January 2012

1/5 Castro wanted for questioning

Starlin Castro is wanted for questioning after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman on Sept. 29, an allegation the Cubs’ shortstop’s lawyers called “baseless.” WBBM Newsradio reported the story exclusively on Friday. No criminal charges have been filed against Castro, 21, who left Chicago for the Dominican Republic on Sept. 30. The Cubs finished the regular season Sept. 28 in San Diego.

Castro’s representatives from Wasserman Media Group issued this statement: “We are aware of certain allegations that have been made against our client, Starlin Castro. We have thoroughly investigated this matter and we are confident these allegations are baseless. Given the sensitive nature of this matter, we cannot comment any further.”

The Cubs also issued a statement to WBBM: “We are aware that a police report was filed regarding an incident involving Starlin, but we have received limited information. While this is something we take very seriously, there is not enough information to make any further comment or take action at this time. We’re hopeful that when the facts are brought to light, Starlin will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”

According to the police report, the woman was drinking with friends at a River North nightclub in Chicago on Sept. 29 when she met Castro. Sources said the woman and a friend left the bar at 3 a.m. and went to Castro’s nearby apartment. The woman told police that she passed out, and when she came to, the alleged offender was sexually assaulting her. She yelled, and left the apartment around 5:30 a.m. Twelve hours later, she went to a hospital and contacted police.

— Carrie Muskat

1/5 Cubs deal Big Z to Marlins

The Cubs knew they were committed to spending $18 million in 2012 on Carlos Zambrano one way or another, but Theo Epstein wasn’t convinced the right-hander could win back the trust of his teammates.

“The calculus for us was would we rather spend that $18 million on one year of Carlos and try to make it work with him here,” Epstein said. “Best case scenario is that if it did work, he’d be leaving as a free agent at the end of the year.

“Or, if we had to spend that money anyways as a sunk cost, would we rather spend it on a 25-year-old who we can put in our rotation and control for three seasons?” he said. “That made a lot more sense.”

On Thursday, the Cubs’ roller coaster ride with Zambrano came to an end when the team dealt the volatile right-hander to the Marlins for pitcher Chris Volstad. Zambrano, 30, waived his no-trade clause and also the $19.25 million option for 2013 to join good friend and Venezuelan countryman Ozzie Guillen, the new Marlins manager, who will try to keep the pitcher’s emotions in check.

Epstein was unable to find a trade partner until three days ago. Zambrano did not want to even discuss a trade during a face to face meeting with Epstein in November in Chicago. But Epstein, who took over as Cubs president of baseball operations in late October, discovered a recurring theme in conversations with players and front office executives regarding Zambrano. None of them trusted the mercurial pitcher to change his ways. Epstein had outlined steps Zambrano needed to take to earn his way back with the Cubs but said he was skeptical it could happen.

“Every player who I talked to articulated to me that Carlos had violated their trust,” Epstein said. “When you’re talking about physical altercations with teammates repeatedly, when you’re talking about physically walking out on the team, it’s very hard to have that player come back into the clubhouse and be trusted.

“I think to be a good teammate there has to be a certain degree of trust and accountability,” he said. “Do I believe in second chances? Yes. Do I believe in third chances? Yes, in come cases — even fourth chances. I think you have to be realistic about it and recognize that players don’t dictate decisions like this but you’re trying to establish a certain sense of unity in the clubhouse and a certain sense of purpose, you have to have accountability and trust between the players.”

The risk of having Zambrano become a distraction again was too high, and his departure ends a tumultuous 11-year career in Chicago.

Pitcher Kerry Wood did wish Zambrano well with a tweet on Thursday, saying: “Best of luck to Big Z in Miami. Played together for 9 seasons. Wish him all the best!”

Now, Big Z will get a fresh start in Miami.

“We’re glad for him that he has a chance for a new start and a place where he can build new relationships and establish a new reputation for himself,” Epstein said of Zambrano. “We think he has the chance to do that in Miami.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/5 Cubs Convention schedule set for Jan. 13-15

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Dale Sveum and new Cubs Ian Stewart, David DeJesus, Travis Wood and Chris Volstad will take part in the 27th annual Cubs Convention, Jan. 13-15, at the Hilton Chicago. The fanfest also will be a chance for family and former teammates of Ron Santo to celebrate his entry into the Hall of Fame. Santo, who died in December 2010, was elected to Cooperstown last month.

Former Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston and his son, Shawon Dunston Jr., who was selected in the First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs, will headline a father-son session.

Players in attendance will include Starlin Castro and Marlon Byrd; veterans Ryan Dempster and Carlos Marmol; as well as Darwin Barney, Tony Campana and Andrew Cashner. Among the prospects scheduled to participate are Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters, part of the more than 80 current and former members of the Cubs, coaches and prospects who will attend the convention.

Saturday’s schedule includes a “Behind the Scenes with Theo Epstein” in the Grand Ballroom with the new president of baseball operations. It will be followed by “Meet Cubs Baseball Management” featuring Hoyer, the new general manager, plus Sveum, the new manager, and assistant GM Randy Bush. Proceeds from the Convention benefit Chicago Cubs Charities.  The Cubs Convention has helped generate more than $4 million since its inception in 1986.

