06 12 / 2013
Renteria’s priorities: teach and motivate
New Cubs manager believes if he gets proper message across to players they will respond
By Mark Gonzales
Rick Renteria and his wife Ilene had a house-hunting appointment Thursday.
But the new Cubs manager already is in the midst of building his own foundation with slightly more than two months before the start of spring training.
The perennially upbeat Renteria revealed he has contacted several returning players and will meet later this month with his diverse coaching staff at the Cubs’ spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., to map out spring training plans.
Communication is a big priority, and Renteria indicated he has talked to shortstop Starlin Castro, whose struggles in 2013 triggered an avalanche of theories and scrutiny from everyone but Dr. Phil.
"People ask me about Starlin, and I watch him from the other side," said Renteria, a coach with the Padres for the last five seasons. "And I say, ‘Gosh, what a tremendously gifted athlete.’ I have to get to know him as a person. And I have to figure out what it is that moves him. He’s a wonderful kid. I actually was able to speak to him at length. He was one of the first guys I called, and he’s willing to do anything we ask him to do.
"The reality is sometimes I know people talk about him losing focus, maybe having bad at-bats and things of that nature. We have to address those things. … The reality is you have to have dialogue. And the only way you can improve things is to converse and try to put a plan or an idea of how they can move forward. That’s one of the things we have to do as teachers … the whole coaching staff.”
The Cubs’ future is built around mega-prospects who probably won’t start to make an impact until 2015. Renteria is aware of that but won’t ignore the players he’s inheriting.
"Right now, my focus is going to continue to be on the guys who are here," Renteria said. "I think they’re extremely talented. They have to put it forward between the lines."
The meetings in Mesa will give Renteria and his staff a chance to view their spacious new facility as well as familiarize themselves with each other and reinforce their theme as instructors.
"Sometimes we forget (players) still want to learn. They’re never not learning. We have to present a consistent message, and all these (coaches coming) on board have that ability.”
President Theo Epstein said Renteria picked Brandon Hyde, the Cubs’ former director of player development, as his bench coach because of his previous experience with the Marlins and his familiarity with the team’s personnel.
Hustle will be a theme the staff emphasizes to the players.
"You may hit three ground balls, and the least you can do is give a good effort and get to first base," Renteria said. "That’s something we’ll talk about."
Extra innings: The Phillies will take the Cubs’ first pick in the Rule 5 draft to settle a dispute regarding the length of pitcher Lendy Castillo’s stint on the disabled list in 2012. The Cubs selected Castillo in the 2011 Rule 5 draft from Philadelphia. … Renteria said he feels fine two months after right hip replacement surgery. … The spring reporting date for Cubs’ pitchers and catchers is Feb. 13. … President Barack Obama announced he will nominate Laura Ricketts, part owner of the Cubs, to the board of trustees of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Ricketts was a key fundraiser for Obama in his 2012 re-election campaign.
Renteria’s introduction echoes past
New Cubs manager says right things and projects confident vision he will get job done
By Paul Sullivan
Whenever a new Cubs manager is introduced in the party room in the right field corner of Wrigley Field, the distinctive sound of the Red Line elevated train coming to a stop momentarily can drown out his words of wisdom.
And when that manager exits a few years later and another introductory news conference begins, the feeling of deja vu is palpable, right down to the screeching brakes of the “L.”
And so it was Thursday at Wrigley when Rick Renteria’s turn finally came around after a month-long delay because of his doctor’s orders not to fly after recent hip surgery.
Renteria was the sixth Cubs manager to face the media in the United Club since 1999. And like Don Baylor, Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Mike Quade and Dale Sveum before him, he smiled from ear to ear, said all the right things and projected the vision of a man utterly confident he would get the job done.
"I was just struck by how comfortable I was watching him," President Theo Epstein said. "Normally when you hire someone new and he meets the media for the first time, you’re kind of holding your breath he doesn’t put his foot in his mouth.
"We’ve worked with Ricky for a month now, and I was totally comfortable and checking emails while he was talking because I feel already an innate trust in who he is as a human being. Everything comes from such a genuine place. He’s extremely intelligent and relates to people really well. So it’s nice to really trust somebody in that role."
For one reason or another, no Cubs manager ever has managed to win a World Series at Wrigley Field, the team’s home since 1916, eight years after their last championship.
Renteria believes he can be the first. He donned his Cubs jersey for the TV cameras and photographers like every recent manager before him, but then did something completely different.
Instead of sitting behind a table, talking into a microphone while seated next to his new bosses, Renteria simply stood by himself and casually answered questions as though he was just talking in the dugout. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer stood in the back, out of view.
The plan played to Renteria’s strengths as a speaker. Fortunately, he wasn’t asked a single question about a goat, a rarity at these things.
Renteria’s first day at Wrigley was in stark contrast to the afternoon Jim Lefebvre was introduced as Jim Essian’s replacement 21 years ago.
Lefebvre read from a four-page, prepared speech he had written in longhand. Tribune columnist Jerome Holtzman later referred to the long-winded oratory as Lefebvre’s “inaugural address,” and the manager explained: “I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss anything.”
But none of his plans worked, and Lefebvre, like Sveum, was destined for a cameo appearance on the North Side. He eventually went ballistic over the team’s sloppy play and was replaced in 1993 by a cerebral former school teacher, Tom Trebelhorn.
Asked at his first news conference how he would deal with players’ mistakes, Trebelhorn replied: “There will be immediate discussion, confrontation, explanation. … If (a mistake) happens, a coach will take the player into the video room and, without showing him up, point out his mistake to him.”
Fast-forward to Thursday, when Renteria told the media he would be “even-keeled” at the helm.
Does he have a temper? And if so, will we ever see it?
"Oh, I can get hot," he said. "Any competitor can get hot. You have to pick your spots. I don’t think players, quite frankly, appreciate people just losing it for the sake of losing it. Will I do it for the sake of people watching me do it? You may not see me do it at all, but I can’t guarantee that.
"When it happens, it has to be the right time. Those things take care of themselves. It’s a ‘feel’ thing. Most players respond — if you’re a guy who’s pretty even-keeled and you end up losing it — they understand you mean business, and it means a little bit more. But for the most part, a lot of times conversations need to be had behind closed doors."
Times change, but the “L” keeps running past Wrigley.
And for new Cubs’ managers, the song remains the same.
Epstein sticking with Cubs’ long-term plan
By Mark Gonzales
President Theo Epstein maintains that he feels the pain of Chicago Cubs fans who don’t want to suffer through another 96-loss season in 2014.
But Epstein will remain on course with his plans in which the Cubs are building for the future rather than attempt to piecemeal a contending team for the short term.
“I think I’d be really compromising the organization if we decided just because we were frustrated and people around us are frustrated that we’re going to scrap the plan and try to add some things cosmetically to feel better that it really is,” Epstein said Thursday. “There’s a high bar that we’re aiming for, and we know we’re going to get there and know it will be sustainable. I feel very good on a lot of days about how good this organization is getting.”
Epstein recalled a day in October that provided hope. He and his staff watched several of their top young players in the Instructional League in the morning, then witnessed top prospects Kris Bryant and Albert Almora each hit home runs in the first inning for Mesa in the Arizona Fall League before visiting their soon-to-be opened new spring complex.
“There are days are great frustration and days of great hope,” Epstein said. “We just have to stay the course on where we’re going.”
Epstein reported that pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, 23, ranked as the organization’s 10th best prospect by Baseball America, appears to have recovered from reconstructive right elbow surgery that has sidelined him since 2012.
Epstein reported that Vizcaino’s fastball topped out at 98 mph with a sharp breaking ball.
“He looked very healthy and like he could step into a game in spring training and look fine,” Epstein said.
Epstein reiterated patience when assessing the progress of pitcher Kyle Hendricks, 23, who was a combined 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA in 27 starts at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.
Epstein said Hendricks won’t be on the 2014 opening day roster but possibly later. “We believe in completing a player’s development,” Epstein said.
Epstein reiterated that Javier Baez, the organization’s top prospect, would work out at third base and second base but not permanently shift from shortstop for now..
“At some point, creating options and versatility always is a good thing,” Epstein said. “He has a tremendous combination of instincts and athleticism.”
Cubs’ Renteria tips cap to mentors
By Mark Gonzales
Rick Renteria wouldn’t be tempted into dipping into the Chicago Cubs’ unsuccessful past, stressing that he was interested only in helping his current players improve and not dwell on past mistakes.
Renteria did allow himself to dwell on his own past — but merely to credit the people he felt were most responsible for helping him become the manager of the Cubs.
Most of the praise went to Johnny Lipon, Renteria’s manager at Class-A Alexandria in his second professional season in 1982.
“The most positive individual I’ve seen,” Renteria said of Lipon, who played parts of nine seasons in the majors before eventually passing in 1998 at 75. “Here’s a guy who was a shortstop with the Detroit Tigers in a different era. He was an infielder, his demeanor was one that kept move you forward, and that stayed and resonated with me.”
Renteria responded with a .331 batting average, 14 home runs and 100 RBIs — all career highs.
The other people whom Renteria praised came from the Marlins’ organization — former manager Rene Lachemann, who put Renteria on the Marlins’ inaugural opening day roster in 1993 after being invited to spring training on a minor league contract as a 31-year-old infielder, and executives John Boles (now with the Royals) and Gary Hughes (a former Cubs executive who recently won his fourth World Series ring as a special assignment scout for the Red Sox).
“They had a vision of me beyond playing the game,” Renteria recalled. “I really didn’t see myself as a coach or manager. I saw myself as just playing the game. There are people in the game who have ideas about what a person can or cannot do.
“They thought I could do this and I remember John Boles. I was out (playing in Mexico) for a few years. He kept calling me every winter to come back and wanted me to coach. I finally said yes.”
Boles had a minor league hitting position and managing job, and Renteria followed Boles’ suggestion that he manage.
‘So here I am now,’ Renteria said.
Obama names Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts to Kennedy Center board
By Katherine Skiba
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama announced today he plans to nominate Laura Ricketts, part owner of the Chicago Cubs, to the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Ricketts has been a key fundraiser for Obama and was a bundler during his 2012 re-election campaign.
The nomination comes as the center prepares for its annual honors gala Sunday, when five artists will be celebrated for contributions to American culture through the performing arts. The awards program will air on CBS on Dec. 29. (
Ricketts is chairman of the board of Chicago Cubs Charities and a member of the Democratic National Committee’s executive board.
She has an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and a law degree from the University of Michigan.
Board trustees also include Chicagoan Fred Eychaner, an Obama bundler and founder of the Newsweb Corp., and Winnetka’s Shirley Ryan, the wife of Patrick Ryan, the founder and retired executive chairman of Aon, according to a Kennedy Center spokesman.
First lady Michelle Obama and five former first ladies — Laura Bush, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter — are the honorary chairs of the board.
Rick Renteria ‘always wanted’ Cubs job
BY TONI GINNETTI
Rick Renteria met the Chicago media for the first time Thursday as the new Cubs manager, but he had a special connection to the team and to Wrigley Field decades before.
As a rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986, he played his first game at Wrigley on Sept. 14 and got a hit in his only at-bat.
‘‘He had his picture taken in front of the park,’’ his wife Ilene remembered. ‘‘It was the only place he ever had his picture taken.
‘‘I’m not just saying this — this was the job he always wanted. He was absolutely thrilled.’’
Ilene Renteria said the stars aligned perfectly in his ideal job coming at a time when their three sons are grown and their daughter is in her first year of college.
Rick Renteria, who turns 52 on Christmas, believes the same can happen for the Cubs after three of the franchise’s worst seasons.
‘‘I don’t think in terms of the past except for where the organization has been,’’ he said. ‘‘My attitude is to move forward.
‘‘I compare it to a batter who thinks he had a bad call on the first pitch of an at-bat. You still have to grind through that at-bat and you can’t keep thinking about that first pitch. You have to keep grinding and move forward.’’
Renteria, who was the bench coach for Bud Black with the San Diego Padres for the last three seasons, said he will have a measure of familiarity with the team, having worked under general manager Jed Hoyer when Hoyer was with the Padres.
‘‘It will be nice to be in a familiar setting with people I’ll be working along side,’’ he said. ‘‘I expressed to them this was the place I wanted to be.’’
Renteria spent the majority of November reaching out to players, starting with shortstop Starlin Castro.
‘‘People ask me about Starlin. He was one of the first I spoke to and we spoke at length. I watched him from the other side and thought ‘what a tremendously gifted athlete.’ He’s willing to do whatever we ask him to do.
‘‘The reality is you have to have dialogue. You have to put forward as best a plan on how [each player] can move forward.’’
Renteria said he assembled a staff designed to teach his style and approach to the game.
‘‘They’ll bring the idea that we want to teach,’’ he said. ‘‘We have to present a consistent message. I want this to be a club that gives tremendous effort. We want to be a club that is aggressive on the bases and is smart. I’m very excited about the guys we have now and the talent in the organization.
‘‘You don’t go into a season anticipating failure. No player wants to go out and fail. The game is about peaks and valleys and about the players and I understand that. We have to help them in those times when things aren’t going well. We’re looking forward to an exciting season.’’
Cubs’ Renteria understands his job
By Bruce Miles
Rick Renteria met the Chicago media in person for the first time Thursday.
After donning a jersey with the No. 16 (his high-school number) on the back, Renteria talked again as his role of teacher, something he stressed when the Cubs announced his hiring almost a month ago.
Hip-replacement surgery prohibited Renteria from traveling initially, but he looked spry enough Thursday during an informal lunch session with the media. He’ll need the agility to chase around all of the young players the Cubs will have in spring training.
The subject came up initially in terms of how Renteria could reach young shortstop Starlin Castro, who fell back statistically this past season and suffered from more mental lapses on the field.
"People ask me about Starlin; I watched him from the other side and I go, ‘Gosh, what a tremendously gifted athlete,’" Renteria said. "I think, first of all, I’ve got to get to know him as a person, and I’ve got to figure out what it is that moves him.
"He’s a wonderful kid. I was able to speak to him at length. He was one of the first guys that I called. He’s willing to do anything we ask him to do."
Renteria went on to say that dialogue is the key to reaching Castro as well as the rest of the players.
"The only way to improve things is to converse and to try to put at least a plan or an idea of how they can move forward," he said. "That’s one of the things we’re going to have to do as teachers. The whole coaching staff is going to have to approach this as being teachers, expecting to do well and try to move forward."
The Cubs this week completed their coaching staff by hiring Eric Hinske, a former Cubs draft pick, to be the first-base coach. Pitching coach Rick Bosio and bullpen coach Lester Strode remained from the previous staff, and the Cubs hired Bill Mueller as hitting coach and Gary Jones as third-base coach. They also moved Brandon Hyde from the front office to bench coach.
"I think that anytime you put a coaching staff together, in speaking to all of them, their attitudes are extremely positive," Renteria said. "I think they’re going to bring in the idea of wanting to continue to teach. I think sometimes we forget that players still want to learn. I think we have to present a consistent message."
Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer both attended Thursday’s meeting, and Epstein said he was so confident in Renteria’s media presentation that he spent most of his time fiddling with his phone rather than worrying about what the new guy might say.
Compiling the coaching staff was a collaborative effort between Renteria and the front office, which certainly has a stake in getting its message across to the players.
"Just find as many coaches as we can that actually impact players," Epstein said. "It sounds obvious — that’s the coaches’ job — but I think it takes a special personality as well as experience and having the technical knowledge. It takes a special personality to be able to actually reach the modern player and to dig deep and engage and relate to them — not to relate to a player on a perfunctory level — but to really get in deep and find out what makes them tick and impact them on and off the field in positive way.
"That’s what we were looking for. That one hire some may call unconventional is Eric Hinske, who is just off the field as a player, but this is a guy who has been a coach for many years as a player and can really reach players and reach young players. We wanted to work with Rick and try to provide him with as many weapons as possible so he can impact all 25 guys."
The Wright stuff:
The Cubs didn’t have official comment on reports they have signed left-handed reliever Wesley Wright, but it appears only formalities, such as a physical, stand in the way of an announcement.
Wright was with Houston from 2008 until being purchased by Tampa Bay in August of this year. The Rays did not tender him a contract, making him a free agent. The Cubs need a second lefty to take some of the load off James Russell, who has been overworked the past two seasons. Wright has held left-handed batters to a .231 batting average over his career.
Nearly a month after hire, relatable Renteria introduced
Recovered from hip surgery, Cubs manager at Wrigley discussing positive style
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — Rick Renteria has called or reached out via text to all of the players on the Cubs’ roster. He’s been doodling some potential lineup combinations. He’s still doing rehab following right hip replacement surgery. On Thursday, he was finally at Wrigley Field to meet with the Chicago media for his first formal introduction as the new Cubs manager.
"It’s a little surreal, but we’re really excited about the opportunity and we’re looking forward to a wonderful stay," Renteria said.
Renteria was announced as the Cubs’ 53rd manager on Nov. 7, but it’s been nearly one month before he could put on a jersey in front of the TV cameras and photographers. He had undergone hip surgery after the regular season ended in preparation for what he thought would be another season as the Padres’ bench coach. Instead, he is now in charge of the Cubs, who have lost a total of 197 games over the last two seasons.
Renteria is well aware the Cubs haven’t been to the World Series since 1945, and have not won one since 1908, but that’s all in the past. Renteria, 51, compared his approach to the team’s history as the same way a batter should if he gets a call against him by the umpire on the first pitch of an at-bat. He’s not going to dwell on that one pitch, or on the Cubs’ lack of success.
"I look at Cubs history the same way," the manager said. "I’m moving forward. I’m going to keep grinding out, moving forward. I can’t think about the past, I’ve got to remain even-keeled."
That was the message he also delivered in phone calls to players. One of the first he contacted was shortstop Starlin Castro.
"People ask me about Starlin, and I watched him from the other side and I think, what a tremendously gifted athlete," Renteria said. "I have to get to know him as a person. I have to figure out what moves him."
Castro is coming off a season in which he batted a career-low .245, struck out a career-high 129 times, and finished with a sub-.400 slugging percentage for the first time (.347).
"He’s willing to do anything we ask him to do," Renteria said. "I know people talk about him losing focus and having bad at-bats, and I think we have to address those things. Sometimes you don’t have conversations thinking we don’t want to have confrontations or maybe we don’t like the answer we’re going to get, but the reality is you have to have dialogue."
The emphasis on Renteria’s coaching staff was to find people who could be “teachers” and who can communicate.
"I think it takes a special personality, as well as experience and having the technical knowledge," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said about the coaches. "It takes a certain personality to be able to actually reach the modern player and to dig deep and engage and relate to them and not relate to a player on a perfunctory level, but find out what makes him tick and impact him on and off the field in a positive way. That’s what we were looking for."
That explains the rather unconventional hire of Eric Hinske as the first-base coach. Hinske played for the D-backs last season and had been hired by the Yankees as a scout. He has a reputation as being someone who can connect with young players, and the Cubs were able to add him to the staff.
Renteria said the players are eager to move on after the Cubs’ last-place finish in the National League Central this past season. He got positive feedback in his conversations with Castro, Jeff Samardzija, Anthony Rizzo and others.
"They’re looking forward like any player, any team always looks forward to the spring for positive things," Renteria said.
"What I talk to them about is being themselves and we’re going to be here to help them," the manager said. "We’re here to serve them and they need to trust and understand that’s the case. We’re going to try to do everything we can to help them move forward. If they have a question or any concerns, all they need to do is have a dialogue. Sometimes I think we have to start the dialogue, but I tell them we’re open to them and see what it is to help them improve their game."
Renteria picked up the positive coaching style from his Class A manager, Johnny Lipon, a former Tigers shortstop. He’s also learned from Jim Leyland, Rene Lachemann and Dick Williams. John Boles, now an executive with the Royals, and Gary Hughes, a scout with the Red Sox, were together with the Marlins when Renteria was still playing, and both encouraged him to pursue managing.
Renteria’s first managing gig was in 1998 with the Brevard County Manatees. It’s taken a long time to get to Thursday, when he was the center of attention.
Renteria is a little sentimental. He’ll wear No. 16, which was his number at South Gate High School in Los Angeles. That’s where he met his wife, Ilene, who he made sure was in the room at their home when the Cubs offered him the managing job. They have four children, ranging in age from 35 to 18, and living with what he calls the “youth movement” has influenced how Renteria deals with players.
Next week, he’ll join Cubs executives at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and at the end of the month, he’ll get his coaching staff together at the team’s new Spring Training facility in Mesa, Ariz., to familiarize themselves with the place.
Epstein was standing outside the half circle of TV cameras around Renteria on Thursday.
"Normally, when you hire someone new and he meets the media for the first time, you’re kind of holding your breath and hoping he doesn’t put his foot in his mouth," Epstein said. "We’ve worked with Ricky for a month now. I was totally comfortable and checking emails while he was talking. I feel already an innate trust in who he is as a human being.
"Everything comes from such a genuine place. He’s extremely intelligent and relates to people well. It’s nice to trust somebody in that role."
The Cubs are now placing their trust in Renteria.
Cubs keeping options open for shortstop Baez
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — Javier Baez, the Cubs’ first-round pick in the June 2011 First-Year Player Draft, is creating a lot of buzz as he gets closer to the big leagues. However, he’s a shortstop, and the Cubs already have a talented shortstop in Starlin Castro.
Do the Cubs move Baez? Not now, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said.
"At some point, creating options and creating versatility is a good thing," Epstein said Thursday. "In Javy’s case, he’s got a tremendous combination of instincts and athleticism, which makes us think he’ll be a natural at playing other positions."
Epstein said amateur scouting reports say Baez could play every position, including catcher.
"I think it’ll be an easy transition for him if and when that time comes," Epstein said. "He hasn’t even reached Triple-A yet. There’s plenty of time to do it. You don’t want to take shortstop away from a kid. Once you move off shortstop, it’s really hard to move back.
"There may be a time in the future when he moves on a permanent basis, and there may be a time when we move just to give him versatility. In Spring Training, he’ll play plenty of shortstop, and that might be a time to move him around as well."
Baez, 21, was named the Cubs’ Minor League Player of the Year after batting .282 with 37 home runs and 111 RBIs at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee.
Cubs lose Rule 5 Draft pick due to grievance
CHICAGO — The Cubs did not plan on taking a player in next week’s Rule 5 Draft, but they have apparently lost that selection anyway because of a grievance filed by the Phillies.
In December 2011, the Cubs selected right-hander Lendy Castillo from the Phillies’ organization. Castillo spent most of the 2012 season on the disabled list with a groin injury, and he appeared in 13 games for the Cubs.
Any player selected in the Rule 5 Draft must stay on a team’s active roster for the entire season. To prevent abuse of the draft, the player selected must be active for at least 90 days. That keeps teams from selecting players and placing them on the DL for the majority of the season.
Castillo missed 91 days in 2012, and he spent all of the 2013 season in the Minor Leagues. The Phillies will have the Cubs’ selection in the Rule 5 Draft as compensation.
• The Cubs got encouraging reports about right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, who is coming back after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March 2012. Vizcaino made about six appearances in the Dominican instructional league, his fastball hit 98 mph and he showed good command, Epstein said.
The pitcher, acquired from the Braves in July 2012, could be in the Cubs’ bullpen mix in 2014.
• New Cubs manager Rick Renteria is known for his even-keel demeanor. He was asked if he had a temper.
"I can get hot," Renteria said Thursday. "I think any competitor can get hot. I think you’ve got to pick your spots. I don’t think players appreciate people just losing it for the sake of losing it.
"Will I do it for the sake of people watching me do it? No. You probably won’t see me doing it at all, but I can’t guarantee that. When it happens, it’s got to be the right time, and I think those things have to take care of themselves.
"If you’re a guy who is even-keeled and you end up losing it, I think [the players] understand you mean business and it means a little bit more. For the most part, I think conversations need to be had behind closed doors."
Renteria ready for Castro, Cubs
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO — Donning a Chicago Cubs jersey for the first time, new manager Rick Renteria is excited about the opportunity to lead the Cubs, including embattled shortstop Starlin Castro.
Castro is coming off his worst season as a professional — hitting just .245 — but the positive-minded Renteria is ready to go to work on him — and the rest of the team.
“I have to get to know him as a person and I have to figure what it is that moves him,” Renteria said at a Wrigley Field luncheon with media on Thursday. “Sometimes we (as people) don’t have conversations, thinking we don’t want to have a confrontation or maybe we don’t like the answer we’re going to get. But the reality is we have to have dialogue and the only way you can improve things is to converse and try to put a plan or an idea on how they can move forward. That’s one of the things we have to do as teachers.”
Former manager Dale Sveum wasn’t one to shy away from a tough conversation, but the key difference with the new coaching staff might come down to that one word: teaching.
Team President Theo Epstein was asked what the major goal was in recent hirings, including former batting champion Bill Mueller as hitting coach and newly retired player Eric Hinske as first base coach.
“To find as many coaches as we can that can impact players,” he responded. “It takes a special personality as well as experience to actually reach the modern player. To dig deep and engage … and find out what makes them tick.”
That might be Renteria’s strength. His positive attitude became an attribute early in his career. At Class-A ball in 1982 he had his best year as a professional, hitting .331 with 14 home runs and 100 runs batted in. His manager was former infielder for the Detroit Tigers, Johnny Lippon.
“(He was the) most positive individual I had ever seen,” Renteria said. “His demeanor was one that kept you moving forward. That stayed with me, it resonated with me.”
The even-keeled Renteria is hoping to impart that kind of attitude around a Cubs clubhouse which has endured several rough years while the club goes through a rebuilding process. Next season isn’t expected to be much better.
“If we maintain a consistent and positive message then we’ll be able to have some of these players do what they’re capable of doing,” Renteria said.
That’s the goal for the team and Castro in particular. It doesn’t take a baseball expert to see he wasn’t reaching his potential for most of 2013. Renteria reached out to Castro as one of his first phone calls when he got his new job.
“He’s willing to do anything we ask him to do,” Renteria said.
That’s never been the issue with Castro. He’s as amenable as they come. Maybe that’s where the even-keeled demeanor of his manager might disappear for a while.
“I can get hot,” Renteria said. “Any competitor can get hot. You have to pick your spots. … Will I do it for the sake of people watching me do it? No.”
Renteria is starting at the same place that many before him have. He may be the most positive of the group, so as he undoubtedly faces some long days they won’t wear on him as much. He likened the Cubs’ future to that of a player at the plate who grinds out his at-bat after a bad call on strike one.
“I’m moving forward,” he said. “I’m going to keep grinding it out. I can’t think about the past, have to remain even-keeled and you have to forget.”
Cubs fans know all too well about forgetting the past.
Rick Renteria expects Cubs to show some fight
By Patrick Mooney
Does anyone even remember when Joe Girardi was supposedly tempted by the Cubs job?
As the cameras rolled and reporters strained to take photos on their iPhones, Rick Renteria posed with Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and buttoned up a No. 16 jersey. The new manager got an up-close look at the Chicago media on Thursday at Wrigley Field, inside a stadium club that felt nothing like the interview room/dungeon.
This was the same day the New York Yankees introduced All-Star catcher Brian McCann at a news conference in The Bronx – part of a $238 million spending spree that also includes World Series hero Jacoby Ellsbury – and prepared for a $200 million showdown with Robinson Cano, Jay-Z and the Seattle Mariners.
Renteria won’t be getting those kinds of toys this winter. Sources say there’s skepticism the Cubs can win a bidding war for Masahiro Tanaka (if the Japanese ace even gets posted). Epstein reported “no new developments” with Jeff Samardzija, who’s in no hurry to sign a long-term contract, which means the Opening Day starter will be on the trading block.
Girardi – the Yankees manager who grew up in Peoria, graduated from Northwestern University and played on the North Side – would have created the biggest splash this winter. But officials from both sides believe that was an October drama manufactured for leverage.
Still, the Cubs believe Renteria has the right personality at the right time. They hope he’s a bilingual voice that will get through to Latin American players. They think he can coach up their young core.
“I want this to be a club that gives you a tremendous effort and goes out there every single day wanting to fight,” Renteria said. “We have to have expectations for our club. No one goes into any season thinking they’re going to fail. We go in there just like anybody else – anticipating success and hopefully putting these guys in a position that gives them the best chance to do that.”
Renteria will turn 52 on Christmas Day and said he’s recovering from the hip surgery that prevented him from traveling to Chicago when he got hired last month.
Epstein will be on his second manager in Year 3 of this rebuild, so Renteria won’t get the same benefit of the doubt as Dale Sveum. Renteria talked about being even-keel – one of Sveum’s buzzwords – and promised his players would run hard to first base.
People who have worked with Renteria say don’t let the public image fool you. It’s not just a power-of-positive-thinking message. He grew up in a tough neighborhood near Los Angeles, clawed out a career as a utility guy, played in Mexico and managed eight years in the minors.
“Oh, I can get hot,” Renteria said. “I think any competitor can get hot. I think you got to pick your spots. I don’t think players, quite frankly, appreciate people just losing it for the sake of losing it. Will I do it for the sake of people watching me do it? No. You may not see me do it at all. I can’t guarantee that.
“When it happens, it’s got to be the right time. Those things kind of take care of themselves. I think it’s a ‘feel’ thing. Most players respond if you’re a guy that’s pretty even-keeled and you end up losing it. They understand that you mean business. Then it means a little bit more. But for the most part, I think a lot of times conversations need to be had behind closed doors.”
Renteria will be the franchise’s fourth different manager in five seasons on Opening Day 2014. He’s taking over a last-place team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908, at a time when it’s being run like a mid-market operation. He stood there in front of the cameras and smiled for the before picture.
Cubs looking to the future with Starlin Castro and Javier Baez
By Patrick Mooney
Cubs fans and the Chicago media will dissect the relationship between Rick Renteria and Starlin Castro.
Renteria knew the Castro questions would be coming during Thursday’s meet-and-greet session at Wrigley Field. The new Cubs manager already made it a priority to reach out to the franchise shortstop.
“People ask me about Starlin,” Renteria said. “I watch him from the other side and I go: ‘Gosh, what a tremendously gifted athlete.’ First of all, I got to get to know him as a person and I have to figure out what it is that moves him.
“He’s a wonderful kid. I actually was able to speak to him at length – he’s one of the first guys that I called – and he’s willing to do anything we ask him to do.”
Cubs executives already knew Renteria as the San Diego Padres bench coach, and he impressed them with an upbeat attitude, a high energy level and the ability to speak Spanish.
Dale Sveum got fired after 197 losses in two years – and several disconnects with the front office over communication style, hitting philosophy and roster management.
It’s safe to assume Renteria won’t be threatening to send Castro to Triple-A Iowa.
But Renteria is supposed to give Castro some “tough love.” After a lost season of “mixed messages,” the Cubs have to rewire their two-time All-Star shortstop.
“I know people talk about him losing focus and maybe having bad at-bats and things of that nature,” Renteria said. “We have to address those things. Sometimes (we) don’t want to have a conversation or maybe we don’t like the answer we’re going to get.
“But the reality is you have to (communicate). The only way you can improve things is to converse and try to put at least a plan (in place), or an idea of how they can move forward. And I think that’s one of the things we’re going to have to do as teachers.”
In the first year of a $60 million extension, Castro hit .245 with a .631 OPS and committed 22 errors. He will be 24 next season, when elite shortstop prospect Javier Baez should be banging on the door at Iowa.
“At some point, creating options and creating versatility is always a good thing,” team president Theo Epstein said. “In Javy’s case, he’s got a tremendous combination of instincts and athleticism that makes us think that he’ll be a natural at being able to play other positions.
“In fact, if you read his amateur scouting reports, people say this guy could play every position on the field – including catcher. He could go out to the outfield with no problem. He could play all around the infield and we’ve seen that in glimpses, whether it’s shagging flyballs or just the internal clock he has, the instincts he has for the game. I think it’ll be an easy transition for him – if and when that time comes.”
During his age-20 season, Baez generated 37 homers and 111 RBI in 130 games split between advanced Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. He will also inevitably experience the same ups and downs as Castro.
“He hasn’t even reached Triple-A yet, so there’s plenty of time to do it,” Epstein said. “You don’t want to take shortstop away from a kid, because once you move off shortstop, it’s really hard to move back. There may be a time in the future where he moves on a permanent basis. There may be a time where he moves just to give him versatility.”
In the end, how Renteria handles Baez, Castro and this wave of young players will be a huge part of the job.
05 12 / 2013
Theo looks for next Ellsbury as Cubs wait to enter Tanaka sweepstakes
By Patrick Mooney
Jacoby Ellsbury is a billboard for The Cubs Way.
Not the corporation that just followed Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon to the dark side of the rivalry and grabbed a seven-year, $153 million contract from the New York Yankees.
It’s the guy who played with Darwin Barney at Oregon State University before being drafted and developed by the Boston Red Sox.
“It just means we have to go out and do it again,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Wednesday on Comcast SportsNet’s “SportsTalk Live.”
The case for or against signing Ellsbury was strictly an academic exercise. If Scott Boras sensed any chance of steering Ellsbury to the Cubs – or even simply using them as leverage in the media – would the super-agent have torched the team’s rebuilding plan during his “Meet the Parents” riff at last month’s GM meetings?
The spending restrictions were put in place as Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. sold the team to the Ricketts family in October 2009 through a complicated $845 million transaction (which included a stake in CSN). That made another megadeal a non-starter right now.
It will be a factor in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, sources said, no matter what shape the posting system ultimately takes in a new agreement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball.
If the posting fee gets capped at $20 million and the Japanese ace is allowed to shop for offers – as multiple reports suggested in the middle of what has been messy negotiations – then the Cubs could again be a runner-up in another bidding war.
With the Wrigley Field renovation and new television deals on the horizon, Cubs executives with Red Sox connections will have to remember the dynamic outfielder they selected with the 23rd overall pick in the 2005 draft.
That was long before the New York tabloids screamed: “ELLSBURY DOUGH BOY.”
“When I see a deal like that, I say: ‘Look, (who) wouldn’t rather have the first seven years of a star player’s career for $30 million versus the second seven years for $130 million or $150 million?’” Epstein said. “You want the first seven years for $30 million and hopefully you work out a deal and you can keep him. But if we have drafts like that in Boston – that same draft (produced) Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie – those are the type of drafts that make an organization more healthy.
“Jacoby Ellsbury debuted with the Red Sox in 2007, they won a World Series. His career with the Red Sox ended in 2013, they won a World Series. Seven years of club control were marked by World Series at either end. That’s the type of impact that good drafts and a good young player can make.”
Ellsbury is already 30 years old with a game built around speed and athleticism. He also has a reputation for being injury-prone. He led the American League in stolen bases three times and won a Gold Glove in 2011. That year, he hit 32 of his 65 career home runs and finished second in the MVP voting.
Tanaka fits the profile for the Cubs in that he’s only 25 years old and coming off a dominant season (24-0, 1.27 ERA) with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. But those qualities also make Tanaka attractive to virtually every other team in baseball.
“We’re in the market for impact pitching,” Epstein said. “We prefer guys in their prime or going into their prime, guys under control for a long time. So anyone that fits that description we’ll be really interested in – and be as aggressive as we possibly can be.”
Don’t expect the Cubs to make a huge splash at next week’s winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. They won’t sell low on Jeff Samardzija. They will keep shopping for more Wesley Wrights. They need to be right about these prospects.
“We may someday sign a player for $153 million,” Epstein said. “I hope that we do. And I hope that it’s the right player. And I hope it’s a younger free agent that can make a real impact. But that’s not what’s going to win us a World Series. It might help someday. But what’s going to win a World Series is producing a lot of Jacoby Ellsburys.”
Cubs keeping open mind about Samardzija’s future
By Patrick Mooney
Jeff Samardzija is speeding toward another career crossroads.
The Notre Dame All-American who chose baseball over football spent parts of three seasons at the Triple-A level before his breakthrough as a Cubs reliever in 2011 – at which point he lobbied a new front office for the chance to start. Samardzija likes to bet on himself.
Now Samardzija is a big name in trade rumors, because he hasn’t jumped at a contract extension and will be a free agent after the 2015 season – at a time when the Cubs are building for 2016 and beyond. He should be trending on Twitter next week when the industry gathers for the winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
What are the chances Samardzija will be in the 2014 Opening Day rotation? Theo Epstein sounded cautiously optimistic during Wednesday’s appearance on Comcast SportsNet’s “SportsTalk Live.” The Cubs president is open-minded but also realistic.
“He’s our best pitcher and I’m really bullish on his future,” Epstein said. “He’s a guy that I think can be a difference-making starting pitcher for a long time. Now, obviously, when you’re in (this situation), you have to factor in: How many years of control do you have left? And is there a way to extend that – to make an asset that’s still medium-term (and turn it into) an asset that impacts you for the long-term? The simple, best way to do that is with a contract extension. The second-best way to do that is by trading the player for multiple younger-impact assets.
“But with Jeff, I’m still of the belief that he can be a guy here. He’s got the exact makeup we’re looking for. So if there’s a way to get it done where he can be a Cub for longer than the next two years, we’re going to pursue that. He wants it. We want it.
“Sometimes, those things don’t work out and you take another path. (But) I think it’s very possible (he’s in our 2014 Opening Day rotation).”
It’s also very complicated. Samardzija has already made millions and knows his athletic clock is ticking with his 29th birthday coming up next month. He’s a Chicago guy who grew up in Indiana watching the Cubs and White Sox. He was along for the ride in 2008, when the Cubs won 97 games and turned Wrigleyville into a huge block party. He’s seen the Epstein administration trade away 40 percent of the rotation in back-to-back years.
Samardzija should be in his early-to-mid 30s when the Cubs are putting the finishing touches on this rebuilding project. He’s also an elite athlete with a 6-foot-5, 225-pound build and not as much mileage on his right arm after concentrating on football for so many years.
Is Samardzija an 8-13 pitcher with a 4.34 ERA? Or a 200-innings/200-strikeouts monster? He put up all those numbers last season. And it will be fascinating to watch teams put a price on that.
Cubs sign LHP Wesley Wright
By Tony Andracki
The Cubs made a minor move Wednesday, inking left-handed releiver Wesley Wright to a one-year deal.
Wright turns 29 in January and has been a steady option out of the bullpen the last few seasons, with a 3.28 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 9.2 K/9 in 168 games with the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays over the last three years.
The Alabama native has 51 career holds, including 20 with the Astros in 2012. He had experience pitching with the Rays in their stretch run last season and gave up just one run over his last 14 appearances for Tampa Bay.
Wright figures to join the mix for a spot in the Cubs bullpen and provides another left-handed option alongside James Russell, allowing the Cubs to explore a trade for Russell if one comes about.
Epstein: ‘We can’t make time move faster’
By Tony Andracki
As Cubs fans decide whether or not to re-up their season ticket deals, team president Theo Epstein was candid about the organization’s journey.
The Cubs have lost 197 games the last two years and are coming off the worst season at Wrigley Field in franchise history, picking up 50 losses in 2013.
"The short term is frustrating, but the long term is looking good," Epstein said on SportsTalk Live Wednesday evening. "I feel really good about where we’re going."
The big-league product has suffered the last two years, but Epstein’s front office has built a Top 5 farm system through the draft and deals, with four guys — Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora — figuring to slot in among the Top 25-30 prospects in the game.
"We can’t speed it up," Epstein said. "We can’t make time move faster."
Epstein discussed the need for an organization like the Cubs developing their own players through the system rather than just simply signing premier free agents each winter.
The Cubs president referenced the World Series and how the Red Sox and Cardinals built their successful teams, pointing to the organizations’ big-picture approach.
Epstein also mentioned that with the Wrigley Field renovation project garnering approvals from the city, the baseball and business sides are syncing up, giving Cubs fans even more reasons to be upbeat heading into 2014.
Daytona Cubs named Minor League Team of Year
By Charlie Roumeliotis
After capturing the Class-A Florida State League championship in September, the Daytona Cubs have been named Baseball America’s Minor League Team of the Year.
The season included memorable moments such as a four-homer game by Cubs top prospect, Javier Baez, two no-hitters — one of which was the first nine-inning no-hitter in 19 seasons and the other of which was completed six days later following a suspended game — and a dominant second half with a 40-20 record.
“I’ve been in professional baseball for 31 years, and there was stuff I hadn’t seen in either forever or a long time,” said manager Dave Keller.
Daytona also carried the most prospects in the franchise’s 20-year existence as the Cubs affiliate.
“Coming together as a team, it was a very good season from that aspect,” first baseman Dustin Geiger said. “They meshed very well with everybody in the locker room and everyone can see the final outcome—a championship.”
Cubs sign LHP Wright to 1-year deal
By Mark Gonzales
The Chicago Cubs bolstered the left side of their bullpen Wednesday night by agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with free agent left-hander Wesley Wright.
