Cubs

Cubs second-base question will be open-ended

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Cubs second-base question will be open-ended

Thursday, March 11, 2011Posted: 8:30 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

PHOENIX The Cubs are two weeks away from Opening Day and everyone wants to know what Mike Quade will do with the rotation, how his lineup will fall and who will play second base.

The daily speculation misses a larger point about the Cubs manager. Quade wouldnt have reached this point if he was inflexible. He wouldnt have survived 17 seasons managing in the minors if he couldnt adapt to his surroundings. He kept his dream job because of how he handled his personnel.

The thing about Q is he knows youre going to need all 25 guys, Jeff Baker said. He made it very clear that hes going to keep everyone involved.

With so many jobs already decided at this point in camp, second base is one of the final frontiers where the media can second-guess Quade. The Cubs are not about to trade for Michael Young. They like their internal options in Baker and Blake DeWitt.

Quades position is that both deserve a serious look and will get opportunities. In the end, he says, Players usually make those decisions for you.

Baker turns 30 this summer and realizes how quickly you age in this game.

He was an All-American at Clemson University and rose quickly through the Rockies system. He was given 299 at-bats in Colorado in 2008 and hit .268 with 12 homers and 48 RBI. He doesnt want to only face left-handers in Chicago.

Obviously, Id like to be an everyday guy, Baker said. Everyone in here wants to do that. No one aspires to be a utility bench guy. But at the same time, if thats what my job is, Ill go out there and try to do it well.

Baker, whose father is a retired U.S. Army colonel, was born in West Germany and grew up all around the world. He makes friends quickly and moves easily through the various groups in the clubhouse. He wont complain and will do whatever he can to help DeWitt, a former Dodgers first-round pick with something to prove.

Greg Maddux the front-office assistant who once played with DeWitt in Los Angeles recommended him in the Ted LillyRyan Theriot deal last summer. DeWitt is only 25 and serious about his craft. The Cubs believe he has potential to grow offensively, especially through his work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

Im going to give it everything I have every day, DeWitt said. If that turns into 400, 500 (at-bats), whatever, it doesnt matter to me concentrate on winning and the rest will take care of itself.

DeWitt is hitting .171 this spring, while Baker is at .394. Quade prides himself on being someone who looks inside the numbers, but he doesnt even have to do that to know thats not a big enough sample size.

Good teams always have players that exceed expectations and their career numbers. Maybe the Cubs will hit on a second baseman, but that position will not make or break the season. That depends more on Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and what looks like an improved bullpen.

Between 2004 and January 2012, the Cubs will have paid Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena close to 184 million combined. They invested their money in corner infielders, not to mention the outlay for Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome.

Baker and DeWitt fit this team at this moment. Since Ryne Sandbergs last game in 1997, the Cubs have used seven different starting second basemen on Opening Day in the past 14 years. We know it wont be Mike Fontenot again on April 1.

Until then, the questions will keep coming. Will Soriano have a bounce-back year? Can Starlin Castro hit leadoff? How good can Geovany Soto be? The answers will be revealed across the next six months.

This lineup is evolving, Quade said. Maybe I accidentally put a lineup out there that just wears the baseball out and I dont have to change. But I think that realistically well have to mix and match and then performance matters.

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

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

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USA TODAY

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

MESA, Ariz. — The frequent mission of spring training is to iron out a 25-man roster.

But at Cubs camp, that mission seems to already be completed.

With an entire Cactus League schedule still to play, the Cubs’ 25-man group that will leave Arizona for the season-opener in Miami seems pretty well set.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

The position-player group: Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

The bullpen: Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson and Justin Grimm.

Boom. There’s your 25.

Joe Maddon, do you agree?

“You guys and ladies could probably write down what you’re seeing and be pretty accurate,” Maddon said Thursday. “I can’t deny that, it’s true. Oftentimes, when you’re a pretty good ball club, that is the case. When you’re not so good, you always get auditions during spring training.

“I think what the boys have done is they’ve built up a nice cache in case things were to happen. The depth is outstanding. So you could probably narrow it down, who you think’s going to be the 25, and I won’t argue that.”

It’s the latest example in a camp that to this point has been full of them that the Cubs are one of baseball’s best teams and that only a World Series championship will fulfill expectations. Had the front office stuck with a starting rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Montgomery, then there would’ve been a spot open in the bullpen. But the statement-making signing of Darvish jolted the Cubs into “best rotation in the game” status, sent Montgomery back to the bullpen and further locked the roster into place.

Guys like Grimm and La Stella have been forced off the 25-man roster at points in recent seasons, though even their spots seem safe. Maddon even said that a huge spring from someone else wouldn’t mean as much at what guys have done at the major league level in recent memory.

“Spring training performance, for me, it’s not very defining,” Maddon said. “You’re going to be playing against a lot of guys that aren’t going to be here, more Triple-A guys, even some Double-A guys. Some guys come in better shape, they normally look better early. The vibe’s different. You play a couple innings, you don’t get many at-bats, the pitcher doesn’t see hitters three times and vice versa. So I don’t worry about that as much.

“It’s more about, guys that might be fighting for a moment, what do they look like, does it look right, does it look good, how do they fit in? Is there somebody there that you scouted? Because what matters a lot is last year and what you did last year and the last couple months of last year.

“So of course guys that have been here probably have a bit of an upper hand, but we’re very open-minded about stuff. And I think when you look at the guys, you’re right, it’s probably pretty close to being set. But stuff happens.”

Could the recently signed Shae Simmons give Grimm an unexpected challenge for the final relief spot? Maddon said guys who have been with the Cubs in the recent past have a leg up. Could Chris Gimenez turn his experience with Darvish into a win over Caratini for the backup catcher spot? Maddon threw cold water on the "personal catcher" narrative last week.

Of course, Maddon left the door open the possibility of an injury that could open up a roster spot and even shake up the depth chart. But barring the unforeseen, this 25-man group looks locked into place.

That gives the Cubs an edge, perhaps, in that they can specifically find ways to tune up those guys rather than focus on getting enough at-bats for players who are fighting for roster spots. But most of that edge came during the winter, and in winters and summers past, when the front office built this team into a championship contender.

There have been plenty of years when the fans coming to Mesa to watch the Cubs play in spring training saw the blossoming of a big league player thanks to a monster spring or a surprise tear during March. That’s going to be unlikely this spring, a reflection of just how far this team has come.

“It’s easy for me to reflect on this because when I started out with the Rays, wow,” Maddon said. “That was a casting call trying to figure it out. You had very few settled positions when you walked in the door. And then as we got better, it became what we’re talking about. As we moved further along, you were pretty much set by the time (you got to spring training) except for one or two spots.

“So I think the better teams are like that.”

The Cubs are most definitely one of those better teams.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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KELLY CRULL

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.