Cubs

Cubs: 12 defining moments in 2012

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Cubs: 12 defining moments in 2012

The games just blended together as the Cubs morphed into a version of Triple-A Iowa and headed toward 101 losses.

The team wasnt up for sale. The big free agent didnt sign a megadeal. The manager didnt have to worry about getting fired. No one wondered who was in charge inside the front office.

But even if we didnt see the cataclysmic changes that have reshaped this franchise across the past several years, there were markers along the way.

Team president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, scoutingplayer development executive Jason McLeod and manager Dale Sveum began putting their imprints on the organization.

Here are 12 defining moments from 2012:

Being Big Z

The culture change had already started by the time Carlos Zambrano agreed to accept a trade to the Miami Marlins and a reunion with old friend Ozzie Guillen. The Cubs kicked in more than 15 million to complete the Jan. 5 deal and restore a sense of order in their clubhouse.

The optics wouldnt have looked good for Epstein if he kept Zambrano around. There was also the idea that maybe the enigmatic pitcher would relax and mature in a place where he wouldnt feel the pressure of Being Big Z.

We always thought Zambrano would burn out instead of fade away, but he was pretty quiet, even while losing his spot in the rotation and finishing at 7-10 with a 4.49 ERA. The Marlins became a reality show rocked by distractions, but this time you couldnt point the finger at Big Z.

Rizzo Watch

The day after announcing the Zambrano deal, the Cubs completed the Anthony Rizzo trade, sending Andrew Cashner to the San Diego Padres and beginning the countdown. Team executives felt Cashner would max out as a reliever and questioned whether he could stick in the rotation.

They loved Rizzos makeup from their time together in San Diego and the Boston Red Sox organization. They believed he could be their first baseman for the next decade. Rizzo made several adjustments and tore it up in the Pacific Coast League before finally getting called up on June 26. Sitting inside the cramped Wrigley Field interview roomdungeon that afternoon, he told reporters: Im here to stay.

Call me, maybe?

Talk about bad timing: The New York Times unveils political activities bankrolled by family patriarch Joe Ricketts while his son Tom is trying to lobby Mayor Rahm Emanuel for help renovating Wrigley Field. The Times ran this headline on May 17 G.O.P. Super PAC Weighs Hard-Line Attack on Obama and the story went viral and killed any momentum in those negotiations.

Kid K retires

For a player whose career had been defined by what could have been, Kerry Wood scripted a perfect ending. Kid K never won the multiple Cy Young awards that once seemed possible, nor did he get to ride on a World Series float down Michigan Avenue.

But with the city tuned in for Cubs-White Sox on May 18, Wood seemed at peace. After striking out Dayan Viciedo, his young son Justin popped out of the dugout and collapsed into his arms. The organ at Wrigley Field played My Way.

Another day in The Show, babe!

You dont have to pull out a particular moment, because Alfonso Soriano is the same guy every day, showing up with a big smile on his face. Brian Urlacher can make petty comments about Bears fans and the Chicago media. The 136 million man just shrugs off all the criticism.

Soriano is the type of player who got booed during player introductions before the 2010 home opener, roughly 18 months after winning a second straight division title. Yet Soriano still enjoys the interaction with the bleacher bums, and always stands in front of his locker willing to answer questions.

Win or lose, no matter how his legs feel, Sori wants to be in the lineup, and that drive helped him generate 32 homers and 108 RBI. Hopefully, the young players in the clubhouse took notice.

Target acquired

There was so much intrigue and hype surrounding Jorge Soler that you wondered if the architects would just put his statue next to the Triangle building. The Cubs had targeted the Cuban defector for months, and went all-out because a new collective bargaining agreement would change the rules of engagement and restrict spending on the international market. They beat the deadline and finally announced a nine-year, 30 million major-league deal on June 30. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound outfielder has been described as a beast with good speed, raw power and a strong arm, though hes still years away from Wrigley Field.

Hopefully, I wake up tomorrow. You never know.

Matt Garza couldnt guarantee it, but he hoped hed be able to muscle up and make his next start. Once Garza walked off the mound in the fourth inning on July 21 at Busch Stadium, you wondered if the Cubs were about to pull off a blockbuster deal with a contending team like the Texas Rangers.

The Cubs initially described it as cramping in Garzas right triceps. Further tests revealed a stress reaction in his right elbow. Either way, it killed all trade value. Garza didnt throw another pitch all season.

Dude, were so traded.

