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The Beginning of the End For Cubs Manager Mike Quade

Posted by sportsmaven on April 13, 2012

If there wasn’t already enough non-baseball related drama surrounding the Chicago Cubs this week, Sunday night’s Starlin Castro fiasco on national television highlights the sad state of affairs afflicting the Cubs in 2011. If Friday’s firing of GM Jim Hendry was the culmination of bad on-field performance, ESPN’s showcase of the young shortstop Castro’s nonchalant daydreaming is the exclamation point on a Cubs culture in desperate need of positive change. With Hendry’s departure, the bullseye of this seasons poor performance is directly focused on Cubs manager Mike Quade and he sticks out like a sore thumb.

Mike Quade was Hendry’s hand-picked manager, but with a volatile mixture of underperforming, overpaid veterans, youngsters up the middle, an injured, suspect starting rotation and an unreliable bullpen, the Cubs were already a disaster waiting to happen. Add to that a couple of meltdowns by Carlos Zambrano, a head-scratching dedication in playing veterans over youth while sitting 16 games under .500 and 20 games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers, Quade is punching his ticket out of town post haste. Each day that Reed Johnson gets a start over a Tyler Colvin or a Tony Campana is a display of how far apart the perception of the Cubs manager is from the reality of where his team resides. Each mismanaged Zambrano outburst or Ryan Dempster confrontation or Starlin Castro maturity lapses is a stamp on how overmatched and over his head Quade appears as the manager of the Chicago Cubs. Somewhere in Reading, PA is Ryne Sandberg, thanking his lucky stars that he didn’t inherit the mess that is currently drowning Mike Quade.

If Cubs interim GM Randy Bush was smart, he would be pursuing every opportunity for waiver deals to move veterans in favor of increased playing time for the youngsters. Bush should also get on the phone and order Quade to play Colvin and Campana as much as possible so the organization can see what it has. On Sept 1st, bring up CF Brett Jackson, P Chris Carpenter, 2B/SS/3B DJ LeMahieu and possibly 3B Josh Vitters to get some major league innings under their belts. Of course Quade will continue to manage the Cubs as he has to date, thus reaffirming his eventual demise as Cubs manager. The new Cubs GM will want to start fresh somewhere. Minor League director Oneri Fleita and Scouting Director Tim Wilken are both highly regarded by Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts so change will come elsewhere. The odd man out is clearly Quade and it’s just a matter of time.

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Zambrano Rips Cubs After Loss…This Time He’s Absolutely Right

Posted by sportsmaven on June 5, 2011

After the Chicago Cubs crafted yet another come from ahead loss to long time nemesis the St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Zambrano could hold back no longer. Moments after Albert Pujols launched his second of back to back walk off homers to beat the Cubs on consecutive days, Zambrano took a minute comment on the Cubs morbid play and this time he couldn’t be more spot on with his commentary. In his post-game comments following Sunday’s 3-2 loss, Zambrano pulled no punches when asked what he thought of the outcome, as reported by Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune:

“The problem wasn’t Pujols,” Zambrano said in a loud voice, glancing toward Marmol’s locker as he spoke. “The problem was (Marmol’s slider to Theriot).

“We should know better than this. We play like a Triple-A team. This is embarrassing. Embarrassing for the team and the owners. Embarrassing for the fans. Embarrassed — that’s the word for this team.

“We should know better than what we (did) on the field. We should know that Ryan Theriot is not a good fastball hitter. We should know that as a team. We should play better here. We stink. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

The unfortunate part of what is quickly becoming a lost season for the Cubs, Big Z seems to be the only one in the Cubs organization who is not only openly honest in how the team is currently playing, but also seems to be the only one with any sense of holding anyone accountable for poor play as of late. No, the problem wasn’t WHAT Big Z said, the problem was that he was THE ONLY ONE that stepped up to say it. Past history aside, maybe Zambrano should be questioned for being the bearer of this on the mark comment, as his past comments haven’t been sparkling to say the least. But Sullivan’s comment of Zambrano throwing Cubs closer Carlos Marmol under the bus? C’mon, this needed to be said. If not by Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, then certainly by manager Mike Quade, who is the orchestrator of the latest incarnation of the debacle known as the Chicago Cubs and is quickly losing the faith and support of the dwindling Cubs fan base.

The best thing to happen to Tom Ricketts, Mike Quade and their Cubs team was the long playoff run by the Chicago Bulls, which took all the pressure and focus off of a wobbly and challenging early season of marginal play by a team with a severe identity crisis. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the Cubs, as the focus has shifted from the wildly successful Bulls season that ended prematurely, directly to a team that is in it’s worst performing stretch of play thus far this season.

