Greg Maddux is a Cubs once again – GM Jim Hendry has hired him as one of his assistants to help develop the future of the Cubs. Officially, Maddux will help with the coaching staffs during Spring Training, he will be involved in the development of minor league players at the minor league level and he will participate in talent evaluation within the baseball operations department.
Maddux had his No. 31 retired in May 2009 along side Fergie Jenkins. He pitched 10 seasons for the Cubs, with 133 of his 355 victories coming in a Cubs uniform. Maddux was the 8th winningest pitcher all-time when he retired in 2008 and he won his 1st Cy Young Award as a member of the Cubs in 1992 – 20-11 with a sparkling 2.18 ERA.
Maddux had this to say about the endeavor: “I’m looking forward to learning things about the game that I never thought I had to learn, and at the same time, trying to pass down what I’ve learned the last 20 years to the players who will play hopefully for the next 20 years… I’m looking forward to working my way back into the game and am happy that the Cubs have given me the opportunity to do that. I started my career with the Cubs, and Chicago has always been the best place in the league to play. I’m eager to do whatever I can to help the organization and am looking forward to getting started at Spring Training.”
GM Hendry echoed Maddux’s sentiments: “We’re thrilled to have Greg back with the Chicago Cubs. He has such a vast knowledge of all phases of the game and the ultimate respect of everyone from players to the front office. The addition of Greg Madduz makes us a better organization.”
Let’s hope Maddux learns quickly. I believe that Hendry is under contract for the next 2 years. Maybe when the Ricketts family realizes what a crappy position that Hendry has left the Cubs in player personnel-wise (with all the bad long-term contracts that have the Cubs hands tied for the next 2-3 seasons), they’ll see a potential replacement with Maddux. How about Maddux and Sandberg running the major league club in a few years? We can only hope…
Bako or Hill – to be or not to be??? The race for the back-up catcher position comes down to veteran Paul Bako and youngster Koyie Hill. Bako has been around the block for several years on several major league baseball teams. Bako even caught for the Cubs during the 2003 and 2004 MLB seasons, hitting .218 for the Cubs as the back-up catcher. Bako’s main advantage is that he is a left-handed hitter – both GM Jim Hendry and Manager Lou Pinella have indicated that the Cubs would like to have a more balanced offensive attack in 2009. Bako also brings experience.
Hill has spent some time with the Cubs on the big league level, but still has some learning to do. In his time in the big leagues, Cubs pitchers did comment on how well of a game he called despite his youth. But our felling here is that the Cubs take the conservative approach and go with the veteran Bako. If it doesn’t work out early on, the Cubs can then turn to the youngster Hill to fill the back-up void.
The Chicago Cubs could face a lack of depth in the infield during Spring Training. You starters are Derrek Lee at 1st base; Aaron Miles/Mike Fontenot at 2nd base; Ryan Theriot at shortstop; and Aramis Ramirez at 3rd base. The problem lies in the fact that Miles is expected to back up Theriot at shortstop, while Fontenot is expected to back up Ramirez at 3rd base. If anything happens to the 5 “infield starters”, the Cubs could be in trouble.
Ideally, Cubs Manager would like to see Miles and Fontenot get at least 400 at-bats apiece, which should allow Theriot some ample days off during the course of the long season at shortstop. Adding another infielder who could help back up Ramirez at 3rd base would be huge for the Cubs. One name thrown around is former Cubs player – Nomar Garciaparra. Nomar can play both 1st base and 3rd base and playing more of a reserve role could help him stay healthy during the course of the long MLB season.
Cubs GM Jim Hendry and Pinella have not said that any pick up is imminent, but Cubs scouts will keep their eyes and ears open once spring training games start in both Arizona and Florida in the next few weeks. Hendry made a nice pick up in Reed Johnson last spring before the season started, so maybe he will be able to work some magic again right before the start of the season. We’ll keep you posted with the lasted from Mesa here at MyCubsToday!
Wow – can it really be true? Can we really believe Cubs Manager Lou Pinella at his word? We know it’s still early in spring training, but Pinella actually said that he wouldn’t throw out the possibility that Alfonso Soriano could hit somewhere else in the lineup other than the leadoff spot. Stop the presses, stop the presses!!!
Pinella was asked about the 3, 4 and 5 spots in his lineup, and although he was talking about Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and newly acquired outfielder Milton Bradley, Pinella also indicated that Alfonso Soriano could find himself in the mix for one of those spots. Pinella has also emphasized the fact that he wants to give Lee and Ramirez more days off during the course of the season, so who’s to say that Soriano couldn’t fill one of their spots on those off days or even more often.
Although Soriano doesn’t have the on-base percentage (.344 in 2008) or stolen base (19 in each of 2007 and 2008) numbers that you want out of your leadoff hitter, it’s hard to argue with his success for the Cubs in that spot in the lineup. During the 2008 MLB season, Soriano hit .287 in 105 games as the leadoff hitter and the Cubs won 69 of those games – a .657 winning percentage. In his other 4 games in 2008, Soriano hit 2nd in the lineup twice and 3rd and 7th in the lineup one time each. For the 2009 MLB season, other options for Pinella include Ryan Theriot, Aaron Miles, Reed Johnson, Mike Fontenot and Kosuke Fukodome (only if he shows can be more patient than he was at the end of the 2008 MLB season).
