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Some thoughts on recent Cubs news:

-Mike Quade will go down as particularly star-crossed Cubs manager, having been given the job in a no-win situation: He got a job everyone assumed Ryne Sandberg would get, was handed a team of unproven newbies combined with free agents who were either surly or bloated, sometimes both, and was left a dead man walking by the former GM's firing and the hiring of new executives. Quade had his chance, and he often had the right approach and mindset, but too often let the game within the game get away from him. His authority also was challenged one too many times by veterans, and if this speaks ill of the players, it also suggests Quade failed to inspire and motivate them.

-Billy Corgan thinks Ryne Sandberg should have gotten a chance to interview for the job left open by Quade's firing. I'm not sure how Ronnie Woo feels about it, but I would classify Corgan's view of the matter as having roughly the same weight as the Woo-man's. The indication that Sandberg will not be interviewed for the manager job is easily the most controversial decision of the Theo Epstein era thus far. Though, should it be much of a surprise?

Much was made of Epstein having interviewed Sandberg, and possibly having wanted to hire him, for the minor league Pawtucket Red Sox manager job last season. I'm not sure why the next logical conclusion would be that Sandberg would become the favorite for a major league job. Sandberg has the same amount of major league level coaching experience he had prior to the 2010 season--none. I'm betting Theo & Co. would be open to having Sandberg manage in the farm system, or coach at the major league level if the next manager wants him in the dugout (though Sandberg's notoriety almost guarantees that won't happen), but there is no reason for Sandberg to be considered to lead the Cubs. It was a nice idea once, when the Cubs needed a warm body to fill the job for half a season and audition for future work, but not anymore.

Hiring Sandberg would be the easy and obvious thing to do, and a wonderful way for a new regime to win fan support, but that is not the No. 1 thing Theo & Co. is trying to win.

-Ryan Theriot was roundly criticized for landing for saying he had landed on the right side of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry when he signed with St. Louis before last season, even though he didn't leave the Cubs by choice the season before last. Apparently, Theriot was right--though in the darkest corner of your Cub fan sould you knew he was. He is now a World Series champion, and though he didn't hit well in the series--only 1 for 13--he did driven in two key runs for the Cards.

So, two of my favorite scrappy players from recent years--LSU products Theriot and Mike Fontenot (I liked to call them the French Connection, though no one else ever pick it up)--both have World Series rings. Yet, they weren't good enough for the Cubs, always on the hunt for the future HoF-er who could do everything and help them win it all.

--Carlos Zambrano is pitching in Venezuela. A lot of us hope he stays right there, though I wouldn't be surprised if Theo & Co find a way to smooth things over just enough and polish up his rough edges just enough to trade him.

--Aramis Ramirez is not in the Cubs' future plans. So says Theo. Is Bake DeWitt taking over, or is Bryan Lahair learning how to play third base as we speak? Or maybe Thepo has something different in mind.


Random observations

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--You know Mike Quade doesn't know how to handle his pitching staff when he watches Randy Wells fall apart in the 7th inning against the Sox, but doesn't yank him because he's trying to preserve his 9th inning plan.

--Quade stuck with Wells yesterday two days after he pulled Ryan Dempster after Dempster gave up a lead-off 9th inning double in a 1-0 game that Dempster had dominated, giving up just three hits with no walks. Dempster had only thrown about 80 pitches. If anything, Quade often stuck with Dempster too long earlier in the season when he obviously was burnt toast, but this time let him start the 9th, then yanked him at the first sign of trouble. If he was going to be that quick about it, Carlos Marmol should have started the 9th. Pulling Dempster wasn't fair to Dempster or Marmol. I know, the win is what matters--well, unless you're about 15 games under .500. Then, maybe you should just start with consistency.

--Juan Pierre has come up with a couple clutch hits for the Sox in the last two games. I like little Juan, but again, he has no real value if he's not stealing bases. These clutch triples will not last through the rest of the summer.

--I guess I'm finally giving up on Adam Dunn. The walk yesterday was charity from Randy Wells, and I swear Dunn looks about 10 lbs. heavier every game.

--The Sox can go over .500 this weekend. I usually root more for the home team durng Crosstown Classic games, but I'm suspending that this weekend, just in the hopes of seeing one of our teams poke its ahead above the water.


