Cubs

Up in the air: Cubs brace for Coors Field

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Up in the air: Cubs brace for Coors Field

Thursday, April 14, 2011Posted: 6:15 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Mark Riggins felt sick the night Andrew Cashner went for an MRI at Northwestern Memorial Hospital last week.

The pitching coach had consulted with Cashner from the time the Cubs made him a first-round pick in 2008. Riggins whos in his first year on the job after working as the organizations minor-league coordinator felt just as bad for Randy Wells.

But the 54-year-old Riggins has been doing this long enough to know that its inevitable. The human body simply isnt meant to unleash a baseball at 95 mph over and over and over again.

Pitchers can hurt themselves with one throw at any time, Riggins said. Thats the way the game is. And so its an unfortunate thing, but in the business, we know it will happen at some point with almost everybody.

Cashner (rotator cuff strain) and Wells (forearm strain) will be re-evaluated next week. They are traveling and working out with the team, but havent thrown a baseball on this trip. There are no concrete plans right now, only a sense around the Cubs that Wells will be ready to come off the disabled list sooner than Cashner.

One mile above sea level, it wont get any easier this weekend in Denvers thin mountain air.

When difficulty sets in, it always opens up an opportunity for somebody else, manager Mike Quade said. Now you just wait and see if they can take advantage of it. (Well) see how it plays out.

Matt Garza is out to show that hes not the type of pitcher who gives up 20 hits in two starts. Casey Coleman wants to prove that he belongs in a major-league rotation. Ryan Dempster returns to Coors Field, where the Cubs endured a wild weekend last season.

Dempster got knocked out after four innings on July 30 and couldnt believe what he saw. The Colorado Rockies set a major-league record with 11 consecutive hits in the eighth and put a 12-run inning on the board. All that happened with two outs.

Dempster guessed that if you had Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Marlon Byrd throw batting practice with eight fielders behind them, the Rockies couldnt string together 11 straight hits again.

Thats how crazy that is, Dempster said afterward.

That same day, the Cubs reinstated Carlos Zambrano from the restricted list and the enigmatic pitcher began to try to make amends with his teammates. Lou Piniella revealed that he would have to go back home to Tampa, Fla., for a few days to attend his uncles funeral.

So acting manager Alan Trammell was stuck as the spokesman across the next two games.

The Cubs traded Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 31 deadline. Hours later, Rockies slugger Carlos Gonzalez hit for the cycle. The next afternoon, Carlos Silva was rushed in an ambulance to a Denver hospital with an abnormally high heart rate.

The Cubs were beginning to bottom out with that three-game sweep and would lose 20 of 25 before Piniella retired and Quade took over as manager.

It would be impossible to top that head-spinning weekend in 2010. But this shouldnt be boring.

The 6-6 Cubs started the 2011 season with nine of their first 11 games decided by three runs or less. The first seven games unfolded that way, the first time thats happened to the Cubs since 1950. Already the fault lines are starting to show.

Were real happy with our bullpen, but weve gone to them pretty hard, Quade said. Weve had to because weve been in so many close ballgames. Every time someone else steps up and gives you an option, (it) takes the pressure off other people.

We dont want five guys in the bullpen with 90 appearances, running them out there the way were doing right now. So you manage that the best you can.

Thats a major concern, not simply replacing Cashner and Wells for a few turns through the rotation, but the accumulated stress on relievers when starters cant go more than five innings.

The Cubs have talked about finding out what theyre made of on this 10-day, three-city road trip. There will be nowhere to hide in Coors Field.

It takes more than 12 guys to get through a season, Riggins said. Every club has this problem at some point in the year our (turn) just happened to be now.

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

No momentum yet on potential Cubs-Zobrist reunion

No momentum yet on potential Cubs-Zobrist reunion

SAN DIEGO — Theo Epstein's front office has a lot of difficult decisions to make this winter, but Ben Zobrist has yet to come up with his own tough answers.

