Cubs

The End: Cubs cant see into the future

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The End: Cubs cant see into the future

Box Score
PENA: I'd love to return
READ: Ricketts leaves Cubs waiting for answers
SORIANO: I don't want to be on another losing team
DEMPSTER: It's an end to what's been a rough season

SAN DIEGO They pulled beers from the cooler and stood around the clubhouse, watching the fantastic finishes in Baltimore and Tampa Bay, not wanting to walk out to the bus just yet.

They cheered and screamed at the side-by-side television screens that showed the Red Sox collapsing and the Rays celebrating. No one in the room knew what that meant for their general manager search. But everyone understood that change is coming.

The Cubs knew they werent going to the playoffs months ago. It was a lost summer without much on-field drama or suspense.

Year 103 without a World Series title officially ended inside PETCO Park at 8:13 p.m. Pacific time. The same group that finished at 71-91 after Wednesdays 9-2 loss to the Padres wont be brought back together again.

Another fifth-place finish already cost Jim Hendry his job. It could take down manager Mike Quade and his coaching staff before the next head of baseball operations starts gutting the roster. The blame game will continue in what should be a very long winter.

You can bring here whoever you think the best manager in the big leagues is, Aramis Ramirez said. I dont think its going to be any different. The bottom line is as players we didnt get it done.

The manager doesnt take the field. The players take the field. The numbers dont lie. Go ahead and look at the numbers offensively, defensively, pitching-wise we didnt get it done. The manager had nothing to do with it.

Pitching and defense is supposed to be the name of the game. The Cubs led the majors in errors (134), and their staff never did live up to expectations (4.33 ERA). They didnt hit with runners in scoring position either.

Their rotation couldnt withstand the loss of Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner during the first week of the season. Their roster was paralyzed by the big-money contracts handed out during the final days of the Tribune Co.

The faces of the franchise are about to change.

Ramirez could follow Ozzie Guillen and take his talents to South Beach. Carlos Zambranos collection of bobblehead dolls is already cleared out of the clubhouse, and no one expects to see him pitch for this team again. Alfonso Soriano may have played his final game in a Cubs uniform.

I dont think about it, Soriano said. If they want to trade me, (I) hope they trade me to a good team, a contender. If not, I want to be here. I love it here. It all depends on what they want to do."

The next general manager will probably want to build around Starlin Castro, a 21-year-old All-Star shortstop who finished the season with 207 hits and by reaching base safely in 40 consecutive games. The Hall of Fame requested his jersey from Wednesdays game.

I know I can do better, Castro said.

Besides Castros flashes of brilliance and moments where he totally lost concentration there was the sight of Matt Garza screaming into his glove yet again. And Marlon Byrd kicking his legs into the air after a fastball knocked him to the ground and shattered his face. And Ryan Dempster yelling at Quade from the top step of the dugout.

There was the silence of one of the best-kept secrets in franchise history, Hendry doing his job for almost a month knowing that he was fired. He kept almost the entire team intact at the trade deadline, closed on a draft class that cost almost 12 million and loved calling Zambrano on his retirement bluff.

The Cubs didnt unload Carlos Pena because they wanted the next management team to have the option of re-signing the first baseman, assuming they dont go hard after Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. Pena watched Wednesdays game thinking this might be the end.

I would be lying if (I said) that didnt go through my mind, Pena said. I try to focus on the fact that I had the privilege of playing for the Cubs. I wore the uniform with a lot of pride and Im very grateful for the opportunity.

I also understand how the business of baseball works and that there are some things the Cubs need to do in the top office. (They) have their hands full (and) I understand that. (I) would love to return. I just really dont know what the future holds.

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

Following 2019 'learning process,' Ian Happ's offensive progression key for 2020 Cubs

Following 2019 'learning process,' Ian Happ's offensive progression key for 2020 Cubs

It’s been another quiet offseason for the Cubs.

January is almost over and the Cubs have yet to commit a single guaranteed dollar to the big-league roster. After exceeding MLB’s luxury tax threshold in 2019, Theo Epstein and Co. are looking to get under the figure in 2020 and reset penalties entering 2021.

Barring any major surprises — i.e. a core player getting dealt before Opening Day — the club will return largely the same team from last season. That group has plenty of talent, but there are some question marks, like second base and center field.

