Cubs

Cubs, Boras and the art of the Pena deal

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Cubs, Boras and the art of the Pena deal

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted 9:13 AM Updated 8:11 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Ideally the Cubs wanted a left-handed first baseman to hit for power and improve their overall defense. They needed someone who would make a short-term commitment and be flexible enough to fit within their budget.

From the start, Carlos Pena matched that description. And during a series of meetings this week at the Swan and Dolphin resort, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and agent Scott Boras reached an agreement in which neither side is exposed to too much risk.

They finalized a one-year deal worth 10 million in a negotiation that stretched from late Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning. Pena received multi-year offers elsewhere, and said he heard interest from the Nationals, Braves, Mariners, Orioles and Blue Jays.

Pena, who studied engineering at Northeastern University, analyzed the chance to become a free agent all over again after the final out of the 2011 World Series.

"This was the perfect fit for me," Pena said Wednesday at a news conference. "I also like the fact that this is a platform year for me (to) come in, be part of a great organization (and) have the opportunity to just go out there and play my game.

"Who knows? After a great season, then the future will look even brighter."

The contract was structured so that the money is spread over 13 months and 5 million will come in January 2012 to give the Cubs some financial flexibility. Pena received multi-year offers elsewhere, and said he heard interest from the Nationals, Braves, Mariners, Orioles and Blue Jays.

The Cubs are betting that Pena's offensive numbers last season in Tampa Bay were an aberration and not - at the age of 32 - the beginning of a sharp decline.

Pena hit .196 with a .325 on-base percentage, though his 28 homers and 84 RBI would have led the Cubs in both categories. Pena knows Rudy Jaramillo well from their days together in the Rangers organization, and they hope the hitting coach can help fix his swing.

"When you look at collectively over a four-year window - (the) power numbers, the RBIs, the walks and the defense - it's a package that's still appealing," Hendry said.

Pena has a reputation as a good defender - he won a Gold Glove in 2008 - and that should help a Cubs team that finished last in the National League in fielding percentage. Pena averaged 39 homers and 108 RBI per season between 2007 and 2009, but he entered free agency off a down year.

Boras negotiated Jayson Werth's seven-year, 126 million score, which had heads spinning at the winter meetings. But the powerful agent has also shown that he's willing to get a client a one-year deal to restore market value and position himself for the next big contract.

Adrian Beltre became the premise to this deal. Last offseason Beltre turned down a long-term offer from the A's to play one year with the Red Sox for 10 million. Beltre hit .321 with 28 homers and 102 RBI and established himself as one of this winter's most coveted free agents.

"(This) really had all the flavor of what we call a 'pillow contract'," Boras said. "There's a lot of comforts. It's a one-year situation. It's a dynamic that you can't really expect the marketplace to address - the values of Carlos' ultimate abilities (and) the issues of what happens to major-league players during every career. That is, they have seasons where they have maladies that arise in the short term."

That is how Boras talks, and reporters surrounded him for nearly an hour after the Pena announcement to ask questions about other players he represents. It is a long way of saying it will either work out or it won't.

They'll give a year to find out. Pena - who said he's 100 percent healthy and called the plantar fasciitis that limited him last season a "non-issue" - feels his fortunes are about to turn.

"I don't tend to look back on my failures and dwell upon them," Pena said. "All of those difficulties have made me stronger and a better player (and) a better man."

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

David Bote remains in lineup after Kris Bryant's return, headlines Cubs defense

David Bote remains in lineup after Kris Bryant's return, headlines Cubs defense

Cubs third baseman David Bote charged down the line and called off pitcher Alec Mills.

Bote snagged the bunt with his bare right hand and slung it across is body. Bote’s throw to first beat the Royals’ Adalberto Mondesi by half a step.

“It does nothing but fire you up,” Mills said after the Cubs’ 2-0 win over the Royals on Monday.

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Bote had been filling in for Kris Bryant at third for the previous two games, but when Bryant returned on Monday, Bote remained in the lineup. Even as a role player, Bote entered Monday's series opener with a top-5 batting average (.278) on the team and  tied for second in RBIs (5). But Cubs manager David Ross also trusted him in the infield with a groundball pitcher on the mound. Bote’s defense shone.

It stood out even in a game that included an outstanding tag by shortstop Javier Báez to catch a runner stealing and Jason Heyward covering a ton of ground in right field.

