December 2011

12/12 Hill now free agent

The Cubs have non-tendered catcher Koyie Hill but did tender contracts to the other arbitration eligible players, Jeff Baker, Blake DeWitt, Matt Garza, Geovany Soto, Ian Stewart, and Randy Wells. The deadline for tendering contracts to any arbitration eligible players was 11 p.m. CT Monday. Because Hill was non-tendered, he is now a free agent. The 32-year-old catcher batted .194 in 46 games, including 38 starts. The Cubs were 22-16 in games in which he started. The team could look internally for a backup with both Welington Castillo and up and coming Steve Clevenger as options.

— Carrie Muskat

12/12 What’s your lineup?

Opening Day is more than three months away but Cubs fans have been speculating about the 2012 lineup. Here are a couple suggestions I’ve seen:

DeJesus RF
Barney 2B
Castro 3B
LaHair 1B
Soriano LF
Byrd CF
Stewart 3B
Soto C

Or, some want Castro as the leadoff man:

Castro SS
Byrd CF
LaHair 1B
Soriano LF
DeJesus RF
Stewart 3B
Soto C
Barney 2B

New manager Dale Sveum said he has been tinkering a little with possible lineups but wants to wait until the roster is set. Have any ideas for him?

— Carrie Muskat

12/12 Arbitration deadline

The deadline for tendering contracts to any arbitration eligible players is 11 p.m. CT Monday. For the Cubs, this will mean decisions on seven players: Jeff Baker, Blake DeWitt, Matt Garza, Koyie Hill, Geovany Soto, Ian Stewart and Randy Wells. If a team decides to non-tender a player, he would become a free agent.

* Baker, 30, batted .269 with three homers and 23 RBIs in 81 games (42 starts), including a .314 average against left-handed pitchers. He was 4-for-30 as a pinch-hitter. He made $1.175 million in 2011.

* DeWitt, 26, hit .265 in 121 games with five homers and 26 RBIs in 121 games in his first full season with the Cubs. Acquired from the Dodgers on July 31, 2010, in the Ted Lilly deal, DeWitt batted .406 against lefties. He made $460,000 this year.

* Garza, 28, went 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA in 31 starts in his first season with the Cubs. Acquired on Jan. 8 from the Rays in an eight-player deal, he was the hard-luck pitcher. He left a game with the lead but did not factor in the decision seven times. Garza made $5.95 million in 2011.

* Hill, 32, batted .194 in 46 games, including 38 starts. The Cubs were 22-16 in games in which he started. Hill made $850,000 this year. He may be the only one non-tendered, and the Cubs could look at Welington Castillo as a backup catcher.

* In his fourth full season, Soto, who turns 29 on Jan. 20, batted .228 with 17 homers, 26 doubles and 54 RBIs in 125 games. If Soto stays on the same pace, he should have a stellar season in 2012. In ’08, he won National League Rookie of the Year, batting .285, and followed that with a disappointing .218 season in ’09. In 2010, he hit .280, and his average dropped this past season. He received $3 million in 2011.

* Wells, 29, missed nearly two months with a strained right forearm, which he felt after his first start April 4. The right-hander did not return until May 28, and went 7-6 with a 4.99 ERA in 23 starts, giving up a career-high 23 home runs. His best month was August when Wells was 4-0 with a 3.32 ERA in six starts. He received $475,000 in 2011.

* Stewart, 26, is the newest Cub. Acquired on Thursday from the Rockies for Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu, the third baseman made $2,228,750 this season.

— Carrie Muskat

12/11 Winter league update

Bryan LaHair drew two walks and singled in Magallanes’ 4-2 win over Lara Saturday in Venezuelan Winter League play. On Friday, Cubs prospect Austin Bibens-Dirkx gave up three hits over seven innings but did not get a decision in Caracas’ 3-0 win over Zulia. Bibens-Dirkx struck out one and walked two for Zulia.

* Carlos Zambrano was expected to return to the mound this week in Venezuela and could start on Wednesday. Zambrano has been sidelined after taking a line drive off his face on Nov. 18 while pitching for Caribes.

— Carrie Muskat

12/9 Stewart looking forward to playing every day

The Cubs feel Ian Stewart will benefit from a change in scenery. Stewart didn’t exactly agree. The third baseman, acquired Thursday night from the Rockies in a four-player deal, split the 2011 season between the Rockies and Triple-A Colorado Springs. He batted .156 with six doubles in 48 games with the Rockies and hit .275 with 14 home runs and 42 RBIs in 45 games in the Minor Leagues. His season ended in August because of a wrist injury.

