January 2012

1/10 Cubs sign Paul Maholm

The Cubs have signed free agent Paul Maholm to the rotation, a move first announced by the left-handed pitcher on Twitter.

“I hope to get to continue some things when I visit [Pittsburgh] during the year and start some great things as I start my Cubs career,” wrote Maholm on Monday.

Maholm, 29, will receive $4.25 million this year with a club option of $6.5 million in 2013, or a $500,000 buyout. The lefty, who has spent his entire career with the Pirates, gives the Cubs more depth, something GM Jed Hoyer has said they’re trying to do. The team does not want to be short-handed as it was last season when both Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells were hurt after their first starts of ths season.

“Depth has been a focus of this winter,” Hoyer said on Friday.

The candidates for the rotation now include Maholm, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, Randy Wells and Casey Coleman. Wood is the only lefty in that group. However, there has been interest in Garza this offseason by teams such as the Tigers, Yankees and Blue Jays.

— Carrie Muskat

1/9 Cubs reportedly close on Maholm

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports the Cubs are close to finalizing a deal for lefty Paul Maholm. He could join a rotation of Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad and Randy Wells. Maholm has spent his entire career with the Pirates, and having another lefty in the rotation would be a plus. The only thing certain is the Cubs are still shopping.

“We’re not finished acquiring starting pitchers,” GM Jed Hoyer said Friday. “We want to have as much depth as possible. At this point, we’re still very much in the process of gathering as many quality arms as we can and we’ll put those pieces in place as we get closer to Spring Training.”

MLB Trade Rumors lists Maholm as the top ground ball free agent pitcher available. The average MLB pitcher induces ground balls about 44 percent of the time; in his career, Maholm has a 52.3 percent rate.

— Carrie Muskat

1/9 Dempster pizza party for good cause

Do you like pizza, want a chance to bid on some cool baseball items and help a good cause? Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster will host third annual D’Agostino Family Night on Thursday to benefit the Dempster Family Foundation. The pizza place is at 1351 W. Addison Street, Chicago. Keith Moreland, Darwin Barney, Randy Wells and others will attend. There will be a silent auction, including first row field seats to the Roger Waters concert at Wrigley Field, bat boy for a day experience, a day spa package, a Ryne Sandberg autographed baseball, a Tony Romo autographed football, and more. Tickets are $100 each (kids $50 each and children under 2 are free).

— Carrie Muskat

1/9 Future free agents

To those of you wondering who will be free agents after the 2012 season, MLB Trade Rumors put together a list to consider:

Pitchers: Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Brandon McCarthy

Catcher: Yadier Molina, Chris Iannetta, Russell Martin, Miguel Montero, Mike Napoli, A.J. Pierzynski, Yorvit Torrealba

First base: Lance Berkman, Aubrey Huff, Adam LaRoche, Carlos Lee, James Loney.

Second base: Kelly Johnson, Maicer Izturis, Freddy Sanchez. Also possible FA: Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips (if Phillips doesn’t sign extension and Cano and Kinsler’s options aren’t picked up)

Shortstops: Erick Aybar, Stephen Drew, Marco Scutaro, Alex Gonzalez.

Third basemen: David right, Scott Rolen, Placido Polanco.

Outfielders: Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Shane Victorino, Melky Cabrera, Marlon Byrd, Grady Sizemore, Angel Pagan, Andre Ethier, Carlos Quentin, Nick Swisher.

— Carrie Muskat

1/9 Wood to make announcement Friday

Kerry Wood expects to announce Friday if he’s returning to the Cubs. Wood told NBC-5 Chicago on Sunday night he’ll make a decision by then, which is when the Cubs Convention opens and also when he hosts a fundraiser for his foundation in Chicago. The Phillies are reportedly interested in the right-hander, according to ESPN.com. Before the 2011 season ended, Wood said he will retire rather than pitch for another team. However, the Cubs and Wood apparently have been unable to agree on length of contract or money. Wood gave the Cubs a hometown discount when he signed a $1.5 million contract last December. Wood, 34, was 3-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 55 games last season, which ended in mid September after he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee. He had surgery in October. According to Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly, Wood is seeking around $4 million.

On Friday, Wood will host “Woody’s Winter Warm-Up,” a celebrity mixer, from 8:30-11:30 p.m. CT at Harry Caray’s Tavern on Navy Pier.  Wood will be joined by friends, teammates and baseball legends behind the bar to serve drinks and food to fans — and compete for tips — to raise money for the Wood Family Foundation. Besides an auction of memorabilia, there will be a special acoustic performance by the Plain White T’s. Tickets are $150 per person, or fans can reserve a booth for four people for $1,000, which includes tableside cocktail service. For additional information or ticket sales, visit woodfamilyfoundation.org.

— Carrie Muskat

1/8 Cubs Convention kicks off Friday

Many Cubs fans will get their first chance to talk to Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Dale Sveum and many of the newest players at the 27th annual Cubs Convention, which opens Friday at the Hilton Chicago. Opening ceremonies will begin at 5 p.m. CT in the Grand Ballroom.

