Cubs count on Quade, 2 former Rays

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, but it came without the pressure of a pennant race.

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.