Cubs

Armed with options, Cubs banking on Cashner

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Armed with options, Cubs banking on Cashner

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011
6:25 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs didn't plan their entire off-season around Andrew Cashner, but many ideas are bounced off his potential.

They sold their 2008 first-round pick to reporters as part of a larger youth movement. They used him in marketing and promotional materials directed at fans. They refused to include him in the package for Matt Garza.

Growing up in Texas, Cashner loved watching two pitchers in particular - Nolan Ryan and Kerry Wood. The below-market deal that Wood signed last month to come home gives the Cubs another clubhouse leader, and the flexibility to move Cashner out of the eighth inning.

After 15 years in the minors, Mark Riggins was probably due for another shot. But the new Cubs pitching coach also got the job in part because of the relationship he developed with Cashner as the minor-league coordinator (and as someone who also likes duck hunting in the winter).

Clearly the Cubs are invested in Cashner's future and will give him every chance to succeed as the front-line starter they think he can become.

The 24-year-old is confident, but not cocky, with a right arm that can throw a baseball 100 mph. He is thoughtful and accommodating with the media, but rarely strays off message.

If moving back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation stunted Jeff Samardzija's development - as some have suggested - then Cashner still doesn't care. He just wants to pitch in the big leagues.

Manager Mike Quade will have plenty of obligations at this weekend's Cubs Convention, but he will find time to reconnect with his players. Quade earned points for the way he defined roles and handled his bullpen late last season.

And Quade will need his communication skills across the next several weeks, because after Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Garza, there could be seven pitchers competing for two spots in the rotation.

"I don't get too worked up early on because, bang, all of a sudden, you blink, it's changed," Quade said Wednesday at Harry Caray's downtown. "Now you've got two additions that have specific roles (in Garza and Wood) and they've earned them, (so) the kids (are) in flux. The idea that you can never have enough pitching is huge. We got a pretty good group coming to camp, so we'll see how the back end looks as it shakes out."

The Cubs are hoping that Carlos Silva will overcome his various injuries. They know that Samardzija is out of minor-league options. They think that 23-year-old Casey Coleman (4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in eight starts) could continue where he left off last season.

They are considering stretching out James Russell, because he has four pitches and they are already stacked with left-handers in the bullpen: Sean Marshall, who no longer has the same desire to start; John Grabow, who's said to be healthy; and Scott Maine, who impressed last September.

All these moves are related and could impact what the Cubs do with Tom Gorzelanny and Randy Wells. Gorzelanny is 28, left-handed and eligible for arbitration, a combination that could make him an attractive trading chip.

Wells - who says he's quit drinking and insists that he was never out partying with the Blackhawks hours before a start last summer - should have a better handle on things in his third season as a Cub.

"I know how special it is to win in this town and help them win a championship," Wells said. "I want to be a part of it. I don't want to be the guy that misses out on it by a year by being selfish or something like that. So (I'll) do anything to help."

It will certainly be an interesting conversation if Zambrano doesn't get to make his seventh consecutive start on Opening Day. Quade, who lives in Bradenton, Fla., during the off-season, heard all about Garza last week on Tampa talk radio. The manager says he has no idea who will be starting April 1 at Wrigley Field.

"What I know is I've got three great pitchers to choose from," Quade said. "There are too many variables (now), but there's no question that Garza's in the mix. We'll take a look at Z and Demp and see where we go with that."

Ultimately, whether or not the Cubs can hang in the National League Central could come down to the depth of their rotation. Cashner and Russell are moving out to Arizona next week to prepare for a spring training that won't be about the experience of being in a big-league clubhouse this time.

Cashner hasn't really had to change his routine - 39 of his 43 minor-league appearances came as a starter - and if he performs he could make this decision very easy for the organization.

"I can only control my spot," Cashner said, "and I'm going to give it my best shot."

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

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”

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Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."

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