December 2009

12/10 Center of attention

As Jim Hendry drives home on Interstate 65 from Indianapolis to Chicago Thursday, he’ll be discussing the center field options with his co-pilot. Hendry spent most of Wednesday meeting with agents for the free agent center fielders on the market, which include Scott Podsednik, Rick Ankiel, Marlon Byrd and Mike Cameron. Now, it comes down to who is the best fit for the Cubs. Who’s your pick?

— Carrie Muskat

12/9 The Ryno effect

A snowstorm was the only thing to stop the Triple-A Iowa Cubs from selling tickets on Wednesday in Des Moines. The phones started ringing immediately when word got out that Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg would be the team’s new manager.

“Ryno has spurred some interest in us, that’s for sure,” said Iowa general manager Sam Bernabe on Wednesday.

Bernabe was in Indianapolis for the Winter Meetings, and talked to Peoria club officials about how they handled Sandberg’s first season as a Minor League manager. The media requests have started already.

“He knows what’s expected of him,” Bernabe said of Sandberg, who led the Double-A Tennessee Smokies to the Southern League championship this year.

— Carrie Muskat

12/9 Cubs notebook

The Rule 5 Draft will be held Thursday, and last year, the Cubs acquired pitcher David Patton. The team does have openings on its 40-man roster, and have identified some players they’re interested in.

“My gut feeling is we have a few people we would consider,” GM Jim Hendry said. “We won’t draft somebody just to draft somebody. If we feel there’s somebody with a realistic chance, we’d consider it.”

The Cubs were able to protect five players on their 40-man roster, but among the names who could be selected are catchers Steve Clevenger and Chris Robinson, infielder Matt Camp, and pitcher Thomas Diamond.

* Sean Marshall has done everything the Cubs have asked the last two years, and will be one of three candidates for the fifth starter spot in 2010.

“We’ll go to camp now with Marshall, [Tom] Gorzelanny and [Jeff] Samardzija competing for the fifth spot,” Hendry said. “All of them are capable of going back to the bullpen, too.”

Marshall had a 3.23 ERA in 46 relief appearances and a 5.24 ERA in his nine starts.

“It’s hard to be in that [swingman] role and he’s been around enough now to handle both,” Hendry said. “It’s not easy to bounce back and forth when your role changes.”

* Gary Hughes, special assistant to the general manager, was honored as Scout of the Year on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. Hughes has spent the last 42 years working in professional baseball, and joined the Cubs in October 2002.

“He’s a special guy,” Hendry said. “A lot of people in baseball, we love the game. He takes it to a level, he loves all the people. He’s spent his life helping people get better on and off the field. That’s Gary Hughes.”

* Scouting director Tim Wilken and scout Paul Weaver both toured the Indianapolis Colts’ facility on Wednesday to look at their scouting and player evaluation techniques.

— Carrie Muskat

12/9 Spring Training

The Cubs are expected to announce next month where they could relocate for Spring Training in 2012. GM Jim Hendry has some input, but said ultimately, it will be the Ricketts family’s decision.

“There’s a lot of intangibles that, as a general manager, I don’t have a right to weigh in on,” Hendry said. “There’s going to be a huge commitment of dollars and land and things like that. Those things are way out of my realm of expertise, as they should be. Tom [Ricketts, chairman] has to do what’s best for the organization, and I don’t have any doubt he will. I think every decision he’ll make with his family will be designed for the Cubs’ future.

“My 15 years in Arizona have been outstanding and the people in Mesa have been great to us. The financial end and long-term commitment are things I’m not privy to.”

The Cubs are believed to be considering two sites in Arizona, including in Mesa, which is their current location, and two sites in Collier County near Naples, Fla.

— Carrie Muskat

12/9 The latest on Milton

The Cubs may be running out of options regarding Milton Bradley.

There were no surprise teams in either league interested in the switch-hitting outfielder on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, just one unlikely scenario. ESPN reported the Cubs would be open to a Mike Lowell for Bradley trade. A Cubs official didn’t dismiss the report, saying they were willing to look into any deal.

Tampa Bay appears to be the best match with a Bradley for Pat Burrell deal, but that most likely won’t be consumated unless the Cubs pick up a majority of the $21 million still owed Bradley over two years. The Rays are only committed to Burrell for $9 million next year.

Bradley can thank the White Sox’s Kenny Williams for some promotional work, which the GM did at the risk of being charged with tampering.

“You know, the funny thing is, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Milton in the past,” Williams said, “and it saddens me to a great extent, actually, some of the situations that he’s been put in or he’s put himself in.

“I’d like to see this guy just be able to go out there without all the distractions and everything and do what he can do because this guy can play — he can play,” Williams said. “I don’t know that I see a fit for us, and I probably shouldn’t even be talking about him because he’s not our player. But he can play. Milton Bradley can play.

“It’s too bad because he’s really a more thoughtful person and he’s a better person than I think it’s been portrayed or he’s shown, however the [heck] it’s manifested itself,” he said. “It’s too bad.”

GM Jim Hendry said he has a good relationship with Williams, adding they “root against each other six times a year” during the Interleague series. The Cubs did their homework on Bradley, and were concerned about how many games he’d be able to play than his mood swings. He disappointed on the field and off, batting .257 in 124 games, and was suspended for the final 15 games because of detrimental conduct.

“We did a lot of work on Milton and talked to a lot of people who he played for and played with before we signed him,” Hendry said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out how we drew it up last year. He played well the two or three years before we got him, and played in the All-Star Game and a lot of darn good managers liked having him on the club and we’re hoping he’ll get his career back on track.”

The only question remaining is with whom?

Before the Cubs arrived at the Indianapolis Marriott, Hendry said there were at least three teams interested in Bradley. On Wednesday, he indicated there were some new inquiries.

“You can’t define other people’s interest level,” Hendry said, “but I think when you get to the middle of December and you’re meeting and talking about certain players involved in trades, the other team has some interest.”

The Cubs have laid the groundwork to fill the other items on their wish list, which is finding a center fielder, an experienced right-handed reliever and some bench help. The team will have scouts in Arizona to watch J.J. Putz throw on the side this week. He’s coming back from elbow surgery in June for bone spurs.

Hendry has checked the free agent market for outfielders, which include Mike Cameron, a favorite of Cubs manager Lou Piniella.

“The thing that we came into here a little differently than normal is that there wasn’t as much volume to look into,” Hendry said. “We’ve had Winter Meetings where we needed more than two or three pieces, no matter who we wanted to trade or not trade. We’ve looked into all kinds of options.”

— Carrie Muskat

12/9 Tweet

Here’s how times have changed: There was an announcement made prior to the media luncheon with Major League managers at the Winter Meetings that reporters were not to tweet or blog during the sessions. In essence, the lunch was off the record. Cubs GM Jim Hendry was asked if he uses Twitter.

“I don’t think I can spell ‘tweet,'” Hendry said. “Chuck [Wasserstrom] is my tweeter.”

Wasserstrom is the Cubs’ manager of baseball information.

— Carrie Muskat

12/8 The latest on Milton

The Cubs may be close to finding Milton Bradley a new home.

There were reports Tuesday that the Cubs have found another American League team — not the Tampa Bay Rays or Texas Rangers — who are interested in the volatile outfielder. GM Jim Hendry has been tight-lipped about the negotiations to the point that he is keeping the majority of his staff out of the talks.

Hendry did meet late Monday with Bradley’s agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, at the Indianapolis Marriott.

A team official denied there would be an announcement Tuesday, but another said there was a possibility they could have word on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings.

One report said the Cubs were talking to the Seattle Mariners, who would like to move pitcher Carlos Silva. The right-hander is 6-18 over the last two seasons, and is owed $23 million over the next two years. But a Cubs official denied the Mariners were in the mix.

It would seem that the Angels might match up because they want to move Gary Matthews Jr., but a team official said Bradley isn’t going to Anaheim.

— Carrie Muskat

12/8 Day 2 at Winter Meetings

Cubs officials spent Tuesday meeting with more teams as they continued their pursuit of a veteran right-handed reliever. One option being discussed was J.J. Putz, who was part of a three-team trade at last year’s Winter Meetings. Putz pitched in 29 games for the Mets before he needed surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow in June. He did pitch in Seattle but not for Lou Piniella.

The Cubs, White Sox, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Nationals and Tigers all have shown interest in Putz.

* Curtis Granderson most likely will not be patrolling center field for the Cubs. The Tigers outfielder was reportedly part of a three-team trade involving the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Tigers. Granderson would go to New York. The Cubs told the Tigers if they were serious about moving Granderson to contact them. Detroit would get four players in the swap.

* One of Piniella’s good friends, Bill Madden, was elected into the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Madden covered Piniella in New York.

* The Milwaukee Brewers are interested in Kevin Gregg, who lost the closer’s job to Carlos Marmol.

* Here’s something to think about: Prior to the 2009 season, the Cubs added Gregg, Aaron Heilman, Aaron Miles and Joey Gathright. All are gone from the team.

* Here’s how weird the rumors are at the Meetings. A Rays executive was testing an airline’s wi-fi while flying and at 30,000 feet, read that his team had completed a deal. It wasn’t true.

— Carrie Muskat

12/7 Big Z's good deed

Carlos Zambrano’s agent, Barry Praver, is in Indianapolis, and was asked Monday how the Cubs pitcher was doing this winter. Word is that Zambrano has lost 15 pounds and was sticking to his workouts. Praver sent a text message to Big Z, who immediately wrote back that he was Guatemala, helping to build a church and had brought clothes to people there.

— Carrie Muskat

12/7 Sandberg to manage Triple-A Iowa

Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg got a promotion on Monday.

Sandberg was named manager of the Cubs’ Triple-A Iowa team, replacing Bobby Dickerson, who was hired by the Baltimore Orioles to be their roving Minor League infield instructor and field coordinator for Latin America. Chicago GM Jim Hendry made the announcement Monday at the Winter Meetings.

This season at Double-A Tennessee, Sandberg guided the Smokies to the Southern League playoffs, the first time the team has advanced to the postseason since 2004. Tennessee lost the league championship, 3-1, to Jacksonville.

Sandberg, 50, has guided Minor League teams to two first-place finishes as the Class A Peoria Chiefs tied for first in the Midwest League in the second half of 2007. The former Cubs second baseman has made it clear he’s interested in managing someday in the big leagues.

So far, the 10-time National League All-Star has compiled a 202-215 record and a 4-4 mark in the postseason as a Minor League manager. He spent two seasons in Peoria, and one in Tennessee.

The Cubs were expected to announce the rest of their Minor League assignments next week.

Dickerson, 44, just finished his eighth season with the Cubs and fifth as a manager in the system. The Iowa Cubs went 72-72 this season and finished third in the Northern Division.

— Carrie Muskat