Cubs

Kaplan: The Cubs must have philosophy change

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Kaplan: The Cubs must have philosophy change

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011Posted: 7:25 p.m.

By David Kaplan
CSNChicago.com Insider Follow @TheKapman
While Cubs ownership searches for the next general manager and everyone who follows the team ponders the possible changes to the major league roster, it has become apparent that before players are added or subtracted, the culture of the organization must change dramatically. And nowhere are those changes more needed than at the major league level.

For far too many years, the Chicago Cubs have tried a Band-Aid approach to improving the major league team. Year after year, we see veteran players come and go in hopes of ending a century-long drought between championships. Until the arrival of Tim Wilken in 2006, the minor league system has been somewhat of an afterthought when it came to spending and developing the best players for the Cubs future.

Whether it was not spending the necessary dollars to sign players that wanted above recommended slot money or bypassing highly regarded prospects entirely because of what it would cost to sign them, the Cubs have lagged far behind the upper echelon teams when it comes to developing premier major league talent.

Wilken is considered one of the best scouting directors in baseball and brought several players to the big leagues during his tenure in Toronto and in Tampa Bay. Since taking over the Cubs drafts in 2006, he has seen 14 of his picks make it to the big leagues which is among the Top 5 in the game. Armed now with an increase in money to spend on amateur talent, the Cubs landed a bumper crop of players this past June and had the financial commitment from ownership to sign those players by the Aug. 15th deadline.

In talking with both players and scouts from around baseball, it is apparent that the truly good organizations have rosters filled with players that developed together and matured together through their days in the minor leagues rather than adding the bulk of the team through trades and free agent acquisitions.

Of course, great teams are a blend of homegrown players and smart baseball decisions in free agency and trades, but look at the teams that are always in contention and what do you see? Teams that have a solid, homegrown core that are filled with players who developed together. That is what creates a family atmosphere that is essential to developing a winning organization.

Take the Phillies, who just clinched their fifth consecutive NL East championship. Sure they have added some tremendous players in Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay through either free agency or in a trade. However, the core of their team was built in their minor league system where they developed Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Carlos Ruiz and Chase Utley and had enough depth in the minors to make the trades for Halladay and Hunter Pence just to name a few.

Look at the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, who are both consistently contending to win a World Series. Both have core groups of stars who were developed in the minor leagues and understand their respective organizational philosophies.

Boston is led by Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie and a handful of youngsters who all came through the Boston system. They have combined with veterans such as Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez who were added by trading from a talent rich farm system to upgrade the major league roster.

The Yankees have a core of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano, and veterans who are considered outstanding leaders in Mark Texeira, C.C. Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez who all embrace the Yankee Way to play.

Look at the Twins, Rays, Angels, Rangers, Brewers, Cardinals, Giants and Braves. All of those franchises have stars who embrace the concept of leadership and were raised in the minor league system.

Whether that is Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer in Minnesota or Shields, Price and Longoria in Tampa the concept remains the same. Build a solid core from within and then add the pieces around it necessary to improve the roster.

Sure, the Brewers went out and added Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum last winter to upgrade their rotation but they were adding to a roster that already had Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo and a handful of others who were all immersed in the Brewers philosophy from the start of their professional careers.

For far too long, the Cubs have been built on mercenaries who came to Chicago knowing very little about the team, Wrigley Field and all the pressure that goes with being part of a team that is trying to end the longest drought in professional sports history.

It is time that the Cubs build from within and only add players who are about one thing--winning. Doing whatever it takes to win has to be their ultimate goal. There is no family atmosphere in the Cubs clubhouse and it is not a team that is built on a sense of togetherness with everyone pulling in the same direction for the betterment of the team as a whole.

Manager Mike Quade paid his dues throughout a long career in professional baseball and the opportunity to manage the Cubs was his chance to make it on the biggest of stages in major league baseball.

However, as he fights to keep his job, he continues to play veterans at the expense of young players who could be a part of the Cubs future. How do you continue to leave Bryan LaHair, Tony Campana and Tyler Colvin on the bench while continuing to trot out veterans who have no chance at being everyday players for the Cubs going forward?