“I’m not trying to make excuses for the poor season I had, but injuries do play a part on a guy’s season and how ready they are for the season to start and how things go throughout the season,” Stewart said Friday.

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said they had targeted Stewart, 26, from the start of the offseason. So, does he need a change of scenery?

“I always felt I fit in great with the Rockies,” Stewart said. “It just didn’t seem like I was given the best opportunity to play. With this situation now with Aramis Ramirez being gone and one of the guys who had a chance to play third being in this trade to go to Colorado and that spot being open, I think it gives me a great opportunity to come in and be that everyday third baseman and get those 500 to 600 at-bats that I need to be successful.

“Change of scenery, I don’t know, but I think in the long run, being in a spot where I’m going to be able to play every day, I think will be the best thing for me,” he said.

— Carrie Muskat

12/9 Cubs claim Jeff Bianchi

The Cubs claimed infielder Jeff Bianchi off waivers from the Royals on Friday. With the move, the 40-man roster now stands at 36. Bianchi, 25, is a career .281 hitter with 116 doubles, 31 home runs, 251 RBIs and 76 stolen bases in 490 games covering six Minor League seasons.  He completed his first full season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2011. The right-handed batter and thrower has played shortstop (288 games) and second base (145 games).

Originally selected in the second round of the 2005 Draft, he earned Frank White Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008 as the best defender in the Royals system. In 2009, he combined for a .308 batting average between Class A and Double-A, but missed all of 2010 because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Last season, he batted .259 with 23 doubles, 20 stolen bases, 63 runs scored and 48 RBIs in 119 games.

— Carrie Muskat

12/9 Tony C. wins Tony C. award

Cubs outfielder Tony Campana, who overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a youngster to play Major League baseball, was voted the winner of the 22nd annual Tony Conigliaro Award. The award is presented to a Major League player who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of Conigliaro. Campana will be honored Jan. 19 a the 73rd Boston Baseball Writers Association of America annual dinner.

The Red Sox began the award in 1990 to perpetuate the memory of Conigliaro, who died in February of that year after an eight-year struggle to come back from a massive heart attack that left him severely handicapped. Major League teams submit nominations and an independent 12-person panel does the voting.

When Campana was a child, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissue found in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver and bone marrow. At 7, Campana had a tumor removed and months of chemotherapy followed. After 10 years of treatment, doctors finally declared him cured. He was not invited to big league Spring Training camp and did not begin the 2011 season on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. But he was called up May 17 in Cincinnati, and in front of his hometown fans from nearby Springboro, Ohio, showed his speed and ability. He came off the bench in the Cubs game against the Reds as a pinch-runner and scored, and later notched his first Major League hit.

Conigliaro became the youngest player to lead his league in home runs when he hit 32 in 1965 at the age of 20, and the youngest in American League history to reach 100 homers. His career was cut short when he was hit in the face by a pitch at Fenway Park on Aug. 18, 1967.

Past award winners include: Jim Eisenreich (1990), Dickie Thon (1991), Jim Abbott (1992), Bo Jackson (1993), Mark Leiter (1994), Scott Radinsky (1995), Curtis Pride (1996), Eric Davis (1997), Bret Saberhagen (1998), Mike Lowell (1999), Kent Mercker and Tony Saunders (2000), Graeme Lloyd and Jason Johnson (2001), Jose Rijo (2002), Jim Mecir (2003), Dewon Brazelton (2004), Aaron Cook (2005), Freddy Sanchez (2006), Jon Lester (2007), Rocco Baldelli (2008), Chris Carpenter (2009) and Joaquin Benoit (2010).

— Carrie Muskat

12/8 Cubs get Stewart, Weathers from Rockies

The Cubs acquired infielder Ian Stewart and right-handed pitcher Casey Weathers from the Rockies for outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder DJ LeMahieu.

Stewart, 26, is a career .236 hitter with 61 doubles, 54 home runs and 187 RBIs in 432 games with the Rockies covering all or part of the last five seasons (2007-2011).  A left-handed hitter who throws right, he has played 354 of his big league games at third and also has experience at second base and the outfield. Originally selected by Colorado in the first round (10th overall) of the 2003 Draft out of high school, Stewart reached the big leagues at the age of 22 in 2007 and completed his first full season in the big leagues by 2009, when he hit 25 home runs and recorded 70 RBI in 147 games for Colorado and helped the club to the postseason.  He batted .256 with 18 home runs and 61 RBI in 122 games in 2010.  