Wright, 28, was not tendered a contract Monday night by the Tampa Bay Rays. Wright posted a 3.69 ERA in 70 games with the Houston Astros and Rays. He has a lifetime 4.37 ERA in six seasons. Wright posted a 2.92 ERA in 16 appearances with the Rays after being traded by the Astros for cash considerations.
Wright will lend up to a Cubs bullpen that includes left-hander James Russell, who has appeared in 151 games over the past two seasons.
Wright will earn $1.425 million, according to a source.
Cubs taking aim at Japanese star Tanaka
25-year-old hurler had 24-0 mark last season
By Mark Gonzales
The direction of the Cubs’ 2014 starting rotation could be more defined by the end of the month.
The Cubs should know soon about their chances of pursuing Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, as multiple reports indicated that Nippon Professional Baseball was considering a proposal from Major League Baseball that would put a cap on bids for posted players at $20 million.
That would be considerably less than the $51.1 million winning bid the Red Sox submitted for Daisuke Matsuzaka before the 2007 season. Multiple reports added that if several teams submit the maximum bid, then the posted player would have the right to negotiate with those teams, presumably for more lucrative personal terms.
Tanaka, 25, was 24-0 with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, and could command a lucrative long-term deal.
“We’re in the market for impact pitching and we would prefer guys in their prime or going into their prime, guys who you can control (contractually) for a long time,” Cubs President Theo Epstein said Wednesday on CSN’s SportsTalk Live. “If our reports match with the industry perception of the player you’re talking about, then, yeah, we’ll be on him.’’
However, there is the possibility Rakuten could elect not to post Tanaka because of the proposed cap. In recent years, Japanese teams have used funds received from posting money to upgrade their talent and stadiums, an international scout confirmed.
Esptein also expressed cautious optimism that Jeff Samardzija, who is two years away from free agency and has received interest from other teams, will start the season with the Cubs.
“I’m really bullish on his future,” Epstein said. “He can be a difference-making starting pitcher for a long time. Obviously you have to factor in how many years of control you have left, and is there a way to extend that (beyond) medium term (to) long term.
“The single best way to do that is with a contract extension. The second best way to do that is by trading the player for multiple younger impact assets. With Jeff, we’re still of the belief he has the exact makeup we’re looking for. If there is a way to get it done to where he can be a Cub for longer than the next two years, we’re going to pursue that. He wants it. We want it. (But) sometimes those things just don’t work out.”
Extra innings: The Cubs have signed left-handed reliever Wesley Wright to a one-year deal believed to worth $1.425 million. He posted a 3.69 ERA in 70 games for the Astros and Rays in 2013. … Todd Hollandsworth and Ron Coomer have emerged as the top candidates for the WGN-AM 720 analyst job and a decision could be made in a few days. … The Yankees hired Steve Wilson, who served as the Pacific Rim and Mexico scouting coordinator for the Cubs before being let go at the end of the season.
Cubs narrowing search for radio analyst
By Mark Gonzales
The Chicago Cubs have narrowed their search for a radio analyst to replace Keith Moreland, with former players Todd Hollandsworth and Ron Coomer emerging as top candidates.
The news of Hollandsworth and Coomer as finalists was first reported Tuesday by Robert Feder on his website, robertfeder.com.
Two sources said Wednesday that the search has accelerated in recent weeks since Moreland announced last month he was departing after three seasons on WGN-AM 720, and that a decision could be reached perhaps as soon as the end of this week. The search, however, hasn’t been reduced to two candidates.
Hollandsworth confirmed his candidacy but declined to elaborate, other than saying, ”I’ve worked for it. It’s been a goal of mine.”
Hollandsworth 40, serves as a Cubs studio analyst for Comcast Sports Net Chicago and co-host of an MLB Network radio show. Hollandsworth played for the Cubs in 2004-05 during an 11-year playing career that started in 1996 when he earned National League rookie of the year honors with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Coomer, 47, works as a pre- and postgame show analyst for Minnesota Twins games on Fox Sports North and has a strong following in that market. Coomer, who graduated from Lockport Township High School, spent the 2001 season with the Cubs during a nine-year playing career.
Cubs narrow radio analyst search to two, sign reliever Wesley Wright
BY TONI GINNETTI
WGN radio is close to naming a new Cubs color analyst, with two former Cubs reported to be finalists.
Todd Hollandsworth, who played for the Cubs from 2004 to ’05, acknowledged on his Twitter account Wednesday he hopes to replace the departed Keith Moreland, saying, “it would be an honor to work alongside [play-by-play announcer] Pat Hughes.”
Ron Coomer, who played for the Cubs in 2001 and is a native of the south suburbs, also is a finalist, according to the Cubs’ website.
Hollandsworth, 40, has been the Cubs’ television-studio analyst for Comcast SportsNet since 2008 and appears on MLB Network Radio. Coomer, 47, has been an analyst and occasional color commentator for Fox Sports North covering the Minnesota Twins, whom he played for from 1995 to 2000. He also has a sports talk show on KTWIN-FM in Minneapolis, the Twins’ flagship station.
WGN sports director Dave Eanet said a decision should come later this week or next week.
NOTE: The Cubs reportedly signed left-handed reliever Wesley Wright, who pitched five-plus seasons for the Astros before moving to the Rays in August.
Cubs add lefty Wright to bullpen mix
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — The Cubs added another left-handed reliever to the bullpen mix on Wednesday, signing free agent Wesley Wright to a one-year deal.
Wright, 28, was non-tendered by the Rays on Monday. He posted a combined 3.69 ERA in 70 games for the Rays and Astros this past season, striking out 55 over 53 2/3 innings pitched.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale first reported the deal, which Major League sources confirmed was for $1.425 million, pending a physical.
In his career, Wright has held left-handed hitters to a .231 average, compared to .266 for right-handed batters.
The Cubs were looking for bullpen help, especially another left-hander to help southpaw James Russell, who ranked 10th in the National League in games (74). Chicago is still shopping for a closer to replace Kevin Gregg, who is a free agent.
Hollandsworth, Coomer finalists for radio analyst job
Pair of former Cubs appear to be favorites; decision expected during Winter Meetings
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — Former Cubs Todd Hollandsworth and Ron Coomer are among the finalists for the analyst job with WGN Radio.
The Cubs and WGN Radio have been searching for a partner for play-by-play man Pat Hughes after Keith Moreland unexpectedly announced he was leaving on Nov. 6. A decision is expected to be finalized next week during the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
There are other candidates for the job, but Hollandsworth and Coomer appear to be the favorites, according to a source. Hollandsworth, 40, played for the Cubs from 2004-05, and has done pregame and postgame analysis for Comcast SportsNet Chicago since 2009. Coomer, 47, who grew up in Lockport, Ill., played for the Cubs in 2001. He was an analyst for FOX Sports North, the primary television broadcaster for the Twins.
Moreland joined Hughes for the 2011 season, replacing popular Ron Santo, who was in the booth from 1990-2010. Santo died in December 2010. Hughes just completed his 18th season as the Cubs’ play-by-play broadcaster.
The Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Ill.) reported last month that Coomer was a candidate for the job, and Chicago media critic Robert Feder wrote Wednesday that the field had been narrowed to Coomer and Hollandsworth.
Next year’s Draft deeper, packed with pitchers
NC State left-hander Rodon ranked No. 1 in MLB.com's Top 50 Draft Prospects
By Jim Callis
The talent in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft will be more abundant than it was in 2012 and ‘13. There’s a clear favorite for the No. 1 overall pick, something that hasn’t recently existed, and there will be more depth than in any Draft since 2011.
"Last year was one of the weakest Drafts I can remember," a scouting director with a National League team said. "Last year was really weak in high school pitching, and this year there’s some really good-looking high school pitchers. Last year was the weakest year I’ve ever seen in shortstops, and this year there are shortstops. It’s better in almost everything."
When the 2014 Draft begins on June 5, the Astros will make the first selection for an unprecedented third straight year. In 2012, they chose shortstop Carlos Correa over right-hander Mark Appel and outfielder Byron Buxton. Last June, Houston opted for Appel over third baseman Kris Bryant and right-hander Jonathan Gray.
Though the Astros still have seven months to determine whom they’ll take at No. 1, North Carolina State left-hander Carlos Rodon has established himself as the front-runner. Owner of a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, Rodon topped NCAA Division I with 184 strikeouts last spring and led the Wolfpack to their first College World Series appearance in 45 years.
"He’s the guy right now," an NL club official said. "Rodon is the best college left-hander since David Price."
Pitchers stand out in the 2014 Draft class, especially the right-handers. If anyone is going to knock Rodon out of the top spot, it likely will be East Carolina righty Jeff Hoffman, who devastated Cape Cod League hitters with his mid-90s fastball and his curveball the past two summers. Other college right-handers of note include Vanderbilt’s Tyler Beede (a Blue Jays unsigned first-round pick out of high school in 2011), Louisiana State’s Aaron Nola, Nevada-Las Vegas’ Erick Fedde, Florida State’s Luke Weaver and San Diego State’s Michael Cederoth.
A half-dozen or more high school right-handers could factor into the first round, starting with Tyler Kolek of Shepherd High School in Texas and Touki Toussaint of Christian Academy in Coral Springs, Fla. Both need polish, but Kolek already hits 99 mph and Toussaint has the best fastball/curveball combination among prepsters. Luis Ortiz (Sanger High, Calif.), Grant Holmes (Conway High, S.C.) and Dylan Cease (Milton, Ga.) all can reach 97 mph with their heaters, while Cobi Johnson (Mitchell High in Trinity, Fla.) is more advanced than most high schoolers.
Teams seeking left-handers will have plenty to choose from beyond Rodon. Brady Aiken of Cathedral High in San Diego is as polished as just about any pitcher available, including the collegians. Hartford’s Sean Newcomb, Texas Christian’s Brandon Finnegan and Evansville’s Kyle Freeland all boosted their stock with strong Cape Cod League performances. Kodi Medeiros of Waiakea High in Hilo, Hawaii, is six feet tall and throws from a low arm slot, but all of his pitches dance.
"If you look at the high school pitchers," an American League scouting director said, "you’ve got 10 or 15 who could be in the top 35-40 picks."
While pitchers claim 18 of the first 30 slots on MLB.com's Top 50 Draft Prospects list, scouts also are pleased with the quality of everyday players available. The first position player to go off the board could be Rodon's teammate Trea Turner, a speedster with offensive potential plus the quickness and arm to remain at shortstop.
If it’s not Turner, the first position player drafted could be Rancho Bernardo (Calif.) High catcher Alex Jackson or Clovis (Calif.) High shortstop Jacob Gatewood. Jackson offers plus right-handed power along with hitting ability and arm strength. Gatewood has the best raw power in the Draft, though there are questions about his bat and his size likely will dictate a move to third base.
In addition to Jackson and Gatewood, several other power hitters could slug their way into the first round. Roberson High (Asheville, N.C.) outfielder Braxton Davidson hit a 500-foot homer at the Tournament of Stars this summer. Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber, Virginia outfielder Derek Fisher, Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto and Cal State-Fullerton third baseman Matt Chapman have established themselves as bona fides at top college programs.
Want athletes? There will be plenty of those available, too.
Gainesville (Ga.) High outfielder Michael Gettys has the best all-around tools in this Draft, and Olympia High’s (Orlando, Fla.) Nick Gordon is a pure shortstop with speed and a nice left-handed swing — and they both throw in the low 90s off the mound. San Francisco’s Bradley Zimmer and Lee’s Summit (Mo.) West High’s Monte Harrison are two more outfielders with all-around tools.
The one area where the 2014 Draft pales in comparison to 2013 is catcher. Most scouts believe Schwarber will wind up at first base or left field, and Jackson could shift to right field in order to expedite his bat, a la Bryce Harper and Wil Myers. There is one obvious standout behind the plate, however: Kennesaw State’s Max Pentecost, who has average or better tools across the board and won Cape Cod League MVP honors this summer.
"This Draft is pretty good," the AL scouting director said. "I’m excited. I think the pitching is a little ahead of the hitting, but it’s actually a really athletic Draft with the high school kids and there’s a pretty strong crop of power bats from college. I can’t remember a time when there was this much power available."
Wesley Wright headed to Cubs
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with left-handed reliever Wesley Wright just two days after he was nontendered by the Tampa Bay Rays, a source familiar with the situation confirmed.
Wright, 28, was 0-4 in 70 games combined for the Houston Astros and Rays this past season. He broke in with the Astros in 2008, after being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003.
For his career, Wright has a 4.37 ERA with two saves. He is limiting left-handed hitters to a .232 batting average and has struck out 5.5 batters for every walk issued to a lefty.
James Russell was the lone lefty reliever for the Cubs for most of 2013, appearing in a combined 151 games over the last two seasons. Russell is arbitration eligible after earning $1.075 million last year.
The deal with Wright is reportedly worth $1.425 million, according to USA Today, which earlier reported the agreement between the sides.
Wright changed his Twitter profile Wednesday evening to read “Relief Pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.”
Cubs radio job search narrowing?
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs’ search for a radio analyst to replace Keith Moreland may be down to two names, according to a source familiar with the process.
Current television studio analyst Todd Hollandsworth and former player and Chicago native Ron Coomer are the frontrunners, although there are a “couple others still in the picture,” according to the source.
Hollandsworth, who was Rookie of the Year for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1996, played for the Cubs in 2004-05. He’s been the pre- and post-game analyst for Cubs games on ComcastSportsNet since 2009.
Coomer played one season (2001) for the Cubs before retiring from his playing career in 2003. He’s been an analyst for the Minnesota Twins’ radio and television outlets after playing for the Twins for five seasons.
The Cubs flagship station, WGN Radio, said they hoped to have a replacement for Moreland by mid-January when the Cubs Convention takes place.
04 12 / 2013
Tendering Barney was the right move
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs made the right choice in tendering second baseman Darwin Barney a contract for 2014. If there was any angst over the decision, there shouldn’t have been, because Barney deserves another chance.
Make no mistake, if No. 1 prospect Javier Baez was ready for the big leagues and the Cubs believed second base was where he needed to play, that would mean a different story for Barney. Same goes for rising prospect Arismendy Alcantara. Some may even think Logan Watkins deserves a real chance at second base. Watkins was an on-base machine in the minors before being recalled last season, but he barely got off the bench. And for all we know, he’ll push Barney this spring or summer.
But until further notice, Barney gets another chance to rebound from a rough season at the plate in which he hit just .208 and got on base only 27 percent of the time. The simple reason is Dale Sveum and the old coaching staff. If Sveum and Co. are going to be blamed for the “regression” of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, then Barney fits into that category as well.
In fact, going back to last offseason, Sveum may have worked more closely with Barney than Rizzo or Castro. The bottom line is Barney hit .276 the season before Sveum arrived. He hit .254 and .208 in the two years under him. It would be way too simplistic to put that all on Sveum, but Barney deserves a fresh start with a new coaching staff just like Rizzo and Castro.
And even with some poor numbers, he has shown some signs. He’ll battle an opposing pitcher with the best of them — he was third in the league in foul ball percentage at 43.6 percent, according to ESPN Stats and Information. With two strikes he fouled a pitch off 47.6 percent of the time, tops in the league. It’s a good reason why he’s only struck out an average of 63 times in three full seasons in the big leagues.
But those foul balls don’t mean much — other than driving up a pitch count — if the at-bat ends in an unproductive out. And Barney actually fouls off more pitches (46 percent) outside the zone than inside (42 percent). Maybe that’s where his upside lies or perhaps his deficiency. All players get hits off pitches outside the zone, or at least take more walks than Barney’s 36 last season. So a few more balls that go forward instead of backward could make the difference for him as will laying off a few of those outside the zone. And Barney’s seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 2013 aren’t bad for a hitter who mostly bats in the eighth spot in the lineup. In fact, only Matt Dominguez of the Houston Astros had more runs driven in from that position in the order than Barney.
Of course, Barney doesn’t get another chance at the plate without his work in the field. As bad as he was on offense, he was a Gold Glove winner as well as a finalist at second base in two years under Sveum. That counts for more than just a passing mention. If Sveum gets some blame for Barney’s offense then his coaching staff gets some credit for mentally keeping him in the game on defense. FanGraphs basically has Barney as the best defensive second baseman in the game over the past two years. So for Barney to be an effective overall player he only has to return to respectability at the plate.
Unless something unexpected happens, expect the Cubs to sign him for 2014. After that, there are no guarantees. But he deserves another chance to improve at the plate.
At least for a while.
There were no major surprises during Monday’s tender deadline.
The Cubs signed their new backup catcher in George Kottaras after Dioner Navarro joined the Toronto Blue Jays. Navarro wanted a multiyear deal and the Cubs wouldn’t give more than one. That has basically been their philosophy lately. If you’re not part of the core for the future the Cubs aren’t going to be locking you up.
Infielder Donnie Murphy fits into that category and between his signing and the Cubs tendering Luis Valbuena a contract, it made Mat Gamel expendable. According to sources, Murphy had a lucrative offer from Japan after hitting 11 home runs in less than two months last season. An arbitration hearing would have been unique considering his short but successful stay in the majors in 2013, so instead, both sides decided to lock him up. But again, it’s for one year.
With prospects Baez, Alcantara, Kris Bryant, Mike Olt and others getting ready to break into the majors, one-year deals is the norm right now. And that’s the right thing to do.
Cubs: Can Rick Renteria get through to Starlin Castro?
By Tony Andracki
Until the top prospects hit Wrigley Field, there is nothing to take the focus off Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo at the big league level.
Every at-bat will be scrutinized, every stat broken down. Cubs fans are getting impatient after 197 losses over the last two years.
Castro is coming off the worst professional season of his career as he saw his average drop to .245 and his OPS dip from .753 in 2012 to .631 in 2013. In part, his struggles cost manager Dale Sveum and hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer their jobs.
Can the new tandem of manager Rick Renteria and hitting coach Bill Mueller get the two-time All Star back on track? Renteria will meet the Chicago media on Thursday at Wrigley Field, where there should be plenty of questions about Castro, one of the few players on this team who moves the needle.
"We had some mixed messages and, unfortunately, some players were pulled in a couple different directions," team president Theo Epstein said recently. "Ultimately, that falls back on me to provide the right personnel and the right messaging so that it’s one message."
Epstein’s front office preaches patience and selective aggressiveness at the plate, two concepts that haven’t been central to Castro’s game. The franchise shortstop has drawn 130 walks in more than 2,600 plate appearances.
But that approach had been working for Castro through the middle of the 2012 season. By his 22nd birthday, he had already collected 346 hits and had two .300 seasons to his name.
Since the 2012 All-Star break — shortly after former hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo was fired — Castro has hit .254 in 968 at-bats. Multiple voices have been in his ear, tinkering with his swing and approach.
"We do stand for something from an offensive standpoint," Epstein said. "We like to control the zone, we like to get on base. You can look at the track record of those Red Sox teams. Look at the two teams in the World Series — the Cardinals and the Red Sox. It’s pretty darn important to grind your at-bats, get a pitch you can drive and get yourself on base.
"That’s what we need to do. Not every player gets there right away or not every player hits right away. So we have to make sure that we teach it in a way that allows players to be themselves, that allows aggressiveness to carry players for whom aggressiveness in the count is important.
"From the hitting coach to the second hitting coach to the manager to the front office, we all have to be on the same page to put everybody in position to succeed and that’s having one message — not one message for every player."
The Cubs are banking on Renteria to help get that message across to guys like Castro, Rizzo and the top prospects that are expected to roll into Chicago over the next couple of seasons.
Renteria’s ability to speak Spanish might be a necessity rather than a luxury, given the amount of Latin American players who are part of the organization’s long-range plans. He should be able to communicate clearly with Castro, Welington Castillo, Junior Lake, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara.
This isn’t something new for Renteria, who grew up in Southern California and managed Team Mexico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
"I’m hoping that I am a good coach that happens to speak Spanish," Renteria said after he was hired in early November. "But I think the ability to communicate in the same language sometimes creates a little bit of a comfort zone, allowing those players to possibly gain some confidence.
"The reality is that baseball is played between the lines and it has its own language. That language is performance and the recognition of a good action. Players can look at each other, smile and be confident about each other.
"But the aspect of being able to communicate — especially if you’re able to teach — I think it plays an important part in being able to make sure that you articulate a certain concept or idea that sometimes can be lost in translation.”
Cubs hire Eric Hinske as first-base coach
By Patrick Mooney
Less than six months after his last at-bat in the big leagues, Eric Hinske is joining the Cubs as their new first-base coach.
The Cubs finalized Rick Renteria’s staff on Tuesday with a surprising hire. Hinske got released by the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer and didn’t last long in retirement.
Whatever Hinske lacks in coaching experience, the Cubs see potential in his personality and playing credentials. He was the American League’s 2002 Rookie of the Year with the Toronto Blue Jays. He won World Series rings with the 2007 Boston Red Sox and 2009 New York Yankees. He also played in the 2008 World Series with the worst-to-first Tampa Bay Rays.
Hinske grew up in Wisconsin and the Cubs initially picked him in the 17th round of the 1998 draft out of the University of Arkansas. As a corner infielder/outfielder and designated hitter, he lasted 12 years in the majors, generating 137 homers and 522 RBI in 1,387 games.
Hinske also spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates during their rebuild and saw how a model organization like the Atlanta Braves did things. He played for Terry Francona, Joe Maddon, Joe Girardi and Bobby Cox.
It’s that type of exposure to winning environments that makes Hinske an interesting choice for a franchise that’s banking on young players to develop at the big-league level. He’s only 36 years old and has gigantic, colorful tattoos across his back and arms.
The Cubs need a staff that’s approachable to the prospects expected to be central to this rebuilding process. Renteria is a first-year manager inheriting a team that lost 197 games across the last two seasons and got Dale Sveum fired.
The front office and Renteria had already settled on a mix of new and old coaches: Bill Mueller (hitting); Chris Bosio (pitching); Brandon Hyde (bench); Gary Jones (third base); Lester Strode (bullpen); Mike Borzello (catching/strategy); Mike Brumley (hitting assistant); and Franklin Font (staff assistant).
Cubs name Hinske first base coach
By Mark Gonzales
While the Cubs search for ways to improve their roster, they solidified their coaching staff Tuesday with the hiring of a first base coach who has experienced winning and can communicate with young players.
Despite no coaching experience, the Cubs are banking that Eric Hinske can help their young players mature through his journey as a player.
Hinske, 36, began a 12-year playing career with the Blue Jays that saw him win the 2002 American League rookie of the year award. Hinske played for seven teams and won World Series with the Red Sox (2007) and Yankees (2009), as well as an AL pennant with the Rays (2008).
Hinske’s career ended last season with the Diamondbacks, capping a career in which he batted .249 with 137 home runs as a left-handed hitting third baseman/outfielder.
It’s a reunion of many sorts for Hinske, who the Cubs drafted in 1998 before trading him to the Athletics for Miguel Cairo.
Hinske played for Cubs President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer with the Red Sox in 2006-07. His successful start and subsequent struggles and acceptance as a role player can be viewed as an asset to several of the Cubs’ young players.
Hinske replaces Dave McKay, who left to handle the same duties with the Diamondbacks.
In the spirit: The Cubs will have a tree lighting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in front of Wrigley Field. The 24-foot tree will contain 100 ornaments to commemorate Wrigley Field turning 100 years old with board member Laura Ricketts and Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins on hand for the ceremony.
The event will include free hot chocolate, cookies and photos with Santa Claus.
The Cubs also will conduct a holiday toy drive Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fans can bring unwrapped toys to the Wrigley Field administrative entrance near the Ernie Banks statue, and all toys will be donated to Lawrence Hall Youth Services.
Post season coming as Cubs covet Masahiro Tanaka
BY GORDON WITTENMYER
The Cubs’ pursuit of Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka could get very serious very fast, according to sources who say the business side of the operation already is boasting that the Cubs might land the top pitcher on the market.
What puts Tanaka in play for the Cubs — who often are forced into mid-market decision-making because of debt-related restrictions — is that the often-exorbitant posting-bid price isn’t subject to restrictions on player spending that have been in place since the Ricketts family’s highly leveraged purchase in 2009, a source said.
Tanaka, 25, could give the Cubs a front-line starter to build around as the homegrown hitting core comes together.
General manager Jed Hoyer said last month that the Cubs planned to bid for Tanaka, a right-hander who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013.
But some top Cubs baseball officials privately doubted they would be any more successful than they were in failed bids the last two winters for Yu Darvish and Hyun-jin Ryu, who went to the cash-flush Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively.
Whether the Cubs get Tanaka could have a lot to do with the outcome of negotiations over this winter’s posting process — and at least a little to do with Jeff Samardzija.
A proposal by Major League Baseball reportedly would cap posting bids in an effort to put more teams in play. The Rangers’ successful bid of $51.7 million two years ago was more than twice the Cubs’ second-place bid.
Winning the posting process only earns the right to negotiate to sign the player to a big contract on top of that.
If the MLB proposal is adopted and multiple teams bid the cap price, Tanaka would be allowed some freedom to select his team.
Trading Samardzija would free up payroll money that might otherwise have gone to a multiyear extension for the 2013 Opening Day starter.
NOTE: The Cubs finished putting together new manager Rick Renteria’s coaching staff Tuesday, announcing the hiring of recently retired big-league infielder/outfielder Eric Hinske, 36, as first-base coach.
Cubs name Eric Hinske first base coach
BY TONI GINNETTI
New Cubs manager Rick Renteria completed his coaching staff Tuesday by naming Eric Hinske his first base coach. Hinske, 36, assumes his first coaching job after ending his 12-year playing career last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The former third baseman was the 2002 American League rookie of the year with Toronto. He originally was drafted by the Cubs in 1998.
He also played in three consecutive World Series with the Boston Red Sox (2007), Tampa Bay Rays (2008) and New York Yankees (2009).
Hinske’s selection completes Renteria’s staff, which includes bench coach Brandon Hyde, third base coach Gary Jones, hitting coach Bill Mueller, assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley and holdovers Chris Bosio (pitching coach), Lester Strode (bullpen coach), Mike Borzello (catching coach) and Franklin Font (staff assistant.)
Hinske played for the Blue Jays (2002-06), Boston (2006-07), Tampa Bay (2008), Pittsburgh and the Yankees (2009), Atlanta (2010-12) and the Diamondbacks.
At Winter Meetings, Cubs aim to fill roster gaps
Club in market for closer; Epstein emphasizes acquiring ‘quality’ arms
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — There is no fast forward button for Theo Epstein’s plans for the Cubs.
As much as Epstein, president of baseball operations, and fans want to see top prospects like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, C.J. Edwards and Jorge Soler in the Cubs’ 2014 Opening Day lineup on March 31, that won’t happen.
And that brings us to the Winter Meetings, which get underway Monday at Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Baseball’s annual gathering will give Epstein and Co. a chance to possibly fill some of the gaps on the roster.
Next week, you’ll hear Jeff Samardzija’s name a lot. The right-hander has been the subject of trade rumors since July with teams such as the D-backs, Nationals and Blue Jays coveting the hard-throwing starter who is coming off his first 200-innings, 200-strikeout season.
Samardzija, 28, and the Cubs have talked about a long-term contract, but the pitcher, who will be a free agent after the 2015 season, is apparently gambling that it’s better to wait. Look at pitchers such as Phil Hughes, 27, who got a three-year, $24 million deal from the Twins, and you’ll understand why.
The Cubs do want to add pitching, and Epstein said the emphasis is on “quality” arms. The Cubs have traded 40 percent of their rotation the last two seasons but Epstein said they are not looking for free agents whom they can sign and then flip at the Trade Deadline.
"Every starting pitcher we acquire is someone we hope is starting Game 1 of the World Series for us," Epstein said.
Epstein didn’t specify when that would be.
If Samardzija stays with the Cubs, he’ll join Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta in the rotation. The Cubs did plan to talk to Scott Baker, but he also was exploring other options.
The Cubs also are in the market for a closer. After Carlos Marmol struggled and was then traded, and Kyuji Fujikawa was injured, Kevin Gregg stepped in and totaled 30 saves for the third time in his career. Gregg, 35, is now a free agent and shopping around.
"We have guys who could close," Epstein said, "but I think that’s an opportunity for us. If you go to market with the closer’s role ready to bestow on somebody, that can help you sign a pretty good pitcher and can help your club. … We’re going to hit the market with a full closing opportunity to offer to the right pitcher we acquire, either through free agency or a trade, and know we have some interesting options in house."
One possibility is right-hander Hector Rondon, who was acquired last year in the Rule 5 Draft. The Cubs have selected pitchers in each of the last two years — Lendy Castillo was the 2012 selection — and could add someone again during the Draft on Dec. 12, which closes the Winter Meetings.
There are other needs, which may become clearer once Epstein and Co. spend more time with new manager Rick Renteria to see if there’s anything specific he wants on the roster. Renteria, who underwent hip surgery after the regular season ended, was expected in Chicago late this week for his first visit since being named manager Nov. 6.
Last year, the Cubs got a head start by signing free-agent pitchers Baker and Scott Feldman, catchers Dioner Navarro and J.C. Boscan, and outfielder Brian Bogusevic before the Meetings got underway. Of that group, only Bogusevic is expected back for 2014. Feldman was dealt at last year’s non-waiver Trade Deadline, Baker spent the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and is a free agent, Navarro recently signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Blue Jays, and Boscan signed with the Dodgers.
So far this offseason, the Cubs have signed outfielder Ryan Sweeney to a two-year, $3.5 million contract, and traded for backup catcher George Kottaras. They’ve also signed some players to Minor League contracts, including outfielders Aaron Cunningham and Casper Wells, infielders Walter Ibarra and Chris Valaika, catcher Eli Whiteside, and pitchers Paolo Espino and Carlos Pimentel.
No offense to any of them, but those aren’t the players Cubs fans are giddy over. Bryant teased by winning MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League, but he’ll open in the Minor Leagues in 2014. The Cubs will be looking at Mike Olt and Luis Valbuena at third base. Epstein has been clear about what the young players in the system need to do to advance.
"One thing we tell our players, and I tell them this directly, and [general manager] Jed [Hoyer] tells them this directly at the player development program is, ‘You want to move up? … Dominate your competition,’" Epstein said. "It comes down ultimately to performance."
Unfortunately for the Cubs, the baseball season won’t wait for their top prospects to develop.
During a presentation to season-ticket holders in early November, the top prospects were introduced via video and Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary was emphasized. The renovation plans for the ballpark were delayed while the Cubs try to reach an agreement with rooftop owners. That means no video scoreboard, which would have generated more revenue.
Epstein has a tight budget.
"Our business plan and our facilities plan and our baseball plan are all a couple years away from reaching fruition," Epstein said. "We’re going to be as aggressive as we can given our situation. We clearly need to get better but we’re not going to do anything at the expense of an increasingly exciting future."
The Cubs, who have lost 197 games over the last two seasons, are in the market for some good deals.
Hinske joins Cubs’ staff as first-base coach
MLB veteran signs on for first coaching stint following 12-year playing career
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — Eric Hinske was the Cubs’ 17th-round pick in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft but never got to play for the team. In March 2001, he was dealt to the Athletics for Miguel Cairo.
On Tuesday, Cubs manager Rick Renteria completed his coaching staff by naming Hinske as the first-base coach.
This will be Hinske’s first coaching stint. He wrapped up a 12-year Major League career last season that included 2002 American League Rookie of the Year honors with the Blue Jays and three straight World Series appearances, bookended by championships with the Red Sox in 2007 and the Yankees in ‘09.
Hinske, 36, played 1,387 Major League games with the Blue Jays (2002-06), Red Sox (2006-07), Rays (2008), Pirates (2009), Yankees (‘09), Braves (2010-12) and D-backs (2013). He finished his career with a .249 batting average.
He’ll need some time to get to know Wrigley Field. Hinske has played in just 12 games at the Cubs’ home park, and started two.
Hinske joins pitching Chris Bosio, bench coach Brandon Hyde, third-base coach Gary Jones, hitting coach Bill Mueller, bullpen coach Lester Strode, catching coach Mike Borzello, assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley and staff assistant Franklin Font on Renteria’s staff.
03 12 / 2013
Cubs retain nine with signings, contract tenders
Murphy, Kottaras ink one-year deals; Bard, Lim, Gamel become free agents
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — The Cubs signed infielder Donnie Murphy and catcher George Kottaras to one-year contracts Monday and tendered contracts to seven arbitration-eligible players, including Darwin Barney, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood.
The Cubs non-tendered relievers Daniel Bard and Chang-Yong Lim as well as infielder Mat Gamel, who are now free agents. Lim was not eligible for arbitration.
Besides Barney, Samardzija and Wood, the other arbitration-eligible players tendered 2014 contracts include pitchers Pedro Strop and James Russell, infielder Luis Valbuena and outfielder Nate Schierholtz.
A total of 28 players from the Cubs’ 40-man roster were tendered 2014 contracts, including 21 not yet eligible for arbitration.
With all the moves, the Cubs’ 40-man roster now stands at 37 players.
Murphy, 30, who was arbitration eligible, agreed to terms on a $825,000 deal. He spent most of the season at Triple-A Iowa, where he batted .265. In 46 games with the Cubs, Murphy batted .255 and hit 11 home runs.
Kottaras, who also was arbitration eligible, signed a one-year, $1.075 million contract that includes incentives. Acquired last Tuesday from the Royals in a trade for cash considerations, Kottaras made $1 million last season. He is projected to back up Welington Castillo behind the plate.
According to MLBTradeRumors.com, Samardzija is projected to get $4.9 million in 2014, while Schierholtz is projected to get $4.4 million, Wood $3.6 million, Barney $2.1 million, Russell $1.7 million, Valbuena $1.5 million and Strop $1 million.
The Cubs already have committed $49 million to six players for 2014 and will be paying $14 million to the Yankees to cover the last year of Alfonso Soriano’s contract.
The Cubs are keeping an eye on the now-expanded list of free agents. Last year, they signed Schierholtz after he was non-tendered by the Phillies, and the outfielder became a regular in right field. Schierholtz set career highs in home runs (21), doubles (32) and RBIs (68), and led the team with a .259 batting average with runners in scoring position.
Bard, once a dominant setup pitcher with the Red Sox, was claimed off waivers in September. At that time, Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations who knew Bard from his Boston days, said the Cubs were committed to the right-hander for the long haul. Bard had struggled after the Red Sox tried to convert him to a starter and battled a strained abdominal muscle this season.
When he joined the Cubs, Bard did not get into a game but worked on the side with pitching coach Chris Bosio. They recorded the sessions, even though Bard was unaware of the cameras as the Cubs hid one in the ivy and another in a door at Wrigley Field.
Bard, 28, appeared in three games in Puerto Rico last month, but retired only one of the 13 batters he faced. He walked nine, hit three batters and threw four wild pitches in those outings. The Cubs could still re-sign Bard, who made $1.8625 million this year.
Gamel, 28, sidelined most of this season because of a torn right anterior cruciate ligament, was acquired off waivers from the Brewers in early October. Lim, 37, signed as a free agent with the Cubs and appeared in six games in September.
Four trades for Jeff Samardzija
By Jim Bowden
Should the Chicago Cubs trade Jeff Samardzija?
Certainly their priority is to re-sign their ace right-hander to a long-term contract. However, if they enter the winter meetings without closure to negotiations with Samardzija, don’t be surprised if they deal him. As the rumor mill has probably told you by now, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer also have been checking the trade market to find out which avenue is best for their long-term goals.
With a free-agent market thin on top-of-the-rotation starters, Samardzija is arguably better than what’s available, including Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo. After Japan and MLB agree on a posting system, you possibly can add even Masahiro Tanaka to that list.
However, the Cubs don’t have to trade Samardzija — they control him for two more seasons and have the ability to move him at the July trade deadline or next offseason. However, as we discussed with Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price, the 28-year-old Samardzija is entering his prime, as his trade value will likely never be higher.
Samardzija pitched a career-high 213 2/3 innings this season, finishing with a 4.34 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. He has a nasty fastball in the 93-96 mph range, which he also cuts in the low 90s, with a hard slider (84 mph) and nasty split-finger fastball (also 84 mph). The repertoire says he should be a top-of-the-rotation type starter and in a new environment should reach that potential this upcoming season.
To deal him, however, the Cubs have to receive a significant package in return. And since their system is flush with elite hitting prospects but few pitchers, they would be looking to add elite arms in any major deal. So here are four trades for Samardzija that would make sense for the Cubs. If they can’t get this type of return, they should just hold on to him.
1. Baltimore Orioles trade RHP Kevin Gausman straight up
The Orioles’ window to win a World Series title with their present corps of stars will close over the next two seasons. And without a top-of-the-rotation starter, that’s going to be difficult. Although Chris Tillman has developed into a No. 2 starter and rookies Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman show potential, the O’s don’t have the time to wait. The thin free-agent market will be too pricey, so a trade is the only realistic option for GM Dan Duquette. But he doesn’t have enough in his farm system to make a legitimate bid for either Max Scherzer or Price, so Gausman for Samardzija makes sense.
Gausman, 22, was the Orioles’ first-round selection and No. 4 player taken overall in the June 2012 draft out of LSU. After being rushed to the majors this season, he split time between starting and relieving. Manager Buck Showalter added Gausman to the playoff roster just in case the Orioles made it. They didn’t, but he enjoyed seven out of 11 scoreless appearances down the stretch.
He has an overpowering fastball mostly at 94-97 mph, a nasty split finger, hard slider and an occasional change. He needs to improve his command and control of his fastball and has the stuff to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter. If they traded Samardzija for him, the Cubs would control Gausman through 2018.
I talked to Gausman Monday and was very impressed with his desire to improve. He set goals this offseason, which include trying to gain 20 pounds of weight strength, and hopes to pitch 200 innings next year. He also told me he understands he has to improve his fastball command in the future to reach his potential.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks trade LHP Tyler Skaggs and C Stryker Trahan
The Cubs won’t get Arizona’s best young pitching talent — Archie Bradley, Pat Corbin or Wade Miley — in a deal for Samardzija. However, a package of Skaggs and Trahan could do it. Samardzija would be an important acquisition for the Diamondbacks if they expect to compete with the Dodgers’ and Giants’ elite rotations. For the Cubs, they would get a very good pitching prospect they would control for the next six years and a legitimate catching prospect who might be three years away but should develop into a strong offensive catcher.
Skaggs, 22, is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound southpaw who has the makings of a No. 3 starter. He has an average fastball, mostly 88-92 mph with arm-side run; a 12-to-6 curveball, which has sharp downward break; and a solid changeup. His stock is slightly down now because of an off year, so this is the time to pounce on him.
Trahan could end up being the key to the deal for the Cubs. He was the Diamondbacks’ first-round pick in 2012 (26th overall). He’s a left-handed hitting catcher with power but has a lot of development ahead of him defensively. However, he profiles out as a 20-home run, everyday catcher in time. With Miguel Montero signed through 2017, the Diamondbacks could afford to include him in a deal for Samardzija.
You might be wondering why I see Gausman as a one-for-one swap for Samardzija while Skaggs is paired with another prospect and it’s as simple as this: While some may rate them closely, I think Gausman has the stuff to be a No. 1 starter, and I can’t say the same for Skaggs.
Kansas City Royals trade RHPs Aaron Crow and Miguel Almonte
The Royals must continue to bolster their starting pitching, so they should deal from one area of depth — their bullpen. One of the American League’s best bullpens has been anchored by among others, Crow, who has become a top shelf set-up man. Much of baseball is split on whether Crow can start games, and when I drafted Crow at GM of the Nationals in 2008 (he didn’t sign) I was confident he could develop into a good No. 3 or 4 starter; I still believe that.
Indeed, his stuff plays well in the pen and his career stats — 158 hits in 174 2/3 innings pitched and 174 strikeouts — are solid. But I believe he’s a potential double-digit winner and could pitch 180-200 innings, if given the opportunity. If he doesn’t start, he’s still an elite set-up man. An All-Star in 2011, the Cubs would control Crow for three more years.
However, the key to the deal could be Almonte, who also has the potential of an eventual No. 3 starter. He fared well at low Class A Lexington this season, posting a 3.10 ERA with 132 strikeouts in 130 2/3 innings, while walking just 36.
Almonte’s fastball sits in the 92-94 mph range, and he complements that with an above-average changeup and an average curve, which he has trouble repeating and needs to develop, but the makings are there.
Toronto Blue Jays trade LHP Sean Nolin, RHP Daniel Norris, RHP Alberto Tirado
The Cubs won’t get top pitching prospects Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman in a Samardzija deal, but a trade for Nolin and Norris would at least be a competitive bid. Nolin, 23, is a 6-5, 235-pound left-hander who started to put it together this year. His fastball is mostly 88-92 mph, throwing both a two-seamer with sink and a four-seamer he can put at the top of the zone. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, but he has a great feel for pitching and mixes in both a curveball and slider effectively. Two years ago he was projected as a fifth starter, but now his ceiling is as a potential No. 3.