— Carrie Muskat

1/4 Big Z headed to Marlins

He threw a no-hitter in 2008, yet threw more than his share of tantrums. He was a Cy Young waiting to happen, but could aso be a distraction. Carlos Zambrano was a volatile, emotional pitcher, and now appears headed to Miami. The Cubs and Marlins have reportedly agreed to a deal which would send Zambrano to Miami in exchange for Chris Volstad. The Cubs would pick up $15-16 million of the $18 million owed Zambrano next season. Volstad is a first-year arbitration eligible player.

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal first reported the deal, and said it is done pending approval by the commissioner’s office. The two teams also need to exchange medical records. Neither Cubs nor Marlins officials would comment on the reports.

If the Cubs do move Zambrano, it would end a roller coaster ride in Chicago. Zambrano, 30, had to waive his no-trade clause for such a deal to be completed, and given the chance to join Ozzie Guillen in Miami, he did so. Big Z is coming off a 9-7 season which ended abruptly Aug. 12. He served up five home runs to the Braves that day, then was ejected for throwing inside to Chipper Jones, and left Turner Field early. Zambrano told teammates he was retiring, and later recanted. He was subsequently placed on the disqualified list and did not pitch again for the Cubs.

This offseason, Zambrano made five starts for Caribes in the Venezuelan Winter League, and last pitched Dec. 27, giving up one run over 4 1/3 innings.

On Wednesday during a fan question and answer session, Epstein talked about how Zambrano has to change to fit into what the Cubs are trying to do.

“The Carlos Zambrano of 2011 and years previous can’t fit into the culture that we have here,” Epstein said. “Change needs to happen and change will happen. Either he’ll change and buy in and fit into this culture — and I understand there are a lot of skeptics around about that, and I understand that, and frankly, I’m skeptical as well.

“He needs to prove to us that he can change and be part of this culture,” Epstein said, “or we’ll change the personnel and move forward with people who are proud to be Cubs and treat their teammates with respect, treat the fans with respect and can be part of a winning culture in the Cubs’ clubhouse.”

Zambrano would likely be the fourth or fifth starter for the Marlins, joining a rotation of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Anibal Sanchez, and Ricky Nolasco.

Volstad, 25, was 5-13 with a 4.89 ERA in 29 starts last season with the Marlins, striking out 117 over 165 2/3 innings. In 103 games over four seasons in Florida, he was 32-39 with a 4.59 ERA. Volstad earned $445,000 last season; he will not be a free agent until after the 2014 season. He would join a Cubs rotation that includes Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Travis Wood and Randy Wells.

— Carrie Muskat

1/4 Epstein on Z, Marshall, first base & more

During a question and answer session with Theo Epstein on WGN Radio on Wednesday, the Cubs president of baseball operations touched on a variety of topics:

* On Carlos Zambrano and changing the culture:

Epstein said changing the culture involves players being accountable to the Cubs, their fans and each other. How does Zambrano fit in?

“The Carlos Zambrano of 2011 and years previous can’t fit into the culture that we have here,” Epstein said. “Change needs to happen and change will happen. Either he’ll change and buy in and fit into this culture — and I understand there are a lot of skeptics around about that, and I understand that, and frankly, I’m skeptical as well. He needs to prove to us that he can change and be part of this culture or we’ll change the personnel and move forward with people who are proud to be Cubs and treat their teammates with respect, treat the fans with respect and can be part of a winning culture in the Cubs’ clubhouse.”

* On the Sean Marshall deal:

Epstein said Marshall is the type of pitcher an organization wants but that the Cubs needed to look at the bigger picture. Marshall had one year left of club control. He would become a free agent after the 2012 season and, under the new basic agreement, could leave with the Cubs not receiving any compensation.

“With what we’re trying to accomplish, which is not just win the World Series in 2012 but build something bigger and more sustainable for the long-term, what’s more valuable to us?” Epstein said. “One season worth of Sean Marshall or five seasons worth of a 25-year-old left-handed starting pitcher who can go into our starting rotation … and two prospects we like a lot.”

He noted the other players acquired from the Reds will be under club control for a longer period of time.

* On dealing with players and large contracts:

Epstein didn’t name Alfonso Soriano’s deal or any others specifically, but did say a team has three options on how to handle players with large contracts that appear to be more of a burden than a benefit. One, a team can be creative and make a deal and eat part of the salary. Two, the best move may be to walk away from a player. Or, the third option is to get to know a player better, understand what makes him tick, and provide an infrastructure in which he can improve.

“There’s no one way to handle these things,” Epstein said. “I think you need to approach it with an open mind, with hard work and creativity and understand it’s a game played by human beings and the ability to bounce back is very real.”

* On re-signing Kerry Wood:

Epstein said Wood is “exactly the type of guy we want to build a winning culture here in Chicago.” The Cubs are negotiating with Wood’s agent about a new contract.

