Cubs

What's next for Cubs after Pena signing?

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What's next for Cubs after Pena signing?

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted 10:14 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - No doubt the Cubs have stayed in the headlines, but until Wednesday they hadn't been involved in many baseball rumors, much less actual news.

This has been the "Undercover Boss" offseason, the marquee painted purple for a college football game and fans mourning Ron Santo outside Wrigley Field, the renovation of which still remains a political flash point.

But by signing first baseman Carlos Pena, the Cubs addressed their single biggest need and put the focus back on the field. And general manager Jim Hendry insisted that he's not finished.

With the deferred payments on the 10 million deal, Hendry can keep searching for a right-handed reliever and another starting pitcher through trades and the free-agent market.

The Cubs continue to do background work on Brandon Webb's medical reports and there is the sense that they will be among the final two or three teams he eventually chooses from.

Webb finished first or second in the Cy Young Award voting for three consecutive years but hasn't pitched in a real game since Opening Day 2009.

If Webb's right shoulder checks out, the Cubs could be interested. They seem inclined to take a chance on a pitcher like that rather than make a blockbuster deal. One source indicated that Zack Greinke is completely out of their price range.

For now you can stop asking questions about Tyler Colvin playing first base, at least through 2011, after which the Cubs will shed approximately 40 million from their payroll. The contracts of Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Silva will be off the books by the 2012 season.

The Cubs could allocate some of those resources to Pena if he reverses his trend line - you get the feeling Chicago talk radio will have a hard time letting go of that .196 batting average last season - but if not they'll move in another direction.

Pena, who will turn 33 in May, should be motivated to market himself for that next window of opportunity. On a roster where Alfonso Soriano is still only halfway through his 136 million contract, it seems like a reasonable investment.

And on a team that was flawed defensively by any metric - the problems weren't isolated to Soriano - Pena is supposed to approximate three-time Gold Glove winner Derrek Lee. Pena's presence - as well as the natural growth of a second-year player - should make Starlin Castro a more reliable shortstop.

"We needed to play better defense," Hendry said. "Our defense in hindsight was not good and that affects a lot of things. First base is always a category where you can find different types of players. He's a rare guy that has that much power and plays (great) defense."

Pena is thoughtful and articulate and seemed totally at ease on Wednesday with round after round of interviews. It sounded like he won't be flustered by all the attention inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl. We'll see what type of player he can still be.

"I know that I have more (to) offer," Pena said. "I put that behind me. I still have to make peace with it, learn from it and make sure that I grow and use it to my advantage.

"In boxing terms (I have) a tough chin. (I) can take some punches. I can stay in the ring. I'm still standing."

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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: