Lou gone, Z has meltdown and Cubs' drought endures

As a longtime Cubs fan, Tom Ricketts knew well the history of the team he now owns and its long tradition of grabbing headlines without winning a World Series title.

This time he got to see it up-close and from a different angle as the guy in charge. And Year One under Ricketts ended just like the previous 101 — without a championship. Not that the season wasn't eventful.

Manager Lou Piniella retired in August, former ace Carlos Zambrano had another meltdown that led to him undergoing anger management counseling and three players who played pivotal roles in winning division titles in 2007 and 2008 — Ted Lilly, Derrek Lee and Ryan Theriot — were traded away.

The Cubs did finish strong under interim manager Mike Quade, going 24-13 in the final six weeks, but that came without the pressure of a pennant race. Their final record of 75-87 left them in next-to-last place in the NL Central. Not what a team with a payroll of about $145 million to start the season expected.

General manager Jim Hendry is returning and his assignment is again to find the right guy in the dugout, with Quade and Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg considered top candidates. Former major league managers Eric Wedge and Bob Melvin could also be in the running.

"Obviously, we're very disappointed in the record," Ricketts said near the end of the season. "While this season wasn't the best on the field, I think we're building a good foundation for the future."

The Cubs did get a lift from rookies such as shortstop Starlin Castro, who batted .300, and left-handed swinging outfielder Tyler Colvin, who hit 20 homers before his season ended in late September when he was struck in the chest by a splintered bat. Young pitchers like Andrew Cashner and Casey Coleman also showed promise.

Chicago got off to a slow start when Lee and third baseman Aramis Ramirez struggled early on. Ramirez, who has said he will exercise a $14.6 million player option to return for next season, also was bothered by injuries and batted .241 with 25 homers and 83 RBIs in 124 games.

Alfonso Soriano, another player with a big contract, hit 24 homers while batting .258. Kosuke Fukudome batted .263 and has another season on his four-year, $48 million contract.

Saying he needed to be with his ailing mother back in Florida, Piniella stepped down Aug. 22 after the Cubs went 51-74. He was in the final year of his deal and had put together three straight winning seasons but could not get the Cubs out of their funk.

Quade, who was the team's third base coach and had managed more than 2,000 minor league games, got the nod over bench coach Alan Trammell and the players responded to him over the final month and a half. His audition for the full-time job went well.

"The season has been a rough one. We didn't want these last six weeks to be rough," Quade said. "Yes, they were out of it, but they didn't quit."

In a surprise move, Zambrano was sent to the bullpen April 22 and finally rejoined the rotation in early June.

He went on a tirade in the dugout after giving up four runs in the first inning of a game against the White Sox, apparently peeved because some teammates didn't dive for balls. He had to be separated from Lee, his teammate at the time.

Zambrano, who signed a five-year, $91.5 million contract extension in 2007, was sent home by Piniella, suspended, put on a restricted list and then assigned to counseling.

When he finally was reinstated, he pitched his best ball, going 8-0 in his final 11 starts to finish 11-6.

Zambrano said nothing should stop him from pitching that way again in 2011.

"I'll just do what I have to do and come back in the best shape of my life and be ready for spring training and for the season. That's the main goal," he said. "It's about enjoying the game and I enjoy every moment and every situation in the game. ... I think that's the key to being successful."

Carlos Silva had a strong early start before a sore elbow hampered him and he finished 10-6. Marlon Byrd, another pickup last offseason, made the All-Star team and batted .293 while playing a strong center field. Ryan Dempster went 15-12 while pitching a staff-high 215 1-3 innings, closer Carlos Marmol had 38 saves and catcher Geovany Soto batted .280 with 17 homers in 105 games before season-ending shoulder surgery.


AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.