02/13/12 12:00 AM EST
Cubs taking win-now philosophy into spring
Club not in rebuilding mode despite wealth of changes
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"The plan is to win right now," new manager Dale Sveum said. "The long-term plan starts right now. We're not rebuilding; we're building."
Sveum and staff will start sorting out the roster on Feb. 19, when pitchers and catchers have their first workout at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz., to open Spring Training. Position players report on Feb. 23.
The focus this offseason has been on new Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, whom the Ricketts family hopes can duplicate what he did with the Red Sox and put together a world championship team. When? There's no time table.
"In baseball, anything can happen," Epstein said. "We might not have the most talent in the division, but I know we're going to play hard, I know we have young players with upside and players entering their prime years. When you have that, you can surprise a little bit."
Epstein has said trying to change the direction of a baseball organization is like turning an ocean liner. It doesn't pivot right away, and you might not see immediate progress, but you know that little by little, the ship will turn in the right direction.
Epstein has set the course. He started by hiring Sveum, then went to work on the roster. Gone are Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Pena. The only holdovers from the coaching staff are hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, third-base coach Pat Listach and bullpen coach Lester Strode. The Cubs Convention in January wasn't just a chance for fans to see the new guys, but also the first time most of the staff met the players face to face.
Epstein and new general manager Jed Hoyer will conduct organizational meetings in Mesa, starting Feb. 15. The team usually holds them in early November but decided to delay the sessions until everyone was in place.
It's been anything but an "off" season for Epstein and Hoyer, who have spent long hours at their Wrigley Field offices. They added depth to the starting pitching with the acquisition of Travis Wood, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm, they added future left-handed power with Anthony Rizzo, and became more athletic with David DeJesus and Ian Stewart.
"He knows what he's doing," Maholm said of Epstein. "All the moves he's made so far have been to better the club for today and for in the future. I think he and Jed have a plan, and they're going to stick to it. They're not wanting to punt this season and say, 'We'll get them next year.' They want to win as many games as they can this year. That's what we as a group are going to do."
The Cubs get a little break in the National League Central because they won't have to deal with Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder 16 games each a year. They are not Epstein's concern. When he took over the Red Sox, Epstein inherited a team coming off a 93-win season in 2002. The Cubs lost 91 games last year.
"I know more about what I want the Cubs to be," Epstein said, "than when we're going to get there, to be blunt and honest with you."
It's time to set sail.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Home vs. Athletics, March 4, at 1:05 p.m. MST
Home vs. Nationals, April 5, at 1:20 p.m. CT
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. How will they score runs?
The Cubs struggled with runners in scoring position, and with Ramirez and Pena gone, they are lacking power. The wind blew out at Wrigley for 18 games last season, and the Cubs were outhomered, 33-17, and went 6-12. Starlin Castro was the most consistent, leading the NL in hits, and posting a .300 average for the second straight season. Can Jaramillo help Stewart and DeJesus? And when the wind blows in, which it did for 42 games, can they generate offense?
Before position players report to Fitch Park, Bryan LaHair is the designated starting first baseman. But how long will he hold onto the job? He won the Pacific Coast League MVP after hitting .331 with 38 homers and 109 RBIs with Triple-A Iowa last season. In his 195 Major League at-bats, he's batted .262. Hoyer has cautioned that Spring Training in Arizona can be misleading as far as judging hitters because of the dry air. That's a well known fact. Hoyer also has said Rizzo, the prized first baseman acquired from the Padres, needs more development and will open the season at Iowa. That could change depending on Cactus League play. 3. Can Chris Bosio get the pitching back on track?