If you haven't slammed the Cubs yet today, you are way behind. Carlos Zambrano did so yesterday, with comments that were 90% correct and refreshing to hear, and 10%--but a hard to overlook 10%--selfish and mean.

Today, Bob Brenly, in mostly agreeing with Zambrano's comments, called the Cubs a "dead-ass team." Again, it's an accurate call, though if it were Steve Stone talking, he would have been fired 30 seconds after he said that. It will be interesting to see what happens to Brenly. Maybe he can go over Jim Hendry's head to Tom Ricketts and convince the owner that Brenly himself would be a better manager than Mike Quade.

Zambrano, who continues to pitch almost better than he ever has, called out his team after another missed opportunity yesterday vs. the Cardinals. He was right to do it, but I suspect he was motivated more by his own annoyance at losing a W for his personal record than anything else. I have no way of knowing for sure, of course--I'm just making an assumption based on past poor behavior, and don't tell me there is a lack of that.

He also criticized the pitch choice of Carlos Marmol, who blew the save yesterday when Ryant Theriot (et tu, The-Riot?) doubled in the tying run. Zambrano morphed into Sparky Anderson, and said Marmol should have thrown a fastball instead of a slider because everyone apparently knows Theriot isn't a fastball hitter (though he seemed to do nicely with one earlier in the game on an opposite-field single).

I don't know about that. Maybe there's case for Zambrano's line of thinking. However, Marmol's best pitch is the slider, and he still had a ball to give away on a 2-2 count, which suggests one of his patented tailing-away sliders would be a good choice. Also, callng out your closer on a single pitch he threw is just bad form--would Zambrano like to hear the same from Marmol every time he walks a guy?

Marmol has blown two saves in a row, and I think's he's going through his typically mid-season swoon more than anything else. His real problem was letting a guy on base in the first place, a game he plays often, but usually wins.

What's forgotten amid all the criticism is that the Cubs almost took 2 of 3 from the division leaders. They got swept instead, which is not to be easily forgiven. If you are going to criticize anything, it should be the lackluster offensive effort. Hitters gave up both days and were swinging early and often.

I agree with Brenly that some players seem indifferent. In Zambrano's case, it might sounds like he cares too much, but to some extent, his comments--and his reaction following his recent bat-breaking incident--show that his main issue is his apparent disrespect for Quade.

If Quade has lost control of the team, now 11 games under .500, that is a problem, and Ricketts or Hendry should deal with it in some way. I would still be mosty against firing him unless Brenly or Bobby V. or the ghost of Leo Durocher has some kind of sure-fure instant fix in mind.

But, again the evidence is mounting for the Cubs to back up the truck early this year. Unload Zamrbrano while you can--he is playing great, and seems more likely than ever to agree to be traded. Send Aramis Ramirez packing, and maybe Alfonso Soriano, too, when he comes off the DL. I could see at least one top-tier majors-ready prospect coming in for each of them. If Hendry doesn't want to do that, then Ricketts should unload Hendry, too, and find a GM who is ready to begin rebuilding now rather than at the end of this year.

Recent success has taught Cubs fans to expect to win. It won't be happening much this year, so let's just see if more of these kids can play, and in the meantime get started on building a team, a management structure and an attitude that will bring us a competitive team next year.


Arrrgh!

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I was looking on the bright side yesterday when I said the Cubs could score (though "hit" was what I really meant), and they have had several games recently when the line-up exploded, but it's also true that that have had completely listless efforts, and they have now had two in a row against that team they find so hard to beat, the Pirates.

Mustering only three hits, they lost today 10-0 after yesterday's 4-2 loss, which was saved from being a shutout at the last minute by an Alfonso Soriano two-run homer.

On days like this, it looks like Mike Quade's job might be in trouble. Maybe it should be, though I think he's done okay with what he's had to work amid injuries with a mix of veterans with bloated contracts and newbies eager to impress.

If things do get worse, someone will have to pay, and that definitely could be Quade, though I don't see who would be a viable replacement. The Ryno ship has sailed. Bobby Valentine? Who might the Rickettses think is worth paying for?

Given the latter question, I think Quade's job is safe for now.


