January 2011

1/14 Opening night

Kerry Wood received the loudest ovation at Friday’s opening ceremonies at the Cubs Convention at the Hilton Chicago. The right-hander, back after signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal, was introduced last among the current Cubs. The late Ron Santo also was cheered. His playing career and broadcast career were highlighted during the season in review video that was shown in the grand ballroom. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said the team would announce Saturday how it plans to celebrate Santo this coming season.

– Carrie Muskat

1/14 Cubs Convention schedule

Are you headed to the Cubs Convention this weekend? Here’s the schedule for Saturday and Sunday seminars at the Hilton Chicago:

Saturday

* The Ricketts Family Forum. Tom, Pete, Laura and Todd Ricketts will answer questions about the Wrigley renovation plans, the state of the team, and the possibility of a Ron Santo statue.

* Meet Cubs Management. It’s your turn to ask GM Jim Hendry and manager Mike Quade questions about player moves. What do they do with all the pitchers? Who will lead off? Greg Maddux was scheduled to attend but he had to cancel because of a family emergency and will not attend the convention.

* Pitching Evolution. New pitching coach Mark Riggins plus Kerry Wood, Andrew Cashner, Randy Wells, Jeff Samardzija, and Sean Marshall will take the podium.

* Future of Cubs Facilities. Team president Crane Kenny and others will discuss Wrigley Field, the Mesa, Ariz., Spring Training project and the Dominican Republic academy.

* For Kids Only. This is always entertaining. Marlon Byrd, Justin Berg, Casey Coleman, Blake DeWitt and Carlos Pena will take questions.

* The “Q Factor:” This will be Quade’s first chance to deal with the fans as the Cubs manager. He’s been prepped this week with questions during the Cubs Caravan.

* Battery Talk: Geovany Soto and Koyie Hill will discuss the relationship with the pitchers along with Carlos Zambrano and Tom Gorzelany.

* On the Road with No. 10: WGN Radio’s Pat Hughes will join Cory Provus, Andy Masur and Judd Sirott to talk about Ron Santo.

* Meet Cubs Business Management: Kenney, marketing chief Wally Hayward and others will discuss plans for Wrigley and beyond.

* Remembering Ronnie: Santo’s former teammates will share stories. Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley, Jose Cardenal and Milt Pappas are scheduled to attend.

* Dominican Way of Life: Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena and Starlin Castro will discuss baseball in the Dominican Republic.

Sunday

* The 25 Club: Tyler Colvin, Darwin Barney, Scott Maine and James Russell talk about being young Cubs in Chicago.

* Down on the Farm: Player development director Oneri Fleita and scouting director Tim Wilken will discuss the farm system.

– Carrie Muskat

1/13 Leadoff by committee

Cubs manager Mike Quade hinted he may rotate players in the No. 1 spot in the order.

“You look at this club, as I do right now, and you say, ‘Who’s a perennial leadoff guy?'” Quade said. “‘Who’s the prototypical leadoff guy? Do we have one?’ And I would say, ‘I don’t think so.’ OK, when the answer is ‘I don’t think so,’ I can mix and match. Maybe somebody asserts himself as that guy, again, keeping an open mind and just making sure you weigh all the variables.”

That’s something that will play out this spring. Among the candidates to watch are Blake DeWitt, Jeff Baker and Kosuke Fukudome.

– Carrie Muskat

1/12 Reed Johnson is back

The Cubs have signed Reed Johnson to a Minor League contract and invited him to Spring Training. The outfielder played with the Cubs in 2008 and ’09, and batted .287. He spent last year with the Dodgers. No word yet on whether Johnson will revive his popular “Reed Between the Lines” blog.

– Carrie Muskat

1/12 Russell, Cashner options for rotation

The Cubs will consider lefty James Russell as well as right-hander Andrew Cashner for the rotation and let them compete in Spring Training with the other pitchers on the roster. Manager Mike Quade said Wednesday he plans to talk to pitching coach Mark Riggins as well as Russell and Cashner this week while all are in Chicago for the Cubs Caravan and Cubs Convention.

Russell was a starter in the Minor Leagues in 2007 and ’08, but switched to the bullpen in ’09. Last season with the Cubs, he was used strictly as a reliever, appearing in 57 games and compiling a 4.96 ERA. The Cubs could have three lefties in the bullpen in John Grabow, Sean Marshall and Scott Maine. The rotation is very right-handed with Tom Gorzelanny as the only southpaw option.

Cashner wants to start, too. He did that exclusively in the Minor Leagues but when called up to the Cubs, was used strictly out of the bullpen and posted a 4.80 ERA in 53 games. He finished strong, with a 1.40 ERA in his final 18 appearances. The difference? The right-hander said he had better command of his fastball. He and Russell will head to Arizona next week to start training at the team’s facility.

