Cubs

At a crossroads, Cubs search for some direction

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At a crossroads, Cubs search for some direction

Theo Epstein faced the Boston media and tried to explain the anatomy of a collapse that might pull him back to the Red Sox. Billy Beane told reporters that he plans to stay in Oakland, meaning Moneyball probably wont be playing at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs didnt have a general manager to do a state of the team address on Thursday.

Eventually, there will be a power grab at Clark and Addison. Whoever takes over will be pulled into the crosscurrents of an organization that hasnt won a World Series title in more than a century.

There will be a battle of ideas. Before Game 162 of another lost season, chairman Tom Ricketts was asked about the patience it will take to get this right.

We look at everything from a long-term perspective, Ricketts said Wednesday in San Diego. So well make the right long-term decisions. And like weve always said, its about player development. Its about putting an organization (in place).

If you are a player angling for a huge contract extension like third baseman Aramis Ramirez you will think that the Cubs can never truly commit to a youth movement. The fans and the pressure inside a big market would never allow it.

If you have worked for years in player development, watching all these minor-league teams go to the playoffs, then you want to see what they can do at the highest level. Why not give the kids a chance?

If you have spent your entire professional life of the road scouting, you will believe in the art of projecting, the database of comparable players in your head. But you dont know who your next boss will be, and how much he will be guided by numbers. Several insiders noticed that stats guy Ari Kaplan became a much more visible presence on the field and in the clubhouse once Jim Hendry got fired.

If you are on the business side of the operation, you have to find new revenue streams, even if it means putting a noodle outside the stadium and letting fans stand behind a rope in right field during batting practice.

If you get ridiculed on Twitter for Undercover Boss, well, it was a free advertisement to build the brand and get more tourists to Wrigley Field.

The Cubs still hit the three-million mark, even though there were so many empty green seats, and that means the overall budget for baseball operations is expected to essentially remain the same next season. The question becomes how much money will be funneled toward major-league payroll.

Our attendance numbers speak for themselves, utility man Jeff Baker said. Thats having a pretty bad year (and) they still came out and supported us. So I really dont think you can ever strip it down and start over here.

The market (and) the history and the tradition it would be really hard to do. Im not sure how tolerable the fans would be if you (did that).

The Wrigley Field renovation plans team executives have been lobbying for quietly could be a game-changer for this franchise.

Carlos Pena the alternative to Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols has played in seven different organizations. The relentlessly optimistic first baseman doesnt think the stadium presents more obstacles to winning.

Everyone plays the same (game), Pena said. Sometimes those things can work to our advantage. The other team has to wake up early, too. The other team also has to play in the cold weather. I hate to make excuses like that. Those are too cheap.

Instead of making excuses, you just need to look at this year, take it all in and learn how to put it behind us.

The Cubs only see Carlos Zambrano in the rearview mirror. Zambrano was placed back on the 40-man roster on Thursday (and Justin Berg and Brian Schlitter were designated for assignment), though it would be shocking to see the enigmatic pitcher in a Cubs uniform again.

In a division without any superpowers, you might not have to make too many dramatic moves.

Add two starting pitchers, even if theyll never get a Cy Young vote, because theyll help you weather the perfect storm of injuries that wrecked this season.

Hope a disappointing year andor a new coaching staff motivates Carlos Marmol and helps the closer refocus and regain his confidence.

Push Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney to get better and anchor the middle infield, knowing that improved defense is a quicker fix. Give top prospect Brett Jackson a chance to live up to the hype.

Those are the kind of incremental moves that could begin the turnaround. But this winter the Cubs will be asking much broader, deeper philosophical questions about how they do business. The answers will shape the franchise for years to come.

The Cubs have come to a crossroads and need to find some direction: What needs to change?

You can say a lot of things, pitcher Matt Garza said, but Im going to keep my nose to that grindstone and let them figure it out. Its going to be an exciting, fun offseason, Ill tell you that.

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

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

While the Cubs put the finishing touches on a lackluster loss to the Reds Monday night at Wrigley Field, the game quickly took a backseat as reports of a trade filtered through Baseball Twitter.

In came a veteran catcher — Martin Maldonado — from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Montgomery, who will live on in Cubs history books forever as the guy who threw the curveball that notched the final out in the 2016 World Series to break a 108-year championship drought.

There are many layers to this move, including the corresponding aspect of Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras hitting the 10-day injured list with a strain in the arch of his right foot. Contreras had an MRI Monday afternoon/evening, which revealed the issue. 

Contreras felt like he could play through it and passionately pleaded his case, but the Cubs want to exercise an abundance of caution with one of their most important players.

"Our medical staff feels like if he were to try to play on it, that he'd be risking exacerbating the injury and turning it into something long-term," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "So we have to get ahead of it, take it out of Willy's hands and take him off his feet. 

"We don't expect it to be longer than 10 days — that's what we hope for, anyways."

But even before the severity of Contreras' injury was known, Epstein said the team was already in talks with the Royals front office.

"We've been having discussions with Kansas City and they had an opening in their rotation after trading [Homer] Bailey and they'd been talking to a couple teams about Maldonado and we knew that," Epstein said. "We'd actually been working on a version of the deal beforehand and it was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear that Willson was gonna miss some time."

That's interesting.

So the Cubs' interest in Maldonado is not solely based on Contreras' injury, which means they value the veteran catcher as more than just a short-term, couple-week insurance policy to pair with Victor Caratini. 

On the one hand, that leaves the Cubs free to trade Caratini over the next couple weeks if a deal developed.

