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Cubs Round-Up: Rizzo, Zambrano, Cashner & Kazmir

By bullpenbrian - March 7, 2013 - 10:00 am Leave a comment.

Anthony Rizzo

Anthony Rizzo should be in the starting lineup for team Italy’s first game in the World Baseball Classic this afternoon (2pm CST) against Mexico at Salt River Fields in Arizona. Italy next plays Canada tomorrow (3:30pm CST).

On Saturday team Italy, as part of Pool D (Italy, Mexico, Canada & United States), moves to Chase Field in Arizona where the Italians square off against the U.S. at 10pm CST.

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk spoke with Rizzo following Italy’s 4-3 exhibition loss against the A’s on Tuesday and asked him his thoughts on being introduced as “Anthony RIT-tso” by the P.A. announcer.

“I think I’ll enjoy that this week,” said Rizzo.


The man Rizzo was traded for, Andrew Cashner, is listed as the Padres’ bellwether player for 2013 by Grant Brisbee of SB Nation.

“Just about the best-looking pitcher this side of Strasburg. But it’s almost certainly preferable to be the best-pitching pitcher. To do that, you have to pitch. The same caveat applies to a lot of Padres, but none more than Cashner.”


Carlos Zambrano is still searching for a big-league contract this spring while pitching for Venezuela in the WBC according to Hardball Talk. Meanwhile, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports Big Z could pitch in Japan or Taiwan if he doesn’t catch on with an MLB team by the end of spring camp.

Zambrano pitched so poorly for the Marlins through 20 starts last season (5-9, 4.54) he was demoted to the bullpen in late June, finishing the season
(7-10, 4.49) with an 88 ERA+.

Barring injury, however, I think Zambrano lands an MLB offer soon enough– even if he’s so-so in the WBC. With so many teams starved for starting pitching, the 31-year-old should become an attractive arm at an affordable price.


Cubs scouts were on hand to watch left-hander Scott Kazmir throw in a B Game with the Indians this week. As Matt Snyder of CBS Sports points out, Kazmir is only 29-years-old.

“Remember, this is a two-time All-Star who led the American League in strikeouts in 2007 when he was only 23. He appeared to have long-lasting ace potential until he fell apart from 2009-11, culminating with a 17.02 ERA in five starts for Triple-A Salt Lake in 2011. His major issue was control, as Kazmir walked 20 hitters in 15 1/3 innings during that short Triple-A stint. The four spring innings this year are far too small a sample to reach any firm conclusion, but the zero walks so far are a great sign.”

I thought the Cubs would give Kazmir a stronger look last offseason considering they had Randy Wells, Andy Sonnastine and Chris Volstad as rotation possibilities. But if Kazmir shows signs of becoming his old self again, there’s certain to be plenty of competition to land his services.

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What’s Happened With Former Cubs Ace Ted Lilly?

By bullpenbrian - February 26, 2013 - 11:00 am 2 comments.

Ted Lilly Chicago Cubs

Jim Hendry’s trade of Ted Lilly to the Dodgers in 2010 was my coming to Jesus moment–the Cubs’ organization was truly taking a turn for the worse.

Here was a quality, left-handed starter, who for my money was the staff ace since 2007, being shipped to southern California (with Ryan Theriot) for Blake DeWitt. Holy hell.

I wouldn’t go as far to say Lilly was underappreciated during his tenure in Chicago, but I do think it’s fair to say he didn’t get the recognition he deserved.

Ask Cubs fans who the staff ace was during the back-to-back division titles in 2007-08 and most will give top billing to Carlos Zambrano or Ryan Dempster.

For certain, both guys had their moments, but neither was as solid as Lilly during his 3.5 seasons on the North Side.

From his first season with the Cubs in 2007 to the eventual July 31st trade in 2010, the southpaw managed 47 wins in 113 starts while posting a 1.114 WHIP and a sparkling ERA+ of 122.

Lilly not only proved to be a terrific ‘stopper’ when the Cubs were coming off a loss, but he was regularly juggled in the rotation to pitch in the Cubs’ most important series.

Theodore Roosevelt Lilly was the Cubs ace.

Unfortunately, that’s not how most Cubs fans remember him. Instead, it’s the memory of Lilly’s mound tantrum during Game 2 of the NLDS at Arizona, when Chris Young lit him up for a three-run HR in the second inning, prompting Lilly to slam his glove to the ground in frustration.

