after every game and selling a vision to the public, Martinez handles a lot of the behind-the-scenes issues, putting out clubhouse fires and interacting with the players in one-on-one settings.

The partnership worked to the point where the Rays captured the 2008 American League pennant and the Cubs won last year’s World Series. While the Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series for three straight seasons, the Nationals have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs four times since 2012.

In the middle of the grueling five-game playoff series where the Cubs outlasted the Nationals – which may have been a tipping point against Baker for Washington executives – Maddon lobbied for Martinez to be in the manager mix during baseball’s hiring-and-firing season.

“He belongs in the group,” Maddon said. “I know all these people being considered, and I promise you our guy matches up with every one of them.

“He was such a heady, aggressive, gritty kind of player. Bilingual. All that matters. He's not afraid to have the tough conversations (that) people in that position may shy away from.

“Believe me, I see all the names. There are a lot of good names, and I like a lot of these dudes. But I’m just telling you: To not include his name with those other people baffles me.”