“I’m proud of our defense,” Ross said. “That’s something that we’ve emphasized that could be better, and it’s been so great. These guys are getting a lot of work in.”

This time, Bote knew long before the game that he was playing. On Saturday, when Bryant was a late scratch due to an upset stomach, Bote found out five minutes before first pitch that he was starting at third base.

On Monday, Bote remained at third, and Bryant started in left field. That setup put extra speed in left on a windy day and allowed Kyle Schwarber, who had played in left for the past three games, to be the designated hitter.

Bote worked with bench coach Andy Green on slow-rolling ground balls before the game, according to Ross.

 “This is one of the teams that bunt a lot in this league,” Báez said, “and we were ready for it.”

Bote proved that with a bare-handed grab seventh inning, when the Cubs were protecting a one-run lead. He threw out Mondesi for the final out of the inning.  But then, he made another bare-handed play the next inning.

Bare-handing a bunt and throwing across the body on the run is a play exclusive to third basemen. The downside of playing multiple positions is a utility man like Bote has to spread his receptions out among those positions.

Bote had attempted a bare-handed play once before in the season, but he didn’t field it cleanly – there’s a reason infielders use their gloves whenever possible. The margin for error is so much smaller without them.

In the eighth inning, Whit Merrifield hit a weak ground ball to Bote. The third baseman charged, fielded the ball with his right hand, and again threw across the diamond on the run. That was the second out of the inning.

“Both of those plays could have gone either way,” Bryant said of Bote’s bare-handed grabs, “and then there’s runners on base there. You don’t know how the game’s going to turn out.”

Case in point: Jorge Soler hit a single right after Bote’s eight-inning play. If Bote hadn’t thrown Merrifield out, he would be in scoring position with one out.

Instead, Rowan Wick took over for Casey Sadler on the mound and struck out the next batter to end the inning.

“It’s those little things in the games that don’t get too much attention,” Bryant continued, “but they definitely do change the momentum of everything out there.”

 

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How David Ross plans to fix Cubs closer problem with Craig Kimbrel in the shop

How David Ross plans to fix Cubs closer problem with Craig Kimbrel in the shop

One of the unnoticed benefits of Javy Báez’s game-ending single in the 11th inning Sunday against the Pirates was that it eliminated a 12th inning that would have belonged to the struggling Craig Kimbrel.

That was David Ross’ next man out of the bullpen, the Cubs manager said Monday.

Instead, we watched the man who would be — and should be — the closer pitch out of the contrived jam (man on second) that is the start of each extra inning this year, and earn the win.

Or did we?

One day after veteran Jeremy Jeffress needed just nine pitches to beat the Pirates in the best of four impressive bullpen appearances, Rowan Wick earned a four-out save in a 2-0 victory over the Royals on Monday night.

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And just like that, the Cubs unveiled a closer-by-committee scheme, if not a closer controversy.

The way the first eight games looked, it's hard to imagine having enough reliable pitchers for a quorum. much less a bona fide committee, among the 14 pitchers who have occupied roster spots in the Cubs’ pen so far.

But until or unless Kimbrel (four walks, two homers, one wild pitch and four outs so far) gets right again, that’s the plan for closing out close games, Ross said after Monday’s game.

“I think every night will be different,” he said. “Every night we’re trying to find the best matchups and who’s throwing well.”

Jeffress is the one guy in the group who has the track record, the unflappable veteran presence and the cold-blooded performance so far this year that included escaping a pair of bases-loaded jams in addition to Sunday’s 11th-inning work.

Whether Jeffress was considered unavailable Monday because of high-leverage innings both Saturday and Sunday or Ross liked Wick’s 95-mph fastball/curveball mix against the middle of the Royals order, it was last year’s rookie success story on this night.

“It’s going to be a full team effort down there,” Ross said. “I’m not scared to pull the trigger in a lot of areas with a lot of those guys. They’ve done a really good job of answering the bell here lately and we’ll continue to assess on a daily basis.”

For now it has meant eight consecutive scoreless innings the last two nights against two of the worst teams in baseball for a Cubs bullpen that ranked last in the majors in ERA and several other categories.

That’s not what Ross means when he talks about looking for matchups.

But 10 games into 60-game season, that bullpen almost certainly will continue to be assessed on a daily basis top to bottom.

And with its $43 million closer looking like the weakest link since September, the end of any game with a close lead might be the most intriguing thing to watch with this team for as long as this pandemic season might last.

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