January 2013

1/10 Winter league update & roster moves

Cubs prospect Junior Lake was 0-for-3 in Estrellas’ 11-3 loss to Aguilas on Wednesday in the Dominican round-robin playoffs. Estrellas is now 2-9, and faces the Toros (6-5) on Thursday. Also, there was a report on Thursday that Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro plans to play for Escogido, but does need to get permission from the Cubs front office. Escogido is 7-4 and tied with Aguilas for first in the round-robin playoffs.

* Luis Valbuena was 2-for-4 in Lara’s 7-1 loss to Zulia on Wednesday in Venezuela winter league playoffs. On Tuesday, Valbuena hit a three-run double and scored twice in an eight-run seventh inning rally in an 8-5 win.

Roster moves:

* The Rockies signed right-hander Manuel Corpas to a Minor League deal with an invite to big league camp. He was the Rockies closer in 2007. Last year, Corpas made 48 appearances for the Cubs, but was a free agent at the end of the season after refusing an outright assignment to the Minor Leagues.

* Kosuke Fukudome will play in Japan again. He has signed a three-year deal believed to be worth $5.5 million with the Hanshin Tigers. Fukudome, 35, batted .171 in 51 plate appearances with the White Sox last season before he was released. He posted a career .258/.359/.395 numbers at the big league level with the Cubs, Indians and White Sox.

* In case you missed it, pitcher Randy Wells has signed a Minor League deal with the Rangers, and pitcher Justin Berg has signed with the Rockies.

— Carrie Muskat

1/9 Sosa: “It’s an honor” to be on HOF ballot

Sammy Sosa said it was a “great honor” to be included on the baseball Hall of Fame ballot, and adds that even though he wasn’t elected on Wednesday, “there is always a next time.”

For the first time since 1996, the Baseball Writers Association of America did not elect anyone into the Hall of Fame. Sosa, the former Cubs slugger who belted 609 home runs in his career, received 71 votes (12.5 percent). A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from eligible BBWAA members to gain election to the Hall of Fame. Craig Biggio was the highest vote-getter in the results announced Wednesday, receiving 388 votes (68.2 percent). Former Cubs closer Lee Smith received 272 votes (47.8 percent).

“It has been a moment of great honor for me to have my name on the ballot for the first time along with some of the game’s greats,” Sosa said in a statement released Wednesday. “Even if we weren’t inducted on our first time, we are still winners and there is always a next time. God has blessed me with a beautiful family, great career, and I know He will determine my future in the years to come. Baseball has been very, very good to me. Kiss to the heavens.”

Sosa did receive enough votes to be included on next year’s Hall of Fame ballot. This was the eighth time the BBWAA did not elect someone into Cooperstown since the voting began in 1936.

— Carrie Muskat

1/9 Fergie on MLB Network

Former Cubs pitcher and Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins suggested there may be at least one player already in Cooperstown who has used steroids. During an interview on MLB Network Wednesday, Jenkins said he was quite surprised that no one was elected into the HOF. The controversy over which players did or didn’t use performance enhancing drugs created difficult decisions for the BBWAA voters.

“I’ve heard rumors about four years ago that someone who has been in the Hall of Fame now for a couple years was in that particular situation,” Jenkins said. “There haven’t been any names put to the rumors. I’m not going to be the one who spreads it around but it’s rumors that you hear.”

Bob Costas of MLB Network tried to clarify Jenkins’ statement.

“There have been some rumors,” Jenkins said. “No names involved, just some rumors. He played in the ’80s and ’90s and now is in the Hall of Fame, but that’s just a rumor.”

If someone who did knowingly take PEDs was elected to the Hall, would Jenkins attend the induction ceremony?

“I’d have to think long and hard about it,” he said. “There have been a few players who have voiced their opinions, and it’s been publicized. I think they’d be embarrassed to show because they played the game honest and now they have someone in the game who possibly cheated.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/9 Sosa receives 12.5 percent in HOF vote

Sammy Sosa was in his Miami office on Wednesday, working on his new business ventures. For him, it was a normal work day on a day that was anything but normal for baseball’s Hall of Fame. For the first time since 1996, the Baseball Writers Association of America did not elect anyone into the Hall of Fame. Sosa, the former Cubs slugger who belted 609 home runs in his career, received 71 votes (12.5 percent). A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from eligible BBWAA members to gain election to the Hall of Fame. Craig Biggio was the highest vote-getter in the results announced Wednesday, receiving 388 votes (68.2 percent). Former Cubs closer Lee Smith received 272 votes (47.8 percent).