Norris, 20, was the Blue Jays’ second-round selection in 2011, and owns a mid-90s fastball, an above-average but inconsistent curve and some feel for a changeup. He’s had to work a lot on his delivery and doesn’t have a consistent release point, which leads to high walk rates. He’s a tremendous athlete who also was a quarterback in high school in Johnson City, Tenn. He’s a typical high-risk, high-reward talent. If he ever figures out his delivery, command and control he could become special.
Tirado, 18, is a 6-1, 180-pound right-hander with long skinny levers. He owns a quick arm with whippy action. His fastball is in the mid-90s, he pitches on a downward plane and can get the ground balls. His change is solid and his slider is improving.
Will Cubs be part of Tanaka sweepstakes?
By AJ Mass
Eventually, the rules for bidding on Japanese free agents will be agreed upon on both sides of the Pacific Ocean and the major league feeding frenzy to win the right to negotiate a deal with pitcher Masahiro Tanaka will begin in earnest.
According to Bill Shaikin of the Baltimore Sun, one of the proposals on the table would put an upper limit on the amount teams could bid for negotiation rights for Japanese players. If that becomes part of the agreement, it would mean that any team can guarantee themselves to have a seat at the bargaining table by bidding the maximum possible amount.
"Under the proposal," Shaikin writes, "if multiple teams bid the capped amount, the player would get to choose the team with which he would negotiate. In theory, that could represent a step toward helping teams with less revenue bid on fairer footing with large-market teams."
Regardless of what the posting rules end up being going forward, Tanaka is expected to be pursued by, at a bare minimum, the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox. However, Joel Sherman of the New York Post says that the Chicago Cubs might end up a big player in this competition.
"The Cubs are loaded with as many high-end position prospects (Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler) as any club, but do not have pitching anywhere near that. They have tried to sign their best prime-aged starter, Jeff Samardzija, long-term, unsuccessfully, and probably will have to trade him, possibly as soon as this offseason. Meaning they will have yet another starter to replace," Sherman writes.
As Cubs shape roster, Samardzija will be big question mark
By Patrick Mooney
Jeff Samardzija will be one of the most talked-about players at next week’s winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The Cubs tendered Samardzija a 2014 contract before Monday night’s deadline, a procedural move that leaves open their biggest question walking into the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin: Do you trade him or try to sign him to a long-term deal?
The Washington Nationals — a win-now team that had shown interest in Samardzija — no longer appear to be an option. They acquired another frontline pitcher who hasn’t yet turned 30 and remains under club control through the 2015 season: Doug Fister.
Dave Dombrowski might be the game’s best trader and boldest executive, but what the Detroit Tigers received in Monday’s big deal looked underwhelming at first glance: pitching prospect Robbie Ray, lefty reliever Ian Krol and utility guy Steve Lombardozzi (plus added payroll flexibility).
The Cubs can take their time with Samardzija in an offseason where the Tampa Bay Rays could shop Cy Young winner David Price and uncertainty has surrounded Masahiro Tanaka and the Japanese posting system. Matt Garza — who already went through the rumor madness with the Cubs — is among the bigger-name free agents still on the board.
As expected, the Cubs also tendered contracts to six other arbitration-eligible players: second baseman Darwin Barney; outfielder Nate Schierholtz; infielder Luis Valbuena; and pitchers Travis Wood, James Russell and Pedro Strop.
The Cubs also struck one-year deals with infielder Donnie Murphy ($825,000 plus incentives) and backup catcher George Kottaras ($1.075 million plus incentives). Their 40-man roster is at 37 after relievers Chang-Yong Lim and Daniel Bard and infielder Mat Gamel were non-tendered.
Samardzija (8-13, 4.34 ERA) earned $2.64 million during an up-and-down 2013 season in which he still cleared the 200 innings/200 strikeouts marks and showed signs of being a clubhouse leader.
Samardzija already made his money by leveraging a potential NFL career as an All-American wide receiver coming out of the University of Notre Dame. He’s a Chicago guy who didn’t want to rush into a club-friendly deal, preferring to get more innings under his belt before making a big decision about his future. He has watched the Cubs lose 197 games across the past two seasons and believes he has the stuff to pitch in October.
This December will be about trying to put a number on Samardzija’s potential — and weighing that against the possible returns in a blockbuster deal and where the Cubs are at in their rebuilding process.
If the Nationals are out, there won’t be a shortage of teams interested in a cost-controlled, 6-foot-5, 225-pound power pitcher with a competitive streak and all that confidence.
Cubs will non-tender Bard, sign McDonald
By Patrick Mooney
Daniel Bard might have to find somewhere else to hit the reset button on his career.
Sources said the Cubs will not tender Bard a contract before Monday night’s deadline, though there’s a chance he could stay in the organization on a non-roster deal.
The Cubs hoped to catch lightning in a bottle with Bard, a former first-round pick out of the University of North Carolina who had once been an elite setup guy with the Boston Red Sox.
Bard does have a history with Theo Epstein’s front office, but he’s far removed from that dominant 2010 season in Boston, where he put up a 1.93 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 74.2 innings. There have been injuries, mechanical issues and a crisis of confidence.
Bard didn’t throw a single pitch for the Cubs after they claimed him off waivers in September. The 28-year-old right-hander couldn’t figure it out playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. He got one out in three appearances with Criollos de Caguas, giving up eight runs and nine walks and hitting three batters.
The Cubs have a large group of arbitration-eligible players that also includes second baseman Darwin Barney, outfielder Nate Schierholtz and pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Pedro Strop and James Russell.
A source confirmed the Cubs have signed another ex-Red Sox – outfielder Darnell McDonald – to a minor-league deal with an invitation to major-league spring training. McDonald, 35, split last season between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago. He’s viewed as a good clubhouse influence, someone who’s lived through the hype as a first-round pick and potential NFL prospect and carved out a career as a bench player.
Free agent relief options expand for Cubs
By Mark Gonzales
The Chicago Cubs did not tender contracts to relief pitchers Daniel Bard and Chang-Yong Lim by Monday’s 11 p.m. deadline, but they could find bullpen help in an expanding free agent market.
Among the relievers who weren’t tendered contracts were former closers John Axford and Andrew Bailey, along with Ronald Belisario and Mitchell Boggs.
Axford, 30, wasn’t tendered a contract by the St. Louis Cardinals, where he rebounded late last summer with a 1.74 ERA in 30 appearances after struggling with the Milwaukee Brewers. Axford, 30, posted a 1.95 ERA and saved 46 games in 2011 with the Brewers.
Bailey, 29, isn’t expected to be available until midway through the 2014 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Bailey wasn’t tendered a contract by the Boston Red Sox, where he pitched the past two seasons. But Bailey averaged 25 saves in his first three seasons with the Oakland Athletics (2009-11).
The Cubs haven’t shied away from players recovering from injuries, as evidenced by their signing of pitcher Scott Baker last winter.
The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t tender a contract to Belisario, 30, who posted a 3.97 ERA in 77 appearances.
Boggs, 29, wasn’t tendered a contract by the Colorado Rockies. But in 2012, Boggs posted a 2.21 ERA in 78 appearances.
Cubs tender contracts to Samardzija, Barney
Pitcher could be traded, 2nd baseman could get pushed out by prospect Baez down the line
By Mark Gonzales
The Cubs retained the rights of nine arbitration eligible players, led by pitcher Jeff Samardzija and second baseman Darwin Barney.
How long they remain with the Cubs could be dictated by the trade market and the progress of their top prospects.
Samardzija, one of the Cubs’ top trade chips, was tendered a contract before Monday’s 11 p.m. deadline and could come close to doubling his $2.64 million salary. The Cubs are expected to be patient in entertaining offers for him as the pitching market becomes sculpted.
Two sources outside the organization believe the Cubs lurk in the market for a marquee free agent, but they could fortify their minor league pitching depth by trading Samardzija, who could become a free agent after 2015.
The Cubs have interest in pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who will become a free agent shortly after a posting agreement between Major League Baseball and the Japanese leagues is reached.
Barney, 28, could receive a raise from $562,000 to around $2 million as an arbitration-eligible player despite batting a career-low .222 in 2013.
Despite committing only four errors in 141 games, Barney’s long-term future with the Cubs could be in question. In late September, President Theo Epstein said Baez could move from shortstop to second and third base at Triple-A Iowa “as soon as he’s pounding on that door” to reach the majors.
Arismendy Alcantara, 21, batted .271 with 15 home runs and 69 RBIs at Double-A Tennessee, but he hasn’t played at the Triple-A level. Alcantara is playing second base and is batting .200 in 17 games for Licey in the Dominican Winter League.
Second baseman Logan Watkins was promoted from Triple-A Iowa in August but had only 38 at-bats.
Meanwhile, pitchers Travis Wood, James Russell and Pedro Strop, infielder Luis Valbuena and outfielder Nate Schierholtz were tendered contracts. The Cubs re-signed infielder Donnie Murphy ($825,000) and backup catcher George Kottaras ($1.075 million). Both deals include incentives.
Kottaras’ agreement occurred hours after free agent Dioner Navarro signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Relievers Daniel Bard and Chang-Yong Lim and infielder Mat Gamel were not tendered contracts. Bard, 28, had a long association with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer dating back to their days with the Boston Red Sox. But Bard has been plagued by control problems
Bard tried to harness his wildness last month for Caguas in the Puerto Rico Winter League, but he allowed seven runs on nine walks while hitting three batters and hurling four wild pitchers in one-third of an inning covering three appearances.
The Cubs’ 40-man roster stands at 37.
The Cubs signed outfielders Darnell McDonald and Casper Wells to minor league contracts, multiple sources said. McDonald, 35, batted .302 in 25 games for the Cubs last summer.
Cubs, Kottaras agree on 1-year contract
By Mark Gonzales
The Chicago Cubs and backup catcher George Kottaras reached an agreement Monday night on a one-year, $1.075 million contract.
Kottaras, 30, who has played for parts of six seasons with five teams, was acquired last week from the Kansas City Royals for cash considerations. His contract includes incentives.
The Cubs elected not to tender a contract to infielder Mat Gamel, who had missed most of the past 1 1/2 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers. Gamel had been claimed on waivers last October.
Contract decisions await Cubs
By Mark Gonzales
A Chicago Cubs player has joined the Toronto Blue Jays, but it’s not pitcher Jeff Samardzija.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, free-agent backup catcher Dioner Navarro has agreed to a two-year, $8 million contract with the Blue Jays. Navarro’s departure wasn’t surprising. The Cubs are committed to giving Welington Castillo more playing time while acquiring George Kottaras as a backup.
Navarro, 29, will more than double his salary after batting .300 with 13 home runs as a backup.
As for Samardzija, he is one of 11 Cubs players who are arbitration eligible and must be tendered a contract by 11 p.m. Monday or will become free agents.
The Cubs merely have to tender a contract to Samardzija, who is arbitration eligible but is expected to nearly double his $2.64 million salary, to retain his rights. The Cubs are likely to listen to offers for Samardzija until they find a proposal that fulfills their future needs – unless they can sign him to a multi-year contract.
Samardzija can become a free agent after the 2015 season.
The Cubs’ two arbitration eligible players under the most scrutiny are second baseman Darwin Barney and reliever Daniel Bard. Barney is one of the best defensive second basemen in the game, but he batted .188 in the second half and .222 overall. Barney could earn close to $2 million if tendered a contract.
Last September, the Cubs said they would move mega-prospect Javier Baez from shortstop to second base once they believe Baez is very close to reaching the majors. But the Cubs currently don’t have another bonafide starting option if they should elect not to tender Barney a contract.
Arismendy Alcantara, 21, batted .271 with 15 home runs and 69 RBIs at Double-A Tennessee, but he hasn’t played at the Triple-A level. Alcantara is playing second base and is batting .200 in 17 games for Licey in the Dominican Winter League.
Bard, 28, has a long association with President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer from their days with the Boston Red Sox. But Bard continues to be plagued by control problems
Bard tried to harness his wildness last month for Caguas in the Puerto Rico Winter League, but he allowed seven runs on nine walks while hitting three batters and hurling four wild pitchers in one-third of an inning covering three appearances.
The Cubs were trying to work out a deal with Bard and were delaying an announcement on their arbitration eligible players until they had reached a conclusion on all of them.
The other Cubs players who are arbitration eligible are pitchers Travis Wood, James Russell and Pedro Strop, infielders Mat Gamel, Donnie Murphy and Luis Valbuena, outfielder Nate Schierholtz and Kottaras.
The Cubs and outfielder Darnell McDonald agreed to a minor league contract last week, McDonald’s agent confirmed Monday morning. McDonald, 35, batted .302 in 53 at-bats with the Cubs and .236 in 92 games at Triple-A Iowa last season.
02 12 / 2013
Injuries force ex-Cub Lilly to retire after 15 seasons
By Janie McCauley
November 29, 2013
OAKLAND, Calif. — Ted Lilly would have loved to keep pitching — if his body would allow him to start every fifth day, and if he could stay off the disabled list.
Instead, the 37-year-old left-hander is retiring after 15 seasons because of further problems with his shoulder and back.
He went to winter ball in Venezuela this month with the hope his body would cooperate and he could find a major league job. But Lilly didn’t feel right, and he made just one three-inning appearance during a 20-day stint in Valencia. He would have pitched again except he got food poisoning.
"It came to a point that, unfortunately, the reality set in where I was in terms of health and effectiveness," Lilly said by phone Friday. "Those combinations are what forced me to retire. If I felt I could still be productive and healthy, I would be playing, for sure. As of today, I don’t think it’s reasonable. I didn’t believe I would be able to go out there and be productive and effective for a major league team and stay healthy to make 30 starts."
He returned home to California on Wednesday night, and looks forward to spending time with his wife and two young children.
A two-time All-Star, Lilly was 130-113 with a 4.14 ERA in parts of 15 major league seasons. He pitched for Montreal, Oakland, Toronto, the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs and Dodgers.
He has struggled with the idea of retirement for months, even though his shoulder didn’t recover well. Designated for assignment by the Dodgers — the team that selected him in the 23rd round of the 1996 amateur draft — on July 25, Lily first tried rest.
Late in the season, he saw a spine specialist in Los Angeles and underwent surgery to cauterize the nerve endings in the right side of his neck. He was limited to 13 starts the past two seasons for Los Angeles because of injury problems, going 0-2 with a 5.09 ERA in five 2013 starts.
"As I sit here right now I’m OK but it’s been difficult for weeks because I’ve had to deal with those thoughts and avoid those thoughts for a long time, and continue to talk myself into it that I could find a way to do it," he said.
"I really do not want to spend more time on the disabled list. I’ve spent so much time on that dreaded list. It really came down to a matter of being effective. If I believed could produce, I would still pitch. So, it was a decision that was forced on me at where I was physically in my career."
He expects to do coach down the line, probably at the youth baseball level initially.
Lilly is left to cherish the relationships and friendships he made with both teammates and opponents.
"I was so lucky, the game of baseball really changed my life," he said. "I know a lot of ex-players say that or people who are playing the game, and it’s true. Baseball has been my life for so many years in some facet or the other I hope to continue to stay close to the game. It’s a game that I love."
Cubs face question at second as tender deadline nears
Chicago assesses value of Barney’s glove with second baseman arbitration eligible
By Carrie Muskat
December 1, 2013
CHICAGO — Do the Cubs keep a solid defender like Darwin Barney at second base or look for another option?
That’s one of the decisions the Cubs face Monday in advance of the 10:59 p.m. CT deadline for Major League teams to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. The Cubs have eight other players on that list: infielders Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy, outfielder Nate Schierholtz, and pitchers Pedro Strop, Travis Wood, Daniel Bard, James Russell and Jeff Samardzija.
Strop, Wood, Russell, Valbuena, Samardzija and Schierholtz all appear to have secure spots on the 2014 Cubs along with Barney. The question surrounding the second baseman is his offense, which has declined considerably. Barney put together a slash line of .208/.266/.303 in 141 games this season. Compare that to his 2011 numbers: .276/.313/.353.
Despite that, the Cubs will likely tender Barney, who MLBTradeRumors.com projects will get $2.1 million next season. The team doesn’t have many in-house options at second base other than Valbuena, who is expected to get $1.5 million after batting .218 in 108 games with 12 home runs and 15 doubles. Valbuena has been playing second base in Venezuela this winter.
Bard has struggled this winter in Puerto Rico, but the Cubs are expected to tender him as well. When the Cubs claimed Bard off waivers, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told him the Cubs were committed to the right-hander for the long haul. Once a terrific setup pitcher, Bard struggled after the Red Sox tried to convert him to a starter. He battled a strained abdominal muscle this season and appeared in two games for Boston.
Bard did not pitch in a game after joining the Cubs, but worked on the side with pitching coach Chris Bosio. They videotaped the sessions, but Bard was unaware of the cameras, as the Cubs hid one in the ivy and another in a door at Wrigley Field.
In November, Bard appeared in three games for Caguas in Puerto Rico and gave up seven earned runs, walked nine, hit three batters and threw four wild pitches. He retired one of the 13 batters he faced over three outings.
Will the right-hander regain the form he had in 2010, when he posted a 1.93 ERA in 73 games? The Cubs appear to be gambling that Bard will.
According to salaries projected by MLBTradeRumors.com, if the Cubs tender contracts to Samardzija, Schierholtz, Wood, Barney, Bard, Russell, Valbuena, Strop and Murphy, they’ll be adding $21.5 million to the payroll. The Cubs have committed $49 million to six players for 2014 and will be paying $14 million to the Yankees to cover the last year of Alfonso Soriano’s contract.
The deadline for teams to decide is 10:59 p.m. CT Monday. Players not tendered before the deadline will become free agents.
Cubs’ initiatives make positive mark on community
Players, organization bring needed attention, funds to charitable causes
By Carrie Muskat
November 27, 2013
CHICAGO — Cubs players walked, posed, dined and donated their time this season in an effort to give back to those less fortunate, and their fans chipped in, as well.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo hosted his first Chicago fundraiser in August, a “Cook Off for Cancer,” featuring local chefs who presented their take on traditional ballpark food. It was a huge success, as the Rizzo Family Foundation received more than $150,000 in donations.
Rizzo will celebrate five years of being cancer free with his second “Walk Off for Cancer” 5-kilometer walk on Dec. 15. His inaugural event in his hometown of Parkland, Fla., raised more than $100,000.
In January, the players and coaches served lunch for active-duty military and veterans in partnership with the USO at the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Base. The visit was part of the Cubs Caravan tour, and allowed the players to say thanks to the servicemen and women.
Also in January, outfielder David DeJesus, his wife Kim and Cubs Charities held the first “Strike a Pose” celebrity fashion show to raise money for ALS research and support. The fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, was personal because Kim’s high school friend was diagnosed with the disease.
Among the players who walked the runway were Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Shawn Camp, Tony Campana, Starlin Castro, Brett Jackson, Kerry Wood and Travis Wood. Even though DeJesus is now a member of the Rays, the event will be held again on Jan. 16, 2014.
The players weren’t the only ones to participate in good causes. Chicago Cubs Charities donated more than $2.3 million in 2013 to Chicago-area non-profit organizations.
In July, Chicago Cubs Charities introduced the inaugural class of Cubs Scholars, a program that provides college scholarships to incoming high school seniors who are high achievers with demonstrated need. Five scholars were introduced and officially “signed” to the team. They received $20,000 toward the college of their choice, as well as ongoing mentoring and programming through the Cubs College Prep program — which includes college counseling and support for five years with Chicago Scholars.
Cubs Charities also featured the first “Cubs on the Move” fitness trolley, a program designed to promote physical activity in the inner city. Cubs players and Laura Ricketts helped teach kids to play every day and work in 60 minutes of physical activity. Over 300 children took part in July.
More than 93,000 underprivileged children and families, veterans, non-profit organizations, children with special needs, and volunteers were treated to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field over the course of the season through ticket donations.
A new “Cubs Give Back” program allowed season ticketholders to donate their tickets to Cubs Charities, who worked with Illinois Mentoring Partnership to bring mentor pairs to the ballpark to enjoy a game.
Cubs fundraising events and donations raised more than $3.3 million in 2013 through the 50/50 Raffle and events such as the third annual Bricks and Ivy Ball, the Race to Wrigley 5K, Wrigley Field Road Tour, and Cubs Convention.
Cubs fans rallied in November to donate items for families devastated by the Nov. 17 tornadoes in downstate Illinois, and two trucks of goods were delivered to Peoria, Ill.
Besides the organized efforts, there was another example of giving back. Pitcher Carlos Villanueva and his wife, Arianna, donated their time and money to Casa de Luz in the Dominican Republic, a home to about 25 severely disabled children whose needs overwhelm their families. He’s been able to arrange food and medical care for the kids.
"We don’t gain anything back from this, just the satisfaction of seeing these kids," Villanueva said. "It breaks your heart when you go in there."
At Thanksgiving, it’s a good time to say thanks to those who made the effort.
New Cubs bench coach: ‘It’s a great fit’
By Jesse Rogers
November 27, 2013
CHICAGO – New Chicago Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde might have a leg up in his new job after spending time in the team’s front office since joining the organization in 2011.
The Cubs have admitted their message to the major league team — especially to hitters — might not have always gotten through, but with Hyde holding the title of Director of Player Development over the last year and a half he was part of molding that message.
"This past year I got to watch big-league game with (Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer) and be in the meetings with them," Hyde said in a phone interview. "I made sure that our message is being sent all the way through our minor league system. That was my goal this past year."
Now he gets to bring that message to Wrigley Field, along with new manager Rick Renteria, who is learning his new players. Hyde already knows them.
"That’s a huge help," he said. "I have experience in that role before. I’ve managed some of these guys as well in the fall league. I’ve managed them and against them. I think familiarity helps. I think I have a really good relationship with the players."
Hyde was on the bench for the Florida Marlins in 2010-2011 while in 2009 he managed in the Arizona Fall League. A young Starlin Castro played under him.
"It’s a new start," Hyde said about the Cubs shortstop. "Let his abilities play. We’re going in with some new faces and a fresh outlook."
Hyde says he interviewed with and was hired by Renteria and thinks it’s a “great fit” for them to deliver a winning culture, but admits it’s a tough task after years of frustration and a roster in flux.
"We have a real special thing happening," Hyde said. "We’re all thinking big picture and this journey we’re on and how we’re going to be better every day."
After Epstein recently said there were some “mixed messages” being delivered at the major league level it makes sense to have an extension of the front office in the dugout. And one with some experience.
"I learned a ton in my two years as bench coach in Florida," Hyde said.
Maybe getting hired was the easy part for him. Now comes the hard part.
"It’s our job to create a winning atmosphere here in Chicago," Hyde said.
Cubs should sign Jacoby Ellsbury
By David Schoenfield
November, 27, 2013
This is what Chicago Cubs fans can dream on, circa 2016:
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Albert Almora
SS Javier Baez
3B Kris Bryant
1B Anthony Rizzo
RF Jorge Soler
2B Starlin Castro
C Welington Castillo
Whoa. Back up there. Jacoby Ellsbury?
Yes, Jacoby Ellsbury. Are the Cubs going to contend in 2014? No. Should they still sign Ellsbury? Yes.
1. The Cubs’ long-term commitments are fairly minimal, with only Rizzo, Soler, Castro, Edwin Jackson and Ryan Sweeney signed beyond 2014, and generally at pretty team-friendly terms. The Cubs have $31 million committed in 2015 and 2016, $21 million in 2017, $23 million in 2018 and $28 million in 2019. So they’ve done a good job of locking up their core young players. Yes, Castro has regressed and Rizzo didn’t have the breakout season many expected, but at their salaries, they don’t have to become stars, just solid major league regulars.
2. The free-agent market is even thinner next season. As an executive told Jayson Stark in last week’s Rumblings & Grumblings, “There are some decent arms. But there’s a chance there’s going to be absolutely nothing out there on the hitter’s market.” As Jayson pointed out, the top position players based on Wins Above Replacement from 2013 would be Hanley Ramirez, Colby Rasmus, David Ortiz, Russell Martin, Chris Denorfia and Brett Gardner — not exactly a mouthwatering group, and Ramirez and Ortiz may not even get to free agency.
So the time to pounce on a big-ticket free agent is this year, even though the Cubs won’t be challenging the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds for NL Central supremacy. Think of it as a situation similar to when the Nationals signed Jayson Werth before the 2011 season: They weren’t looking to compete in 2011 but saw a time in the near future when Werth could still help them. And Ellsbury is two years younger than Werth was when Washington signed him.
3. Ellsbury would give the Cubs exactly what they need — a table-setter for the top of the lineup and a good defensive outfielder. Baez and Bryant are the best of the talented group of Cubs prospects, but neither is considered a plus defender. If they develop as hoped, they’ll anchor the middle of the order along with Rizzo. Almora projects as a high-average, good on-base guy; sounds like a nice No. 2 hitter. That leaves Ellsbury leading off. Ellsbury and Almora, who is considered a plus defender in center, would give the Cubs two good outfielders (and Soler should be solid-average in right field with a strong arm) to help balance out the potential defensive shortcomings of Baez and Bryant.
Of course, there’s no guarantee all of those prospects will make it, but that simply reinforces the need to sign a player like Ellsbury. Factor this in as well: This is a pretty good year to be bidding on free agents, especially outfielders, when considering the other big-market clubs. Sure, the Yankees are likely to spend some money somewhere, but the Red Sox may be willing to hand center field over to Jackie Bradley Jr., the Dodgers are looking to subtract an outfielder, not add one, the Phillies seem tapped out, the Cardinals are locked in with outfielders, as are the Braves and Nationals, and the Angels are paying big bucks to Josh Hamilton and saving up for Mike Trout. That doesn’t mean it won’t cost $100 million to sign Ellsbury, but it is fewer suitors for his services than you would see in other seasons.
4. Most importantly, Ellsbury is a good player. He’s not without risk considering his injury history, but don’t buy into the idea that speed players don’t age well. On ESPN Insider last week, Dave Cameron compared Ellsbury to other similar, speed-based players. He wrote:
Overall, these nine players maintained an average of 70 percent of their ages 27-29 WAR/600 rates. If you apply that 70 percent rate to Ellsbury’s 5.8 WAR/600 from his past three seasons, he’d forecast as a 4.0-WAR-per-600-PA player over the next seven years.
That makes Ellsbury seem like a relatively safe investment.
The rebuilding of the Cubs has produced one of the most talented farm systems in the majors. Now it’s time to start adding some quality major league talent as well.
Did Kane County stint prepare Rick Renteria for the Cubs job?
By Tony Andracki
December 1, 2013
If a baseball team is a family, then would that make a manager the patriarch?
If that’s the case, the Cubs should feel even better about new skipper Rick Renteria.
When he was hired last month, the 51-year-old dad of four likened himself to a father figure for young ballplayers in need of development.
He’s not the only one who feels that way.
After Renteria managed the Kane County Cougars in 1999, he left an impression on Curtis Haug, the general manager of the Cubs’ Low-A affiliate located just 40 miles west of Wrigley Field.
"All the managers you’ve seen come through here have different styles, different ways of doing things," saig Haug, who was the Cougars assistant GM in 1999. "[Renteria] seemed to be upbeat, personable, almost like a father figure to these kids.
"They responded to him. He was positive, upbeat. He worked hard and I think that work ethic is something the players saw and tried to emulate."
Renteria, a former Pittsburgh Pirates first-round pick, managed that 1999 Kane County team to the playoffs with a 78-59 record and an impressive plus-160 run differential.
The Cougars, who were affiliated with the Florida Marlins at the time, boasted a roster with an average age just over 21 years old and had only a handful of players who went on to have big-league careers — the most notable of which were catcher Matt Treanor and pitchers Claudio Vargas and Nate Robertson, who spent time in the Cubs system in 2012.
"Rick was a very outgoing guy," Haug said. "He had a great rapport with a wide range of people — the fans, the front office, the ballpark staff, his players and his coaches. He handled the clubhouse well and it showed because the team was really good that year.
"He separated himself from other [Kane County managers] and you could tell he had the makings and the capabilitiy of doing something big in the future."
Renteria, a self-proclaimed optimist, has never managed at the big-league level, but has drawn rave reviews from many around the game for his work as a coach.
His upbeat personality may be a good fit in Chicago on a ballclub that has lost 197 games the last two seasons.
"It’s a good thing. When you’re positive and you’re upbeat, I think it builds confidence in kids," Haug said. "They don’t feel like they’re being beaten down. They don’t feel a lot of negative vibes going on and they respond to that."
The Cubs are hoping that’s the case with a wave of young talent expected to hit Wrigley Field as early as the end of the 2014 season, led by top prospects Javier Baez and Kris Bryant.
In a game where a guy can fail seven out of 10 times and still be considered an All-Star, young players need to be able to rise above and learn from the adversity experienced every single day.
When a player makes a mistake, Renteria’s approach is not to call that guy out or immediately dole out punishment. Instead, as he put it in his introductory teleconference in early November, Renteria allows time for the player to take accountability and move forward.
"A leopard doesn’t change his spots. He was that way in Kane County in 1999 and he’s consistent with it," Haug said. "The kids respond to it. It’s just a different atmosphere, whether it’s in the clubhouse or on the field or in early work or batting practice or during a game, you feel good.
"You feel like a different kid. You can go out there and make mistakes. You’re not constantly worried about being yelled at."
That is something of a different approach than what Starlin Castro has seen on the North Side the last few years. The 23-year-old shortstop is prone to attention lapses in the field and has faced the wrath of Cubs managers.
In 2013, Castro was an easy target for disgruntled Cubs fans suffering through a 105th year without a World Series championship. But Castro, a two-time All-Star, has been in Chicago for four years and understands the expectations and the pressure from the market.
The same can’t be said for Renteria, who spent the last five years on the San Diego Padres coaching staff. Apart from the one season in Kane County, the the southern California native hasn’t experienced much Chicago baseball firsthand.
"I don’t think anybody truly knows what the expectations are when they come into this market or this situation," Haug said. "He’s the kind of guy that’s going to be able to handle it. He’s got the support of the front office and he’s obviously got a great coaching staff.
"This organization is putting together a great group of young talent that is going to win ballgames. We’re a lot closer to that than we were two or three year ago. It’s a great position for him to be in.
"I think he’s going to do great. He’s got the right attitude, the right personality and the right approach to it. They got the right guy."
Source: 99 percent Cubs’ Samardzija will be moved by Opening Day
By David Kaplan
November 27, 2013
With the MLB winter meetings in Orlando beginning a week from Sunday, teams are engaged in substantive talks regarding trades and signings that could lay the groundwork for a flurry of moves over the next few weeks.
When the Tigers dealt Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler it caught many in the game by surprise, but other significant names could be on the move with the free agent crop being one of the weakest in recent memory.
The Cubs are shopping starter Jeff Samardzija and as many as eight teams have shown considerable interest in landing the right-hander, who is not eligible for free agency until after the 2015 season. The front office has had discussions with Samardzija’s camp regarding a long-term contract extension, but the two sides are far apart financially.
On Wednesday, major league sources who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed to me that the front runners to land Samardzija in a trade are the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks, with the price according to one evaluator being extremely significant.
"I don’t see him throwing another pitch in a Cubs uniform. I think it’s 99 percent that he gets moved. They’re not ready to win and he brings you the young pitching you need for the future," said a major league source.
"Samardzija is a really good trade candidate if you believe you are close to winning for several reasons. One, he is under your control for two more seasons. Two, he is extremely durable with no hint of an injury history. Plus, because of his football career he does not have as much mileage in his arm that most pitchers his age have. Three, he is a great clubhouse guy and he shows leadership which should make his transition to a new clubhouse an easy one. Add in the fact that the guy is a big time competitor and I would have no hesitation in acquiring him," he told me.
Another scout likes Samardzija’s makeup and durability but does not believe that he has the complete package to be a top of the rotation starter.
"I like the guy a lot but the price is really high and I think in the AL he is a No. 3 starter. He doesn’t show me the consistency that I need in a top end guy and to acquire him, Theo and Jed are asking for a top end price. However, pitching is so hard to find that teams will give up a lot betting that his best days are ahead of him."
Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka’s availability could have a major impact on Samardzija and a potential trade because so many teams are bidding on him, and with only one winner of his rights, the rest will be chasing potential high end arms. An NL scout who has evaluated both Samardzija and Tanaka sees the offseason playing out this way.
"I love Tanaka but here is what you have to ask yourself as a GM. Tanaka hasn’t been cleared yet for a posting process. I expect him to indeed be available but the posting could take 30 days to determine a winner. That pushes us to January 1 and if you hang around trying to land him and you come up short most of the available top arms will already been gone. Then what do you do? Unless money was no object and I was prepared to overpay significantly to guarantee that I landed Tanaka, I would give up more than I might want to for Samardzija because he is under my control for two seasons and I won’t have to wait out the Tanaka circus."
Rumors of a possible Cubs deal with Baltimore have been speculated for a couple of weeks and Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has been linked to a possible Samardzija deal. However, keep in mind that Wieters is represented by Scott Boras and he is a free agent after the 2015 season. Wieters has rebuffed contract extension talks with Baltimore and is looking to sign a monster deal in 2016. So, why would you give up your most valuable pitching asset for a catcher who wants to test free agency in two years, and when you have a tremendous need to add young, impact level starting pitching? Most scouts I have spoken with do not expect the Cubs to trade for Wieters unless he was part of a much larger deal that also included young starting pitching that is nearly MLB ready.
The Diamondbacks and the Blue Jays both have high end starting pitching prospects in their minor-league systems and are dangling impressive prospects in front of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in hopes of landing Samardzija. Toronto has Aaron Sanchez, while the Diamondbacks have Archie Bradley and Tyler Skaggs. However, Arizona general manager Kevin Towers has consistently maintained that Bradley is a non-starter in any trade talks. Whether he remains that steadfast depends on how badly he wants Samardzija because as every baseball source I spoke with said, the price is really high and with the supply of big time arms very low, the price keeps going up.
27 11 / 2013
Cubs acquire catcher George Kottaras from Royals
BY TONI GINNETTI
The Cubs acquired catcher George Kottaras Tuesday from Kansas City for cash considerations in a deal that could provide a back-up to starting catcher Welington Castillo.
Kottaras, 30, was the Royals back-up catcher last season, coming from Oakland in a waiver deal in January. The left-handed hitting catcher started 29 games, hitting .180 with four doubles, five home runs and 12 RBI. He also drew 24 walks in 126 plate appearances, the most in the majors for players with fewer than 150 plate appearances.
That contributed to his .349 on-base percentage, sixth highest among American League catchers who played in at least 40 games.
Kottaras was designated for assignment by the Royals last Friday.
He is another player who previously played for Cubs president Theo Epstein in Boston (2008-09). He also played for Milwaukee (2010-12) and Oakland (2012).
Kottaras hit for the cycle on Sept. 3 at Houston while a member of the Brewers, only the third catcher to do so since 1920.
City moves to let Cubs sell beer in Wrigley Field plaza
BY FRAN SPIELMAN
The Cubs would be allowed to sell beer and wine from kiosks at an open-air plaza adjacent to a renovated Wrigley Field — and fans would be allowed to bring drinks in plastic cups to the plaza — in the latest in a string of concessions to the team.
Local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) on Tuesday introduced the ordinance to a City Council that’s preparing to give the Cubs the go-ahead to take another 10 feet of street and sidewalk and sell advertising on a “branding arch” over Clark Street.
Tunney’s new ordinance applies to 99-year-old Wrigley and all other stadiums with capacities exceeding 30,000.
“It says, if you are a licensed brick-and-mortar part of the stadium, you’ll have an opportunity to have a sports venue license to be able to either transfer a drink from inside in a plastic container or to serve beer and wine kiosk-like on the plaza,” Tunney said.
Fans would be allowed to enter and exit the ballpark. But fans leaving the open-air plaza would not be permitted to leave with drinks in their hands.
“This is an issue about how to manage the entire experience around the stadium. Of course, we’re always worried about public safety. But then there’s a responsibility that [comes with being] a licensed operator. Your license will be to the brick-and-mortar portion of it, and you’ll have a sports venue license,” he said. “The same rules and regulations of running the facility and responsibility to the public is paramount. You have skin in the game.”
In order to qualify for the new “sports venue license” to sell drinks on the plaza, you have to be a “licensed food and beverage operator” in the stadium or in the hotel and office building the Cubs plan to build adjacent to the stadium, Tunney said.
The ordinance would allow the plaza to operate year-round — when the Cubs are playing at Wrigley and when they’re not in town. But the plaza would be required to close down at 11 p.m. on weekdays and at midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Outdoor concerts would be subject to existing noise restrictions, with limitations on noise levels that can be heard more than 100 feet away from the plaza.
Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the team hopes to create a town square of sorts in the open-air plaza. The Cubs hope to fill the space with farmers markets, a winter ice-skating rink, movies in the park and live music.
“We know these activities will help keep Wrigleyville a thriving neighborhood and will contribute to the local Chicago economy, while enhancing the quality of life for Lakeview neighbors,” Green wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The new ordinance is the latest in a string of City Hall concessions to the team that have prompted Wrigleyville residents to call Emanuel the “Cubs’ most valuable player” for 2013.
Last week, the Chicago Plan Commission infuriated Wrigleyville residents by authorizing the Cubs to take an additional 10 feet of street and sidewalk to enlarge the stadium footprint to accommodate wider aisles, more concessions and a larger Budweiser deck.
Tunney acknowledged that the “Sheffield experience will be different” thanks to the revised stadium renovation plan. But he argued that the Cubs are prepared to offer parking in team lots on non-game days to residents who will lose nearly 60 street spaces.
Cubs Vice President and General Counsel Mike Lufrano has called the ad-bearing branding arch over Clark a fair trade-off for the pedestrian bridge scrapped at Tunney’s behest. There’s a similar bridge bearing the White Sox logo over 35th Street near U.S. Cellular Field.
As for the claim that Emanuel has been the Cubs’ 2013 MVP, Lufrano said, “Remember, this is $300 million of private investment in the ballpark — $500 million overall in the community. It’s really unprecedented in our industry to have a project like this entirely privately funded.”
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has said repeatedly he won’t begin construction on his $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it until rooftop club owners agree not to sue to block two massive outfield signs needed to bankroll the project.
Cubs acquire backup catcher Kottaras
By Daily Herald News Services
The Chicago Cubs acquired backup catcher George Kottaras from the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday in exchange for cash.
Kottaras, 30, started 29 games for the Royals last season. While the left-handed hitter batted just .180 (18-for-100) with 4 doubles, 5 home runs and 12 RBI, he also drew 24 walks and posted a .349 on-base percentage.
Kottaras has batted .214 (148-for-692) with 29 home runs and 96 RBI in 295 major league games with Boston (2008-09), Milwaukee (2010-12), Oakland (2012) and Kansas City (2013). For his career, he has a .324 on-base percentage, and a .991 fielding percentage (13 E/1,422 TC) in 231 games behind the plate.
Cubs acquire catcher Kottaras from Royals
Chicago gets left-handed hitter to replace Navarro as Castillo’s backup
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — Dioner Navarro posted career numbers last season as the Cubs’ backup catcher, but he is now a free agent and the team decided to go a different direction, acquiring George Kottaras from the Royals for a cash consideration.
Kottaras, 30, was the Royals’ backup catcher last season after he was claimed off waivers from the Athletics in January. He started 29 games and hit .180 with four doubles, five home runs and 12 RBIs. Kottaras’ .349 on-base percentage was sixth-highest among American League catchers.
Navarro batted .300 in 89 games with the Cubs, hitting a career-high 13 home runs and driving in 34 runs as a backup to Welington Castillo, who will be the team’s starter again in 2014.
Kottaras, a left-handed hitter, was designated for assignment by the Royals on Friday. He has batted .214 with 40 doubles, three triples, 29 home runs and 96 RBIs in 295 Major League games with the Red Sox (2008-09), Brewers (2010-12), Athletics (2012) and Royals (2013).
In 2012, Kottaras tied his career mark with nine home runs between the Brewers and Athletics, including six in 27 games for the Athletics following a July 29 trade. In his final full season with Milwaukee in 2011, he hit for the cycle Sept. 3 at Houston, becoming the third catcher to do so in the live-ball era.
Sosa on Hall of Fame ballot for second straight year
Longtime Cubs slugger to be joined by likes of Maddux, Glavine, Thomas in 2014
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — If anything, Sammy Sosa is patient.
After Sosa was denied entrance to baseball’s Hall of Fame in January, the first time the slugger was on the ballot, he issued a statement, saying he was happy just to be included.
