October 2009

10/17 Jaramillo waits for interview

Rudy Jaramillo, whom the Cubs are expected to interview, has watched hitters for 30 years, and has come up with what he calls five simple steps to hitting.

“It’s not like I’m trying to re-invent the swing,” Jaramillo said Saturday in an interview.

His steps include: 1, finding a good rhythm; 2, timing a pitcher’s release point to best see the pitch; 3, separation of hands and footwork; 4, staying square and back; and 5, good weight shift. “Hitters have to learn how to combine all those five steps into one,” said Jaramillo, 59, who does not try to fit every hitter into the same mold.

Those steps are just one phase of the process. Jaramillo says the most important part of hitting is the mental part of the game. “I pride myself in teaching situational hitting,” he said, which is definitely something the Cubs could improve on. Chicago batted .241 with runners in scoring position; only Arizona was worse in the National League at .240.

Rangers president Nolan Ryan said he was bothered by the team’s lopsided walk-to-strikeout ratio, and that the hitters struck out too much.

“What was different,” Jaramillo said of the 2009 season in Texas, “was we had so many rookies and second-year guys. It’s not that they didn’t have the ability; they just didn’t have the experience.”

Jaramillo, who had been the Rangers hitting coach since 1995, says he could see improvement at the end of the season. “You just have to be patient,” he said.

He did talk to Cubs manager Lou Piniella this season about Milton Bradley, who was one of Jaramillo’s prize students in 2008. Bradley led the American League in on-base percentage that year and batted .321. The one thing the Cubs didn’t expect when they signed him to a three-year deal was for Bradley not to hit. The switch-hitter batted .257 overall, and .231 from the left side. Jaramillo said he didn’t see Bradley enough to explain the dropoff in his hitting.

Just because the Cubs are interested in Jaramillo becoming their hitting coach does not mean the team will keep Bradley. The outfielder was suspended for the final 15 games after detrimental conduct, and the Cubs were expected to try to trade him this offseason.

Jaramillo is under contract with the Rangers through Oct. 31 but the team granted the Cubs permission to talk to him, and he expected to meet with GM Jim Hendry this week.

— Carrie Muskat 

10/17 Minor matters: Diamond & Samardzija

Right-hander Thomas Diamond, whom the Cubs claimed off waivers from the Rangers, struck out five, did not walk a batter and gave up one hit in three innings early Saturday at Fitch Park in Mesa against the Angels. It was the last Instructional League game for the Cubs’ Minor Leaguers.

The next step for Diamond, who had Tommy John surgery in March 2007, is to go to Mexico to pitch for Mexicali. That’s where Jeff Samardzija has been pitching. In his second start on Thursday, Samardzija gave up one run on six hits over six innings and struck out four. He did not walk a batter. Samardzija has been working on developing a curveball.

“He’s putting them away with splitters and spotting his fastball,” Cubs player development director Oneri Fleita said of Samardzija. “We’ve tried to throw as much as we can at Jeff and, in fairness to him, he’s starting, he’s relieved, he’s had to sit around six or seven days between outings. It’s tough to learn his craft at the Major League level that way.

“This will be a great opportunity for him to go Mexico, get his legs under him, really work on his second and third pitches, learn command,” Fleita said. “Guys who are great athletes and have the determination he has, I’m betting on those guys every day of the week.”

* The Cubs have released outfielder So Taguchi, 39. He batted .248 at Triple-A Iowa, and was 3-for-12 in six games with the big league team when called up in September.

— Carrie Muskat

10/16 AFL update

Andrew Cashner gave up one home run in 24 games combined for Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee this season. On Friday, the right-hander served up a three-run blast in the first inning of his first Arizona Fall League outing. Brandon Laird connected off Cashner, the Cubs’ 2008 No. 1 Draft pick, who was starting for the Mesa Solar Sox.

“I thought I threw the ball well,” Cashner said of his outing. “It’s the first time out, and hopefully it’ll get better from here and I’ll learn from my mistakes.”

Cashner was on a pitch count all summer, and didn’t go over 85 pitches in a game in the Minor Leagues. He also is on a pitch count in the Fall League, and was pulled after 37 pitches. He struck out two, walked one, and gave up three hits.

“It’s been a long season, just from starting early and throwing and getting sidelined with the oblique,” said Cashner, who was injured in his first Spring Training appearance with the Cubs.

The oblique forced him to miss a month. Cashner rallied, and appeared in 12 games for Daytona, 12 for Tennessee. In his last outing for the Double-A team, he threw seven scoreless innings, giving up two hits. What’s next?