The 2016 World Series MVP is currently a free agent after wrapping up his four-year deal with the Cubs. He played a major role on the team in September following a four-month absence to deal with a family matter. 

Zobrist, 38, said at the end of the season that he was unsure if he would call it quits after an impressive career or return for another season on the diamond. More than two months since he last put on a uniform, he still has not reached an answer:

If he does play another season, it would have to be in the right situation for his family. He's made enough money in his career and accomplished plenty — including hoisting a couple championship trophies — but he clearly still had the drive and desire to play, as he said in his September return.

The Cubs figure to be on the short list of teams that would make sense for Zobrist given the mutual familiarity, a home in Chicago and how the entire organization supported him as he stepped away from the team to address his personal life.

It would seem to fit from the Cubs' perspective as well, since they talked all season long about how they missed Zobrist's professional at-bats and his presence inside the clubhouse. 

But there is no traction on the reunion front at the moment.

"I haven't talked to him recently," Epstein said Monday. "I've talked to him since the season ended, but it was more just checking in on his family. As far as baseball, he hadn't made a decision at that point. He was gonna wait a while before deciding what to do. He left open the possibility, but that was it."

The Cubs have an avenue for playing time next season at second base and potentially in the outfield for Zobrist and they are currently searching for leadoff options. He proved he can still play at his advanced age by hitting .284/.388/.377 in September after months away from the game. He isn't an everyday guy anymore, but can still provide value as a role player.

If Zobrist decides to give it one more go, the price would have to be right for the financially-hamstrung Cubs, but a reunion would make a lot of sense for both sides.

Angels' search for catching help could lead them to Willson Contreras

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USA TODAY

Angels' search for catching help could lead them to Willson Contreras

Could we see a Willson Contreras-Joe Maddon reunion in Los Angeles?

According to Maria Torres of the Los Angeles Times, the Angels are “heavily engaged in the catcher market,” and are having “active conversations with two teams” regarding a trade for a catcher.

Torres didn’t specifically mention Contreras, but he’s one of several Cubs who have been linked to trade rumors this offseason. The Cubs aren’t looking to enter another all-out rebuild, but they’re keeping the future of the organization in mind following a disappointing 84-win season.

The Cubs farm system has grown barren of impact talent. They’ve struggled to develop big-league starting pitching under team president Theo Epstein. Their payroll is projected to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second straight season, meaning they’d encounter a 30 percent luxury tax on their overages and see their draft position drop 10 spots, should they exceed the $208 million threshold by $40 million or more.

Trading Contreras — who’s projected to make $4.5 million via arbitration next season — won’t solve the financial problem. However, trading him could net the Cubs the type of blue-chip prospects they desperately need to replenish their farm system.

Contreras is also under team control through 2022, so there’s not a huge rush to deal the two-time All-Star. But if the Cubs sense he’s unlikely to sign a contract extension now or in the future, they must do their due diligence on him and see what they could acquire in a potential trade. The same is true for Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.

The Angels have one top 100 prospect, (outfielder Jo Adell — No. 5 overall), according to MLB Pipeline, so what Los Angeles could offer the Cubs is questionable. Epstein and Co. won’t trade their backstop for the sake of doing so, especially if they deem any offers to be unsatisfactory.  

Contreras hit .272/.355/.533 with 24 home runs and 64 RBIs last season. He’d be a major addition for the Angels, whose catchers posted a combined .221/.293/.344 slash line with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs. The 27-year-old also has a special bond with former Cubs/current Angels manager Joe Maddon.

Contreras posted a heartfelt good-bye to Maddon on Instagram after the Cubs announced they weren’t retaining the manager for 2020. Contreras later commissioned a painting of he and Maddon as a gift for his former skipper.

Monday, Maddon said it’s “weird” to hear Bryant and Contreras mentioned in trade rumors, adding that he likes both players. 

The Angels aren't definitively linked to Contreras and Epstein recently advised to take rumors with a "mouthful of salt." But considering the Angels are reportedly seeking a catching upgrade, it won't be a surprise to see that change soon.