Cubs

Cubs, WGN pick Moreland to replace Santo

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Cubs, WGN pick Moreland to replace Santo

Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011
Posted 11:41 a.m. Updated 10:18 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. The next voice of summer knows it will be strange to hear someone else calling the action from the press box high atop Wrigley Field.

Nobodys going to replace Ron Santo, Keith Moreland said. All I can do is keep the seat warm.

The Cubs and WGN Radio announced Wednesday that Moreland will follow the legendary broadcaster, who died in December and left a city and generations of fans in mourning.

The team will wear No. 10 uniform patches this season. A collage of Santo photos will be the 2011 media guide cover. In August, his statue will be unveiled outside the stadium.

There is no comparing Moreland to a franchise icon, but hes well-prepared for this high-profile job. Moreland played six seasons for the Cubs (1982-87) and has extensive experience as an analyst at the University of Texas, where hes worked football and baseball games for 25 seasons combined.

Im just going to be me I can probably butcher the English language with the best of them, Moreland said. I do understand the game. I feel very confident (talking strategy). My (style) might be a little bit more analysis than you did with Ron, but Im also a guy that likes to have fun.

The 56-year-old Moreland receives a three-year deal to team with Pat Hughes, who balanced out Santo and gave a touching eulogy at his funeral.

Chemistry is something that needs to be nurtured, Hughes said. Im going to try to tap into (Morelands) knowledge. No matter how long youve been around the game, (there) are certain things that a guy who never played in the big leagues just cannot know as well as an ex-player what its like to try to hit a 95 mph fastball.

Like Moreland, Dave Otto had filled in for Santo over the years and emerged as another finalist for the job. WGN sports director Dave Eanet praised Ottos work, but said he does not have a specific role lined up for this season.

Texas and ESPN are set to launch a new 24-hour television network in September. Moreland, who earned his degree in Austin, said he will not be involved: I am 100 percent totally committed to the Chicago Cubs and WGN Radio.

Santo meant so much to all kinds of people, for the way he played the game, his 21 seasons on the radio airwaves and the millions of dollars he raised for diabetes research.

Moreland completely understands Santos legacy. His reception could depend on whether or not the Cubs are turning Wrigleyville into a huge block party again, or slogging through another disappointing season.

I hope we have a good Cubs team to cover, Hughes said. That would make all the difference in the world, because the audience always thinks youre doing a better job when you have a winning team. They are happy with the information you are delivering every day.

Pujols watch

If Hughes and Moreland need to fill air time, or get through a rain delay, they can talk about Albert Pujols. Right or wrong, everyone else in baseball will be linking the Cubs with the games best player.

It came into sharper focus as Wednesdays deadline to negotiate a contract extension imposed by Pujols expired without the 31-year-old slugger and the St. Louis Cardinals reaching an agreement.

Roughly nine months before Pujols could potentially become a 300 million free agent, manager Mike Quade didnt want to be drawn into the conversation.

Thats their deal, Quade said. I cant be preoccupied. You hear: Is that going to affect this or that? Look, theyre going to be a good team. He isnt going anywhere. Thats for damn sure right now. Hes going to be somebody we have to get out and somebody we have to beat. I dont care what happens contract-wise with him.

Im looking forward to seeing Carlos Pena knock the daylights out of the ball. Thats all that really matters to me right now.

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

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

One MLB executive thinks Kyle Schwarber can emerge as Cubs' best hitter in 2018

When the 2017 season ended, Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber looked in the mirror and didn't like what he saw.

He was stocky, slower than he wanted to be and he had just finished a very difficult season that saw him spend time back in the minor leagues at Triple-A after he struggled mightily through the first three months of the season.

Schwarber still put up solid power numbers despite his overall struggles. He slammed 30 home runs, putting him among the Top 15 hitters in the National League and among the Top 35 in all of baseball. But, Schwarber was honest with himself. He knew he could achieve so much more if he was in better shape and improved his mobility, his overall approach at the plate and his defense.

Schwarber was drafted by the Cubs out of Indiana University as a catcher. However, many scouts around baseball had serious doubts about his ability to catch at the big league level. The Cubs were in love with Schwarber the person and Schwarber the overall hitter and felt they would give him a chance to prove he could catch for them. If he couldn't, then they believed he could play left field adequately enough to keep his powerful bat in the lineup.

