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updated: 8/4/2012 10:13 PM

Who will fill Cubs' leadership gap?

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  • Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija has stepped up in more ways than one this season for the Cubs.

      Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija has stepped up in more ways than one this season for the Cubs.
    Associated Press

 
 

Darwin Barney surveyed the situation in the Cubs' clubhouse the other day.

"It's tough; it's weird," the second baseman said. "Somebody was saying yesterday, 'We're salty veterans on this team.' You look around, and it's pretty clear what direction we're going in. I think a lot of us are excited about it.

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"At the same time, we're sad that big pieces had to go. But we're all very lucky to still have a Cubs uniform on. That's first and foremost."

The Cubs took on a decidedly different look last week when they traded four veteran players: Ryan Dempster, Reed Johnson, Geovany Soto and Paul Maholm.

Couple that with the retirement in May of pitcher Kerry Wood, and the Cubs have a leadership gap to fill. Consider that Wood first joined the organization in 1995, Soto in 2001 and Dempster in 2004.

So who steps up now?

Manager Dale Sveum answered the question with a question of his own.

"Who knows who really steps up in those kind of roles?" Sveum asked. "We have some young players. I think (Steve) Clevenger and (Welington) Castillo have to step up in the catcher's role because they're a big part of our future. They're going to be here awhile.

"Obviously, (first baseman Anthony) Rizzo has those qualities in him. But you don't put those things on anybody. (Jeff) Samardzija is in those kind of roles, a type of guy that can take Dempster's kind of role and run with that.

"You don't just designate somebody. That's not the way that works. It usually just works with a little bit of time and (comfort level) in the big leagues."

While it still was the 20th century when Wood joined the Cubs for his first go-round, the current Cub with the most service time is closer Carlos Marmol, who came up in 2006.

Alfonso Soriano signed as a free agent for the 2007 season. Samardzija came up in 2008. The Cubs obtained veteran Jeff Baker in a 2009 trade.

Other homegrown products, such as Barney, James Russell and Starlin Castro, made their debuts in 2010.

"It's very difficult sometimes for role players to take on those roles," Sveum said. "You have to be, obviously, a Reed Johnson type, a guy like that.

"Most of the time, it's going to come from an everyday player or a guy like Dempster, who's been around a long time and in one city a long time.

"There are a lot of combinations that come under that role. Some guys are quiet. Some guys are vocal about it and pull guys aside. Some guys do all kinds of different things in those leadership roles."

One of those players who has stepped up in more ways that one is the 27-year-old Samardzija. Not only has he moved up on the veteran-status ladder because of the attrition, but with pitcher Matt Garza hurt, Samardzija is the de facto No. 1 starter in the rotation.

"Obviously, there's still a lot left to be done," Samardzija said. "We don't know how it's going to end up or how we're going to finish these two months yet, but eventually, those roles are going to get filled. Someone's going to fill them.

"I'm not a big vocal guy or anything like that, but you can always lead by example and show guys how to work, how to pitch in tight situations and how to compete. That's what I do all the time, and hopefully it rubs off."

The Cubs also may have to deal with losing again more often than not. Entering play on June 25, the Cubs were 24-48. They then went 19-10 through July 30 before losing three in a row heading into Saturday night's game at Los Angeles.

Management's stated goal has been to build for the long term. Last week's trades likely mean the Cubs took a step back as far as wins and losses go in the short term.

"When you lose and a Maholm and a Reed Johnson and a Soto, right now, it's very difficult to think you're going forward when you lose those guys," Sveum admitted.

"That's part of what we're trying to accomplish here. We got (five) really quality players in those trades, very young guys, whether they're 2-3-4 years away, who really knows?

"We got some really quality arms and guys -- we've talked to other people (about them). They should be good major-league players."

bmiles@dailyherald.com

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