But the move for Maldonado also shores up a major area of depth for the Cubs, which is exactly what Epstein talked about before Monday's game, referencing the change in MLB rules that eliminated the August waiver wire deadline. Now, every team has to make their moves ahead of the July 31 deadline and that's it.

"Teams need to keep depth in mind a little bit more, that you have to anticipate where you might be vulnerable to an injury and try to build that depth up in advance — preemptively, really — knowing that there's no escape valve in August," Epstein said. "So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Well, despite fantastic seasons from Contreras and Caratini, the Cubs actually have very little in the way of catching depth beyond those two. Taylor Davis is the only other backstop on the 40-man roster and he has almost no big-league experience. When Caratini was on the IL earlier this year with a hand injury, Davis rarely played in the month-plus he was on the roster.

Even if Contreras' injury is as minor as it appears, it underscores the point that the Cubs' depth is very fragile at the most physically demanding position on the field. What would the team do if Contreras or Caratini suffered an injury in August or September?

Now, they can add Maldonado into the mix — a veteran catcher who draves rave remarks for his defense and game-calling. 

The right-handed-hitting catcher is due to turn 33 next month and is in his ninth big-league season. He hasn't done much with the bat in his career (.289 on-base percentage, .351 slugging) and that hasn't changed this year (.647 OPS), but his work behind the plate was enticing to the Cubs and their veteran-laden pitching staff.

"He's an established catcher in the league who does a lot of great things behind the plate," Epstein said. "He can really receive, he can really throw. He's caught playoff games. He's handled some of the best pitchers in the game; he's a favorite for pitchers to throw to.

"He's very calm back there, very prepared, calls a great game, really soft hands, lot of experience, lot of savvy and someone who we think can step in and share the job with Vic and get up to speed really quickly in what we hope is a brief absence from Willson."

The Cubs haven't yet shared a plan for how they plan to manage the roster crunch for all three catchers when Contreras returns from injury in a week or two, but that might be because they don't yet have a plan. That's more of a "cross that bridge when it comes" type of situation.

When everybody is healthy — if everybody is ever healthy all at the same time — the Cubs could carry three catchers and utilize Contreras' ability to play the outfield and Caratini's first/third base versatility. They could also option Caratini to the minors for a couple weeks and bring him back up when rosters expand in September or if another injury strikes.

Either way, the Cubs front office, coaching staff and pitching staff can rest easier knowing they have another experienced backstop on the roster. 

The other aspect to all this, obviously, is in the Cubs bullpen and starting depth. Montgomery is out, which means there is an easy open spot on the roster for Alec Mills, who is making a spot start Tuesday while Cole Hamels continues to rehab his oblique injury.

In the longer term, this could be a good thing for the Cubs bullpen, as Montgomery was miscast and rarely used as a short-inning reliever. The 30-year-old southpaw last threw on July 2 and has only made five appearances in the last month. 

Montgomery was slowed by injury in spring training and then again in the first couple weeks of the season, but he had been building up his workload of late - throwing at least 2.1 innings in each of his last three outings. Still, the Cubs opted to go with Mills Tuesday against the Reds instead of Montgomery and they also had Tyler Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay in the rotation at various points earlier this season.

Montgomery hasn't started once in 2019, but he made 28 starts in a Cubs uniform, including 19 last year while filling in for the injured Yu Darvish.

The Cubs clearly feel good enough with their rotation depth as is (Mills, Chatwood, Alzolay) and Hamels' return looks to be right around the corner, so the writing was on the wall that Montgomery wouldn't get many chances to start in the short or long term in Chicago.

It's also good for Montgomery, a guy who got the last out in the World Series and did everything asked of him in his three-plus years in Chicago, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. 

Now he gets an opportunity to start, which he's been vocal about wanting to do, and he'll be thrown right into the fire — the Royals have him penciled in to start Friday...in Cleveland.

How's that for full circle?

Cubs trade Mike Montgomery to Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado

Cubs trade Mike Montgomery to Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado

It’s not a blockbuster move, but the Cubs have reportedly made a trade with more than two weeks until the trade deadline.

Theo Epstein confirmed previous reports after the game that the Cubs traded left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery to the Kansas City Royals for catcher Martin Maldonado. Epstein added that Willson Contreras is heading to the 10-day IL with a strain in the arch of his foot, but he didn’t expect Contreras to be out much longer than those 10 days.

Montgomery, 30, joined the Cubs in the middle of the 2016 season, but struggled this season. He had a 5.67 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 13 walks in 27 innings this season.

Maldonado, 32, was hitting .224/.288/.359 with the Royals. Maldonado can fill in at catcher with Victor Caratini while Contreras is out. Maldonado is known for his defensive ability behind the plate.

Meanwhile, Montgomery's exit means the pitcher who recorded the last out of the 2016 World Series is no longer in the organization. Epstein addressed that to reporters after the game.

"Obviously you can't talk about his contributions without talking about getting the last out of the World Series that changed everybody's life," Epstein said.

Montgomery talked to reporters from his locker after it was announced that he was traded.

"I look back at that and it's an emotional experience," Montgomery said. "At the time, I didn't realize how much impact it was. Especially now, as I leave this team and the city, it's going to be something I can look back on and really be proud of. I was able to accomplish a lot here and now it's time to move on and see what else I can accomplish somewhere else."

Montgomery may have an opportunity to join the Royals rotation. The Royals traded starting pitcher Homer Bailey to the A's on Sunday. Montgomery didn't make any starts in 2019, but had 38 in his previous two and a half years with the Cubs.

"It's definitely an emotional thing to think of the last three and a half, four years here and obviously the World Series," Montgomery said. "I grew up a lot here. I'm definitely going to miss playing here in the city and with a lot of these guys. It's going to take a little while to settle in."

 

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