New Cub skipper acing tests
Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2011 6:11 pm
By: By RICK GANO, AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — That first test for Mike Quade was more of an audition and he passed. Managing the Chicago Cubs on an interim basis after Lou Piniella retired in August, the team responded by winning 24 of its final 37 games.
Next came a competition for the job on a full-time basis. Backed by veteran players impressed with how he handled the final six weeks of 2010, Quade beat out a field that included Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.
Not long into spring training earlier this month, there was yet another test. His leadership skills were on instant display when he had to deal with a dugout altercation between pitcher Carlos Silva and third baseman Aramis Ramirez.
It immediately brought back memories of Carlos Zambrano’s blowup last season after he was upset with his teammates’ fielding, a meltdown that led to his suspension and anger management counseling.
Quade diffused the Silva-Ramirez scuffle with a team meeting the very next day, clearing the air and showing that his managing skills go beyond the strategies of the game itself.
Now comes the real exam. Can Quade, a man who has managed more than 2,000 minor league games, lead the Cubs to the playoffs after a fifth place finish in the NL Central last season? The final stretch he presided over last season may have helped him get the job.
And for those counting, if the Cubs don’t win the World Series their drought will reach 103 years.
“You want to create an environment where the guys will come to play. And people say, ‘Come to play for you.’ I want them to play for us, for their teammates and for themselves,” Quade said, adding he was humbled and flattered by the players’ response to him.
“For all that stuff, there are going to be tough decisions. There are going to be people irritated with me and vice versa,” he said. “That’s the nature of a family or a ball club or anything else.”
The Cubs acquired two former Tampa Bay Rays in the offseason, trading for talented right-hander Matt Garza, who won 15 games pitching in the tough AL East a year go, and signing free agent first baseman Carlos Pena to a one-year deal.
They see Garza as an ace eventually. And they need Pena’s power from the left side and his stellar glove at first, while also hoping and expecting he will hit higher than his .196 average a year ago.
Garza, who had an inconsistent first spring with the Cubs, was key in the Rays’ rise from AL cellar dweller to a World Series team in 2008. He played a pivotal role in that season, winning the ALCS MVP award.
“If you don’t come into this game expecting things, you might as well just hang it up now,” he said this spring. “They pay you for a reason. It’s not to come out here and just hang out. It’s to get a job done and get outs. That’s what I’m supposed to do, so I’m going to do it.”
General manager Jim Hendry also brought back a familiar face, the one-time ace and still fan favorite Kerry Wood, who returned for a one-year, $1.5 million deal to be a setup man for closer Carlos Marmol.
It’s been 13 years since Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros and gave up only one hit — an infield single — in his fifth major league start. His career has been slowed by numerous trips to the disabled list, but he’s just glad to be back. And he likes the makeup of the team.
“It’s got a good mix of young guys and some older guys and some veteran guys,” Wood said. “We’re going to need the young guys to keep us young and obviously our job is to help them get better, as well. I think we have a good enough team to surprise some people.”
Up the middle, there is 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro, who batted .300 as a rookie a year ago; a former NL Rookie of the Year in catcher Geovany Soto; and center fielder Marlon Byrd, who made the All-Star team in his first season with the Cubs.
Left fielder Alfonso Soriano worked on getting his legs stronger in the offseason. Now that he’s no longer a big base-running threat, the Cubs would like to see more than his 24 homers of a year ago and a steadier defensive performance.
More than anything, the Cubs need stronger performances from the players who are making the big money, like Ramirez, Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Zambrano. And they need a good start in the cold weather of April, especially at Wrigley Field.
Zambrano could be a key. He went 8-0 in his final 11 starts, his pitching certainly a factor in the Cubs’ strong finish that helped Quade secure the job. Ryan Dempster, an innings workhorse, a 15-game winner a year ago and a clubhouse leader, will start opening day Friday against the Pirates at Wrigley Field in year two of ownership under the Ricketts family.
Randy Wells, who pitched well two years ago and then faltered last season, has had a strong spring and will probably be the fourth starter. Silva was released on Sunday, meaning the Cubs are on the hook for his $11.5 million salary this season and that Andrew Cashner had the final spot in Chicago’s rotation.
Jeff Baker, Blake DeWitt and Darwin Barney can all play second base. DeWitt, acquired from the Dodgers in a trade last season, struggled this spring and could not be in a utility role.
Marmol, who had 38 saves last season, got a new three-year, $20 million contract this spring, and is considered one of the game’s best closers, even though he has bouts of wildness.