Cubs

Zambrano's not out of the Cubs picture yet

588678.png

Zambrano's not out of the Cubs picture yet

DALLAS The Cubs arent talking about Carlos Zambrano in the past tense yet.

There are enough people left over from the old regime that the new administration knows Zambranos history, how he has said sorry before.

Publicly, the Cubs have presented the opportunity to earn his way back, though its unclear whether its because theyre desperate for innings or trying to create some sort of trade value.

Dale Sveum brought out a familiar talking point on Tuesday in Dallas, saying that a top three of Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Zambrano would be enough to hang in the National League Central.

The new manager hasnt spoken with Zambrano yet, but wants to get to know him and is trying to contact every player before Christmas.

I dont think theres a message you send with a guy, Sveum said. He knows his track record. Its not something I have to mention to him. He knows what hes done in the past and knows hes got to change that past. If you put those three guys at the top of your rotation, you got a chance of winning with the bullpen that we have.

The Miami Marlins remain a logical landing spot, because of Zambranos relationship with manager Ozzie Guillen, his close friend from Venezuela. People close to Zambrano say he would benefit greatly from a change of scenery, and would be hungry to prove himself again.

In trying to create the same sort of buzz the Miami Heat did, the Marlins could wind up spending more than 300 million this week on Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols. They are box-office draws and offensive catalysts. But, eventually, the Marlins will have to focus on starting pitching.

Zambrano is owed 18 million next season, while Alfonso Soriano is guaranteed 54 million across the next three years. The Cubs would have to pay a huge sum to get rid of either player.

In general, I think eating money on a deal if the return is right then sometimes it can make sense, general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Both players have no-trade rights, and the Cubs will be extremely reluctant to include those clauses in future contracts.

You never want to say never, Hoyer said, but at the same time, it was a strict policy in Boston against giving no-trades. And I think its the right policy because you end up in those situations where youre in a tough spot. Theyre to be avoided.

The Cubs will have to be creative in finding pitching solutions, because there arent many frontline starters available and the cost figures to be prohibitive. Hoyer pointed to under-the-radar signings like Ryan Vogelsong, who hadnt pitched in the big leagues since 2006 but signed late and went 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA for the San Francisco Giants last season.

Our assessment of Carlos hasnt changed, Hoyer said. Pitchings hard to find, theres no question. I think ideally you need to develop your own. But if you look at where pitching comes from, its not always the biggest names that sign at the winter meetings.

There (are) a lot of guys that have impact and you cant just focus on the big guys (because) some of the best seasons could come from guys that arent being discussed in the lobby this week.

Whoever ultimately reports to Arizona will be working with new pitching coach Chris Bosio. Sveum and Bosio go way back. They played high school football against each other in California and became teammates on the Milwaukee Brewers.

Bosio has credibility after pitching 11 seasons in the big leagues. Sveum described Bosio as a baseball rat who doesnt back down from anything.

The question becomes: Will they have to confront Zambrano?

Mike Montgomery nearing a return after minor shoulder injury

Mike Montgomery nearing a return after minor shoulder injury

MESA, Ariz. - We haven't seen Mike Montgomery throw off a mound yet this spring, but that should be coming very soon.

The veteran southpaw was dealing with some shoulder stiffness at the start of camp and was slightly delayed because of that.

But Montgomery has been throwing on flat ground of late, including another session Wednesday that went well.

He said his arm feels "perfect" after the recent work and the plan from here is to throw a bullpen off the mound Friday. The Cubs will want him to go through a couple sessions on the mound and then a couple live bullpens against hitters before getting into a game, so Montgomery is behind schedule this spring, but not by much.

The 29-year-old said he initially felt the shoulder stiffness a couple weeks ago during a throwing session on his own. He said it wasn't a big deal and normally would've powered through it, but felt no need to push it before spring training even began.

It was just a matter of trying to do too much too soon, Montgomery said. He was excited and wanted to keep throwing because he loved the feel he had snapping off his curveball right at that moment, so wanted to keep getting more reps the same way hitters want to take swing after swing.

"This isn't like basketball, where you can take 1,000 shots in a row if you wanted to," Montgomery said.