It was on management to tell Quade that once his team was clearly not going to be a factor in the division race that he needed to worry more about evaluating and preparing the team for next year than worrying about a few more wins that are meaningless in the big picture.

Instead, once again, the Cubs are left with questions about some of the prospects on their major-league roster as they head into the offseason. The only thing worse than a losing season is having a losing season and not knowing what you have on your roster that can be a part of the long-term future of the organization and unfortunately, that is where the Cubs are at once again.

Add all of it up and it is painfully obvious that a philosophical change in direction is necessary and a culture change in the clubhouse that embraces a consistent philosophy throughout the organization is a must going forward.

With the resources that are available and the division that the organization plays in, there is no reason that the Cubs can't become the dominant team in the NL Central.

But for that to happen, everyone has to be on the same page and the organization has to adopt a baseball philosophy that every player that wears the Chicago Cubs uniform, no matter the level in the system, buys into or else they are not kept no matter how talented they may be.

David Kaplanpublishes his thoughts at The Kapman on CSNChicago.com every Monday,Wednesday, and Friday and whenever major news breaks. Follow him onTwitter @thekapman.

As Craig Kimbrel takes another step forward, Cubs know he won't be their savior

As Craig Kimbrel takes another step forward, Cubs know he won't be their savior

Before Pedro Strop served up the game-winning homer to former top prospect Eloy Jimenez in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's 3-1 loss at Wrigley Field, the Cubs got some good news on their bullpen as Craig Kimbrel took another step forward.

Kimbrel threw a perfect seventh inning in relief for Triple-A Iowa Tuesday, needing only 8 pitches to get his job done.

As he continues along the path to join the big-league bullpen, the Cubs also know they can't put too much stock in him to be the savior. After all, he can't help the offense and even had he been available Tuesday night, there's no guarantee he would've pitched in the ballgame and affected anything in that regard.

"We want him to come in and join us and help us win," said Cole Hamels, who was once again brilliant for the Cubs Tuesday as he also notched his 2,500th career strikeout. "If we're not winning right now, then it's just one little small piece. I think we all want to be a large piece and have him just fit right in and make it easier on him.

"I don't think we all the sudden want to turn to him hoping that he'll save us at the end of the day. We know who he is, what talent he is and what he's going to provide, but I think we all want to be a part of this team and helping win."

The Cubs have not been winning lately, as they are now 10-15 in their last 25 games. That has dropped them to 39-33 on the season and in second place behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central.

Who knows how many save opportunities Kimbrel will have once he arrives in Chicago, but there's no doubt he will give the team a shot in the arm whenever he does walk in the clubhouse. The Cubs aren't saying exactly when that will be, as they haven't set forth an exact plan on what his next steps are, instead deferring to see how he feels after Tuesday's outing.

He will probably throw another outing in Iowa Thursday or Friday.

"He's trending in the right direction," GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday evening at Wrigley Field. "Obviously he's feeling good, but we're not gonna rush him or make judgment on any one outing. We're just gonna take this process as we planned it out and try to get him ready for the remainder of the season."

This was the first game action of any kind for Kimbrel since Oct. 27 when he appeared in Game 4 of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox. He signed with the Cubs nearly two weeks ago now and threw his first bullpen at Wrigley Field on June 8 before going to Arizona to throw another bullpen and face hitters in live batting practice.

As dominant as Kimbrel was in the one inning — Hoyer joked Kimbrel may have to purposely walk a guy next time out just to get more extended time in the rehab game — don't expect the Cubs to get aggressive and push him now. It's still hard to see any scenario in which he's in the big-league bullpen on this current homestand (that runs through June 27).

The Cubs didn't sign Kimbrel to rush him and risk injury when they want him to lock down the back end of the bullpen down the stretch in September and then in what they hope is a long playoff run in October. The original plan called for Kimbrel to throw in back-to-back outings in the minor leagues, and the Cubs haven't indicated any change to that.

"[I'm just looking for] good health," Joe Maddon said. "He felt good, velocity was there, the break on the breaking ball was good, the velocity on the breaking ball was very good. It's just about health. If the guy's healthy and ready to rock and roll, you put him in the ninth inning. That's pretty much what we're looking forward to."

