Cubs

Zambrano isn't here to talk about the past

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Zambrano isn't here to talk about the past

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Posted 12:24 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Carlos Zambrano has studied film of the pitcher he used to be, when he made All-Star teams and earned that 91.5 million contract. He says he has a good idea of what he needs to do to be that player again.

There are mechanical adjustments to maintain and ways to offset his declining velocity as he approaches his 30th birthday. But the rest of it, the psychoanalysis and public introspection on command, well, Zambrano doesnt have much use for that.

Like when a television reporter asks about his personal ups and downs last season.

Lets talk about this year, Zambrano said, turning his head to the next question. Im ready for this season and Im excited for this season.

In a sense, this entire organization cant distance itself from 2010 fast enough. Forbes had the Cubs as the industrys least-efficient team last season, shelling out around 145 million to win 75 games, and spending not a single moment above .500. That undercut the Ricketts family and their market-based approach.

As the Cubs Convention opened Friday at the Hilton Chicago, chairman Tom Ricketts said organizations wins championships. There were boos for team president Crane Kenney and general manager Jim Hendry. There was a fan wearing a Ryne Sandberg jersey, but no Ryne Sandberg.

WATCH: Jim Hendry appreciative, optimistic

The video looking back on 2010 featured a touching tribute to the late Ron Santo. With the lights dimmed inside a packed hotel ballroom, Lou Piniella didnt appear once on the big screen.

Manager Mike Quade received a warm reception from the crowd when he walked out on the balcony, but the loudest cheers were saved for Kerry Wood. Between Wood, Carlos Pena and Matt Garza, the Cubs will have a new clubhouse dynamic, and its hard to argue they didnt need that.

Jim Hendry got the entire package. He got great teammates, guys that can play and know how to win, outfielder Marlon Byrd said. Everybody knows how competitive it is over there (in the American League East). They know about the pressure and they know what it takes to get over the hump.

Most of all they have survival instincts. Wood reinvented himself as a reliever after his body nearly broke down. Pena was released by two different teams in 2006. Garza is already on his third team and he hasnt turned 28 yet.

The question is whether Zambrano, who has grown his hair out into tight curls, has found something lasting and can build off his last 11 starts (8-0, 1.41 ERA).

Hendry helped negotiate the settlement that put Zambrano in anger-management counseling last summer. The general manager called Zambranos mistakes easily correctable.

Before you laugh at that quote, you should know that Zambrano does have a pretty good sense of humor. He is devoted to his family and his charities. And he has so much natural ability.

I dont see why theres any reason that he cant continue and be that successful, Hendry said. Hes no different than anybody else. He certainly has learned from some of his mistakes, like we all should in life. I feel in my chats with him (during) the offseason that he seems to have a good handle.

Sometimes you walk that fine line when guys thrive on emotion sometimes (they) have a few bad situations because of (that). But I find him to be in a real good place.

For now Zambrano said hes cool with whoever Quade decides to start on Opening Day, and reaffirmed how much he wants to stay in Chicago (no matter how many rumors ignore his no-trade clause and put him on the Yankees).

So its going to be Zambrano and Garza, two intense pitchers getting after it, and that will be something to look forward to, whether or not everything goes as the Cubs hope.

Hes a grown man. He has to calm himself down and I have to calm myself, Zambrano said. But that same emotion, the same passion for the game nobody will take that away from (us).

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

Albert Almora Jr. is hungry for more

Albert Almora Jr. is hungry for more

While most of the Cubs were focusing on rest and relaxtion this winter, Albert Almora Jr. sees no need for chillin'.

Kris Bryant admitted he was worn down by the end of the Cubs' playoff run last October and most other regulars would say the same thing.

But some Cubs saw the winter not as an "offseason" but as the first opportunity to prove something.

Kyle Schwarber has shed weight and looks to be in great shape, but Almora is in the same boat.

The 23-year-old outfielder is chomping at the bit, anxious for the season to start. So anxious, in fact, that he spent just a couple weeks at home in Florida before heading to Arizona to start training for 2018. 

Yes, that's right. He's been in Arizona since November — training, eating right, mentally preparing himself for the grind ahead, taking swings. 

That's nothing new for the first draft pick under Theo Epstein's front office who's constantly trying to validate the sixth overall selection in the 2012 Draft.

"I'm always going out there trying to prove them right, trying to make them happy," Almora said.

This is a kid who earned a World Series ring before his 23rd birthday and has five gold medals from playing for Team USA as a teenager. 

Almora's no stranger to the big stage and he's already accomplished so much at such a young age, but he's never experienced anything quite like the 2017 season.

He's always been a starter and everyday player. From age 8, when he was playing up with 14-year-olds, Almora has been among the youngest guys on any team he's been on. 

That was the case with the 2017 Cubs once again, but this time, he wasn't a key contributor. He played nearly every day — notching 132 games — but only started 65 times throughout the course of the year. He had to learn a lot about waiting for his moment and making the most of his one at-bat or one inning in the field.

"[Playing time is] not in my control and I'm gonna do whatever I can when my name is called to help the team win games and have a lot of fun with it," Almora said. "That's the only way to stay sane and not worry too much.

"At the end of the day, all I can control is what I do on the ballfield and that's it."

Almora admitted he's let that external stuff creep into his mind in the past, though that was mostly in the minor leagues when he was wondering when he'd get called up to the next level.

In the majors, it's all about winning and Almora believes he can help the big-league team get back to the Promised Land.

Even Epstein admitted Almora is primed for a larger role in 2018, as the young outfielder proved down the stretch last year he could contribute against right-handed pitching as well as southpaws.

What does he make of his progression the last couple years?

"I can answer that by just saying I'm confident," Almora said. "The more opportunity I get, the more experienced under my belt. You're not intimidated, you're having a lot of fun out there and your confident in your game.

Joe Maddon's advice to new Bears head coach Matt Nagy

Joe Maddon's advice to new Bears head coach Matt Nagy

Joe Maddon knows a thing or two about taking a storied Chicago franchise from a rebuilding team to a World Champ.

Bears head coach Matt Nagy hopes to have that in common with the Cubs skipper one day, and it helps that the two share a similar background: Nagy, like Maddon, grew up in Pennsylvania in a town called Manheim, about 80 miles from Maddon's hometown of Hazelton.

It took Maddon only two years to lead the Cubs to the top for the first time in 108 years, but expectations should be tempered for Nagy's Bears. It's more about the process than the results early on. 

And the only way Nagy can help eventually lead the Bears back to another Super Bowl is by doing what Maddon did.

"Just be yourself," Maddon said when asked what his advice is to Nagy. "The one thing that I found when I came to Chicago that I thought my hometown of Hazelton was a microcosm of this city and the people here. Very inviting, open folks, passionate about their sports and Bears football, so I wish you nothing but the best. But all I can say, typically, Pennsylvania: Just be yourself."

Check out Maddon's full comments in the video above.