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What Ricketts wants out of next Cubs GM

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What Ricketts wants out of next Cubs GM

Monday, Sept. 19, 2011
Posted: 1:11 p.m. Updated: 10:40 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow @CSNMooney Cubs-Brewers box score Photo gallery
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Even if Tom Ricketts doesnt know who exactly will be the next Cubs general manager, the chairman has a clear vision for how he wants baseball operations to be run.

In trying to find a balance between the new wave of statistical analysis and old-school scouting, Ricketts has reassured the Jim Hendry loyalists left in the front office.

Ricketts met with scouting director Tim Wilken for roughly 90 minutes on Sunday and gave him the authority to renew contracts which are set to expire at the end of October and make new hires within his department.

Wilken, who was already signed through 2012, was also informed that he will be retained next season. Several front-office advisors have gathered at Wrigley Field during this homestand to review the minor-league system and analyze the 40-man roster.

Im looking forward to seeing who the next general manager will be and working with him, Wilken said Monday. Nothings slowed up here and Toms always been supportive and pretty darn active.

Wilken who has not been approached by another organization yet did not get an extension. Vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita recently leveraged interest from the Detroit Tigers into a new four-year contract that voided the existing season left on his deal.

The idea is to keep some sense of continuity as the Cubs head into a pivotal offseason. Combined Wilken and Fleita are responsible for departments that employ roughly 90 scouts, coaches and staffers.

Ricketts graded them both out at A during Hendrys exit press conference last month. The chairmans betting that those two employees will be viewed as assets, not liabilities. This executive search could last beyond the end of the World Series, so the Cubs will need people in place to smooth the transition.

Ricketts clearly respects the scouting infrastructure Hendry already built and doesnt want to see it completely torn down. Perhaps the last thing the chairman will want to hear from a prospective candidate is this: Youre doing it all wrong.

The Milwaukee Brewers have won with a homegrown core that includes Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder (at least for the next few weeks). Their magic number to clinch their first National League Central title remains at four after Mondays 5-2 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Though vague in many public comments, Ricketts has consistently said that he wants to build a team from within.

The chairmans promised that Wilken will be given the resources to essentially find the next Fielder and Braun, the kind of high-impact position players the Cubs havent developed since, perhaps, the days of Billy Williams and Ron Santo.

Wilken is well-respected throughout the industry after working for Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick in Toronto. He spent 25 seasons within the organization, helping the Blue Jays become World Series winners in 1992 and 1993. He ran drafts that yielded Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter.

Gillick also designed playoff teams in Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia, but when he arrived in a new city, he didnt automatically call for mass firings and tried to work within the framework of the organization.

Adaptable is a leadership quality that Ricketts will likely look for in his next head of baseball operations.

Wilken left the Toronto organization nearly a decade ago, not long after J.P. Ricciardi, a Billy Beane disciple, cleaned out the front office. Moneyball has gone Hollywood, but all the best franchises now use a blended approach that combines sabermetrics with traditional scouting. Its not one or the other.

From the outside, it may look like Ricketts is meddling. But its significant that both Wilken and Fleita have been energized by the commitment new ownership has shown to player development. Theyve set aside their personal feelings about Hendry and will tell you that its a good place to work.

Wilken grew up with Hendry in Florida and they later played together at Spring Hill College, a Jesuit school in Alabama. Fleita played for Hendry at Creighton University and has described him as a father figure and an older brother.

Fleita speaks Spanish and has become a point man for the new academy the Cubs are planning to build in the Dominican Republic, where they want to find the next Starlin Castro.

Wilkens budgets were unstable during the final years of Tribune Co. ownership. Hes still found useful pieces in the draft, though Andrew Cashner and Tyler Colvin took steps back this year. He restocked the farm system enough to pull off the Matt Garza deal.

Affiliates at Double-A Tennessee, Class-A Daytona and Class-A Boise each made the playoffs this season, though the pitching at the higher levels didnt come as fast as the Cubs had hoped.

This summer Ricketts approved almost 20 million for international signings and draft bonuses. The mandate going forward will be to find more game-changers.

Hopefully were on to something, Wilken said. We can build this all together as a unit and put together a winner.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Javy Baez leads Cubs to huge win with a little help from Pedro Strop

Javy Baez leads Cubs to huge win with a little help from Pedro Strop

For the second time this season, Pedro Strop has added another chapter to the legend of El Mago.

And for at least the second documented time over the last few years, Strop also helped give Javy Baez the motivation needed to lift the Cubs to victory.

On an 0-2 pitch from Mets reliever Seth Lugo in the eighth inning, Baez smacked a 3-run homer into the right-field bleachers, notching the Cubs shortstop another curtain call and sending the 39,077 fans at Wrigley Field into euphoric bliss.

"That was big. He was so frustrated," said Strop, who picked up his 9th save in the 5-3 victory. "When I was walking to the 'pen, he was so frustrated after that first strikeout [against Jacob deGrom]. He was like, 'He's not throwing fastballs, just sliders!' I was like, 'Bro, it's good that you know that. So go up with another plan. Do your thing. You're gonna win this ballgame.'"

Baez's 100th career homer accomplished exactly that and in doing so, changed the entire tone and tenor of the first weekend of summer on Chicago's North Side.

