January 2012

1/18 Compensation matters

It appears Bud Selig will need to settle the dispute between the Cubs and Red Sox regarding compensation for Theo Epstein. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs and Red Sox have asked Major League Baseball’s commissioner to resolve the matter. The Red Sox say they were promised “valuable compensation” in exchange for letting Epstein leave with one year remaining on his contract in Boston. Epstein took over the Cubs as president of baseball operations in late October.

When the Cubs hired Andy MacPhail from the Twins in 1994, the Cubs sent Class A pitcher Hector Trinidad to the Twins as compensation. Trinidad never did reach the big leagues. The Red Sox apparently want more than a Class A pitcher. Epstein received a five-year, $18.5 million contract from the Cubs.

— Carrie Muskat

1/17 Wining & dining Cespedes

Could the Cubs have the inside track with Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes?

“Of all the teams that have approached us, the one that has had the most interest in me has been the Chicago Cubs,” Cespedes told the Associated Press in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. “I have had dinner a couple of times [with Cubs officials] and we have talked a lot but that doesn’t mean that I am going to sign with them. I am only telling it like it is, they have shown more interest than others.”

Jose Serra, the Cubs’ director of Latin American scouting, attended Cespedes’ game Monday. The Cuban outfielder is playing in the Dominican winter league.

— Carrie Muskat

1/17 New LED sign expected to be OK

A Cubs official said the team will ask the Chicago landmarks commision for the go-ahead to install a 75-foot LED sign in right field at Wrigley FIeld if the city insists approval is required. In 2004, the Chicago city council landmarked historic elements of Wrigley, which included the exterior and marquee sign at Clark and Addison streets, the center field scoreboard, and ivy-covered brick walls, and the uninterrupted sweep of bleachers and grandstand. Technically, the new LED sign does not require the commission’s approval.

“It doesn’t affect any of the historic features. It does not change the bleacher height or the outfield wall. It’s a way to continue to modernize the park but keep within the historic tradition of Wrigley Field,” Mike Lufrano, the Cubs executive vice president of community affairs, told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. “We’re happy to work with the city if they believe it does [require approval].”

— Carrie Muskat


1/17 Arbitration numbers – UPDATED

Matt Garza and the Cubs exchanged figures on Tuesday. The right-hander is seeking $12.5 million while the Cubs countered at $7.95 million. Usually, the team and player reach agreement on a halfway point, which, in this case, would be $10.225 million. Garza was 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA in 31 starts in his first season with the Cubs. He will be a free agent after the 2013 season.

The Cubs avoided arbitration with six other players. That list includes Geovany Soto, who signed for $4.3 million. Tuesday was the day when teams and players exchanged arbitration figures. The players on the list have between three to six years of big league service time.

RHP Matt Garza: Asked for $12.5 million; Cubs offered $7.95 million

Here are the new deals:

IF Jeff Baker: $1.375 million

IF Blake DeWitt: $1.1 million

C Geovany Soto: $4.3 million

3B Ian Stewart: $2.237 million

RHP Chris Volstad: $2.655 million

RHP Randy Wells: $2.705 million

If the Cubs and Garza do not reach an agreement, they will present their cases at hearings scheduled for Feb. 1-21 in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Cubs last went to arbitration with infielder Ryan Theriot in February 2010, which was the team’s first hearing since 1993. Theriot was seeking $3.4 million and the Cubs offered $2.6 million. Theriot lost the case but still received a raise from his $500,000 salary in 2009. Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry had settled 36 straight arbitration cases before Theriot’s hearing.

— Carrie Muskat

1/16 Woody’s Winter Warm-up huge success

Kerry Wood raised more than $85,000 at the Wood Family Foundation’s first “Woody’s Winter Warm-Up” on Friday, which included Theo Epstein playing guitar. The event was held at Harry Caray’s tavern on Navy Pier and was perfectly timed as Wood re-signed with the team earlier in the day at the Cubs Convention. Wood recruited guest bartenders throughout  the evening, and they suited up in a t-shirt and bar apron and  competed for tips while serving drinks and food to guests.

Participants included Ryan Dempster, Tony Campana, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, Ian Stewart, Matt Garza, Randy Wells,  Marlon Byrd, Rick Sutcliffe, Jon Lieber, Gary Matthews and new manager Dale Sveum.  Even Bears players Otis Wilson, Richard Dent and Israel Idonije did some mixing behind the bar. Others in attendance included Cubs owners, Todd and Tom Ricketts, Epstein, and Jeff Samardzija, Darwin Barney, James Russell, Josh Vitters, and David DeJesus.