“I don’t know what they have planned for me,” said Cashner, unsure if he’s projected as a starter or reliever. “I’m going to go out there to do the best I can.”

— Carrie Muskat

10/16 Hitting coach update

The Cubs have asked the Rangers for permission to talk to Rudy Jaramillo about filling their hitting coach vacancy. Jaramillo, 59, broke ties with the Rangers when the team offered a one-year deal for 2010, not a multi-year contract. Jaramillo is at the top of the Cubs’ list to fill the job. Cubs GM Jim Hendry would not confirm whether he’s talked to Jaramillo, who has been the Rangers hitting coach since 1995, and is still under contract until Oct. 31.

— Carrie Muskat 

10/15 AFL update

Josh Vitters was 2-for-4 in the Mesa Solar Sox’s 12-5 loss to Surprise on Thursday. Andrew Cashner, the Cubs’ No. 1 Draft pick in 2008, will make his Arizona Fall League debut on Friday when he starts against Surprise in Mesa.

— Carrie Muskat

10/15 Cubs hitting coach update

Mark DeRosa loved him. DeRosa gave Rudy Jaramillo credit for making him a better hitter in 2006 when he batted .296 with the Rangers, hitting a then career-high 13 homers and driving in 74 runs. Jaramillo helped Milton Bradley in his one season in Texas when Bradley led the American League in on-base percentage, and batted .321 with 22 homers and 77 RBIs. Those are numbers the Cubs never saw.

On Wednesday, the Rangers announced they are bringing back all of their coaches except Jaramillo. Texas general manager Jon Daniels said: “Rudy Jaramillo has been a consummate professional and great asset to the Rangers, and we wish him luck in his future endeavors.”

The Cubs are looking for a hitting coach after deciding at the end of the season to retain all of Lou Piniella’s coaching staff except Von Joshua. Joshua had taken over in June for Gerald Perry, who was relieved of his duties. The Cubs have invited Joshua to return to their Minor League system.

Jaramillo is still under contract to the Rangers through Oct. 31, and then becomes a free agent. Cubs officials declined to comment on Jaramillo because it would be tampering, just like with a player under contract. But a team source did say they will likely to talk to Jaramillo, who was the Rangers hitting coach from 1994-2009. The only name GM Jim Hendry has mentioned for the job is Cubs Minor League hitting coordinator Dave Keller, and Keller had yet to be interviewed.

The Cubs have worked with Jaramillo already. This season, Piniella contacted him for help in getting Bradley on track. Bradley was not expected to return to the team after he was suspended for the final 15 games because of detrimental conduct. Just because the Cubs may be interested in Jaramillo doesn’t mean Bradley will return.

Besides DeRosa, Jaramillo helped develop Jeff Bagwell, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Michael Young. Entering the 2009 season, Rangers hitters had won 17 Silver Slugger awards, four MVPs, three home run titles, and three RBI crowns under Jaramillo. He wanted a multi-year contract and the team only offered a one-year deal. Jaramillo said he was not “bitter” at what happened but decided to make a move.

“This is my decision,” Jaramillo told MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. “I want to go out there and see where I stand in the game.”

— Carrie Muskat

10/14 AFL update & notes

John Gaub, the left-handed pitcher whom the Cubs acquired in the Mark DeRosa deal with Cleveland, made his Arizona Fall League debut Wednesday. Gaub gave up one run on three hits over one inning and struck out two. He hit 96 mph on one fastball, and was consistently in the 92-93 mph range.

James Russell took the loss in relief in the Mesa Solar Sox’s 4-2 loss to Phoenix at HoHoKam Park. Russell, another Cubs prospect, gave up three runs (two earned) on four hits over two innings. Blake Parker, who had 22 saves at Triple-A Iowa, also pitched one inning in relief, and struck out two.

Josh Vitters had three hits, including a double, and Starlin Castro had a double in the game.

* The Cubs have yet to begin interviews for the hitting coach vacancy on the big league team. One name that will likely be considered is Rudy Jaramillo, whom the Texas Rangers said will not return. Jaramillo is still under contract through Oct. 31.

* Cubs pitcher Angel Guzman has started rehabbing at the team’s Mesa facility. He was shutdown before the regular season ended because of soreness in his right side and tricep.

* Thomas Diamond, whom the Cubs claimed on waivers from Texas, will start the final Instructional League game Saturday in Mesa, then join the Mexicali team and get more innings in there. Diamond hopes to be starting again in 2010.

* The Cubs will send eight players to their academy in the Dominican Republic for four weeks. The group includes Rebel Ridling, Ryan Flaherty, DJ LeMahieu, Logan Watkins, Brett Jackson, Matt Cerda, Sergio Burruel, and Kyler Burke.