"It has been a moment of great honor for me to have my name on the ballot for the first time, along with some of the game’s greats," Sosa said in a statement. "Even if we weren’t included on our first time, we are still winners and there is always a next time. God has blessed me with a beautiful family, great career, and I know He will determine my future in the years to come.
"Baseball has been very, very good to me! Kiss to the heavens!" Sosa said in the statement. "It was an honor just to have been nominated. I’m happy about that."
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America did not vote anyone into Cooperstown in 2013. Sosa received 71 votes, or 12.5 percent. A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from BBWAA members to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. No players reached that threshold in 2013. Second baseman Craig Biggio (68.2 percent), starting pitcher Jack Morris (67.7 percent) and first baseman Jeff Bagwell (59.6 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year’s ballot. Results of the 2014 election will be announced on Wednesday, Jan. 8.
On Tuesday, the Hall of Fame released the 2014 ballot, and Sosa was on it once again. The 45-year-old will have even tougher competition, though, as the list of candidates will include Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas.
After hitting 609 home runs over 18 Major League seasons, including 13 with the Cubs, Sosa had the numbers that should have made it easy for him to join baseball’s elite. The former shoeshine boy from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, Sosa charmed fans with his dashes to right field, mammoth home runs and post-homer heart taps. He basked in the national spotlight in 1998, joining Mark McGwire in a record-setting home run race.
"It’s so much fun to watch him," said Jeff Pentland, who was the Cubs’ hitting coach that season. "It’s not supposed to be that easy."
McGwire finished the ‘98 season with 70 homers; Sosa closed with 66. The Cubs slugger is the only player in Major League Baseball with three 60-homer seasons. He also belted 64 in 2001 and 63 in 1999. Think about it: Babe Ruth had one 60-homer season.
Sosa also edged McGwire in the National League Most Valuable Player Award balloting, earning the ‘98 honor as he led the league in RBIs (158), runs scored (134) and total bases (416).
A seven-time All-Star and six-time Silver Slugger winner, Sosa won the Roberto Clemente Award in 1998 for his humanitarian efforts in the Dominican. He’s the only player in NL history to have six consecutive seasons of 40 home runs. Sosa retired as the Cubs’ all-time home run leader (545) after passing Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo.
Sosa’s career also had other elements for Hall of Fame voters to consider. According to a New York Times story in June 2009, he allegedly was among 104 Major League players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Sosa never was found guilty by an official MLB entity.
In 2005, he joined McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco at a hearing before Congress regarding drug use in baseball. Sosa’s attorney testified on his behalf, saying the slugger never had taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
"I think you have to judge people for the era they were in," said Jim Hendry, who was the Cubs’ general manager at the time. "Unless all the facts are in, speculation is a waste of time. You’ll never be able to go back and figure out who did what for sure. I’m not condoning it at all. As long as there is competitive athletics and people can get away with things, they’ll try to get a competitive edge."
Sosa also was involved in a scandal in 2003 when he was ejected for using a corked bat. MLB confiscated the bat and tested 76 others, and all were found to be clean. He eventually served a six-game suspension.
After playing for the Cubs from 1992-2004, Sosa spent one season with the Orioles in 2005, missed a year and ended his career in ‘07 with the Rangers — the team that had originally signed him in 1985 out of the Dominican.
"I’m always happy that I could come to this country and get the opportunity to be who I am," Sosa told MLB.com in an interview in 2011. “I always appreciate what America did for my family. I never forget who took care of me in the tough moments I went through in my career.
"This is the land of dreams," he said. "The hope and accomplishments you can make here is incredible. America will always for me be No. 1."
The Hall of Fame does have several souvenirs from Sosa’s career, including some of the bats he used to hit his monumental home runs, plus the jersey he wore when he hit his 400th.
However, the “Sammy Sosa Inspiration Field and Cubs Care Park,” unveiled in September 2002 at the New City YMCA in Chicago, is gone — it was demolished for a proposed retail complex — and his No. 21 jersey has been handed out to Cubs players such as Jason Marquis, Milton Bradley, Tyler Colvin and Joe Mather.
Sosa has moved on since his last big league at-bat on Sept. 29, 2007. He was involved in business ventures, including Riverhead Homes, which provides prefabricated homes built to withstand natural disasters.
In 2011, Sosa became chief executive officer of INJEX 21, which has created a needle-free drug delivery system designed to help people afraid of needles who must subject themselves to daily self-injections, such as diabetics. His motivation was personal: Sosa worked at a hospital in the Dominican when he was young and remembers getting poked by used needles in the garbage. He knew a lot of diabetics who dreaded their daily injections. He also put off seeing a dentist because of his fear of needles. Dentists now can treat their patients and ease that fear by using the needle-free device.
Sosa always had good timing. On June 20, 2007, Sosa, then with the Rangers, faced the Cubs in an Interleague game, and he connected on his 600th career home run. He’s one of eight Major League players to reach that number, joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Ruth, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Thome.
"Not bad for a guy from the Dominican Republic," Sosa said after the feat. "It’s a great opportunity and a great feeling to be among the greats. When I leave this world, people will remember that I’m among guys like that."
Sosa is optimistic. He believes both he and McGwire belong in the Hall of Fame.
"I think so," Sosa said in January during an online chat with fans. "I’m waiting for my time. I’m not that type of person, I don’t like controversy. I’m going to wait here, but definitely, time will determine everything."
Cubs acquire C George Kottaras
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO — With an acknowledged lack of catching depth in the Chicago Cubs organization and a potential need for a backup on the major league team, the club traded for Kansas City Royals catcher George Kottaras on Tuesday for cash considerations.
Kottaras, 30, broke into the majors in 2008 with the Boston Red Sox while Cubs president Theo Epstein was the team’s general manager. Kottaras also played for Milwaukee and Oakland before spending 2013 with the Royals.
Kottaras has a career batting average of .214 with 29 home runs to go along with an 18 percent caught stealing percentage.
Welington Castillo is the Cubs’ starter behind the plate. Free agent Dioner Navarro was the backup last season, but after a career year he is expected to sign elsewhere.
Rebuilding could lead to Samardzija split
By Jesse Rogers
As the Dec. 9-12 Winter Meetings near, it’s becoming more likely that Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija will be available to the highest bidder. Although he is under team control for two more seasons, maxing out on a trade for him means moving him sooner rather than later.
Nothing has changed in terms of the negotiations. Both sides are amenable to a long-term deal, but they remain far apart in terms. That can change at any moment, but only if one side changes its mind. Otherwise, Samardzija’s career in Chicago will come to a close.
If the popular starter is traded, some will blame the Cubs while others will undoubtedly say Samardzija is asking for too much money. In this situation, the blame might fall on timing more than anything else. This isn’t about one side being unreasonable. It’s more complicated than that.
Samardzija, who made $2.64 million last season and is arbitration-eligible this year and next, could be a victim of the Cubs’ rebuilding efforts more than anything else. He will be 29 in January, and he wants to be on a winning team. That’s the elephant in the room. The Cubs want to win as well, but they can’t put an exact date on the calendar when that might happen, hence the impasse between the sides.
If the Cubs want to pay Samardzija like he’s a free agent now, they may be able to get him to overlook how long the rebuilding effort might take. Or if they can speed up the process, he might be willing to take a hometown discount in exchange for a chance to be part of something special. But Samardzija wants one or the other, and it’s hard to blame him.
The irony of wanting Edwin Jackson-type money now is that Samardzija doesn’t have to have it now. Unlike Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, who both signed-long term deals the past two years, Samardijza has already made a good bundle (about $17 million) in his career. It means he would have no problem waiting until free agency after the 2015 season to sign a big contract. It’s a risk, but obviously it’s one he’s willing to take. So if he’s going to toil for the Cubs while they go through a no-sure-thing rebuilding plan, the Cubs are going to have to pay for it.
Samardzija played big-time football at Notre Dame and then joined a successful Cubs team in 2008, just as they were winning the second of back-to-back division titles. Then came the fall-off in the standings and a new regime with a strip-it-down and build-it-back up strategy. But no longer is Samardzija a middle reliever. Now a starter, he’s a budding star nearing 30, his prime. Taking a team-friendly deal with a flickering light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t sound too appetizing.
But can you blame the Cubs? Samardzija hasn’t proven he’s the next Clayton Kershaw who must be kept at all costs. The Cubs got team-friendly deals in Castro and Rizzo, and there’s a good chance they’ll get one in Travis Wood when the time comes. They’ll be forced to pay players when free agency forces them to (see Jackson for evidence).
It’s not unreasonable for them to offer a deal to Samardzija like the one that was rumored last offseason — $30 million for five years. Samardzija would get paid now with some security while giving up some money as he heads toward his free-agent years. It’s the normal course of business for arbitration-eligible players the team wants to keep. But that’s under normal circumstances. These aren’t. Not with a pitcher approaching 30 — albeit with plenty of life in his arm considering his late commitment to baseball — who desperately wants to pitch for a winner.
Samardzija didn’t dominate in 2013 with a 4.34 ERA but as one scout put it recently, “I’d like to see Samardzija pitch for a contender.”
He’s already known as a pitcher who rises to the occasion, but there aren’t many of those on a rebuilding club. And according to ESPN Stats and Information, the Cubs scored zero runs while he was in the game in nine of his 33 starts last season. That’s demoralizing. He and Wood are right behind Jackson for most “tough-luck losses” (defined as losing while throwing a quality start) over the past two seasons. It’s a good reason why their win/loss record shouldn’t be used if those two players end up in arbitration. It’s just not fair pitching on this Cubs team right now.
The bottom line is if the Cubs want to keep Samardzija they have to treat him like he’s a free agent now and overpay him. Even if the Cubs had money to spend, that’s undoubtedly what they would have to do to get a front-line player to join them right now.
If the money is out there, players are going to choose a winner over a rebuilder. The Cubs aren’t wrong to stick to their guns and neither is Samardzija. It just means he’ll probably be pitching elsewhere in 2014.
Rizzo Watch: Renteria honing in on development of Cubs’ 1B
By Tony Andracki
Anthony Rizzo isn’t Steve Francis, but his nickname might as well be “The Franchise,” just like the former NBA player.
The Cubs front office thinks very highly of Rizzo, as evidenced by the three different organizations they have carried him to and from.
Theo Epstein and Co. have a lot riding on the kid who overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma and with the Cubs losing 197 games the last two seasons, Rizzo is under the microscope in Chicago more so than any other player not named Starlin Castro.
That’s why Rizzo’s production is at the top of the list for new manager Rick Renteria and hitting coach Bill Mueller.
Renteria got to know Rizzo in San Diego, after the Padres acquired the young first baseman as one of the centerpieces of the Adrian Gonzalez deal with the Boston Red Sox.
Heralded as one of the top young players in the game, Rizzo struggled through a tough 2013 season in which he hit just .233 with a .742 OPS, down from the .285 average and .805 OPS he posted in his first year in Chicago in 2012.
Despite the regression, Renteria thinks he can help get Rizzo back on track. He was there for Rizzo Watch Part I in San Diego and saw the youngster struggle through a forgettable rookie campaign in 2011.
"He’s a very gifted athlete," Renteria said. "I know parts of last season, he might have had some struggles with maybe pitch selection and strike zone recognition, but I think it’s more to do with approach.
"Anything we do on the field has to do with confidence. The confidence aspect that a player takes to any part of the game is really important."
Renteria chalks it all up as a learning experience for Rizzo, believing the young slugger can benefit from rising above adversity.
"Anthony just has to come back to what he’s been and his progression," Renteria said. "He was starting to make strides. To a certain extent, it might seem like he was taking a step back, but it’s something he can learn from.
"Players can learn from down moments. It’s just a matter of all of us articulating what might have occurred. I think he’s got a tremendous future ahead of him and I look forward to being a part of it and watching it come to fruition."
While Rizzo hit only .191 with runners in scoring position in 2013 — certainly not what a team wants from its No. 3 hitter — the 24-year-old was also the victim of a lot of bad luck with a .258 batting average on balls in play.
Rizzo didn’t hit 30 homers with 100 RBI, as some expected, but he still drove in 80 runs, collected 65 extra-base hits (including 23 homers) and drew 76 walks while playing excellent defense at first base.
The Cubs fanbase is growing impatient as they wait for elite prospects like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant to roll through Wrigley Field on the next wave of young talent. The diehards want to see Rizzo take that next step.
Can Renteria get through to him? Will the self-proclaimed optimist be able to help Rizzo turn into one of the most feared sluggers in the game?
Renteria said his approach to players is to “engage the human being” first and foremost, working to build a player’s confidence without allowing them to get too down during moments of adversity.
It’s that kind of positivity the Cubs are hoping can help get the message across to the young talent.
Dave Roberts was the first base coach in San Diego when Renteria was with the Padres, and took over as bench coach when Renteria left.
"One thing you can expect from him is he’s going to be consistent with his positive energy," Roberts said on a video shown to Cubs season ticket holders in early November. "He’s going to back his players and every single guy is going to play hard. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or where you come from.
"Young players gravitate to him. Guys want to play hard for him…He’s just so good with young players and with veterans. He has this way about him that people should come to respect him.
"There’s not a player that has come across Rick Renteria that hasn’t gotten better."
The Cubs are counting on it.
Cubs acquire catcher George Kottaras
By CSN Staff
The Cubs had been rumored to be in the market for a backup catcher to current starter Welington Castillo. Now they have one.
On Tuesday, the Cubs announced they have acquired catcher George Kottaras from the Kansas City Royals for cash considerations.
Kottaras had been designated for assignment by the Royals on Nov. 21.
The 30-year-old Kottaras finished the 2013 season with a line of .180/.349/.370 with five home runs and 12 RBI in 126 plate apperances for Kansas City.
In 295 games with the Boston Red Sox (2008-09), Milwaukee Brewers (2010-12), Oakland Athletics (2012) and Royals (2013), Kottaras has a line of .214/.324/.406 with 29 home runs and 96 RBI.
Kottaras will compete for the Cubs backup job in Spring Training.
Plaza selling alcohol could be created outside Wrigley Field
By Nick Wilder
Along with the Wrigley Field renovations, a large plaza could be placed outside of the stadium that would also sell alcohol.
A new ordinance was introduced to the City Council on Tuesday by Alderman Tom Tunney of the 44th Ward. It would allow the selling and consumption of alcohol in the plaza next to Wrigley Field, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.
Fans would be able to bring alcohol out of the stadium and into the plaza, as long as the beverage is in a specifically marked cup.
This concept was embedded into the original deal for a $500 million renovation of Wrigley Field and changes to the surrounding area, but it had to be structured. The selling of alcohol would be allowed in the plaza between 11 a.m. until midnight on weekends and until 11 p.m. on weeknights, when events were being held at Wrigley Field.
However, the Cubs have consistently maintained that they would not begin construction on any portion of the renovation plan to the stadium or possible plaza until they complete an agreement with the Wrigleyville Rooftop Association.
Bosio: Cubs need more pitching
Returning pitching coach blunt about team’s shortage, hasn’t given up on Samardzija
By Paul Sullivan
The most prominent survivor of a purge that cost manager Dale Sveum and five of his coaches their jobs, Chris Bosio is back as Cubs’ pitching coach under new manager Rick Renteria.
It wasn’t a real surprise that the Cubs opted for continuity in that area, despite a 96-loss season as Bosio got about as much as he could get out of a staff that lost two starters in July but still managed to wind up with 91 quality starts, tied for fifth in the National League.
"We feel like Bos did a really nice job making most of our pitchers better and helping them develop the mindset and the weapons to attack hitters," President Theo Epstein said in an email. "Bos, Lester Strode(bullpen coach), Mike Borzello (catching and strategy) and our advance scouts worked well together game-planning for hitters, and we’re excited to bring back our entire pitching infrastructure to maintain continuity in an important area."
For his next trick, Bosio may have to try to compete with three new starters, another new closer and a few middle relievers.
With the Cubs listening to offers for Jeff Samardzija, the only two pitchers assured of a rotation spot are left-hander Travis Wood, their top starter, and Edwin Jackson, who led the league with 18 losses in the first year of a four-year, $52 million deal.
As for the bullpen, Bosio suggested Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon could compete for the closer’s job.
Bosio was typically blunt when asked if the Cubs could compete with what they have now.
"We need more pitching," he said. "And as soon as we acquire four or five guys, we’re going to need more after that. … We need arms. We’ve got to find or develop those arms, and if you’re not signing them, you better develop them. And if you can’t develop them, then Theo and Jed (Hoyer) and everyone are trying to do the next best thing, which is to acquire them."
Samardzija’s name has been linked to trade rumors with the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Nationals, among other teams, as Epstein continues to gauge his value.
The Cubs don’t have to trade him now since he won’t be a free agent for two more years, but they desperately need to add to a farm system that has little pitching help at the higher levels, and they have not come close to convincing Samardzija to sign an extension. With starters’ contracts soaring, Samardzija is in no rush.
Pierce Johnson, C.J. Edwards and Corey Black may be as good as advertised, but they’re all a few years away. The only top pitching prospect on the radar is Kyle Hendricks, the Dartmouth grad who won the Southern League ERA title (1.85) for Double-A Tennessee while going 10-3 with a 1.05 WHIP.
Hendricks is expected to start the season at Triple-A Iowa, but not if Bosio can help it.
"Who’s to say he couldn’t start for us?" Bosio asked. "I saw a 22-year-old starter (Michael Wacha) for the St. Louis Cardinals pitch in the World Series. Why can’t we take a kid that’s just had a couple years in the minor leagues and put him in our rotation? Baseball has no age.
"There’s a certain philosophy on development, but, if you have guys that compete, work fast and get outs, it doesn’t matter what your age is. Hendricks just keeps getting guys out. What’s to say he couldn’t be a fourth or fifth starter? That’s what spring training is going to be for.
"Trust me. I’ll be talking to Theo, Jed and Rick about giving this guy ample opportunity to be that guy for us. Maybe we don’t have to make a lot of moves. Maybe those young guys we have now can be the answer. I don’t know, but that’s going to be the fun part of going into the year this year."
Bosio wasn’t counting Samardzija out. He said he believes the Cubs need more guys with his win-first mentality. Samardzija was the only player to publicly criticize the trade of Scott Feldman in July, feeling the Cubs were closer to competing than their record indicated.
"Jeff Samardzija is the ultra competitor," Bosio said. "He wants to win and he wants to win badly. Saying it is not enough. This guy will do whatever he’s got to do in the offseason to get better and improve, to validate his 200-inning, 200-strikeout season (in 2013), and somehow win those 1-0, 2-1 games.
"Because we need him to be that guy, and he wants to be that guy."
Whether he’ll be that guy for the Cubs or someone else is the biggest question of their offseason.
Cubs acquire backup catcher Kottaras from Royals
By Paul Sullivan
The Chicago Cubs acquired backup catcher George Kottaras from the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday for cash and will give him a chance to win a spot in spring training.
Kottaras, 30, hit .180 with five home runs in 100 at-bats for the Royals last year, and is a career .214 hitter with the Brewers, Red Sox and A’s.
Kottaras was designated for assignment by the Royals and would’ve become a free agent. He came up with the Red Sox in 2008 and ‘09 when Theo Epstein was general manager.
The Cubs are not expected to re-sign free agent Dioner Navarro, so Kottaras will have to beat out the likes of Eli Whiteside and whoever the Cubs sign to a minor league contract this winter.
Proposal would allow beer and wine to be sold outside Wrigley
By John Byrne
The Chicago Cubs’ owners want to sell beer and wine in their new outdoor plaza connected to Wrigley Field, according to a proposal unveiled Tuesday at a City Council meeting that could increase the Ricketts family’s competition with neighboring bars.
The ordinance proposed by Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, and supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel would allow alcohol to be sold in a plaza next to any Chicago sports stadium with capacity above 30,000, so it could apply to Soldier Field or U.S. Cellular Field as well.
But the focus is clearly on historic Wrigley Field and the Rickettses, who are looking for ways to increase revenue as part of their proposed $500 million plan to renovate the aging ballpark and develop the surrounding area.
Alcohol could be sold in a sports plaza directly adjacent to the stadium from 11 a.m. until midnight on weekends and until 11 p.m. on weeknights. Sales also would be allowed during nongame events like the concerts or ice skating programs the Cubs have talked about for the plaza to be built west of the park.
The proposal also would make it legal for fans to carry alcohol out of the ballpark and into the plaza, and into the park from the plaza.
A trade industry spokesman expressed concern about what the proposal could mean for bars that feed off the Wrigley crowds.
"We understand that if they are granted permission to expand their selling of adult beverages beyond the Friendly Confines, that this could adversely affect the sales of beer, wine and spirits at the adjacent or nearby ILBA member establishments," said Daniel Clausner, executive director of the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association.
Tunney has been negotiating with Emanuel and the Cubs for much of this year over the particulars of the Rickettses’ proposal to spend $300 million renovating Wrigley and an additional $200 million building a nearby hotel and other development in the congested neighborhood around Clark and Addison streets.
Emanuel has largely supported the plan, citing the family’s commitment to pay for the renovations, and spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said he backs the liquor license proposal. “It’s basically another step in moving the process along,” she said.
Though he has at times expressed misgivings about the team’s push for more concessions from the city, Tunney recently endorsed a plan that will require Sheffield Avenue east of the park to be narrowed so the Cubs can enlarge a deck in the right-field bleachers.
And after Tunney opposed a plan for a pedestrian bridge over Clark Street linking the proposed hotel to the park near the plaza, he backed a plan for the team to instead build a “branded” archway with advertising on it spanning Clark, welcoming people to the plaza.
Maddux, Thomas first-timers on Hall of Fame ballot
By Paul Sullivan
Former Cubs and Braves ace Greg Maddux and former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas are among the 19 new candidates on the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot, which was announced Tuesday by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Maddux is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer with 355 career wins, while Thomas may have to sweat it out on a crowded ballot.
Voters are allowed to choose only 10 players, and only those named on 75 percent of the ballots will enter Cooperstown next July.
Maddux won four consecutive National League Cy Young Awards from 1992-95, and a record 18 Gold Glove Award in 23 seasons with the Cubs, Braves, Dodgers and Padres. He went 355-227 with a 3.16 earned run average and 3,371 strikeouts in 5,008 1/3 innings, leading the league in ERA four times and winning 15 games or more for a record 17 consecutive seasons.
Thomas won back-to-back American League MVP awards with the White Sox in 1993 and ’94, and finished with 521 home runs and 1,704 RBIs over a 19-year career. His candidacy is helped by the fact he never was linked to performance-enhancing drugs like a number of other prominent names on the ballot, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa.
Among the other first-time candidates are Tom Glavine and Jeff Kent, both considered Hall of Fame players. The rest of the 36-man ballot consists of Moises Alou, Jeff Bagwell, Armando Benitez, Craig Biggio, Sean Casey, Ray Durham, Eric Gagne, Tom Glavine, Luis Gonzalez, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Jeff Kent, Paul Lo Duca, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Mike Mussina, Hideo Nomo, Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Kenny Rogers, Curt Schilling, Richie Sexson, Lee Smith, J.T. Snow, Mike Timlin, Alan Trammell and Larry Walker.
No one earned election to the Hall of Fame last year, as the continued debate over whether to elect players suspected of using PEDs cost several stars votes. The closest was Biggio, who had 3,060 hits and was a seven-time All-Star. Biggio wound up with 388 votes, or 68.2 percent, just 39 shy of the 427 votes required for election.
Jack Morris, now in his final year of eligibility, came close last year with 67.7 percent. Others with more than 50 percent of the vote last year were first baseman Jeff Bagwell (59.6), catcher Mike Piazza (57.8) and outfielder Tim Raines (52.2).
Only writers who have 10 consecutive years of membership in the BBWAA are eligible to vote. The results will be announced on Jan. 8, 2014.
25 11 / 2013
Mueller can’t wait to get back on field
Cubs new hitting coach is former batting champion with no ‘set-in-stone’ philosophy
By Paul Sullivan
When Bill Mueller was traded to the Giants for minor league pitcher Jeff Verplancke in the final month of the Cubs’ disastrous 2002 season, Giants general manager Brian Sabean figured Mueller must have been “relieved” over leaving.
"He’s in Chicago, which is going nowhere fast," Sabean said. "He has no future with them and he gets to come home."
As it turned, Mueller did have a future in Chicago, albeit 11 years later.
The Cubs brought Mueller back as hitting instructor Friday, replacing the fired James Rowson. He will join the staff of incoming manager Rick Renteria, along with returning coaches Chris Bosio (pitching) and Lester Strode (bullpen), Mike Borzello (catching and strategy) and Franklin Font (staff assistant).
The Cubs also announced Mariners first-base coach and former Cub Mike Brumley will be the assistant hitting coach, replacing Rob Deer, and Padres minor league infield coordinator Gary Jones will be the third-base coach. Jose Castro was named quality assurance coach. The Cubs have yet to announce their first-base coach.
In-house switches include player development director Brandon Hyde becoming Renteria’s bench coach, with Jaron Madison filling his role. Hyde was bench coach under Jack McKeon with the Marlins in 2010-11. The Cubs also named national and regional cross-checker Matt Dorey as Madison’s replacement as amateur scouting director.
Mueller, who won the American League batting title with the Red Sox in 2003 when Theo Epstein was their general manager, had been a Dodgers special assistant under general manager Ned Colletti. He spent time as interim hitting coach for the Dodgers in 2007 and wanted to get back on the field.
"I love working with the guys, the competing aspect of the game," Mueller said. "I love the camaraderie and all the aspects of being part of a team. Being a baseball player was always something I wanted to be, and what I always want to be around."
Mueller will have his hands full trying to improve an offense that ranked 27th in the majors in hitting (.238) and 28th in on-base percentage (.300). The Red Sox, Tigers and Cardinals were the top three in OBP, accentuating the importance of that stat.
Mueller expects to be buried in video for the next six weeks learning the Cubs players.
"I’m a little naked with some of the stuff but … eager to start analyzing and helping them to improve," he said. "I don’t have a set-in-stone philosophy. It’s more flexible. … It’s really an individual thing.
"In any hitting coach’s eye, there are do’s and don’ts that you like. But there are anomalies out there (who) get away with things some people don’t. It’s our job to make sure these guys are consistent as they can be and play up to their potential, their goals."
Getting Starlin Castro back to his old self obviously will be Job One. Mueller said he’s a “very talented player offensively and defensively,” but he hasn’t studied his video yet.
"That’s why I have to get real familiar with these guys in a hurry," he said.
Cubs announce coaching moves
Bill Mueller new hitting coach
By Paul Sullivan
The Cubs retained Chris Bosio, Lester Strode and Mike Borzello to their coaching staff on Friday while making a series of moves, including Brandon Hyde as bench coach and Bill Mueller as hitting coach.
Mueller will replace James Rowson as hitting coach, with Mike Brumley as the assistant hitting coach, replacing Rob Deer. Gary Jones was named as third base coach.
Mueller played in the majors for 11 seasons, including with the Cubs in 2001 and 2002.
The Cubs have yet to announce their first base coach.
Jaron Madison moves from director of amateur scouting to director of player development, replacing Hyde in that role. The Cubs also moved national and regional crosscheceker Matt Dorey to replace Madison as director of amateur scouting.
Franklin Font will return as a staff assistant.
Former Cub Bill Mueller to return as hitting coach
By Toni Ginnetti
Former Cubs infielder Bill Mueller, who went on to become the 2003 American League batting champion, will return to the team next season as hitting coach under new manager Rick Renteria, the team announced Friday.
This will be the first full-time coaching job for Mueller, 42, who spent the second half of the 2007 season as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ interim hitting coach. He spent the last six seasons as a special assistant in the Dodgers’ front office.
The team also announced, as expected, that pitching coach Chris Bosio and bullpen coach Lester Strode will return, along with catching coach Mike Borzello and staff assistant Franklin Font.
Newcomers to the staff are Brandon Hyde — who had been director of player development — as bench coach, ex-Cub Mike Brumley as assistant hitting coach, Gary Jones as third base/infield coach and Jose Castro as quality-assurance coach.
A first-base coach has yet to be named.
In hiring Mueller, the Cubs also reunite team president Theo Epstein with one of his former Boston Red Sox players. Mueller’s 11-year playing career began with the San Francisco Giants in 1996. He played for the Cubs from 2001 to ’02, then signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in 2003. He joined the Dodgers in 2006, which was his final season. For his career, Mueller hit .291 with a .373 on-base percentage.
Bosio, 50, served as former manager Dale Sveum’s pitching coach the last two seasons. Strode, 55, will begin his eighth season with the team.
Jones, 53, spent the last 11 seasons with the San Diego Padres, with whom Renteria had been a longtime coach under manager Bud Black.
Hyde, 40, served as bench coach for Jack McKeon with the Florida Marlins in 2010 and ’11. He spent nine years as a coach in the Marlins’ organization. Hyde joined the Cubs in 2011 as minor-league field coordinator and was named director of player development in 2012.
Brumley, 51, spent the last four seasons as the Seattle Mariners’ first-base coach. His seven-year playing career began with the Cubs in 1987. He later played for the Mariners, Red Sox, Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics. Brumley then spent 13 seasons as a minor-league manager, field coordinator and instructor.
Castro, 55, spent the last 25 years as a minor-league hitting coordinator or hitting coach for five teams.
The team also announced that Jaron Madison will replace Hyde as director of player development and Matt Dorey will become director of amateur scouting.
Renteria’s coaching staff nearly complete for Cubs
By Bruce Miles
The Cubs haven’t completed their new coaching staff, but they took giant strides in that direction Friday.
New manager Rick Renteria will inherit pitching coach Chris Bosio and bullpen coach Lester Strode from the staff of former manager Dale Sveum.
As had been speculated, former Cubs third baseman Bill Mueller takes over as hitting coach, replacing James Rowson, who left for the New York Yankees organization. Mueller, who was an interim hitting coach for the Dodgers in 2007, most recently has been a special assistant in the Dodgers front office.
The most interesting coaching decision is the move of Brandon Hyde from director of player development to bench coach. Hyde, who joined the Cubs organization in 2011, may be a key conduit to the front office as well as someone who can communicate effectively with the Cubs’ younger players. He does have bench-coaching experience in the big leagues, having served as Jack McKeon’s right-hand man with the Marlins from June 2010 through 2011.
The Cubs also named Gary Jones their third-base coach, Mike Brumley assistant hitting coach and Jose Castro to the newly created post of “quality assurance coach.” They also retained Mike Borzello, who previously was a staff assistant working with catchers and helping Bosio with game plans. Borzello’s new title is catching and strategy coach. Staff assistant Franklin Font, an organizational man for almost 20 years, remains in his role.
The Cubs still need to hire a first-base coach to replace Dave McKay, who left for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
There was some other organizational fallout from Friday’s moves. To fill Hyde’s old duties, the Cubs named Jaron Madison director of player development. Madison, who joined the Cubs in August 2012, had been director of amateur scouting. Matt Dorey, who this year worked for the Cubs as a national and regional crosschecker, has been named director of amateur scouting.
The retention of Bosio, Strode and Borzello comes as no surprise. The three had earned good reviews for their work with an ever-changing Cubs pitching staff the last two seasons and with the development of young catcher Welington Castillo.
On the other hand, the Cubs will be on their third hitting coach in three season in the reign of team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. Epstein and Hoyer inherited Rudy Jaramillo from the previous baseball regime but fired him during the 2012 season and replaced him with Rowson.
The Cubs have had trouble getting on base for several years, and that didn’t change during the first two years of the Epstein-Hoyer management team.
Mueller played for the Cubs for parts of 2001 and 2002, but a serious knee injury suffered in May 2001 wiped out any chance he might have had to be effective. He rebounded in 2003 to win the American League batting title while with the Red Sox.
His new assistant, Brumley, replaces Rob Deer. Brumley played for the Cubs in 1987 and spent the last four years as first-base coach for the Seattle Mariners.
Castro spent the last 25 years as a minor-league hitting coordinator or hitting coach in the Kansas City, Seattle, Florida, San Diego and Montreal organizations. He also served an interim stint as Seattle’s major league hitting coach in 2008.
Jones spent the last 11 years in the San Diego organization.
Cubs react to passing of MLBPA’s Weiner
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — Friday was a sad day for Major Leaguers trying to cope with the passing of Michael Weiner, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. Pitcher Carlos Villanueva, an active member of the MLBPA, called it a “difficult day.”
"It was a very difficult day, not only for me but for all of us who had the pleasure of spending time with Michael," Villanueva said on Friday. "All I can say about Michael is what a wonderful leader he was to us, how he genuinely cared about us and, even when he was battling his illness, how he was there almost every day at the office making sure that we were OK."
Weiner lost his 15-month battle with brain cancer on Thursday. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in August 2012 but continued to serve the players and provide leadership and counsel to the MLBPA staff. He was 51.
"He was not only our leader but he was family, because only someone who is family could dedicate their life to us the way he did," Villanueva said.
Villanueva is the only non-American-born player on the MLBPA board, and he is involved with the Latin players.
"From a Latin player point of view, he fought for us, he made sure that we got fair treatment above all," Villanueva said from his home in the Dominican Republic. "Michael always had his calm demeanor, worked his magic and made us feel that we mattered.
"He showed me personally to not only care about the Latin players, but to care and love all of our members equally, that it is never about the individual, it’s about what we do now, and how that will affect in a positive way the well being of our future members. He will stay with us forever, and we will never have anybody like him."
Weiner joined the MLBPA as counsel in 1988, at the age of 26, and worked his way up before being named executive director in December 2009.
Tony Clark will take over as the union’s executive director.
"All I can hope is that we continue to carry ourselves in a way that would make him proud, and I’m sure guys like Tony, who worked with him very closely, will continue to lead us in the right direction," Villanueva said.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo acknowledged Weiner’s passing on Twitter, saying, “It’s sad to see such a good man’s life be taken by cancer! Thank you for everything you have done! Rest in peace Michael Weiner!”
Future looks sweet for prospect Candelario
By Carrie Muskat
Most people call Jeimer Candelario “Candy.” The players and coaches at the Cubs’ academy in the Dominican Republic nicknamed him “Baby Ruth.”
He has big dreams, wanting to help the less fortunate in his home country. This year he tweeted: “I won’t be happy until we have every boy in Dominican between the ages of six and sixteen wearing a glove and a bat!”
Candelario is one of the top Cubs prospects you haven’t heard much about. But you will.
The 19-year-old switch-hitting infielder spent this past season with Class A Kane County, where he batted .256 with 11 home runs and 57 RBIs in 130 games. He was played in the Cubs’ instructional league this fall but had to leave early when he was selected in the first round by Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League.
"They’re going to give me a chance to play," said Candelario from Mesa, Ariz., in October before leaving. "[Playing in the Dominican Winter League] is not bigger than here, because the Cubs are my life, but it’s a good opportunity."
Unfortunately for Candelario, he has only had one pinch-hit at-bat since play started in the Dominican Republic because third baseman Andy Marte, 30, has been doing well and getting most of the starts. In the Dominican Republic, if you keep hitting, you keep playing.
Candelario was born in New York, but San Pedro de Macoris is his home. His father, Rogelio, played in the Astros’ Minor League system but never made it to the big leagues. His son could.
"When I was a little kid, I saw him hit," Candelario said of his father. "He was a pitcher, but when he was released, he played in the Dominican, and he started hitting and hitting, and I liked the way he hit. He taught me everything. [The way I am] now, it’s because of my father. He put me on a good line."
Candelario always had a glove and didn’t have to use half a milk carton, which some Dominican youths do. He knows plenty of kids who had to improvise. That’s one of the reasons he’d like to donate gloves on Three Kings Day in January — which is bigger than Christmas in the Dominican Republic — to baseball-crazed youth there.
"My family was always in a good position," he said. "I had everything."
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Candelario also became a Cubs fan.
"Every time in the Dominican I would see the games in Chicago, I would see Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou," he said. "I loved those guys when I was a little kid. Sammy Sosa was always hitting bombs and bombs. I loved the Cubs when I was a little kid. I was a big fan."
At the age of 16, he took part in a showcase of young talent in the Dominican Republic, and at least six teams, including the Blue Jays and Yankees, expressed an interest in him. Jose Serra, the Cubs’ current director of operations in the Dominican Republic, was a scout at the time and successful in convincing Candelario to sign with the team.
"When I was growing up, I was getting better every day," Candelario said. "The Cubs gave me a chance."
Since he had followed Sosa and Alou, had Candelario secretly been hoping to sign with the Cubs?
"I didn’t say that," he said, "but when I was in the showcase, I put my talent out there, and they were the team that talked to me. I liked the way they talked to me and my father. That’s why I said I wanted to sign with the Cubs, and I’m here now.
"It wasn’t a difficult decision," he said. "I like the Cubs. We’re going to win the World Series there."
"Promise," he said.
Cubs name coaching staff for 2014
Bosio returns as pitching coach; 2003 batting champ Mueller named hitting coach
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — Bill Mueller hasn’t worn a Major League uniform since 2007, but he’s been eager to get back on the field. For Chris Bosio, who is returning for a third season as the Cubs’ pitching coach, there’s a lot of work still to do.
Mueller and Bosio were announced on Friday as part of new manager Rick Renteria’s coaching staff. Bosio, bullpen coach Lester Strode, catching coach Mike Borzello and staff assistant Franklin Font all return from Dale Sveum’s 2013 staff. Joining them will be Mueller, a former American League batting champion who will take over as hitting coach, plus player development director Brandon Hyde, who will be Renteria’s bench coach. Gary Jones was named third base/infield coach, Mike Brumley the assistant hitting coach and Jose Castro the quality assurance coach. The Cubs have yet to name a first-base coach.
Jaron Madison, who joined the club as director of amateur scouting in August 2012, will replace Hyde as director of player development. Matt Dorey, who worked for the Cubs as a national and regional cross-checker this year, has been named director of amateur scouting.
Bosio’s return will allow for some continuity. In 2013, Cubs pitchers finished with a 4.00 ERA and had two pitchers in the top 25 in the National League in quality starts — Travis Wood (24) and Jeff Samardzija (19) — who also both posted their first seasons with 200 innings. Samardzija ranked fourth in the NL in strikeouts, with 214.
"The win-loss record is what we play for," Bosio said on Friday, "but we’ve done some pretty good things the last couple years, especially with our pitchers being in demand from other clubs."
The Cubs have traded 40 percent of their rotation each of the last two seasons, dealing Paul Maholm, Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman and Matt Garza, nearly all of whom reached the postseason. The Cubs’ projected pitching staff for 2014 is young, and Bosio said that it will be key to get Wood and Samardzija to put together 200-inning seasons again.
"These are things that are not easy to do, especially if you haven’t been there," Bosio said. "Being able to keep those guys out there every fifth day is huge for us, because we don’t have a veteran staff that has done that the last four, five years."
However, having a pitcher total 200 innings doesn’t guarantee anything. Bosio noted that the Reds had three of their four starters reach that mark — and Mike Leake was close, at 192 1/3 — and they came up short.
"There are a lot of things that have to happen for us [to get to the playoffs]," Bosio said.
That’s where Mueller, 42, comes in. This will be his first full season as a Major League hitting coach. He held that job in an interim role for the Dodgers in the second half of 2007, the last time he wore a Major League uniform.
After an 11-year playing career that included two seasons with the Cubs, Mueller joined the Dodgers’ front office. He spent the last six seasons as a special assistant.
"It’s something that has always been inside me, to be near the field again and be a part of a team and be with a Major League club," Mueller said on Friday. "You never know when that opportunity might come or if it does. I’ve always tried to be as well rounded as possible and stay in the game and continue to be a student of the game so if an opportunity pops up, I could handle it and be ready to take it on. This was an opportunity that was hard to pass up, and I’m very excited about it."
General manager Jed Hoyer asked the Dodgers for permission to talk to Mueller, who picked Brumley, 51, as his assistant. Brumley, who spent the last four seasons as the Mariners’ first-base coach, began his big league career with the Cubs in 1987.
Mueller compiled a career .291 average in his 11 seasons as a player, and batted .326 in ‘03 with the Red Sox, winning the batting title. It wasn’t easy, which is something he’ll stress to the Cubs’ hitters.
"I had to work to get everything I achieved," Mueller said. "Going through the process of understanding my swing and breaking it down and understanding the strengths and weaknesses and all that good stuff was a process that I had to go through. I feel it helps with the relationship and the communication with these guys. … I wasn’t the best bat on the team. It was something I had to work very hard at."
Hyde, 40, enters his third year in the Cubs organization and begins his second stint as a Major League bench coach. He held that job with the Marlins under Jack McKeon for one and a half seasons. He has 11 years of coaching experience overall, including nine in the Marlins organization.
