December 2010

12/11 Winter ball update

Starlin Castro went 4-for-4, including an RBI single in the fifth, in Escogido’s 10-6 loss to Estrellas in Dominican Winter Ball on Friday. Castro is 8-for-12 in his last three games with four runs, three RBIs, and a triple. He’s hitting .289 in 10 games overall.

Meanwhile, catcher Welington Castillo was batting .192 with three home runs and eight RBIs in 24 games and outfielder Brad Snyder was batting .326 with one homer and seven RBIs in 12 games. Both are playing for Licey in the Dominican Republic.

— Carrie Muskat

12/10 Celebrating Santo

It was an impressive turnout Friday at Ron Santo’s funeral at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. Among the guests to pay respects to the broadcaster and third baseman were Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams, as well as Glenn Beckert and Randy Hundley. The casket was first escorted up the steps of the church by Cubs traveling secretary Jimmy Bank, WGN Radio engineer Matt Boltz, and some of Santo’s radio partners, including Andy Masur, Cory Provus and Judd Sirott.

“It was our last pregame show together,” said Masur, now a broadcaster with the Padres.

Pat Hughes, who was Santo’s partner for 15 seasons on WGN Radio delivered a tribute as did Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts.

“Ron was the fans’ broadcaster — he was the fan in the booth,” Ricketts said.

Others at the service included Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, and broadcasters Gary Matthews, Thom Brennaman, Len Kasper, and Bob Brenly. Several Cubs players, past and present, were, including Ryan Dempster, Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall, Koyie Hill, Tom Gorzelanny, Justin Berg, Ted Lilly, Kevin Orie, Dave Otto and Scott Sanderson. Cubs manager Mike Quade, general manager Jim Hendry and the rest of the team’s front office also were present to pay respects.

“He’s the No. 1 Cubs fan ever,” Hughes said.

Santo got one last look at Wrigley Field as the funeral procession did a lap of the ballpark.

— Carrie Muskat

12/9 Cubs notebook

Camp Colvin is up and running in Mesa, Ariz. The offseason workout camp, named after Tyler Colvin because of the success he had last winter, has about a dozen players participating. Colvin gained 25 pounds last year, improved his flexibility and running speed and got stronger.

“He’s proud of it and he’s embraced it,” Cubs player development director Oneri Fleita said Thursday.

Among the players in camp are Colvin, Ryan Dempster, Jeff Samardzija, DJ LeMahieu, Darwin Barney, Brandon Guyer, and Tony Campana.

“It’s a nice chance for some of these guys to spend time together outside of the season in a different format,” Fleita said. “It helps them bond and reach the ultimate goal.”

Right now, the goal is to improve their strength and conditioning. After Jan. 1, they’ll start adding baseball activities.

“I think at the end of the day there will be a bond — you sweat together, you work together,” Fleita said. “Hopefully, down the road, it pays dividends.”

* Fleita said shortstop Hak-Ju Lee is working out with a personal trainer in Korea and has added 10 pounds. The Cubs he’ll report at least 15 pounds heavier this spring.

“It will be fun to see that kind of weight on that kind of body,” Fleita said of the slender infielder.

* First-round Draft pick Hayden Simpson was to report Sunday to Mesa to join the workouts. Simpson was unable to do anything after he was drafted in June because the pitcher came down with mononucleosis.

* Third baseman Marquez Smith has returned home after playing Winter Ball in Venezuela. The Cubs were worried Smith would be taken in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. He batted .247 in 30 games for Aragua.

“He had a nice first half, nice experience first time out of the country,” Fleita said. “I’m always anxious to see how that works out. Normally, you gain a greater appreciation for life at the very least, and you understand what some of your teammates had to go through to get to the big leagues.”

* Starlin Castro went 3-for-4 with a triple and an RBI for Escogido on Wednesday. He’s now batting .200 in eight games. Fleita said he hopes Castro can help Escogido get to the playoffs. Former Cubs outfielder Moises Alou is the team’s GM and his team won the Caribbean World Series last year.

* The Cubs are expected to announce their Minor League staff assignments
next week. Big leaguer Mariano Duncan was to be named Double-A hitting

— Carrie Muskat

12/9 Cubs talk to Rays re: Garza

It’s going to be tough to pry right-hander Matt Garza from the Rays. The Cubs have talked to the team about a possible trade but Tampa manager Joe Maddon says his starter isn’t going anywhere. If the Cubs are intent on adding Garza, they’d have to be willing to part with some of their young talent.

“Our farm system is very highly regarded with other teams and any discussions we’ve had, it’s always been made very clear that we have plenty of talent to get a deal done,” assistant GM Randy Bush said Thursday. “It’s just a matter of what part of that talent we’d be willing to let go.”

Carlos Pena, who signed a one-year deal with the Cubs on Wednesday, wouldn’t mind seeing his Tampa teammate join him in Chicago.

“Matt Garza is one of those pitchers that wherever he goes, he’ll be an incredible asset,” Pena said. “I think he’s got Cy Young potential, to be honest with you. He’s a great kid. He leaves the window open for great things to happen. Who knows? I think any team would love to have a guy like Matt.

“It’s a lot of fun to play with Matt — he’s so intense, I think you feel the heat radiating from him when you go to the mound,” Pena said.