“There was just too much controversy, in my mind, and it hurt guys like Biggio,” Hall of Famer Billy Williams said of the balloting. “[Biggio] had the numbers — you talk about 3,000 hits.”

The controversy revolved around players suspected of using performance enhancing drugs. According to a New York Times story in June 2009, Sosa allegedly was among 104 Major League players who tested positive for PEDs in 2003. Sosa never was found guilty by an official MLB entity.

“I’m like everybody else — you don’t know enough about it,” said Williams, 74, who was inducted into the Hall in 1987. “We, as outsiders, don’t know. We can only look at the numbers they put up. I was just telling [my wife] Shirley, and remembering that they talked about the people who were on steroids [in the New York Times report], that there were 103 people. We don’t know who was on that list. We don’t know who the 103 were. There’s not enough information to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay.'”

Williams said he would not want any player who did take steroids to be elected to Cooperstown.

“If he took steroids to make himself a better ballplayer, he altered himself as a ballplayer by taking drugs like that,” Williams said. “If he did this, and I was thinking to myself, if a guy did this on a Major League level, and hit home runs, not only did he hurt the Major Leagues but he hurt baseball. There’s hitting and running and stealing bases that make you a baseball player and that makes the game good.

“Eventually, some of these guys will go in [the Hall] when it dies down a little bit,” Williams said. “I think there was too much controversy with this election. Look at Lee Smith. Here’s a guy who was the all-time saves leader for a long time and he’s getting 50, 55 [percent of the] votes every year. He led the league in saves for a long time.”

Williams will be at the ceremony in Cooperstown on July 28. He doesn’t expect the heated and lengthy debate over the Hall of Fame ballot next year because of the players who will be eligible.

“[Tom] Glavine and [Greg] Maddux will overshadow the steroid talk,” Williams said. “You’ve got some great players coming up next year — Frank Thomas, too. We’ll see.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/9 Cubs caravan 2013

The Cubs have announced their 2013 Caravan Tour, which will include the winners of the “Cubs Caravan Visits My School Contest.” The annual tour will feature two buses of players, coaches and front office personnel. This year’s Caravan theme, “Cubs On The Move,” reflects the team’s and Chicago Cubs Charities’ focus on fitness and engaging participants in health and fitness activities. The tour will visit six schools, four hospitals and the Chicago Public Library Jan. 16-17. New stops include the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine base where Cubs players, coaches and front office staff will serve lunch to active duty military and veterans in partnership with the USO. The Caravan will also stop at the new Cubs Single-A affiliate Kane County Cougars’ ballpark and at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Two lucky schools were selected as winners of the Cubs Caravan Visits My School Contest this year. Montini Catholic High School and DeWitt Clinton Elementary School will be part of this year’s Caravan. Montini Catholic (Lombard, IL) was selected as a contest winner because of its passion and enthusiasm for the Cubs in proudly displaying team memorabilia throughout the school. DeWitt Clinton Elementary School was selected for integrating Cubs baseball into its teaching curriculum and its commitment to fitness initiatives.

Attendees (subject to change) include: David Bell, Joe Bohringer, Mike Borzello, Michael Bowden, Randy Bush, Shawn Camp, Tony Campana, Steve Clevenger, Rob Deer, David DeJesus, Jim Deshaies, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Len Kasper, Andy Lane, Dave McKay, Jason McLeod, Keith Moreland, Jamie Quirk, Shiraz Rehman, Anthony Rizzo, James Rowson, James Russell, Dave Sappelt, Lester Strode and Dale Sveum.

— Carrie Muskat

1/9 Winter league update

Cubs prospect Junior Lake was 1-for-5 with a stolen base and scored a run for Estrellas in an 8-5 loss to Toros in the Dominican Winter League playoffs. Estrellas is now 2-8, and plays Aguilas (6-4) on Wednesday.

