Cubs

Beyond Zambrano, Ramirez: Five Cubs on the spot

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Beyond Zambrano, Ramirez: Five Cubs on the spot

Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011
5:27 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The marketing department can put up billboards highlighting the new faces of the franchise. And you will no doubt see more Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro jerseys this summer.

But in so many ways the 2011 Cubs will hinge upon Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez, who combined have spent 20-plus years in the organization. Follow the money: Together they will make more than 33 million this season.

When healthy and focused, they are supposed to be anchors. Another transition year could be successful if Zambrano accounts for 200 innings - something he hasn't done since 2007 - and Ramirez generates close to 30 homers and 100 RBI in what could be his final season in a Cubs uniform.

"We need Aramis to be the guy that he has been most of his career here," general manager Jim Hendry said. "We need to get Aramis to play 135, 140 games and the numbers will take care of itself. (He's) as clutch an RBI guy as we've had here in a long time. And the rest of the league respects that."

Reconnecting with Zambrano will be a priority for manager Mike Quade, who watched him go 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA down the stretch. Last month at the Cubs Convention, Quade laughed off a fan's suggestion that a 29-year-old husband and father could use Greg Maddux as a kind of personal life coach.

"I expect Carlos to handle himself the way he finished up last year," Quade said. "Whether he explodes or whatever...all right, so he explodes. Take a walk, see you in five days, pitch well. If it becomes a reoccurring thing, yeah, we have a problem. But if we're going to have individual guys taking care of each guy that has some emotional issues, man, we're not going to have a big enough plane."

Zambrano and Ramirez will be flying north at the end of camp. Here are five other Cubs who will be watched closely in spring training, whether or not they get seats on the team charter.

Andrew Cashner
Everyone agrees that Cashner has a high ceiling, though the organization has been split on whether he projects as a front-line starter or closer. The 2008 first-round pick could end that debate with a good spring. The plan for now is to stretch Cashner out and have him compete for one of the two open spots in the rotation. It will be interesting to see just how committed the Cubs are to this idea, because Cashner's confidence soared after Quade took over last season, and the rookie began to dominate out of the bullpen (1.40 ERA in his final 18 games).

Jeff Samardzija
Did you know that he used to play football? Samardzija is tired of those questions and may never again have this kind of leverage. Now entering his fifth full professional season after an All-American career at Notre Dame, Samardzija is out of minor-league options. So this is probably his last chance to justify the 10 million the Cubs gave him to bypass the NFL. There is a new pitching coach to impress, and Mark Riggins could have some unique insight into Samardzija after his work in the minor-league system.

Randy Wells
At some point expectations outran a converted catcher drafted in the 38th round. Across the past two seasons Wells has accounted for 20 wins, a 3.70 ERA and almost 360 innings - at a cost of less than 1 million. Yet that still leaves him fighting for a rotation spot, and dismissing questions about his maturity and consistency. Maybe it's time to appreciate Wells for who he is - and not force him as a No. 3 starter. At 28, Wells could either really establish himself as a Cub, or begin drifting back toward Triple-A Iowa.

John Grabow
At this time last year, the Cubs hoped Esmailin Caridad would emerge as a primary setup man, and he wound up giving them only four innings in 2010 because of arm issues. The bullpen now appears to be a point of strength with Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall in front of closer Carlos Marmol. They still need a bridge to get there, and that's why Grabow is being paid 4.8 million. The veteran left-hander tried to pitch through a knee injury (7.36 ERA) and was eventually shut down last summer. The preliminary reports on his health have been good.

Geovany Soto
In a lineup filled with hitters on the wrong side of 30, trying to match numbers from the past, Soto is one with growth potential. The 28-year-old profiled as one of the best offensive catchers in the game last season (.890 OPS) before undergoing shoulder surgery in late September. How he responds physically - and handles a huge raise to 3 million - will be worth monitoring. The pitchers seem to enjoy working with Soto, who takes his defensive responsibilities seriously and could step up into a more visible leadership role.

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

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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