There's no way the Cubs wanted to go into a four-game set with the contending Atlanta Braves after having just dropped three of four to a hapless Mets team that is melting down inside the clubhouse. It also would've been the Cubs' ninth loss in their 13 games, but Baez's clutch blast helped them salvage a series split and maintain sole possession of first place entering a new week of baseball.

"That's the last thing you want to do is lose another one," said Cole Hamels, who gave the Cubs 7 strong innings, but did not factor in the decision. "... That's the momentum we need to take forth, especially with the series that's coming up."

It also continued one of the strangest/coolest statistical oddities of the 2019 MLB season, given that it came on an 0-2 count.

Baez now has more homers after falling behind in the count 0-2 this year than NINE other MLB teams and nearly half of his homers (9 of 19) have come after getting into the extreme pitcher's count:

What makes Baez so tough on 0-2 counts?

For starters, he's never afraid of striking out, possessing a fearless nature Joe Maddon and other Cubs players have admired for some time.

But Hamels also provided some great perspective on why Baez might be so good in a count when pitchers typically dominate:

"I think that's kinda the difficult part with him — sometimes it can always be 0-2 with him," Hamels said. "Even if you haven't thrown a pitch yet, you treat it like 0-2. If that's just the nature of what pitchers do to him — if it's considered almost always an 0-2 count — he's gonna get really good at it because that's just the way he survives and the way he lives and plays the game. 

"With him though, being a teammate, you just know that he's never out of it. He's trying to hit a homer every at-bat, every pitch. That obviously can make a pitcher think a little bit longer and maybe try to be too perfect and therefore that's why they make mistakes."

The win puts a nice bow on what was otherwise a sloppy weekend for the Cubs, who often looked flat at the plate and made uncharacteristic mistakes on the basepaths and in the field. 

Prior to that homer from Baez, the Cubs had only managed to push across 1 earned run in 13 innings against a Mets bullpen that entered the weekend with a 5.39 ERA and more blown saves than any other team in baseball.

It's the second time in just over a week where the Cubs managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but the last time (Anthony Rizzo's homer off Kenley Jansen last Saturday in L.A.) apparently wasn't enough to spark the team to get back to their winning ways. 

Was this Baez blast enough to wake the team from their midseason slumber and be this year's seminal moment that we all look back on in September? 

While they wait for Kimbrel, Cubs add another intriguing option to bullpen

While they wait for Kimbrel, Cubs add another intriguing option to bullpen

Craig Kimbrel could still make his debut before the current homestand is over, but in the meantime, the Cubs added another intriguing veteran to the bullpen.

Tony Barnette was activated off the 60-day injured list Sunday and Rowan Wick was sent back down to Triple-A Iowa. 

The 35-year-old right-hander has had an interesting career ever since was drafted in the 10th round in 2006 by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Arizona State University. He spent a couple years in the D-Backs organization but then went to Japan in 2010 to pitch for the Yakult Swallows for six seasons.

Barnette returned to the U.S. in 2016, signing a deal with the Rangers and putting up a 3.50 ERA in 125 appearances for Texas over three seasons. The Cubs signed him over the winter to add another arm to the bullpen mix, but he's been hampered by shoulder issues since spring training.

Barnette actually began a rehab stint with Triple-A Iowa in April initially, but made only four appearances before heading back to Arizona to hit the reset button on his recovery. He restarted a rehab assignment with Iowa on June 1 and has been lights out since — he's allowed only a pair of baserunners (1 hit, 1 walk) in 8.1 shutout innings while striking out 9. 

"Patience is a virtue," he said Sunday morning inside the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field. "It's hard to be patient in this game especially when you're expected to be logging innings at the major-league level. Patience was something that I really had to work on and stay with. Stay patient, trust the process, work with the training staff and make sure I was right and I am."

When the Cubs called Barnette over the winter, he said it was definitely a call he wanted to take — to join a team with World Series aspirations and play in front of the fans at Wrigley Field. Now he wants to answer the call out of the bullpen whenever he gets the opportunity.

Joe Maddon hasn't gotten a chance to see Barnette pitch live much due to the early injury in spring training, but the Cubs manager envisions utilizing the veteran righty as a weapon against opposing right-handed hitters. In his MLB career, Barnette has allowed only a .652 OPS to righties vs. a .780 OPS to left-handed hitters.

"He's a strike-thrower. He attacks the zone. He's kind of a fearless guy," Maddon said. "He's an assertive kind of a guy. He's an attacker, he can put the ball on the ground. He's an aggressive sort. Normally pitch-efficient.

"He's very confident right now. He's feeling really good."

When the Cubs signed him over the winter, Barnette was looked at as another potential under-the-radar option in the bullpen and now that the injury is behind him, he and the Cubs are hoping to make good on that potential.

But the Cubs pitching staff is also getting crowded, with Barnette joining a group of bullpen arms that includes:

Pedro Strop
Steve Cishek
Brandon Kintzler
Brad Brach
Kyle Ryan
Mike Montgomery

At the moment, the Cubs have folded both Adbert Alzolay and Tyler Chatwood into a six-man rotation. But they also have Kimbrel's arrival on the horizon as well as the eventual returns of Kyle Hendricks and Carl Edwards Jr.

It's unknown how all these pieces will fit together, but Barnette could emerge as a reliable piece for Maddon and the Cubs.