The Cubs used nine different starting pitchers last season, including Scott Baker who started three games in September, and want to make sure they have enough depth. GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday the goal is to add at least one and possibly two more starting pitchers before the season begins. So far, the rotation includes Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta with Chris Rusin and Carlos Villanueva possibly getting starts. The Cubs have had talks with Baker’s agent about the possibility of the right-hander returning for another season. Baker spent most of the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Whether that extra pitcher is Masahiro Tanaka has not been determined as Major League Baseball and the Japan baseball officials sort through the posting process.
“In general, we only need one starter in theory,” Hoyer said, “but we know we’ll go through a lot more starters. We’re in on a lot of starting pitchers and we could well sign more than one starter. That’s a possibility. Someone is going to be hurt, someone could go to the bullpen for a short amount of time. I feel it’s a dangerous game playing that ‘just enough’ starting pitcher game. Could we add more than one starting pitcher this winter? Absolutely.”
On Day 2 of the Winter Meetings, Hoyer and Theo Epstein continued their meetings with agents and teams.
“I think we’ve laid the groundwork and we’ll keep doing that,” Hoyer said. “It’s boring to say but that’s what you do here. You have meeting after meeting and try to kick ideas off each other. You hope that having the big group here and having everyone in the same building will lead to a little more creativity.”
* The Cubs may go to Spring Training and let the relievers battle it out for the closer’s job.
“In theory we can,” Hoyer said. “I think we have people on the roster who can certainly hold down that job. At that point, it would be on [manager Rick Renteria] to name a closer in Spring Training. I’m not sure that will happen or not. I think we have more power arms on the roster and we feel better about our bullpen. We do still want to add to it.”
The list of candidates includes Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, and Hector Rondon. However, the Cubs are looking at adding some relievers, and hoping the chance to be a closer could entice some free agents.
Renteria did admit that managing the bullpen is the “most critical part of the ballgame.” He’d like to have roles established for each pitcher.
* Kyuji Fujikawa is continuing his rehab from Tommy John surgery but most likely would not be back until May at the earliest.
– Carrie Muskat
New Cubs manager Rick Renteria met with the media on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Here are some of the highlights:
* Starlin Castro is an option to be the leadoff man. Renteria wants to address that with the shortstop in person.
“A lot of those conversations I like to have one on one and in person,” Renteria said. “It always comes off better when have face to face conversations with players. They can read my face, and if they think I’m happy about it, not happy about it.”
* On Jeff Samardzija: “Right now, they way I see it and the way he sees it, is he’s a Cub, and we’re going to move forward as Cubs. When I spoke to him he was very excited about the upcoming season. He came off a high strikeout year last year and a lot of innings, and he’s looking to build off that.”
* Renteria happy to have Chris Bosio returning as the pitching coach. Renteria said: “He’s another guy who is part of the kids who have been coming up and it’s nice to have that stability.”
* The Cubs may go to Spring Training and have open competition for the closer’s job. Pedro Strop will get a chance.
* Renteria is working with bench coach Brandon Hyde this week, going over their plans for Spring Training. Renteria and his coaching staff will meet in Mesa this weekend to see the new facility.
– Carrie Muskat
According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, talks are over between the Cubs and Nationals regarding a possible trade in which Chicago would get either reliever Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen. The Cubs are looking for bullpen help and a possible closer. Storen, 26, had that role. Kilgore reports that Nationals GM Mike Rizzo would need to have his “socks knocked off” to move either reliever.
Cubs prospect Kris Bryant was named to the Arizona Fall League 2013 Top Prospects team. The players were selected by the AFL managers and coaches. Voters were asked to consider AFL performance and Major League projectability. Bryant won AFL MVP honors, leading the league with six home runs, .727 slugging percentage, and 1.184 OPS. He was tied for the league lead in extra base hits, runs scored and total bases.
* Besides looking for bullpen help and another starting pitcher, the Cubs are searching for players who will be good role models for the current youngsters on the roster.
