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Look for Cubs to target pitching at Winter Meetings

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Look for Cubs to target pitching at Winter Meetings

Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010
5:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. During what could have been his last night on the job, the media found Mike Quade to be in a particularly good mood.

Sitting behind a desk after Game 161, Quade defused any tension around Carlos Zambrano. If Zambrano glared at teammate Bobby Scales for his defensive mistakes, or sulked when pulled for a reliever, the manager said he didnt see anything.

Quade speaks in rapid bursts and his defense of Zambrano came quickly. He had already set the press conferences tone by teasing one reporter who always asked about the upcoming starting pitchers.

Whats the rotation look like for the rest of the way? Quade said, laughing. The rotation is Dempster and Ill see you guys next year maybe.

Yes, Ryan Dempster did start the final game of last season and should get the assignment for Opening Day 2011. And Quade eventually earned two guaranteed years on his new deal.

But as executives, scouts and agents gather inside the Walt Disney World complex this week for Major League Baseballs annual winter meetings, some of those same questions linger.

The Cubs' rotation has volume, but not definition, and the bullpen could use a right-handed piece. Those will be areas to monitor when the market officially opens Monday at the Swan and Dolphin resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Four years ago, Jim Hendry was rushed from the meetings to an Orlando-area hospital with chest pains, but that didnt stop the general manager from signing Ted Lilly for 40 million.

That worked out for everyone, as Lilly delivered 47 wins and more than 700 innings in three-plus seasons. It wont be easy to replace that sort of production, much less Lillys accountability and refusal to make excuses.

Budget constraints likely wont allow Hendry to make a huge splash in free agency. Forget Cliff Lee and the nine-figure contract a bidding war with the New York Yankees will generate.

From there, the drop-off is steep toward back-of-the-rotation types not unlike Tom Gorzelanny, Randy Wells, Carlos Silva and Casey Coleman. It will force the Cubs to ask themselves: At what price are any of these pitchers better than the ones we already have?

Some linked to the Cubs Jake Westbrook (St. Louis Cardinals), Jon Garland (Los Angeles Dodgers), Javier Vazquez (Florida Marlins) have already found riches elsewhere. The same thing has happened to a shrinking market for first basemen.

Adrian Gonzalez trade talk has dominated the run-up to the meetings. Lance Berkman is heading to St. Louis and Aubrey Huff will remain a World Series hero in San Francisco. It would be shocking if Paul Konerko doesnt re-sign with the White Sox and join Adam Dunn on the South Side.

All that could drive demand for Carlos Pena a Scott Boras client even higher.

The Cubs have a reported interest in Brandon Webb and the one-time Cy Young Award winner seems to fit the profile of what theyre looking for value and upside though theres inherent risk with someone whose right shoulder hasnt allowed him to pitch since April 6, 2009.

However, when the 2011 staff takes shape, it will not be listening to Larry Rothschild anymore. Look for the Cubs to announce the hiring of their new pitching coach this week. Theres a sense that an internal candidate such as Mark Riggins or Lester Strode will be promoted.

Maybe a new voice can help Gorzelanny and Wells gain focus and confidence. Quades presence helped young pitchers like Coleman and Andrew Cashner relax during the final six weeks of last season. Even Zambrano seemed to benefit from a fresh start.

(Quade) did a good job he deserved it, Zambrano said. Hes very professional (and) very respectful and hopefully we can do a lot of good things for him next year.

No one knows if Zambrano has figured it out yet. Internal improvement isnt guaranteed, though its also not unreasonable to think it could happen. It wont help sell tickets this winter, but the man in the dugout will be more convinced than the fan base. He owes a lot to those players.

This has been all about the pitching, Quade said that night in Houston, near the end of his 37-game audition. Those guys on the bump have been special this entire time. Im day to day.

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

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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