February 2012

2/19 Garza on Z, Theo & contract

Matt Garza predicts Carlos Zambrano will be in the Cy Young race this year, that the Cubs will be eating better, and his contract situation won’t be a distraction.

* On Big Z: “I’d love to be compared to Zambrano on the field. That guy, I’ll tell you what, he’s going to have one hell of a year, I kid you not. He’s going to go down to Miami and surprise a lot of people. His stuff is so electric and it still bottoms out — every pitch does. He’ll go down there and have a hell of a year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the Cy Young race this year, I kid you not. He’s got that good of stuff. Just playing with Ozzie [Guillen] and being in his own comfort zone, I think he’ll have a hell of a season. I wish nothing but the best for that guy.”

* On changes with Theo Epstein now in charge: “We’ve got better cooks. The food was good last year, but they brought in a complete overhaul of the kitchen. You see changes there, you see a lot more young faces. I’ve only been here for a year and that’s all I’ve seen so far. I’m waiting like everybody else to get out there and see what we’ve got.”

* On Epstein’s Red Sox teams: “[I know] I was able to kick the crap out of them every year, year in, year out for three seasons, that’s what I learned. The ballclubs he built were always good.”

* Garza has agreed to a one-year contract but GM Jed Hoyer hinted they may discuss a multi-year deal. He doesn’t intend on setting a deadline.

“Right now, my agent knows where I’m at and where I want to be at and that’s all there is to it,” Garza said. “When stuff comes across, we’ll all know about it and we’ll talk about it. If something gets done, you guys will know. If nothing gets done, we’ll all know. You won’t hear a peep from me. My job is to get ready April 5 and get to the postseason.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/19 Pitchers and catchers workout

New manager Dale Sveum will get his first look on the field of the entire Cubs pitching staff on Sunday when they start work at Fitch Park. The workout is not expected to get underway until noon so players have time to undergo physicals in the morning in Mesa, Ariz. Sveum and new pitching coach Chris Bosio will be sorting out the starters. On Saturday, Sveum mentioned at least three spots are set in the rotation — most likely Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm. The competition gets underway Sunday.

— Carrie Muskat 

2/18 And the Oscar goes to …

Theo Epstein still hasn’t seen the movie “Moneyball.”

“Moneyball has become a loaded term; that’s not exactly what we do,” Epstein said Saturday. “I wasn’t a huge fan when certain proprietary information was made available to the public in the first place. Instead of a handful of clubs knowing certain things, in a year or two, 30 clubs knew it. It’s not my cup of tea.

“It sounds like they made a really good movie and a lot of people were entertained, and that’s terrific,” he said, “but it’s baseball time, not movie time.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/18 The Cubs’ Way

It won’t be a best seller or made into a movie, but one of the things the Cubs baseball operations staff did during the two-day organization meetings this week in Mesa, Ariz., was to define “The Cubs Way.” Theo Epstein said everyone was involved and everyone on the staff had input. The manual will be made available to the staff, not the public.

“I think the public will know about it when players who we’ve drafted and signed come through our system learning the Cubs’ way and play that way at Wrigley,” Epstein said Saturday. “They should hold us accountable; we should have good results. They should see our players playing the same way in the Minor Leagues and when they get to the big leagues. They should see a fundamentally sound team, they should see smart and aggressive baseball. It doesn’t matter how the sausage is made, right? It’s a results oriented business.”

Epstein isn’t saying the other 29 teams are doing things wrong.

“This is the right way for us,” he said.

That means defining everything from baserunning to pitching to bunting. And the message should be the same from the Dominican summer league teams to the big leagues.

“The Cubs’ way, yes, it’s in writing and the scouting manual is done and the player development manual is getting finished but it’s a living breathing thing,” Epstein said. “First of all, it grows every year. You can’t figure this thing out. We’ll make modifications to our teaching approach. The Cubs’ way really boils down to the people — the players, obviously, but everyone, all the scouts, all the people in uniform in the Minor Leagues and the big leagues. For us to teach the game the right way, it’s more than words on the page. It comes down to how deep we dig to get connected to players to teach the game the right way, how much we care, how committed we are, how hard we work. There’s a lot that goes into this and building an organization.”

Said Cubs manager Dale Sveum: “We’re not creating the wheel here or re-inventing anything. It’s just refining everything to get things done on an everyday basis. The Cubs’ way or anybody’s way, it’s just the right way to do things.”

— Carrie Muskat



2/18 Byrd: “There’s a good feeling here”

The Cubs head into the season as underdogs in the NL Central. That’s OK with Marlon Byrd.

“Everyone’s counting us out so I’m sure they’ll have us down with the Astros, Pirates, whoever,” Byrd said Saturday. “That’s fine with us.”

He pointed out that the Cardinals were 10 1/2 games out and ended up winning a World Series. One aspect of the team that is suspect is the pitching. There’s a lot of new faces.

“We got a lot of guys who can throw it,” Byrd said. “With [Travis] Wood and [Chris] Volstad, those guys, you have guys you’ve faced and you’ve seen the talent they have and you’ve seen what they can do. You hope the change of scenery really helps them big time. At the same time, we have competition. We have a lot of guys here — Andy Sonnanstine, Rodrigo Lopez — to push guys. It’ll be fun and nice to watch those guys compete and develop at the same time.”