A fan made waves at Cubs Convention last Saturday, reciting the definition of insanity to Epstein and Jed Hoyer during a baseball operations panel. With a similar roster in hand, why should fans expect anything different from the Cubs in 2020?

For Epstein, part of the answer lies in the continued development of homegrown players like Ian Happ.

Happ was supposed to be a key cog for the Cubs in 2019, but he was sent to Triple-A Iowa at the end of spring training after striking out 14 times in 52 at-bats. This followed a 2018 season in which he sported a 36.1 percent strikeout rate.

“He was striking out 30 percent of the time and we decided to send him down, because what we were seeing with Ian Happ, in our mind, wasn’t the finished product,” Epstein said Saturday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. “We believe it’s the same way with a lot of our hitters, that’s there’s tremendous talent in there, but it wasn’t manifesting in major league games — which is all that matters — the way we needed it to.”

Happ was reportedly upset with the move, but his strikeout rate dropped to 26.3 percent with Iowa. After the Cubs recalled him on July 26, he posted a 25 percent rate in 58 games (156 plate appearances), slashing .264/.333/.564. He recognizes the demotion was beneficial.

“I got a lot of at-bats. I used it as a learning process,” Happ told NBC Sports Chicago Friday of his Triple-A stint. “To be able to come back and have success, it was a good way to finish the season."

Happ ended the season on a high note, slashing .311/.348/.672 in September with six home runs. He was tremendous over the season’s final eight games: .480/.519/1.200, five homers and 12 RBIs.

“Just being more aware of the ways guys were gonna pitch me,” Happ said regarding his hot September. “There’s some tweaks. For me, it was more about handling different pitches and when to use two different swings — when to be a little bit more defensive, when to put the ball in play. It led to results.”

Cubs players have been criticized in recent seasons for a seeming unwillingness to shorten up at times to put the ball in play. Their 73.8 percent contact rate in 2019 was last in the National League, though Ben Zobrist’s personal absence contributed to the low figure.

Happ posted a 71.7 percent contact rate, up from his 63.5 percent rate in 2018.

“He went through a really difficult stretch in Iowa, making significant adjustments to his approach and his swing and as a person, growing from some failure,” Epstein said. “When he came back up towards the end of last year, his strikeout rate was under much better control, he had much more contact ability.

“He wasn’t driving the ball quite the same, and then by the end of the year, he had maintained that better contact rate, was starting to drive the ball again, and it looked pretty dynamic and pretty promising for the future.”

It’s not a coincidence Happ made strides with Iowa. He got to work on his swing in an environment where he played every day. This wouldn’t have been the case in the big leagues, especially if his struggles lingered.

Happ started each of the Cubs’ last six games; he said it's huge for his confidence knowing he'd be playing every day. 

“It’s huge, it’s huge. I think that’s what everyone’s striving for in this league, is be able to [play every day],” he said. “For me, after that stretch and being able to finish strong and look back on a solid year, that’s big moving forward.”

The Cubs roster may look the same, but there’s plenty of room for internal improvement. Pitchers will continue adjusting to Happ, but he’s a better player for what he went through last season. He can take what he learned and carry it into 2020.

“So now, same player on the roster — and I understand the definition of insanity — but to expect Ian Happ to grow from what he’s gone through and benefit from the coaching that he’s gotten,” Epstein said, “and the lessons that he’s learned and the adversity that he’s gone through, and go out and be a productive player for us next year in a certain role, I don’t think is insane.”

“It’s just about sticking with the process, understanding that that’s what worked and that’s what you want to do,” Happ said. “It’s not always easy at the beginning of the year at Wrigley. It’s cold, it’s windy. The results don’t always show up. But if you’re true to the process and you keep going, by the end of the year you’ll be at a good spot.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs

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AP

Cubs Talk Podcast: It's time for a culture change for the Cubs

After the Cubs Convention, fans left still uncertain about the team headed into the 2020 season. Host David Kaplan and NBC Sports Chicago Cubs writer Tim Stebbins discuss what they took from Cubs Con, the culture change that is coming to the organization and a realistic possibility that the Cubs are looking into disgruntled star Nolan Arenado.

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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