Granted it was the worst timing for a poor outing, but Cubs fans overreaction to Lilly’s brief loss of composure would’ve made one think he fired a ball into the stands, punched a teammate in the dugout or bumped an umpire…or any number of episodes Big Z was actually guilty of while acting in the roll of the Cubs’ staff ace (rolls eyes).

Still, nothing compares to Lilly being snubbed by Lou Piniella during the 2008 NLDS when the skipper went with Dempster, Zambrano and Rich Harden to start Games 1-3. The series was over before Lilly could throw a single pitch.

Meanwhile, since the trade Lilly has put up respectable numbers with L.A. He made 12 starts to finish out the 2010 campaign with a record of (7-4, 3.97 ERA). The following year, his first full season with the Dodgers, Lilly made 33 starts, pitched 192.2 innings and won 12 games with little to no run support. A nagging shoulder injury, however, limited him to just 8 starts last summer, although he still managed a (5-1, 3.14 ERA) record.

After three months of rehabbing, Lilly ultimately opted for arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in Sept., resulting in the Dodgers placing him on a modified throwing program this spring.

At 37-years-old, and in the final season of his contract, this may be Lilly’s last hurrah in the bigs. Los Angeles has a crowded rotation as it is, and any setbacks in Lilly’s recovery during spring training could see him as the odd man out in what would be his 15th major league season—the best of which took place with Chicago.

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Cubs Connection: Jamie Moyer, Matt Garza & Big Z

By bullpenbrian - January 8, 2013 - 3:00 am Leave a comment.

Cubs transactions for January 8th:

1992 – Signed Jamie Moyer as a free agent

2011 – Traded Hak-Ju Lee, Chris Archer, Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer to Tampa Bay for Zach Rosscup, Fernando Perez and Matt Garza

Would you make the same trade today?

-Carlos Zambrano, Anyone?

Still no takers for Big Z. Not surprising, really.
In years 29, 30 & 31 he’s averaged just 22 starts per season.
Hasn’t pitched more than 200 innings since 2007 (216.1).
Has won fewer than 10-games in 3 of last 4 seasons…(11 in 2010).

Part of Z being a head case wasn’t just his childish behavior and immaturity. It was always a concern of mine Zambrano wasn’t learning how to be a pitcher vs. a thrower.

Miami was suppose to rejuvenate the big right-hander. Instead, he went (7-10, 4.49) while Ozzie, of all managers, demoted him to the bullpen mid-season.

Zambrano had long mentioned he would retire at the end of his 5-year, $90 million contract extension originally signed with the Cubs in 2007. Currently that appears to be his only option.

When Theo shipped Z to the Marlins last January (along with $15 million) it was never a matter of what the Cubs were getting in return. Rather, the Cubs needed to rid the team of a malcontent in favor of revitalizing the clubhouse culture.

Chris Volstad was the return piece of course, but regardless of how poorly Volstad (3-12, 6.31) was last season the Cubs were no doubt better off distancing themselves from El Toro.

My gut feeling, however, is some team will reach out to Z before spring training. What a mistake that will be.

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Big ‘Z’ Still A Big-Money Fish In A Polluted Pond

By bullpenbrian - October 25, 2012 - 1:00 am Leave a comment.

As poorly as the Ozzie Guillen hiring worked out in Miami, it did do the Cubs a favor.

Without Ozzie at the helm the Cubs probably don’t find a taker for Carlos Zambrano last winter, which would’ve meant enduring another season of Zambrano’s self implosions.

“Ozzie has a long and close relationship with Carlos.” “We went with Ozzie on this one. The bottom line was Ozzie just really, really felt confident about this deal.” -Marlins’ president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest

Ozzie, of course, was brought to Miami to revitalize the Marlins franchise and Zambrano’s career. Instead, the Fish floundered to a (69-93) record becoming an embarrassment of riches, including Big Z, who actually won fewer games with Miami (7) than he did with the Cubs a year prior (9).

So while it’s easy to gripe about the $15M the Cubs ate to send Carlos to south beach and the return they got for him in Chris Volstad, there’s still no question the Cubs were better off without El Toro’s selfishness on a young, rebuilding team.

“I talked to enough [players] in order to get an understanding of the history here.” “This isn’t a decision that players will make. But I think if you don’t listen to what happens in the clubhouse then you can’t develop a proper understanding of it.” -Theo Epstein on Zambrano trade

Meanwhile, Ozzie’s career as a manager may be over and Zambrano’s pitching career could soon follow him right out the door.