My prediction is that Soriano will remain in the leadoff spot once we make it all the way through spring training. One intriguing option, at least for me, is to put Ryan Theriot in the leadoff spot. Theriot held his own during the 2008 MLB season and continues to build into an all-around dependable player. In 148 games in 2007, Theriot hit .266 with a .326 on-base percentage. In 149 games in 2008, Theriot made a dramatic improvement on both numbers with a .307 batting average and a .387 on-base percentage. With Theriot in the top spot, I would move Derrek Lee up to the 2-hole (since his power numbers have continued to decline – 22 home runs and 82 RBI’s in 2007; 20 home runs and 90 RBI’s in 2008), insert Alfonso Soriano into the 3 spot and follow them up with Ramirez, Bradley and Soto. In the 7th and 8th spots you can work with Fukodome and Johnson in center field, and Fontenot and Miles at 2nd base, depending on the match-ups. Will Sweet Lou take my free advice? I doubt it, but it would sure be nice to see Soriano in another spot in the lineup – at least for a few games in spring training…
Ryan Dempster was the Cubs most consistent pitcher during the 2008 MLB season – 33 starts, 17-6 record, 206+ innings pitched, 2.96 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 187 strikeouts against 76 walks. Dempster helped the Cubs win 97 games – the most of any National League team – as well as the team’s 2nd straight NL Central Division title, and his bold Spring Training training prediction that the Cubs would win the 2008 World Series looked more and more like a reality. Then came Dempster’s atrocious Game 1 start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and another 3-game sweep out of the playoffs without winning a single post-season contest, and the Cubs were right back where they started – 100 years and counting.
Cubs pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training last week, but this time, there were no predictions from Dempster – except for what the club would serve the players for breakfast the next day. Dempster is occupying Kerry Wood’s old locker this spring and he admitted that it is hard not having this generation’s “Mr. Cub” in the clubhouse anymore. Dempster likes the Cubs chances in 2009 and although he wouldn’t mind seeing Jake Peavy in a Cubs uniform instead of a San Diego Padres uniform, he believes the Cubs have just as good a chance to get back to the post-season in October 2009:
“Let this team stand on its own merit as the 2009 Chicago Cubs, and hopefully we’ll do a really good job this year and take it one game at a time and keep playing hard. With the talent we have, we can do some really good things again. I don’t want to replace anybody on our team, because they’re all great. Any time you talk about having a guy of his caliber, it’s something that’s exciting to everybody. If that’s something that happens, great, but at the same time, I think we’ll do just fine with what we have.”
Let’s hope he is right. The Cubs and GM Jim Hendry made some minor tweaks this off-season, while no one in the NL Central – Brewers, Cardinals, Reds or Pirates – made any significant moves which should make the Cubs worry about their chances of winning a 3rd straight NL Central division title. Let’s hope the Cubs stay healthy, play good hard baseball, and actually show up in October for 11 big wins to capture that elusive World Series crown.
Spring Training is here, so we’re getting lots of updates about all of your favorite Cubs players. Obviously we’re all concerned about the health of our pitchers and the progress they made during the off-season, but here’s a story about one of our outfielders – Reed Johnson. Johnson watched what he ate more during the off-season and he dropped right around 14 pounds because of the new diet. Johnson says he feels a lot better both physically and mentally. It should also help him avoid certain back issues that he has had to deal with on and off during his major league career.
Johnson was a kinesiology major at Cal State Fullerton and he says he has retrained his body to eat better and eat less, and not feel hungry after the meal. He has also worked hard at being ready to play all 3 outfield positions. Johnson understands that Manger Lou Pinella will continue to give players more and more time off this season in the hopes of keeping everyone fresh throughout the long MLB season. Giving Pinella the option of putting Johnson in 3 positions as opposed to 1 or 2, will make life easier on Pinella and Johnson. He’ll get his days off for sure, but he’ll also be helping the team by allowing some of the other guys – Alfonso Soriano, Milton Bradley Kosuke Fukodome – an extra day off that they might not have otherwise received.
During the 2008 MLB season, the 32-year old Johnson played in 109 games and recorded 333 at-bats. He hit .303 with a .358 on-base percentage, while scoring 52 runs and driving in 50 runs. Great numbers for a guy they picked up at the end of Spring Training after he was released by the Toronto Blue Jays. The Cubs expect similar production from Johnson in 2009 and look forward to his relaxed laid-back style ensuring another good clubhouse during the upcoming campaign.
When it became official that Rich Harden would not pitch for Team Canada in the 2009 World Baseball Classic next month, many media critics, including yours truly here at MyCubsToday, thought this was another case of a Cubs pitcher being hurt and Cubs management not making full disclosure about the health status of said player. Were we right or were we wrong? The long and the short of it is, only time will tell.
