Cubs

Mooney: The decisions the Cubs have to make

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Mooney: The decisions the Cubs have to make

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
Posted 7:22 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Years ago, the Cubs made some of their most important decisions for 2011, when they tied up their money in Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano.

It forced them to be creative this winter, and for all the accounting tricks they still had to get lucky. They are paying Carlos Pena 10 million over a 13-month period. The first baseman got a signing bonus and deferred money on a one-year deal.

They needed Kerry Wood to take a huge pay cut to 1.5 million, when he could have demanded five to six times that amount on the open market. They sacrificed some of their best prospects to get Matt Garza from Tampa Bay in an eight-player trade.

As the Cubs near their budget ceiling, the foundation pieces are in place. Baseball Prospectus projects this as an 80-win team. But inevitably there will be health and chemistry issues, and players that exceed or fail to meet expectations.

Close to 90 percent of the 25-man roster has probably already taken shape. Between Sundays first Cactus League game and Opening Day, this is what the Cubs need to figure out. It always starts with pitching.

Rotation

The Cubs would love to see Andrew Cashner, a 2008 first-round pick, grab one of the two open spots in the rotation.

Carlos Silva went 9-3 before last years All-Star break and 1-3 with a 11.12 ERA after, so there are durability concerns. Randy Wells is probably the safest bet to be able to make 30-plus starts and throw 200 innings as a fifth starter.

Casey Coleman and James Russell might help form the rotation of the future. Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer are experienced non-roster invitees worth a look.

Bullpen

This may be the teams biggest strength.

Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall, John Grabow and Jeff Samardzija appear locked into the bullpen. That leaves two potential spots for whoever doesnt make the rotation. Cashner could slide back into his setup role.

Manager Mike Quade has said that hes open to the idea of carrying four left-handed relievers: Marshall, Grabow, Russell and Scott Maine. The Cubs could choose to take a long-range view with Russell and have him start at Triple-A Iowa.

Bench

Quade will be challenged to find enough at-bats for Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome and Tyler Colvin in the outfield. But the Cubs still need a fifth outfielder.

Fernando Perez, who was acquired in the Garza deal, is trying to reestablish himself as a switch-hitter. His speed graded out as an eight, the highest possible score on the organizations reporting system.

Im dying to see this guy play, Quade said.

With his all-out hustle, Reed Johnson built up a lot of goodwill on the North Side in 2008. He also hit .303 in 109 games for a team that won the division title.

A lot of people say that chemistry is overrated, Johnson said. (But) when youre (in a) small clubhouse and you got a lot of media every day, I think that its more important in that situation.

Its a good thing guys like Woody are back. (They) can really mesh the clubhouse and bring guys together. I remember in 08 just going out to team dinners with everybody. It was almost like a voluntary thing and you had 90 percent of the guys (there).

Jeff Baker is a glue guy in the clubhouse, and he will see time at first, second and third base. But hes not prepared to play shortstop, and the Cubs need a backup for Starlin Castro.

That competition should come down to Darwin Barney and Augie Ojeda. At 36, Ojeda is 11 years older than Barney. Ojeda also played for Quade when he managed in Iowa. This is another test case experience vs. potential.

The Cubs have survived so far without any major injuries or physical setbacks.

We open up (Sunday) with everybody getting through the first couple weeks, Quade said. Knock on wood, (were) good and now I can just hope that guys perform like they want to and stay healthy.

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

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion. 

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

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USA TODAY

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.