December 2012

12/6 Dempster’s foundation helps Chicago

Ryan Dempster’s charitable efforts benefitted some Chicago charities. The Dempster Family Foundation awarded five charitable organizations grants through its third annual grant cycle. The foundation was able to present more than $430,000, which was raised through the annual fundraiser, Casino Night, which was held in Chicago in May, as well as the inaugural “100 Faces of 22q” donor campaign. The following five charities received partnership grants this year, supporting children with the 22q11.2 disorder:  Cincinnati Children’s Hospital 22q-VCFS Center, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation (OR), Dragonfly Forest Camp (PA), Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago (IL), and March of Dimes Illinois.
The Dempster Family Foundation is dedicated to raising awareness of 22q11.2 deletion (DiGeorge Syndrome/VCFS) and reaching out to families with children with the disorder, and the charities that support them, to help them deal with difficult situations they face each day. For more info, go

12/6 Rule 5 Draft update

The Cubs feel Hector Rondon not only is finally healthy but also could be a key part of the bullpen in 2013. The Cubs selected Rondon, who was the Indians’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2009, with the second pick overall in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at the Winter Meetings. Rondon, 24, has been limited the last three seasons following right elbow UCL reconstruction surgery on Aug. 25, 2010. He fractured the same joint during winter ball in Venezuela in 2011.

The Cubs have been following him in Venezuela this winter, where he’s pitching for Leones del Caracas and had a 2-1 record and 3.71 ERA in 19 games, all in relief. He has struck out 11 and walked five over 17 innings. Hitters were batting .172 against him this winter. Cubs coach Franklin Font is on the Leones staff in Venezuela, and has filed reports on Rondon, plus the Cubs have sent their scouts to watch the right-hander. All the reports have been good. Rondon led the Indians organization in strikeouts in 2009 with 137 and was fourth in innings pitched. He’s made just 13 appearances in the last three years as he rehabs his elbow.

“He was a really good prospect with the Indians,” GM Jed Hoyer said. “We’ve been watching him in Venezuela this winter and he’s been throwing really, really well. He’s got a great arm and we feel we can capitalize on that he’s healthy now and throwing the ball well.”

* The Cubs also lost four players in the Rule 5 Draft, including right-handed pitcher Starling Peralta, who was taken by the Diamondbacks 14th overall in the Major League portion. Peralta was 5-8 with a 3.44 ERA for Class A Peoria. Among his starts was a strong outing Aug. 7 against Clinton when he struck out 14 over seven innings, giving up one run on two hits.

In the Triple-A phase of the draft, the Astros selected outfielder Michael Burgess with the first pick, the Cardinals took infielder Matt Cerda, and the Blue Jays selected right-handed pitcher Alvido Jimenez.

Burgess was a first-round pick by the Nationals in 2007, and the Cubs acquired him in January 2011 in the Tom Gorzelanny deal. Last season, he batted .259 with 10 home runs, one triple and 22 doubles at Double-A Tennessee.

Cerda played for Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee last season, and batted a combined .241 in 111 games with three home runs, two triples, 13 doubles and seven stolen bases. He was the Cubs’ fourth-round pick in 2008.

Jimenez was 3-4 with a 2.64 ERA in 15 games with the Cubs’ Mesa Rookie League team last season.

With the moves, the Cubs’ 40-man roster is now at 38.

— Carrie Muskat

12/6 Winter league roundup

Tony Campana went 1-for-4 with a stolen base on Wednesday for Leones del Caracas in Venezuela. Campana now has seven steals in 12 games.

Luis Valbuena was 1-for-4 on Wednesday for Cardenales de Lara in Venezuela. He’s batting .326 in 37 games with four home runs, 12 doubles and 24 RBIs.

Junior Lake was 1-for-3 for Estrellas de Oriente in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday. In 37 games, he’s batting .331 with four home runs and 17 RBIs. He’s played shortstop, third base and left field. Cubs reliever Rafael Dolis has appeared in three games for Estrellas, and picked up a win in relief in his last outing on Sunday, striking out three over 1 1/3 innings.

— Carrie Muskat

12/5 Cubs to sign Schierholtz

The Cubs have reportedly filled an outfield spot on Wednesday, agreeing to terms with free agent outfielder Nate Schierholtz on a one-year contract. The Cubs would not confirm the deal, but reports are that Schierholtz, 28, will receive $2.25 million. He must first pass a physical.