Spring training isn't over yet, but I just don't have Mike Quade's patience when it comes to making final roster decisions--or for being level-headed amid disastrous performance. With that in mind, here's my partial assessment of spring training heroes and zeroes thus far for the Cubs, in a language you social media-loving kids will find easy to understand (my White Sox review will follow shortly):

Starlin Castro: Like. Revive the hyperbole that greeted Castro's MLB debut in Cincinnati last season. With 4 HRs and 12 RBIs this spring while keeping his average consistently above .400, Castro is showing signs that he is ready to accept the probably unwanted mantle of being the Cubs' next big star. Is it too early to start planning where we will put his statue? How about at the corner of Aggressive Hitting and Poor Defense?

Carlos Zambrano: Like. Even-tempered? Check. Pitching well? Check. I reserve the right to click "Unlike" if either changes by May 1.

Carlos Silva: Unlike. He really should be gone by now, but the Cubs have a possibly misguided idea that keeping him on the staff will somehow project trade value upon him. Day by day, the out-of-shape, poor-performing, ill-tempered Silva is changing the assesment of the Milton Bradley trade from a clear win to a probable draw.

Blake DeWitt: Unlike. Seemed like a nice acquisition last year, but a pitiful spring has the Cubs rumored to be considering vet Luis Castillo, just released from the Mets.

Cubs starting pitchers: Like. Even though Silva didn't show up for the starting rotation battle, other starters have looked very good, and Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner have given little reason not to pick them as the fourth and fifth starters.

Andrew Cashner: Like. You can unlike the seven walks and 11 hits in 11 innings, but Cashner has been mostly effective. We'll see how we feel about him after he gets a spring training start.

Cubs defense: Unlike. The less said about this the better. Maybe a sign of the team's youth, but Aramis Ramirez in particular seems to be regressing.

Scott Moore: Like. Back in a Cubs during training uniform again after a brief stint in Baltimore, he is looking like a better back-up to Ramirez at third than DeWitt.

Wellington Castillo: Like.11 hits in 15 at-bats, and with the Cubs basically already out of contention, why not give him a longer tryout? Koyie Hill, by the way, is 1-for-24.

Tyler Colvin: Like. Another tentative endorsement. He is not exactly hitting everything in sight and defesne remains questionable, but you can tell the power storke is there.

Carlos Pena: Like. Ask me a week ago, and I would have felt differently, but Pena has slowly raised his average and found his homerun stroke.

Matt Garza: Like. Another slow starter who seems to be picking up the tempo, along with his pitch velocity.

Carlos Marmol: Unlike. Spring is just a tune-up, of course, but his propensity for walks is rearing its ugly head at a time when he should become the top closer in the majors. He's got about 10 days to get his head on straight.

Mike Quade: Like. Totally engaged and level-headed, though I would like to see him challenge his guys Ozzie-style on their defensive play and shoddy bullpen outings.

Jeff Samardzija, John Russell, John Gaub: Unlike.These guys all still look more like Quadruple A pitchers than big leaguers, which doesn't bode well for the future.

 

 

 


Dead men walking

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Carlos Silva vs. Aramis Ramirez.

It almost seems like a PR stunt to make these Cubs look a bit more lively and passionate than they actually are.

It also conveniently covered the fact that the Cubs made three errors in one inning of what has been a ball-bobbling spring thus far. Sure, the errors may have had something to do with the fight, but the fight is what will be remembered.

My big question is will either Silva or Ramirez be with the Cubs at the end of the coming season? I think the odds are against it on both counts. Silva may not even break spring training with the team if he pitches as he did in the first inning against the Brewers before he and A-Ram scuffled (with A-Ram reportedly defending another teamate against Silva). Whatever value he seemed to possess early last season seems to have disappeared with his health issues that followed.

And unless the Cubs magically--and I do mean magically--end up in first place in July, I think Ramirez could be gone by the trade deadline, possibly to team like the White Sox that may find themselves in need of a third baseman and a bat. Though the Cubs would have to pay his option if they do trade him, I don't see him fitting in for long with Mike Quade-led team.

If it sounds like I'm really down on the new-look Cubs, that is not necessarily true. Starlin Castro is having a great spring--except when the ball is hit to him--and should have an even better second year than his first. In general, I think the Cubs will be the sort of team they look like--scrappy offense, decent starting pitching, excellent bullpen, sad defense. In their division, with the Cardinals falling to pieces, that could very well be a third place team.

Don't look so disappointed.


Winter warm-up

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It's still winter in Chicago, and we've got the snow to prove it--though it's fading fast. Down in Arizona, it's time for a warm-up as the Cubs and Sox take (or were supposed to take) the field for their first spring training games today. Only, it doesn't sound like the weather down there is much friendlier than up here.

