11/22 Henry Blanco is back

Henry Blanco is back with the Cubs, joining manager Joe Maddon’s staff as a quality assurance coach. It might not be the only change. Blanco, 43, who played for the Cubs from 2005-08, was a coach on the Diamondbacks staff.

In December 2013, Blanco signed a Minor League League deal with the Diamondbacks, but was released on March 31 this year, ending a 16-year career as a player. He then joined Arizona manager Kirk Gibson’s staff as a coach.

Blanco replaces Jose Castro, who took a job on the Braves staff as an assitant hitting coach, and is the first add to Maddon’s staff with the Cubs. There could be more. Dave Martinez, who has been Maddon’s bench coach since 2008 with the Rays, was dropped on Friday from the list of candidates for the Tampa managerial opening. Martinez, 50, also is a former Cubs player — 1986-88 — and may be a valuable addition for Maddon in his switch to the National League.

The Cubs announced the coaching staff in early October, but that was before Maddon was named as manager. Rick Renteria was dismissed Oct. 31, and Maddon named the Cubs skipper three days later after he opted out of his contract with the Rays. Pitching coach Chris Bosio and hitting coach John Mallee were both expected on Maddon’s staff.

– Carrie Muskat

11/22 Winter league update

Christian Villanueva went 2-for-5 in Obregon’s 7-3 loss Friday to Los Mochis in Mexican winter ball. Villanueva is batting .254.

Junior Lake drew two walks and scored a run in Estrellas’ 2-1 win Friday over Licey in the Dominican Republic. Lake is batting .241. Arismendy Alcantara was 0-for-3 for Licey in the game, and is batting .235 this winter. He’s been playing both center field and second base.

Manny Ramirez is playing for Aguilas in the DR, and batting .289 in 22 games with four home runs and 18 RBIs.

On a side note, former Cubs prospects Brooks Raley and Austin Bibens-Dirkx squared off in the Dominican. Neither got a decision. Bibens-Dirkx gave up one run on four hits over five innings for Toros del Este, while Raley gave up one run on eight hits and two walks for Gigantes del Cibao. Bibens-Dirkx is now in the Blue Jays organization, and Raley is in the Angels’ system.

Jonathan Mota was 1-for-3 with a double and scored a run for Senadores while John Andreoli was 0-for-5 in a 3-2 loss to Caguas in Puerto Rico. Mota was batting .250, while Andreoli was hitting .224 in winter ball.

11/21 Could Martinez join Maddon?

According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, bench coach Dave Martinez is no longer in the running for the Rays managerial opening. Perhaps Martinez will join Joe Maddon on the Cubs coaching staff? Martinez actually interviewed for the Cubs manager’s job prior to last season. Rick Renteria was named manager, and then dismissed to make room for Maddon, who became available when he opted out of his contract. Martinez was the Cubs’ third-round Draft pick in 1983, and played for the team from 1986-88, and again in 2000.

Topkin reports that Kevin Cash, Raul Ibanez and Don Wakamatsu are the three finalists for the Rays job.

“The decision on Dave Martinez was especially difficult,” said the Rays’ Matt Silverman.

The Cubs announced their 2015 coaching staff in early October but Renteria was expected to be the manager at that time. When Maddon was hired on Nov. 3, Cubs executives said there could be some changes to the staff.

– Carrie Muskat

11/21 Jon Lester update

The Cubs will have to wait a little longer for Jon Lester to make a decision regarding where he wants to pitch next year. According to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, Lester will meet with at least two more teams next week. The free agent pitcher already has talked to the Cubs, Red Sox, and Braves. The Cubs made their push on Tuesday when Lester visited Chicago.

Getting players to make decisions at Thanksgiving has been one of Theo Epstein’s strong points. In 2003, Epstein and Jed Hoyer, then in the Red Sox front office, had Thanksgiving dinner with Curt Schilling, part of their effort to get the right-hander to drop the no-trade clause in his contract and accept being traded to Boston.

“If we didn’t sign Curt, it probably would have been the worst Thanksgiving of my life,” Epstein said in 2003. “We tried to refuse [the invitation], and Curt said it was a deal breaker, they would be insulted if we didn’t go.”