Players scheduled to attend include Starlin Castro, Marlon Byrd, David DeJesus, Ian Stewart, Chris Volstad, Travis Wood, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Marmol, Darwin Barney, Tony Campana, Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters. In total, more than 80 current and former members of the Cubs, coaches and prospects are scheduled to interact in the three-day fan fest.

After the opening ceremonies Friday, there will be the Autograph Treasure Hunt, Cubs Bingo and a chance to sit in on WGN Radio’s live two-hour broadcast of “WGN Sports Night” featuring some of the players and staff.

On Saturday, Epstein, the new president of baseball operations, will kick off a “Behind the Scenes” seminar at 9 a.m. CT in the Grand Ballroom, followed at 10 a.m. CT by “Meet Cubs Baseball Management” featuring Sveum, Hoyer and assistant GM Randy Bush in the Continental Ballroom.
Additional Saturday sessions include:

* “Player Development: From the Dominican Republic to Mesa,” featuring Starlin Castro, Welington Castillo and Jeff Samardzija discussing their experiences in the Dominican Republic and Mesa, AZ, as well as front office leadership providing an update to the progress of each site.

* “From the Field to the Booth,” featuring host Dave Otto talking with Bob Brenly, Todd Hollandsworth, Gary Matthews, Keith Moreland and Rick Sutcliffe about the benefits and challenges of taking the player perspective to the broadcast booth.

* “For Kids Only Press Conference,” presented by Advocate Health Care, with Darwin Barney, Tony Campana, Reed Johnson, Todd Walker and newcomer David DeJesus facing questions from a room of pint-sized reporters.

* “Ron Santo: Beyond the Game,” featuring host Pat Hughes talking with widow Vicki Santo, son Ron Santo Jr., and friends and teammates Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley and Billy Williams about the late broadcaster and third baseman and his recent Hall of Fame election.

* “Coaches’ Den,” featuring Sveum, new bench coach Jamie Quirk, new pitching coach Chris Bosio, new first base coach Dave McKay, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and bullpen coach Lester Strode discussing their coaching philosophies, moderated by Bob Brenly.

* “Outside the Foul Lines,” featuring Tony Campana, Ryan Dempster, Geovany Soto and Randy Wells sharing their personalities and experiences beyond the game.

* “The Ricketts’ Family Forum,” featuring Ricketts family members Tom, Laura, Pete and Todd discussing their journey as team owners and what they hope to accomplish in the coming years.

* “When Super Fans Unite,” a session dedicated to the fans and their questions targeted to members of the legendary 1984 team, including Bob Dernier, Gary Matthews, Keith Moreland and Lee Smith.

* “The Scouting Formula,” featuring Jason McLeod, senior VP of scouting and player development; Oneri Fleita, VP of player personnel; Tim Wilken, director of amateur scouting; and Joe Bohringer, director of professional scouting, discussing their secrets behind scouting and player development.

* “Meet Cubs Business Management,” offering a look toward the future of the Cubs and Wrigley Field with Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations; Wally Hayward, executive VP, chief sales & marketing officer; Mike Lufrano, VP of community affairs; Carl Rice, VP of stadium operations; Colin Faulkner, VP of ticket sales; Alex Sugarman, VP of business development; and Jahaan Blake, director of fan experiences.

Saturday’s programs will conclude with a live two-hour broadcast of WGN Radio’s Sports Central from 4-6 p.m. CT, featuring a variety of current, former and new Cubs players. Guests can then head over to the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue” for a night of dancing, singing and plenty of laughter during a live show from Rod Tuffcurls & The Bench Press.
* On Sunday, the sessions include “Down on the Farm,” which highlights each team in the Minor League system with players  Jeff Beliveau, Brett Jackson, Junior Lake, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters. Former Cub Shawon Dunston and his son Shawon Dunston Jr. will be joined by Bob Brenly and his son, prospect Michael Brenly, and Cubs scout Keith Lockhart and his son, prospect Daniel Lockhart, to discuss the pros and cons of “The Father-Son Connection” in Major League Baseball.
Among the new activities this year:

*  The LEGOLAND® Discovery Center is a LEGO building area that will feature Master Model Builder Jayson Mueller as he constructs impressive creations, shows different building techniques and answers questions from fellow builders of all ages.

* The Best Buy Experience will allow fans to try their hand at a number of gaming consoles with the latest sports titles; discover their musical talents at an interactive DJ station; and connect at a computer cyber bar and charge their mobile devices.

* The Baseball Interactive Zone, hosted by Illinois Baseball Academy, provides an opportunity for fans to learn a few tricks of the game in a live setting. Professional instructors and special Cubs guests will give lessons to fans of all ages in designated areas for baseball skills, batting and pitching.

Proceeds from the Convention benefit Chicago Cubs Charities.  The Cubs Convention has helped generate more than $4 million for charity since its inception in 1986.

