Cubs

Ricketts leaves Cubs waiting for answers

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Ricketts leaves Cubs waiting for answers

SAN DIEGO From the outside, it looks like the season slowly winds down in September. But when you wear a uniform for almost eight months, it comes to a complete, jarring stop.

The Cubs have tried to project the image of business as usual as they go through this transition period. But that illusion is just about over. The next general manager will decide their fates.

Chairman Tom Ricketts who addressed the team before Wednesdays game declined to comment on the search. He continues to gather information from contacts throughout the industry. He sounds ready to wait it out until he gets the answers he wants.

Well do it as efficiently and as quickly as possible, Ricketts said. But its a big decision. Theres no point in rushing it. We got to have the right guy at the right time. And however long it takes, it takes.

Ricketts met with manager Mike Quade shortly after he fired Jim Hendry, and again last week before the team left Chicago for the seasons final road trip. Quade is signed through next season, but his entire coaching staff isnt, leaving them all in limbo.

Its a big organizational decision, Quade said. Right now, its bigger than any of us, whether we like it or not. So you be patient or not (and) you say, I cant do this, Ive got to go look for work. But I think you have to keep things in perspective.

The courtesys been given to say, Look, its going to take awhile.

Ricketts recently locked up vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita with a new four-year contract because the Detroit Tigers showed interest. There was a sense of urgency because Fleita is a point man for the new academy the Cubs are planning to build in the Dominican Republic.

Oneri is a really valuable part of this organization, Ricketts said. I think that any general manager coming in would agree with that. Its just a step we took to make sure that we have good continuity and (keep) building on the things we think were doing well.

Ricketts again said that Tim Wilken does a terrific job, though the scouting director did not get a similar extension. Wilkens signed through the 2012 season and has been given the authority to renew contracts within his department.

Quade and his coaches havent received any votes of confidence like that from ownership. Among the staff, there is a level of anxiety and an understanding that the next general manager will likely want his guys.

By nature, Quade is a stubborn optimist. He never played in the big leagues and still landed his dream job. Hes been fired before and has viewed his entire career to this point as a series of one-year contracts.

It hasnt been what we hoped for, Quade said. But Im not disappointed in the way I handled things and the way I went about my business. Good seasons, bad seasons, you go home and evaluate and youre always trying to get better.

I still feel pretty good about this job and doing what I do. If somebody else has a different thought (coming) in here, then theyll make that decision.

Several high-profile players including Carlos Pena, Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Dempster could be positioned to become free agents. If the search drags on, and the Cubs are forced to make some personnel decisions, Ricketts will get input from interim general manager Randy Bush. The chairman wont rule anything out.

With more than three million tickets again sold this year at Wrigley Field, Ricketts indicated that the overall budget for baseball operations will essentially remain the same next season. It would be up to the next general manager to determine how much is allocated for major-league payroll.

The Ricketts family has talked about owning this team for generations, but the chairman doesnt view 2012 as a bridge year or see this team being that far from contention. He pointed to the Arizona Diamondbacks who went from worst to first this season and the Cubs teams Hendry rebuilt on the fly.

One thing youve seen in baseball over the last few years is that turnarounds can happen pretty quickly, Ricketts said. I dont think its meaningful to describe a year as a rebuilding year or a reloading year or any of that.

You get the right players on the team and they all stay healthy and they play hard, the team can go from 70 wins to 90 wins. It happens pretty frequently. Things turn around fast. Thats the way we look at it for next year.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

The Cubs have only played three spring training games, and it’s dangerous to use spring results to predict regular season successes/failures. Still, it’s okay to acknowledge Albert Almora Jr.’s hot start in camp.

In two games, Almora is 4-for-4 with a walk, double, home run, four RBIs, and four runs scored. That line is essentially equivalent to a single game in the regular season and could be turned upside down by the end of the week. But it’s a start for the 25-year-old who’s struggled immensely at the plate for the last season-and-a-half at the plate.

In his last 177 games (dating back to the second half of 2018), Almora holds a .235/.270/.347 slash line. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture: 58 wRC+, .261 wOBA and 52.2 percent groundball rate.

Last season was the most challenging of Almora’s young career. He hit .236/.271/.381 in 130 games with a 64 wRC+, .271 wOBA, -0.7 fWAR (all career worsts). On top of that, he was involved in a heartbreaking moment early in the season; an Almora foul ball struck a young girl at Minute Maid Park during a Cubs-Astros game in May.

Almora recently refused to blame his 2019 offensive woes on that incident, though it obviously played a part. He did admit he was in a bad place mentally and used this winter to decompress. Almora also used it to make some adjustments to his swing and the changes are clear as day:

Pre-2020:

2020:

As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes, Almora is now more upright in the box and his stance is more closed. His leg kick is less defined, and he’s rotating his front leg far less than previous seasons. In short, he’s more direct to his swing and has more time to react in the box because he cut out a lot of his pre-swing movements.

Almora said Monday he’s far from where he wants to be, pointing out the MLB season is a 200-day marathon. It’s too early to tell whether his simplified approach leads to sustainable success.

Small sample size be damned, Almora’s made noticeable adjustments. That’s the first step in his mission to get back on track offensively.

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Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

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USA Today

Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

For those who follow such things, Keith Law's yearly Top 100 prospect rankings is always a highly anticipated read. What would baseball twitter even do with their time if they couldn't spend it vocally disagreeing with subjective lists? Having a handful of Top 100 guys is always a shot in the arm for franchises that maybe aren't doing a whole lot of winning at the major league level; when you know you're not winning a World Series, the debuts of these prospects are high points of the summer. 

There wasn't a whole lot of Cubs' representation this season, which isn't a surprise by any means. Only guys two made Law's list: Brennen Davis at 55, and Brailyn Marquez at 80.  

Law claims Davis has the highest upside of any Cubs' prospect, but isn't necessarily close to a debut: 

Davis is lanky and has barely begun to fill out, so there’s likely to be more power to come, while he’s already shown he can manage at-bats and use the middle of the field to get himself on base. Despite his 6′4″ frame he already has a very balanced swing, and the Cubs will just have to tighten up some mechanical things since he’s got such long levers. A former shortstop, he’s adapted quickly to center field; he projects to stay there and add value with his range. 

He also loves Marquez's stuff – comparing it to Aroldis Chapman's – and says it's the reason why he's team's best pitching prospect since Dylan Cease. You can see the entire rankings, which go pretty in-depth, right here.