November 2012

11/28 Tree lighting at Wrigley

The Cubs will kickoff the holiday season on Friday with a tree lighting ceremony at Wrigley Field. Chairman Tom Ricketts, outfielder David DeJesus, Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins and Cubs fans and Lakeview neighbors will take part, starting at 5 p.m. CT at the corner of Clark and Addison streets. The 30-foot decorated holiday tree was donated by Christy Webber Landscapes. The tree-lighting ceremony will be followed by a free hour of ice skating at The Rink at Wrigley. The rink is open to the public in the Cubs parking lot at the corner of Clark and Waveland.

11/28 Coleman DFA to make room for Feldman

Right-handed pitcher Casey Coleman was designated for assignment to make room on the Cubs’ 40-man roster for recently acquired pitcher Scott Feldman. The Cubs’ roster is at 40. Feldman signed a one-year, $6 million deal on Tuesday, and is projected for the rotation. Coleman, 25, has compiled a 7-13 record and 5.76 ERA in 48 career games with the Cubs, including 26 starts. He was 0-2 with a 7.40 ERA in 17 games last season, including one start, while posting a 2-4 record and 4.34 ERA in 13 games (11 starts) for Triple-A Iowa. A 15th-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, his season ended Aug. 12 because of a strained right shoulder.

— Carrie Muskat

11/28 Hall of Fame decisions

The Hall of Fame releases the 2013 ballot at 11 a.m. CT today, and it should prompt some interesting discussions. Sammy Sosa is one of the players on the ballot for the first time. In 18 seasons, Sosa hit more than 600 home runs. He’s the only player with three 60-homer seasons, hitting 66 in 1998, 64 in 2001, and 63 in 1999. He’s one of two National League players to reach 160 RBIs in a single season, which he did in 2001. The other was another Cubs player, Hack Wilson, who holds the single-season mark of 191 set in 1930.  He was a seven-time All-Star and six-time Silver Slugger winner. He won the Roberto Clemente Award in 1998 and the Hank Aaron Award in 1999. He hit more home runs (479) than anyone for any 10-year period. He’s the only player in NL history to have six consecutive seasons of 40 home runs. He is the Cubs’ all-time home run leader (545), passing Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo.

But Sosa’s career also has other elements for Hall of Fame voters to consider. According to a NY Times story in June 2009, he was allegedly among 104 Major League players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003. Sosa was never found guilty by an official MLB party. In 2005, he joined McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Jose Canseco at a hearing before Congress regarding drug use in baseball. Sosa’s attorney testified on his behalf, saying the slugger had never taken illegal performance enhancing drugs.

The Hall of Fame ballot states: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” That’s it. Do the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who vote for the HOF, exclude players who did not test positive but are perceived to have taken drugs? We can all agree that taking steroids or other performance enhancing drugs is cheating. But the Hall of Fame is dedicated to preserving baseball history.

“I think you have to judge people for the era they were in,” said former Cubs GM Jim Hendry in 2005. “Unless all the facts are in, speculation is a waste of time. You’ll never be able to go back and figure out who did what for sure. I’m not condoning it at all. As long as there is competitive athletics and people can get away with things, they’ll try to get a competitive edge.”

Where do you stand? Should Sammy Sosa be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame?

— Carrie Muskat 

11/28 Winter League update

Junior Lake was 1-for-3 and scored a run for Estrellas de Oriente in Dominican Winter League play on Tuesday. Lake, who has primarily played shortstop and third base, made his third start in left field. He was batting .333 overall. Maybe he could be the extra outfielder the Cubs are looking for?

Luis Valbuena went 1-for-3 with one RBI, and scored two runs, for Cardenales de Lara in Venezuela. He was batting .330 in 29 games.

— Carrie Muskat

11/27 One more look at Feldman

Signing Scott Feldman doesn’t excite you? Read what Dave Cameron of FanGraphs has to say about the right-handed pitcher, who signed a one-year deal with the Cubs on Tuesday, and maybe that will change your view. Sure, Feldman doesn’t have much of a “wow” factor but that was the same reaction one year ago when the Cubs signed Paul Maholm. As Cameron notes, there’s a trend here. The Cubs are looking for quality arms without committing to long-term deals or giving up impact players in return.