Guests were not only entertained by the special acoustic performance by the event’s headline band, Plain White T’s, but unexpectedly by Cubs pitcher Randy Wells, who took to the stage to perform “Free Fallin” alongside the Plain White T’s.  Epstein was next up and played “Rockin’ In A Free World” on guitar with the band.

The bidding became interesting when Dempster asked Wood to include a 30-minute pitching session with himself. When Wood agreed, the auction shot up and sold at $7,000. Another bidder shouted their interest in buying the exact same package for $7,000 if offered, and it was.

Wood and his wife, Sarah, thanked everyone for coming and spoke about the Wood Family Foundation and its mission.  Wood said he was excited about the upcoming season, saying “there is no place like Chicago — it’s home.”

 — Carrie Muskat

1/15 Fathers & sons

Shawon Dunston and son, Shawon Dunston Jr., Bob Brenly and son Michael, and Keith Lockhart and son Daniel took part in an entertaining session on Sunday to close the 27th Cubs Convention at the Chicago Hilton. Dunston Jr. and Daniel Lockhart were selected in last June’s First-Year Player Draft in the 11th and 10th rounds, respectively, while Brenly was a 36th round pick in 2008 and helped Daytona win the Florida State League championship last season.

Both Lockhart and Dunston Jr. are going from high school to pro ball. Lockhart’s Hebron Christian Academy in Georgia is coming off a state championship. Shawon Jr. said it was a tough decision to choose between school and baseball; he wanted to go to Vanderbilt University. The Cubs’ signing bonus included money for school, which helped convince the outfielder.

“I want him to be a better player than me, to have a better career than me,” said Dunston Sr., who was the Cubs’ first-round pick in 1982.

Keith Lockhart, a former Major League infielder who is now a scout with the Cubs, said Daniel developed an early love for the game. When he was 3 years old, Daniel would stand on a seat at ballgames to watch, rather than go play with the other kids. Bob Brenly said Michael was determined to be a catcher and would dig out dad’s old gear to wear. What will happen if Michael does make it to the big leagues and dad is broadcasting the game?

“That sound you hear in the background will be me throwing up [out of nervousness],” said Bob Brenly, the analyst for Cubs TV broadcasts.

All of the fathers and sons did give credit to the moms for taking them to games and supporting them. Michael said his mother often sounded just like his dad in giving advice.

Shawon Sr., who works in the Giants organization with Minor Leaguers, made sure his son put school first. Shawon Jr. had to maintain a 3.55 GPA. If it was lower, he couldn’t play baseball.

“My job is to hate me now but you’ll love me later,” Shawon Sr. said.

Someone suggested Cubs fans would be eager to dust off the “Shawon-O-Meter” sign popular during Dunston’s days with the Cubs from 1985-95.

“I have a t-shirt at home with that on it,” Shawon Jr. said.

Shawon Sr. is doing his best to keep his son on track. The latest argument in the Dunston house is about what car young Shawon will get. Dad will probably win this one.

“Best advice, always listen to your father,” Shawon Sr. said.

Dunston wears a 20-year-old gold chain with charms for each of his children on it.

“I always keep my kids with me,” he said.

— Carrie Muskat

1/14 Extra bases: Santo, DeJesus, Campy & more

Ron Santo’s wife, Vicki, his son, Ron Santo Jr., and former teammates Randy Hundley, Glenn Beckert, and Billy Williams talked about the late third baseman, who was elected into the Hall of Fame in December. The session at the Grand Ballroom of the Chicago Hilton was standing room only. All agreed they were sad that the news came after Santo had passed.

“Ronnie would’ve been happier than anybody who’s ever been elected to the Hall of Fame,” said WGN Radio’s Pat Hughes, who was Santo’s partner for 15 years, and the emcee.

Vicki Santo will deliver the speech in honor of her husband in the induction ceremonies at Cooperstown on July 22.

* Extra bases: David DeJesus is the leading candidate to leadoff for the Cubs but Dale Sveum said he’s considering using Tony Campana in certain matchups. … During a Q&A session in which kids were the reporters, Campana was the star. Nearly every question was directed to the speedy outfielder, which prompted Reed Johnson to ask the kids if they did that because the 5-foot-8 Campana was the same size as they were. … Campana, by the way, would have liked to be an astronaut if he wasn’t playing baseball. …  New pitching coach Chris Bosio said he expects the pitchers to be prepared, dictate the tempo of the game, and throw strikes. “We’re going to turn Wrigley Field into a homefield advantage, hopefully like they’ve never seen before,” he said. … The Cubs have not asked for more night games but would like more flexibility with the schedule so they could have a late game on Friday after a road trip, Tom Ricketts said. No plans for a video scoreboard.