The Cubs came into the meetings looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder who can play center or right. In six seasons with the Giants and Phillies, he has a .270 batting average, 24 home runs, 75 doubles and 123 RBIs. He has primarily played right field, and the addition would move David DeJesus to center.

Schierholtz batted .257 for the Giants and Phillies with six home runs in 114 games. He began last season with San Francisco, and was dealt to Philadelphia on July 31 along with two Minor League players for Hunter Pence. He made a good impression in his Phillies debut, hitting a home run against the Nationals. His playing time was limited when he fractured his right big toe on Aug. 13.

In his career, he has limited at-bats at Wrigley Field, playing in nine games, and going 7-for-18.

— Carrie Muskat

12/5 Money matters

Super agent Scott Boras held court outside the media room at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday, and touched on a variety of topics. Asked whether this was a unique offseason and the seemingly strong spending was indicative of a change in the market, he said:

“We’ve seen franchise values go from $700 to $800 million for premium markets to where they’re now worth $2.5 to maybe $4 billion. Owners have made in franchise valuation, $2 to $2.5 billion. We’ve also seen a record revenue stream come to baseball from two media sources, in the fact that we’ve got a new TV contract where each club is going to get $25 million more per team per year. And almost any club in baseball, before they sell a ticket, off the general fund, revenue sharing and others, even the bottom teams, they’re going to have well over $110 to $120 million to spend, add on their ticket, concessions and other values. It’s really kind of a baseline where everybody’s at $180 million and above to begin. You also have the value of regional media rights, which we’ve seen in L.A. and we’re going to see in other markets like Chicago.

“If you look at certain owners, you have to say the Ricketts family for example, they’re the Ameritrade family. Well, I see why. They bought something for $800 million that’s now worth probably $2.5 billion and they have a new TV contract to negotiate in 2014 off the basis of what’s going on in Los Angeles with a $6 billion TV rights deal. And Philadelphia which may be equivalent to that, and then following, Chicago. Many of these teams can be great economic goliaths, and their owners have made very wise decisions buying those teams in the early 2000s.”

— Carrie Muskat


12/5 Cubs still on lookout

It’s Day 3 of the Winter Meetings, and the Cubs still don’t have a third baseman. The team did talk to representatives of free agents Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez, who both signed on Wednesday with new teams. They were more interested in Keppinger, who signed  a three-year $12 million deal with the White Sox. GM Jed Hoyer said they have offers out to other free agent third baseman as they try to find the right match.

“It’s a super-charged market in a lot of different areas,” Hoyer said. “We’re still on the lookout. We have a number of irons in the fire as far as third base. We’re confident we’ll land someone we feel good about. It certainly is a position of scarcity.”

The Cubs could platoon, which isn’t a perfect situation, but one they’ll consider. The team is still in contact with Ian Stewart’s agent Larry Reynolds. Stewart is coming back from left wrist surgery, and opted to rehab at home rather than stay with the team. That isn’t an issue, Hoyer said.

“We feel we have a good relationship with him,” Hoyer said. “He went through a tough time with his wrist. We have no issues with how he handled himself.”

 — Carrie Muskat

12/4 Third base options

The Cubs have talked to Ian Stewart as well as his agent Larry Reynolds to make sure the third baseman knows that they’d like to have him return to the team. Stewart was non-tendered last Friday, and now is a free agent. He missed most of last season after needing surgery on his left wrist. Because the market for third basemen is so weak, Stewart is now a hot item. The Yankees are in the mix following the news that Alex Rodriguez will need hip surgery. Think players aren’t aware of the market? Free agent Casey McGehee was in the lobby of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel on Tuesday to talk to teams.

“[The Yankees] have a need,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. “The question is how long they have a need for.”

Because Rodriguez was expected back at some point in the season, the Yankees may not want to commit long-term to a player. That will determine how aggressive they are. The Yankees reportedly have interest in free agent Jeff Keppinger, and CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman says the infielder is looking for around $12 million over three years. Keppinger is recovering from a significant injury of his own, a broken fibula.

Stewart is aware of the Cubs’ interest in him.

“We’ve been really clear with him,” Hoyer said. “He knows how we feel about him. He knows we want to bring him back.”