According to the Cubs and Rich Harden, Harden is on schedule to be ready for the start of the 2009 MLB season. Instead of returning home to Canada during the off-season, Harden stayed in Arizona to work with Cubs strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss. His 25 combined starts with the Oakland A’s and Chicago Cubs in 2008 was the 2nd most starts made ever in his career, and the most since he started 31 games for the A’s back in 2004. Harden wanted to build off the momentum from the 2008 season, and also continue to make sure that he is in the best possible condition for the upcoming campaign.
Harden was electric for the Cubs following his acquisition from the A’s. He made 12 starts, pitched 71 innings, went 5-1 with a 1.77 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. He struck out 89 batters and walked only 30. The Cubs would love it if he could reach that 25-start mark again in 2009, but Harden is setting his sights higher – he wants to reach the lucky number 30. He also wants to put the rumors to rest about the tear in his shoulder and the decrease in his velocity as the 2008 MLB season wore on. Harden says that he originally injured the shoulder trying to field a come-backer that took an awkward hop over his pitching shoulder. Since then he has had to listen to his body when his body tells him that he can’t pitch as long or throw as hard. He seems to have the right take on the cards dealt to him: “It’s not just the Cubs, it’s on me. Every year I learn more about my body and how I feel. You want to be out there every single game for 100-plus pitches. That’s the way I am – I want to be out there every game no matter what. You have to take a step back sometimes and evaluate how I’m feeling and manage it properly so I’m strong at the end of the season. I have to be consistent with my mechanics and get my arm in a good spot to throw without putting strain on my shoulder or the rest of my body. That’s going to be big for me – - and that’s what I’m working with Larry with.”
Let’s hope it pays off for Harden. Until he takes the bump that first week of the 2009 MLB season, I will still be a little skeptical no matter what he or the Cubs say. If he is healthy, the Cubs will be in great shape – he can dominate a game and usually puts his team in a position to get that all-important W. If he isn’t healthy, the Cubs could miss a beat in the starting rotation, with a Sean Marshall moving up to the 4th spot in the rotation and a Aaron Heilman or Chad Gaudin having to fill the starts missed by Harden. Not the best of situations, but at least the Cubs continue to add depth in the pitching staff to take some pressure of the rest of the crew in case the injury bug flares up…
Sean Marshall has a lot going for him in the race for the 5th spot in the Chicago Cubs starting rotation. He has logged 50 major league starts in his 3 years in the big leagues and continues to improve on his numbers each and every season. In 2006, Marshall made 24 starts, and finished the season with a 6-9 record and a high ERA of 5.59. In 2007, Marshall made huge strides – in 19 starts, he finished with a 7-8 record and lowered his ERA all the way to 3.92. A big key of his success was walking less batters – 25 less batters than he did the year before. In 2008, Marshall was all over the place – bullpen, starting rotation (7 starts) and back at Triple-A Iowa. Despite all the change, Marshall pitched 65 innings, went 3-5, and lowered his ERA to 3.86 with a 1.27 WHIP. Most importantly, he never once complained. Cubs Manager Lou Pinella summed it up well: “He did what the organization wanted, and he’s improved. He’s gotten stronger. He’s got a good feel for pitching. I’d feel extremely comfortable with him in the fifth spot. I would think with him coming into this camp that our starting pitching is in pretty darn good shape, assuming everybody stays healthy.”
Marshall would join a rotation already laden with talent – Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly and Rich Harden. Pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Chad Gaudin and Aaron Heilman are also expected to compete for the 5th spot in the rotation, so it won’t be easy for Marshall. He put extra time in this off-season in the Phoenix area, and learned a lot from situations that Pinella put him in during the 2008 MLB season to test his mettle. Marshall felt like he passed those difficult tests and so did Pinella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Marshall also has the right attitude: “I’d rather start. But anything I can do to help the team win some games and give the team some good innings and put some zeros on the board, whether it’s in the bullpen or starting or coming in and getting a couple lefties out or getting a base hit, I’m ready to go.”
Gotta love the optimism and the “team first” attitude. We don’t get to see or hear that a lot these days, so we need to publicize it more to let people know that there are players out there who aren’t in it just for the money or glory. Good luck to you Sean. Whether you end up as a starter or in the bullpen, we’re glad you’re a Cub!
Carlos Zambrano will not pitch for Venezuela in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Zambrano is still having trouble with the vision in his right eye. Zambrano met with a doctor in Chicago in January and was set to have Lasik eye surgery to correct the vision issues. However, the right eye has since been infected and he has been taking different kinds of eye drops for the last 3 weeks to try to combat the infection. But the eye drops do not seem to working. Once the infection clears, Zambrano will undergo the LASIK surgery and that should keep him sideline for about 2 weeks. Then he should be set to go.
All signs are good that the right shoulder problems that plagued him during the 2008 MLB season are a thing of the past. Cubs trainers visited with Zambrano in Venezuela during the off-season and they confirmed that the shoulder is looking fine. A prescribed exercise regimen for Zambrano also seems to have worked some magic for the big right-handed pitcher.
Assuming Spring Training workouts go well for Big Z, we should expect to see Zambrano take the bump for his 5th straight opening day start in April. Nothing is written in stone, but I would put my money on Carlos taking the rock.