He split the 2011 campaign between the Rockies and Triple-A Colorado Springs, totaling two stints in each spot.  He batted .156 with six doubles in 48 games with Colorado and hit .275 with 14 home runs and 42 RBIs in 45 games at Colorado Springs.

Weathers, 26, was selected by the Rockies in the first round (eighth overall) of the 2007 Draft out of Vanderbilt University, where he was a 2007 First-Team All American.  By 2008, Weathers had advanced to Double-A Tulsa and earned a spot on Team USA at the Beijing Olympics before being sidelined by Tommy John surgery in October 2008, forcing him to miss the 2009 campaign.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Weathers returned to the mound in 2010 and pitched at Double-A Tulsa last season, going 2-2 with a 5.32 ERA (27 ER/45.2 IP) in 44 relief appearances.  He struck out 48 in 45 2/3 innings, but also issued 48 walks.  Weathers was added to Colorado’s 40-man roster following the 2010 campaign.

Colvin, 26, batted .215 with 26 home runs and 78 RBIs in 221 games with the Cubs covering all or part of the last three seasons.  After a 2010 rookie campaign that featured a .254 batting average, 20 home runs and 56 RBIs in 135 contests, Colvin split last year between Chicago and Triple-A Iowa, batting .150 with six home runs and 20 RBI in 80 big league games.  He was originally selected by Chicago in the first round (13th overall) of the 2006 Draft.

LeMahieu, 23, made his Major League debut with the Cubs last year and batted .250 (15-for-60) with zero home runs and four RBI in 37 games.  LeMahieu was originally selected by the Cubs in the second round of the 2009 Draft.

— Carrie Muskat

12/8 Cubs Caravan luncheon Jan. 11

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod will headline the fifth annual Cubs Caravan luncheon on Jan. 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CT at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, 33 W. Kinzie Street, in Chicago. Tickets for the luncheon are $150 each and include the opportunity to sit at a table with a Cubs player, coach, or member of the front office staff. Cubs TV broadcaster Len Kasper will emcee the event. Tickets are available for purchase by calling 773-404-CUBS. Space is limited to 120 guests. Players and personnel appearing at the luncheon are subject to change.

— Carrie Muskat


12/8 Cubs & Rule 5 Draft – UPDATED

The Cubs selected recently converted right-handed pitcher Lendy Castillo from the Phillies’ organization in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. The Cubs also picked infielder Ricky Alvarez from the Angels farm system in the Triple-A phase of the Draft, and then dealt him to the Monterrey team in Mexico for cash considerations. The Cubs lost two players in the Major League portion as the Orioles took infielder Ryan Flaherty and the Red Sox picked infielder Marwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez was later traded to the Astros.

In 38 Minor League games, Castillo is 7-4 with a 2.43 ERA since he was converted from shortstop after the 2009 season. He has 111 strikeouts and has walked 42 in that stretch. Last year, the 22-year-old right-hander was 4-2 with a 2.54 ERA in 21 games, including two starts, for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws. He gave up 13 earned runs on 37 hits and 16 walks over 46 innings.

GM Jed Hoyer credited scouting director Tim Wilken and special assistant Dave Littlefield with their work in scouting Castillo. Although the right-hander is new to pitching, Hoyer said he has good velocity and can spin a breaking ball well. Right now, he’s projected for the Cubs bullpen.

“Obviously, he’s a long way away or they would’ve protected him but we like him as a prospect and thought it was a worthwhile gamble taking him,” Hoyer said. “We’re hopeful it works out.”

The Cubs will pay the Phillies $50,000 for taking Castillo in the Rule 5 Draft. The Cubs must keep him on the 25-man roster next season, and he must remain active for a minimum of 90 days. If he does not remain active, Castillo will be offered back to the team from which he was selected for $25,000.

The Cubs will receive $100,000 total after losing both Flaherty and Gonzalez in the Major League phase of the Draft. Hoyer said he was not surprised they were taken. The baseball operations department had long discussions about whether to keep the pair on the 40-man roster, which would have protected them from being selected.

— Carrie Muskat


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