Jones, 53, joins the Cubs as third-base coach and infield coach after spending the last 11 years in the Padres organization. Castro, 55, joins the Cubs after spending the last 25 years as a Minor League hitting coordinator or hitting coach in the Royals, Mariners, Marlins, Padres and Expos organizations. He will be involved in scouting reports and defensive positioning, among other things.
Strode, 55, returns for his eighth season as Cubs bullpen coach and his 26th year in the organization. This will be Borzello’s third season with the Cubs, with an expanded role of catching and strategy coach. Font, 36, is back for his 20th season in the Cubs organization, his third at the Major League level.
The next step for the coaches is to get to know one another as well as the roster. Mueller and Bosio both know Renteria professionally, but neither has worked with him.
"Everybody likes Rick," Bosio said. "He’s a hard worker, very knowledgeable, very prepared. He’s a baseball guy who’s had to earn everything that he has in the game as a player and also as a coach. I expect, as we all do, a lot out of him. I’m sure he expects a lot out of himself.
"Rick Renteria is a hard-working, soft-spoken, intelligent baseball player, and those are the things he’s going to bring as a manager. This guy has an internal burn, he’s got a fire. He’s a parent, he’s a dad, he’s a husband, he’s a manager. We’re looking forward to the challenge that Spring Training and the season brings us.
"He’s very excited to be in Chicago. It’s a special place, and he’s aware of that, as all the other coaches are."
Red Sox prospect holds free clinic in Newtown
Connecticut native Barnes hosts 200-plus children near site of tragic event
By Spencer Fordin
NEWTOWN, Conn. — It wasn’t exactly baseball weather, but it was close enough for Connecticut.
Boston prospect Matt Barnes, a native of nearby Bethel, brought a contingent of players and coaches to the Newtown Youth Academy for a free instructional clinic on Sunday. Barnes, a first-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, said it meant a lot to him to make a mark in his home state.
"It’s awesome," Barnes said. "Anytime you can come home in the offseason and give back to the community you grew up in, I think it’s something special. We had a bunch of good guys here who are helping us out. We’re trying to get these kids better and to give them a fun Sunday."
That last part was never in doubt. Barnes — and a group that included Oakland reliever Evan Scribner and rising prospects George Springer and Mike Olt — welcomed more than 200 children from ages 7 to 15 at the Newtown Youth Academy’s sprawling indoor facility.
Barnes, who grew up within 8 miles of Newtown, could hardly get closer to home in his first foray at hosting an instructional clinic. And he would’ve had a hard time choosing a more worthy place than Newtown, a community still healing from a horrific school-shooting incident last December.
Barnes, the No. 5 prospect in Boston’s organization, said he came up with the idea for the clinic and that his agents helped make it happen. They also got an assist from USA Baseball, which provided several tutors willing to work with the Newtown children.
"It’s nice to finally see the finished product," said Barnes, who also arranged several gifts for the students. "You put in a couple months planning and trying to get everything together. When you see all the kids come in, have a good time and walk out of here happy, that’s the most important thing."
Barnes reached Triple-A last season, and Springer, his teammate at UConn and on Team USA, served notice that he’s one of the most intriguing players in the Minor Leagues. Springer, Houston’s No. 3 prospect, split the year between Double-A and Triple-A and batted .303 with 37 home runs.
And perhaps most importantly, Springer could tell the children about his gradual transformation. A fleet-footed outfielder, Springer was scouted early by UConn and wasn’t really considered a prospect. But he kept playing and growing, and he worked his way into becoming a first-round pick in 2011.
"It’s great to give back to the community. When Matt called me and said this was going to happen, I was excited about it," Springer said. "I was actually just talking to my dad, and I was just saying how great it would’ve been. I grew up in New Britain, and [Torii] Hunter and [David] Ortiz [were playing there]. It would’ve been great to do stuff like that with them, but for all these kids, it’s all about the kids now."
Scribner, who has made 48 appearances for the A’s over the past two seasons, echoed a similar sentiment, and he said he would’ve loved a chance to meet a big leaguer when he was a kid. Scribner said that in his hometown, it was even hard to find players that had gone on to play in college.
Scribner, a 28th-round draftee in 2007, played his college ball at Central Connecticut State, and he is one of just three players from that school to ever reach the Majors. And in this setting, among fellow small-town Connecticut natives, Scribner loves the opportunity to be a role model.
"My brothers and my dad also do baseball lessons, so I get to see all the local kids," said Scribner, whose hometown of Washington, Conn., has less than 4,000 residents. "By getting to see them play — and them getting to see me — I think it helps them stay motivated and have the drive to keep going and keep practicing. Coming from a small town, they’re in the same situation. They see the success that we have, and I think it helps them. It’s good to come back for the offseason and help the kids out."
Duke Dickerson, who operates the nearby Connecticut Titans of the Collegiate Baseball League, helped Barnes put together a roster of skilled coaches and players for Sunday’s clinic. Pat Horvath, coach at Philadelphia University, brought several members of his team to lend a hand.
Barnes and Springer — two first-round picks in recent years — found themselves relaying baseball anecdotes to hungry minds Sunday, and they wanted to know a few simple things. In short, the children wanted to know what they can do to get better and what it’s like to play professionally.
"The first couple years have been awesome," Barnes said. "Your first year, you get in there and the season kind of takes a toll on you as it gets to the end. It gets long. It gets tedious. That’s something you take into the offseason and use to work harder and get your body in better shape and get more mentally ready to take on a new season. … I think the first two years were a lot of fun."
Nearly a year has passed since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Newtown has looked inward as it tries to heal an impossible wound. The fire department has erected 26 stars on its firehouse roof — one for each victim — and a touching plaque dedicated to the lives that were lost.
All over town, there’s a ubiquitous bumper sticker that speaks to the attitude the citizens have taken.
"We are Sandy Hook," it reads. "We choose love."
That love has been returned to the community in numerous forms, and the clinic on Sunday was just another reminder that the country will never forget Newtown. But on this day, this was just any other town in Connecticut where the kids love baseball enough to play in frigid conditions.
Scribner, who was drafted by Arizona and now plays in Oakland, chuckled when asked about the weather. It’s too cold for him now, but he can recall growing up and playing in it anyway. And as he looked around the gym, he couldn’t help but feel certain that many of these children feel the same way.
"The kids make it for me. They love the game so much," he said. "I think growing up and getting older, the guys I used to play with aren’t lucky enough to keep playing professionally. They kind of lose the love of the game. But these kids, they all have it. And I hope they never lose it. We’ll see."
Coaching staff makes more sense now
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO — Time will tell if the new Chicago Cubs coaching staff will lead the organization to better days, but on the surface, the collection of coaches under new manager Rick Renteria simply makes more sense than the previous staff under Dale Sveum.
At least on paper.
Three aspects of the hirings stand out, including hitting coach Bill Mueller, bench coach Brandon Hyde and the addition of another bilingual coach in Jose Castro.
Mueller has only a short time on his resume coaching players on a day-to-day basis, as he took over the interim hitting coach position with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007 before moving back to the front office. There really isn’t a history of players to look at to determine his communication abilities. However, Mueller’s career on-base percentage is an outstanding .373, and getting on base is a cornerstone of the Cubs’ offense under this current regime.
Former hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer didn’t have that kind of success at the major league level, yet they did have more coaching experience. So the Cubs potentially traded experience for know-how, although assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley does have experience as a coach in the majors for several years. It’s not a stretch to assume — since Mueller knew the strike zone well as a player — that he can impart that knowledge as a coach; this isn’t a home run and strikeout guy such as Deer teaching players how to get on base. This is a guy who has done it. It makes sense.
Hyde makes sense being on the bench, as he’s had a hand in overseeing some of the Cubs’ top prospects. Many will be making their way to the big leagues, and with Hyde around, there’s bound to be seamless communication between the dugout and front office where Hyde previously resided as the director of player development. Often a first-time manager will have a more experienced managerial type as a bench coach, but the Cubs probably aren’t as interested in needing to max out every in-game scenario as much as they are in developing players with a winning attitude. That’s the aspect of the job Renteria and Hyde bring.
As quality assurance coach, it simply means Castro is another coach on the field who will have a hand in many aspects of the team, not unlike Franklin Font and Mike Borzello. But the addition of Castro means three coaches will have bilingual capabilities, including the manager. Previously, only Font spoke Spanish. The Cubs have made no secret of the fact they need more of a Latin American presence — or at least more Spanish-speaking coaches — on the staff, as several key prospects are either Spanish-only speaking players or rely on it heavily.
The return of Chris Bosio as pitching coach comes as no surprise, as he did well with the staff he was given, especially the starters. Lester Strode’s return as bullpen coach keeps at least one aspect of the Cubs consistent.
The changes — all the way up to the manager — undoubtedly were made to have a profound effect on the offense. Renteria’s responsibilities to teach while keeping a positive clubhouse, along with Mueller’s focus to get more guys on base, will go a long way in determining if the coaching moves made Friday were the right ones.
Bill Mueller to be Cubs’ hitting coach
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO — Former Chicago Cubs infielder Bill Mueller was named the team’s hitting coach Friday, while pitching coach Chris Bosio was retained as part of new manager Rick Renteria’s staff, the team announced.
Also joining Renteria’s staff is bench coach Brandon Hyde, the former director of player development for the Cubs. Former San Diego Padres coach Gary Jones was named third base coach while former Cub Mike Brumley becomes the assistant hitting coach. Longtime minor and major league coach Jose Castro was hired as quality assurance coach.
The Cubs also retained several coaches from previous manager Dale Sveum’s staff, including Bosio, bullpen coach Lester Strode, catching and strategy coach Mike Borzello and staff assistant Franklin Font.
Mueller played for the Cubs in 2001-02 and won the AL batting title in 2003 for the Boston Red Sox. He’s also the former interim hitting coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers while spending the last six seasons as a special assistant to the Dodgers’ front office.
Former director of amateur scouting Jaron Madison takes over Hyde’s job as director of player development while Matt Dorey takes over Madison’s former job as scouting director.
The Cubs still have to name a first base coach. Former coach Dave McKay joined the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this offseason.
With power in short supply, Cubs searching for competitive advantage
By Tony Andracki
This isn’t your older brother’s Major League Baseball. Not anymore.
Gone are the days in the late 1990s and early 2000s where players seemingly broke some home-run record every season.
As Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan pointed out earlier this month, only 13 players hit 30 homers in 2013. That’s a far cry from the 44 players who hit 30-plus dingers in 1999 and 2000, and even a ways behind the 27 players who slugged 30 or more in 2012.
Teams are no longer waiting for that big three-run homer as the key to the offense. Today, it’s all about pitching. Of course, the league cracking down on PEDs has undoubtedly played a huge role in diminishing homer totals.
With power at a premium, the Cubs took note of the market inefficiency and have stockpiled power-hitting prospects.
The Cubs have a dearth of impact pitching prospects in their farm system, but instead of taking potential frontline starter Jonathan Gray in the 2013 Amateur Draft, Theo Epstein’s front office opted to select Kris Bryant, the best collegiate hitter who dominated Division-I with 31 homers.
Bryant joined a Cubs system that already included Cuban slugger Jorge Soler and Javier Baez, who clubbed 37 homers in 130 minor-league games last season. Add in major-league first baseman Anthony Rizzo and minor-league masher Dan Vogelbach and the Cubs boast arguably the most impressive stable of young power hitters in the game.
With 46 homers in 2013 between college, 36 minor-league contests and 21 Arizona Fall League games, Bryant understands just how important power is in this day and age. It’s something that has been ingrained in him from an early age.
Mike Bryant, Kris’ father, works as a hitting coach and has been in Kris’ ear his entire life preaching power. As a player, Mike came up through the Red Sox system when Ted Williams was around and absorbed an integral aspect of hitting.
"Basically, you gotta swing up a little bit," Mike Bryant said after Kris was announced at Wrigley Field in July. "A pitcher’s on a mound, throwing downhill. So I told Kris at a very young age, ‘Hit the ball in the air. Hit the ball in the air.’
"The lift and carry results in home runs. You’re never going to change the game of baseball. It’s always been about the mighty Casey and it’s always been about the home runs. No matter what they do, home run hitters are sought after."
That’s never been more true than it is today.
Marlon Byrd is 36 years old and played in just 47 games in 2012 after serving a 50-game suspension for PEDs, but still earned a two-year, $16 million deal with the Mets after he generated 24 homers and 88 RBI in 2013.
After averaging 40 homers a season from 2007-11, Prince Fielder inked a $214 million contract with the Detroit Tigers. He was deemed expendable after just two years — the last of which was considered a “disappointment” to the Detroit fanbase despite 25 homers and 106 RBI — and dealt to the Texas Rangers in a surprise deal last week.
Cuban slugger Jose Abreu has yet to see an MLB pitch, but that didn’t stop the White Sox from handing him a six-year, $68 million deal in October.
The lack of power — only 30 players hit 25 or more homers in 2013, the lowest total since 1992 — is also why Vogelbach has been ranked on the Cubs’ top prospect lists from Day 1. Despite doubts about his weight and defense, the Cubs thought enough of Vogelbach’s light-tower power to draft him in the second round in 2011 and his name has popped up as an ideal designated hitter candidate if the National League ever adopts the DH.
"He’s a guy that has always been a bat-first player," Cubs senior VP of player development Jason McLeod said of Vogelbach in September. "That’s what got him drafted where he went. He’s someone that we feel down the road will be hitting in a major-league lineup. Left-handed with power and can control the strike zone.
"The frame and the defense are always going to be something he has to work on every day…but we’re really excited about the bat and what the future holds for him."
The Cubs ranked near the bottom of the National League in almost every offensive category in 2013, but they were second with 172 homers, just nine behind the Atlanta Braves. A large portion of that came from a collection of journeymen — Donnie Murphy, Luis Valbuena and Cody Ransom — who combined for 30 homers from third base.
While the Cubs are trying to corner the market on power, the front office is aware they can’t out-slug their opponents every night and they know solo homers can only go so far.
As Epstein and Co. target impact pitching this offseason, they’re hoping new hitting coach Bill Mueller can help change the approach at the plate.
"To have any chance, we need to add more pitching. To have any chance, we need to get on base a heck of a lot more," Epstein said earlier this month. "One thing we did really well [in 2013] was hit the ball out of the ballpark and we had extra-base production.
"But the other part is offense and getting on base with the depth and quality of our pitching staff. We need to improve those areas to have any chance."
What are the next moves for Cubs in TV/radio?
By Patrick Mooney
The Cubs will have to find their way through a complicated maze if they are going to capitalize on the media assets they believe will be franchise game-changers.
That could mean the end of a long relationship with WGN-AM 720, which is searching for a new radio analyst at a time when the Cubs are looking at their radio options beyond the 2014 season.
The Cubs have also been in arbitration with WGN-TV, trying to determine the market value to those rights since exercising an opt-out clause to end their deal after the 2014 season.
Industry sources said the Cubs have met with CBS Radio Chicago, though that could be a play for leverage. The White Sox are locked into WSCR-AM 670 through the 2015 season. One theory floated was the Cubs could spend a bridge year on another CBS affiliate before moving to the city’s dominant sports station.
Another source mentioned that ESPN executives from the Bristol, Conn., headquarters visited with chairman Tom Ricketts in 2010, shortly after his family bought the team, as part of a WMVP-AM 1000 event. The station already has a marquee local sports property — a deal with the Bulls that runs through the 2016-17 season — but sources expect the ESPN affiliate to make a run at the Cubs.
It’s unclear if this would be a fit, but sources said to keep an eye on Cumulus Media, which has a presence in Chicago and deals with the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants.
Coming off a two-year stretch in which the Cubs lost 197 games, WGN exercised an option to re-open its contract, the Chicago Tribune reported last month, meaning the flagship radio station has only one more guaranteed season.
“Like any contract, there are periods where you do a business analysis,” WGN Radio president Jimmy de Castro told the Tribune. “Both the Cubs and WGN are looking at it. We love our partnership, and we hope it continues forever. The contract calls for us to take a look at it, and we’re going to do that.”
All that uncertainty will impact the search to replace radio analyst Keith Moreland, who made a surprising decision to step down and return home to Texas. It was a factor last year when TV analyst Bob Brenly got an offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Fox Sports he couldn’t refuse. At that point, the Cubs job came with only two guaranteed years.
Big names like Kerry Wood and Rick Sutcliffe are not in play, according to sources familiar with the situation. Mr. Ex-Cub, Mark DeRosa, retired this month and quickly joined the MLB Network as a studio analyst.
Cubs management likes Doug Glanville, who has been linked to multiple jobs in Chicago across the past few years. He’s a fan favorite on Twitter, a University of Pennsylvania graduate and a published author with a New York Times platform. He’s becoming the broadcasting equivalent of New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
But a source close to Glanville said he still has two more years left on his ESPN deal and will not be a candidate for this job.
Sources connected to Ryan Theriot seemed surprised to find out his name was floated in an online report, saying he’s kept a low profile in retirement after winning World Series rings with the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals.
The Daily Herald identified Ron Coomer as a candidate. The Lockport High School graduate and one-time Cub does TV work with the Minnesota Twins on Fox Sports North and has a radio presence in the Twin Cities.
Dave Otto, an ex-Cub and Elk Grove High School graduate, has done extensive fill-in work on Cubs broadcasts over the years. There’s also a level of familiarity with Todd Hollandsworth, the Comcast SportsNet Chicago analyst and MLB Network Radio personality.
Coomer and Hollandsworth are viewed as strong contenders and sources are convinced an ex-player will get the WGN job.
There are two other names to file away for the future as the Cubs build their multimedia platforms: Andy Masur spent eight seasons on WGN with play-by-play man Pat Hughes and the late Ron Santo before taking a job with the San Diego Padres broadcasting team. Mick Gillispie, the Double-A Tennessee announcer, has worked alongside TV play-by-play man Len Kasper in spring training for broadcasts on the team’s website.
The Cubs can’t start their own cable network until 2020. They have to hope the bubble doesn’t burst. They could do a shorter-term bridge deal with WGN or expand the partnership with Comcast/NBC. The industry buzz is that Fox — with its deep pockets, aggressive corporate attitude and new 24-hour national sports network — could be a major player.
Against this backdrop, the biggest stories surrounding this team are not the Jeff Samardzija trade rumors or Starlin Castro’s hitting approach or Rick Renteria’s personality. It’s ward politics, City Hall influence and the art of the media deals.
These are pillars of the business/baseball rebuilding plans. Once the $500 million Wrigleyville renovation project finally gets off the ground, the Cubs might start to resemble a big-market team again.
Blue Jays GM on Samardzija rumors: ‘Nothing is imminent’
By Tony Andracki
Cubs fans are used to trade rumors by now.
After months and months of speculation, veterans Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza were dealt away the last two seasons. Now, with a young roster, it’s Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija finding their names popping up in a new rumor each week.
The Blue Jays are reportedly one of the teams in on Samardzija and Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos refused to address the Cubs starting pitcher by name while on MLB Network Radio with Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette Sunday.
"I won’t comment on specific rumors and things like that, but I will say that we’re definitely exploring starters with teams," Anthopoulos said. "But also, just like a lot of stuff that’s out there that is false, we have not made an offer to anybody with respect to a starter.
"So if there is something out there that we’ve actually made an offer to someone for a starter, that is not accurate. It doesn’t mean we’re not inquiring…Right now, there isn’t anything imminent."
The Cubs have been negotiating a contract extension with Samardzija but have not been able to come close to a deal yet. The 28-year-old righty (he turns 29 in January) won’t be a free agent for two years and is an attractive option to teams with his durability, competitiveness and fastball velocity that ranks in the Top 5 in MLB among starting pitchers.
Samardzija bounced between the starting rotation and bullpen early in his career and doesn’t have the same mileage on his arm as other pitchers his age. He has started 61 games the last two seasons with a 4.10 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, striking out 394 batters in 388.1 innings.
The Cubs boast an impressive supply of positional prospects that includes Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, but they have a dearth of pitching prospects in the farm system, especially at the upper levels.
Toronto has the resources to put together a prospect package to the Cubs’ liking. The Blue Jays tied for 11th in Baseball America’s farm system rankings and their top six pitching prospects (according to MLB.com) are pitchers.
With Thanksgiving coming up in a few days and the MLB Winter Meetings the second week of December, the Cubs aren’t in a rush to get a deal done. But, as we saw with the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade last week, a deal can come about quickly.
Cubs hope hitting coach Bill Mueller can be a difference-maker
By Patrick Mooney
As a player, Bill Mueller showed the qualities Cubs executives want to see in their young hitters – patience, the ability to grind out at-bats and get on base.
Now, it’s Mueller’s job to teach those lessons to Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and the next generation of prospects the franchise is building around. The new Cubs hitting coach will have to guide Javier Baez and Kris Bryant through the ups and downs and maintain the kids’ confidence.
Mueller headlined the additions made to Rick Renteria’s coaching staff on Friday, bringing instant credibility as an American League batting champion (2003) and a glue guy on the legendary Boston Red Sox team that won the 2004 World Series.
Mueller, 42, had worked the last six seasons as a special assistant in the Los Angeles Dodgers front office. His background’s in scouting more than coaching, though he was the Dodgers interim hitting coach during part of the 2007 season.
There are natural connections here for an ex-Cub and a front office filled with former Red Sox employees. Mueller finished his career with a .373 on-base percentage and almost as many walks (543) as strikeouts (571) in 4,886 plate appearances.
“Obviously, the right hitting coach has to be on board with the organizational philosophy,” team president Theo Epstein said recently. “But maybe more importantly than that he has to be able to connect with players and teach them and support them and struggle with them and ultimately triumph with them.
“It’s going to take a really dynamic personality and somebody with great feel and the ability to connect with all different kinds of hitters, because not everybody does it the same.”
As expected, Chris Bosio will return as pitching coach. Bosio has gotten good reviews for helping Travis Wood develop into an All-Star and Jeff Samardzija emerge as an Opening Day starter – while also marketing Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman and Paul Maholm for the trade deadline.
Mike Borzello (catching and strategy coach) will get a new title after impressing insiders with his video analysis and game-planning skills. Lester Strode (bullpen coach) and Franklin Font (staff assistant) are two more holdovers from Dale Sveum’s staff.
To keep the lines of communication open – an issue the front office had with Sveum during a 96-loss season – the Cubs promoted farm director Brandon Hyde to bench coach, a job he once had with the Florida Marlins.
As part of the restructuring, Jaron Madison shifts from amateur scouting director to farm director. Matt Dorey – the one Red Sox employee the Cubs were allowed to hire as part of the bitter Epstein compensation negotiations – has been elevated to amateur scouting director.
Mike Brumley, who spent the last four seasons as a first-base coach for the Seattle Mariners, will be Mueller’s assistant hitting coach. Gary Jones will be the third-base coach and focus on the infielders after working in the San Diego Padres organization for the last 11 years.
Jose Castro – a hitting coach/coordinator in five different organizations across the last 25 years – will be the quality-assurance coach. The Cubs haven’t hired a first-base coach to replace Dave McKay, who took the same job with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
After Sveum got fired, one team official felt hiring the right hitting coach could be just as important as finding the right manager, given how much the organization has invested in its position players. Castro and Rizzo are nearing pivot points in their careers, and all those elite prospects will have to figure it out at the big-league level.
“Ultimately, we want to lead the league in on-base percentage,” Epstein said. “You can’t just say it. You have to do it. You have to make sacrifices on the way to do it, and not every hitter is going to be a high on-base guy. But we want as many of them as we can in the lineup.
“The hitting coach can reinforce that message. The manager can reinforce that message. We can reinforce that message. We can put our money where our mouth is when we sign players, draft players and make sure when we acquire hitters we get some guys who naturally have plate discipline.”
Last season the Cubs ranked next-to-last in the National League in on-base percentage (.300) and hit .218 with runners in scoring position. This won’t be an easy job and it won’t fall on one person. But after a lost season filled with “mixed messages,” Mueller could help change the team’s offensive identity.
22 11 / 2013
Rangers GM makes blockbuster deal after win-now trades with Cubs
By Patrick Mooney
Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels isn’t afraid to make the blockbuster deal.
That would have been the scouting report even before Wednesday night’s shocking trade that shipped All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for slugger Prince Fielder and $30 million.
Winning the Yu Darvish sweepstakes gave the Rangers the kind of top-of-the-rotation, in-his-prime starter that’s almost impossible to find now. Flipping Mark Teixeira for Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia – that’s what sellers dream about at the trade deadline.
The Rangers have become buyers, winning at least 90 games in each of the last four seasons and back-to-back American League pennants in 2010 and 2011. They’ve gone to the Cubs for Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Geovany Soto the last two summers.
If things turn around at Wrigley Field, it could have a big Texas influence. After a drawn-out, no-trade soap opera in July 2012, Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer cashed in 12 Dempster starts for Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks.
Villanueva emerged as a Southern League All-Star in 2013 and should begin next season as Triple-A Iowa’s starting third baseman. Hendricks became the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year.
The Rangers rented Matt Garza for two-plus months last season, giving up a package of four prospects headlined by C.J. Edwards and Mike Olt.
At a time when organizations cling onto prospects and obsess over years of club control, it seems like you…
“Want to win?” Daniels said. “Yeah, I’m guilty.”
Daniels showed a dry sense of humor during last week’s GM meetings in Orlando, Fla., where the idea of acquiring Fielder would have sounded like a bad rumor from a fake Twitter account.
Of course, Daniels might not have needed Fielder if he hadn’t traded away future All-Star first basemen Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Davis. But no one bats 1.000 and sometimes that’s the cost of doing business as a go-for-it franchise. Eventually, the Cubs are going to have to make those difficult decisions in the next stages of their rebuild.
The Cubs feel like they struck gold with Edwards, a 48th-round pick in the 2011 draft that developed a feel for pitching in a men’s sandlot league in rural South Carolina.
“Our scout basically beat everybody and found him (in) an area of the country that really wasn’t scouted heavily,” Daniels recalled. “The physical skills are obvious, but (there’s) tremendous makeup. That was the hardest part of that deal. The guy’s got unbelievable makeup. He comes from a background that has some challenges there, an area of the country that doesn’t have much money.”
Edwards helped advanced Class-A Daytona win a Florida State League title, running his career numbers in the minors to 13-5 with a 1.72 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 183.1 innings.
“(Our people) said his parents gave him that foundation of values,” Daniels said. “He’s a hard worker. My guess is he’s going to get the most out of his ability.”
The Cubs bought low on Olt, who had been untouchable in the Dempster talks but struggled as he dealt with lingering vision/concussion issues from a freak accident in the Dominican Republic.
“You go back to when he got hit in winter ball,” Daniels said. “We had him see a bunch of doctors and I’m sure the Cubs have followed-up. I’m just hoping it’s one of those deals where he needed some time to get away from the game and come back ready to go.”
The Rangers selected Olt out of the University of Connecticut with the 49th overall pick in the 2010 draft. He was their minor league player of the year in 2012 after generating 28 homers and 82 RBI in 95 games at Double-A Frisco.
Olt wasn’t the same player in 2013, hitting .168 in 39 games at Iowa after the Garza trade. The 25-year-old third baseman is trying to hit the reset button.
“I have every expectation the guy’s going to be a quality big-leaguer,” Daniels said. “He’s too athletic and the makeup’s too good. I don’t think you lose that overnight. He obviously had a rough year and hopefully he can bounce back from that. But I would expect this guy is going to be a successful big-leaguer.”
Daniels grew up in Queens, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University. He didn’t get the internship with the Boston Red Sox that went to Hoyer at the beginning of their baseball careers.
Daniels might not fit the profile of a Texas gunslinger, but he’s already won a power struggle with former Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan. Maybe Olt, Edwards and these ex-Rangers will be part of the next contending team at Clark and Addison. But the Rangers won’t really care about the ones that got away if Fielder is the missing piece and they’re spraying champagne next October.
Advertising arch across Clark part of Wrigley renovation
By John Byrne
Drivers headed along Clark Street west of Wrigley Field soon could pass under a “branded” archway with advertising as part of an amended Wrigleyville overhaul plan that took a step closer to reality at City Hall on Thursday.
The “gateway arch” would cross above Clark north of Addison Street under a renovation proposal for Wrigley Field and the immediate neighborhood that the Chicago Plan Commission endorsed. A drawing of the arch showed a generic “Welcome to Brand Plaza” on a sign atop the archway, with a spot for an advertisement lower on the arch and advertising banners hanging from the outside of the arch over the sidewalks on either side of the street.
The ad signs would be lit up on an arch that would have a clearance of 17 feet, six inches above Clark, according to the drawing shown to commissioners. There also would be internally illuminated “branded logos” in the brick posts anchoring the arch to either sidewalk.
The advertising arch had been talked about during the protracted negotiations about the particulars of the massive renovation plan that went on among Mayor Rahm Emanuel, team owners the Ricketts family and Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney. But Thursday’s meeting was the first time it was publicly presented to city officials as an official part of the $500 million development deal.
Cubs vice president Michael Lufrano said the advertising arch was agreed to after the team consented to give up a proposed pedestrian bridge over Clark connecting a planned Ricketts-owned hotel to the stadium. Tunney, 44th, opposed the bridge, which would have featured an advertising banner.
The arch is just one part of the larger Wrigleyville overhaul package that now heads to the City Council Zoning Committee. The new plan would push back Wrigley Field’s right field wall an additional eight feet on top of the seven feet it already is to be moved back as part of a plan aldermen approved in July. The new plan would allow the team to widen the sidewalk east of the ballpark by two feet and narrow Sheffield Avenue behind the ballpark from 33 feet wide to 23 feet wide.
The Cubs plan to use the additional space to expand a fan deck in right field and install a bar and grill at the southeast corner of the stadium. There also will be additional concession space below the bleachers.
The narrowing of Sheffield, which would eliminate street parking on the block to the east of the park, drew strong opposition from a handful of Wrigleyville residents at the Plan Commission meeting.
Jim Spencer, who lives near the ballpark, complained that Emanuel is giving away public property to help the wealthy Ricketts family increase profits. “Narrowing our streets and sidewalks and eliminating all of the parking so the Cubs can make money from what is essentially a beer and event deck is unacceptable to us,” Spencer said.
“The mayor has proven to be the Cubs’ most valuable player for 2013 as he has trampled our rights, trampled our neighborhood, all for the good of the Cubs,” Spencer said.
Emanuel introduced the ordinance laying out the most recent proposed changes to the Wrigley renovation package and Tunney endorsed it, giving the revisions a strong likelihood of success when the amended renovation plans go back to the City Council for a vote.
The revised plan also eliminates an entrance to the Ricketts hotel that had been slated for Patterson Avenue west of Clark, as well as a hotel deck above the entrance. Guests instead will enter the hotel on Clark.
Though aldermen already signed off once on the overhaul of the park and its surroundings, work has yet to begin. Cubs CEO Tom Ricketts says he wants assurances from the owners of rooftop clubs surrounding the park that they will not sue to prevent the team from putting up a large video board in left field and a 650-square-foot see-through billboard in right field that will block some rooftop views.
On Thursday, Lufrano would not commit to the Cubs breaking ground on the renovations this offseason. “Stay tuned,” he said.
Mayor Emanuel must be Cubs MVP, says neighbor angry over revised Wrigley development
BY FRAN SPIELMAN
The Cubs got the go-ahead Thursday to take another ten feet of street and sidewalk — and sell advertising on a “branding arch” over Clark Street — over the objections of residents who live around 99-year-old Wrigley Field.
Area residents were so angry about the Chicago Plan Commission’s decision to enlarge the stadium footprint at their expense to accommodate wider aisles, more concessions and a larger Budweiser deck, they branded Mayor Rahm Emanuel the team’s “most valuable player” for 2013.
Jim Spencer, who lives a block away from Wrigley, said the total amount of land now “given” to the billionaire Ricketts family that owns the Cubs now totals 41,397 square feet on Waveland and on Sheffield. Fifty-six parking spaces will be lost.
“The mayor has proven to be the Cubs’ most valuable player for 2013 as he has trampled our rights, trampled our neighborhood — all for the good of the Cubs,” Spencer said.
“It is shocking to know the mayor is so willing to give billionaire owners of the Cubs public land so they can increase their profit margins while the residents of the 19th District are told there isn’t enough money to hire more police to replace the nearly 70 officers we’ve lost in the last 18 months… . Narrower streets and sidewalks and eliminating all of the parking so the Cubs can make money from what is essentially a beer and event deck is unacceptable to us.”
Area resident David Dalka urged the Plan Commission to take a stand against what he called the Cubs’ “ever-evolving, not-ending change in plans.” It now includes an unprecedented, revenue-generating gateway arch.
“It’s going to destroy traffic flow in a neighborhood that already has dysfunctional traffic,” Dalka said.
Local resident Robert Roberts said he, too, would like to build a deck over Sheffield to increase the property value of his home.
“I wouldn’t ask the city for any money. Only that you don’t charge me for the land. You don’t charge me for the air space. And, oh by the way, I’m also going to need the street to be shut down. And you’ve got to get rid of parking for me,” he said.
“If I was seriously asking for that, you’d laugh me out of the room. Yet, this is what we’re discussing today,” Roberts said.
Local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) acknowledged that the “Sheffield experience will be different,” thanks to the revised stadium renovation plan approved Thursday. But, he said, the Cubs are prepared to offer parking in team lots on non-game days to residents whose street spaces will be lost.
Cubs Vice-President and General Counsel Mike Lufrano argued that the ad-bearing branding arch over Clark is a fair trade-off for the pedestrian bridge scrapped at Tunney’s behest. There’s a similar bridge bearing the White Sox logo over 35th Street near U.S. Cellular Field.
As for the claim that Emanuel has been the Cubs’ 2013 MVP, Lufrano said, “Remember, this is $300 million of private investment in the ballpark — $500 million overall in the community. It’s really unprecedented in our industry to have a project like this entirely privately funded.”
Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has said repeatedly he won’t begin construction on his $500 million plan to renovate Wrigley and develop the land around it until rooftop club owners agree not to sue to block two massive outfield signs needed to bankroll the project.
Asked Thursday when the team would finally begin construction, Lufrano would only say, “We’re getting very close…Stay tuned.”
The case against Cubs signing Ellsbury
By Jesse Rogers
The shocking mega-trade of Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler is a good example why the Chicago Cubs should not sign free-agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a long-term deal.
Fielder is one of the best left-handed hitters in the game, signing a nine-year, $214 million deal with Detroit in January 2012. He hit 30 home runs with 108 RBIs and a .412 on-base percentage in his first season in Detroit. As one of the few slugging free agents who actually panned out, he became the poster child for fans wanting their team to spend in the same fashion.
But as is so often the case, a decline can come quickly. Last season Fielder “only” hit 25 home runs while driving in 106, but with an on-base percentage of .362. There’s nothing wrong with those numbers, unless it’s the start of that decline. The Tigers got ahead of Fielder’s inevitable decline, even though he surely has some productive years left in him. And this all happened before Fielder turns 30 next May. While the Tigers are taking back a 31-year-old Kinsler in the trade, the financial risk with the second baseman, who is owed $62 million over the next four seasons, is not nearly as great.
Fast-forward to Ellsbury. The Cubs have given no indication that they will try to land one of the big-ticket free agents such as Ellsbury or Cincinnati Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo this offseason. But if they did, the Cubs wouldn’t have to spend Fielder’s $214 million price tag on Ellsbury. But let’s assume it would take a minimum five-year deal worth $100 million to land the center fielder. He’s already turned 30, so how and when will his decline come?
Last year he stole 52 bases while getting on base 35.5 percent of the time. That’s his game. His WAR (Wins above replacement) was off the charts at 5.8. But was that a peak? It was a free-agent year, and he played for a championship team. It’s easier to predict a decline in the coming years than an uptick in production.
And if his legs are his game, there is plenty of evidence his decline will be more rapid. See Alfonso Soriano and Carl Crawford for anecdotal evidence.
Soriano was injured after coming to Chicago at age 31, and he never lived up to the speed and power player he was previously with the Nationals, Rangers and Yankees. Crawford, who averaged 50 steals a season for an eight-year span with the Tampa Bay Rays, signed a $142 million deal with Theo Epstein’s Boston Red Sox in 2011 at age 29. His body hasn’t held up since signing the deal, and he has just 38 steals in parts of three seasons since. And unlike Soriano, Ellsbury and Crawford don’t have power games to fall back on as they age.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, since 1995, 104 players combined for 230, 30-plus steal seasons in their 20s (Ellsbury contributed four such years). During that same time frame, 49 such players combined for 103, 30-plus steal seasons in their 30s. The decline is predictable and obvious. And when it comes to Ellsbury, this is a player who already has had injury problems.
Pulling out one more statistic that is bound to decline, Ellsbury had the lowest total of infield hits (18) in 2013 of any full season of his career. In fact, that total has declined every year since 2008, discounting injury-plagued 2010 and 2012 campaigns.
It’s safe to assume the Cubs would have to overpay to get Ellsbury to sign with Chicago, considering he’d be going from a championship team to a rebuilding one. A case could be made he’ll be worth it as an example to all the young players the Cubs have coming up. And he could always move to left field, if needed, and down in the order, as well. But would that really be getting the maximum out of a player eating up that much salary? And his best years — the next couple — would come with the Cubs having little chance to win, even if he does repeat his 2013 season. Ellsbury is not the answer.
If the Cubs are going to sign a post-30 outfielder, Choo makes a lot more sense. His game relies on getting on base via walks, and his numbers might indicate he’s getting better, or at least can maintain his game for longer. For example, his 13 infield hits in 2013 was a career high while he also had a whopping 112 walks last season, also a career high. Ellsbury’s career high in walks is 52.
There’s simply more for Choo to fall back on as he ages over Ellsbury. Then again maybe Choo just peaked and we’ll never see those kinds of numbers again.
Neither is worth the investment when you consider part of their achievements probably had to do with the lineup they were a part of. The Cubs won’t be featuring that kind of strength for a couple more years, which means investing in Ellsbury or Choo is a luxury they can’t afford.
The key for the Cubs already is possessing these kinds of players as they continue through their prime years in their 20s. And at a better price.
That means mostly doing it with their own players. They have team-friendly deals with Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. It all means sticking with the program and hoping the Cubs scouting and developing pays off the way they think it will.
If Albert Almora is going to have Ellsbury-type production, then simply waiting for him is a better plan. If a couple of prospects don’t pan out and the Cubs are desperate to win at that moment — like perhaps the Rangers are in trading for Fielder — that’s the time to pounce.
21 11 / 2013
Cubs add Alcantara and Beeler to 40-man
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs added infielder Arismendy Alcantara and pitcher Dallas Beeler to their 40-man roster on Wednesday, the final day such moves can be made before the Rule 5 draft next month.
Alcantara, 21, made the all-star team for Double-A Tennessee and hit.271 with 15 home runs and 69 RBI while stealing 31 bases. He also appeared in the Futures Game, hitting a home run. Alcantara has been on the rise within the Cubs organization and should start 2014 at Triple-A Iowa.
Beeler, 24, threw well in the Arizona Fall League after going 4-2 with a 3.13 ERA at Double-A while dealing with injuries. In Arizona, he was 4-1 with a 2.49 ERA in six starts. He started the championship game and gave up one run in five innings. His performance in Arizona may have vaulted him onto the 40-man roster.
Being added to the 40-man roster means those players are ineligible to be taken by another team during the Rule 5 draft, which takes place Dec. 12, the final day of the winter meetings.
Not all players in the organization are eligible to be drafted — only those with enough service time in the minors who aren’t on the 40-man roster. For example, prospects Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Albert Almora can’t be taken because they haven’t logged enough service time.
The Cubs chose pitcher Hector Rondon last year from the Cleveland Indians in the Rule 5 draft, and he appeared in 45 games for Chicago. By rule, if a player is taken in the draft he must be put on his new team’s 25-man roster for the upcoming season and remain there for the year. He also can be sent back to the team from which he was selected at any time, for half of the $50,000 it cost to pick him up.
The Cubs’ 40-man roster now has 39 players on it.
Cubs: Yankees get money’s worth in Alfonso Soriano megadeal
By Patrick Mooney
It will be strange not chasing Alfonso Soriano rumors this winter.
No more guessing which teams are not on the no-trade list (or if an approved list even exists). No more back-of-the-envelope calculations of how much the Cubs would have to pay to close the deal. No more geography lessons or San Francisco weather updates. No more wondering if they’ve had The Talk.
It’s hard to believe that Wednesday marked seven years since Soriano signed that eight-year, $136 million contract. It was Tribune Co.’s win-one-for-the-Tower indulgence before putting the team up for sale on Opening Day 2007.
The Cubs aren’t going to respond to another last-place finish with a similar spending spree. There won’t be the kind of bombshell dropped on Nov. 20, 2006.