The swingman is entering his fourth season in a Cubs uniform and is being counted on as a valuable piece of the pitching staff. He gave the Cubs a huge boost in the middle of last season, joining the rotation when Yu Darvish went down to injury.

Montgomery wound up making 19 starts and 19 relief appearances last year and was projected to start the season as the long guy in the bullpen and next man up in the rotation if injuries strike.

 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.

Javy Baez is going to make sure the Cubs learned their lesson last fall

Javy Baez is going to make sure the Cubs learned their lesson last fall

MESA, Ariz. — Javy Baez has a way of holding his teammates accountable without throwing anybody under the bus.

That's because he's always internalizing it, pointing the thumb first and then the finger.

2018 will go down as Baez's true breakout, finishing second in National League MVP voting and almost singlehandedly keeping the Cubs afloat at various times during a trying season.

But he wasn't only successful on the field. Baez is also finding a way to lead the Cubs — both by example and with his words.

After the Cubs were stunned by the Rockies at Wrigley Field for the NL Wild Card-Game last fall, Baez stood at his locker and held court for a half-hour, passionately discussing how the team needed a better sense of urgency from Day 1. He made similar comments before the game, showing a little fire when talking about how the Cubs need to stop worrying about anything outside the clubhouse and just focus on what they do.

Long before Theo Epstein or Joe Maddon talked about "urgency" and "edge," it was Baez's voice that echoed through the Cubs locker room. And he backed it up with his play all year long, including driving in the Cubs' only run in that lone playoff game.

"After the season was over, after the last game, we started saying what we were missing," Baez said Tuesday at Cubs spring camp. "It kinda bothered me because that's what this game is — to make adjustments and get better.

"We waited for the season to be over to look at it and to try to make adjustments when there was no tomorrow. I think this offseason, we had a lot of time to think about it to see how we're gonna react this year."

And how will they react? How will Baez make sure the Cubs learned their lesson last fall?

He knows he can't do it alone.

"I think it's the little things," Baez said. "Last year, one example — I didn't run full speed to first base. I used to get back to the dugout and nobody would say anything. This year, I'm sure if I don't do it, someone hopefully would say something. It's not to show you up, it's to make our team better."

It's a brand new year, and Baez looms as probably the biggest X-factor on the Cubs. If he can build on last year's MVP-level season, the Cubs are in a fantastic spot with regards to their lineup as Kris Bryant is back healthy and the other young hitters are potentially taking a step forward after refocusing and making adjustments over the winter.

Baez is emerging as a vocal leader and he certainly has the skillset and talent to back up his words.

But will he be able to duplicate his 2018 numbers or even expand upon them? Even as he led the league in RBI while hitting 34 homers, scoring 101 runs, stealing 21 bases and posting a .290/.326/.554 slash line, Baez still has plenty of room for development.

For starters, he has work to do on his plate discipline and he knows that. 

"I'm just trying to get more walks," he said. "Obviously people are talking about my walks and strikeouts. It's only gonna make me better if I walk more and see the ball better.

"Obviously I hope [to maintain that MVP level]. I'm trying to have a better year than last year."

Over the last two seasons, Baez has walked only 59 times vs. 311 strikeouts. And of those 59 free passes, 23 were intentional, which means the star infielder's "natural" walk rate is only 3.19 percent in that span. For perspective, the worst walk rate in the big leagues since the start of 2017 is Dee Gordon with 2.7 percent. No other qualified hitter had a walk rate lower than 3.3 percent.

Joe Maddon always says whenever Baez figures out how to organize the strike zone better, he can turn into Manny Ramirez as a hitter

But even beyond that, 2018 was a great learning season for the 26-year-old. He now has a better understanding on how to keep from wearing down at the end of a long season and came into camp looking even stronger.

"I kinda did get a little tired because a lot had to do with running the bases — I was trying to get 30 [stolen] bases and in the first half, other teams started spreading word about me on the bases," Baez said.

"I was kinda working a little bit more and I had a little bit of pressure on me. I was trying to do too much in the last month. Just trying to make an adjustment on that."