— Carrie Muskat

1/14 Sveum: The plan is to win now

How will new Cubs manager Dale Sveum deal with a player who doesn’t hustle or run out a ball?

“They’re going to be held accountable,” Sveum said Saturday at the Cubs Convention. “It’s not going to be OK. They won’t be able to walk past me in the dugout.”

Sveum then said to the fan who asked, “It obviously bothers you.”

“Yes,” the fan said. “It bothers you, too, Bob.”

Brenly was the emcee for the Q&A with Sveum and his coaches, and has been critical of lackadaisical play on his TV broadcasts.

“A little bit,” Brenly said, smirking.

* Sveum has talked to several of the core players at length, and also met some of the Cubs at a mini camp in Mesa, Ariz., in the first week of January. David DeJesus, Ian Stewart and Marlon Byrd were among the players who worked out with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo at that time.

Sveum said he was impressed at how quickly Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer filled their wish list. In two months, they added more depth to the starting pitching with Travis Wood, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm, they added future left-hander power with Anthony Rizzo, and became more athletic with DeJesus and Stewart.

He also dismissed talk that the Cubs are rebuilding.

“The plan is to win right now,” Sveum said. “The long-term plan starts right now. We’re not rebuilding, we’re building.”

* Rumors connecting the Cubs to free agent Prince Fielder wouldn’t go away. A fan asked Sveum about the possibility the Brewers first baseman could be reunited with his former hitting coach.

“It’s just not going to happen,” Sveum said about Fielder coming to the Cubs. “We have Bryan LaHair and Rizzo waiting in the wings.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/13 Garza shrugs off trade talk

Matt Garza has been a hot topic in trade rumors this offseason but he’s ignoring the talk.

“I really don’t pay attention,” Garza said Friday. “I’ve got way too many things going on. I work out three to four hours a day, and I’ve got three kids, and two go to school and I’m busy, busy, busy. Most of my focus is on getting ready for February.”

Cubs president of business operations Theo Epstein did want to talk to Garza at some point, face to face.

“He’s a rare, rare commodity — a top of the rotation type starter who has proven it in the [American League] East, he’s proven it last year,” Epstein said of the right-hander, who was 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA in his first season in Chicago. “He’s playoff proven. He’s a guy who, when he has the ball, our team thinks we’ll win that day and that’s important.

“He’s been here longer than I have, too — just one year in the Cubs clubhouse, and he made a pretty good impression about the way he goes about it,” Epstein said.

Garza doesn’t feel the Cubs are headed for another fifth place finish in the NL Central.

“I’ve played on teams that are just as young and have done some special things,” Garza said. “I know what youth can do and I’m excited with where this is going. … We might shock people.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/13 Wood signs one-year, $3 million deal to stay

Kerry Wood is staying put. In an announcement perfectly timed to kick off the Cubs Convention on Friday, Wood and the team reached agreement on a one-year, $3 million deal with a club option for 2013.

“Never a doubt,” Wood joked.

Actually, there was. Wood said he considered offers from other teams and was waiting for a phone call to schedule a physical.

“It all worked out in the end and I’m back where I belong in Chicago,” Wood said.

The announcement was made at the opening ceremonies of the 27th annual Cubs Convention at the Hilton Chicago. The 2012 team was introduced alphabetically, and WGN Radio’s Pat Hughes called Randy Wells’ name, then said he had just received some news. The fans in the packed Grand Ballroom started chanting, “Kerry, Kerry” in anticipation, and they were right as Wood appeared.

“The fans are great, they’ve always been great to me,” Wood said. “Tonight was obviously a little special. My family was here, my kids were jumping up and down. It was pretty cool. I got goosebumps. It was very exciting.”

Wood, 34, had made it clear he wanted to stay with the Cubs, who drafted him in 1995. He gave the team a hometown discount in 2011, signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal to return. That was motivated by how he felt after attending Hall of Fame third baseman Ron Santo’s funeral in December 2010. On Friday, he was able to celebrate the new deal at a fundraiser for his Wood Family Foundation.

“It was kind of last minute,” Wood said of his new deal. “We got it worked out. I think both sides kind of knew we would. Two months of waiting took probably 15 minutes to get it done, and that’s how it goes sometimes. Obviously, I’m super excited to be back and playing in Chicago.”

Last September, Wood said he would retire if he didn’t re-sign with the Cubs and meant it. But he also wanted to keep playing.

“I wasn’t ready to retire,” Wood said. “I didn’t want to be forced into that. I still love the game and think I have plenty left. [Retiring] is what I said, but people are allowed to change their minds.”

— Carrie Muskat