“Feldman might not have the reputation of a quality starter yet, but he’s shown the skills necessary to become a perfectly acceptable middle-of-the-rotation innings eater,” Cameron writes. “Last year, he ran a 3/1 K/BB ratio while maintaining an average ground ball rate, putting him in the same xFIP range as guys like Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren. [Feldman] doesn’t have the same track record of success as those guys but he’s also going to cost a fraction of the price and offers the same low BB/average K/average GB skill set.

“In a more friendly home ballpark and with better results at stranding runners, Feldman projects to be something not too far from a league average starting pitcher in 2013. And, while he’s going to be labeled a stop-gap type of signing, he doesn’t turn 30-years-old until February, so there’s no reason to think that the Cubs can’t extract longer term value from him if he pitches well in 2013. With Feldman and Baker, the Cubs have added a couple of pieces to their rotation who aren’t just pump-and-dump guys, but could be solid pieces to build future rotations around as well. This isn’t just patching a hole because the Cubs need arms for next season — these deals are investments in buying low on pitchers who could be part of the next good Cubs team, even if that team is still several years away.”

Cameron notes that Feldman may not be an ace but he can give the Cubs 180 innings, and gives the team kudos for the deal.

“Don’t be surprised if they’re announcing another contract with him at some point in 2013, rewarding him for his breakout season and keeping him on the north side beyond just this one season,” Cameron writes.

— Carrie Muskat


11/27 Extra bases: Feldman, Stewart & Deer

The addition of Scott Feldman fulfills GM Jed Hoyer’s wish list this offseason as far as starting pitching. Feldman and Scott Baker join Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Travis Wood in the Cubs rotation. Feldman was the Rangers’ Opening Day starter in 2010 and feels he can get back to how he pitched in ’09 when he won 17 games if he gets regular work.

“I think part of why he agreed to a one-year deal is that he has a lot of confidence in himself and felt like, ‘Hey, I know I can pitch better than I did last year and I can potentially use that as a spring-board,'” Hoyer said. “He showed a lot of confidence in wanting a one-year deal.

“I think last year, if you look inside his numbers, the numbers were not what he probably hoped but they were pretty misleading. If you look at his ratios and different underlying numbers, he’s one of the most unlucky pitchers in the game last year. While it wasn’t his best year, it certainly wasn’t nearly as bad as the ERA on the page says it was.”

The Cubs will announce a 40-man roster move later in the day Tuesday. They were at 40 before the addition of Feldman.

* Hoyer was asked about hiring Rob Deer as an assistant hitting coach.

“That’s a position a lot of teams are adding,” Hoyer said. “I think baseball teams in general are starting to realize the pitching coach has 12 guys and he has help from the bullpen coach, and the hitting coach has 13 guys and no help at all. Teams are starting to add a second hitting coach. Candidly, I’m sort of upset, looking back on the years in Boston and San Diego, I feel it’s a position we should’ve added long ago. Dale [Sveum] has a long relationship with Rob, and speaks incredibly highly of him. Our interactions with him are real positive. We’re excited to add him. He can really assist James [Rowson, hitting coach] well and add a nice element to our clubhouse.”

Some have pointed to Deer’s career .220 batting average and 1,409 career strikeouts as not seeming to be conducive to someone to listen to.

“On that note, I think mentioning a coach’s stats as a player is one of the least useful things you can imagine,” Hoyer said. “No one ever mentions Jim Leyland’s numbers or Tony La Russa’s numbers. I think coaching and playing are two very separate things. Just because a guy happened to strike out a lot or didn’t have a high batting average doesn’t affect how well he teaches at all. I also would note [Deer] was a guy who did get on base and had a lot of power. I don’t think a coach’s playing background says how he coaches and how he teaches.”

* Friday is the deadline for teams to decide whether to tender contracts to their arbitration eligible players. Ian Stewart is an interesting case as he recovers from wrist surgery.

“We’re still talking to Ian,” Hoyer said. “We got a report today on his wrist and how he’s doing. He’s taking light batting practice, hitting balls off a tee and it seems like the wrist is progressing nicely. We’ll continue those conversations throughout the week. There’s a decision to be made at the end of the week. We’ve had a good dialogue with Ian and Larry Reynolds, his agent, and we’ll continue to do that for the next three or four days.”

