Cubs

With Zambrano gone, will Soriano be next?

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With Zambrano gone, will Soriano be next?

Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano are symbols of the old way of doing business, the boom-and-bust cycles that have swept this franchise.

The Cubs shipped Zambrano to the Miami Marlins on Thursday and will wind up paying roughly 15.5 million of his 18 million salary for 2012. In return, they get Chris Volstad, a former first-round pick whos 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA in his big-league career.

Thats a wash, but the financials wont be as neat for Soriano, who also has a full no-trade clause and is still owed about 54 million across the next three years.

Thats part of Theo Epsteins inheritance. The president of baseball operations pointed to Sorianos 26 homers and 88 RBI last season (while not mentioning the .289 on-base percentage).

Hes a valuable offensive player, Epstein said. If at some point in the future theres a transaction that makes sense with any of our players if it puts the Cubs in a better position going forward were going to pursue that.

But with respect to Alfonso, hes got power and hes an offensive contributor and we can work with him to get the best out of him. Well see where it takes us.

More than once, Soriano has said that he wouldnt block a deal if the Cubs wanted to get rid of him (though that was before Epstein was hired). He will turn 36 this weekend and should eventually transition into being a designated hitter in the American League.

Soriano is a flawed player, but he doesnt alienate teammates and staffers the way Zambrano did, one reason that compelled Epstein to make this trade with the Marlins.

They love Sorianos energy and upbeat attitude. Hes essentially as popular in the room as hes unpopular on talk radio.

It was Soriano who once invited Starlin Castro to live in his house, making the rookie feel comfortable and smoothing the transition. And it was Soriano who confronted Zambrano in the clubhouse on Aug. 12 after the enigmatic pitcher was ejected for throwing at Atlantas Chipper Jones.

The day after with Zambranos locker cleaned out Soriano delivered this memorable quote: Hes a big man, but I think mentally hes weak.

During their initial meeting in October, Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts discussed a long-range vision and the troubled assets the Cubs have on the books. Epstein had full authority to eat money in the Zambrano deal, and it will be his call on Soriano.

You have to decide, Epstein said, are we better off with one year of Carlos with the 18 million paid? Or are you better paying the 18 million and getting a 25-year-old pitcher (under your control for three years)? Understanding when theres a sunk cost (is sometimes) the sign of a progressive organization.

That said, progressive organizations dont go around randomly calling people sunk costs. I think you have to work with players and try to rehabilitate them. In this case, putting all the factors together, this was the best thing for the Cubs on (and) off the field.

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss Yu Darvish's 1st win at Wrigley, Cole Hamel's status, and Kris Bryant playing better than he did in his MVP season.

01:00     Darvish picking up 1st win at Wrigley

03:30     Cole Hamels injury update

05:00     Starting rotation after the All-Star break

06:00     Cubs defense looking sharp

07:30     How the Cubs will approach the weekend and the expected heat

09:30     Kris Bryant playing above his MVP level

12:00     How the NL Central stacks up

14:00     Upcoming road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Saint Louis

16:00     Addition to Martin Maldonado

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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