The Cubs would appear to have a lot of pitching depth with the addition of Matt Garza to a rotation that already has Gorzelanny, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Silva, and Randy Wells. Quade said the competition is good. Who will be the Cubs’ Opening Day starter?

“I have no idea,” Quade said. “What I do know is I have three great pitchers to chose from. There are too many variables to look at but there’s no question that Garza is in the mix. We’ll take a look at ‘Z’ and ‘Demp’ and ‘Garz.'”

– Carrie Muskat

1/12 Hill avoids arbitration

The Cubs avoided arbirtration with catcher Koyie Hill on Wednesday and signed him to a one-year, $850,000 contract.

“In the bottom of my heart, I would probably scrape every penny I have to pay for a chance to do this,” Hill said. “Contract negotiations is something that’s part of the game, but I’m happy its over, I’m happy I’m a Cub and I’m happy the Cubs organization thinks enough of me to want to have me back.”

Hill, 31, made 60 starts last season and batted .214 with 13 doubles, one triple, one homer and 17 RBIs. Since 2007, the team has an 84-72 record in games he has started.

Catcher Geovany Soto and pitchers Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, and Tom Gorzelanny are the Cubs’ remaining arbitration eligible players. Jeff Baker, 29, also was arbitration eligible but he renewed Dec. 2 on a $1.175 million contract.

– Carrie Muskat

1/12 Cubs radio update

The Cubs and WGN Radio will not announce Ron Santo’s replacement as color analyst at the weekend Cubs Convention. Interviews are currently being conducted and an announcement was expected sometime before Spring Training games begin.

Santo died Dec. 3 at the age of 70. The Cubs will celebrate him during the Convention in a seminar called “Remembering Ronnie,” to be held Saturday at the Hilton Chicago. Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins plus Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley, Milt Pappas and Jose Cardenal will share some of stories about their teammate.

Who will take over for Santo? It most likely will not be Mark Grace or Rick Sutcliffe, two fan favorites. Grace is currently an analyst for the Diamondbacks and does work for FOX TV, while Sutcliffe signed a new contract with ESPN. The Cubs and WGN Radio are looking for a former Cubs player to do the job, but they want someone who can commit to the full 162-game schedule.

– Carrie Muskat 

1/12 Winter ball update

Cubs prospect Marwin Gonzalez went 2-for-4 with a double in Caracas’ 10-6 win Tuesday over Caribes in Venezuela. Caracas is 6-2 in the round-robin playoffs and Gonzalez is batting .296.

* In the Dominican Republic, both Starlin Castro and Brad Snyder were hitless in Escogido’s 2-1 loss to the Toros. Escogido dropped to 5-9; the Toros are 10-4.

* Cubs bench coach Pat Listach’s Ponce team beat Caguas, 5-2, to improve to 6-2 in Puerto Rico.

– Carrie Muskat

1/11 Cubs Convention attendees

Are you going to the Cubs Convention? Manager Mike Quade and his coaching staff will be there, including Mark Riggins, Rudy Jaramillo, Lester Strode, Bob Dernier, Ivan DeJesus and Dave Keller. Here are the players scheduled to attend the winter fan fest, which begins Friday at the Hilton Chicago:

Current players: Jeff Baker, Darwin Barney, Justin Berg, Marlon Byrd, Andrew Cashner, Starlin Castro, Casey Coleman, Tyler Colvin, Blake DeWitt, Matt Garza, Tom Gorzelanny, John Grabow, Koyie Hill, Scott Maine, Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall, Carlos Pena, Fernando Perez, Aramis Ramirez, James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, Carlos Silva, Geovany Soto, Randy Wells, Kerry Wood, Carlos Zambrano.

Former players: Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Mike Bielecki, Bill Buckner, Jose Cardenal, Doug Glanville, Randy Hundley, Fergie Jenkins, Greg Maddux, Gary Matthews, Keith Moreland, Dave Otto, Milt Pappas, Lee Smith, Tim Stoddard, Steve Trout, Todd Walker, Billy Williams.

Minor League players: Chris Carpenter, Jay Jackson, DJ LeMahieu.

– Carrie Muskat

1/11 Winter ball update

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro went 3-for-5 with four RBIs but it wasn’t enough as Escogido lost 9-7 on Monday to the Toros in the Dominican Winter League playoffs. Castro hit a three-run triple in the third, a single in the seventh, and a solo homer with two outs in the eighth.

In Venezuela, Cubs prospect Marwin Gonzalez went 2-for-3 with a double and one RBI in Caracas’ 8-5 win over Zulia. Caracas is now tied for first in the Venezuelan round-robin playoffs.

– Carrie Muskat

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