Cubs

Following Ozzie, Zambrano takes talents to South Beach

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Following Ozzie, Zambrano takes talents to South Beach

The Carlos Zambrano trade was viewed as a matter of when not if and realistically only one team would be a match.

It comes as no surprise that the Cubs are on the verge of sending Zambrano and 15 million to the Miami Marlins as part of a package for 25-year-old pitcher Chris Volstad.

Zambrano will be taking his talents to South Beach because of the strength of his relationship with Ozzie Guillen. No other manager would be so willing to take on the explosive, enigmatic pitcher.

The entire industry knows Zambranos greatest hits slamming Gatorade coolers, fighting with Michael Barrett, going after Derrek Lee, walking out on his teammates last season.

But there was Guillen, walking quickly through the lobby of the Hilton Anatole during last months winter meetings in Dallas. Trailed by reporters, Guillen explained how he had a bet with a friend that Zambrano will win more than 14 games for the Cubs in 2012.

Now if they trade him, well, Id take it, Guillen said while being hustled to yet another media stop.

The inevitable deal first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports on Wednesday and confirmed by CSNChicagos David Kaplan was ultimately just going to be about the details. Volstad is a former first-round pick whos eligible for arbitration and wont become a free agent until after the 2014 season.

The Cubs had moved on long ago, with ownership giving Theo Epstein the authority to eat the money on a sunk cost. The new president of baseball operations has preached all about accountability and clubhouse chemistry.

A rebuilding organization didnt need Zambrano taking up all the oxygen in the room. Even people close to Zambrano admitted that he could use a fresh start somewhere else, and predicted he would be hungry to prove himself all over again.

Zambrano did seem to enjoy living and playing in Chicago, even if he had strange ways of showing it. Signed as a 16-year-old kid out of Venezuela, he has spent almost half his life in the Cubs organization.

Zambrano held the hammer of full no-trade protection. But waiving those rights figured to be a formality with Guillen involved.

The good friends remained in regular communication throughout the offseason. Their families are close. They have shot commercials together back home in Venezuela.

The Marlins need rotation help, which makes paying a fourth-starter-type 3 million this season a low-risk proposition. (The contract also includes a 19.25 million long-shot vesting option for 2013, though thats only if Zambrano finishes this season healthy and among the top four in the Cy Young vote.)

For a team that has struggled to break through the clutter in the Miami market and is about to move into a brand-new stadium in Little Havana this is also another way to generate buzz.

The theory is that Guillen will be there to challenge Zambrano to stay focused and channel all that adrenaline.

Zambrano has a very good sense of humor, teasing reporters and making movie references to Rocky IV and RoboCop. People inside the Cubs organization talked about his genuine feel for his family and charitable causes.

But the Cubs also swore that the money changed Zambrano almost as soon as he signed a five-year, 91.5 million extension during the middle of the 2007 season.

It all boiled over again one night last August, when the Atlanta Braves hammered Zambrano, who threw at Chipper Jones, packed up his stuff and left Turner Field during the middle of the game. In another moment of frustration, he began telling people that he felt like he was stealing money and thinking about retirement.

It was a safe bet that Zambrano who had a 4.82 ERA when he was effectively suspended had thrown his last pitch in a Cubs uniform. He exits with a 125-81 career record in Chicago and 1,542 strikeouts, which ranks second in franchise history.

On paper, those are good numbers, but Zambrano hasnt accounted for more than 200 innings since 2007. Hes freakishly athletic, a gifted soccer player and switch-hitter who just happened to be built like an NFL defensive end. Maybe he can put it all together for one season in Miami.

But it wasnt going to happen on the North Side. There are enough holdovers from the Jim Hendry administration that Epstein knew all about Zambranos act, how many times he had to say sorry.

Surely Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum noticed that they were asked about Zambrano just about any time a microphone was put in front of their faces. Why make that the narrative?

You know what the story will be when the Cubs visit Miami April 17-19, and when the Marlins come to Wrigley Field July 17-19.

Zambrano was gold for the Chicago media. The Cubs world will be a far less interesting place without him. But in the end, both sides needed this divorce.

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below: