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.

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.