Neither, however, is a concern of the Cubs thanks to the Marlins’ foolishness to believe Ozzie and ‘Z were part of the answer and not part of the problem in south Florida.

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Why Is Chris Volstad Still Pitching For The Cubs?

By bullpenbrian - August 21, 2012 - 2:30 am 4 comments.

I can’t believe the Cubs don’t have a better option in the rotation than Chris Volstad (0-9, 6.88).

He’s winless in 14 starts with Chicago and hasn’t won a single game over his last 24 outings dating back to his days with the Marlins.

It’s even tougher to believe Volstad actually won 12-games with the Fish just two seasons ago. Of course, when he faltered badly in 2011 going (5-13, 4.89) he became expendable on South Beach, and now we know why.

Volstad struggles with command, struggles to stick to the game-plan, struggles to pitch out of trouble and struggles with confidence. Did I miss anything?

STOP BLAMING THEO FOR VOLSTAD

It’s easy to be critical of Theo Epstein for dealing Carlos Zambrano for a 6’8″ has-been. But it’s important to remember this trade wasn’t about what the Cubs were getting in return.

This deal was strictly about dealing Big Z; a malcontent who had become a destructive clubhouse cancer on the North Side.

Tom Ricketts was essentially paying Zambrano to go away when Epstein dealt him to Miami in January. The fact a player was coming in return was simply icing on the cake, and although Volstad was coming off a down year, six of his last seven starts were quality outings with Florida.

Let’s not pretend there were better deals on the table for Zambrano, either. In fact, it was the only deal available, and the Cubs finally accomplished what they should’ve done years ago–ridding the organization of El Toro.

PUTTING THE BIG Z TRADE IN PERSPECTIVE

As poorly as Volstad has pitched since joining the Cubs, it’s nowhere near the frustrations that would’ve boiled over with Zambrano’s selfishness on a team treading towards a franchise-worst record. Lord only knows what pyrotechnics would have shot out of Big Z during the Cubs 12-game losing streak in May.

The idea Zambrano would’ve helped the Cubs this season is entirely fool’s gold. Sure, he’s pitched better than Volstad going (7-9, 4.32), but even so it wasn’t enough from keeping his close friend Ozzie GuiIlen from demoting Carlos to the bullpen in the season’s second half.

Volstad, however, doesn’t earn a free pass for simply being a throw-in piece to the trade. The Cubs, believe it or not, are still a major league team in the business of winning. Volstad, to this point, has been counterproductive to those efforts.

WHY IS VOLSTAD STILL PITCHING FOR THE CUBS?

How on earth the Cubs justify Volstad’s roster spot is beyond me. My best guess, however, is with the season a wash and hardly any reserves left in the minor leagues, the Cubs are giving Volstad the longest possible opportunity to show improvement.

It’s been long enough in my opinion, and I’m certain in the minds of many other Cubs fans, as well.

The Cubs currently have two minor league starters who could fit the bill over the final six weeks pitching at least as effective as Volstad, and I’d venture to say even better.

Rodrigo Lopez is (2-5, 5.28) with Triple-A Iowa. He started 16-games for the Cubs last season and wasn’t all that bad going (6-6, 4.42). He’s the furthest thing from being part of the Cubs rebuilding plan, but so too is Volstad.

Casey Coleman (2-4, 4.34) hasn’t exactly been tearing it up at Iowa, either. But he has seen several previous stints in the big leagues as both a starter and reliever, including a spot-start on July 31 against Pittsburgh–4.2, 4-ER, 7-H, 4-BB, 5-K. Volstad-esque, but hardly any worse.

So why not take a chance with one of these two guys? Who knows, maybe the Cubs actually win enough games behind one of them to help avoid a dreadful 100-loss season? Sticking with Volstad, meanwhile, only guarantees the Cubs will reach triple digit losses.

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Cubs Taming Of The Shark

By bullpenbrian - August 9, 2012 - 4:19 pm Leave a comment.

I’ve mentioned before one of my chief concerns with Jeff Samardzija is the football mentality he shows at times on the baseball diamond.

It was on full display at San Diego Wednesday night when Shark unsuccessfully tried to bare hand a hit back up the middle and later broke his bat over his knee following a three pitch strikeout.