“You have a team that really respects a player, wants him back desperately, and you have a player who loves the city, is a huge part of the community here with his family and his foundation and wants to be back,” Epstein said. “If we can’t work this out, we’re doing something wrong.”

* On first base:

Epstein said the Cubs’ first baseman heading into 2012 is Bryan LaHair.

“I think hitters hit no matter where they are and this kid has hit,” Epstein said of LaHair. “He’s hit everywhere he’s ever been. You can’t dominate the Triple-A level more than he did this year.”

Some players are labeled “4A” hitters in that they’re not able to succeed in the Majors, but Epstein doesn’t buy into that.

“It’s the right time for an organization like us to give him the opportunity,” Epstein said.

* On new Cubs manager Dale Sveum:

Epstein said Sveum is “authentic and genuine.”

“He is who he is,” Epstein said. “He knows himself, he never tries to be something that he’s not. He’s perfectly genuine, never tries to put on facades or airs and show players he’s something he’s not.”

Epstein said that’s important because managers can’t “fake it” with players. He said managers are sometimes categorized as either a players’ manager or a disciplinarian. Sveum is both.

“What I like about Dale is he’s firmly in both camps,” Epstein said. “He holds the players to really high standards. This team will have a lot of discipline on the field, off the field. Players will be accountable to Dale, they’ll be accountable to each other. There will be no loafing, no excuse for lack of preparation, lack of aggressiveness, lack of hard work.

“But he’s also going to be extremely well liked because he’s a down to earth guy who doesn’t try to be something that he’s not,” Epstein said.

* On compensation with the Red Sox:

Epstein said it has yet to be resolved.

“It’s still on the table,” Epstein said. “We’ll get it resolved. I think both clubs are approaching it in good faith. We need to find a resolution that both parties are happy with.”

He is still good friends with the Red Sox staff, and admitted to using an office at Fenway Park for a conference call to announce the Marshall trade with the Reds.

— Carrie Muskat 

1/4 Spring report dates for Cubs

Want to see the Cubs this spring? Pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 18, and the full squad must report by Feb. 23. The first full squad workout under new manager Dale Sveum and staff at Fitch Park will be Feb. 24.
— Carrie Muskat

1/4 Garza rumors continue

The Cubs are listening to offers for Matt Garza but no team has presented a package of elite prospects that matches what Theo & Co. want in return. On Wednesday, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that Major League sources are saying the Cubs will part with Garza if another team is willing to deal three prospects from a team’s “A” list. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Blue Jays were known to be interested in Garza. The Cubs have entertained offers for the right-hander.

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit News that he did not offer pitching prospect Jacob Turner for Matt Garza. The Tigers did actively pursue Gio Gonzalez but Dombrowski said there are no ongoing trade talks for starting pitching. Says Dombrowski: “There’s been a lot of things written in recent weeks that have been totally incorrect.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/4 Cubs Caravan stop in Peoria Jan. 12

The Cubs Caravan will stop Jan. 12 in Peoria, Ill., and Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Matt Sczcur, Tony Campana, Chris Carpenter and Casey Coleman were expected to take part. New Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio, bench coach Jamie Quirk, first base coach Dave McKay, scouting director Joe Bohringer and assistant GM Shiraz Rehman also were scheduled to attend. Doors will open at 3:30 p.m., and an autograph and photo session will run from 4:45 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Peoria RiverPlex. Tickets are $15 and include the autograph/photo session, beer, soda, hot dogs, chips and cookies. Tickets will not be sold at the door. You can purchase them at the Peoria Chiefs’ offices at O’Brien Field.

— Carrie Muskat

1/3 Reed Johnson contract done

The Cubs and Reed Johnson have agreed to terms on a one-year Major League contract, the team announced Tuesday. Johnson, 35, batted .309 with 22 doubles, five home runs, 33 runs scored and 28 RBIs in 111 games last season.

— Carrie Muskat


1/3 Dempster & Wood charity events

Next week you can help out Ryan Dempster’s and Kerry Wood’s foundations. On Jan. 12, the Dempster Foundation will host the ultimate pizza party at D’Agostino’s in Wrigleyville. There will be a silent auction, a chance to mingle with Cubs players, a raffle, entertainment, and plenty of pizza. Tickets are $100 each (kids are $50 each and children under 2 are free). All proceeds benefit the Ryan and Jenny Dempster Family Foundation. Tickets are limited and can be purchased at D’Agostino’s Wrigleyville location or by going to the dempsterfamilyfoundation.org website.

* On Jan. 13, 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.  Theo Epstein will take part as well as Dempster, Marlon Byrd, Matt Garza, Andrew Cashner, Geovany Soto, Starlin Castro, Randy Wells, Welington Castillo, Darwin Barney, James Russell and legends Ernie Banks & Rick Sutcliffe. The event will include “meet and greet” opportunities with Cubs players, a premium open bar, a dinner buffet, auction and raffle. All proceeds benefit the foundation. Plus, there will also 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.   Parking is available for $10 after 5 p.m. CT at the Navy Pier Garage.  For additional information, visit the  woodfamilyfoundation.org website.

 — Carrie Muskat