- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and manager Mike Quade understand that getting off to a quick start in 2011 will be the key to staying competitive in the suddenly resurgent National League Central.
Hendry, who has two years remaining on his contract, knows that having a subpar 2011 season could impact his job status, and he understands the pressure to win.
"You guys have known me a long time. I don't think I treat [each season] any differently coming off of a postseason or a bad year like last year," Hendry said Sunday as pitchers and catchers reported to camp. "I tried to focus all winter on how we ended  which was very good; seeing the young guys get better, seeing the veteran guys respond well to Mike. [I then went about] about the business of adding the guys we did."
Entering his ninth year as general manager, Hendry added pitcher Matt Garza in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays and signed free agents Kerry Wood and Carlos Pena. Somehow Hendry was able to get all three for a total of $10.4 million against his 2011 payroll (Pena's contract is paid over three seasons).
"We didn't have a ton of payroll flexibility in the offseason. Understandably so," said Hendry, whose payroll was cut somewhere around 10 percent by ownership in 2011. "It was a lot of work for the guys upstairs [in management]. [Assistant GM] Randy [Bush] was great. Our scouting meetings were tremendous early in the process. You hope it all works out, the plan that we had in mind and the pieces that we needed. We thought we did the best we could."
Quade is excited about his first camp as a big-league manager. Still, he understands the pressure at this level.
"You can't underestimate the challenge of winning a division," Quade said. "I don't even look at that as pressure. I just look at it as one heck of a challenge. If I get everything I'm supposed to out of this club then you believe things will work out."
Quade signed a two-year, $2 million contract after posting a 24-13 mark as interim manager following the retirement of Lou Piniella.
A good part of the Cubs' and Quade's success will depend on the pitching staff which was a strength in the last third of the season. A big part of that was success of Carlos Zambrano, who finished the season with an 8-0 mark in his last 11 starts.
"What's that Rush song? 'Freeze That Moment,' " Quade said of what he is expecting out of Zambrano. "He was real good in a lot of different ways. Yeah, I would take that finish for six weeks and take it for six months and book it. That's an ongoing thing for Zambrano and his development as an older guy, learning what he has to do as an older pitcher. We all have to make adjustments as we get older."
Quade will have the challenge of trying to find pitchers to fit in the fourth and fifth rotation spots along with Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Garza. The choices are plentiful; the quality of those choices remains to be seen.
Quade refused to pick out an Opening Day starter on his first day of camp in Mesa. He said at the Cubs Convention in January that whoever started that day was the ace of the staff.
Hendry must now sit back and watch the season unfold. However, unlike in the past, the Cubs have minor-league player options available. Center fielder Brett Jackson could be this season's version of Starlin Castro. Jackson, a first-round pick of the 2009 draft, made great strides in 2010, showing power and speed as he combined for 12 home runs and 30 stolen bases in stops at Single-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee.
Pitching in the minors appears to be a strength as well. Trey McNutt, Jay Jackson and Chris Carpenter could all be major league contributors before the season ends.
Quade is Hendry's fourth and most likely last manager he has hired since taking over as GM midway through the 2002. Hendry has raised the bar in Cubs Nation, winning three divisions in eight seasons, a feat no Cubs executive has ever done.
A slow start could put a crimp in Quade's ability to handle a still veteran club and have a major effect on the team's future as far as who leads the front office.