Neither example took away from a terrific outing, but chances are this type of behavior will come back to bite him in the worst possible way–injury.

WHY BASEBALL ISN’T FOOTBALL

Baseball, as I understand it, isn’t a grunt sport. The emotional element that’s so necessary on the gridiron does little for one’s success on the ball diamond–often the greater the effort, the more production suffers.

Of course, that doesn’t mean baseball players should be absent of passion and focus on the playing field, Samardzija undoubtedly has both, but learning how to channel his emotions from wild beast to quiet assassin is what’s of importance.

It’s where the right kind of effort meets the desired results. It’s about maturity, self control and the understanding that the game of baseball pays little attention to how macho you are.

HATER IN THE HOUSE? 

This post isn’t about throwing mud on Samardzija. He’s come a long way in his first season as a starter. 

And perhaps, had it not been for his no-quit, football-like approach, he may not have transitioned so well from reliever to starter after the Cubs unwisely bussed him to and from Iowa at the beginning of his career.

The truth is, I’m all for Shark’s emotion. The Cubs, unquestionably, are in desperate need of his energy, his drive, and his desire to dominate opposing hitters. He badly wants to be the staff ace and I love him for it.

Samardzija has all the talent to reach those expectations, but now it’s just a matter of him learning how to wrangle his raw emotions into productivity on the baseball field.

Otherwise, he’s no better off than Carlos Zambrano, who for years self destructed under his own lack of self control.

Now, I’m not saying Samardzija is on El Toro’s level, thank god, but his recent behavior isn’t far from it, either.

I think I just want to see Samardzija succeed as much as he shows us he wants to, and the only thing I see standing in his way is himself.

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Big Z Video Tribute

By bullpenbrian - July 17, 2012 - 6:02 pm Leave a comment.
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No Big Z, No Problem For Cubs

By bullpenbrian - July 17, 2012 - 2:15 am Leave a comment.

Naturally, Carlos Zambrano comes to mind with the Marlins in town for a three-games series.

Big Z isn’t scheduled to pitch, which is a shame. It would’ve been fun to see him wearing a visitor’s uniform on the Wrigley Field mound, and more interesting to see what kind of reaction he’d get from the home crowd (I imagine a standing ovation?).

But there was never any doubt Zambrano needed to depart Chicago’s North Side when Theo & Jed dealt him to Miami in January.

Carlos had worn out his welcome long before walking out on the team in Atlanta last August, which was rightfully the last straw for the organization.

April 8 post: Sadly, the once promise of a would-be ace steadily declined into a pitcher no longer welcomed or worthy of wearing Cubbie Blue.

Of course, it’s easy to gripe about the trade for Chris Volstad, who’s been horrific, and think how much better-off the Cubs might be with Zambrano in the rotation.

El Toro, however, hasn’t had the season many thought he would given a change of scenery and the guidance of Ozzie Guillen.

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Travis Wood A Quality Starter

By bullpenbrian - June 20, 2012 - 3:00 am 2 comments.

Hat tip to Travis Wood (1-3) for hanging with Jake Peavy Tuesday night.

It wasn’t the 25-year-old’s best outing of the season, but good enough to earn his first win, not to mention, back-to-back big victories against the South Siders.

Wood’s settled in nicely since his initial call-up from Triple-A Iowa on May 5 to spot-start in place of Matt Garza, and then recalled two weeks later to eventually replace a woeful Chris Volstad (0-6, 7.46 ERA).

In Wood’s seven starts with Chicago four have been quality efforts, including Tuesday evening. He’s allowed three or fewer runs six times and has pitched no fewer than five innings.

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Kerry Wood, Big Z & Tank

By bullpenbrian - May 19, 2012 - 5:42 pm Leave a comment.

Last Saturday I addressed a worse case scenario regarding Kerry Wood’s final days with the Cubs:

Wood continues to struggle and the Cubs are forced to issue an ultimatum to ‘retire’ or accept his unconditional release from the club.

It would be a rather sad ending for a much beloved Cub, but the more Wood struggles, the more likely it becomes Kerry finalizes his Cubs career standing with family members behind home plate at Wrigley Field during a small ceremony held in early September.

No doubt that day is near. But I remain hopeful it’s one that comes next season rather than this one.

I obviously didn’t expect this day would come so soon and somewhat unexpectedly. But give Wood credit for taking a tough decision off the hands of Dale Sveum and the front office.

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