And unfortunately for Mike Quade, direct comparisons with Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau will now start, as Quade seems to hold what appears to be a diametrically opposite coaching/managing philosophy to Thibodeau, who is notoriously known for holding his players accountable. Just ask Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah about accountability.

Another unfortunate situation for Quade is sharing the Chicago baseball spotlight with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen who would, as Sullivan eloquently states, never allow another player to throw a teammate under the bus because that’s his job to do as Sox manager.

Being a player’s manager in and of itself is not a bad thing. The other thing that Tom Thibodeau is known for is being a players coach and he seems to be skillfully adept at managing that along with player accountability. What I wanted to hear from Quade today would be something to the effect of:

“We didn’t get the job done again today. We had the book on Ryan Theriot, went away from what we knew best and it burned us. We also had an opportunity to change our approach from yesterday and we didn’t do that and it cost us the game. This is an unacceptable performance today and in this series from the manager down to the 25th guy on the roster and we need to change this immediately in order to get better.”

Instead, according to Paul Sullivan, Quade chose to say this:

Manager Mike Quade, who watched Pujols beat his team in extra innings for the second straight day, said he would let his players “deal with” Zambrano’s critique.

“I don’t know exactly what that means,” Quade said of the “Triple-A” comment. “We had a chance to win a ballgame 2-1, and we didn’t get it done. The people that picked him up were not Triple-A caliber, (Sean Marshall) and Marmol.”

Marmol has blown saves in Zambrano’s last two starts. Quade said he had no problem with Marmol throwing a slider to Theriot with a 2-2 count and the tying run on first.

“He got ahead with his fastball,” Quade said. “Right now, I could care less. Those are the things you go back and look at tomorrow.

“Marmol throws a slider. Everybody is always (ticked) when he gets beat with his fastball. I’m just (ticked) when we get beat. ‘Z’ pitched good. That’s all I know.”

Sounds like shades of ex-Chicago Bulls interim head coach Jim Boylan, who in 2008, had an incident with then-rookie Joakim Noah, who yelled at assistant coach Ron Adams when Adams was riding Noah particularly hard in practice. In a still stunning move, Boylan allowed Bulls veterans Adrian Griffin and Ben Wallace to add 2 additional games to the one game suspension Boylan had already doled out to Noah for the yelling incident. Yes, let’s let the players police themselves and deal with the critique. Good idea.

Of course Quade’s “players rule” mantra ultimately starts at the top with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, who had a chance to inject some upfront honesty when asked by the Chicago sports media this week to assess how his team has performed thus far this season:

“When asked earlier today what was wrong with his 23-30 team (now 23-34 after the Cardinals weekend sweep) on the verge of being swept by the “worst” team in the National League (the Houston Astros), Ricketts said simply: “Nothing. Just a lot of injuries. We’ll be fine.'”

Of course if you believe that a team that has the longest current losing streak in MLB at 6 in a row, a team that has yet to win 3 games in a row all season, a team with a 23-34 record good for 5th place, has 7 players on the disabled list, the worst pitching in the NL, second worst fielding in the NL, a team that has taken the fewest walks in the league while giving up the most walks in the league is “fine”, then you have drunk the Kool-Aid the Ricketts have served along with the improved “Wrigley Experience”.

As famed Clinton political strategist James Carville would say if asked about the state of the Chicago Cubs, “It’s all about winning, stupid!” and the Cubs aren’t doing a lot of that along with not enough honest looking into the mirror either. Good for you, Big Z, wish your management would have beat you to the punch on that one though.

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UPDATE: Questions Surround Chicago Cubs As Annual Fan Convention Starts

Posted by sportsmaven on May 23, 2011

Loyal Chicago Cubs fans arrive in town today to kick off the 26th Annual Cubs Convention at the Chicago Hilton and Towers. Besides the obvious challenge on how to effectively market a 5th place baseball team, the failed attempts of ownership to get the public to finance upgrades to Wrigley Field, and finding a classy and respectful way to honor a Cubs folk hero after the death of Cubs legend Ron Santo, questions surround the team on and off the field after an offseason that receives a mixed review to date. Some of the questions i’m sure will be brought up this weekend include:

Why Mike Quade over Ryne Sandberg when hiring Lou Piniella’s replacement as Cubs manager?

Why did Carlos Pena hit only .196 last season and was that worth the $10 million salary that was given to him to play 1B for the Cubs? (By the way, what was the deal about deferring half his salary? Are the Cubs in such a financial state that they have to start deferring salary on a player with a 1-year contract? Will he hit over .200 playing half his games in Wrigley this season?