Lester most likely will spend Thanksgiving at home.

– Carrie Muskat

11/21 Vegas, baby

The Cubs are headed back to Las Vegas to play the Athletics in split squad Spring Training games March 13-14. The Cubs were already scheduled to play host to the Indians on March 13 at Cubs Park and travel to Maryvale, Ariz., to face the Brewers on March 14. Game times have not been determined for the Chicago vs. Oakland games at Cashman Field in Las Vegas.

The two games against the Athletics are in addition to the Cubs’ Cactus League schedule, which was released last month. The Cubs open Spring Training on March 5 with split-squad games against the A’s at Cubs Park and against the Giants in Scottsdale. This is Chicago’s second Spring Training at their new facility in Mesa, Ariz.

The Cubs’ Cactus League schedule includes 15 games at Cubs Park and 16 road games.

The Cubs and White Sox will meet twice with a game March 20 in Glendale and another game March 27 in Mesa. The Cubs conclude Cactus League play on April 1 against the Brewers at Cubs Park.

Individual game tickets for Cubs home spring games go on sale Jan. 10 at 11 a.m. CT at the Cubs Park ticket office, on http://www.cubs.com, or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS. For season ticket and group ticket information, go to http://www.cubs.com/mesa or call 1-800-THE-CUBS.

– Carrie Muskat

11/21 Rizzo on Maddon: “It’s exciting news”

Anthony Rizzo made a point of reaching out to Rick Renteria shortly after he was dismissed as the Cubs manager, but also has talked with new skipper Joe Maddon and can’t wait to start working with him. Rizzo, who was in Chicago Friday to promote his first “Laugh Off for Cancer” event Jan. 15, said the addition of Maddon was “exciting news.”

“It’s obviously tough losing Rick but it’s business,” Rizzo said. “With Joe, I can’t wait to start working with him. Speaking with him, everything is so on point with how I view the game of baseball as well.”

What did Maddon say that clicked?

“Seriously, everything,” Rizzo said. “The whole philosophy of not over-working, not doing too much, and getting your work done in a professional manner is something I preach. You’ve got to stay fresh in this game. That’s what I believe in.

“The family style that I feel like he’s going to bring will be unbelievable,” Rizzo said. “I don’t want to say too much because I want to get to know him more. I’m real excited from people I’ve talked to and have seen from afar.”

Rizzo hasn’t done any recruiting of free agents, including Jon Lester, who visited Wrigley Field on Tuesday.

“The best sales pitch I can give is that we’re an exciting team and this is Chicago,” Rizzo said.

The first baseman said the Cubs do have a good foundation of “impact players” and added that bringing in outside talent can’t hurt.

“If we bring the team back that we had last year, I’m confident we can win a lot more baseball games than we did last year,” he said.

The Cubs front office has said it wants to add some veteran players to the mix and Rizzo agreed that would help.

“I think it’s needed just to show some guys the ropes more, including myself — [guys] who have been there and done it,” Rizzo said. “We have a very talented group of players who we’re going to put on the field next year — there’s no doubt about it. Now it’s just about grooming all of us to be champions and winners and bringing in guys who have won before and have done it before can never hurt.”

Renteria had hoped to be at the helm this coming season but was dismissed in late October to make room for Maddon, who opted out of his contract with the Rays and became a free agent.

“It’s tough [for Renteria] but it’s also tough when a guy gets traded or released because of financial purposes or a guy gets sent down because he has an option and doesn’t deserve to be sent down,” Rizzo said. “It’s all part of the business. No one likes to see it happen. I called and just reached out and thanked [Renteria] for everything.”

And Renteria responded as Rizzo expected him to.

“Rick’s a great, positive person, and that’s what made him a good manager,” Rizzo said. “He always had our back, and he’ll still have our back watching from afar.”

– Carrie Muskat

11/21 Could Cubs be match with Montero?