— Carrie Muskat

1/7 Free agent shopping

The Cubs are believed to be one of the teams expressing interest in Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz. Diaz, who turns 23 on Tuesday, is a free agent, and a team can sign him without that money counting against the cap for international bonuses.

A right-handed hitting infielder, Diaz defected from the Cuban National team during a tournament in the Netherlands and has been training in Mexico City. A showcase for him was not expected until the end of January.

Cuban players who are at least 23 years old and have played at least three seasons in a Cuban professional league are not subject to the new international signing guidelines established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Diaz made his pro debut in 2007 for Villa Clara in Serie Nacional, the country’s top league.

— Carrie Muskat

1/7 Thank you

The Cubs may have lost 101 games last season but this blog finished first in 2012, ranking No. 1 among the 30 MLB.com beat writers’ blogs. It’s very humbling. I couldn’t do this without you — even Joeydafish. Many thanks, and here’s to a busy and winning 2013.

— Carrie Muskat

1/7 Sosa waits for HOF results

The Sammy Sosa Inspiration Field and Cubs Care Park, which was unveiled in September 2002 at the New City YMCA in Chicago, is gone. It was demolished for a proposed retail complex. Sosa’s No. 21 has been handed out to Cubs players such as Jason Marquis, Milton Bradley, Tyler Colvin and Joe Mather.

But Sammy hasn’t been forgotten. On Wednesday, Sosa will find out if he will be elected into the Hall of Fame. This is the first year he’s on the ballot. What’s he been up to since his last at-bat in September 2007?

He welcomed his fifth child, a daughter, in December 2011. He’s become involved in business ventures, including Riverhead Homes, which provides steel-framed houses built to withstand natural disasters. Riverhead is attempting to develop a residential community in Jamaica and Haiti.

Last year, Sosa took another step in his effort to make a difference. He expanded his business interests and became chief executive officer of INJEX, which has created a needle-free drug delivery system designed to help people afraid of needles who must subject themselves to daily self-injections, such as diabetics. His motivation to get involved was personal: Sosa worked at a hospital in the Dominican Republic when he was young and remembers getting poked by used needles in the garbage. He also put off seeing a dentist because of his fear of needles. Dentists now can treat their patients and ease that fear by using the needle-free device. A Miami dentist is using INJEX and getting good reviews from his patients.

A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from eligible Baseball Writers’ Association of America members to gain election to the Hall of Fame. Shortstop Barry Larkin (86.4 percent) earned his ticket to Cooperstown on the 2012 ballot. Starting pitcher Jack Morris (66.7 percent) and first baseman Jeff Bagwell (56 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year’s ballot.

Sosa finished his career with 609 home runs, and is the only player with three seasons of at least 60 homers each.

— Carrie Muskat

1/6 Checking in with Theo

Theo Epstein tells the Boston Globe that the Cubs have made progress from one year ago. “We’re certainly farther along than we were last year at this time,” Epstein told the Globe. “When we got here [in late 2011], we identified one core player [Starlin Castro] and now we can look around and see Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Jeff Samardzija and others. We do have more positional prospects than pitchers, so we felt [Edwin] Jackson will be with us for many years to come.”

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe also says if Matt Garza shows teams that he’s healthy in Spring Training, the Cubs will consider offers for the right-hander. However, Cafardo says it’s hard to read the Cubs’ intentions, especially after the Jackson signing.

On Jan. 11-12, Epstein’s Foundation to be Named Later will host the “Hot Stove Cool Music” weekend, which includes a roundtable discussion on Jan. 11 at Fenway Park. This year’s topic is “Changing a Culture in Baseball” and will feature Epstein, Orioles manager Buck Showalter, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, Red Sox manager John Farrell, and others.

On Jan. 12, there will be a concert at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, featuring the Hot Stove All-Stars, the Parkington Sisters, Christian McNeill & Sea Monsters, Chad Hollister Band, and Reigning Monarchs. All proceeds go to the non-profit partners as well as scholarships, which send high-need, high potential young people to college.

Epstein and Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons founded the Hot Stove, Cool Music event, which began in 2000.

— Carrie Muskat