Cubs enjoy being free of Zambrano
By GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com April 16, 2012 9:30PM
Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano breaks his bat over his knee after striking out to end the 5th inning as the Chicago Cubs host the Houston Astros Tuesday May 31, 2011 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
The facts: 6:10, CSN+, 720-AM.
The pitchers: Ryan Dempster (0-1, 1.88) vs. Josh Johnson (0-2, 8.38).
The REST OF THE SERIES
Wednesday: 6:10 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM. Matt Garza (1-0, 1.23) vs. Mark Buehrle (0-2, 3.65).
Thursday: 11:40 a.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM. Jeff Samardzija (2-0, 3.95) vs. Ricky Nolasco (1-0, 3.46).
Updated: May 18, 2012 9:54AM
The day before the Cubs loaded their transport truck to break camp and start the season, eight-year Cubs veteran Ryan Dempster looked back on six focused, harmonious weeks of work and lauded the new manager and his staff.
At which point he was asked if this could actually become a distraction-free season for the National League’s perennial leaders in clubhouse distractions over the last decade or so.
‘‘I think it’s too early to say,’’ Dempster said, adding with a straight face, ‘‘DeJesus is a real problem child. The kid’s crazy, man.’’
David DeJesus, of course, might be the most even-keeled, likable player among all the good-guy acquisitions the new front office made over the winter.
That’s not only Dempster’s point but also the point of a front office that came in talking about culture change, ‘‘parallel tracks’’ and ‘‘foundations for sustained success.’’
Whatever the timeline for achieving many of the more tangible objectives, the difference in tone, tenor and maybe even ‘‘culture’’ 10 games into the season is already apparent — at least, so far — in this post-Carlos Zambrano era.
If nothing else, the potential for weirdness looks to be dialed down significantly.
‘‘It’s not strange anymore,’’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano.
For a comparison, just take a look at the other guys this week in Miami.
The Cubs are the spectators at somebody else’s circus for a change. Marlins manager and former White Sox lightning rod Ozzie Guillen returns from a five-game suspension as the series opens Tuesday, and a certain 6-5, volatile veteran of multiple Cubs suspensions is sure to get his own moment in the spotlight this week even though he won’t pitch against his former team during this series.
Trading Zambrano and the final year of his big contract was a decision that was all but set in stone before new Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer took over a month into the offseason. Zambrano sealed his fate when he bailed on the team in Atlanta last August after getting kicked out of a game for throwing at Chipper Jones,
That and a handful of other changes in the clubhouse helped create a tone this spring that holdovers referred to as refreshing and positive.
‘‘We certainly didn’t come in knowing what the right moves were. It was more gathering information from [those] that had been here and been in that clubhouse,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘We tried to come in with an open mind and listen to what people had to say about the culture and what was here.
‘‘And I think what we found was that a lot of people felt like having a more distraction-free zone would probably be for the best.’’
The biggest means to that end was trading Zambrano to the Marlins for pitcher Chris Volstad and paying the difference on their salaries.
No more need to fear the inevitable meltdown. No more worrying over finger-pointing and divisiveness when things go wrong. No more meetings with infielders to tell them to ignore the staff’s positioning orders.
But if there’s a new tone, Soriano says, it involves a lot more than a few subtractions. He attributes that lack of strangeness he mentioned to manager Dale Sveum’s staff.
‘‘It’s coming from the coaches,’’ he said, ‘‘the way they treat people, the way we’re working. It’s not Zambrano. It’s the GM we have, the president, the manager, the new talent that we have — a lot of young guys. It makes a difference. . . .
‘‘I’m not looking for negative things. I look for positive. I’m happy we have new teammates, great people, and the manager and the president made a huge difference.’’
Sveum said the only thing he knew about Zambrano came from those who knew him and from a brief phone conversation they had before Zambrano was traded, a few weeks after Sveum was hired.
‘‘You hear what kind of good guy he was in the clubhouse. Guys liked him, but he would just go off the handle a little bit once in a while,’’ said Sveum, who can’t speak to the differences this year as much as to his own efforts to communicate and set a consistent tone.
Somewhere in the background of all the Ozzie noise Tuesday, Soriano will look for a chance to say hi to Zambrano — the guy he argued with in the clubhouse about his actions that night in Atlanta, an hour or so before Z left.
‘‘I tell you, we’re friends,’’ Soriano said. ‘‘You can get emotional. I think he just wants to do good, and when it’s going bad, he cannot control himself. But outside of the game, he’s like a great person.’’