Cubs

Mooney: Cubs facing a Giant offseason

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Mooney: Cubs facing a Giant offseason

Friday, Nov. 5, 2010
6:10 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The San Francisco Giants were 41-40 on the Fourth of July and by the beginning of September there were strong odds that they wouldnt even make the playoffs.

The Giants hadnt won a World Series in 56 years or since moving to the West Coast and as soon as they clinched Monday night five of their players became free agents.

Thousands upon thousands flooded downtown San Francisco on Wednesday for the championship parade and within hours the Giants had declined their 2011 option on World Series MVP Edgar Renteria.

You could argue that there is no baseball offseason. The Cubs completed their organizational meetings on Friday in Mesa, Ariz. The free-agent market opens Sunday at 12:01 a.m. EST. And in three-plus months pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training.

Like the Giants, the Cubs may have their regrets. Combined Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand, Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome will cost around 370 million spread across 24 contract years and not one is still really viewed as a core player.

Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth could each command a nine-figure contract across the next few weeks. Philosophically and with a push from new ownership the Cubs are moving away from those types of reactionary signings.

It did not go unnoticed that the Giants leaned on four homegrown starters Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez who were responsible for eight of their 11 postseason wins.

This was not a marquee group (of hitters), Cubs manager Mike Quade said. The whole group (just) lived on that pitching and they did enough offensively (to) get things done. (The) pitching can take you a long way.

The Cubs could use another starter, and will need a first baseman, preferably someone whos left-handed. Aubrey Huff remained unemployed through the middle of January before the Giants made a minimal commitment one year at 3 million and he wound up leading the team in almost every offensive category.

The Cubs could try to find similar value and flexibility. Speculation will center on Adam Dunn, but any team looking for a first baseman will have options: Huff; Carlos Pena; Lyle Overbay; Lance Berkman.

Someone will pay for Derrek Lees leadership and Gold Glove defense and hope he gets healthy and again produces at a high level. Any team would improve with Paul Konerkos bat and clubhouse presence. Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder should hit free agency after the 2011 season.

There is also depth to the pool of free-agent relievers. Reuniting with Kerry Wood would play well at the press conference, but he will be 34 next year and went on the disabled list last summer with a 6.30 ERA.

But Wood dominated once he was traded to New York, and the Yankees are constantly trying to ensure that their bridge to closer Mariano Rivera is secure. Will another team ask Wood to close? Could he get a multi-year deal somewhere? What will be his priorities?

Teams are always searching for bullpen help, and this winter you can find former closers (J.J. Putz, Frank Francisco, Brian Fuentes), relievers from playoff teams (Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, Jesse Crain) and pitchers who have done it in the American League East (Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Grant Balfour).

That could be the quickest way for the Cubs to improve. The Giants blended their bullpen pieces through the draft, trades and free agency. They finished 66-6 when leading after six innings in the regular season, and went 8-1 during the playoffs in that situation.

The Cubs went 22-32 in one-run games. Eighty-three of their games were decided by two runs or less. What if a stronger bullpen could reverse the outcome in two close games each month? That would mean 12 more wins, a total of 87, which definitely makes you a factor in a weak National League Central.

For the Cubs, payroll projections are fuzzy, beyond the expectation that it will be lower than the approximately 145 million allocated on Opening Day 2010.

Its not an issue for us, general manager Jim Hendry said. We feel like whatever number (it) is, were going to have a successful offseason and be able to add a few pieces for Mike and his staff.

Thats all part of the job. Its not a question of how much money you get to spend. Were not going to need an overhaul here. I think we all felt a lot better about the club at the end of the year, the way some of the kids progressed.

Whether or not the Cubs are overestimating their 24-13 finish, the roster will have a similar look next season. But the players on the margins can make a huge difference.

The team that holds up the trophy in any sport its whos playing the best at the end and (the Giants) were really one or two games from not getting in. So it can change that quickly, Hendry said. They had a bunch of guys that just played well together and got hot at the right time. And once you get in its like we always said if you can get in often enough then sooner or later you can knock that door down.

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

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.