— Carrie Muskat 

1/6 Rizzo thrilled to be back with Theo & Co.

Anthony Rizzo was “ecstatic” at the news that he’d been traded again, and was going to the Cubs. He’s back with the group that originally drafted him when Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod were in Boston.

“I got called up to the big leagues last year and struggled a little bit,” Rizzo said Friday. “I wouldn’t say some people wrote me off, but some people I guess lost some faith in me. For them to still have that faith, with everything they helped me through, it just shows me how loyal they are and how honored I am to play for them.

“This is such a big business,” Rizzo said. “I’ve seen it now for the last five years how much of a business it is. Everyone I’ve spoken to talks about how professional Theo is, how straightforward he is with everyone. It means a lot to me to be with them again.”

When the Padres dealt for Yonder Alonso, did Rizzo think he might get traded again?

“I couldn’t even tell you,” Rizzo said. “I figured something would happen, but I wasn’t completely sure. I just went on with my offseason and trained as hard as I’m training to prepare for next year, wherever it was. Now I’m a Cub and hopefully will remain a Cub for many years to come.”

In 2008, Rizzo was limited to 21 Minor League games after being diagnosed with Limited Stage Classical Hodgkins Lymphoma in late April. He returned in ’09 to lead all Red Sox Minor Leaguers with a .368 on-base percentage and ranked third in the system with a .297 batting average between Class A Greenville and Class A Salem. 

“From the very bottom of the organization to the very top, to the ownership, when I was sick, they didn’t only help me out, they helped my family out and made sure everything was going to be OK,” Rizzo said of Epstin & Co. “To be back with the main people who were around me is just an honor. It’s a real exciting opportunity and I hope to make the best of it.”

— Carrie Muskat


1/6 Cubs deal Cashner to Padres for Rizzo

Maybe now people will believe the Cubs are not pursuing Prince Fielder. On Friday, the Cubs acquired first baseman Anthony Rizzo and right-handed pitcher Zach Cates from the Padres for right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyung-Min Na. Cashner is the second first-round pick the new Cubs front office has traded. They sent Tyler Colvin, the No. 1 pick in 2006, to the Rockies last month.

Rizzo, 22, batted .331 with 34 doubles, 26 home runs and 101 RBIs in 93 games for Triple-A Tucson last season. A left-handed hitter, he posted a .404 on-base percentage and a .652 slugging percentage, and his 1.056 OPS was second-best mark in the Pacific Coast League.

Rizzo was originally selected by the Red Sox in the sixth round of the 2007 Draft out of high school, and then Boston scouting director Jason McLeod said the first baseman had the best makeup of any player he’d been around. McLeod now is in the Cubs front office.

In 2008, he was limited to 21 Minor League games after being diagnosed with Limited Stage Classical Hodgkins Lymphoma in late April. He returned in ’09 to lead all Red Sox Minor Leaguers with a .368 on-base percentage and ranked third in the system with a .297 batting average between Class A Greenville and Class A Salem.

Jed Hoyer acquired Rizzo in San Diego in December 2010 as part of the five-player deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox.

Cates, 22, was selected by the Padres in the third round of the 2010 Draft and made his professional debut last season, going 4-10 with a 4.73 ERA in 25 starts for Class A Fort Wayne.

Cashner, 25, won a spot on the Cubs rotation in 2011 but had to be shutdown after one start because of a strained right rotator cuff. It wasn’t certain as to whether Cashner would compete for a spot in the rotation this season or be delegated to the bullpen.

Na, 20, combined to bat .268 with 10 doubles and 22 RBIs in 83 games between four different teams in the club’s Minor League system last year. The Seoul, South Korea native was originally signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent on Aug. 12, 2009. 

— Carrie Muskat 

1/6 AL teams talk to Cubs about Soriano

The Cubs traded Carlos Zambrano to the Marlins on Thursday. Could Alfonso Soriano be next to go? According to reports, the Orioles were one of a few American League teams who talked to the Cubs about a possible deal involving Soriano. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported Thursday the Cubs could not find a match for the outfielder after talking to a few teams. Soriano, who turns 36 on Saturday, is owed $54 million over the final three years of his contract.

On Thursday, Theo Epstein was asked about Soriano, and said the outfielder is still a valuable offensive player and that it’s up to the Cubs to get the best out of him.

— Carrie Muskat

1/6 Zambrano says goodbye

Carlos Zambrano was always entertaining, and you never wanted to miss his starts with the Cubs. He had the potential to throw a no-hitter — which he did — or throw something else. Zambrano issued a statement through a friend on Thursday following his trade to the Marlins:

“I’d like to thank the Chicago media and reporters for more than 10 years covering me and supporting me in the good times and bad,” Zambrano said. “I tried my best to answer all your questions and I thank you for having patience with me and please forgive my poor behavior at times. Chicago will always be in my heart.”

— Carrie Muskat