However, a serious knee injury early in the 2016 season knocked Schwarber out of action for six months and his return to the Cubs in time to assist in their World Series run raised expectations for a tremendous 2017 season. In fact, the expectations for Schwarber were wildly unrealistic when the team broke camp last spring. Manager Joe Maddon had Schwarber in the everyday lineup batting leadoff and playing left field.

But Schwarber's offseason after the World Series consisted of more rehab on his still-healing injured left knee. That kept him from working on his outfield play, his approach at the plate and his overall baseball training. 

Add in all of the opportunities and commitments that come with winning a World Series and it doesn't take much detective work to understand why Schwarber struggled so much when the 2017 season began. This offseason, though, has been radically different. A season-ending meeting with Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer led to a decision to take weight off of Schwarber's frame. It also included a decision to change his training program so that he improved his quickness, lateral movement and his overall baseball skills.

"I took two weeks off after the season ended and then I went to work," Schwarber said. "We put a plan together to take weight off and to improve my quickness. I have my meals delivered and I feel great. My baseball work combined with a lot of strength and conditioning has me in the best shape that I have ever been in."

Schwarber disagrees with the pundits who felt manager Maddon's decision to put him in the leadoff spot in the Cubs' loaded lineup contributed to his struggles.

"I have no problem hitting wherever Joe wants to put me," Schwarber said. "I didn't feel any more pressure because I was batting leadoff. I just needed to get back to training for a baseball season as opposed to rehabbing from my knee injury. I'm probably 20-25 pounds lighter and I'm ready to get back to Arizona with the boys and to get ready for the season."

Many around the game were shocked when the Cubs drafted Schwarber with the No. 4 overall selection in the 2014 MLB Draft, but a rival executive who was not surprised by the pick believes that Schwarber can indeed return to the form that made him such a feared hitter during his rookie season as well as his excellent postseason resume.

"Everyone who doubted this kid may end up way off on their evaluation because he is a great hitter and now that he is almost two years removed from his knee injury," the executive said. "He knows what playing at the major-league level is all about I expect him to be a real force in the Cubs lineup.

"Theo and Jed do not want to trade this kid and they are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. I think he has a chance to be as good a hitter as they have in their order."

Watch the full 1-on-1 interview with Kyle Schwarber Sunday night on NBC Sports Chicago.

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The low-key move that may pay dividends for Cubs in 2018 and beyond

The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is alive and well and this offseason has been further proof of that.

The St. Louis Cardinals haven't made a rivalry-altering move like inking Jake Arrieta to a megadeal, but they have proven that they are absolutely coming after the Cubs and the top of the division.

However, a move the St. Louis brass made Friday afternoon may actually be one that makes Cubs fans cheer.

The Cardinals traded outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday in exhange for a pair of right-handed pitchers: Dominic Leone and Conner Greene. Leone is the main draw here as a 26-year-old reliever who posted a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 in 70.1 innings last year in Toronto.

But this is the second young position player the Cardinals have traded to Toronto this offseason and Grichuk is a notorious Cub Killer.

Grichuk struggled overall in 2017, posting a second straight year of empty power and not much else. But he once again hammered the Cubs to the tune of a .356 batting average and 1.240 OPS. 

He hit six homers and drove in 12 runs in just 14 games (11 starts) against Joe Maddon's squad. That's 27 percent of his 2017 homers and 20 percent of his season RBI numbers coming against just one team.

And it wasn't just one year that was an aberration. In his career, Grichuk has a .296/.335/.638 slash line against the Cubs, good for a .974 OPS. He's hit 11 homers and driven in 33 runs in 37 games, the highest ouput in either category against any opponent.

Even if Leone builds off his solid 2017 and pitches some big innings against the Cubs over the next couple seasons, it will be a sigh of relief for the Chicago pitching staff knowing they won't have to face the threat of Grichuk 18+ times a year.

Plus, getting a reliever and a low-level starting pitching prospect back for a guy (Grichuk) who was borderline untouchable a couple winters ago isn't exactly great value. The same can be said for the Cardinals' trade of Aledmys Diaz to Toronto on Dec. 1 for essentially nothing.

A year ago, St. Louis was heading into the season feeling confident about Diaz, who finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year race in 2016 after hitting .300 with an .879 OPS as a 25-year-old rookie. He wound up finishing 2017 in the minors after struggling badly to start the season and the Cardinals clearly didn't want to wait out his growing pains.

The two trades with Toronto limits the Cardinals' depth (as of right now) and leaves very few proven options behind shortstop Paul DeJong and outfielder Tommy Pham, who both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017.