“It’s a reward and a ‘keep going’ kind of thing,” Cubs Minor League hitting coordinator Dave Keller said of the trip. “We want them to work on stuff but also enjoy themselves.”

* Jeff Samardzija will make four to five starts for Mexicali in the Mexican Winter League. He made his first last Friday, going four innings. Samardzija is working on developing a curve ball to go along with his changeup.

— Carrie Muskat

10/13 AFL & Instructs update

Cubs prospect Starlin Castro went 3-for-5 with three RBIs Tuesday for the Mesa Solar Sox in a 10-6 win over Phoenix to kick off the Arizona Fall League. Castro was the only Cubs player to see any action Tuesday, and he was the designated hitter. He was expected to start Wednesday along with third baseman Josh Vitters, and pitchers John Gaub, Blake Parker and James Russell were scheduled to pitch when the Solar Sox play host to Phoenix at HoHoKam Park at 6:35 p.m. Arizona time.

* In Instructional League play in Scottsdale, Cubs Minor Leaguer Drew Rundle, who is being converted from outfielder to pitcher, appeared in his first game on the mound, and retired the side in order. Rundle was the Cubs’ 14th round pick in 2006.

Thomas Diamond, whom the Cubs claimed off waivers from Texas on Sept. 4, started the game against the Giants’ team. The squad had a pretty impressive looking outfield in Brandon Guyer, June 2009 No. 1 Draft pick Brett Jackson and Kyler Burke, the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year.

— Carrie Muskat

10/13 Bankruptcy judge gives Trib go-ahead

The Ricketts family moved one step closer to being handed the keys to Wrigley Field. A U.S. bankruptcy court judge ruled Tuesday that the Tribune Co. and Cubs can proceed with the team’s $845 million sale to the Ricketts family.

“The Ricketts family is pleased that they’ve made another significant step toward taking majority control of the Cubs,” the family said in a statement. “They look forward to getting to work on leading the team to a championship.”

The bankruptcy judge had already cleared Tribune Co. to sell the team and Wrigley Field. The Cubs filed separately for Chapter 11 on Monday to protect the Ricketts so creditors in Tribune Co.’s own bankruptcy case would have no claim against the company.

The Cubs cited assets of $1.42 billion and liabilities of $1.26 billion, but the team’s finances weren’t in question. The bankruptcy filing was done to ensure the team can’t be hit with claims by Tribune creditors because the Cubs weren’t covered when Tribune filed for Chapter 11 last December.

The deal was expected to be completed by the end of October. The sale has been approved by Major League Baseball owners.

Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy in December but the Cubs and related assets were left out of the case so it could continue the sale process. On Aug. 21, Tribune Co. reached a deal with the Ricketts family, which would purchase the Cubs, Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago. Tribune Co. would retain 5 percent.

Tribune bought the Cubs in 1981 for $20.5 million from the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.

The sale price will top the record $660 million paid for the Boston Red Sox and its related properties in 2002.

The Cubs’ bankruptcy filing is not the first for a Major League team. The Baltimore Orioles were sold in a bankruptcy auction in 1993 after owner Eli Jacobs filed for Chapter 11. The same happened to the Seattle Pilots after the 1969 season. The new owners moved the team to Milwaukee and changed the name to the Brewers.

The Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL filed for Chapter 11 protection in May.

— Carrie Muskat

10/12 Cubs file for bankruptcy

The Cubs filed for bankruptcy on Monday, a move designed to help the Tribune Co. transfer the team to its new owners. The Cubs are not in financial trouble; the move is connected to the Tribune Co.’s own Chapter 11 bankruptcy case that began in December.

Now that the Tribune Co. has finalized a deal to sell the team to the Ricketts family, it is passing the Cubs through bankruptcy court to give the new owners comfort that creditors in the original case have no claim against the company. The Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy in December, and at the time, was $13 billion in debt.

The Cubs’ stay in bankruptcy is expected to last one day. The judge in the Tribune Co. case has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday.

The judge already has approved Tribune Co.’s transaction with the Ricketts family. Under the terms of the deal, the Cubs, Wrigley Field and 25 percent of Comcast SportsNet Chicago will be placed in a limited partnership, and the Ricketts will own 95 percent of that. Tribune Co. will retain 5 percent.

The Ricketts family will contribute $823 million to the partnership. Tribune Co. will receive about $740 million after taxes and other adjustments.

Once the bankruptcy judge clears the Cubs’ case, the Ricketts family was expected to close the deal by the end of October.

— Carrie Muskat