Byrd has been in Mesa, Ariz., for a few weeks. Has he had a chance to lobby with manager Dale Sveum for his preferred spot in the lineup? Not yet, he said. Byrd and Sveum have talked about hitting, situational baseball and playing the game right. Where does he want to hit?

“Put me in the lineup, that’s it,” Byrd said. “I’m going to dictate where I am by the way I’m hitting. I started in the three hole and ended up in the six, seven hole. I showed I wasn’t hitting. If I’m hitting, they’ll put me where I need to be.”

This is the last year of Byrd’s contract with the Cubs. He’d like to stay.

“I don’t want to go anywhere,” he said. “I came to Chicago for a reason and that’s to help them win and I haven’t done that yet. I have a lot to accomplish here. I just have to go out there and do what I can to help this team win. if they want me here, I’m definitely going to be here.”

So far, the tone in camp is good.

“There’s a different feeling around here, and it’s a good feeling,” he said.

— Carrie Muskat

2/18 A man of few words

Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd not only lost 20 pounds this offseason but also gained a new tattoo. He now has part of Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech from 1910 on his right arm. It’s something his wife gives him every year before the season starts. Here’s an excerpt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

— Carrie Muskat  

2/18 Reed & son ready to go in Cubs camp

It’s tough to say who was more excited coming to Fitch Park on Saturday, outfielder Reed Johnson or his 2-year-old son, Tyce. Johnson drove his family, including dog Yogi, from Las Vegas on Friday and arrived with young Tyce swinging his bat, ready to go.

“We kept bribing him [on the drive] — ‘We’re going to Spring Training, it’s baseball season, it’s baseball season,'” Johnson said of the message they gave his son to keep him quiet during the five-hour drive. “I’m definitely excited. I’ll keep doing this until they rip the uniform off me, that’s for sure.”

Johnson, one of the Cubs’ extra outfielders, wanted to come back to Chicago after hearing about manager Dale Sveum, who has promised he won’t tolerate any lackadaisical play.

“I think that’s a big reason why I came back as well,” Johnson said. “You see Dale and the way he approaches things and you can tell he means that. A lot of coaches and a lot of staff members can say that but you can tell it’s not genuine or they’re not going to follow through. [Sveum] doesn’t care if you’re making $15 million or $450,000. You’re going to go out there and play the game hard and if not, you’re not going to play. For players like me, that’s really refreshing because a lot of times, especially throughout the league and throughout my experiences, that hasn’t been true. If you come in with that attitude, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening with this staff.”

Johnson likes the Cubs pitching, too.

“From top to bottom, we’ve got solid guys,” he said. “I feel in 2008, every time we ran out a starter, we had a chance to win that game. I feel when you look at the starting staff we have now, you feel you have a chance to win that night. I think that’s key mentally for this team as well.”

— Carrie Muskat 

2/17 Unfinished business

The Cubs are still waiting for word from MLB commissioner Bud Selig regarding what compensation the Red Sox will receive in exchange for Theo Epstein. Epstein, named Cubs president of baseball operations in late October, was to address the media on Saturday at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz. Maybe we’ll get an answer then.

Also, the Cubs are waiting for word from infielder Blake DeWitt, who was designated for assignment Feb. 6. If he clears waivers, DeWitt then has to decide if he will return to the Cubs as a non-roster invitee or test free agency.

— Carrie Muskat

2/17 Garza one of early birds in camp

Matt Garza arrived in Arizona at least two weeks before pitchers and catchers have to report for Spring Training and the Cubs pitcher said he felt he was late.

“Look at everybody here,” said Garza, one of the early birds at Fitch Park on Friday as players prep for the official opening of camp.

Pitchers and catchers will have their first workout Sunday afternoon, with position players holding their first session on Feb. 24. On Friday, Kerry Wood and Rodrigo Lopez each threw off the mound, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo conducted early sessions in the cages, and Darwin Barney, Bryan LaHair and Josh Vitters were among those practicing on the half field.

The right-hander said he’s in his best shape and eager to build on his second half. Before the All-Star break, Garza was 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA in 16 starts. In the second half, he was 6-3 with a 2.45 ERA in 15 games.

“I learned a lot from the second half and I remember what that feeling is like and I want to get out here and duplicate it,” Garza said. “Right now, my body is better than when I’ve come in before. I’m in better shape, things are stronger. It’s just been a great offseason.”

One other matter he took care of was his contract, avoiding arbitration by agreeing to a $9.5 million one-year deal with the Cubs. Could a long-term deal be in the works?

“I don’t talk about that,” Garza said. “That’s between my agent and myself, and my agent and the front office. If they want to contact us, whatever way it works, is great. My main focus is getting ready for April 5 and having fun again.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/17 Cubs Minor Leaguer suspended

Cubs Minor League pitcher Ricardo Estevez received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for taking two substances that are in violation of the Minor League drug prevention and treatment program. The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced the suspension on Friday. Estevez, a right-handed pitcher, tested positive for metabolites of Stanozolol and Nandrolone. A member of the Dominican Summer League Cubs, his suspension will be effective at the start of this season.

— Carrie Muskat