There’s always the initial sticker shock: Busted PED user Marlon Byrd to the Philadelphia Phillies for two years, $16 million and a vesting option? At age 36? Really?
But if this is going to be another offseason of runaway inflation, the New York Yankees will definitely be getting their money’s worth in 2014, paying Soriano around $5 million after a 34-homer, 101-RBI season.
There was an end-of-an-era feel when Cubs president Theo Epstein pulled Soriano from the lineup on July 25. After an emotional goodbye inside Chase Field’s visiting clubhouse, Soriano boarded a red-eye flight in Phoenix.
The deal went through over the objections of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who had to answer to managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and didn’t want to give up Class-A pitcher Corey Black.
“I knew he had a full no-trade and I knew he wanted to go back to New York,” Cashman explained last week during the GM meetings in Orlando, Fla. “I was on record saying he was the best bat we could get, but I thought I could squeeze Theo for less of a prospect and drag it out.
“But my owners said: ‘No, let’s just get it done now.’ Because we negotiated for a couple weeks before and the asks were higher and I was like: ‘Give me a little more time, I think I can whittle it down more.’
“Hal said: ‘No, get it done now. This is final.’”
Energized by a playoff race, Soriano got hot again, generating 17 homers and 50 RBI in 58 games for The Bronx Bombers.
Black, a 22-year-old right-hander, went 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA in five starts for advanced Class-A Daytona, helping the affiliate win a Florida State League championship.
“He’s got a good arm, he really does,” Cashman said. “We had him starting, but we think he has a chance to be a power arm in the bullpen, so you’ll get something for that.”
That’s where the Cubs are at as an organization, flipping assets and trying to collect enough prospects that some of them eventually hit. Soriano watched the evolution, winning back-to-back division titles before the financial reckoning.
After a series of leg injuries, Soriano was never again the 40/40 force from that 2006 platform season with the Washington Nationals. But he always wanted to be in the lineup and never really let the criticism bother him.
The perception changed over time, though Soriano prided himself on being the same guy with the big smile every day. A lightning rod for the fans’ frustrations became recognized for his clubhouse leadership. He invited rookie shortstop Starlin Castro to stay at his place in 2010 and translated last spring for a coach who needed to get a point across to $30 million Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler.
Here’s a sign of respect: One night in September, after a win over the Cincinnati Reds, Welington Castillo and Junior Lake stopped on the way to their lockers and stood in the middle of Great American Ball Park’s visiting clubhouse.
Just out of the showers and still wearing towels, they stared at a TV screen and watched Yankee highlights on ESPN. They started cheering, mimicking Soriano’s home-run swing and pose.
“Everybody loves that guy, especially us,” Castillo said. “I just wish him the best. He’s like our dad. I’m really happy for him.”
Seven years is a long time inside the fishbowl. What sort of reception will Cubs fans give Soriano when the Yankees come to Wrigley Field in 2014?
“He’s a guy that would go every day and play hard,” Castillo said. “That guy put up his numbers every year and he’s a winner. He cares about the team. I think the crowd is going to take care of him.”
Ernie Banks receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
By Patrick Mooney
Mr. Cub stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Mr. President.
Barack Obama put the Presidential Medal of Freedom around Ernie Banks’ neck during Wednesday’s White House ceremony, giving him the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Obama loved the attitude and energy summed up in three words: “Let’s play two!”
“That’s Mr. Cub,” Obama said, “the man who came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day and became the first black player to suit up for the Cubs and one of the greatest hitters of all-time.
“In the process, Ernie became known as much for his 512 home runs as for his cheer and his optimism and his eternal faith that someday the Cubs would go all the way.”
Banks spent 19 seasons in a Cubs uniform but never played in a playoff game. At the age of 82, he’s still waiting for that World Series celebration.
“That’s serious belief,” Obama said. “That is something that even a White Sox fan like me can respect. He is just a wonderful man and a great icon of my hometown.”
Former President Bill Clinton headlined a diverse group of 16 recipients that featured another Chicago legend in Oprah Winfrey. Others included country-music star Loretta Lynn, activist Gloria Steinem, longtime University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith and The Washington Post’s Ben Bradlee, who guided the newspaper’s Watergate coverage.
Born in Dallas, Banks rose up from the Negro Leagues and put together a Hall of Fame career on the North Side, winning National League MVP awards in 1958 and 1959. He recently supported gay marriage in Illinois. He also served in the U.S. Army and ran against the machine as a Republican candidate for alderman in the early 1960s.
Banks remembered first connecting with Obama’s camp at a Jesse Jackson dinner on Navy Pier.
“The next day he announced his candidacy,” Banks recalled in August. “I was going to tell him not to run. I’d say: ‘You really want to do this?’”
Banks laughed at the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign – and his attempts at converting a South Side guy like Obama.
“I tried to get him to come to Wrigley Field and he won’t come,” Banks said. “He follows the White Sox. That’s his team and that’s it. He won’t wear a Cub jacket. I tried to get him a Cub jacket, a Cubbie hat at the All-Star Game and different places. But his great loyalty with the White Sox is just unbelievable.”
This marks the 50th anniversary of the executive order signed by President John F. Kennedy. Since then, more than 500 individuals have received the award, including baseball icons Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron and Stan Musial.
This time, a name was put up in lights on the Wrigley Field marquee on Wednesday: “ERNIE BANKS PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM.”
As Banks said with a big smile in August: “Is this a great country or what?”
Cubs look to the future in protecting Alcantara
By Tony Andracki
Arismendy Alcantara was rewarded for his breakout 2013 campaign with a spot on the Chicago Cubs’ 40-man roster Wednesday.
With the Rule 5 Draft scheduled for early December, MLB teams had to finalize their 40-man rosters this week and the Cubs opted to protect Alcantara and right-handed pitcher Dallas Beeler.
Alcantara, a 22-year-old infielder, shot up top prospect rankings in 2013, setting career highs across the board in 133 games for Double-A Tennessee. The Dominican native flashed an enticing mix of power (36 doubles, 15 homers) and speed (31 stolen bases) while showing the kind of patience (62 walks) this front office is preaching throughout the minor-league system.
Alcantara, ranked as the Cubs’ No. 7 prospect by Baseball America earlier this month, initially came up as a shortstop, but was moved to second base after Javier Baez’s arrival in Tennessee and the two are expected to form the middle-infield tandem for Triple-A Iowa to start 2014.
Beeler, 24, has battled injuries during his career — including Tommy John surgery in college — but pitched well when he was on the field in 2013 with a 4-2 record, 3.13 ERA and 1.098 WHIP in nine starts at Double-A Tennessee. He also found success in the Arizona Fall League, boasting a 2.49 ERA in 21.2 innings while playing alongside Cubs top prospects Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler.
The two additions brought the Cubs’ 40-man roster to 39 players.
Cubs add Alcantara, Beeler to 40-man roster
By Paul Sullivan
The Cubs added infielder Arismendy Alcantara and right-hander Dallas Beeler to their 40-man roster on Wednesday, protecting them from the Rule 5 draft.
The 22-year-old Alcantara, who started at second and homered in the Futures Game last July at Citi Field, ranked second in the Southern League with 134 hits and 36 doubles for Double-A Tennessee. Beeler, 24, went 4-2 with a 3.13 ERA in nine starts at Tennessee.
The Cubs roster stands at 39.
The non-tender date is Dec. 2, with the winter meetings beginning one week later on Dec. 9 in Orlando.
Oprah Winfrey, Ernie Banks awarded Medals of Freedom
By Katherine Skiba
WASHINGTON — Two Chicago legends, Ernie Banks and Oprah Winfrey, were honored Wednesday by another, Barack Obama, when he awarded them the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.
Banks, 82, a bald and bespectacled Hall of Famer still called “Mr. Cub” more than 40 years after retiring, was saluted by Obama for his rise from a $7-a-day player in the Negro Leagues to the first African-American to suit up for Chicago’s North Side ballclub.
The president extolled Banks’ 512 home runs and exhortation, “Let’s play two.” He said as a White Sox fan, he respected Banks’ “eternal faith that someday the Cubs would go all the way.”
"And that’s serious belief," the president said.
Banks, speaking after the ceremony, said he was proud of having played for one team in one city under one mayor (Richard J. Daley), for one owner (P.K. Wrigley) and in one home park (Wrigley Field) under sunlight — what he called “God’s light.”
Winfrey, 59, who topped this year’s Forbes list as the country’s most powerful celebrity, was praised for her work across TV, film, publishing and philanthropy.
Obama said Winfrey rose from poverty and abuse to the pinnacle of the entertainment universe and became the first black female billionaire after getting the same early advice he did: Change your name.
She was told to go by the name “Susie,” according to Obama. The president, who went by the nickname “Barry” in his youth, did not disclose which name he was urged to adopt — but he did say it was not “Susie.”
Sixteen people received the presidential award, including former President Bill Clinton; former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee; country singer Loretta Lynn; and feminist activist Gloria Steinem.
Another awardee nurtured a Chicago legend: Dean Smith, the former basketball coach from the University of North Carolina who helped prepare Bulls great Michael Jordan. Smith was ill, so his medal was accepted by his wife.
Medals were given posthumously to the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Sally Ride, the first female astronaut to travel to space.
The award, given to more than 500 people in all, goes to those who have made meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace or cultural or other significant endeavors.
Even Wednesday’s audience shone with star power, featuring director Steven Spielberg and Baseball Hall of Famers Ferguson Jenkins and Billy Williams, both ex-Cubs.
A dinner was arranged for honorees Wednesday at the National Museum of American History, and the 60-person guest list included Hank Aaron, Aretha Franklin, Henry Kissinger, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and former astronaut James Lovell, commander of the aborted Apollo 13 mission to the moon.
The award was established 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy.
Cubs add 2 players to roster
By Bruce Miles
The Cubs on Wednesday added two players to their 40-man roster, bringing the total on the roster to 39.
They selected the contracts of shortstop Arismendy Alcantara and pitcher Dallas Beeler from their Class AA Tennessee affiliate. Those two players are protected from being taken by another team in December’s Rule 5 draft.
Alcantara, 22, had a hitting line of .271/.352./.451 with 15 home runs and 69 RBI for Tennessee during his first year at the Double-A level. He earned Southern League midseason and postseason all-star honors. The Cubs signed him as a nondrafted free agent in 2008.
Beeler, a 24-year-old right-hander, went 4-2 with a 3.13 ERA in 9 starts with Tennessee this past season and continued in the Arizona Fall League, going 4-1 with a 2.49 ERA 6 starts. The Cubs selected Beeler in the 41st round of the 2010 draft.
A number of interesting players were left unprotected and potentially vulnerable in the Rule 5 draft, including former Northwestern University left-hander Eric Jokisch, pitcher Matt Loosen and outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha.
It’s difficult for players taken in the Rule 5 to stick with their new organizations because they must be left on the major-league roster all season.
Banks receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
President Obama praises ‘Mr. Cub’ for ‘his cheer and his optimism’
By Carrie Muskat
Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks was honored for his performance on the field and his optimistic approach to life Wednesday, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House.
Banks, 82, was among 16 recipients, including former President Bill Clinton, former astronaut Sally Ride, feminist Gloria Steinem, former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith and media icon Oprah Winfrey.
Obama relayed the story of Banks’ enthusiastic pep talk to his Cubs teammates: “Let’s play two.”
"That’s Mr. Cub — the man who came up through the Negro Leagues, making $7 a day, and became the first black player to suit up for the Cubs and one of the greatest hitters of all time," Obama said. "In the process, Ernie became known as much for his 512 home runs as for his cheer and his optimism, and his eternal faith that someday the Cubs would go all the way."
There was some laughter in the room after that. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908.
"And that’s serious belief," Obama said. "That is something that even a White Sox fan like me can respect. He is just a wonderful man and a great icon of my hometown."
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor given to civilians in the United States, established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy. It is presented to those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Banks joins a distinguished list of baseball players to receive the honor, including Hank Aaron (2002), Roberto Clemente (2003), Joe DiMaggio (1977), Stan Musial (2011), Buck O’Neil (2006), Frank Robinson (2005), Jackie Robinson (1984) and Ted Williams (1991).
Banks began his baseball career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1950, and was the first African-American player on the Cubs, making his Major League debut on Sept. 17, 1953, at the age of 22. He played 19 seasons with the Cubs and finished with a .274 batting average, 512 home runs and 1,636 RBIs.
Although he never reached the postseason, Banks won back-to-back Most Valuable Player honors, was elected into the Hall of Fame, had his No. 14 retired in 1982 by the Cubs and is immortalized in a bronze statue outside Wrigley Field.
Given a chance, Banks reached pinnacle without a plan
Hall of Famer, who calls his life a ‘miracle,’ receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
By Phil Rogers
CHICAGO — Ernie Banks might be baseball’s ultimate natural. He climbed to the top of his profession without ever making a plan and learned to be comfortable under any circumstance, a trait that came in handy Wednesday.
Banks joined former President Bill Clinton, singer Loretta Lynn, Oprah Winfrey and 12 others in receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House luncheon.
It might not be the Nobel Peace Prize, which the 82-year-old Banks has publicly coveted for decades, but it’s a tribute far beyond anything he could have imagined growing up with 11 siblings in segregated Dallas, where he walked past Neiman Marcus without being allowed to do more than look in the windows.
Ernest, as parents Eddie and Essie called him, was a dreamer who was willing to go where his talent would take him. All he ever needed was a chance and somehow he made the most of it, even when sometimes he still wanted to be on the bus with the Kansas City Monarchs.
Banks hit a batting practice home run on his first swing at Wrigley Field and was on his way to back-to-back MVP seasons in the National League and a lifetime as Mr. Cub. His high school, Booker T. Washington, didn’t have a baseball team, but Banks stood out enough playing fast-pitch softball that he was recruited to play semi-pro baseball as a 16-year-old. He was recommended to the Monarchs by Cool Papa Bell, who saw him playing with the deceptively named Detroit Colts, who were based in Amarillo, Texas.
He would be sold by the Monarchs to the Cubs in 1953, when he was 22, because the Cubs were looking for another African-American they could pair with infielder Gene Baker, whom they had signed in 1950 but stashed with the Triple-A Los Angeles Angels for three seasons. Banks says he experienced “a real shock” when Monarchs manager Buck O’Neil and pitcher Bill Dickey shared a cab with him from the Pershing Hotel on Cottage Grove Avenue, in Bronzeville (Chicago’s equivalent to Kansas City’s legendary intersection of 18th and Vine), to Wrigley Field. It was a 57-block ride that changed everything.
"My life is like a miracle," Banks said. "I was surprised I came to Wrigley Field. Buck O’Neil was the manager of the Kansas City Monarchs. We got in a cab and started driving, looked up and [I] saw this big red sign that said Wrigley Field. What are we doing here?"
Banks said he hadn’t asked O’Neil where they were going the night before, when the manager had ordered Banks and Dickey to be in the lobby early.
"I’ve always had this thing that ignorance is bliss," Banks said. "I didn’t ask Buck where we were going … Like I said, my life is like a miracle."
Banks remembers the three men walking upstairs at Wrigley Field to meet with Wid Matthews, the Cubs’ general manager, who explained his plan.
"He mentioned this to Buck O’Neil, he mentioned this to Bill Dickey and he mentioned this to me," Banks said. "He said, ‘You’re going to play here, you’ll be back in 10 days to join the Cubs when you get off the road.’ I went back and finished the season with the Kansas City Monarchs, then joined the Cubs … I really didn’t want to come. Do you believe that?"
Tom Baird, the owner of the Monarchs, and Matthews had agreed on a deal the night before. The Cubs paid the Monarchs $20,000 for the rights to Banks and Dickey (who would never play in the Major Leagues).
This was six years after Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color barrier, but Banks was in no hurry to join the pioneers in the Major Leagues. He was loving his life traveling with the Monarchs during the season and then barnstorming with guys like Robinson and Roy Campanella in the fall.
"I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas — came from a family of 12 [children], second child, first boy," Banks said. "So my life, I came out of a segregated society into an integrated society. When I played, when I came along, there was segregation. The Kansas City Monarchs were all black, and I enjoyed being with them. Eating on the bus — peanut butter and sardine sandwiches and crackers — talking to them, learning from them. Many of those players who came out of the Negro League, their parents came out of slavery times. Buck O’Neil’s parents came out of slavery time. To be around them and hear about their lives, how they feel about things, many of them even though they couldn’t play in the Majors, didn’t want to play in the Majors. They said they were happy [in the Negro Leagues], satisfied with playing here. ‘We like what we do, we like each other.’
"When I was called up to the Cubs, I felt that way. ‘Gosh, I don’t want to leave these guys.’ They said, ‘You’re going to the Cubs, they have Ralph Kiner, Hank Sauer, all those guys playing with them.’ My thought was, ‘I don’t want to play with them, I want to stay with you all.’ One guy, Sherwood Brewer, said, ‘Ernie, you have to go to the Major Leagues.’ … He said it’s the Majors, as high as you can go. I say, ‘I’m already as high as you can go, I’m playing with you guys.’ They forced me into taking the flight to Chicago."
This was an era when blacks and Jewish players had to be tough to stick around. Banks always took his lumps willingly, whether it was having to live in far south Chicago because housing covenants prevented mixed neighborhoods or getting drilled with fastballs.
Monte Irvin says that the first black players in the Major Leagues “had to learn to duck before you could learn to hit.” He played against Banks in 1954 and ‘55 and with him on the ‘56 Cubs and was always struck by Banks’ tolerance level.
"They knock him down, he wouldn’t complain," Irvin said. "Go on to first base. At that time they would [throw at black players]. Somebody else on the Cubs might hit a home run to beat a pitcher, but they waited until Ernie came to the plate before they knocked anybody down. That happened to me, too. That’s just the way it was."
Banks always got his revenge at the plate. The NL MVP in 1958 and ‘59, he ended his Hall of Fame career with a .274 batting average, 512 home runs and 1,636 RBIs.
He always seemed to have a smile on his face, even when times were the toughest. Leo Durocher had wanted to trade Banks when he arrived to manage the Cubs in 1966, feeling that the bad knees that forced Banks to move from shortstop to first base were making him an overall liability.
Durocher was also threatened by Banks, who had long been the franchise’s most popular man. Owner Phil Wrigley would not let his manager trade Banks — Wrigley had vetoed a 6-for-1 Banks deal with the Milwaukee Braves after the 1960 season — but couldn’t stop him from writing other first basemen into the lineup.
The line of potential replacements included John Boccabella, John Herrnstein, George Altman, Willie Smith, Lee Thomas, Clarence Jones, Gene Oliver and Dick Nen.
"Ernie knew that Leo didn’t like him," Ferguson Jenkins once said. "But you play hard for yourself, not the manager. So Ernie was always going to Spring Training, and someone always had his job, and Ernie would always win it back."
When Banks wasn’t in the lineup, he would try to sit as close as possible to Durocher on the bench. He would never snap at the manager or complain through Jack Brickhouse or his friends with the Chicago papers.
"When somebody resented me, didn’t like me — and that was the case with Leo — I kind of killed them with kindness," Banks said. "On the bench, I’d always sit beside him, on the plane sit beside him, in the dugout sit beside him. He’s always looking around and seeing me … When you light a fire under my heels, it just made me better. I focused more, concentrated more, reached inside of me and got more out of myself. Overall, [Durocher] made me a better player toward the end of my career."
Banks never planned the ride he has been on. His genius is not letting anyone get in the way, including himself.
Cubs add Alcantara, Beeler to 40-man roster
Infielder, pitcher protected from being selected in Rule 5 Draft
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — The Cubs added infielder Arismendy Alcantara and pitcher Dallas Beeler to the 40-man roster Wednesday, which was the deadline for teams to set their rosters in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft.
With the moves, the Cubs’ 40-man is at 39.
Alcantara, 22, who hit a solo home run playing for the World Team in the 2013 All-Stars Futures Game, batted .271 with 15 home runs, 69 RBIs and 31 stolen bases at Double-A Tennessee this season, and was batting .196 in 15 games with Licey in the Dominican Republic Winter League.
The second baseman — ranked No. 8 among Cubs prospects by MLB.com — earned Southern League midseason and postseason All-Star honors. He ranked second in the Southern League in hits and doubles and was tied for third in stolen bases.
Beeler, 24, was 4-2 with a 3.13 ERA in nine starts for Tennessee. He missed time after he tore a tendon in the middle finger of his right hand, and made six starts in the Arizona Fall League, where he posted a 4-1 record and 2.49 ERA.
In his 15 starts combined, Beeler walked 22 and gave up four home runs over 76 1/3 innings. He started the AFL championship game for the Mesa Solar Sox and gave up one run on two hits over five innings. The right-hander was a 41st-round selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn’t stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.
In other words, an international player or high school draftee signed in 2009, assuming they were 18 or under as of June 5 of that year, must be protected. A college player taken in the 2010 Draft is in the same boat.
Some of the Cubs’ Minor Leaguers who qualify but were not added to the 40-man include pitchers Matt Loosen and Zach Cates and infielders Gioskar Amaya and Marco Hernandez.
The Rule 5 Draft will be held Dec. 12.
Cubs collecting items to aid Illinois tornado victims
Donations can be made outside Wrigley Field on Thursday and Friday
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — The Cubs want to send a care package to Illinois residents affected by Sunday’s damaging tornadoes, and they need your help.
On Thursday and Friday morning, the Cubs’ staff will be collecting donated items at Wrigley Field, and they will deliver them to Peoria later Friday.
The American Red Cross gave the Cubs a specific list of what’s needed. Top priority items include tote bags, plastic trash cans, plastic storage bins and gloves.
Other items needed include nonperishable food (granola bars, canned food); bottled water; large garbage bags; toiletries (toothpaste, deodorant, soap); buckets; sponges; mops; towels; baby formula; diapers; flashlights; batteries; manual can openers; duct tape; toilet paper; paper towels; and feminine hygiene products. Also on the list are school supplies, such as new or used backpacks, crayons, colored pencils, notebooks and binders.
Donations can be made at the Purple Lot on Clark Street, just west of Wrigley Field between Waveland Avenue and Addison Street, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT on Thursday. Items will be accepted from 8 to 11 a.m. CT on Friday, and the truck will then leave for distribution in Peoria.
If you can’t come to Wrigley Field, Cubs fans are asked to visit RedCross.org; call 1-800-RED CROSS (Central Illinois Tornado Response); or text the Red Cross at “90999” to make a $10 donation.
More than a dozen tornadoes struck Illinois on Sunday, packing top winds of more than 100 mph. As many as 500 homes were damaged or destroyed in the town of Washington alone.
Twins’ Buxton, Cubs’ Bryant head AFL Top 20
MLBPipeline.com ranks prospects who played in this fall’s league in Arizona
By Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo
The Arizona Fall League came to a close with its championship game on Saturday, effectively wrapping up the year for prospects playing in the United States (there’s still winter ball to follow, after all).
The 22nd edition of the Arizona Fall League was once again chock full of exciting young talent, though the league was younger than it typically has been, as more players who have yet to play above Class A participated. That’s reflected in the Top 20 AFL Prospects list, which includes four teenagers.
The list was derived with the help of the MLBPipeline.com team — Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo, Bernie Pleskoff and Teddy Cahill — along with feedback from a number of scouts who covered the league this fall. The players were ranked by considering this question: If you were building a team, who would you take based on what you saw in the AFL this year? As a result, the list is largely based on long-term potential, though AFL-specific performance was certainly given consideration.
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (Glendale): Baseball’s best prospect strained his left shoulder swinging a bat, which hampered him before he was shut down after 12 games. That still was enough time to show off five tools that grade as plus or better, the worst of which might be his merely above-average power — he slugged three homers in 52 at-bats.
2. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs (Mesa): If this were a list based solely on top prospects’ performances in the AFL, Bryant would be No. 1. The No. 2 pick from the 2013 Draft won the AFL MVP Award, and he has legitimate power that should put him in the bigs soon, though he has to prove to some he can stay at third base.
3. Addison Russell, SS, Athletics (Mesa): Russell is the rarest of all prospects, a legitimate five-tool shortstop. A 19-year-old, he had no problems handling AFL pitching, and he showed the range and arm to make all the plays at short.
4. Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Blue Jays (Salt River): The best starter in the AFL, Sanchez dominated hitters. He has top-of-the-rotation stuff and is ready for a move to the upper levels of Toronto’s system.
5. Alex Meyer, RHP, Twins (Glendale): Meyer recovered from a shoulder strain that limited him to 78 regular-season innings to throw an easy 94-97 mph in Arizona. Meyer showed a wipeout slider at times and good command for someone with a 6-foot-9 frame.
6. Austin Hedges, C, Padres (Peoria): Hedges showed off his defense in the Fall Stars Game, throwing out two would-be basestealers. There’s still some question about how well he’ll hit, but most believe he’ll swing the bat well enough. Hedges’ glove might be big league-ready now.
7. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Marlins (Glendale): Some evaluators named Heaney as the league’s best pitching prospect, citing his three above-average pitches (fastball, slider and changeup) and his plus command. No AFL starter permitted fewer baserunners per nine innings (9.1).
8. Jorge Alfaro, C, Rangers (Surprise): Watching Alfaro, you wouldn’t guess he was only 20 and coming off a season spent almost exclusively in the Class A South Atlantic League. He can hit, he’s athletic and he has perhaps the strongest arm of any catcher in the Minors.
9. Kyle Crick, RHP, Giants (Scottsdale): Hitters had a tough time handling Crick’s fastball when he threw it up in the zone — it hit 98 mph in multiple starts — and he topped AFL starters with 15.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Crick’s slider is a potential out pitch, though his secondary offerings and command still need work.
10. Albert Almora, OF, Cubs (Mesa): At age 19, Almora was the second-youngest player in the AFL, but he certainly didn’t play like it. The center fielder more than held his own, hitting for average and playing solid defense all while continuing to show how plus-rated makeup can maximize one’s tools.
11. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers (Glendale): The AFL’s youngest player struggled more than any prospect on this list, batting .181 with 25 strikeouts in 72 at-bats. Once Seager calms down a little at the plate, he should hit for both power and average, and could be a Gold Glove winner if he moves to third base.
12. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays (Salt River): Stroman had a solid turn in the Rafters’ bullpen, holding hitters to a .186 batting average and striking out 10.03 per nine, but his future is as a starter. A 2012 first-round Draft pick, he should be able to help Toronto’s rotation at some point next season.
13. Jorge Soler, OF, Cubs (Mesa): The third Cubs position player on this Top 20, Soler has top-of-the-scale raw power that rivals that of any AFL player. “He hits the ball to Yellowstone, he has a fabulous body and he’s a poster for what you want the body to be,” one scout said, “though the day-to-day focus isn’t there.”
14. Colin Moran, 3B, Marlins (Glendale): The 2013 No. 6 pick started slowly but finished by hitting in eight of his last nine games. An advanced former collegian, the left-handed hitter showed a solid approach, albeit without any power.
15. C.J. Cron, 1B, Angels (Mesa): Cron recovered from a down year in Double-A to lead the AFL in hitting (.413) and total bases (56) while finishing second in homers (five) and RBIs (20). Cron also made progress with his plate discipline, the key to him becoming a big league regular.
16. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Red Sox (Surprise): Cecchini won the AFL’s Stenson Award for sportsmanship and work ethic, but he can also hit, run and play third. He has an advanced approach at the plate, which led him to finish in the top 10 in the league in on-base percentage.
17. Delino DeShields Jr., OF, Astros (Peoria): DeShields’ main point of emphasis in Arizona was transitioning from second base to center field, and though he still needs work on his outfield play, he has the plus-plus speed to make it work. With his wheels, on-base skills and surprising pop, DeShields can be a catalyst as a leadoff hitter.
18. Stephen Piscotty, OF, Cardinals (Salt River): Piscotty, a Stanford product, finished the Fall League with a 12-game hitting streak, including a four-hit game that helped him finish fourth in the AFL in batting average. He showed an innate ability to square up the ball, run the bases well and play a decent outfield, a position he’s still learning.
19. Mookie Betts, 2B, Red Sox (Surprise): Having put together one of the biggest breakout performances of the Minor League season, Betts continued to display his all-around ability. He controls the strike zone, has double-digit homer and steal potential, and plays a solid second base.
20. Tyler Naquin, OF, Indians (Surprise): While there’s always been concern about where on the field Naquin profiles — he has the arm but not the power to be a right fielder — he’s always hit wherever he’s played. That continued in the AFL, where he led the circuit in hits while also proving to many he can play center field every day.
20 11 / 2013
Cubs just need to stay the course
Club has made great strides in building organization from ground floor up
By Phil Rogers
CHICAGO — A couple of weeks ago, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and president of business operations Crane Kenney invited Cubs season-ticket holders to a command performance at the Bank of America Theater in downtown Chicago. They introduced them to new manager Rick Renteria over a video link — he would have been there if he wasn’t still recovering from his hip surgery — and made presentations about the team’s new Spring Training facility, upcoming changes at Wrigley Field and the collection of prospects in the farm system.
This is the kind of production you put together when you’ve gone 127-197 in your first two seasons with your organization, as have Epstein and his front-office staff, headed by general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod.
I wasn’t there, but that’s OK. I didn’t have to be convinced.
While you can’t yet see it at the Major League level, the Cubs have made great strides the past two years in building an organization the right way, from the ground floor up. These are smart people doing smart things, and how quickly they are able to finish the job is really beside the point. The Cubs are going in the right direction, and if they have another two years like the last two, they will have finally cut the gap between themselves and their perennial measuring stick, the Cardinals, who have been doing things right forever.
This is probably a good time to add my standard caveat: It’s easy for me to buy into what they’re doing because I don’t buy season tickets. It’s the people who do whose patience is being tried, but I think they’re going to feel foolish if they bail out now.
This is a very promising time for this organization — arguably the most promising since the late John Holland added Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Randy Hundley and Ferguson Jenkins behind Ernie Banks. For the first time in 30 years, the Cubs have a thick wave of talented prospects in their farm system, and they’re coming fast.
This is exactly the way Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod planned it when owner Tom Ricketts bought into their vision. Ricketts had purchased the team with it descending after being propped up through free agency, as former general manager Jim Hendry chased the World Series that got away in 2003, and he gave Hendry’s replacements five-year contracts to demonstrate his commitment.
When the Cubs pick fourth in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, it will mark the fourth year in a row that they have had a top-nine pick. The front office also spent heavily on the international market in trying to stock this farm system the way they did Boston’s a decade ago.
Third baseman Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 Draft and ranked the club’s No. 4 prospect, has been a quick study as a pro. Including the run that made him MVP of the Arizona Fall League, he has batted .346 with 15 homers, 22 doubles and 49 RBIs in 56 games as a pro.
At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Bryant is similar to longtime Angels third baseman Troy Glaus, who was the third pick overall from UCLA in the 1997 Draft. Bryant’s potential also seems to be on the same scale as Evan Longoria, the third pick overall in 2006 from Long Beach State, and Ryan Zimmerman, the fourth pick overall in ‘05 from the University of Virginia.
Those three guys averaged 127 games in the Minors before their debuts — a trend that suggests Bryant will force his way to Wrigley Field next August or September, unless the Cubs decide not to start his service clock until 2015.
Shortstop Javier Baez, a Hendry holdover from the 2011 Draft who hit 37 home runs between the Florida State League and the Southern League last year, is similarly coming fast. The Cubs’ top prospect has things to keep working on, sure (he strikes out too much and still chases some bad pitches), but he’s shown instincts to go with his power in his 215 Minor League games and will be compared daily to the 23-year-old Starlin Castro this spring. Epstein and Hoyer know they’ll soon have to trade Castro (signed through 2019 and coming off a horrible season) or move him or Baez to a new position.
Bryant, Baez, Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo are the headliners in an under-25 core of players that also includes left fielder Junior Lake, center fielder Albert Almora, right fielder Jorge Soler, middle infielder Arismendy Alcantara, outfielders Rubi Silva and Matt Szczur, third basemen Jeimer Candelario and Christian Villanueva and first basemen Dan Vogelbach and Dustin Geiger.
"The Cubs have some guys coming that are going to be really good," a scout with another organization said last week. "They’ve got the guys you know about and they’ve got guys behind them. It’s going to be fun to see what these guys do."
Pitching and catching remain organizational weaknesses, but 2012 Draft pick Pierce Johnson (Missouri State) and trade acquisitions C.J. Edwards, Corey Black and Kyle Hendricks are all potential big league starters, with Edwards and Johnson offering front-of-the-rotation potential. Dallas Beeler, who worked five strong innings in the AFL championship game, and Matt Loosen could get looks in ‘14.
One other reason to like the Cubs’ long-term future: They currently have only $31 million on the books in both 2015 and ‘16. Possibly one year from now — and if not, then definitely in two years — Epstein and Hoyer will be able to add major pieces through free agency or trades (with the inventory of attractive bargaining chips including teenagers Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres, along with others signed on the international market).
Masahiro Tanaka could jump-start the process if he gets to the market and the Cubs win his rights through posting. The odds are probably against that and any other major move this offseason, but the pipeline is pumping. It is bringing hope for success that can be sustained.
Mixed emotions for Cubs VP McLeod watching Red Sox win title
By Patrick Mooney
On the same day the Cubs put a mock-up sign over the right-field bleachers, the Boston Red Sox celebrated their third World Series title in the last 10 seasons.
While the Cubs fired another warning shot at the Wrigleyville rooftops, the Red Sox finished off the St. Louis Cardinals and partied inside Fenway Park. That shows the distance between these two iconic franchises more than the 1,000 miles separating Sheffield Avenue and Yawkey Way.
But Cubs fans straining to see the light at the end of the tunnel can still look at the Red Sox. Theo Epstein didn’t leave an organization in ruins. Heading into Year 3 of a full-scale rebuild, Cubs executives can use this as another billboard.
“It was definitely mixed emotions,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “You remember the feeling of being there when we won.”
McLeod worked in Boston’s scouting department from 2003 to 2009, a time when the Red Sox drafted Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz and Will Middlebrooks.
“You feel great for your friends that are over there,” McLeod said. “At the same time, you miss it, too. I’m not going to lie to you about that. So it works two ways. You’re like: ‘God, I remember what that was about. I remember when we selected those guys. I remember the development plans for those guys.’
“Hopefully, we’re going to have that feeling again. That’s what drives us. It’s possible, so we just got to go make it happen.”
McLeod – who spent two seasons as Jed Hoyer’s assistant general manager with the San Diego Padres – now has fingerprints on three organizations that placed top-six in Baseball America’s recent farm-system rankings.
During a spring-training tour last March, ESPN analyst Jim Bowden identified McLeod as a top GM prospect. (McLeod said that amused his buddies and had them wondering what he owed Bowden.)
“You try not to pay attention to it,” McLeod said, “because there’s too many things going on here to keep your mind on and if that time comes we’ll deal with it. I can tell you that this is the greatest challenge in the history of North American sports now.
“It keeps all of us exceptionally energized about what it is we’re trying to do.
"I don’t really think about it, to be honest. … I feel so lucky and humbled that I get to work with Theo and Jed, two guys who I think are exceptionally talented, but are also friends of mine. And then having the ownership group here and this city, this challenge, it’s like I couldn’t be in a better spot.
“If something happens unforeseen or whatnot and someone calls, then we’ll just deal with it then.”
McLeod gave that answer in late September, but it has been a quiet offseason at the industry’s executive level. The Cubs spent October looking for Dale Sveum’s replacement.
McLeod – along with farm director Brandon Hyde and assistant GM Randy Bush – interviewed Padres bench coach Rick Renteria in California as part of a managerial search that focused on players who aren’t in the big leagues yet.
“You’re not giving up on today, but you’re looking long-term,” McLeod said. “Hopefully, we don’t have to do this (again) for a very, very long time, if ever. I just feel really, really good about the hire.
“(Renteria’s) a positive guy, for sure. He enjoys what he’s doing. But don’t make the mistake of (thinking he’s) being naïve or gullible. He believes in a process and he knows who he is more than anything.”
The Cubs have a new manager, an elite farm system and the Arizona Fall League’s MVP in Kris Bryant. After losing 96 games, they dream about a lineup powered by Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora and a rotation fronted by C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson.
The Cubs didn’t have Boston’s Hall of Fame core already in place and it’s been years since they spent like a big-market team. But there’s still enough Red Sox pedigree to lend credibility to Epstein’s hope-and-change message.
“No doubt, it was tough,” McLeod said. “There were some tough moments where we were like: ‘Oh, it’s so bittersweet.’ But more than anything you’re happy. You feel good about what you did, what you contributed to and you just hope you can do it again.”
19 11 / 2013
Cubs open at new spring training facility Feb. 27
By Colleen Kane
The Chicago Cubs will play their first game at Cubs Park, their new spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 27 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Cubs released their spring training schedule Monday, and they will play 16 games at their new facility, including a game against the Chicago White Sox on March 27.
The team also will play a pair of games in Las Vegas against the New York Mets on March 15 and 16. They will close out their spring schedule with two games against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field on March 28 and 29.
Banks set to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom
Hall of Famer among 16 to be presented with civilian award in D.C. on Wednesday
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — Ernie Banks was twice named Most Valuable Player, won a Gold Glove Award, was named to more than a dozen All-Star teams, was inducted into the Hall of Fame and he has one of the most recognizable smiles in baseball.
On Wednesday, the 82-year-old Banks will receive the highest honor given to civilians in the United States when he is presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Washington, D.C.
"It means everything to me," Banks said in August about the award. "It means life is just wonderful. When you do things to try to help people and share things, it really comes back to you. I try to do that. I love the players, love Wrigley Field, love all the players. … This award means a lot to me. It’s almost like the Nobel Peace Prize to me."
The Medal of Freedom was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy and is presented to those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Banks joins a distinguished list of baseball players to receive the honor, including Hank Aaron (2002), Roberto Clemente (2003) Joe DiMaggio (1977), Stan Musial (2011), Buck O’Neil (2006), Frank Robinson (2005), Jackie Robinson (1984) and Ted Williams (1991).
The event at the White House also will allow Banks a chance to catch up with President Barack Obama. The last time they chatted was at a dinner in Chicago the night before Obama announced his candidacy for president. At that time, Banks joked he would have told Obama not to run.
"I was going to say, ‘You really want to do this?’" Banks said. "He’s a wonderful guy, a brilliant man."
Banks will be one of 16 to receive the Medal of Freedom on Wednesday, joining, among others, former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, former President Bill Clinton, country music legend Loretta Lynn, late astronaut Sally Ride, former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, activist Gloria Steinem, and Oprah Winfrey.
Banks began his baseball career with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League in 1950, and was the first African-American player on the Cubs, making his Major League debut on Sept. 17, 1953, at the age of 22. He played 19 seasons with the Cubs and finished with a .274 batting average, 512 home runs, and 1,636 RBIs.
Known for his positive catch phrase, “Let’s play two,” Banks was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1977. The Cubs retired his No. 14 in 1982 and a statue of the slugger was unveiled outside Wrigley Field in 2008.
Banks never had the chance to play in the postseason. When the 1984 Cubs won the National League East, Banks was named an honorary team member.
How did Mr. Cub stay so positive? He learned that from Buck O’Neil, who was the scout who signed him, and played with Banks in the Negro Leagues.
"Playing in the Negro Leagues, traveling with those guys and getting all the wisdom they had on life and playing in the game," Banks said. "The players today are much smarter, stronger, faster. It’s just a whole different game. There’s more technology involved. It’s totally different in that sense for me. We only had eight teams in the league when I came in. You had to play Class D, C, B before you reached the Majors. Now it’s faster, quicker, smarter."
On Wednesday, Banks will be saluted once again.
"I didn’t play in a World Series, I didn’t play in the playoffs, but this takes the place for me," he said of the honor.
Cubs release 2014 Spring Training schedule
Slate includes 16 home games at team’s new spring ballpark in Mesa, Ariz.
By Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO — The Cubs will play their first Cactus League game at their new spring ballpark in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 27 against the D-backs and finish the schedule with two games at Chase Field in Phoenix.
The Cubs’ 2014 Spring Training schedule includes 16 home games, 16 Cactus League road games, a pair of games in Las Vegas and two games against the D-backs at Chase Field.
The Cubs will play six home games in the first nine days of Cactus League play, including games against the Giants on March 1, the Royals on March 2, the Athletics on March 4 and the Rockies on March 5.
On March 15-16, the Cubs travel to Las Vegas for a two-game series against the Mets. The Cubs also will play one home night game in Mesa on March 24 against the Padres.
The Cubs and White Sox begin their intracity rivalry in two games, meeting March 21 in Glendale and March 27 in Mesa, which will be the final home Cactus League game of the 2014 season. The Cubs close out with games March 28-29 at Chase Field.