“I think people forget how young guys like [Anthony] Rizzo and [Starlin] Castro are,” GM Jed Hoyer said Monday at the Winter Meetings. “They need some positive examples.”
The Cubs are hoping new first base coach Eric Hinske can fill that role as well.
“He did a great job as a bench player and being a team leader,” Hoyer said of Hinske, who played last season for the Diamondbacks. “It was always about having different influences on the coaching staff for our players. You want to have different avenues. [Players] might gravitate toward the guy who has been teaching for a long time, or they might gravitate toward the guy who just came off the field.”
* Luis Valbuena, who led the Cubs with 94 starts at third base last season, has been playing strictly second base in the Venezuelan Winter League. That’s by design.
“We want him to be versatile and he is versatile,” Hoyer said. “[Darwin] Barney can play shortstop, Valbuena can play some shortstop, Donnie Murphy can play some shortstop. We have a really versatile infield and that’s a great thing. We may not have to carry a standard utility guy and can mix and match in different ways.”
Speaking of Barney, Hoyer said he expects the second baseman to have a much better season than he did in 2013.
“It’s a big year for him, no matter what,” Hoyer said of Barney, who batted .208 this season. “He had a down year offensively and he’d be the first person to say that. I don’t think it has anything to do with competition among young players. He wants to bounce back and get back to where he was.
“With him, mechanically and approach-wise, he got caught with some things last year,” Hoyer said. “A lot of things with him isn’t the hard work or the swing, it’s the approach.”
The team does have a promising second baseman in Arismendy Alcantara, ranked No. 8 among MLB.com’s top 20 Cubs prospects, but he will open the season at Triple-A Iowa, Hoyer said.
* Andy MacPhail, who was the Cubs’ president and CEO from 1994-2006, including a two-year stint as the general manager (2000-01), is keeping an eye on how the current Chicago front office is trying to rebuild the organization.
“They have to do it the way they’re comfortable with and the way they think most guarantees their success, and I know that’s what that group is doing,” MacPhail said Monday at the Winter Meetings.
“I have a lot of confidence in that group that they’re going to do it the way they think will most assuredly get them the end goal because that’s the prize, winning the whole thing,” MacPhail said. “We got close [in 2003]. You ultimately aren’t successful until you at least get to the World Series.”
* Outfielder Ryan Sweeney hoped to begin work this week with Hall of Famer Rod Carew. The two worked together last season, and Sweeney said he benefitted from the sessions. Sweeney batted .266 in 70 games with the Cubs, and signed a two-year contract extension on Oct. 8.
* New manager Rick Renteria will get together with his coaches in Mesa, Ariz., this weekend to get a tour of the new facility and start preparations for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13.
* Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, recently completed his studies at Dartmouth and graduated with a major in economics. Hendricks was a combined 13-4 with 2.00 ERA in 27 starts between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.
* Junior Lake is done playing in the Dominican Republic winter league, and those who saw him raved about his outfield play.
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs are making sure shortstop Starlin Castro reports to Spring Training in better shape. The team assigned strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss to the Dominican Republic to work with Castro for three weeks in November. In January, Castro will start workouts at the Cubs’ facility in the Dominican. The shortstop is coming off his worst year, batting .245 this past season. GM Jed Hoyer said other teams have expressed interest in Castro, knowing the team has shortstop Javier Baez coming up in the organization.
“We’ve always gotten hits on [Castro],” Hoyer said Monday during his media briefing at the Winter Meetings. “I think people see him as a guy who was one of the best young players in the game a couple years ago.”
In 2011, Castro totaled 207 hits and batted .307, and followed that in 2012 with a .283 season. He asked the Cubs to help him as far as an offseason workout.
“I think he was frustrated by his season,” Hoyer said. “I would be very surprised if he didn’t show up at Spring Training in great shape, ready to go. I hope we look back on [the 2013 season] four, five years from now as a good learning experience for him and a wakeup call, if you will.”