The Cubs’ other arbitration eligible players include Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, James Russell, and Luis Valbuena.

— Carrie Muskat

11/27 Cubs sign Feldman

The Cubs added another arm to the mix on Tuesday, signing right-hander Scott Feldman to a one-year, $6 million deal with another $1 million in incentives. Feldman, 29, is the second free agent pitcher signed by the Cubs this month, joining Scott Baker. Feldman has pitched all or part of the last eight seasons with the Rangers, going 39-44 with a 4.81 ERA in 204 appearances, 101 as a starter. He made 20 or more starts in four of the last five seasons while also making 30 relief appearances in that span. He pitched exclusively in relief his first three seasons before transitioning into a starting role in 2008.

In 2009, Feldman was 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA in 34 appearances, including a career-high 31 starts. That season, he ranked among American League leaders in wins and winning percentage while setting a single-season franchise record with 12 wins on the road. The right-hander was the Rangers’ Opening Day starter a year later and went 7-11 with a 5.48 ERA in 29 appearances (22 starts) in 2010. He missed the first half of 2011 following right knee surgery. Last season, Feldman went 6-11 with a 5.09 ERA in 29 outings (21 starts).

— Carrie Muskat

11/27 Winter league update

* Alberto Cabrera gave up one run on three hits over four innings in relief on Monday for Toros del Este in Dominican Winter League play. It was the first earned run off the right-hander in 7 2/3 innings over three games.

Junior Lake started at third base and went 2-for-5 Monday for Estrellas de Oriente in the Dominican. He’s batting .333 in 30 games with two home runs, seven doubles and 11 RBIs.

Michael Bowden gave up one earned run on three hits and four walks over 5 1/3 innings in his fifth start for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican. He is 2-2 with a 3.92 ERA in five starts, striking out 12 over 20 2/3 innings.

* Austin Bibens-Dirkx gave up one run on six hits over 6 1/3 innings and struck out six on Saturday in his fifth start for Aguilas del Zulia in Venezuela. The right-hander is 1-0 with one save and a 1.63 ERA in seven games (five starts), striking out 31 over 27 2/3 innings.

Jae-Hoon Ha was batting .224 in 26 games for Tigres de Aragua in Venezuela. He went 1-for-3 on Sunday, hitting his first home run, a solo shot.

11/26 Deer added to Sveum’s staff

Dale Sveum and Rob Deer, teammates on the Brewers from 1986-90, are together again. The Cubs have hired Deer as an assistant hitting coach, and he’ll join Sveum’s coaching staff, working with hitting coach James Rowson. Deer, 52, batted .220 in 11 big league seasons with the Giants, Brewers, Tigers, Red Sox from 1984-93, and then played part of ’96 with the Padres. He hit 230 home runs, including 33 in ’86 with Milwaukee, and also led the league in strikeouts four times (1987, ’88, ’91 and ’93). Sveum, who is entering his second season as the Cubs manager, came up in the Brewers organization and played for the big league team from 1986-91.

How can Deer be a hitting instructor when he has such a low batting average and struck out so many times?

“I answer that a lot,” Deer told Milwaukee sportswriter Drew Olson in a 2006 interview. “I don’t teach the way I hit. I understand how to hit .300. I know what it takes. We tell the guys to be selectively aggressive. We want that to be their approach. We tell them, ‘Be patiently aggressive.’ That’s our motto. What does it mean? If you get a good pitch to hit and you take it, that’s your fault. We don’t ever want to take aggressiveness away. But, we don’t want to swing at bad pitches either. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t want them to hit like I did.”

— Carrie Muskat

11/24 Winter ball update

Tony Campana went 1-for-3 on Friday for Leones del Caracas in Venezuela Winter League play. Campana is 2-for-15 (.133) in four games so far. Luis Valbuena went 3-for-3 on Thursday, hitting two home runs and driving in five runs, and was 1-for-4 on Friday for Cardenales de Lara in Venezuela. He’s batting .337 in 26 games, and playing primarily second base.

Christian Villanueva, recently added to the Cubs’ 40-man roster, was batting .195 (8-for-41) in 18 games with Yaquis de Obregon in Mexico. he has two home runs, two doubles and six RBIs.

— Carrie Muskat