Next season marks the 36th consecutive spring the Cubs will have spent in Mesa, but will be their first in their new 140-acre site in west Mesa, which was formerly the Riverview golf course. It’s located near the highway 101 and 202 interchange, and bordered on the south by the Rio Salado Parkway.
The yet-to-be-named ballpark will seat 14,000-15,000 people, and include a left-field party deck and right-field berm area. The Athletics are taking over the Cubs’ former spring site, HoHoKam Stadium, but they will not begin play there until 2015.
Individual game tickets for 2014 Cubs home Spring Training games will go on sale Jan. 11 at 11 a.m. CT at the ballpark’s ticket office, on cubs.com, or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS.
Season tickets at the Cubs’ new spring ballpark are on sale now, and group tickets will go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. CT by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS.
Cubs debut at new spring park set
By Jesse Rogers
The Chicago Cubs will open their new spring training stadium, Cubs Park, on Feb. 27, 2014 when they take on the Arizona Diamondbacks in Mesa, the team announced on Monday.
The Cubs’ spring schedule includes 16 home and road Cactus League games, plus two exhibition games in Las Vegas on March 15 and 16 against the New York Mets. They’ll take on their cross-town rival White Sox on the road in Glendale on March 21 and then again at home on March 27. The Cubs will finish their spring season at Chase Field against the Diamondbacks on March 28 and 29.
The Cubs’ new spring training facility is nearly complete and will seat 15,000 just miles from Hohokam Park where the Cubs formerly trained. It’s seen as a state-of-the-art facility with first-class amenities for players and fans alike. It willl house both the Cubs’ major and minor league teams during spring training, a departure from Hohokam and Fitch Park which were separate homes for teams within the organization once spring games began.
Tickets for individual spring games go on sale Jan. 11 at 11 a.m. at Cubs Park in Mesa, online at the Cubs website and by phone at 1-800-THE-CUBS.
Cubs send message to Kris Bryant: Keep dominating
By TONY ANDRACKI
It’s not always going to be this smooth for Kris Bryant. But the 21-year-old slugger hasn’t missed a beat since the Cubs selected him No. 2 overall in the June draft.
The accolades are starting to pile up for Bryant, who earned the Joe Black MVP Award in the Arizona Fall League. The third baseman also led his team, the Mesa Solar Sox, to the championship game in what’s considered the top showcase for the game’s best prospects.
This came after a record-setting season at the University of San Diego, where he led the country with 31 homers. And after helping advanced Class-A Daytona win a Florida State League title in September.
"I’ve been impressed by his performance so far. It’s hard not to be," Cubs president Theo Epstein said recently. "You have to remember, this was a very advanced college bat who put up historically good power production at the college level.
"Traditionally, if someone’s going to come out of the draft and dominate, it’s that type of player — the elite position player chosen up high in the draft who’s far outperformed his competition in college.
"Now that said, you don’t expect it. We aggressively pushed him to high-A and he answered the call. (And) more importantly, helped lead the team to a championship. He fit in great with his teammates and handled the defensive side really well."
Epstein compared Bryant to Tampa Bay Rays star Evan Longoria, the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft who was also pushed to the AFL after his first professional half-season and dominated at every stop before becoming a perennial MVP candidate in the big leagues.
The Cubs started Bryant out in rookie ball in Arizona before a brief stop with short-season Boise, where he hit .354 with an eye-popping 1.108 OPS in 18 games. He bypassed Class-A Kane County and shot straight to Daytona, where he put up a 1.106 OPS in 16 games during a playoff race.
The 6-foot-5 Bryant dwarfed the AFL competition, leading the league in slugging percentage (.727), homers (6) and OPS (1.184) while also tying for the lead in runs (22), total bases (56) and extra-base hits (15) in 20 games.
"Very impressed by what he’s doing," Epstein said. "Little bit surprised by the consistency of his elite production this early in his career.
"But also understand he has a long way to go. There are developmental issues for him and parts of his player plan that need to be worked on, just as there are for everybody else in the system. I look forward to him getting better over the course of the next minor-league season."
With a big-league club that has lost 197 games the last two seasons, Cubs fans have shifted their focus to elite prospects like Bryant, Albert Almora and Javier Baez.
Bryant may be on the fast track to the big leagues, but Epstein and the front office won’t rush him. He won’t be stationed at third base and hitting cleanup for the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day.
So when can Cubs fans hope to see Bryant peppering the Wrigley Field bleachers with baseballs? There is no set timetable.
"Ultimately, a player’s performance dictates his track," Epstein said. "Every player has a development plan. It’s our job to make sure we identify strengths and weaknesses and work on those weaknesses so there are no major holes when he gets to the big-league level.
"That’s part of the criteria for advancement. One thing we tell our players: ‘If you want to move up, dominate your competition. Perform. Ultimately, it comes down to performance. You need to work on your player plan. You need to work on your weaknesses. You need to be a good teammate. But the single most important factor is performance. Dominate.’
"We’ll see what our guys do when they go out there. If you are dominating your level over a significant period of time, you will advance in the system."
The Cubs still need to see Bryant mash at Double-A Tennessee and refine his game at Triple-A Iowa. There will be service-time considerations before a promotion to Wrigley Field.
Whether that happens in 2014 remains to be seen. But however you look at it, Bryant Watch has officially begun.
18 11 / 2013
Starting with Samardzija, Cubs will be in position to make deals
By Patrick Mooney
The winter meetings are three weeks away and Jeff Samardzija has already been linked to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Washington Nationals, Toronto Blue Jays and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Yes, the Cubs are open for business, with a front office that believes no one is untouchable, a Wrigley Field renovation plan that keeps getting pushed back and a staggered television portfolio that won’t generate one huge windfall.
That was the sense inside the bubble of the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes, where general managers gathered for annual meetings this week. While sources say the Cubs won’t be major players for the big free agents this winter – even doing another Edwin Jackson-type contract (four years, $52 million) is in doubt – they are still positioned to make deals.
“You try to explore every avenue to get better,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Trades are a part of it. You always want to discuss it with different teams. You really want to hear what teams’ needs are once they get their budgets (and know) which teams are going to be aggressive and which aren’t. You get a better feel for that now than you did on the phone during the World Series.”
That means exploring deals headlined by Samardzija, an Opening Day starter who’s under club control for two more seasons and checks all the boxes with his size, stuff and personality.
Maybe Jackson’s frontloaded contract – now three years, $33 million – could look reasonable and even get moved in an overheated market where a pitcher like Ervin Santana is reportedly asking for five years, $112 million.
But it doesn’t sound like president of baseball operations Theo Epstein is willing to tear apart a farm system that tied for fifth in Baseball America’s recent rankings.
Where the Cubs had internally viewed 2015 as a breakthrough year last winter, now they are focusing more on 2016 in the big picture.
Realistically, the cost of shipping elite prospects to the Miami Marlins or Tampa Bay Rays – and then giving Giancarlo Stanton or David Price a huge extension – would be too high.
“In our situation – where we have to make every asset count and every dollar count – we don’t want to get in our own way with our development plan,” Epstein said. “The possibility of trading significant assets so you can then acquire someone and then reward him with a nine-figure contract is not as appealing as keeping your core prospects if they’re guys you really believe in.
“At the right time, (you add) that impact piece from the outside and then you have the best of both worlds. That said, we’re going to pursue trades for some of the very best players in the game because you never know what you might be able to come up with.
“Not every prospect pans out. Not every impact player available in a trade remains an impact player. (So) we’ll just balance all the factors and be aggressive in the trade market, exploring deals. Whether any come to fruition or not, I can’t tell you.”
Nate Schierholtz – who was linked to the Diamondbacks this week – could be another trade chip. When he signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal last December, he turned down multi-year offers and drew interest from several teams, including the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The Pittsburgh Pirates tracked him leading up to the trade deadline last July.
Schierholtz put up 21 homers and 68 RBI in 462 at-bats last season, though he faded after the All-Star break (.703 OPS) and struggled against lefties (.170 average). He’s arbitration-eligible for one more season and will be 30 years old in spring training. He’s a left-handed bat, a solid defender and a professional who won two World Series rings as an extra outfielder for the San Francisco Giants.
“We were proud of Nate,” Hoyer said. “He was a guy that was non-tendered that we signed. He really liked our opportunity (and) a lot of people asked about him in-season and we chose to hold onto him. That interest remains. But give him a lot of credit. I think he proved to a lot of people that he’s an everyday player.”
Hoyer and Epstein kept a low profile this week at the GM meetings. But things might not be so quiet when they return to Central Florida in December and set up shop at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. The Cubs will be looking to deal.
Cubs prospect Kris Bryant wins Arizona Fall League MVP
By Mark Maxwell
Cubs prospect Kris Bryant has been named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League.
The number two overall selection in the 2013 MLB draft played his fall ball for the Mesa Solar Sox. Over 20 games, his numbers were staggering and, well, MVP-like. With slash line of .364/.457/.727 (BA/OBP/SLG), Bryant gives Cubs fans plenty of reason to be excited.
The third baseman absolutely crushed right handed pitching this fall, to the tune of .440/.508/.900. His 1.184 OPS and 6 home runs were both league leaders. The MVP’s stellar performance led the Solar Sox to the league title game.
Many scouts have projected Bryant to play in the outfield when he arrives to the major leagues. Whether he plays in the outfield or at third base, his largest contributions will most likely take place in the batter’s box.
Cubs’ Bryant wins MVP of Arizona Fall League
Cubs prospect Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 draft, was named the Arizona Fall League’s MVP with the Mesa Solar Sox on Saturday.
The third baseman led the league with home runs (6), slugging percentage (.727), extra-base hits (15), runs scored (22-tie), total bases (56-tie) and a 20-game on-base-streak. He also hit .364, fifth best in the AFL, and was second in doubles with eight.
Two other Cubs have won the award: Sam Fuld in 2007 and Jason Dubois in 2003.
White Sox prospect Jared Mitchell was also a nominee.
Otto, not Wood, in mix for Cubs radio job
By Bruce Miles
The search for a new Cubs radio analyst is still in its early stages, but some interesting names can be ruled either in or out.
One Internet report this week had the choice to replace Keith Moreland coming down to Kerry Wood or Dave Otto.
However, sources close to the situation say Wood is not a candidate. Otto, a graduate of Elk Grove High School and a former Cubs pitcher, remains a candidate. He worked in the Cubs’ TV booth in 2001 and 2002. A Wheaton resident, Otto has been a fill-in analyst over the years.
One interesting name has popped up as a possibility: onetime Cubs infielder and Chicago-area native Ron Coomer. A member of the 2001 Cubs, Coomer has done TV work for the Minnesota Twins, with whom he began his major-league career.
Coomer, who turns 47 Monday, is a graduate of Lockport High School, and he has operated a baseball academy in the south suburbs. During his one year with the Cubs, he was seen as media friendly and a strong clubhouse presence.
Former Cubs outfielder Todd Hollandsworth, a studio analyst for Comcast SportsNet Chicago, remains a candidate for the radio job. Still to be determined is whether former Cubs and Phillies outfielder Doug Glanville will come into consideration.
Mark DeRosa, the popular former Cubs infielder, recently took a job with the MLB Network.
You can pretty much write off former Cubs Mark Grace and Rick Sutcliffe, as sources say they are not in the mix, and it appears that neither is ex-Cubs first baseman Eric Karros.
However, it’s not out of the question that at least one other former Cubs player could emerge as a candidate in the coming weeks.
Moreland recently left after three years alongside play-by-play man Pat Hughes to spend more time with his family in Texas.
Bryant’s big year capped with AFL MVP Award
Cubs prospect led Fall League in homers, runs, slugging, extra-base hits
By Jim Callis
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Kris Bryant’s collection of awards and accomplishments this year is just as prodigious as his power. Which is saying a lot, considering that scouts consider him the best college power hitter to come along in a decade or two.
The Cubs third baseman added to his trophy case Saturday when he was named the Arizona Fall League’s 2013 Joe Black MVP Award winner before his Mesa Solar Sox faced the Surprise Saguaros for the league title. He went 0-for-4 in a 2-0 loss that meant he won only two championships this year.
"It has been an incredible year for me," Bryant said. "It didn’t end the way I wanted, but I’m very excited about the future. I’m thankful the Cubs gave me the chance to come out here and work on my game."
Bryant batted .364/.457/.727 in 20 games for the Solar Sox, reaching base at least once in every contest. He led the AFL in slugging, runs (22), homers (six), extra-base hits (15) and total bases (56).
"I didn’t really know what to expect coming into Arizona after playing 30-something professional games," Bryant said. "Playing against guys who are great pitchers day in and day out really helped."
Bryant’s AFL experience — which also included a lot of work on his defense at the hot corner — will expedite his development. It’s not out of the question that he could reach Wrigley Field before the end of 2014. If he hits like he did throughout 2013, the Cubs won’t be able to hold him back.
In the spring, Bryant topped NCAA Division I with 31 homers, more than 223 of the 296 teams hit at that level and the most since college baseball toned down its bats three years ago. He also paced D-I in runs (80), walks (66), total bases (187) and slugging (.820). He helped San Diego win the West Coast Conference tournament championship, set a Toreros record with 54 career homers and won USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award and Baseball America’s College Player of the Year Award.
He was just getting started. After Bryant went No. 2 overall in the First-Year Player Draft, he signed for $6,708,400. His bonus was the largest ever for a Cub, the most anyone has received since new rules came into play in 2012 and the biggest up-front bonus for any position player in Draft history.
Bryant went 1-for-11 in his first three pro games but wound up hitting .336/.390/.688 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in 36 regular-season games between three levels. He led the Daytona Cubs to the High Class A Florida State League title by batting .350 with four RBIs in six playoff contests, then headed to Arizona and continued to rake.
Bryant smiled when asked if he could have imagined a better year.
"I’m such a perfectionist, so everything can always go better," he said. "But this year has been one of the best years of my life. When I think about it in the offseason, I’ll think of the great times I had in college, my first taste of pro ball and the Fall League, all the great players. It has been an incredible year."
Renteria uses walker to put best foot forward
Cubs’ new manager navigates post-surgery interview process from home
By Corey Brock
SAN DIEGO — New Cubs manager Rick Renteria had no problem getting comfortable for a nearly six-hour interview last month with team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
Then again, he was the only one wearing sweatpants.
Renteria, the former bench coach for the Padres, figured the offseason was the ideal time to have right hip replacement surgery, meaning that he could lay low and recover at home in Temecula, Calif.
"It had been going on for quite a few years, but this last year it had gotten worse," Renteria said. "I was walking incorrectly. I was very stiff and was hunched over. The determination to have the surgery after the season was a pretty easy one to make."
Only Renteria’s offseason was anything but quiet. Shortly after Oct. 4 surgery, his phone started ringing with teams wanting to interview him for their managerial openings.
Unable to travel for six weeks after the surgery, Renteria didn’t have to pull his best suit from his closet, pack and bag and jump on a plane to interview with the Cubs, Mariners and Tigers.
Instead, all three teams came to him.
"The funny thing is, I didn’t actually know," Renteria said. "I got a call the day I was going into surgery. I spoke with [Padres general manager Josh Byrnes] and he said the Cubs were interested in interviewing me for the position.
"I then talked to Jed and I told him I couldn’t travel for six weeks. And he said maybe they could come out to see me."
That ignited a whirlwind month for Renteria, as the Cubs came for the first of three meetings. Then, it was the Tigers and Mariners. Team presidents, general managers and other front-office folks, all in his home while Renteria hobbled around with the use of his trusty walker.
"I was pretty limited, but I was able to walk with a walker," Renteria said. "I’ve been doing my exercises twice a day to get the muscles reacclimated to the movement. I live in the two-story house, so I’ve had to use the handrail and go one step at a time.
"I think they [doctors] have a saying … good foot up, bad foot down."
To be sure, Renteria put his best foot forward in his interviews with all three teams, especially with the Cubs. It was 10 days after his surgery when Epstein and Hoyer first visited Renteria.
"At that point, I’m just wearing loose sweats," Renteria said. "They started asking me different questions: How do you deal with players? How I would handle different situations."
The time passed quickly, so much so that the trio essentially forgot about lunch. That’s when Renteria’s wife, Ilene, intervened.
"She suggested that we do something [for lunch], so I said that we should get something from one of the local places," Renteria said. "She decided to go to Panera."
The next visit by the Cubs included their director of scouting and player development, Jason McLeod, assistant general manager Randy Bush and director of player development Brandon Hyde.
But Renteria’s phone was just warming up. After that first interview with Epstein and Hoyer, Renteria schedule face-to-face interviews at home with the Tigers and Mariners.
The Tigers were represented by president and general manager Dave Dombrowski, assistant general manager Al Avila and director of professional scouting Scott Bream. That interview last three hours.
Renteria had a relationship with Dombrowski going back to their days with the Marlins when Renteria was a Minor League manager and Dombrowski was general manager.
Not long thereafter, the Mariners came to Temecula. General manager Jack Zduriencik and director of amateur scouting, Tom McNamara, stopped to meet with Renteria after watching some of the team’s top prospects play in the Arizona Fall League.
"Jack called to ask if I had time to sit down and talk about the opening," Renteria said. "… I asked him when and he said tomorrow.
"I was appreciative someone wanted to interview me. I was quite humbled to say that least."
After two rounds of interviews with the Cubs and ones with the Mariners and Tigers, Epstein and Hoyer flew back to Temecula one last time.
"They started talking about the philosophy of the organization and the direction they want to go, then Jed said that before they went any further, they wanted to extend an offer to me," Renteria said.
Stunned, Renteria called upstairs where his wife Ilene was. The two have been married since 1983 but have been together for over 36 years. They have four children, including three boys.
Renteria wanted to share this moment with Ilene. Epstein and Hoyer politely left the room as they did so and Renteria and his wife embraced.
"It’s been a long road," said Renteria, who has been in professional baseball since 1980. "The spouses of pro athletes go through a lot. She deserved to be there."
Prospect Kris Bryant named MVP of fall
By Jesse Rogers
Four months after capturing the Golden Spikes award as best collegiate player, Chicago Cubs third base prospect Kris Bryant was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League.
Bryant, 21, hit .364 with six home runs and 17 RBI, leading the Mesa Solar Sox to a runner-up finish. He went 0-for-4 against Surprise in a 2-0 loss in the championship game Saturday.
Besides home runs, Bryant also led the fall league in extra base hits (15), slugging percentage (.727), runs scored (22) and total bases (56). The Cubs drafted him No. 2 overall last June and he hit .336 with nine home runs and 32 runs batted in at low and high Class-A ball. The Arizona Fall League is made up of prospects from all 30 teams, some with major league experience. Bryant also made the league’s all-star team.
Despite his success since being drafted from the University of San Diego, Bryant isn’t expected to start next season any higher than Double-A.
“One thing we tell our players, ‘You want to move up? Dominate your competition,’” Cubs President Theo Epstein said recently. “Perform. It comes down to performance.”
Bryant has done that at the lower levels of baseball but will need to continue his performance at Double and Triple-A before seeing the big leagues.
“I’ve been impressed by his performance so far,” Epstein said of Bryant. “This was a very advanced college bat who put up historically good power production at the college level.”
Bryant joins Jason Dubois (2003) and Sam Fuld (2007) as the only other Cubs prospects to win the MVP of the Fall League.
15 11 / 2013
Boras’ arguments too transparent
By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO — Just because agent Scott Boras says he thinks the Chicago Cubs should spend money — presumably on his clients — doesn’t mean he’s right. Boras, speaking at the general manager meetings in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, was critical of the Cubs for their lack of involvement in the free-agent market since Tom Ricketts bought the team in 2009.
Maybe he didn’t get the memo that the Cubs are rebuilding, or maybe he doesn’t understand that spending $100 million on players long before a team is ready to win isn’t the prudent thing to do.
"They’ve done a great job in the draft and development, and they’ve got a really good core of young players coming," Boras told reporters. "But it’s just not what’s expected when you buy a major-market club."
Funny how quick Boras was in praising the plan and then ripping it all in a couple of sentences. He likes the drafting and developing because two of his clients — Kris Bryant and Albert Almora — are considered future cornerstones of the team. Just think if the Cubs didn’t have any Boras clients as top prospects. Scouting guy Jason McLeod might be in his crosshairs as well.
But for now, Boras wants to take his frustrations out on Cubs ownership. After all, Ricketts & Co. aren’t wooing his big-money clients Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo. How dare they?
"You’re developing the infrastructure, but fans don’t come to see seats, grass, cement. They come to see players," Boras said.
The Cubs politely declined to comment on Boras’ rant.
But it’s nice Boras shows such a caring for the fans of Chicago. If he cared that much about them, he’d lower his asking price for his clients.
But Boras’ biggest mistake — one made by many fans, too — is wading into the waters of the big-market/small-market conversation. This is a tiresome argument. Too bad baseball doesn’t have a salary cap, because in no other sport do we have to hear about big markets versus small markets as much as baseball. Where is it written that a big-market team can’t rebuild its organization from scratch? And how does having the ability to generate more money because you’re in a big market speed up the rebuilding process? If more money can get Bryant to the big leagues faster, then spend away, but that’s not the case.
Many fans will wonder why a team can’t spend while it rebuilds. The answer is you can, but you risk getting in the way of your ultimate plan, which, by the way, is to compete year in, year out.
Here’s one example of getting in the way of your own plan: Say the Cubs sign Ellsbury for seven years and well more than $100 million — possibly with a no-trade clause — then they’re locked into him. Maybe you’re OK with that because he goes out and has two fantastic seasons, which means when Almora is ready to play, you have to make a decision. But Ellsbury is 33 or 34 by that point, and with that no-trade clause, he doesn’t want to go anywhere, or, even if he does, you don’t have many, if any, suitors for a player that age. (See Alfonso Soriano and many other aging stars.)
So, instead, the Cubs decide to trade Almora, and maybe they get back some talent. But now Ellsbury predictably starts to decline, and they’re right back where they started. And even in those first two great Ellsbury seasons, the Cubs do have a better record, and nearing the trade deadline they wouldn’t be that bad off, so the team chooses to make one less trade for a prospect than they would have. But, in fact, the team isn’t getting to the playoffs, and now, they’ve lost out on the ability to acquire more talent and will probably get a lower draft pick. For what? A near-.500 finish? Who cares?
There are many scenarios like this and others in which spending $100 million on a free agent right now will come back to haunt a team in a big way. There might be a few in which it all works out, but the risk isn’t worth the reward. There will be a time the Cubs will need to spend and that’s when the big-market argument works and can keep a contender going much longer than a team in a small market, but they simply aren’t there yet.
Either try and buy a World Series or go the other way. Criticize Ricketts for not doing the former, but don’t get on him for choosing the latter, instead of some in-between fix to satisfy Boras and a fan base that has been easily fooled in the past.
Think of it this way: If you liked Boras’ comments, does it make you feel good to be on the same side as an agent simply trying to max out his own profits? After all, that’s the same complaint fans make about owners.
Yankees GM never thought Girardi would leave for Cubs
By Patrick Mooney
ORLANDO, Fla. – New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi would have been the biggest free agent the Cubs could have signed this offseason, a style/substance move to energize the fan base and wake up the organization’s core players.
Robinson Cano and Jay-Z won’t be coming to Wrigley Field for a splashy press conference. Scott Boras didn’t sound like he’d be steering high-profile clients Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo to Chicago after absolutely shredding the organization’s “very polite development structure.”
The Steinbrenner Doctrine means the Cubs will likely lose the bidding war for Masahiro Tanaka (assuming the Japanese pitcher gets posted). That was the overwhelming feeling at the ownership/general manager meetings that ended Thursday at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes.
The hottest rumor for this team ignited Sept. 17, when president of baseball operations Theo Epstein gave his no-alarm-bells non-answer about Dale Sveum’s future. That began the same-as-it-ever-was speculation.
“Well, it was expected after Dale got fired,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “Once that hit, I was like: Oh, boy, here we go.”
It’s been – what? – three times in the last seven years that Girardi has been linked to the Cubs job. It’s easy to lose track of all the changes in the dugout. On Opening Day 2014, Rick Renteria will be the team’s fourth manager in five seasons.
There are conspiracy theories out there. The business side loved the idea of marketing an ex-Cub who grew up in Peoria and graduated from Northwestern University. Girardi’s agent, Steve Mandell, is based in Chicago and has his network of contacts.
The baseball operations department deeply respected Girardi as a manager, but had suspicions the Cubs were being used for leverage. Multiple sources insist Sveum would have been fired after a 96-loss season – whether or not Girardi’s expiring contract might make him available.
Industry officials also described The Evil Empire’s negotiating strategy: If Girardi went and formally talked with the Cubs, his old job wouldn’t necessarily be waiting for him if he ultimately decided to remain in The Bronx.
“I went to Joe,” Cashman recalled. “I said: If this is something you want, let me know and we’ll let you go. But he said he wanted to stay, so we were able to work it out.”
Girardi had his high-level supporters when former general manager Jim Hendry decided to replace Dusty Baker with Lou Piniella after the 2006 season, setting the stage for back-to-back division titles.
As Piniella burned out and retired in 2010, Mike Quade got hot and kept the job after a strong finish. Girardi signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Yankees, 12 months after the franchise’s 27th World Series title (or why he now wears No. 28).
This season ended Sept. 29, with the Yankees missing the playoffs for only the second time since 1995. They didn’t announce Girardi’s new contract until Oct. 9.
There were signals Girardi felt conflicted, intrigued by the Cubs job, pulled toward the Midwest – but not wanting to uproot his family from the home they built in Westchester County. There was also some speculation about whether the Yankees would go Four Corners and make him wait until his contract expired on Oct. 31.
Cashman said that waiting period was mostly about finalizing details on a four-year, $16 million deal that will make Girardi a key figure in life after Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and eventually Derek Jeter.
“I never felt he was leaving us,” Cashman said. “If he wasn’t on board, then we would have cut him loose and let him talk to anybody.”
Girardi played on three World Series winners in The Bronx, catching Dwight Gooden’s no-hitter and David Cone’s perfect game. The Yankees have posted a best-in-baseball .580 winning percentage since he took over in 2008. He’s said to have strong working relationships with Cashman and the Steinbrenner family.
“I’ve known Joe and (his wife) Kim for a long time,” Cashman said. “He’s just good people. But at the same time, if it was something that he really wanted to pursue and wanted to make a change, then: A.) He had the right to do it; and B.) We weren’t going to stand in his way. I just wanted to know.”
The Cubs hope Renteria can get through to Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro and coach up all the prospects expected to arrive soon at Wrigley Field.
Otherwise, Girardi Watch can begin all over again after the 2017 season. But New Yorkers will never understand why you’d ever want to leave the Yankees.
Theo Epstein had ‘mixed emotions’ on Red Sox championship
By TONY ANDRACKI
Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod have left their mark on Major League Baseball.
The three organizations the Cubs front office trio has had an impact on the last half-decade — the Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres — are all among the Top 5 best farm systems in the game.
But the biggest impact has come in Boston, where the Red Sox won their third World Series since 2003.
At the GM meetings in Orlando this week, the Boston Herald caught up with Epstein, who helped engineer the first two championships in Beantown, on his reaction to the Red Sox latest World Series victory.
"I was prepared for some mixed emotions," Epstein told the Boston Herald. "There was a little bit of [pride] at times, feeling detached from it, because all my friends in the front office are there. But the overriding emotion was really joy for [Red Sox GM Ben Cherington] and those guys, who worked so hard and suffered so much in 2012.
"That was really the tough time. I was on the phone with those guys a lot during ‘12, which was so hard — unfairly so in a lot of respects — on them. And then to see them bounce back and triumph that way was really gratifying."
After a decade in Boston, Epstein moved to the Cubs in late 2011, ready for the next challenge. It hasn’t been an easy transition — the Cubs have lost 197 games the last two seasons — but they’ve acquired a nice stable of prospects and the next wave of young talent could hit as soon as late 2014.
The 2012 Red Sox suffered through a 69-93 season and a last place finish in the vaunted AL East under manager Bobby Valentine, but rebounded with 97 wins under new skipper John Farrell in 2013, tying the Cardinals for the best record in the MLB.
Cherington took over as general manager after Epstein left and the Cubs president of baseball operations spoke fondly of his former colleague.
"Ben did a phneomenal job," Epstein told the Boston Herald. "He’s someone I always kept close to me, because I felt like I learned as much from him as he did from me. He’s a great manager of people, very systematic, a methodical thinker, a great feel for the game and players.
"It’s no surprise to me the great job he’s doing. That’s why he was groomed for that role over time, and why he’s the perfect guy to head up that organization."
Yankees’ GM Cashman on Girardi to Cubs: ‘I never felt he was leaving us’
BY GORDON WITTENMYER
Maybe the Cubs off-season will get off the ground at some point and provide optimism or even buzz before pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
But that’s a tough sell after five weeks of anti-climactic manager searching and three days of general managers meetings this week that produced little more than a message of low-level spending and an expectation that Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija will be shopped in trade talks.
If anything, the Cubs’ best shot at a marquee signing this off-season came in the first few days of October and may have set the tone for the winter.
And that one was doomed from the start.
In fact, the Joe Girardi pursuit in the aftermath of manager Dale Sveum’s firing may have underscored an ongoing disconnect between the Cubs’ baseball and business sides of the operation.
In a conversation with two Chicago media outlets, including the Sun-Times, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he knew almost from the start that free agent Joe Girardi would stay in New York – even though he saw the Chicago rumors coming.
“It was expected,” Cashman said of the third time in seven years his guy was linked to a Cubs managerial change. “It was expected after Dale got fired. One that hit, I was like, ‘Oh, boy, here we go.’
“I went to Joe and said, `If this is something you want, let me know. And we’ll let you go.’ But he said he wanted to stay, so we were able to work it out.”
According to multiple sources, back-channel communication between Girardi’s camp and the upper levels of Cubs management led some high-ranking officials to believe that Girardi was interested in a return to his and his wife’s Chicago-area roots, even as he and the Yankees were spending time on details of his new contract in New York.
All the while, top baseball officials in the Cubs’ organization were skeptical of Girardi’s Chicago intentions and immediately started lining up other candidates for the job.
“I never felt he was leaving us,” said Cashman, who indirectly acknowledged some of the perceptions within the Cubs’ organization. “Well, he has an agent. And he does a good job.”
That and a Northshore country club where sources say some of the mutual interest was expressed.
“Maybe he’s not going to go there anymore,” Cashman joked.
Despite the willingness to let Girardi make the Chicago-or-New York call, Cashman wasn’t going to let Girardi shop offers while he was still bound to his old contract through October.
“If he wasn’t on board by then, then we would have cut him loose and let him talk to anybody,” said Cashman, who never needed to consider that, given his longstanding, strong relationship with his seventh-year manager.
“He played for me. He was a coach for me. He managed for me. I’ve known Joe and [wife] Kim for a long time,” Cashman said. “He’s just good people. But at the same time, if it was something that he wanted to pursue and really wanted to pursue and that’s where he wanted to [go and] make a change, A, he had a right to do it, and B, we weren’t going to stand in his way. I just wanted to know.”
14 11 / 2013
Darvill making most of Arizona Fall League opportunity
Versatile infielder gets unexpected call to extend playing season
By Carrie Muskat
MESA, Ariz. — Wes Darvill didn’t waste his first at-bat in the Arizona Fall League. The Cubs prospect hit a home run, a two-run shot in the eighth inning, on Oct. 9 in a game in which Albert Almora and Kris Bryant also homered.
Jorge Soler, the fourth Cubs position player on the Mesa Solar Sox, drove in three runs on a double, and he, Almora, Bryant and Darvill finished the game 8-for-14 with 11 RBIs.
"There was some joking around for sure," Darvill said about the Cubs quartet providing the power in Mesa’s 13-3 win. "That was awesome. All the Cubs guys had good days. It was definitely fun to watch and fun to contribute."
Darvill has done more watching than playing in the AFL. He was on the taxi squad, which meant he played twice a week. Darvill didn’t expect to be playing at all. Top Cubs prospect Javier Baez was originally on the Solar Sox roster but the team decided the shortstop had done enough this season, so Almora was switched from the taxi squad to the regular roster, and Darvill was added.
"He’s an interesting player and does a lot of things well on the field and has good instincts," Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, said. "It’ll be a nice opportunity for him."
Darvill, 22, began the 2013 season at Class A Kane County, where he batted .347 in 15 games before he was promoted to High A Daytona. A fifth-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, the left-handed hitter batted .253 in 79 games with three home runs and 14 doubles.
He was playing golf and relaxing in Langley, British Columbia, when he got the phone call to tell him his baseball season had been extended.
"I was home, resting, getting close to getting back into my offseason lifting program," Darvill said. "They called me, and I went outside and threw a little bit and hit off a tee.
"I was definitely very excited," he said. "I had to get back into baseball shape. It was probably good I got some rest. I was really excited when I got the phone call."
Darvill isn’t the only Langley ballplayer. Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie played at the same high school and was the Brewers’ first-round pick in the 2008 Draft.
Aren’t all Canadians fitted for hockey skates as soon as they’re born?
"I never played hockey," Darvill said, laughing. "I played everything else — soccer, basketball, football growing up. For some reason, hockey wasn’t in the cards for me. … I’m a rare breed who didn’t play hockey growing up."
He was drawn to baseball.
"I think I just always loved baseball growing up," he said. "I loved other sports, too. I liked basketball and football a lot but growing up, my first love was always baseball. I put a ton of work into that. I always enjoyed playing it."
Now, he’s wrapping up his extended baseball season as the AFL winds down this week. The Solar Sox have two games remaining to secure the East Division. The AFL championship game will be played Saturday in Scottsdale.
Darvill may not get as many at-bats or as much attention as Almora, Soler or Bryant, but he took advantage of the opportunity to play in the AFL. The Cubs are looking for versatile players and Darvill fits that description. The slender infielder was easy to spot during batting practice. He was the one taking grounders wherever he could, moving from short to third to second.
"I’ll be ready wherever they put me, that’s for sure," Darvill said.
Granderson talks free agency at charity event
Being comfortable, caring for family and finding winning team important to slugger
By Scott Merkin
CHICAGO — Listening to Curtis Granderson eloquently speak about his free agency should at least give some hope to Cubs and White Sox fans alike.
Granderson, in conjunction with his Grand Kids Foundation, hosted the inaugural Grand-Giving Fundraiser to benefit The Greater Chicago Food Depository at John Barleycorn River North in downtown Chicago Wednesday night. Before the festivities that welcomed more than 1,000 people into the establishment began, the left-handed-hitting outfielder addressed what was important to him in this current search process.
The 32-year-old native of Lynwood, Ill., a south suburb of Chicago, listed taking care of his family and feeling comfortable in his home away from home as two important factors in picking a new team. Granderson also talked about wanting to win a World Series championship, pointing out that he hasn’t been back to the Fall Classic since 2006 with Detroit.
When he was asked how his two hometown teams stay in consideration despite not looking like prime playoff contenders at this time, Granderson spoke in great detail of how organizations can change from year to year in the modern times of Major League Baseball.
"Those days from probably 10 to 15 years ago of teams that were consistently bad year in and year out have kind of gone away," said the upbeat Granderson. "Case in point, the Detroit Tigers when I played for them. Throughout the Minor Leagues, the organization up top was not necessarily the best. Then we make the World Series in 2006, they get back there two seasons ago and have done a lot of amazing things.
"Boston Red Sox go from worst [in 2012] to first [in 2013]. The Kansas City Royals, the Cleveland Indians, the Pittsburgh Pirates: getting their first winning season and getting to the postseason. Everything is a possibility and has the ability to turn around quite quickly, as long as organizations continue to do things in their Minor League system and go ahead and get a piece here and there with free agency and trades. Every team is an option."
Adding Granderson would be a boon for any team, when factoring in the 84 homers he launched combined during the 2011 and ‘12 seasons, not to mention the fact that he feels healthy and ready to play any spot in the outfield. His desire to give back to the community and his high character and outgoing nature make him a clubhouse-plus for rebuilding teams such as the Cubs or the White Sox.
But the fact that these teams are rebuilding, coupled with Granderson being offered a qualifying offer by the Yankees and then turning it down, might eventually eliminate the chance of making his first home also his second baseball home. The White Sox have placed the First-Year Player Draft as one of their top line items on the ‘14 budget and don’t currently seem inclined to lose a second-round pick for three or even four years of Granderson. The same apparently holds true for the Cubs.
Many players choose to separate work and home, but Granderson is keeping all of his options open. And he points to Derrick Rose’s rise from Simeon High School in Chicago to the NBA Most Valuable Player with the Chicago Bulls as an example that this combination works.
"He’s won a high school championship here and then comes back and ends up being the MVP and bringing the Bulls to the playoffs," said Granderson of Rose, with Granderson also having played his collegiate baseball at the University of Illinois-Chicago. "I admire him being able to separate business and friends and family and be able to go out there and produce.
"I’m sure his friends and family realize it’s a job. Sometimes it’s difficult to do those different things when it is at your home base. It’s been a learning curve to come from my first year in 2004 to where I stand in front of you now in 2013. It’s something to consider again."
There’s no timetable for Granderson, aside from finding the right fit. If that happens in the next week or so, he won’t delay the decision. He also won’t rush the process.
Wednesday’s energy was primarily focused on Granderson’s charity event, also attended by athletes such as Bears linebacker Lance Briggs and former Bears offensive lineman James “Big Cat” Williams. His Grand Kids Foundation will launch a series of Chicago-based community programs, beginning with this benefit.
"I think about how I got to where I am today. Outside of my mom and dad, who are very instrumental in my life, I think about the number of other people who have helped me out along the way and shaped me as an individual," said Granderson, who listed his baseball coaches at Thornton Fractional South High School as just two of those influences. "Not even as a player. The fact that they got me to work hard, learn how to fail, learn how to set goals, achieve them.
"Now I’m in a situation where I can finally give back in numerous different ways. Education has always been very important to me. That’s the reason why Grand Kids was established. Baseball has given me an opportunity to do some amazing things."
Expect more inexpensive additions to Cubs
By Jesse Rogers
ORLANDO, Fla. — As the Chicago Cubs lay the groundwork for their offseason, don’t expect major dollars to be spent — unless of course they land Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka — as their rebuilding plan simply doesn’t call for it yet.
Even a signing from last winter like Edwin Jackson probably won’t be repeated as that may have been ahead of schedule.
But that doesn’t mean the Cubs won’t take some steps. They’d prefer a younger starting pitcher who isn’t brought in just to be flipped at the trade deadline. A pitcher they can take a chance on by buying low as that player attempts a return to prosperity, like Phil Hughes of the New York Yankees or Josh Johnson of the Toronto Blue Jays. Both are reclamation projects but are young enough to survive a rebuild if they can pitch.
In the outfield, a source says Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth is on their list, although he’s drawing interest from several clubs and there is speculation he wants to play for a winner. McLouth is at least the type of player the Cubs could use. He’s a veteran who can provide some leadership while taking some attention and pressure away from their young players.
Finding a closer may not be a priority, but it’s needed. A backup catcher will be of need if Dioner Navarro gets paid the way he would like to. Kurt Suzuki or Gerald Laird are two names that have come up for the Cubs.
Then there are the trades. They’re in the incubation stage.
"We’re closer because we’ve had those discussions," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday from the GM meetings. "We flushed out some ideas that aren’t going to work. We’ve been approached about some ideas that we’ll go back and think about more. In that regard we’re closer. I don’t think you come here expecting to get deals done."
Having said that, the Cubs don’t want to wait around as some of these second-tier players find homes.
"You have to be thoughtful and deliberate but you can never be too deliberate because guys go off the board," Hoyer said.
Hoyer admitted outfield, starting pitching, relieving and catching have been the focus so far. The Cubs seem set in the infield with either what they have on the big league roster now or coming up from the minors soon enough. Unless a starter is traded, they have four for 2014: Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta. At some point they’ll have to find a true No. 1 starter. Who will be the Cubs’ Adam Wainwright or Clayton Kershaw? Could Tanaka be a realistic possibility?
For now, the Cubs will fill some holes with the hope of hitting on a player or two who can stick around. Maybe even more than making talent a priority they need to replace some veteran leadership, at least among position players.
The offseason is just beginning, but the Cubs’ plan for the future is deep in the works.
Bryant’s plan for success: Don’t look ahead
By Sahadev Sharma
When Theo Epstein was hired as president of baseball operations by the Chicago Cubs two years ago, he brought along a promise of building a sound foundation that would lead to sustained success by sticking to their plan even when the results aren’t always what they’d hope. The point of committing to a thought-out process isn’t to eliminate failure altogether — that is an impossibility. The point is to minimize failure. For every Travis Wood, there will be an Ian Stewart. Perfection isn’t realistic in any aspect of baseball.