The combined record of the five potential starters (Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Maholm, Wood and Volstad) was 37-57 last season. Carlos Marmol led the NL with 10 blown saves. Bosio, in his first season with the Cubs, has his work cut out for him. The team is hoping a change of scenery helps Wood and Volstad, and that Dempster, who was the Opening Day starter, doesn't have a repeat of last April, when he posted a 9.58 ERA. The rest of the bullpen should be solid. Kerry Wood provides experience, James Russell will take over as the lefty setup specialist, and Jeff Samardzija finished strong. 2011 record
71-91, fifth in NL Central Projected batting order
1. RF David DeJesus:
.240 BA, .323 OBP, .376 SLG, 10 HR, 46 RBIs in 2011
2. 2B Darwin Barney:
.276 BA, .313 OBP, .353 SLG, 2 HR, 43 RBIs in 2011
3. SS Starlin Castro:
.307 BA, .341 OBP, .432 SLG, 10 HR, 66 RBIs in 2011
4. 1B Bryan LaHair:
.288 BA, .377 OBP, .508 SLG, 2 HR, 6 RBIs in 2011
5. CF Marlon Byrd:
.276 BA, .324 OBP, .395 SLG, 9 HR, 35 RBIs in 2011
6. LF Alfonso Soriano:
.244 BA, .289 OBP, .469 SLG, 26 HR, 88 RBIs in 2011
7. 3B Ian Stewart:
.156 BA, .243 OBP, .221 SLG, 0 HR, 6 RBIs in 2011
8. C Geovany Soto:
.228 BA, .310 OBP, .411 SLG, 17 HR, 54 RBIs in 2011
1. Ryan Dempster, 10-14, 4.80 ERA in 2011
2. Matt Garza, 10-10, 3.32 ERA in 2011
3. Paul Maholm, 6-14, 3.66 ERA in 2011
4. Chris Volstad, 5-13, 4.89 ERA in 2011
5. Travis Wood, 6-6, 4.84 ERA in 2011
Closer: Carlos Marmol, 34/44 saves, 4.01 ERA in 2011
RH setup man: Kerry Wood, 3.35 ERA in 2011
LH setup man: James Russell, 4.12 ERA in 2011
LHP Travis Wood: The Cubs acquired Wood and outfielder Dave Sappelt from the Reds for Sean Marshall. A second-round pick in 2005 out of high school, Wood made his Major League debut at Wrigley Field against the Cubs and held them to two runs on two hits over seven innings. He also does not walk many batters, averaging 2.8 per nine innings. RHP Chris Volstad: Acquired from the Marlins for Carlos Zambrano on Jan. 5, Volstad has made at least 29 starts in each of the last three seasons. He was 12-9 in 30 starts in 2010. Last season, he finished strong, compiling a 2.41 ERA in his last six starts. In four starts at Wrigley Field, he's 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA. LHP Paul Maholm: Maholm, who has spent his entire career with the Pirates, wanted to stay in the NL Central and signed a one-year deal with the Cubs on Jan. 10. He posted a 2.96 ERA in 19 starts before the All-Star break but made seven starts in the second half because of a strained left shoulder. A ground-ball pitcher, he has a career 6-2 record and 5.48 ERA in 11 career starts at Wrigley Field. 3B Ian Stewart: Stewart will have the tough assignment of filling Ramirez's spot on the team. The Cubs acquired Stewart from the Rockies for Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu on Dec. 8. A left-handed hitter, Stewart was the Rockies' first-round pick in 2003 out of high school. He did hit 25 homers in 2009 with the Rockies, and comes to the Cubs with a .236 career average. He got started with Jaramillo in early January, and may be a perfect change of scenery type player who will benefit from being with a new team. RF David DeJesus: DeJesus moved his family to the Chicago area to be closer to his wife's parents, and it was perfect timing. He signed a two-year contract with the Cubs on Nov. 30, switching leagues after spending all or part of nine seasons with the Royals (2003-10) and Athletics (2011). A left-handed hitter, DeJesus has a career .292 average against right-handers, .264 against lefties. He's expected to be the full-time right fielder, although he's played more center than the corners. RHP Andy Sonnanstine: Sonnanstine has pitched all or part of the last five seasons with the Rays, and has been used both as a starter and a reliever. He has walked 136 over 540 1/3 innings, an average of 2.3 walks per nine innings pitched. In 2008, he was 13-9 with a 4.38 ERA in 32 starts, helping the Rays reach the World Series. OF Dave Sappelt: Acquired in the Wood-Marshall deal, Sappelt was the Reds' 2010 Minor League hitter of the year after batting .342 with 32 doubles, 11 triples, 10 homers and 74 RBIs at three stops in Cincinnati's system. He was named the Southern League MVP that season, hitting .361 at Carolina. He made his Major League debut last season on Aug. 7 at Wrigley Field, and finished the season batting .243 in 38 games. A right-handed hitter, he batted .313 at Triple-A last season, including .358 against lefties. RHP Lendy Castillo: The Cubs selected Castillo in the Rule 5 Draft in December from the Phillies. Castillo, 22, was 7-4 with a 2.43 ERA in 38 Minor League games (12 starts) since he was converted from shortstop after the 2009 season. As a Rule 5 pick, the Cubs have to keep him on the Major League roster all season. Prospects to watch