— Carrie Muskat

12/9 Rule 5 Draft

The Cubs selected right-handed pitcher Mason Tobin in the Rule 5 Draft Thursday at baseball’s Winter Meetings, but traded him for cash considerations to the Rangers. The deal had been pre-arranged before the Draft began. The Cubs had the eighth pick in the Major League phase; the Rangers had the 23rd selection.

The Cubs did not take another player in the Draft but did lose two pitchers in the Triple-A phase. The Mets selected right-hander Ron Morla while the Orioles took lefty Casey Lambert. Morla was 4-3 with a 4.00 ERA in 43 games at Class A Peoria with 86 strikeouts in 78 2/3 innings. Lambert, whose career was slowed by Tommy John surgery, was 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA in 14 games with Class A Daytona.

— Carrie Muskat

12/8 Hendry on Pena deal

Cubs GM Jim Hendry likes the way they were able to structure Carlos Pena’s deal. The first baseman will get $10 million, although part of that money is deferred.

“I think it’s good for both sides,” Hendry said. “You’ve got a power hitter that for four years has averaged 36 home runs, a real good defender… I look at his situation a lot like (Adrian) Beltre’s a year ago when he went to Boston. Carlos had a few nagging injuries and didn’t hit for even the average he used to, so he found a club that was really a good fit for him.

“We like the shortness of [the deal], and at the same time it was position we really needed, and he fits the requirements that were important,” Hendry said.

Pena is exactly what the Cubs are looking for, Hendry said.

“It’s hard to find,” he said. “That’s why (left-handed sluggers) get locked up for as long as they do, the (Ryan) Howards, (Adrian) Gonzalez, those kind of guys. We’ve lacked that. We’ve been looking for that kind of power for a while. Plus he has the combination of outstanding defense, and is a terrific guy character-wise. We thought it was a real good fit and hope it works at the level we expect it to. There’s a history of people like this that go somewhere for a year and then maximize their value for the future.”

— Carrie Muskat

12/8 Pena deal is done

The Cubs have completed deal with free agent Carlos Pena and are bringing him to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotel for a 1 p.m. ET news conference. He signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Cubs.

— Carrie Muskat

12/8 Carlos Pena update

The Cubs were expected to call a news conference Wednesday at baseball’s Winter Meetings to formally announce the signing of free agent first baseman Carlos Pena to a one-year, $10 million deal. Pena’s batting average isn’t pretty — he hit .196 in 2010 — but he has some other stats that justify the deal. Pena has averaged 36 homers in the last four seasons, including a high of 46 in 2007 with the Rays and an American League-leading 39 in 2009. He’s also averaged 93 walks, 24 doubles and nearly 102 RBIs in that same time frame, and compiled a .884 OPS.

Pena began his career with the Rangers — and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo — who made him a first-round pick (10th overall). He was traded to the Athletics in January 2002, and traded again that year to the Tigers, where he played from 2002-05. He’s also played for the Red Sox (2006), and Rays (2007-10). He received $10.125 million last year from Tampa Bay. An All-Star in 2009, Pena won a Gold Glove in 2008 and a Silver Slugger award in 2007.

He’s had an interesting career, having been released twice — once in March 2006 by the Tigers, and again in August 2006 by the Yankees. He had a clause in his contract in ’06 that allowed him to become a free agent if the Yankees didn’t put him on the 25-man roster by Aug. 15. Pena actually lost out in his bid to make the Rays roster in March 2007 to Greg Norton.

At the time, Pena told Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon that he’d be back and promised he was going to “make an impact.” Hours later, Norton injured his knee and Pena was on the Opening Day roster. He did make an impact, hitting 46 homers and driving in 121 runs.

“We owe a lot of this to Greg Norton,” Maddon said then. “We got lucky.”

Pena also has a reputation as a great clubhouse guy.

“For me, a leader has got to be willing to give himself up for somebody else first and Carlos does that,” Maddon said in an interview in 2008. “He makes people feel much more important than he is.”

— Carrie Muskat

12/8 Cubs closing in on Pena

The Cubs may have found their next first baseman in Carlos Pena. GM Jim
Hendry continued discussions at the Winter Meetings with representatives
for the free agent, and the team expected to hear more Wednesday. A
source told the two sides had finalized a one-year contract but a
team official said it was too early to say the deal was done.

batting average has dropped each of the last four seasons but he is
averaging 36 homers and 100 RBIs in that span. He also ranks among the
elite fielding first baseman, which would benefit the Cubs, who have
been spoiled with Gold Glove winner Derrek Lee at first for the last
seven seasons. Lee was traded to the Braves in August.

— Carrie Muskat

12/7 Minor matters

The Cubs are expected to name former big leaguer Mariano Duncan as their Double-A hitting coach. Duncan played 12 seasons with the Dodgers, Reds, Phillies, Yankees and Blue Jays from 1985-1997, compiling a career .267 average with 87 homers and 233 doubles. He has spent three seasons coaching in the Minor Leagues and was on the Dodgers’ Major League staff from 2006-10. The Cubs were still completing the interview process and expected to formally announce their Minor League staff next week.

— Carrie Muskat