Will you ever find mid-season homes for Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome when the Cubs hit double digits in games behind in the division standings? When do the Cubs start calling up kids from the minors?

How did Cubs P Kerry Wood turn down reported 2 year, $10 million contract offers to accept a 1-year, $1.5 million Cubs offer, including the infamous “Cub for life” clause that was rumored to include broadcasting for the Cubs after he retires. How do you become a Cub for life off a 1-year contract?

Was Cubs P Matt Garza worth the 5 players he was traded for? Do you think any of those 5 players will eclipse the career that Garza has (and will) put together as a Cub? Is he the front of the rotation talent that required 5 minor league prospects to close the deal?

Who will step up in the rotation after Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Garza? Does a rotation of Dempster, Zambrano and Garza even scare anyone other than Cubs fans?

Will the strong back end of the bullpen ever get into some meaningful games this season? Will Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, and Wood continue to dominate?

Will young talent Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin, and Andrew Cashner continue their ascent in becoming cornerstones of a revived Cubs farm system that appears to be on the verge of regularly developing major league quality talent? Who will be this season’s Starlin Castro?

Off the field, there are even bigger challenges facing the Ricketts family:

Are last season’s empty seats an aberration or a indictment from fans on the quality on the field?

Will Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry survive another abysmal season as the Cubs top on-field and off-field management?

Will this be the year that the fruit of Cubs Director of Scouting Tim Wilken’s tree starts blossoming?

Will we ever see a Cubs Triangle Building and more investments in infrastructure of Wrigley Field with the Ricketts footing the bill, instead of the taxpayers?

Stay tuned as I will update this post with a progress report around mid-season/All-Star break.

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Is Chicago Cubs Jake Fox The New Mark DeRosa?

Posted by sportsmaven on July 17, 2009

Is Chicago Cubs IF/OF/C Jake Fox becoming the next Mark DeRosa for the Cubs?  Fox’s hitting has been widely praised up and down the Cubs leadership hierarchy, posting downright gaudy numbers this season for the AAA Iowa Cubs.  His .409 BA, 17HR, 53RBI and OBP of .495 in just 45 games are completely off the charts.  In 29 games with the Cubs, Fox’s stats are .312 BA, 4HR, 15 RBI with an OBP of .356, very impressive for a part-time role player.

Jerry Lai/US Presswire

Jerry Lai/US Presswire

Fox has forged his reputation as a very solid, strong hitter with no natural fielding position.  He was drafted as a catcher in the 3rd round of the 2003 amateur entry draft, out of University of Michigan, but has bounced around the diamond since, with some saying his best position will ultimately be as a designated hitter.

Since his second recall from Iowa this season, Fox has played third base, left field, and this past week before the All-Star game, he played his natural position, catcher in the second game of a day night double-header.  In past stints with the Cubs, Fox has also played first base and right field.  Fox has quietly developed into a 5 position player with a very strong bat.  He hits for power, average, and can get on base.  He has delivered in the clutch when the Cubs lacked any clutch hitting in the months of June and July.

As the second half of the season begins, the best use of Jake Fox may be in the role that Mark DeRosa played for the Cubs in the last 2 seasons.  Fox has the ability to play multiple positions, maybe not quite as well as DeRosa, but he has shown competence in every position he’s played, and he may develop into a much better hitter than DeRosa as well.  Fox is also seven years younger than DeRosa too.  Fox can play up to 3-4 games a week to rest players such as 3B Aramis Ramirez, 1B Derrek Lee, OF Alfonso Soriano, and OF Milton Bradley.  He can also spot-catch when needed.  He may even be a better hitting backup catcher option to C Geovanny Soto than C Koyie Hill, or at least provide Cubs manager Lou Piniella more roster flexibility in late game situations.

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Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry’s Unlucky Season

Posted by sportsmaven on June 10, 2009

Short of P Randy Wells, has anyone on the Chicago baseball landscape had worse luck than Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry?  As we pass the first third of the 2009 season, it appears that every significant move that Hendry made in the offseason has stunk to high heaven.  Some of those major moves include:

(UPI Photo/Brian Kersey)

(UPI Photo/Brian Kersey)

Signing OF Milton Bradley — Hendry signed Bradley to his first ever multi-year contract, a 3-year, $30M sweetheart deal, partially to cover last season’s potential mistake of signing OF Kosuke Fukudome.  The other part is that Bradley’s a switch hitter, adding yet another left handed hitting bat to what was once a righty dominated regular lineup.  All Bradley has done this season is boycott the media, bump an umpire, earning himself a 2 game suspension, appealing said suspension while being in the midst of missing 7 games due to a hamstring injury.  Now injured with a calf strain, Bradley is hitting .208 5 HR 14RBI and struggling to stay healthy.