The Cubs will take on the Oakland A's at Fitch Park later on in what sounds like pretty chilly temps--the low 50s--by spring training standards. Meanwhile, the White Sox reportedly already have cancelled what was supposed to have been an intrasquad game, primarily due to rain at Camelback Ranch. Hopefully, the weather's better tomorrow as the LA Dodgers pay them a visit for their first real taste of spring competition.

I'll take a more in depth look at both teams later this week, but most of what I've been hearing and reading the last few days has been about the managers. Mike Quade sounds like a dynamo, upbeat and hands-on with the Cubs. Bookmaker.com has the initial over/under for Cubs wins this season at 82. I'm still thinking under, though Quade makes you want to believe in bigger things, always a dangerous practice for Cubs fans.

Ozzie Guillen, on the other hand, seems as manic as ever. If he's not Tweeting about the Bulls, his golf game or his new website, he's putting a price on the head of Bobby Jenks. Also, at one point earlier this week, he said he had many different line-ups running through his head, but later said he wasn't going to tinker with the line-up as much this year. In other words, same old Ozzie.

Let the spring training games begin.


Quade keeps his job, drops the 'interim'

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In a development surprising only for its timing--because basically any timing would have been surprising--interim Cubs manager Mike Quade is formally being announced as the new manager today, with a two-year contract.

It's probably the right move and the right length of contract for a guy who guided the young Cubs of the latter part of the 2010 season to a 24-13 record. He probably will be working with pretty much the same group next season, and there was no reason to hire a World Series winner like Joe Girardi if the Cubs aren't planning to add much next year.

It seemed like maybe the Cubs were going to wait for Girardi, which would have very publicly made Quade or Ryne Sandberg second choice if Girardi had turned down the job. Of course, the most obvious choice prior to Quade's late-season tryout was Sandberg, and if Quade hadn't done well it would still be Sandberg.

I'm wondering if the timing has something to do with Sandberg turning down a behind-closed-doors offer to be one of Quade's coaches. The Cubs may now have to watch Sandberg take a manager job elsewhere, and if Quade stumbles early, fans surely will be calling for his head--and GM Jim Hendry's--and demanding explanations for why Sandberg wasn't hired as manager. Had Quade never been given the chance by Hendry, most fans probably would be behind Sandberg as top choice, but Quade's success leaves them conflicted, and, as always, hopeful.


MLBTradeRumors.com says that SI.com's Jon Heyman says via Twitter (Does this make it third-hand info?) that the Seattle Mariners are about to hire Eric Wedge as manager. This means the Cubs won't be hiring him, not they Cubs GM Jim Hendry was planning to. Seeing Wedge's name in the mix was an odd addition from the start, given the Cubs have at least three other candidates in mind--Joe Girardi, Mike Quade and Ryne Sandberg--who all have a good understanding of Cubbie occurrences and century-plus-long pressure that comes with them.

If Wedge goes to Seattle, that also means that White Sox third-base coach Joey Cora won't be going there. Cora reportedly has been considered for that job before, and presumably was being considered again. He also reportedly has a shot at the manager job with Milwaukee.


And then we came to the end

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White Sox 2010: 88 wins, 74 losses

Cubs 2010: 75 wins, 87 losses

The final records never tell the whole story, of course. The Sox improved their record by nine games over 2009, at times looking like they were going to win 95 games, at other times looking like they would struggle to .500. But, 88 wins only gets them a distant second place this year, and for the most part, fans will go away disppointed rather than hopeful for next year. Not that there isn't plenty to be hopeful about. The starting rotation is in good shape for next year, and several positions are set, but we still don't what will happen with guys like Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski and Bobby Jenks.

The Cubs were eight games worse than 2009, but for most of the season looked like they would end up with 95 losses. There's fair reason to hope, with young players getting important experience and looking good doing it, but there's plenty to be disappointed about. The arrival of Rudy Jaramillo as hitting coach promised a better offense that never showed up, and veterans played themselves into a funk under a manager who seemed lost and unable to motivate them. Mike Quade's audition as manager should be something to be happy about, but it more or less just complicates a decision to be made by a general manager that may not deserve to stay himself.

It should be an interesting off-season, and whatever happens, next April can't come fast enough for both our teams.


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