Could Miguel Montero be the upgrade at catcher the Cubs are looking for? According to the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro, the Cubs are one of three teams who have spoken to the Diamondbacks about the left-handed hitting catcher (joining the White Sox and Dodgers). The Cubs missed in their attempt to sign free agent Russell Martin, who agreed to a five-year deal with the Blue Jays this week. Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart has said he’s not shopping any of their players, including Montero, but did say he’s had inquiries about several players. Montero was rumored to be available because of his contract — he’s owed $40 million over the next three years. Montero, 31, batted .243 this season with 13 home runs and 72 RBIs. He’s led the Majors in innings caught since 2011. In his second full season as the Cubs regular catcher, Welington Castillo batted .237 this past season with 13 home runs and 46 RBIs.

– Carrie Muskat

11/21 Numbers game

It was tough to watch Edwin Jackson’s outings this past season. There’s a reason. Baseball statistician Bill Chuck pointed out that both Jackson and Travis Wood ranked among the leaders in what he calls a “lack of quality start.” A LQ start is when a pitcher throws no more than 5 2/3 innings and gives up three or more earned runs, according to Chuck. Fifteen pitchers made at least 10 LQ Starts in 2014. Jackson was tied for the lead with 13, going 2-8 in those games. He gave up 68 earned runs over 55 1/3 innings, serving up 88 hits, walking 30 and striking out 42. Wood had 10 LQ Starts. He was 0-9 in those games, giving up 50 earned runs over 43 1/3 innings. He served up 73 hits, walked 29 and struck out 39 in those games.

Chuck breaks down the stats even further. When a pitcher throws no more than 5 2/3 innings and gives up four or more earned runs, it’s what Chuck has dubbed a “bad start.” Jackson was second in MLB with 10 such starts, going 1-8 in those games. Justin Masterson was first with 12 “bad starts,” and was 0-7.

– Carrie Muskat

11/20 Edwards added to 40-man

The Cubs added pitcher C.J. Edwards to the 40-man roster Thursday, protecting the right-hander from being picked in the Rule 5 Draft. With the move, the Cubs’ 40-man roster is now 39.

Edwards, 23, is 14-7 with a 1.86 ERA in 50 Minor League games (49 starts) over the last three seasons. He has 294 strikeouts over 237 innings, and has given up two home runs in that stretch. The top-rated pitcher on MLB.com’s top 20 Cubs prospects, Edwards was limited to 10 games at Double-A Tennessee this past season because of shoulder issues, but did pitch in the Arizona Fall League.

Originally selected by the Rangers in the 48th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Edwards was acquired by the Cubs as part of the July 2013 trade that sent Matt Garza to the Rangers. Edwards then went 2-0 with a 1.36 ERA in eight starts with Class A Daytona to help the team reach the Florida State League Championship.

Thursday was the deadline for Major League teams to set their 40-man rosters and add any Minor League players who may be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, which will be held Dec. 11.

– Carrie Muskat

11/20 Cubs 40-man roster

Teams have until midnight Thursday to set their 40-man rosters in advance of the Rule 5 Draft. Last December, Cubs pitcher Marcos Mateo was one of nine players selected in the Rule 5 Draft, taken by the Diamondbacks. But Mateo was returned in mid March, and spent the season at Triple-A Iowa.

Players are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if they aren’t on the 40-man roster four or five years after signing, depending on the age at which they signed. If another team does select a player, it must pay the former team $50,000 and keep that player on the Major League roster all season or offer him back to his original team for $25,000.

One name the Cubs are expected to add is C.J. Edwards, 23, the top-rated pitcher on MLB.com’s top 20 Cubs prospects. The right-hander was limited to 10 games at Double-A Tennessee this past season because of shoulder issues, then pitched in the Arizona Fall League. Acquired from the Rangers in July 2013 in the Matt Garza trade, the highly touted Edwards is 14-7 with a 1.86 ERA in 50 games (49 starts), serving up two home runs among the 140 hits he’s given up over 237 innings. The slender right-hander has struck out 294 while walking 91.

Edwards may not be in the Cubs’ 2015 Opening Day rotation, but he’s not far from the big leagues, and would likely be considered too valuable to leave unprotected.

– Carrie Muskat


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