Cubs

Mooney: The decisions the Cubs have to make

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Mooney: The decisions the Cubs have to make

Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011
Posted 7:22 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Years ago, the Cubs made some of their most important decisions for 2011, when they tied up their money in Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano.

It forced them to be creative this winter, and for all the accounting tricks they still had to get lucky. They are paying Carlos Pena 10 million over a 13-month period. The first baseman got a signing bonus and deferred money on a one-year deal.

They needed Kerry Wood to take a huge pay cut to 1.5 million, when he could have demanded five to six times that amount on the open market. They sacrificed some of their best prospects to get Matt Garza from Tampa Bay in an eight-player trade.

As the Cubs near their budget ceiling, the foundation pieces are in place. Baseball Prospectus projects this as an 80-win team. But inevitably there will be health and chemistry issues, and players that exceed or fail to meet expectations.

Close to 90 percent of the 25-man roster has probably already taken shape. Between Sundays first Cactus League game and Opening Day, this is what the Cubs need to figure out. It always starts with pitching.

Rotation

The Cubs would love to see Andrew Cashner, a 2008 first-round pick, grab one of the two open spots in the rotation.

Carlos Silva went 9-3 before last years All-Star break and 1-3 with a 11.12 ERA after, so there are durability concerns. Randy Wells is probably the safest bet to be able to make 30-plus starts and throw 200 innings as a fifth starter.

Casey Coleman and James Russell might help form the rotation of the future. Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer are experienced non-roster invitees worth a look.

Bullpen

This may be the teams biggest strength.

Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall, John Grabow and Jeff Samardzija appear locked into the bullpen. That leaves two potential spots for whoever doesnt make the rotation. Cashner could slide back into his setup role.

Manager Mike Quade has said that hes open to the idea of carrying four left-handed relievers: Marshall, Grabow, Russell and Scott Maine. The Cubs could choose to take a long-range view with Russell and have him start at Triple-A Iowa.

Bench

Quade will be challenged to find enough at-bats for Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome and Tyler Colvin in the outfield. But the Cubs still need a fifth outfielder.

Fernando Perez, who was acquired in the Garza deal, is trying to reestablish himself as a switch-hitter. His speed graded out as an eight, the highest possible score on the organizations reporting system.

Im dying to see this guy play, Quade said.

With his all-out hustle, Reed Johnson built up a lot of goodwill on the North Side in 2008. He also hit .303 in 109 games for a team that won the division title.

A lot of people say that chemistry is overrated, Johnson said. (But) when youre (in a) small clubhouse and you got a lot of media every day, I think that its more important in that situation.

Its a good thing guys like Woody are back. (They) can really mesh the clubhouse and bring guys together. I remember in 08 just going out to team dinners with everybody. It was almost like a voluntary thing and you had 90 percent of the guys (there).

Jeff Baker is a glue guy in the clubhouse, and he will see time at first, second and third base. But hes not prepared to play shortstop, and the Cubs need a backup for Starlin Castro.

That competition should come down to Darwin Barney and Augie Ojeda. At 36, Ojeda is 11 years older than Barney. Ojeda also played for Quade when he managed in Iowa. This is another test case experience vs. potential.

The Cubs have survived so far without any major injuries or physical setbacks.

We open up (Sunday) with everybody getting through the first couple weeks, Quade said. Knock on wood, (were) good and now I can just hope that guys perform like they want to and stay healthy.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.