Cubs

Beyond Zambrano, Ramirez: Five Cubs on the spot

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Beyond Zambrano, Ramirez: Five Cubs on the spot

Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011
5:27 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The marketing department can put up billboards highlighting the new faces of the franchise. And you will no doubt see more Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro jerseys this summer.

But in so many ways the 2011 Cubs will hinge upon Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez, who combined have spent 20-plus years in the organization. Follow the money: Together they will make more than 33 million this season.

When healthy and focused, they are supposed to be anchors. Another transition year could be successful if Zambrano accounts for 200 innings - something he hasn't done since 2007 - and Ramirez generates close to 30 homers and 100 RBI in what could be his final season in a Cubs uniform.

"We need Aramis to be the guy that he has been most of his career here," general manager Jim Hendry said. "We need to get Aramis to play 135, 140 games and the numbers will take care of itself. (He's) as clutch an RBI guy as we've had here in a long time. And the rest of the league respects that."

Reconnecting with Zambrano will be a priority for manager Mike Quade, who watched him go 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA down the stretch. Last month at the Cubs Convention, Quade laughed off a fan's suggestion that a 29-year-old husband and father could use Greg Maddux as a kind of personal life coach.

"I expect Carlos to handle himself the way he finished up last year," Quade said. "Whether he explodes or whatever...all right, so he explodes. Take a walk, see you in five days, pitch well. If it becomes a reoccurring thing, yeah, we have a problem. But if we're going to have individual guys taking care of each guy that has some emotional issues, man, we're not going to have a big enough plane."

Zambrano and Ramirez will be flying north at the end of camp. Here are five other Cubs who will be watched closely in spring training, whether or not they get seats on the team charter.

Andrew Cashner
Everyone agrees that Cashner has a high ceiling, though the organization has been split on whether he projects as a front-line starter or closer. The 2008 first-round pick could end that debate with a good spring. The plan for now is to stretch Cashner out and have him compete for one of the two open spots in the rotation. It will be interesting to see just how committed the Cubs are to this idea, because Cashner's confidence soared after Quade took over last season, and the rookie began to dominate out of the bullpen (1.40 ERA in his final 18 games).

Jeff Samardzija
Did you know that he used to play football? Samardzija is tired of those questions and may never again have this kind of leverage. Now entering his fifth full professional season after an All-American career at Notre Dame, Samardzija is out of minor-league options. So this is probably his last chance to justify the 10 million the Cubs gave him to bypass the NFL. There is a new pitching coach to impress, and Mark Riggins could have some unique insight into Samardzija after his work in the minor-league system.

Randy Wells
At some point expectations outran a converted catcher drafted in the 38th round. Across the past two seasons Wells has accounted for 20 wins, a 3.70 ERA and almost 360 innings - at a cost of less than 1 million. Yet that still leaves him fighting for a rotation spot, and dismissing questions about his maturity and consistency. Maybe it's time to appreciate Wells for who he is - and not force him as a No. 3 starter. At 28, Wells could either really establish himself as a Cub, or begin drifting back toward Triple-A Iowa.

John Grabow
At this time last year, the Cubs hoped Esmailin Caridad would emerge as a primary setup man, and he wound up giving them only four innings in 2010 because of arm issues. The bullpen now appears to be a point of strength with Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall in front of closer Carlos Marmol. They still need a bridge to get there, and that's why Grabow is being paid 4.8 million. The veteran left-hander tried to pitch through a knee injury (7.36 ERA) and was eventually shut down last summer. The preliminary reports on his health have been good.

Geovany Soto
In a lineup filled with hitters on the wrong side of 30, trying to match numbers from the past, Soto is one with growth potential. The 28-year-old profiled as one of the best offensive catchers in the game last season (.890 OPS) before undergoing shoulder surgery in late September. How he responds physically - and handles a huge raise to 3 million - will be worth monitoring. The pitchers seem to enjoy working with Soto, who takes his defensive responsibilities seriously and could step up into a more visible leadership role.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

In the latest CubsTalk Podcast, Kelly Crull and David Kaplan look ahead to Thanksgiving and discuss the official coaching hires for the Cubs.

They also talk about where the Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, whether Alex Cobb could factor into the rotation plans and Kap goes off on the 11:30 a.m. Opening Day start time.

Check out the entire podcast here: