December 2009

12/7 Lou on Zambrano, wish list, etc.

Lou Piniella was asked about his job status. “I’m going to sign a 15-year extension and I’ll go pull pitchers out in a golf cart,” the Cubs manager quipped Monday during his manager session at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis.

Piniella addressed some other topics during his half-hour chat:

* It’s no secret the Cubs are trying to trade Milton Bradley. Could he come back?

“Look, that’s not my department,” Piinella said, deferring questions to GM Jim Hendry.

* The team has gotten good reports on players this offseason, including Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, Ted Lilly, and Carlos Zambrano.

“That was the biggest problem we had with our baseball team last year — we couldn’t keep people on the field,” he said.

Zambrano is staying in Chicago this offseason, and has dropped 15 pounds.

“Carlos has something to prove this year,” Piniella said. “He’s coming off a nine-win season. Everybody knows that he’s a lot better than that. Truthfully, I don’t want to put any pressure on him, but this is a young man who should approach 20 wins every year with his stuff and physique. Hopefully, this is the year he gets to that.”

* The team has reportedly been talking to free agent CF Mike Cameron, who played for Piniella when the two were in Seattle.

“As a player and a person, I have the utmost respect for him,” Piniella said. “I had him in Seattle and got along with him well. He can play. He likes to play. As far as linking him with our team, you have to talk to Jim Hendry about those things. Mike certainly is a real good ballplayer.”

This offseason, Piniella’s wish list includes someone who can drive in runs and a more experienced right-handed pitcher for the bullpen. Last year, the emphasis was on finding a left-handed bat. “I don’t think it matters any more,” Piniella said. “Let’s keep people healthy on the field and let them produce. Sometimes you get in a situation where the player you specifically want is not there and you start forcing things. Let’s get the best player that we possibly can and go from there.”

* Do they have enough backup at third base? Piniella said Jeff Baker will handle that, and also play some outfield this spring.

* They’re not looking for another starting pitcher. The Cubs now have seven pitchers for five spots: Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija and Sean Marshall. Lilly, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in early November, could miss the first month of the season.

* The Cubs are set with Carlos Marmol as the closer. “Getting one more veteran would help stabilize things,” Piniella said.

* Phenom Starlin Castro was expected to open the 2010 season in the Minors. “It’s a question of readiness and not having to rush,” Piniella said. “Truthfully, I’m very happy with [Ryan] Theriot. Eventually, this young man [Castro] will be the shortstop here. He only had 50, 60, 70 at-bats in Double-A. I would think the natural progression would be for him to play in Triple-A but we’ll see.”

* No more questions about where Alfonso Soriano will play. He’ll bat sixth in the Cubs’ lineup. “I think that’s what’s best for him,” Piniella said.

* Is it more challenging to win in Chicago than elsewhere?

“I think it’s challenging anywhere,” Piniella said. “People don’t realize, it’s hard to win, period. It really is; it’s not easy. We’ve had three winning seasons since I’ve been in Chicago, two divisional titles. We haven’t had success in the postseason. That probably has been my biggest disappointment. Last year, if somebody had told any of us that we would have your top people out for 30 days or more as many as we had, you’d say ‘ouch.’ You take away top people from any team, there’s going to be a dropoff. Stay healthy this year, do a few things over the winter, we’ll get it done in Chicago this summer.”

— Carrie Muskat

12/7 Koyie Hill got his wish

Koyie Hill’s Big Wish event Saturday in Wichita, Kan., was a huge success, and the Make-A-Wish foundation estimates they raised between $180,000 to $210,000. Cubs players who attended included Ryan Dempster, Mike Fontenot, Randy Wells and Rick Sutcliffe. Thanks to all who participated.

— Carrie Muskat

12/7 Milton & the Mets

Word in the lobby at the Indianapolis Marriott is that the third team talking to the Cubs about Milton Bradley is the Mets. They’d like to move second baseman Luis Castillo, a switch-hitter who batted .302 this season. He has two years and $12 million remaining on his contract. Bradley has two years and $21 million left on his. The Mets want another power bat and could be convinced Bradley is the guy.

The Rangers and Rays also have talked to the Cubs about Bradley, and both of those teams have large contracts they’re trying to move. It will likely still come down to how much the Cubs are willing to pick up.

One other item on GM Jim Hendry’s shopping list this week is finding a more experienced right-handed reliever for the bullpen.

— Carrie Muskat

12/6 Milton & the Rays

The Rays apparently feel the same way about the money owed Milton Bradley that the Rangers do. Both teams want the Cubs to pick some of it up. Tampa Bay would like to have a hitter like Bradley in their lineup. Last year, when he was a free agent, Bradley was courted by Tampa Bay officials. According to the St. Petersburg Times, executive vice president Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon took Bradley to lunch to get a better read on the outfielder.

“For me, I would have no problems whatsoever if he became part of our organization,” Maddon told the Times. “If that were to ever happen I’m pretty sure we’d get along pretty well.”

The casual lunch revealed a different side of Bradley, whose first year in Chicago ended with a 15-game suspension for detrimental conduct. Maddon had heard good things from Bud Black, who managed Bradley in San Diego in 2007.

“You get all this what you hear, what you see and obviously some of the things that he has done,” Maddon told the Times. “Then you sit with him and you get a totally different perspective on him. … I found him to be a bright, thoughtful, family-oriented kind of a guy. So I thought he was interesting.”

The Rays would like to move outfielder Pat Burrell, who batted .221 with 14 homers and 64 RBIs in 122 games last season. The Cubs do want a right-handed hitter who can play right field against left-handers in place of Kosuke Fukudome, who was 9-for-55 against southpaws. Bradley is owed $9 million in 2010 and $12 million in 2011. Burrell is owed $9 million next year.

— Carrie Muskat

12/6 Bradley & the Rangers

Milton Bradley had his best season with the Rangers in 2008 when he led the American League in on-base percentage, hit 22 homers and drove in 77 runs. The Rangers want to add a big bat to their lineup for next season, and have inquired about bringing Bradley back. But a Texas source said Sunday that Bradley was very high maintenance and the team wasn’t sure it wanted to deal with that “headache” again. Texas is looking for some bullpen help, which the Cubs could provide in a trade. However, the Rangers do not want Bradley if the Cubs aren’t willing to pick up a chunk of the $21 million still owed the switch-hitting outfielder.

The Tampa Bay Rays appear to be one of at least three teams interested in Bradley, whom the Cubs are trying to move.

— Carrie Muskat


12/6 Hendry & Lou focused on 2010

Whether Lou Piniella wants to come back beyond the 2010 season has not been discussed and is not the team’s focus right now, GM Jim Hendry said Sunday.

Piniella was in Cincinnati to attend the Reds’ fan fest this weekend, and was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times as saying he wanted to “wait and see” as to whether he’ll manage beyond 2010, which is the last year of his contract.

“I’m not worried about it at all,” said Hendry, who was in Indianapolis to attend the Winter Meetings. “Lou and I have been good together and we never talked about him either retiring or continuing ever. It’s not an issue for me. We’ll go out and play in 2010 and worry about it after that.”

Piniella, 66, has led the Cubs to winning records in each of his three seasons in Chicago, winning the National League Central in the first two years. He is the first Cubs manager to guide the team to a winning record three straight years since Leo Durocher did so five consecutive seasons, 1967-71.

Would Hendry like to have Piniella return in 2011?

“Yes,” Hendry said. “He’s got a good enough relationship with me that [we can talk about] whatever feelings he wants to talk about. I think we’re both focused on just trying to get back on track and be a contender again. I’m not worried about [his contract status] and he’s not worried about it.”

Piniella, who led the Reds to the World Series in 1990, has said the Cubs will be his last managing job. Hendry and Piniella were part of a large Cubs contingent that attended the Indianapolis Colts’ NFL game Sunday.

— Carrie Muskat

12/4 Hall of Fame

My Hall of Fame ballot arrived Friday, and it always prompts some interesting discussions. Just wanted to see how fans feel about some of the candidates. I’ve already checked Andre Dawson (and have every year he’s been on the ballot) so that’s one.

What do you think about Jack Morris? How about Bert Blyleven, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Alan Trammell and Lee Smith?

Here are some of the first-time candidates: Roberto Alomar, Andres Galarraga, Eric Karros, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, and Robin Ventura.

— Carrie Muskat

12/4 Looking ahead to Indy

It appears as many as three teams are interested in Milton Bradley, and GM Jim Hendry will spend next week at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis trying to find the right match.

The Cubs may be able to take care of some of the items on Hendry’s wish list with the right trade. The tweaks are minor for 2010, and include finding a center fielder, a veteran right-handed reliever, and a right-handed bench player who could play the outfield.

Bradley would seem to be difficult to move, partly because he is owed $21 million over the next two years and because of his lack of production on the field. But other teams have players and contracts that, for whatever reason, they want to move as well. The Cubs also could take on a player in exchange for Bradley, and then deal that player to another club.

As for center field, it would seem that Reed Johnson would be a perfect fit for the Cubs. The Cubs did not want to offer him arbitration because of budget limitations. But that doesn’t mean Johnson can’t come back. If he can’t find a better deal as a free agent, expect the two sides to resume talks.

The Cubs have had conversations with Detroit about Curtis Granderson, but it’s difficult to believe the Tigers will trade the popular center fielder.

As much as some fans would like to have Mark DeRosa back, he also is out of the team’s price range.

* Cubs athletic trainer Mark O’Neal reports Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto are sticking to their rehab routines and are making progress. Ted Lilly, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder, will be re-examined after Jan. 1, and then could begin a throwing program.

— Carrie Muskat

12/4 Ticket prices, Spring Training, skating & more

The Cubs recognize these are tough economic times, so ticket prices for 2010 home games will essentially be flat for 50 percent of the seats. The “bronze” and “silver” level ticket prices will basically stay the same, while the “gold” tickets on average will increase about $2 and the “platinum” level will increase on average about $5.

“This isn’t the year to go crazy on ticket price increases,” Cubs president Crane Kenney said Friday. “The Ricketts [family] made it clear in their opening press conference that all of the profits in the business stay in the business.”

Kenney addressed some other Cubs topics at Wrigley Field:

* SEASON TICKETS: Attention anyone on the waiting list: There’s hope. Right now, there are about 120,000 people on the waiting list. The Cubs will have 700 new tickets available for 2010. Kenney said existing season ticket holders will be allowed to relocate to the now available locations if they chose. Stay tuned for more information on that.

* SPRING TRAINING: The Cubs should have an announcement in January about whether they will keep their Spring Training headquarters in Arizona or move to Florida for the 2012 season. The team has narrowed its list to two sites in Collier County near Naples, Fla., and two sites in Maricopa County, Ariz., including one linked to the Gila River Indian Reservation.

“The way we’re sizing this up is we’ve had a great 50 years in Arizona and they’ve been great partners,” Kenney said. “What [Cubs chairman] Tom [Ricketts] and the family is looking at is where should we spend the next 50 years.”

Naples has become a very viable option, and the Cubs do recognize that travel will be an issue in Florida. The closest teams are in Fort Myers, where the Red Sox and Twins both train. Kenney said he is considering all factors, including the demographics of the two states, to determine the best place to make a sizable investment.

“From the attractiveness of the business offers, it’s certainly even,” Kenney said.

The Cubs aren’t looking to build a smaller Wrigley Field, but replicate the Wrigley experience, he said. They want fans to be able to walk to the ballpark from their hotel and have restaurants, retail and golf nearby. Mesa Mayor Scott Smith has said he hopes the Cubs’ long tradition in the city will count, and Kenney said it does mean something to the Ricketts family.

“The deciding factor will be training for the players,” Kenney said. “Tom [Ricketts] has said at the end of the day, if it’s a push on all other fronts, where we can train the players to perform the best is where we’ll go.”

* WRIGLEY FIELD: The Ricketts family took a tour of the ballpark from top to bottom, examining everything from the washrooms to the players’ lounge to the scoreboard. There is currently some work being done to upgrade. Kenney said the family told him to “think long-term” in terms of improvements. Fans should notice better washroom facilities and concessions. Part of the process has been Kenney taste-testing hot dogs to find the best one.

The players should have a better weight room when they report in 2010. The umpires’ dressing room is being relocated. The back of the scoreboard is being repaired and updated. There are no plans for a video scoreboard, but the team is looking into having replays and stats available for fans at the ballpark to use on their iPhones and other hand-held devices.

The team is negotiating with businesses to find a sponsor for the billboards projected for left field. Kenney said the goal is to preserve the culture of Wrigley Field but also bring in revenue.

The team hopes to create a club on the mezzanine level where Suites 1-6 are currently located. About 80 tickets will be available for that location, and fans will have access to their own concessions and a bar. The tickets will be sold as season tickets. Expect an announcement sometime after Christmas.

* TRIANGLE BUILDING: The Cubs are interviewing architects and engineers to get the project going. The building, which will be located on Clark Street, west of Wrigley Field, could house offices, a restaurant and retail options.

* ICE RINK: The Cubs are building an ice rink in the parking lot west of Wrigley Field which will be open this winter. More details to come. It’s being done in conjunction with the Chicago Park District, and because of the interest created by the NHL Winter Classic played at Wrigley on Jan. 1.

— Carrie Muskat

12/4 Scouting reports

Here’s more info from’s Jonathan Mayo on the two Minor Leaguers the Cubs got from Oakland in Thursday’s deal.

Ronny Morla

Morla is a solid mid-range kind of prospect. His numbers in the Northwest League don’t look all that exciting, but what probably interested the Cubs is that he was throwing 93-94 mph with his fastball and maintaining it in his starts. He complements the fastball with a good slider. It’s the breaking ball that largely was the swing-and-miss pitch that allowed him to rack up over a strikeout per inning with Vancouver. At 21, he’s got a good pitcher’s body and is projectable. If a team put him in the bullpen exclusively, he could increase the fastball into the mid-90s.

Matt Spencer

Spencer is big and athletic, capable of playing the outfield as well as first base. He’s got an above-average arm. In fact, there was some talk about drafting him as a pitcher because he was 90+ in brief mound stints at Arizona State. He’s got plus raw power and became a much better overall hitter in 2009 by shortening his swing after getting promoted to Double-A. He can hit the ball out of any park and the OF-1B mix gives him a little versatility defensively. He drew a comparison to current Cub Micah Hoffpauir at similar stages of their careers. 

— Carrie Muskat