Cubs

Ramirez and Soriano have something to prove

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Ramirez and Soriano have something to prove

Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011Posted: 6:40 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Whether or not you think Aramis Ramirez gets his uniform dirty often enough, you cannot argue with the numbers when hes healthy. And you may not like Alfonso Sorianos contract, but forget it that money is already spent.

The Cubs can talk about young players and the system but they need to maximize Ramirez and Soriano to contend. Combined, they will make more than 33 million this season. They understand that things arent getting any easier.

Im 100 percent, Ramirez said Saturday. I just got to stay on top of everything my shoulder, my thumb, everything. I just got to work a little harder. The older you get, its a little tougher.

Back in the Dominican Republic this winter, Ramirez added several pounds on purpose, while Soriano focused on his legs, even if he will never run the way he once did.

Ramirez will turn 33 in June, but this will be his 14th season in the majors, and it has taken a toll on his body. He has played more than 145 games just three times in his career. The Cubs hold an option for 2012 either pay him 14.6 million or buy him out for 2 million.

Theres no other place that I want to be, Ramirez said. But well see what happens. I dont know what they think. Im still under contract for this year.

The 35-year-old Soriano is halfway through his 136 million deal. The Cubs will have to think about pulling Soriano late in close games, but he will continue to work on his defense and wants to be a nine-inning player every day, though they have three other outfielders.

Soriano has dealt with the loss of his mother, who died of a heart attack last month in the Dominican Republic.

My mom is everything for me, he said.

Soriano still had a big smile and a handshake for everyone on Saturday morning, and he automatically is an energetic presence in the room.

Soriano just checked his numbers from last year 24 homers in less than 500 at-bats. That is a unique skill. He drove in 79 runs, which isnt overwhelming, but its also the highest total during his four years in Chicago.

Why not? he said when asked about hitting for more power.

It is the same calculus for Ramirez. He believes he will produce if he can avoid the collection of injuries that conspired against him last season. He was hitting under .200 after the Fourth of July, and was ultimately limited to 124 games. Yet, he still reached 25 homers for the eighth time in his career.

The next free-agent class of third basemen is weak, and its easy to imagine Ramirez being the most coveted if hes cut loose. He doesnt know how much longer he wants to play, but could force the Cubs to pick up the option if he can put together another good year.

Mike Quade talks fast and he speaks with his hands. Standing beneath a gray sky, the Cubs manager addressed his players on one field at Fitch Park before the teams first full-squad workout.

Quade did not stay on the sidelines Saturday, taking a lead off second base while demonstrating one drill for bunt defense.

Im not reinventing the game, he said. But we wanted to talk specifically about something as simple as a No. 1 bunt play with runners at first and second. (They) ran it for Casey Stengel. So Mike Quades not coming in here changing stuff. But there are points of emphasis within that play that I think give you an edge.

The veterans responded well to Quade during his six-week audition last season, and the next seven months will depend in part on how he connects with players like Ramirez and Soriano. His first speech to the entire group contained a simple message.

We touched on effort, Quade said, and the fact that I dont think theres any shortcuts to being a good team.

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

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

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USA Today

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

Jason Kipnis, who’s potentially the Cubs’ new second baseman but indisputably the pride of Northbrook, said there’s one major reason why his possible reunion with Wrigley Field is so exciting.

“Now I don’t have to hate the 'Go Cubs Go' song,” he quipped.

Kipnis was a late addition to the Cubs’ roster, and still not even a guaranteed one at that. After almost a decade spent being one of the Cleveland Indians’ cornerstones, Kipnis arrived in Mesa on a minor league contract, looking to win a job. Ironically, being with his hometown team is unfamiliar territory for the two-time All-Star. 

“[Leaving Cleveland] was hard at first,” he said. “You get used to the same place for 9-10 years, and I think it’s a little hard right now coming in and being the new guy and being lost and not knowing where to go. But it’ll be fun. It’s exciting. It’s kind of out of the comfort zone again, which is kind of what you want right now – to be uncomfortable. I don’t know, I’ve missed this feeling a little bit, so it’ll be good.”

It was a slow offseason for the second baseman, but the second baseman said that he was weighing offers from several teams. Opportunity and organizational direction dictated most of his decision-making, but Kipnis admitted that the forces around him were all, rather unsubtly, pulling him in one direction.

“They were telling me to take a deal, take a cut, whatever. Just get here,” he joked. “... It made sense, it really did. I think I didn't fully understand it until it was announced and my phone started blowing up and I realized just how many people this impacted around my life. Friends and family still live in Chicago, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The theme of renewed motivation has hung around Sloan Park like an early-morning Arizona chill, and Kipnis said part of the reason he feels the Cubs brought him in is to set a fire under some guys. He talked with Anthony Rizzo during the offseason, who talked about how the Cubs had struggled at times to put an appropriate emphasis on each of the 162 games in a regular season. That’s not a new problem in baseball, and it struck a chord with Kipnis, who himself was on plenty of talented Cleveland teams that never got over the hump. 

“They got a good core here. I’m well aware of that, they’re well aware of that, too,” he said. “I texted him and called him and asked him what happened last year, because I look at rosters, I look at St. Louis’, I look at all that, and I’m like, ‘I still would take your guys roster.’” 

As for his direct competition, Kipnis said he hasn’t had a chance to really get to know Nico Hoerner yet, but doesn’t feel like the battle for second base has to be a contentious one by any means. At 32, Kipnis has been around long enough to understand the dynamics an aging veteran vs. a top prospect, and doesn't feel like it’s a situation where only one of them will end up benefiting. 

“I know he came up and had a pretty good success, so I think [it’s] going to be a competition, but at the same time, I’m not going to try to put him down,” he said. “I’d like to work with him, kind of teach him what I know too and hopefully both of us become better from it.” 

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

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