As part of the Superheroes theme for the flight from St. Louis to Pittsburgh, Jeff Baker and Reed Johnson (in a wig) dressed up as Epstein and Hoyer on July 22 khaki pants, blue Cubs polo shirts, phones pressed to their ears.

Yes, they both got traded, but those genius costumes reminded you that you need veteran glue guys in the room and cant completely surrender to a youth movement. Seeing Sveum dressed as Hellboy underlined how much the manager connected with the players in the clubhouse and walled off the negativity.

Eh, maybe thats a stretch, but what else do you remember from a 101-loss season? Twitpics are forever.

Dempstergate

Its always better to be the hammer than the nail, as Ryan Dempster said, before getting crushed on social media.

By now, youve already heard all about the deal with the Atlanta Braves that collapsed once it leaked on Twitter, Dempster hanging around the Golden Tee arcade game inside the teams Clark Street headquarters in the final minutes before the July 31 trade deadline and the buzzer-beater decision to accept a trade to Texas. That shouldnt damage Dempsters image forever (especially if the Cubs are right on Arodys Vizcaino from the Paul Maholm deal).

Dempster will be remembered as a great clubhouse guy, a pretty good pitcher, someone who flipped the switch every fifth day and could go off on a dugout tantrum. His impact on younger guys like Jeff Samardzija the breakthrough player in 2012 cant be quantified. He also genuinely appreciated playing in Chicago. This felt like the end of an era.

The commitment

There usually isnt much middle ground with Starlin Castro. All the noise sometimes makes it seem like hes either a franchise player headed toward 3,000 hits or trade bait because of his attention span.

In truth, the Cubs noticed a sharper focus from their All-Star shortstop, and expect him to grow more disciplined and decisive at the plate. During a year that began with Castros camp denying sexual assault allegations, the Cubs committed in August with a seven-year, 60 million extension that includes a club option for 2020.

Everybody knows Im the best defensive second baseman.

Brandon Phillips made that declaration when he came to Wrigley Field in September, looking to clinch a division title with the Cincinnati Reds.

The managers and coaches disagreed, voting for Darwin Barney, who on Oct. 30 became the first Cubs second baseman to win a Gold Glove since Ryne Sandberg. Some scouts loved the intangibles Barney once showed in helping Oregon State University win back-to-back College World Series titles. But the analytics crowd began to appreciate Barney his 3.6 defensive win above replacement rating led all National League players at any position. This looks like a core player now.

The right player at the right time

This front office always kicks the tires. Last winter, the Cubs analyzed the big names Prince Fielder, Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish to see if any would make sense.

This time, they didnt walk away. One week after losing the Anibal Sanchez sweepstakes, Epstein and Hoyer gave fans an early Christmas present. Edwin Jackson signed a four-year, 52 million contract, the biggest outlay for a free agent so far in this rebuilding project.

State of the Cubs: Second base

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USA TODAY

State of the Cubs: Second base

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the fifth installment on the second basemen.

Second base was the only positon group the Cubs had close to starter-level at-bats available this winter, but that is probably no longer the case with Tuesday's signing of Daniel Descalso.

The Cubs entered December with only Ben Zobrist as a true second base option for 2019 with Daniel Murphy a free agent and Javy Baez sliding over to shortstop full time for at least the first month of the season (or longer if Addison Russell is not a part of the team's plans after his suspension).

The Descalso move changes the middle infield equation quite a bit:

Depth chart

1. Ben Zobrist
2. Daniel Descalso
3. David Bote
4. Addison Russell?

First, the Russell/Baez aspect. 

It's still not guaranteed Russell will be back on the active roster when his suspension is up in early May, which would create a larger hole on the middle infield depth chart.

But for right now, Russell is under contract and he may be a part of the active roster in the first week of May, so if he does return, how does that change the shortstop/second base rotation?

Speaking strictly about his on-field production, Russell's offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few years, but his defense has been elite. An active Russell on the roster would mean the Cubs could have arguably the best middle infield defense in the game with him at short and Baez at second. 

The Cubs could start Russell a few times a week at shortstop and play Baez over there the rest of the time. When Russell plays short, Baez can play second or he can go to third and move Kris Bryant to the outfield. On days Baez starts at shortstop, the Cubs can bring Russell off the bench to play shortstop and move Baez to one of the other spots to improve their late-game infield defense.

For the first month of the season, expect to see Descalso and Zobrist man second base a majority of the time. Zobrist will still only play 4-5 times a week as the Cubs look to continue the plan that made the veteran utilty guy one of the top comeback stories in the league in 2018, with a heavy dose of rest and some regular time in the outfield and away from the demanding position of second base.

Descalso's career splits are essentially the same, so even though he's a left-handed hitter, he can still draw starts against southpaws, allowing Zobrist to spell Jason Heyward or Kyle Schwarber in the outfield.

Either way, Ian Happ appears to be out of the second base equation for the Cubs. The young switch-hitter did not draw a start at second in 2018, playing only two games and 3 innings at the position.

What's next?

Probably not much, save for a few non-roster invitees that could surprise in spring training. The Cubs have next to no infield depth in the minor leagues at the moment, but that will change as the winter goes on.

The big-league roster does not have much room, though the big question mark that remains is Russell and where/if he is included from May on.

The Cubs could opt to keep Bote in the minors to start the year and add another veteran on the bench, but as of right now, Bote's league-minimum salary, versatility and stellar glove are awfully enticing.

The bottom line

The Cubs' second basemen are going to have an average age of 35 in 2018 (at least to start) with Zobrist (38) and Descalso (32) manning the position.

State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B

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Cubs fill multiple needs with Daniel Descalso signing

Cubs fill multiple needs with Daniel Descalso signing

The Cubs have crossed multiple items off their winter checklist.

After The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported the deal Tuesday morning, the club confirmed the two-year, $5 million pact with veteran Daniel Descalso, including an option for a third year. He will make $1.5 million in 2019, $2.5 million in 2020 and there is a $3.5 million option in 2021 or the Cubs are on the hook for a $1 million buyout.

Descalso fills a lot of needs for the Cubs this offseason as a veteran known as a quality leader in the clubhouse/dugout, middle infield depth and another left-handed bat.

The 32-year-old is coming off a career season with the Arizona Diamondbacks in which he set new highs in homers (13), RBI (57), walks (64), OPS (.789), OPS+ (106), on-base percentage (.353), slugging percentage (.436) and runs scored (54).

He also played all over the diamond, recording time at second base (52 games), third base (37 games), first base (11 games), DH (7 games) and left field (5 games). He even pitched in two games, so he could be an option for manager Joe Maddon if the Cubs need some position players for mop-up duty again in 2019. Descalso has played a lot of shortstop in his career, as well, but he's recorded just 2 innings at the position since the start of the 2017 season so it's more likely the Cubs are interested in him as primarily a second/third baseman with the ability to move around more in the Ben Zobrist utility role if the need arises.

Descalso began his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, coming up through their system as a third-round draft pick in 2007 and spending 5 seasons with the Cubs' divisional rivals. He then moved on to the Colorado Rockies for 2015-16 before the two-year stint with the D-Backs.

With his journey around the NL, Descalso has made the postseason five different times, notching 48 games on baseball's biggest stage in October and posting a .226/.286/.387 slash line (.671 OPS) in those contests.

Descalso is an affordable option for the Cubs, who have said over and over again this winter they are operating on a tight budget. The multi-year commitment can help him grow and develop into a leadership role in the Cubs clubhouse with more security and stability than a one-year deal provides.

Descalso effectively takes Tommy La Stella's place on the Cubs roster as a more versatile infield option and provides some more pop/leadership though with a lower batting average than La Stella. 

The Cubs needed some infield depth heading into 2019, especially with Addison Russell out for at least the first month of the season on suspension and his status unknown beyond that point. Descalso can split time at second base with Zobrist, allowing the Cubs to follow the same rest forumla that helped the 2016 World Series MVP have a resurgent season last year (.305 AVG, .817 OPS).

The signing allows Maddon plenty of quality options on a given day, letting him choose a lineup from Descalso, Zobrist, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward and David Bote.

The Cubs have an interest in a more stable lineup/playing time equation in 2019, but it's never a bad thing to have more versatiity and depth on the roster.

Descalso may also be a fit for the Cubs at leadoff when he plays given he has posted a healthy walk rate the last three years includng a sparkling 15.1 percent in 2018. The veteran had success in that role last year (.357.412/.857 slash line) but in only 17 plate appearances and over his career, Descalso is hitting just .168 with a .266 OBP and .584 OPS in 24 starts in the leadoff spot.

The Cubs still figure to add another bullpen arm or two this winter and should add more shortstop depth behind Javy Baez.

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