CF Brett Jackson: The Cubs' first-round pick in 2009, Jackson batted .297 in 48 games at Triple-A Iowa last season. He played for Team USA for the second year, competing in the Pan-Am Games. Spend a few minutes with Jackson, and he sounds like a big leaguer. Now, he needs to prove he's ready on the field. He has primarily played center but can play both corners. 1B Anthony Rizzo: Rizzo, 22, is projected as the first baseman of the future and will likely open the season at Triple-A Iowa. But he's not far from taking that step to the big leagues. Acquired from the Padres for Andrew Cashner, he was originally selected by the Red Sox in the 2007 Draft by Jason McLeod. When McLeod went to the Padres, they dealt for Rizzo in the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Now with the Cubs, McLeod has acquired Rizzo again. The first baseman did get called up last season but showed he wasn't ready, batting .141 in 49 games. 3B Josh Vitters: Vitters, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in the 2007 Draft, has struggled with injuries and inconsistency. But now, he's coming off his best season. He batted .283 at Double-A Tennessee with 14 homers and 81 RBIs. The key? He was healthy and learned a lot from hitting coach Mariano Duncan. On the rebound
RHP Kerry Wood: Wood's return to the Cubs ended early when he had to be shut down in mid-September because of a torn meniscus in his left knee. He also spent time on the disabled list because of a blister problem. He did set a career high in holds with 21 last year. Wood turns 35 in June, and has been on the DL 16 times. The Cubs don't need the overpowering Kid K; just an effective setup man. Long gone
3B Aramis Ramirez: After nine seasons with the Cubs, Ramirez left via free agency, and now will handle the hot corner for the Brewers. He is coming off his sixth season of at least 30 doubles and 25 homers, which tied a franchise mark. Hall of Famer Billy Williams also had six 30-25 seasons. He averaged 28 homers the last eight seasons. That will be hard to replace. 1B Carlos Pena: Pena, 33, returned to the Rays after one season with the Cubs. He led the team in home runs, played solid defense, and was influential in the clubhouse. But he struggled with runners in scoring position (.175), and the Cubs decided to go young. RHP Carlos Zambrano: You never knew what to expect from Zambrano. He could throw a no-hitter (which he did in 2008) or a tantrum (which he did more than once). Now, he's with the Marlins after the Cubs dealt him to Miami and new manager Ozzie Guillen in exchange for Volstad. It'll be a lot quieter in the clubhouse without Big Z. RF Kosuke Fukudome: Fukudome was traded to the Indians last July for two Minor Leaguers. The Cubs' first Japanese player, he was in the last year of his four-year deal with the team. A batting champion in Japan, he wasn't able to duplicate his success in the Major Leagues. He compiled a .262 average with the Cubs. C Koyie Hill: Hill wasn't much of an offensive threat, but the pitchers trusted him, and because of that he was the perfect backup catcher. Since 2007, the Cubs were 106-88 in games he started. Hill, who turns 33 in March, signed with the Cardinals. RHP Andrew Cashner: Cashner was the Cubs' No. 1 pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, but Epstein and Hoyer took advantage of the right-hander's potential and dealt him to the Padres for Rizzo. Cashner won a spot in the Cubs' rotation last year but made one start April 5 and was shut down because of a right rotator cuff strain. He is projected as a reliever for the Padres. OF Tyler Colvin: Colvin also was a first-round pick, selected 13th overall in 2006, but he scuffled last season and was dealt to the Rockies for Stewart. In 80 games with the Cubs, he batted .150, and was demoted to Triple-A Iowa. He did show potential in 2010, hitting 20 homers.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.