— Carrie Muskat

12/4 The youth movement

The Cubs used 20 rookies last season, the most since they used 20 in 1974. During his media session on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings, Dale Sveum mentioned that they can only use youth as an excuse for so long. GM Jed Hoyer agrees.

“If we’re doing things right, at all times, we’ll have young players in the big leagues who are going through the maturation process,” Hoyer said. “On an individual level, we have some guys in the big leagues who can’t use youth [as an excuse] forever. There’s time for some of those guys to take that leap forward to ‘established big leaguer’ mode. I think the Braves in the ’90s were the best example. They always had a young guy they were bringing in who they were cycling through. If that guy had growing pains, it was OK because he had other guys around him. We’ll always have guys going through their struggles because that’s the nature of it. … Individually we have some guys who need to step forward.”

— Carrie Muskat

12/4 Who shot Sveum? Yount

Don’t expect Robin Yount to be added to Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s staff. The Hall of Famer accidentally shot his former Brewers teammate in the right ear while hunting quail in Arizona.

“The bird went up in front of [Yount] and I was about 50 yards up on the hill,” Sveum said Tuesday, explaining the freak incident. “He got the bird up and lost track of where I was and pulled the trigger and was like, ‘Uh oh.’ I was looking for birds myself and he was behind me. I got drilled with pellets in the back and the ear.”

Sveum’s reaction was expected and unprintable. Was there blood?

“Oh yeah, there was blood,” Sveum said.

The Cubs manager didn’t need stitches.

“You don’t get hit very often,” Sveum said. “It’s not that big a deal.”

He said they usually don’t fire that close to each other but there have been times in the past when they’ve had 6-shots fall on them. We know Yount shot Sveum. What about the quail?

“He got the bird,” Sveum said.

— Carrie Muskat

12/4 Sveum on Jackson, Castro & more

Cubs manager Dale Sveum met with the media on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. Here are some highlights from his session:

* Brett Jackson spent time with Sveum and the Cubs hitting coaches in Mesa. Jackson apparently made “huge, huge strides” and has completely overhauled his swing. Sveum said the young outfielder could be in the mix in 2013.

“I think he’s got a good base to work with going into the rest of the winter and going into Spring Training to understand the art of hitting, so to speak,” Sveum said. “Sometimes it gets lost and taught the wrong way.”

* Darwin Barney also spent time with Sveum in Mesa. The second baseman didn’t have to make huge, drastic swing changes, but the coaches did emphasize driving the ball.

“I think his on-base percentage will gradually get better with experience,” Sveum said. “We all know the glove he has but we have to get that OPS up and he knows that.”

* Sveum was happy Bryan LaHair signed with a Japanese team.

“He had a nice first half for us and it was kind of a unique situation that doesn’t happen every year that a guy makes the All-Star team and basically doesn’t play much the second half of the season, especially after [Anthony] Rizzo got there,” Sveum said. “It wasn’t going to be a super good fit in the outfield because of the speed factor. We want to be more athletic in the outfield. obviously, you’ll miss that kind of bat. I think he made some adjustments the last month of the season to where it’s going to help him. I’m glad he’s going over there, get some money and play, and hopefully has a nice career.”

* Starlin Castro still has work to do.

“The biggest thing with him is we know the talent, we know the ability, the 200 hits,” Sveum said. “We saw huge strides defensively. …  What I want to see out of him is keep progressing mentally and understand the process of becoming a winning player and not a hit seeker. [We want him to become] more of a winning hitter, situations, drive runs in, understand the situations. Defensively, I think he came a long way but still has to concentrate more. I think we got him, just throwing a number out there, [concentrating] probably 80 to 85 percent of the time. We’ve got to get that to that 95 percent. I don’t think anybody ever focuses 100 percent — I think you’d be lying if you said that. He took a lot of pride in that and got much better for a 22-year-old kid.”

* The Cubs were happy to add Dioner Navarro as a backup catcher. Said Sveum: “He’s still a young catcher. He switch hits, gives you good at-bats. He’s probably the best backup catcher available out there.”

* Matt Garza, sidelined after 18 starts with a right elbow injury, is on his regular offseason schedule, and should be ready to go in Spring Training. He was expected to start throwing by Christmas.

* Does Sveum expect the team to have a better record in 2013?

“When you lose 100 games, you better go into it with a little more optimism,” he said.

— Carrie Muskat