Cubs

What's next for Cubs after Pena signing?

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What's next for Cubs after Pena signing?

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted 10:14 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - No doubt the Cubs have stayed in the headlines, but until Wednesday they hadn't been involved in many baseball rumors, much less actual news.

This has been the "Undercover Boss" offseason, the marquee painted purple for a college football game and fans mourning Ron Santo outside Wrigley Field, the renovation of which still remains a political flash point.

But by signing first baseman Carlos Pena, the Cubs addressed their single biggest need and put the focus back on the field. And general manager Jim Hendry insisted that he's not finished.

With the deferred payments on the 10 million deal, Hendry can keep searching for a right-handed reliever and another starting pitcher through trades and the free-agent market.

The Cubs continue to do background work on Brandon Webb's medical reports and there is the sense that they will be among the final two or three teams he eventually chooses from.

Webb finished first or second in the Cy Young Award voting for three consecutive years but hasn't pitched in a real game since Opening Day 2009.

If Webb's right shoulder checks out, the Cubs could be interested. They seem inclined to take a chance on a pitcher like that rather than make a blockbuster deal. One source indicated that Zack Greinke is completely out of their price range.

For now you can stop asking questions about Tyler Colvin playing first base, at least through 2011, after which the Cubs will shed approximately 40 million from their payroll. The contracts of Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Silva will be off the books by the 2012 season.

The Cubs could allocate some of those resources to Pena if he reverses his trend line - you get the feeling Chicago talk radio will have a hard time letting go of that .196 batting average last season - but if not they'll move in another direction.

Pena, who will turn 33 in May, should be motivated to market himself for that next window of opportunity. On a roster where Alfonso Soriano is still only halfway through his 136 million contract, it seems like a reasonable investment.

And on a team that was flawed defensively by any metric - the problems weren't isolated to Soriano - Pena is supposed to approximate three-time Gold Glove winner Derrek Lee. Pena's presence - as well as the natural growth of a second-year player - should make Starlin Castro a more reliable shortstop.

"We needed to play better defense," Hendry said. "Our defense in hindsight was not good and that affects a lot of things. First base is always a category where you can find different types of players. He's a rare guy that has that much power and plays (great) defense."

Pena is thoughtful and articulate and seemed totally at ease on Wednesday with round after round of interviews. It sounded like he won't be flustered by all the attention inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl. We'll see what type of player he can still be.

"I know that I have more (to) offer," Pena said. "I put that behind me. I still have to make peace with it, learn from it and make sure that I grow and use it to my advantage.

"In boxing terms (I have) a tough chin. (I) can take some punches. I can stay in the ring. I'm still standing."

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

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

Why Cubs core's desire to sign extensions might not matter anymore

The day after Kris Bryant suggested that first-time fatherhood and the dramatic reality of world events have changed how he looks at his future with the Cubs, general manager Jed Hoyer outlined why it might be all but moot.

Setting aside the fact that the Cubs aren’t focusing on contract extensions with anyone at this time of health and economic turmoil, the volatility and unpredictability of a raging COVID-19 pandemic in this country and its economic fallout have thrown even mid-range and long-term roster plans into chaos.

“This is without question the most difficult time we’ve ever had as far as projecting those things,” Hoyer said. “All season in projecting this year, you weren’t sure how many games we were going to get in. Projecting next season obviously has challenges, and who knows where the country’s going to be and the economy’s going to be.”

Bryant, a three-time All-Star and former MVP, is eligible for free agency after next season. He and the club have not engaged in extension talks for three years. And those gained little traction while it has looked increasingly likely since then that Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, would eventually take his star client to market — making Bryant a widely circulated name in trade talks all winter.

MORE: Scott Boras: Why Kris Bryant's free agency won't be impacted by economic crisis

The Cubs instead focused last winter on talks with All-Star shortstop Javy Báez, making “good” or little progress depending on which side you talked to on a given day — until the pandemic shut down everything in March.

Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are both also eligible for free agency after next season, with All-Star catcher Willson Contreras right behind them a year later.

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None has a multiyear contract, and exactly what the Cubs are willing to do about that even if MLB pulls off its 60-game plan this year is hard for even the team’s front office executives to know without knowing how hard the pandemic will continue to hammer America’s health and financial well-being into the winter and next year.

Even with a vaccine and treatments by then, what will job markets look like? The economy at large? The economy of sports? Will anyone want to gather with 40,000 others in a stadium to watch a game anytime soon?

And even if anyone could answer all those questions, who can be sure how the domino effect will impact salary markets for athletes?

“There’s no doubt that forecasting going forward is now much more challenging from a financial standpoint,” Hoyer said. “But that’s league-wide. Anyone that says they have a feel for where the nation’s economy and where the pandemic is come next April is lying.”

The Cubs front office already was in a tenuous place financially, its payroll budget stretched past its limit and a threat to exceed MLB’s luxury tax threshold for a second consecutive season.

And after a quick playoff exit in 2018 followed by the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2019, every player on the roster was in play for a possible trade over the winter — and even more so at this season’s trade deadline without a strong start to the season.

Now what?

For starters, forget about dumping short-term assets or big contracts for anything of value from somebody’s farm system. Even if baseball can get to this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline with a league intact and playing, nobody is predicting more than small level trades at that point — certainly not anything close to a blockbuster.

After that, it may not get any clearer for the sport in general, much less the Cubs with their roster and contract dilemmas.

“We have a lot of conversations about it internally, both within the baseball side and then with the business side as well,” Hoyer said. “But it’s going to take a long time and probably some sort of macro things happening for us to really have a good feel for where we’re going to be in ’21 and beyond.”

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Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

Veteran umpire Joe West made waves Tuesday downplaying the severity of COVID-19 in an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. 

“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West said. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.”

As far as the Cubs are concerned, those comments don’t represent how to treat the virus. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to ensure everyone treats it with equal severity.

“That’s one of the things we've really tried internally to instill in our players and our coaches,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday, “[that] everyone here has to take it equally [serious].”

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Hoyer noted like the world, MLB isn’t immune to people having different viewpoints on the virus — those who show concern and those who don’t. This echoes comments made by manager David Ross earlier on Tuesday, and Hoyer said those he’s talked to with the Cubs don’t feel the same way as West.

The Cubs had an up close and personal look at pitching coach Tommy Hottovy’s battle with COVID-19 during baseball’s shutdown. It took the 38-year-old former big leaguer 30 harrowing days to test negative, and in the past week many Cubs have said watching him go through that hit home. 

“When you get a 38-year-old guy in wonderful health and he talks about his challenges with it,” Hoyer said, “I think that it takes away some of those different viewpoints.”

To ensure everyone stays safe and puts the league in the best position to complete a season, MLB needs strict adherence to its protocols.

“I think that's one of our goals and one of the things that we feel is vital is that we have to make sure everyone views this the same way, because we can't have a subset of people within our group that don't view it with the same severity,” Hoyer said.

“That’s not gonna work. We're not gonna be successful."

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