It’s a philosophy that holds true on an individual level as well, and at just 21 years of age, Kris Bryant seems to have already figured that out.
“I think the biggest thing is staying with a process that works for you,” Bryant said. “Staying in the moment and not focusing on your last at-bat or even the last pitch or next pitch, just the pitch that’s coming at you right now. If I put myself in that position then it puts me in best position to succeed.”
Bryant understands that he can’t control his previous failures and fixating on them will likely only lead to more poor results. His focus is always on the here and now.
“This game is crazy, it’s just built on failure,” Bryant astutely points out. “If you’re always in your head, looking at the scoreboard, looking at your batting average, it’s just a distraction that you don’t need as a baseball player. It takes away from you succeeding on the field. That’s just something that going to college really helped me in that area.”
Bryant, who the Cubs selected second overall in last June’s amateur draft, says he believes that the biggest separator for making it to the big leagues is having the mental side of the game in check. While at University of San Diego, Bryant said the team brought in a sports psychologist multiple times a year who would talk to the players one on one and help them focus on their process while playing baseball.
“I really bought into it because you start playing in stadiums with scouts and general managers watching and your batting average is on the board and there’s just so much stuff going on that if you’re not going up there with your thoughts right, you’re really defeating yourself,” Bryant said. “I wanted to put myself in the best position to succeed and having a strong mental side in the box has really helped me.”
Despite having only played 36 games in the minor leagues, Bryant, who is currently starring in the Arizona Fall League, is being touted as one of the top prospects in all of baseball and someone who could possibly hit Wrigley Field sometime next summer. However, Bryant’s ability to focus on the present has allowed him to not worry about when he may get the call to the big leagues.
“I don’t really think of that too much,” Bryant said prior to an AFL game. “Right now I’m here, so I just try and stay in the moment, focus on what I’m doing here. If that time comes, it’s not in my hands, so I just go out there and play hard every day. If I’m focusing on getting better and helping my team win, then I think that all that other stuff will take care of itself.”
As far as getting better, Bryant says he’s looking to improve in every aspect of his game while playing for the Mesa Solar Sox this fall. He also hopes to continue to fill out his 6-foot-4, 215 pound frame during the offseason. However, when it comes to specifics, Bryant does have one particular goal in mind.
“Refining my approach at the plate,” Bryant said. “I know that these guys throw a tick harder than in college and have sharper breaking stuff. So just seeing those pitches and learning how to not get myself out. Go up to the plate with a plan every time. I think if I do that, I’m in a good spot.”
Looking at the numbers, Bryant’s performance at the plate thus far doesn’t appear to need much refining. Through three levels in the minors, Bryant posted a .336/.390/.688 line and his bat has continued to sizzle in the AFL, where he tops most offensive categories while delivering a 1.192 OPS.
If one were to nitpick, Bryant’s 35 strikeouts and only 11 walks in his 36 minor league games could possibly raise some concerns for the future. However, that didn’t seem to be an issue for Bryant in college as his walk total jumped from 33 his freshman year to 66 (in just nine more games) his junior year and he had more walks than strikeouts in his final two seasons. Bryant pointed out that he was seeing a lot more strikes in his first taste of pro ball so he wasn’t going to the plate with a walk in mind.
“You do more damage when you’re driving the ball all over the field and driving guys in,” Bryant said. “That was my approach. I was seeing it really well and doing well and I just went up there really confident that I was going to hit the ball hard somewhere.”
Bryant acknowledged that as he continues to climb through the system he’ll see better pitching, but he expects to progress in pro ball similarly to how he did in college.
“Your first year you might not get as many walks or hit for the power that you want, but I think over the years I’ll develop an eye and figure out how they’re trying to get me out and how their pitches move,” Bryant said. “It’ll all come naturally once you’re playing a little bit longer against this type of competition.“
Mechanically, Bryant is very quiet at the plate, with very little movement as the pitch is being delivered and a controlled swing through the zone that generates immense power. Bryant knows that fellow Cubs top prospect Javier Baez can get away with his wild movements due to his elite bat speed, but Bryant’s noiseless approach works for him.
“I just feel like when you have a lot of movement in your swing, your head’s moving, you start to think about your leg kick, getting your timing down, your load, your bat wiggle,” Bryant said. “If you go up there and you stay quiet and you’re not moving too much I think you have a better chance of seeing the ball and hitting it hard.”
Bryant has always had that quiet approach, but he said his wide stance is something he developed more recently. Up until his sophomore year of college, Bryant actually stood straight up at the plate. He said he widened out his base to keep his head still and since he’s a taller guy it helps make the low strike a little easier to hit.
The change clearly worked out for Bryant as the numbers he put up during his junior year, when he slugged .820 and led the NCAA with 31 home runs, speak volumes. When it comes to stats, Bryant may not focus on them, but he does approve of the fact that the baseball world appears to be evolving past looking at just the traditional Triple Crown numbers.
“You’re watching TV and you’re listening to a game and they’re more likely to mention (on-base percentage and slugging) than average, home runs and RBIs and I think that’s good,” Bryant said. “There’s way more to it than just those stats.”
But, of course, he never goes up to the plate worrying about his numbers.
“I think it’s funny the way baseball works, you’re told not to look at your stats, but you’re defined by them,” Bryant said. “I just really try to be on the side of not focusing on the numbers because it just messes with your head. You’re sitting there in the box and you’re thinking, ‘If I get a hit here, my average is going to be this.’ You’re not focusing on what the pitcher’s throwing you, how he’s going to get you out and all that stuff. I try to just go up there with a clear mind every time, not worried about the past, the future, my batting average, how many home runs I hit, because you can’t control that stuff. You can only go up there with a clear mind and control the fact that you want a good pitch to hit, put a good swing on it and hit it hard, that’s the only thing you can control.”
Results are never guaranteed. Knowing that may just be Bryant’s key to success.
Source: Mets-Cubs to play in Vegas
By Adam Rubin
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Mets and Chicago Cubs will play exhibition games in Las Vegas on March 15 and 16, a source told ESPNNewYork.com.
Las Vegas became the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate last season.
It will be a well-traveled exhibition schedule for the Mets. They also face the Toronto Blue Jays at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium to close spring training, on March 28 and 29.
Scott Boras rips The Plan as Cubs avoid big free agents
By Patrick Mooney
ORLANDO, Fla. – Cubs fans can dream about Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, but don’t expect a franchise on hold to give out any megadeals anytime soon.
As the Cubs try to plow ahead with the delayed Wrigley Field renovations and negotiate new television deals, sources say they might not even have the financial flexibility to add one big-name free agent this winter.
Insiders predict they will keep listening to offers for Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija and doubt they have the resources to win a bidding war for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
“In Chicago, it’s funny,” agent Scott Boras said Wednesday at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. “The family has bought the team, but it’s kind of like ‘Meet the Parents.’ You know, I haven’t met them yet.”
Surrounded by reporters, Boras ripped The Plan and zinged the Ricketts ownership group while holding court in the lobby during Day 3 of the GM meetings.
In October 2009, the family finalized a highly leveraged $845 million purchase of the team (as well as a stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago), beginning a conservative path that focused on building the farm system while freezing payroll levels from the Tribune Co.’s win-one-for-the-Tower days.
Boras was asked if he was talking about Joe Ricketts, the family patriarch who’s a shadow presence around the franchise. During the 2012 presidential race, Ricketts’ anti-Obama Super PAC damaged the club’s relationship with City Hall at a sensitive point in the Wrigley Field negotiations.
“I’m talking about – if this is a family-owned team – where is the (major-market approach)?” Boras said. “This is Chicago. You’re developing the infrastructure. But fans don’t come to see seats, grass, cement. They come to see players.
“They’ve done a great job in the draft and development and they’ve got a really good core of young players coming. But it’s just not what’s expected when you buy a major-market club.”
Boras clearly has an agenda as the game’s most powerful agent. He needs the Cubs to be all-in on clients like Ellsbury and Choo – or at least create that illusion – to drive up their prices. He also represents Albert Almora and Kris Bryant, two first-round picks who are supposed to be foundation pieces at a renovated Wrigley Field.
There’s no doubt Boras would like a way around president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. If Boras can’t get an audience, chairman Tom Ricketts and president of business operations Crane Kenney were spotted at this resort hotel on Wednesday for the ownership/GM meetings.
Multiple executives here credited the Cubs for assembling an elite group of prospects that also includes potential ace C.J. Edwards and $30 million Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler.
So it certainly makes sense to avoid the nine-figure contracts that can cripple an organization (see Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels). But with Almora, Bryant and Javier Baez on the fast track, do you have a sense of when the Cubs are going to start augmenting?
“I don’t know,” Boras said. “That’s why I said ‘Meet the Parents.’ I haven’t met them yet, so I don’t know what the plans are for the family. I don’t know what their scaling is. I only know that their general managers tell us that their budget only allows them to do certain things.”
The Cubs have been operating like a mid-market team, with a major-league payroll north of $100 million last season, waiting for the $500 million Wrigleyville project to come together. There are promises the business/baseball plans will line up and new stadium/broadcasting revenues will eventually fuel the economic engine.
After four straight fifth-place finishes and 197 losses across the past two seasons, Boras is wondering where the money is going. A restrictive collective bargaining agreement has limited how much the Cubs can spend in the draft and international marketplace.
Cubs fans should get used to the rhetoric. Almora and Bryant are on the rise and the Epstein administration figures to be drafting Boras clients near the top of the first round for a few more years.
Boras was an infielder in the Cubs system in the late 1970s and practiced law in Chicago – before he started playing hardball.
“It’s a story yet to be told,” Boras said. “We’re wondering. What was anticipated was that the Cubs would immediately respond in the way that the Cubs had in the past – and that is they’re a major-market team. They’re responding with a very polite development structure which (is) minimized by new major-league rules.
“(They’re) in a very dormant stage for a major-market team.”
Cubs GM Hoyer: Dave Martinez can manage in the big leagues
By Patrick Mooney
ORLANDO, Fla. — Dave Martinez is still waiting for his shot to apply everything he’s learned working next to arguably the game’s best manager, inside perhaps the most creative organization in baseball.
The Tampa Bay Rays bench coach got an audience with Cubs executives after Dale Sveum got fired. But this search tilted toward the West Coast, with three San Diego Padres employees getting interviews.
Brad Ausmus took the Detroit Tigers job. A.J. Hinch will remain in the San Diego front office. Rick Renteria is now the 53rd manager in franchise history.
Martinez played for the Cubs and White Sox, but didn’t have much background with a front office filled with guys who used to work for the Padres and Boston Red Sox.
“Davey did a great job in the interview process,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. “We really enjoyed (getting to know) him. He’s very bright, very hardworking, very well-respected and from the interview process, it sounds like he’s learned a ton being with Joe Maddon. He’s taken a lot from that staff.”
Martinez has been alongside Maddon for an amazing run in Tampa Bay, beginning with the 2008 American League pennant, the first of five seasons with at least 90 wins in the last six years.
With the Cubs not expected to be all-in on the big-ticket items here at the general manager meetings, their new manager will have to develop players as if this was a small-market team.
Hoyer thinks Martinez – who has also interviewed with the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays across the last few years – has what it takes to run his own show.
“He’ll be a manager really soon in the big leagues,” Hoyer said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
Two Cubs prospects named to Double-A All-Star team
By TONY ANDRACKI
When people talk about the Cubs’ top prospects, the focus is on Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards, Javier Baez or Jorge Soler.
But a pair of underrated prospects — Arismendy Alcantara, Christian Villanueva — earned MiLB honors this week as they were named to the 2013 Topps Double-A All-Star team.
Alcantara enjoyed a breakout season with Double-A Tennessee, flashing power (36 doubles, 15 homers), speed (31 stolen bases) and a keen batting eye (69 walks, .352 OBP). The 22-year-old second baseman is expected to join Triple-A Iowa for the 2014 season and Chicago may not be long after that if he continues along this path.
The Dominican native did wear down at the end of the season, as he played more than 100 games for the first time in his career. He should be better equipped to handle the long season next year, barring injury.
Villanueva came over from the Texas Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal in 2012 and the former Baseball America No. 100 prospect (pre-2012) enjoyed his best pro season as well. The 22-year-old Mexican native led the Southern League in doubles (41), extra-base hits (62) and total bases (230) while playing great defense at third base.
Dodgers outfield prospect Joc Pederson and Arizona pitcher Archie Bradley — widely considered the best pitching prospect in the game right now — headlined the rest of the 2013 Double-A All-Star roster.
Cubs’ Samardzija might be on his way out
BY GORDON WITTENMYER
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Cubs could be on the brink of a defining moment in the Theo Epstein Process.
But it’s not the kind of definition the front office sought when it took over baseball operations two years ago.
Conversations with general managers and other high-ranking executives from nearly half the other teams in baseball this week at the general managers meetings in Orlando revealed an expectation in the industry that Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija will be traded this off-season.
It would make him the first player identified by this front office as a “building block” to be traded during a rebuilding process that has gotten longer with every delay in stadium renovations and every question that arises over local TV rights deals.
And it’s starting to send the same message to executives around the game that fans have been getting since the Ricketts family bought the team and froze – then cut – baseball spending.
“If you do that, you’re saying you’re not trying to win,” said one long-time National League GM. “He’s a monster in the making. That’s not the kind of discussion that comes up in a planning meeting.”
Not with two years of club control left. Not if you’re operating as a big-market club with access to big-market operating resources – something many in the industry even outside the organization are starting to debate applies to the Cubs anymore.
Samardzija checks all the Cubs’ boxes, to use a phrase the brass likes – right attitude, leadership qualities, competitive nature and pure, raw power skills.
Yet when the winter meetings open in less than a month, he’s expected to be actively shopped – a potential scaled down alternative to Tampa Bay’s available ace David Price.
Two years into the Epstein-Jed Hoyer Era, the perception is creeping throughout the game that the Cubs are more Tampa Bay Rays than Los Angeles Dodgers – without the winning percentage of either to show for it.
“I don’t know what the plans are for the family, and I don’t know what their scaling is,” longtime agent and power broker Scott Boras said of the timeline. “I only know that their general managers tell us that their budget only allows them to do certain things.”
The Cubs won’t comment on specific plans for trades, but the team has sent clear signals that unless it reaches a multiyear deal with the arbitration-eligible pitcher this winter, it will trade him no later than next July’s trading deadline to avoid a steep decline in his trade value after that.
“In general, that’s one of the biggest challenges in this job,” said GM Hoyer, who would not talk specifically about Samardzija’s status or the team’s plans with him. “You always have to weigh the short term vs. the long term. The goal that we have is to build something that’s sustainable that brings a championship to Chicago. And our decisions are always made in that context.
“The short term vs. long term challenge is one of the biggest challenges that all 30 GMs face on a daily basis.”
Teams with lesser resources more keenly than others. And that’s a debate
Samardzija says he’s confident enough to go year to year as he proves his ultimate value while also wanting assurances the team intends to win while he’s still a young player if he commits longer term.
“In Chicago, it’s funny,” agent Scott Boras said. “A family bought the team. But it’s kind of like Meet the Parents. I haven’t met them yet.”
Boras wasn’t even referring to Ricketts patriarch Joe, the Ameritrade founder, father of the four siblings listed as owners and provider of the down payment on the $845 million purchase.
“I’m talking about, if this is a family-owned team, where is the [big-market approach]?” he said. “This is Chicago, and you’re developing the infrastructure. But fans don’t come to see seats, grass, cement. They come to see players.
“They’ve done a great job in the draft and development, and they’ve got a really good core of young players coming. But it’s not what’s expected when you bought … a major-market club.”
Free agent Curtis Granderson says winning is top priority
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN
Curtis Granderson’s honorable efforts to feed hungry children, which were on display at his Grand Kids Foundation fund-raiser on Wednesday night in River North, isn’t what makes the three-time All-Star outfielder an attractive free agent to numerous teams, including the White Sox. But his left-handed power and ability to produce runs does.
Granderson hit 41 home runs in 2011 and 43 in 2012 for the Yankees, and power gets harder to come by with each passing year. Granderson, who will be 33 next season, could land a three-to-four-year contract in the $12 million-$15 million range. Having the Thornton Fractional South and UIC graduate’s name on the back of a Sox uniform would be icing on the cake for the club’s marketing and sales departments.
But do the Sox, who lost 99 games last season, appeal to Granderson? He said his top priority is to play for a winner.
“The big thing is I want to win,’’ Granderson said. “I had an opportunity in my first full big-league season with the Tigers to play in the World Series. We lost, but I thought I’d be back the next year. Standing here in 2013, I haven’t been back since. Having the opportunity to win a championship is important to me. Also security.’’
As for those 99 losses, well, Granderson knows not to close doors, especially on the team based nearest to his hometown roots. He cited the recent turnarounds of the Tigers, Red Sox, Pirates, Royals and Indians as a reason not to dismiss the Sox.
“The days of teams being consistently bad have kind of gone away,’’ he said. “Everything is a possibility and has the ability to be turned around quickly as long as organizations do things in their minor-league system and get a piece here and there with free agency or trades. Everything is an option.’’
Granderson is saying the right things and keeping his options open as any free agent should. Power is at a premium in a lean year for free agents. The Mets, needing a power-hitting corner outfielder, seem interested. The level of the Sox’ interest will be known in the coming weeks. Granderson would cost them their second-round pick in the draft.
“In general, we’re more drawn to younger players that are theoretically going to be in the prime of their careers during the time period we feel we’re going to get this thing back on track,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said at the general managers meetings in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday. “That’s part of the reason why Jose Abreu [age 26] was so appealing to us in the free-agent market. Those are the types who are the most attractive. It doesn’t mean you don’t bring in older players to provide balance to a lineup that can bring leadership abilities or other intangibles that can help a good team turn into a great team.’’
While in town, Granderson has heard plenty from Cubs and Sox supporters.
“It’s amazing the amount of people saying, ‘Come back home,’ ’’ he said. “Then there’s been a divide: ‘Come to the Cubs. Come to the White Sox.’ It’s exciting that there is interest at that level.’’
13 11 / 2013
Who’s ready to work for Renteria, Cubs?
By Bruce Miles
A coaching staff under new Cubs manager Rick Renteria could come together quickly.
Reports coming out of the general managers meetings in Orlando, Fla., indicate that onetime Cubs third baseman Bill Mueller is under consideration to be the new hitting coach. Mueller would replace James Rowson, who returned to the New York Yankees organization.
It has also been reported that longtime minor-league coordinators Gary Jones and Bruce Fields could be in line for coaching-staff jobs. Both have ties to Renteria. Jones has been in the San Diego organization, and Fields has been in the Tigers’ system.
Mueller, a former third baseman, has been a special assistant in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ front office. He served as the Dodgers’ hitting coach for part of the 2007 season.
The Cubs obtained Mueller from the Giants before the 2001 season, and he was off to a good start before breaking his kneecap while sliding into the wall during a game in St. Louis in May of that year. He was traded back to the Giants in 2002 and went on to win the American League batting title for the Boston Sox in 2003. Current Cubs president Theo Epstein was the Red Sox’ GM back then.
Mueller would be the Cubs’ third hitting coach in three seasons under Epstein, who fired Rudy Jaramillo during the 2012 season and replaced him with Rowson.
It hasn’t been announced, but it’s all but certain that pitching coach Chris Bosio and bullpen coach Lester Strode will return to the Cubs.
Hoyer happy with depth at third, eyes pitching help
Cubs GM touts club’s prospects at hot corner, targets another outfield bat
By Bryan Hoch
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Cubs used six different players at third base last season, and as general manager Jed Hoyer rolls the clock forward to the 2014 campaign, he views the hot corner as one of the club’s most promising areas.
"I actually think it’s probably our position of greatest depth in the organization," Hoyer said. "It really is a position we feel great about in the organization."
Hoyer said Tuesday that the Cubs are pleased with their in-house options at third base, which include Luis Valbuena, Donnie Murphy and Mike Olt.
Saying that he considers Valbuena “a really talented player,” Hoyer added that the club is “excited” to see what Olt can do in 2014, one year after he was widely touted as one of the game’s top prospects.
"We’ll consider that depth as we move forward at the Major League level, because at some point that depth will bubble up and be in the big leagues," Hoyer said. "We’re probably not that far from it."
That checks one of the boxes for the Cubs this winter, but Hoyer has plenty to attend to as he and his staff roam the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes for the General Managers and Owners Meetings this week.
Hoyer said the Cubs have been busy “looking at a lot of pitching,” and their stated desire to add a starting pitcher has held true through initial conversations with other clubs and agents.
Despite reports about possible trade interest in Jeff Samardzija, Hoyer indicated that the Cubs continue to eye a future that includes the hurler, who is under team control for two more years.
"It’s in the public record that we’ve talked to his agent about an extension," Hoyer said. "He’s obviously a fairly local guy from Indiana, from Notre Dame, so he’s a guy that we love the way he competes, we love the way he pitches."
The Cubs continue to work on finalizing manager Rick Renteria’s coaching staff, and Hoyer said that an official announcement will not likely be made until operations return to Chicago.
Former big leaguer Bill Mueller has been named among the candidates to serve as hitting coach, a position which is an area of importance to Hoyer considering the Cubs’ stated focus on improving their on-base percentage next season.
"It’s really important," Hoyer said. "We’ve got a lot of young hitters in the big leagues, we’ve got a lot of young hitters coming up. I think that position in general will be incredibly important for us.
"Some of our young hitters are going to have to learn over time how to control the strike zone, how to get on base. As an organization, we have to get on base more, and that’s obviously something we’re going to be talking about in the hitting coach interviews."
Hoyer said that while Ryan Sweeney could slot in as the Cubs’ center fielder, the team is continuing to look for outfielders because Sweeney is not a prototypical defense-first center fielder.
Still, Hoyer was pleased that the Cubs were able to swiftly complete one of their first items of offseason business by agreeing to a deal with Sweeney, who agreed to a two-year, $3.5 million deal last month.
"We like a lot of what Ryan does for us. He gets on base, he’s a tough at-bat," Hoyer said. "It was unfortunate when he got hurt last year. We felt like he was showing a little more power than he had and having real good at-bats. He’s a guy we’ve liked. It was a very reasonable deal, fair for both sides."
Hoyer has said that the Cubs would like to add veteran depth to replace players like Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus. Considering the center-field needs, free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo could fit the bill, but at a high price tag.
A middle-ground fit on the open market might be Curtis Granderson, who patrolled center field for the Yankees before being bumped to the corner spots last year and has strong Chicago roots.
"I think that he’s obviously got a fantastic reputation," Hoyer said. "People in Chicago think very highly of him, understandably. Certainly as a human being and what he does for Chicago, I don’t know him, but it sounds like he’s got a great reputation for a reason."
Cubs could throw hat in ring for Tanaka
General manager Hoyer acknowledges teams may be interested in Samardzija
By Carrie Muskat
The Cubs joined the list of teams interested in Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
"We’ve done our work on him," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer told reporters on Monday in Orlando, Fla., at the General Manager Meetings. "We plan on being part of it."
Tanaka, 25, was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 28 regular-season games with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball were discussing potential changes to the posting-fee agreement. No matter what is decided, Tanaka may not fit in the Cubs’ budget, especially with the Yankees and Dodgers reportedly interested in the right-hander.
Tanaka is the most sought-after Japanese pitcher since Yu Darvish signed with the Rangers prior to the 2012 season. Texas paid the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters a $51.7 million posting fee and then signed Darvish to a six-year, $60 million contract.
The Cubs also have a pitcher whose name has been talked about this offseason, and that’s Jeff Samardzija, who has been mentioned in trade rumors with the Nationals and D-backs.
"Teams will certainly inquire about him," Hoyer said. "He’s really proved over the last two years that he has great stuff. He’s a tough competitor."
The Cubs and Samardzija have talked about a possible long-term deal. The right-hander is under club control for two more seasons. He’s coming off his first full season as a starter, and he was 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA and 214 strikeouts over 213 2/3 innings.
"There could be rumors," Hoyer said. "Jeff has the perfect mentality for that. He just doesn’t pay attention. I think it’s somewhat the nature of being in a big market. You are going to have your name out there."
The Cubs are in the market for pitching, hoping to add another starter and some bullpen help, including a closer, this offseason.
Mueller to coach Cubs?
By Jesse Rogers
ORLANDO, Fla. — Former Chicago Cubs third baseman Bill Mueller could be in line for a position on new manager Rick Renteria’s staff, according to a source familiar with the situation. Mueller is a former hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is a possibility to fill that role for the Cubs.
The source also believes Renteria will bring “at most two coaches with him from San Diego and probably just one.” It’s most likely that coach will not come from the major league staff. Roving minor league instructor Gary Jones is the leading candidate to accompany Renteria to Chicago, according to the source.
Mueller played for the Cubs in 2001-02, eventually making his way to Boston from 2003 to ‘05, where the current Cubs front office got to know him. He was the hitting coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers for a short time after retiring and still works for the Dodgers.
"As an organization it’s pretty obvious we have to get on base more and that’s something we’re going to be talking about in those hitting coach interviews," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday.
Mueller’s career on-base percentage (.373) would rank 13th all-time for third basemen if he qualified.
Jones is a former free-agent signee of the Cubs in 1982, playing seven years in the minor leagues for Chicago and Oakland. He has coaching ties to Boston as well.
Among the criteria for coaches is the ability to speak Spanish. One advantage Renteria had over other candidates is that he’s bilingual. The Cubs want more of a Latin-American presence on their staff.
"It was something we fell short of on the previous staff," Hoyer said. "We do have a lot of very good Spanish-speaking players coming up through the system, sometimes a coach can get through better if he can speak in his native language. In general, we didn’t do a good enough job last time, we need to make sure we address that."
The Cubs will not make any official announcement on coaches until all are in place, which should happen by the end of the next week.
Moving on from Lovullo
Both the Cubs and Boston Red Sox want to move on from the situation that prevented Chicago from interviewing Red Sox coach Torey Lovullo while the Cubs were searching for a manager.
The Red Sox enforced an agreement that was made when Chicago hired Theo Epstein in 2011 preventing him from hiring Red Sox employees for three years. Sources indicate the Cubs thought Boston would waive that agreement for Lovullo to interview for a managerial position. It’s believed ownership decided to enforce the letter of the agreement, preventing the Cubs from even asking.
"Torey is a great coach and will make a fine manager someday," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said on Tuesday.
Cubs start looking for radio analyst
By Jesse Rogers
ORLANDO, Fla. — The candidates for the Chicago Cubs radio analyst job are starting to line up after the sudden departure of Keith Moreland from the booth after only three seasons.
WGN Sports Director Dave Eanet says it will be a collaborative effort between the station, the Cubs and play-by-play man Pat Hughes. A preliminary list includes former Cubs Rick Sutcliffe, Kerry Wood, Doug Glanville, Ryan Theriot, Mark DeRosa, Eric Karros, Dave Otto and Todd Hollandsworth. Former Cubs announcer Andy Masur is also on the preliminary list. Eanet says other names are being considered as well.
DeRosa, who played last season for the Toronto Blue Jays and was under contract with them for the 2014 season, told the team he is retiring, Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said Tuesday.
It’s unknown if former Cubs first baseman Mark Grace is on the list. Grace was fired from the Arizona Diamondbacks broadcast booth in 2012 after being arrested for a second DUI. He served time in jail and the Diamondbacks hired him back to coach at the minor league level. Grace declined comment about the Cubs radio job.
Candidates have not been contacted yet. Eanet says they hope to have someone in place by the Cubs Convention in January, but there is no set timetable.
Zambrano still wants to play in majors
By Jesse Rogers
ORLANDO, Fla. — Former Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano is still hoping to continue his career, according to his agent Barry Praver.
Zambrano, 32, last pitched in the major leagues for the Miami Marlins in 2012. He’s a free agent and throwing in Venezuela for Navegantes del Magallanes. He’s 0-1 with a 3.20 ERA in four starts.
"He is most definitely interested in continuing his career," Praver said on Monday from the GM meetings.
Zambrano pitched for the Cubs from 2001-2011, winning 125 games. A major league source says the Cubs have no interest in bringing Zambrano back to Chicago.
Zambrano was with the Philadelphia Phillies organization last season but his comeback stalled with a minor shoulder injury that ended his season prematurely. Praver says Zambrano is now healthy.
Zambrano’s embattled Cubs career came to an end when the team suspended him for the final six weeks of the 2011 season. He was subsequently traded to the Marlins.
Asked if Zambrano would be open to attending a Cubs Convention — if invited — after retirement, Praver said: “I have no doubt that he would come. Carlos speaks very fondly of Chicago and Cubs fans.”
Cubs targeting Bill Mueller as potential hitting coach
By Patrick Mooney
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Cubs need someone to coach up Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo and help those core players rebuild their confidence – before Javier Baez and Kris Bryant and the next wave hits Wrigley Field.
Sources say the Cubs have targeted Bill Mueller in the search for their next hitting coach. They know they can’t get this hire wrong after a 96-loss season filled with “mixed messages.”
Mueller became a signature acquisition for Theo Epstein’s Boston Red Sox, winning an American League batting title in 2003 and helping the Band of Idiots win the 2004 World Series.
Mueller has worked in the Los Angeles Dodgers front office after an 11-year career in which he hit .291 and posted a .373 on-base percentage, grinding out at-bats with the kind of approach the Cubs hope to see their big-time prospects develop.
“That position in general will be incredibly important for us,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes. “Some of our young hitters are going to have to learn over time how to control the strike zone, how to get on base.
“We have to have the right message. We don’t want to overly force that message. We want to make sure guys are themselves. But as an organization, it’s pretty obvious we have to get on base more.”
Mueller has been a regular presence at Hohokam Stadium during spring training, scouting the Cubs in Arizona. He scouted the Red Sox last month as part of his playoff coverage. He also played for the Cubs in 2001 and 2002.
Mueller lacks traditional coaching experience, though that could be offset against his playing credentials, scouting background and relationships with Cubs executives, who have gathered at this resort hotel for the annual general manager meetings.
In trying to assemble Rick Renteria’s staff, sources say the Cubs will bring back pitching coach Chris Bosio and have also considered promoting Mariano Duncan, who worked with Baez, Bryant and Jorge Soler as the hitting coach at advanced Class-A Daytona.
Duncan, who wouldn’t necessarily be a hitting coach in Chicago, spent some time around the major-league club in September and could be another strong bilingual presence. He won World Series rings with the 1990 Cincinnati Reds and 1996 New York Yankees.
The Chicago Sun-Times also identified two minor-league instructors Gary Jones (San Diego Padres) and Bruce Fields (Detroit Tigers) as potential base coaches.
A major-league official shot down the idea Padres executive A.J. Hinch – who interviewed for the manager job – could come to Chicago as Renteria’s bench coach.
The regression of core players like Castro and Rizzo got manager Dale Sveum fired. There was said to be a real disconnect between the front office, Sveum, and hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer. Rowson will resurface with the Yankees as a hitting coordinator in their minor-league system.
Despite all those voices, the Cubs still plan to hire two hitting coaches, likely from outside the organization. As a former World Series hero and on-base machine, Mueller could be the right messenger.
Cubs looking at Kurt Suzuki as one option at catcher
By Patrick Mooney
ORLANDO, Fla. – The Cubs don’t plan to make a huge investment in a free-agent catcher like Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Instead, sources say, the Cubs have Kurt Suzuki on their radar as they try to find a catcher to complement building-block piece Welington Castillo.
Suzuki, 30, has built up a good reputation for his baseball IQ and ability to handle pitching staffs with the Oakland A’s and Washington Nationals.
Suzuki (.685 career OPS) is not an offensive force like McCann or Saltalamacchia, two hitters who will cash in with long-term deals expected to go far beyond a price range that would make the Cubs comfortable.
Still, Suzuki could help mentor Castillo, who took major steps forward during his age-26 season but has questions about his durability and game-calling approach.
The sense is Dioner Navarro priced himself out of Chicago and will want more playing time. (The Cubs also made Navarro readily available last summer and couldn’t swing a trade.) Navarro capitalized on his one-year, $1.75 million deal, generating 13 homers in 240 at-bats and posting an .856 OPS.
“He’s had such a good year that he’s going to be a sought-after commodity for a number of teams,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We’ll certainly remain in contact with him. He was a good example of the type of free-agent move that pans out. He has the benefit of a nice year for him and maybe our relationship can continue going forward.”
As the general manager meetings continue at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes, the Cubs will be trying to fill multiple needs, looking for a catcher, an outfielder, a starting pitcher and a potential closer.
“We’re really happy with Welington, but we need to find another catcher,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. “We’ve cast a pretty wide net and we’ll keep on narrowing that focus down.”
Boston GM: Red Sox didn’t deny Cubs permission to interview Lovullo
By Patrick Mooney
ORLANDO, Fla. – Torey Lovullo got caught in the middle of the complicated relationship between the Cubs and Boston Red Sox.
The Ricketts family and Crane Kenney’s business side love the Red Sox model, trying to mirror Fenway Park in their Wrigley Field renovations. They lured Theo Epstein out of Boston after an epic collapse in 2011, giving him a president’s title and the keys to the kingdom.
Evidently those hard feelings haven’t completely disappeared, even as the Red Sox won their third World Series title in the last 10 years.
People here for the general manager meetings at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes rave about new manager Rick Renteria. But sources have also insisted the Cubs at least wanted a shot to interview Lovullo, the Red Sox bench coach during a surprising worst-to-first turnaround.
“We did not deny permission,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said Tuesday. “There was no request for permission. I can’t comment on it any further out of respect for the Cubs and their process and obviously they’ve hired a manager.
“I’m not sure it would be appropriate to comment any further. I can say in conversations with Torey, he is very happy where he’s at and we were able to agree to a new contract with him.”
Epstein is said to be on very good terms with Cherington, but it was a messy exit in 2011. Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino had once mentored Epstein, who got tired of the power struggles on Yawkey Way and wanted a new challenge at Clark and Addison.
As part of the compensation negotiations that took months to finalize, the Cubs agreed to hire only one lower-level employee (scout Matt Dorey) across the next three years and not raid the Red Sox front office.
Privately, the Cubs acknowledge the Red Sox had the letter of the law on their side. But at the time the agreement was reached, Lovullo was a Toronto Blue Jays employee, part of John Farrell’s coaching staff.
As one National League executive said, there are only 30 of those jobs out there, and this one would have meant the chance to manage a marquee franchise.
Lovullo – who has interviewed for multiple managerial openings across the years – might not be the hot name next offseason. His visibility had definitely increased in October standing next to Farrell, who finished second to Terry Francona (Cleveland Indians) in the American League Manager of the Year voting.
“John felt strongly about keeping him, obviously,” Cherington said. “We also believe he is absolutely a very strong managerial candidate, probably not for 2014, because all those positions are filled. (But) certainly ones will come open in the future and he deserves some consideration.”
DeRosa out of the running for Cubs radio gig
By Tony Andracki
Cubs fans hoped for Mark DeRosa’s return to Chicago, but it won’t happen now.
DeRosa, who was reportedly a candidate to take over Keith Moreland’s spot on Cubs WGN radio broadcasts, signed on with MLB Network Wednesday as an analyst.
Moreland departed the radio booth last week for personal reasons. DeRosa was a fan favorite during his two years with the Cubs and fans were excited to hear his name dropped among Moreland’s replacements.
Former Cubs Kerry Wood, Rick Sutcliffe, Doug Glanville, Ryan Theriot and CSN Chicago Cubs pre/post analyst Todd Hollandsworth are also reportedly on the list of WGN radio additions.
DeRosa announced his retirement Tuesday after a 16-year career, including 2007-08 in Chicago, serving as a big piece on the back-to-back NL Central champs.
Cubs in line for $8.5 million tax break for Wrigley Field work
By Hal Dardick
If the proposed Wrigley Field renovation gets completed, the team would be in line for an $8.5 million property tax break, under a measure the City Council is expected to approve Wednesday.
Cubs ownership would be in line for an $8.5 million property tax break to renovate Wrigley Field under a measure the City Council is expected to approve Wednesday.
The tax break, which would be doled out over 12 years after completion of the work, won the endorsement Tuesday of the Finance Committee after an earlier recommendation by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.
Critics have questioned whether the team should get the break, arguing that rules for tax reductions designed to spur historic renovations require the work be “necessary for the substantial rehabilitation” of the structure. The wealthy Ricketts family, which owns the team, could do the renovations without the break, critics argued.
But Wrigleyville Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, defended the break for the Wrigley rehab, citing the large amount of money the team plans to put into the stadium.
"This benefit is one of the few benefits we can authorize on behalf of landmark buildings, and I believe that this is a fair application and one that we would do to any historic building," Tunney said during the committee meeting.
The Ricketts family has pegged the overall renovation cost at about $300 million, and $222.2 million of it qualifies for the tax break. The owners also want to spent $200 million to build a hotel, plaza and office-retail complex in the neighborhood around Wrigley.
So far, no work has been done as the Ricketts family tries to work out a deal to prevent a lawsuit from rooftop club owners who fear their lucrative views into the ballpark would be blocked by new signs included in the renovation plans.
Even with the tax breaks, the Cubs are expected to end up paying more than the current $1.5 million a year in property taxes. That’s because real estate taxes are based on the property’s value, which is expected to increase significantly after the rehab.
Also Tuesday, aldermen recommended approval of changes to a pair of special taxing districts on the South Side that will include an 84-acre freight yard expansion. Incorporated into those changes is a requirement that Virginia-based Norfolk Southern Railway Co. spend $2 million on efforts to reduce pollution in the area.
About $1 million would be spent to swap out engines in diesel-powered forklifts and side loaders so they spew less-toxic fumes. The pollution reduction money would be taken out of the $3 million the company agreed to pay the city for improvement projects in the area. As part of that deal, the railroad also paid the city $1.1 million for land needed for the expansion, according to city documents.
Former Cub Mueller candidate to be hitting coach
By Colleen Kane
Former Cubs third baseman Bill Mueller is a candidate to become the team’s new hitting coach, a major league source confirmed.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said the team hopes to name all of its new coaches soon and expects the hitting coach to replace James Rowson to come from outside of the organization.
“The most important thing is the message,” Hoyer said of a hitting coach. “They have to be able to identify mechanics and make changes, but really what you want is a guy who can take a message … and communicate it effectively.”
The source also confirmed minor league instructors Gary Jones of the Padres, and Bruce Fields of the Tigers, are candidates to become base coaches.
Mueller played for 11 seasons in the major leagues, including 173 games with the Cubs from 2001-02. He joined the Red Sox in 2003, when current Cubs President Theo Epstein was in his first season as general manager in Boston. Mueller won the American League batting title that season.
Mueller has worked for the Dodgers as a special assistant to the general manager and most recently as a scout.
The Sun-Times first reported that the trio was being considered.
Cubs talking with Bill Mueller about hitting-coach position
BY GORDON WITTENMYER
ORLANDO, Fla. — They avoided any semblance of a “wow” factor with their new manager, but the Cubs might make up for some of that with a new hitting coach.
The team is talking with former Cub and 2003 American League batting champion Bill Mueller about joining Rick Renteria’s coaching staff, according to multiple sources.
The staff also could include longtime minor-league instructors Gary Jones from the Padres and Bruce Fields from the Tigers as base coaches. The group is expected to be finalized in the next week or so.
Most of former manager Dale Sveum’s coaches either were fired or left for other jobs during the managerial search. Hitting coach James Rowson returned to the Yankees’ organization.
Mueller, long respected for a hitting approach that helped him surpass expectations as a 15th-round draft pick, has worked in the Dodgers’ front office since retiring in 2006. He hit .291 during an 11-year playing career.
Mueller, 42, filled in as the Dodgers’ hitting coach for half of the 2007 season and has spent the last year as a Dodgers scout.
He won the batting title with the Red Sox in Theo Epstein’s first season as general manager. He also was an important part of the Red Sox’ curse-busting “Idiots” team that won the World Series in 2004. He spent 2001 and part of 2002 with the Cubs.
“Obviously, the right hitting coach has to be on board with the organizational philosophy,” Cubs president Epstein said. “But maybe more importantly than that, he has to be able to connect with players and teach them and support them and struggle with them and ultimately triumph with them.”
Mueller walked more than he struck out four times in his career and had a .373 on-base percentage.
Fields and Jones are longtime Renteria guys. Fields, 53, is a former outfielder with the Tigers and Mariners. He managed eight seasons in the Tigers’ system through 2002 (.554 winning percentage) and briefly was the Indians’ hitting coach under Manny Acta. He spent last season as a roving hitting instructor in the Tigers’ system.
Jones, also 53, spent 15 years as a minor-league manager in the Athletics’, Red Sox’ and Padres’ systems.
The Cubs have retained pitching coach Chris Bosio and assistant pitching coach/bullpen coach Lester Strode.