Cubs

Cubs notes: Zambrano starts strong

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Cubs notes: Zambrano starts strong

Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011
Posted 7:10 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. This was quiet, boring, efficient exactly the way Carlos Zambrano wants it to be this year. Hes not here to talk about the past, or make predictions or call himself the ace.

Zambranos already been bumped from what would have been his seventh consecutive Opening Day start. Hes handled the news well so far, and got through the first Cactus League game by throwing two scoreless innings in a 15-7 loss to the Oakland As at HoHoKam Park.

It was good to see him attack that strike zone, first baseman Carlos Pena said. It looked like he had a lot of confidence going. You cant say too much about the first game of spring training, (but) its always nice to see good things happen.

Thats where the Cubs are at with Zambrano, cautiously optimistic that he can again be a front-line starter. He struck out the first two As swinging and faced the minimum six batters. He says the addition of Matt Garza hasnt changed the equation for him.

I have to go about my business, Zambrano said. I have to pitch my game and go out there every fifth day and compete, give the best that I have to win that game. . Hopefully we can all stay healthy and do some damage.

The Cubs havent always been certain that theyll get that from Zambrano. Theyll take any small step in the right direction.

It was fun to watch him, manager Mike Quade said. I dont know what his velocities were, but it looked like he was throwing the ball as well as Id seen, (which isnt surprising), because when hes got adrenaline going, look out.

Piniellas shadow

Before his first game as a major-league manager last August, Quade referenced John Wooden, and how the legendary UCLA basketball coach would always talk about the process. That player-development idea guided his 37-game audition, and ultimately won him the job. It will be the same in the Cactus League, where Lou Piniella would take losses harder than most.

I care a little bit, (but) Im more interested in performance and progress, Quade said. If we come out here and execute and play well and somebody beats us, (then) thats ok. But Lou didnt like to lose at anything and he was incredibly competitive. You pick up on that very quickly, as does the club.

The players have picked up a different vibe under Quade, who didnt attach much significance to managing his first spring-training game, or leading his own club against an As organization that once let him go. He concedes that he diverges from Piniella in style, but not substance.

Were running the same fundamentals, Quade said. There may be some really subtle differences, but if you look at the schedule every day, you see its pretty much the same. And then its just about how a veteran manager goes about his day, versus how a young guy who wants to be a veteran manager someday goes about his. Our personalities are different, but theres no question that our goals are the same.

Coming up

Monday vs. Milwaukee Brewers in Mesa: RHP Randy Wells vs. RHP Tim Dillard, 2:05 p.m., WGN-AM 720. Cubs pitchers Andrew Cashner, Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall are also scheduled to throw. Tuesday at San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale: RHP Ryan Dempster vs. TBA, 2:05 p.m., Cubs.com audio broadcast. Quade plans to play Tyler Colvin at first base this week, perhaps as early as Thursday.

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

Potential Cubs target Shogo Akiyama is reportedly in the U.S. during the winter meetings

Potential Cubs target Shogo Akiyama is reportedly in the U.S. during the winter meetings

The Cubs could use a leadoff hitter and a center fielder. One player who can fill both of those holes is available is looking to sign soon.

Japanese center fielder Shogo Akiyama is in the U.S. with his agent, according to Sports Nippon, while the winter meetings take place in San Diego.

Akiyama is a center field option when center field options are limited this offseason. Brett Gardner is a free agent, but the 36-year-old wouldn’t be easy to pry away from his only professional organization.

Akiyama is 31 and saw a dropoff in his numbers in Japan last season, but still had a .392 on-base percentage with 20 home runs in 143 games.

Albert Almora’s struggles last season left the Cubs with uncertainty in center going forward. That saw Jason Heyward spending some time in center with Kyle Schwarber and Nicholas Castellanos on the corners. That’s not a pretty defensive outfield. Meanwhile, Akiyama has two Golden Glove awards in Japan.

He would also bring on-base skills and speed to a Cubs lineup that has resorted to having power hitter Anthony Rizzo play leadoff at times.

Akiyama would also likely not be an expensive option, which is key for a Cubs team reportedly looking to get under the luxury tax this offseason.

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Report: Cubs have discussed Kris Bryant with the Phillies

Report: Cubs have discussed Kris Bryant with the Phillies

While most teams with World Series aspirations are looking to bolster their roster in free agency, the Cubs are in a precarious situation.

Theo Epstein and team need to shed payroll before being able to make any moves, and have reportedly been telling representatives of free agents as much.

And the easiest path to shedding payroll is trading away high-priced players. Two names that have come up frequently are former NL MVP Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras.

While that's all been speculation, 670 The Score's Bruce Levine reported the Cubs talked to the Phillies about a Bryant deal.

The big hold up surrounding could be Bryant his unresolved service time grievance. What the arbiter will determine is how many years of team control are left, one or two years. That would impact Bryant's value on the market and a trade partner would be foolish to not wait to see how that plays out.

But as free agents come off the board, it could make teams more desperate and create a bidding war. That market could have already been shaped by Stephen Strasburg's extension in Washington.

It's worth nothing, Bryant's friend Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies last offseason for a mega contract and he could be intrigued by the option of playing with his pal. Not to mention, former Cubs teammate Jake Arrieta is on the Phils' pitching staff.

But with Harper's massive contract on the books for another 12 seasons, would a Bryant move land him a big, long-term contract to stay in the City of Brotherly Love? Perhaps not.

The Phillies entered free agency with about $150 million in committed payroll for the 2020 season, there is a lot of room under the expected $208 million luxury tax threshold to add a player like Bryant.

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