Elsewhere in Cubs bullpen news, Brandon Morrow is still throwing as he works his way along the comeback trail that is approach the one-year mark.

Morrow — the former Cubs closer — has been out since last July, going on the shelf at that point with what was originally described as biceps tendinitis. It was later revealed to be a bone bruise and he actually had to undergo a minor surgery on his right elbow over the offseason. 

The Cubs knew they'd be without Morrow for at least the first month of 2019, but the veteran then experienced a setback and still hasn't gotten back in a game. But he's been throwing from about 135 feet, Hoyer said, and feeling OK at the moment.

"With Brandon, we've been down this road a few times where he feels good and he has a setback, so I don't want to be overly optimistic," Hoyer said. "I don't want to be pessimistic. This is where he is. Obviously getting him back would be such an incredible bonus for us at this point. 

"We just want him to be healthy. I feel awful for him. No one is more disappointed or more frustrated than he is. Hopefully this time through, it works for him.

"...It's hard — you have to build your way back up. You don't really get a true sense of what it's gonna be like until you throw in games or throw in live bullpens because that's when the real stress pitches come in."

Hendricks, Chatwood, Alzolay and where the Cubs rotation goes from here

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Hendricks, Chatwood, Alzolay and where the Cubs rotation goes from here

Kyle Hendricks' shoulder injury isn't opening the door for Adbert Alzolay to make his way into the Cubs rotation.

Not initially, at least.

The Cubs will hand Tyler Chatwood the ball in Hendricks' normal spot Thursday evening against the Mets at Wrigley Field, keeping Alzolay in the minors for the time being. 

When Hendricks hit the injured list over the weekend, many speculated it could be the Cubs' top pitching prospect who gets the call, as Alzolay has been on fire in Triple-A (1.93 ERA, 40 K in 28 innings over his last 5 starts). But the Cubs have two veteran starting pitching options hanging out in their bullpen in Chatwood and Mike Montgomery and it would send a bad message inside the clubhouse to pass over those guys and call up a starter from the minors to take a turn in the rotation.

The Cubs also felt like Chatwood has earned the chance to start after dealing with last year's struggles and having a resurgent season out of the bullpen and in his one previous spot start.

"He's been pitching a lot better," Joe Maddon said of Chatwood. "We believe he's earned this opportunity to pitch in the situation. ... It's an earned situation."

The Cubs made sure Chatwood was stretched out, as they held him back in case of extra innings Sunday night in Los Angeles and then had him throw in the bullpen after the game to help build his stamina back up to join the rotation.

But even if Alzolay won't be joining the rotation this week, that doesn't mean his opportunity isn't right around the corner. The Cubs have been discussing the potential for a six-man rotation in the near future, as they just began a stretch of 17 games in 17 days before their next break on July 5. 

"That's been something we've talked about a lot," GM Jed Hoyer said. "This is really the third time we've had 2-3 weeks in a row [of games]. No doubt, the starters wear down after 2-3 times through the rotation on four days rest and we're aware of their age and mileage on some of these guys. We want to make sure we take care of them. In general, getting extra rest is something we've talked about going into the break."

The Cubs have gone to a six-man rotation before and after the All-Star Break in past seasons and it makes sense to do so again this year, even with Hendricks on the shelf. Montgomery and Alzolay are both options and then Chatwood, of course, though Maddon insisted the Cubs have not come up with a concrete plan for the rotation beyond Thursday's outing.

The big question looming over the rotation is how long Hendricks will be out. He was in some kind of groove before experiencing shoulder issues in his last start against the Dodgers.

"All the test confirmed what we thought — he's kinda dealing with an impingement," Hoyer said. "I feel like we got ahead of it. We're not sure how much time he'll miss. We'll try to take it slowly and take the length of the season into account."

It's still only mid-June and the Cubs are hoping they're going to be playing baseball for another four-plus months, so they know how important Hendricks is to the overall goal of a second championship. 

They'll practice patience with him in his recovery, but right now, they can't say whether or not Cubs fans will be able to see him pitch again before the All-Star Game.