Castro did play 161 games this year but Hoyer said to do that, a player needs to be “in really unbelievable shape.” The Cubs are banking on Castro, which is why they gave him a seven-year, $60 million contract in 2012.
“I think we felt like there’s no reason he can’t be a little faster and he can’t have more range than he does,” Hoyer said. “He’s at that age — he’s going to be 24 years old [in March]– where he’s going to start to put on a little bit of htat man strength.
“He was a college-age kid when he came up and I think he can start to put on that muscle mass now and maybe that does improve his speed, his range, his power,” Hoyer said. “It’s something he wanted to do and we certainly encouraged it.”
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs feel they can fit both Jeff Samardzija and Masahiro Tanaka in their budget if the Japanese pitcher becomes available. It also could depend on what it will take to get Samardzija to stay. Samardzija, 28, the Cubs’ Opening Day starter who racked up 200 innings and 200 strikeouts this season, has been talking to the team about a long-term extension. He made $2.64 million this year.
“I think we’ve made it really clear that he’s a guy we’d like to keep,” GM Jed Hoyer said Monday at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. “We love the way he competes and he’s continued to improve as a pitcher. Certainly having him as a Cub is a desirable outcome.”
Tanaka’s status has yet to be determined as Major League Baseball and Japanese baseball officials try to update the posting system. The Cubs expect to be part of the process regarding Tanaka, 25, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 28 regular season games with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Neither Samardzija nor Tanaka will be cheap. Samardzija will be a free agent after the 2015 season. All he has to do is look at recent contracts for starting pitchers to know he could cash in. Phil Hughes, 27, recently got a three-year, $24 million deal from the Twins.
“They’re not attached at all — it’s not an either, or type thing,” Hoyer said about being able to afford the two pitchers. “We obviously like Samardzija a lot and Tanaka is a talented pitcher. We’re not looking at them joined or not joined. There’s no influence on each other.”
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs are looking for bullpen help and one name they are believed to be interested in is Nationals’ right-hander Drew Storen. In four seasons with the Nats, the right-hander has a 3.40 ERA in 232 games. Last season, he appeared in 68 games, finished 20, and averaged 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Storen, 26, was a first-round pick in 2009, and is arbitration eligible for the first time. His best season was 2011 when he totaled 43 saves and posted a 2.75 ERA over 75 1/3 innings. The Nationals are interested in finding some help for the bench and looking for a young, versatile player in return.
The Cubs are looking for a closer. So far this season, they’ve added lefty Wesley Wright to the bullpen, although that deal has not been officially announced. Wright still needed to take a physical to complete the deal.
– Carrie Muskat
* There have been a lot of inquiries about Jeff Samardzija from other beat writers curious as to whether the Cubs will part with the right-hander. The Cubs would like to sign Samardzija to a long-term contract but also are listening to offers. The price tag is high.
* Ryan Sweeney will begin work this week with Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Sweeney said he benfitted from sessions with Carew last year. The outfielder batted .266 in 70 games with the Cubs, hitting six home runs and 13 doubles. Sweeney, who missed time because of a fractured left rib injured in early July, signed a two-year contract extension on Oct. 8.
* Want to see the Cubs TV and radio crews in action on a game day? Check out Cubs.com for the Stand Up 2 Cancer items being auctioned off. Also available is a pitching lesson from Chris Bosio.
Todd Hollandsworth doesn’t know yet about whether or not he will get the WGN Radio analyst job to do Cubs broadcasts but he is keeping busy. Hollandsworth hosts a show called “First Pitch” on MLB Radio from 6-9 a.m. five days a week, and has been doing so for two years. He has moved his show to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Winter Meetings hotel, so you can tune in. Hollandsworth, 40, who played for the Cubs from 2004-05 and also does Cubs pre and post game shows on Comcast SportsNet Chicago, is believed to be one of two finalists to partner with Pat Hughes. The other finalist is Ron Coomer, 47, who played for the Cubs in 2001.
– Carrie Muskat