Cubs

Listening to Cubs, Epstein saw no reason to trust Zambrano

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Listening to Cubs, Epstein saw no reason to trust Zambrano

Like a smooth politician, Theo Epstein went on a listening tour after he took this job to find out what went wrong. The overwhelming response from players and staffers: Carlos Zambrano had to go.

The Cubs reached a point of no return on Aug. 12 last season, when Zambrano left Turner Field during the middle of a game and headed to the teams luxury hotel in downtown Atlanta.

The official end of an era came Thursday, with the Cubs trading Zambrano and roughly 15.5 million to the Miami Marlins for Chris Volstad, a 25-year-old right-hander for the back end of their rotation.

Zambrano waived his no-trade clause to play for old friend Ozzie Guillen, who might be the only manager in baseball not afraid of this experiment blowing up in his face.

I'm not big on labels (or) reputations dictating how I treat people or how I think about people, Epstein said. This was one where it was really consistent. Every player that I talked to articulated to me that Carlos had really violated their trust.

When you're talking about physical altercations with teammates repeatedly (and) physically walking out on the team its very hard to then have that player come back in the clubhouse and be trusted.

Do I believe in second chances? Yes. Do I believe in third chances? Yes, in some cases even fourth chances. But I think you have to be realistic about it (when) youre trying to establish a certain sense of unity (and purpose) in the clubhouse. (You) have to have accountability.

Zambrano voided a potential vesting option for 2013, which would have been triggered with an unlikely top-four finish this season in the Cy Young vote.

For the final bill, the Marlins will subtract whatever Volstad earns through arbitration a projected 2.5 million from the 18 million owed to Zambrano in 2012. The Cubs will pay the difference.

Zambrano and the players union also settled their grievance over the approximately 3 million he didnt get in the final weeks of last season. That temper tantrum will essentially cost Zambrano six days pay (600,000), though he recoups 2.4 million.

The night Zambrano told people he felt like he was stealing money and ready for retirement, Epstein was still running the Red Sox, a team that would wake up the next morning in first place, two games up on the hated Yankees and 29 games over .500.

An epic collapse the Boston media produced sensational stories about players drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games helped push Epstein to the North Side.

The president of baseball operations publicly allowed for the possibility of Zambrano earning his way back onto the team. Back in November, Epstein and Zambrano were part of a group that had lunch at the Goose Island brewpub in Wrigleyville, where the pitcher made it known that his first choice was to stay in Chicago.

Epstein said the Cubs would explore trade possibilities. Zambrano and Guillen stayed in touch throughout the offseason. It was no secret that South Beach would be a very soft landing spot.

The people whove been around the situation over the years have heard before that theres going to be change, Epstein said. Theyve heard before that theres going to be a new attitude and they've been burned physical altercations, deserting the team. (There) was a breakdown of trust.

It made it clear in my mind this wasnt just a sort of mob mentality. There wasnt unfair momentum to run this guy out of town. This was a very legitimate situation. It would have been difficult for him to re-establish himself (and) earn the trust of his teammates back (and) for us to establish the kind of culture that we want in the clubhouse.

The notebooks are going to fill up fast in Little Havana, where the Marlins need to sell tickets to the state-of-the-art ballpark theyll unveil.

Zambrano can show the beat writers the correct way to break a bat over your knee, where you should hold your hands. The key, he said one morning last year inside the Wrigley Field dugout, is where you hold your hands and making sure to focus on one spot in the middle.

If you go too far one way or another, Zambrano explained, youll wind up on the disabled list. That was Big Z, swinging from one extreme to another, laugh-out-loud funny to vein-popping angry.

Will Zambrano snap? Even Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest didnt seem to be completely sold.

We went with Ozzie on this one, Beinfest told Miami reporters. We think the change of scenery will be beneficial to (Zambrano). Is everything going to be perfect and is it going to be incident-free? I think it would be hard to say that given the guys history, but Ozzie is very confident he can help him.

Stay tuned. But Epstein made sure he wasnt going to be the one getting calls from reporters late at night, asking for comment on what Zambrano did this time.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs split Crosstown and Adbert Alzolay is called up

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs split Crosstown and Adbert Alzolay is called up

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki check in from Wrigley Field after the Cubs split the first leg of the Crosstown Classic with the White Sox.

Kelly and Tony discuss the breaking news of top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay's promotion to the big leagues and what his role could be with the Cubs (2:15), and assess where the Cubs stand as they continue their long homestand, including the recent offensive downturn and Yu Darvish taking a step forward (7:30).

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon perplexed by the way baseballs are jumping this year: 'It's extraterrestrial'

On a mid-June night that felt more like the first week of April, the Cubs and White Sox combined for 2,029 feet of homers. 

As Leury Garcia hit Jon Lester's first pitch of the game 429 feet Wednesday evening, the reported temperature was in the mid 50s with winds blowing in from left field at 7 mph. That's not as chilly or windy as some of the games the Cubs have played this season, but it's still certainly not ideal hitting conditions at Wrigley Field.

Yet five home runs peppered the left and center field bleachers in the Cubs' 7-3 victory and prompted veteran manager Joe Maddon to bemuse about the way the ball is jumping around baseball today.

"Difficult conditions, but again — wind blowing in at a gale, it seemed, balls flying out easily," Maddon said after the game. "The home run that [James] McCann hit, my god, that just took off. You could actually see it from the field. You watch the flags [blowing in], it gets there, then all of a sudden it took off like a UFO. It stood still, then it took off. The first home run of the game, the first pitch, I mean my god, that ball went far. 

"I don't know what I'm witnessing. The way the ball is coming off the bat right now, it's extraterrestrial. It's like an ET kind of a thing going on out there. It's crazy. This is my fifth year here and I know what I've seen. Whenever the wind is blowing in like that, you don't see that. You don't see that."

Lester worked around those two homers from Garcia and McCann to pick up his 6th win, thanks in large part to the power supplied from his own teammates. Catcher Willson Contreras mashed his 14th and 15th homers of the season (after hitting only 10 all of last year) and David Bote smashed his 9th. 

Overall this season, the Cubs have been on an insane home run barrage, on pace to blow past the franchise mark for longballs in a year. Contreras reaching the 15-homer plateau puts five Cubs in that club this season. No other MLB team has more than three players who have reached that mark.

"I just know the ball's leaving," Maddon said. "I don't know if it's another year of maturity, but it's not just us. It's industry-wide. So it's hard to just say that we're the outlier with all this going on. I still want to see the better approach with runners in scoring position." 

Six weeks ago, Lester brought up the juiced baseball discussion after a start against the Marlins, saying he and other pitchers would like to know if MLB is juicing the baseballs. The league hasn't openly stated anything is different with the baseballs, though home runs are up at an astronomical rate across the board — in both the majors and Triple-A. And we haven't even gotten into the summer weather yet, when the ball really starts flying on warm evenings.

When asked for his thoughts on the baseballs Wednesday night, Lester shrugged it off.

"No comment," he said. "We can sit here and talk until we're blue in the face about the ball. It is what it is. Every pitcher in the big leagues has to pitch with it. You can comment on it all you want, but it just sounds like an excuse. I don't make excuses. Gotta make better pitches."