Trading IF/OF Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for 3 minor league pitchers — evaluating all of Hendry’s moves, this one was the most baffling.  DeRosa played at least 6 positions and was an offensive force for the Cubs, keeping a big stick in the lineup while offering rest to regular position players with no drop off in ability.  DeRosa, along with former Cubs P Kerry Wood, was the heart and soul of the Cubs 97 win team in 2008.  His 10HR and 42RBI would by far lead the 2009 Cubs in both categories.  It seems that the right handed hitting DeRosa’s only problem is that he doesn’t hit left handed.

Signing OF Joey Gathright — Gathright was an insurance policy, a way to provide speed and fielding ability at the top of the Cubs lineup.  What Gathright amounted to was a poor fit in Chicago.  Hendry traded Gathright to the Baltimore Orioles for IF/OF Ryan Freel, whom the Orioles activated from the 15-day DL to complete the trade.  Hendry’s luck continues, as three weeks after completing this trade, Freel was back on the DL

Signing IF/OF Aaron Miles — The signing of Miles was a hedge to the DeRosa trade, as Miles is DeRosa lite.  Miles plays almost as many positions, but unlike DeRosa, Miles hits with zero power.  Miles played sporatically to start the season, but as he began to receive more playing time, he earned himself a seat at the table of the 15-day DL, adding further scrutiny to an already snakebitten Hendry offseason.

Keeping Rule 5 draftee LHP David Patton on the 25-man roster — This move was a particularly tough one and a huge risk, magnified by the roster turmoil the Cubs have seen in the first two months of the season.  Patton was outstanding in spring training, making the decision to keep him a very difficult one, considering it would have to be for the entire season, due to the Rule 5 rules.  Once the season began, Patton suddenly became hittable and unreliable, which is not a huge suprise from a young player who had never played professional baseball above the Class A minor league level.  Keeping Patton tied manager Lou Piniella’s hands in two ways: first, Patton was virtually unusable in any situation outside of blowout victories or losses; second, Patton cost the Cubs a roster spot for a more reliable pitcher, or a position player, which would have been useful when 3B Aramis Ramirez went down with a shoulder injury.

Signing RHP Chad Fox — Hendry took yet another flyer on the oft injured pitcher, and once again, it ends with what appears to be a season and career ending injury.  Fox ended last season with a major elbow injury prompting a brief retirement, only to be lured out of retirement for another go at bullpen work.  In his second appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 8th, Fox threw a wild pitch and grabbed his arm in obvious pain.  He is on the DL again and it appears that this time, his injury may be career-ending.

Other issues that are not directly related to Hendry moves, but have happened under Hendry’s watch as GM this season include:

  • The Ramirez injury
  • Carlos Zambrano’s injury and subsequent 5-game suspension and $3,000 fine for bumping an umpire while vehemently disputing a call at home plate in a game on May 27th, then 6 days later blows off a team flight to Atlanta without permission.
  • LHP Ted Lilly’s fined $1,500 and nearly suspended for being ejected while arguing balls and strikes – in a game where he was not even pitching.
  • An injury to RHP Rich Harden, forcing a move to the DL that has been longer than first anticipated
  • Building an ineffective bullpen, with struggling LHP Neal Cotts, RHP Aaron Heilman, and set-up man RHP Carlos Marmol’s recent struggles
  • Early ineffectiveness from IF Mike Fontenot, C Geovanny Soto, and 1B Derrek Lee

To be fair, not all of Hendry’s moves this season been a total disaster.  Some of Hendry’s smaller, under-the-radar moves have been quite strong, mainly:

  • Bringing up Randy Wells when Zambrano went on the DL; then keeping Wells in the rotation as he has been the Cubs most dependable and effective starting pitcher of late.
  • Promoting rookie IF Bobby Scales, an 11-year minor league player making his major league debut.  Scales became the feel good story of the season so far for the Cubs.
  • Making an 11th hour decision to keep bubble performer RHP Angel Guzman as the 25th man on the roster after a horrible spring training.  All Guzman has done is become the best and most reliable reliever in the Cubs bullpen this season, sporting a 2-0 record (the first two wins of his major league career) with a 2.28 ERA, with 6 holds and a save.  Over a span of 12 games since May 8th, Guzman has been perfect, not giving up a single run.

While Jim Hendry’s moves have all backfired so far this season, to his and the Cubs credit, they haven’t panicked.   Odds are that players struggling this bad will rebound strongly and if the strong starting pitching continues, the Cubs still can boast the most talent of any team in the NL Central.  Only time will tell if this will be enough for a third straight post-season appearance.

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