Cubs

Ozzie: If Cubs dont want Zambrano, Id take him

607006.png

Ozzie: If Cubs dont want Zambrano, Id take him

DALLAS Ozzie Guillen said he has a bet with a friend he wouldnt say who or for how much that Carlos Zambrano will win more than 14 games for the Cubs in 2012.

Guillen and Zambrano regularly send each other text messages and have plans to meet up soon. Theyve shot commercials together. Theres the sense that these two friends from Venezuela could be reunited as Miami Marlins.

He wants to be in Chicago, Guillen said Wednesday while walking through the lobby of the Hilton Anatole. Now if they trade him, well, Id take it.

People close to Zambrano have suggested that he could really use a fresh start in a new city. In theory, he would be motivated to prove all the doubters wrong. He will turn 31 next season and could be had at a discount.

The Marlins manager predicted that Zambrano will bounce back for the Cubs in 2012 and floated the idea that theyre going to handle him a little bit better with Theo Epstein in charge.

This kids got a lot left, Guillen said. (If) he wins some games the fans are going to forget (about it). Thats the way it is in Chicago. He plays good, hell be fine. People love him in Chicago. You watch. People are just mad at him because of what he did. But you win a couple games and you put the fans back in your pocket.

Epstein knows all about Zambranos long history, his conflicts with teammates and management and walkout last summer. The president of baseball operations has offered the enigmatic pitcher a chance to earn his way back to being a Cub again if relationships are repaired and certain conditions are met.

As far as his attitude, I think its in the right place right now, Epstein said. (I) listened when I first got here. A lot of people told me that hes been in this place before and its fallen apart when theres been any kind of adversity on the field or in the clubhouse.

So hes got to prove himself. Its not enough to say that things are better. I told him that to his face when we met: You have to go out and prove it. Words dont matter anymore.

There are going to be a lot of people who dont believe it no matter what you say or do. So theres an even bigger burden than usual on you and its your last strike.

Am I hopeful or optimistic? I think it can work, but hes got to demonstrate through his actions (that) it can and will work. And I think we have a chance to have a really good pitcher if he does those things.

The Cubs dont view this as a gamble. They absolutely need pitching and can let it play out for a few months. Zambrano has begun throwing again in Venezuela after a line drive gashed his face in winter ball.

The Marlins arent in a rush either, because they can try to lower what theyd have to kick in for the 18 million left on the final guaranteed year of Zambranos contract. There wont be much of a market. Only one team can leverage this relationship.

We talk as friends, Guillen said. We talk about the problem he had in the past (and) we talk about how (much) better its going to be. (We) talk about what type of pitcher he could be.

Guillen might be the only one who could convince Zambrano to waive his no-trade rights and realistically try to maximize his talents.

Its something that (gets) confused, Guillen said. Because every time I say I talked to Zambrano, all of a sudden people think I talk about contracts and moving him to the Marlins. Thats tampering.

Guillen paused and cracked a joke that got people laughing: We do that on the side.

Jason Heyward getting back to 'who he's supposed to be' in Cubs lineup

Jason Heyward getting back to 'who he's supposed to be' in Cubs lineup

This is the Jason Heyward the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed him to an eight-year deal in December 2015.

Back then, the Cubs believed Heyward had more power to tap into from his 6-foot-5, 240-pound, linebacker-esque frame. 

It didn't play out that way initially, with Heyward hitting only 26 homers to go along with a .367 slugging percentage and .688 OPS in his first three seasons in a Cubs uniform.

But all that has changed this year.

Heyward is on pace for 26 homers in 2019 — which would equal that three-year total — and his 71 RBI pace would be his highest since 2012, when he drove in 82 runs.

The 29-year-old hit his 15th homer of the season Sunday and it marks the first time he's eclipsed the 15-homer threshold since that same 2012 season, when he hit 27 dingers as a 22-year-old with the Atlanta Braves.

The power is the area that jumps off the page right now about the new and improved Heyward, but that carries with it a grain of salt that must be taken with everybody's longball total in the game right now. But his walk rate (11.6 percent) is the second-best mark of his career to only his rookie season in 2010. He's also pulling the ball less than he ever has and utilizing the middle of the field more while his hard and soft contact rates are far and away better than they've ever been in a Cubs uniform. 

All told, this is not the same hitter Cubs fans saw in the first three years of Heyward's megadeal.

"He's set up a little bit differently," Joe Maddon said. "Right now, his confidence is soaring. That ball was properly struck [Sunday afternoon] and he's been doing that often — even his basehits.

"... He's set up a little bit differently, but honestly, I think it's a confidence thing right now. He's feeling so good about himself. He's on the barrel more. I mean that's obvious. You don't see the ball off the weaker part of the bat nearly as often as we've seen in the past. I think that's the primary difference — the ball's off the barrel. 

"His hands are really alive. I love that the ball's still line to line, but the power is still showing up. I think that's exactly who he's supposed to be."

Sunday's homer was the game-winning hit for the Cubs and Heyward put his team in front once again Monday night with an RBI groundout to plate Kris Bryant in the fourth inning before a bullpen/defensive meltdown in the seventh inning. Oh yeah, and he got the game-winning knock in the bottom of the eighth inning Friday immediately after the Cubs gave the lead right back to the Pirates in the pivotal first game coming out of the All-Star Break.

He's been a difference-maker in this Cubs lineup all year, even as they search for more consistency and steady production. 

Heyward has gone from a guy who was on the bench in some of the most important games in the 2016-17 postseason because of his offensive issues to an integral part of this team's run production.

He's shown flashes of this in the past, including a month or so in the early part of last summer where he got really hot. But this has been sustained offensive production. In every month but May (when he batted .186 with a .618 OPS), Heyward has hit over .300 with an OPS well above league average, including a .968 mark in June and .992 in April.

But right now, he's not getting into all that. He's just trying to ride the wave of a long season.

"I don't try to break it down at all, honestly," Heyward said. "Just keep it simple and just stay in tune to what I got going on — first at-bat or whatever. It is kinda simple when you just look at it — not dwell on the negative, don't get too deep on that. 'Cause you're gonna fail. Just kinda choose how you want that to happen and make the best."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Gallagher Way it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night!

wrigley-715.jpg
USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Gallagher Way it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night!

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi live from Gallagher Way for this edition of Baseball Night in Chicago.

Listen to the full podcast episode in the embedded player below: