December 2013

12/31 Happy new year

The 2013 season was very active, not only for the Cubs in trades but in traffic on this blog. According to WordPress stats geeks, this blog was viewed about 1 million times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 43 days for that many people to see it. In 2012, there were 870,000 views.

* The busiest day of the year was July 2 with 7,416 views. The July 2 “Scouting Report” post was most popular that day. The posts that got the most views:

Nov. 22: Cubs name coaching staff
Feb. 10: Check your scorecard
Jan. 2: Schierholtz the man in RF
July 25: Soriano says goodbye
Feb. 17: Garza exits session

* There were visitors from 149 countries total (146 countries in 2012, so welcome to the new folks). Looks like I need to reach out to folks in Mongolia, Egypt and Portugal.

Canada: 6,088
Mexico: 1,455
Brazil: 684
Venezuela: 507
Bolivia: 27
Chile: 32
Kenya: 236
Nigeria: 2
Libya: 1
Egypt: 7
Saudi Arabia: 41
France: 412
Spain: 455
Italy: 270
Germany: 1,028
Belarus: 3
Russia: 228
Sweden: 184
China: 26
Mongolia: 1
India: 125
Thailand: 156
Cambodia: 6
Indonesia: 27
Japan: 2,662
Australia: 575
New Zealand: 1,415
United Kingdom: 4,484
Senegal: 5
Portugal: 6

*And, for the first time, joeydafish was not the top commenter for the year. The five most active commenters:

White (1181 comments)
joeydafish (1008)
jasper (906)
petrey10 (709)
jhosk (635)

Thank you to everyone. Let’s hope there’s plenty of good things to post about the Cubs in 2014. Happy new year.

– Carrie Muskat

12/30 A look back at 2013

The 2013 season was another step in the Cubs’ rebuilding process. For the second straight year, the Cubs dealt 40 percent of their starting rotation. They seemed to set a record for most deals in July as Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol and Scott Hairston also were traded. In August, David DeJesus was sent to the Nationals.

In return, the Cubs felt they strengthened the organization with players such as third baseman Mike Olt and pitchers Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Jake Arrieta, Ivan Pineyro, C.J. Edwards and Corey Black. It’s all part of Theo Epstein’s plan since taking over as Cubs president of baseball operations.

All the transactions didn’t solve the 2013 team’s problems, and the Cubs finished last in the tough National League Central at 66-96, the fourth straight year they’ve posted a sub .500 season.

As 2013 comes to a close, here are five storylines from the Cubs’ season:

5. Hot prospects

Every time Javier Baez hit a home run, or first-round Draft pick Kris Bryant won another award, there were questions about where the Cubs top prospects would fit in the big league lineup. Baez, the No. 1 pick in 2011, and Bryant, who was the second overall selection in June, stole some of the headlines from the big league team. The Cubs front office’s mantra is that the kids need time to develop but fans are eager for someone to cheer for. Baez, who belted 37 homers and drove in 111 runs combined at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, and Bryant, the college player of the year who was named the Arizona Fall League MVP, aren’t the only super kids. The list of potential impact players in the Cubs system also includes Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards, and Jorge Soler. Now, the question is when.

4. Marmol, Fujikawa and Gregg

Carlos Marmol lost the closer’s job one week into the regular season, and Kyuji Fujikawa took over but he was limited because of elbow problems. The Japanese pitcher eventually needed Tommy John surgery, and the Cubs had to scramble. They signed Kevin Gregg, who was released by the Dodgers April 3, and he proceeded to reclaim the job, finishing with 33 saves. Marmol was eventually traded to the Dodgers for Matt Guerrier, and didn’t get another save opportunity the rest of the season. The Cubs bullpen was a problem most of the season, ranking on the bottom of the National League in ERA, walks, and home runs allowed.

3. Alfonso Soriano is traded to Yankees

For the second straight year, the Cubs were busy at the Trade Deadline, but none of the moves affected the players the way the departure of Alfonso Soriano did. The veteran outfielder was dealt to the Yankees, where he began his U.S. pro career in 1999. He has one year remaining on the eight-year, $136 million contract he signed with the Cubs in November 2006. While fans were critical of Soriano’s defensive ability, he was revered in the Cubs clubhouse. Soriano topped the Cubs in home runs and RBIs at the All-Star break, and they struggled to fill his spot in the lineup after he left. The Cubs may have been the only team to use a backup catcher, Dioner Navarro, in the No. 4 spot.

2. Manager Dale Sveum is dismissed

Sveum was a no nonsense kind of guy. He held players accountable. He believed in face to face communication. In Spring Training, he organized a bunting tournament, and included himself in the bracket. When Sveum was hired in November 2011, Epstein trusted the manager and his coaching staff to compile “The Cubs Way” handbook, to be used throughout the organization.

The Cubs lost 197 games in two seasons under Sveum, but Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer said the record wasn’t the reason the manager was dismissed. There were issues regarding the development of some of the Cubs, and Sveum got his signals crossed with a few players and the front office.

“There has to be a clear, unified message, and [players] can’t be getting different signals from different directions and collectively — myself included — we failed to provide that,” Epstein said.

Sveum wasn’t out of work for long. Royals manager Ned Yost waited one hour after Sveum was dismissed before calling to offer him a job on Kansas City’s coaching staff.

1. Starlin Castro takes a step backward

Castro was disappointed when he didn’t bat .300 for a third straight season in 2012, finishing at .283. But no one expected the shortstop to struggle as much as he did in 2013, batting .245 — including a .167 June. What happened? The shortstop lost his aggressive approach, struck out a career-high 129 times, and often looked lost at the plate. He was dropped to eighth in the order in August.

“This year, it’s too many things to think about [and] I’m not supposed to think [up there],” Castro said. “Sometimes you have a tough season, and you want to please everybody. But it’s not right. You have to listen to the things that can help you — not everything. When you come to home plate, you don’t have any idea, because you listen to too many things.”

Toward the end of the season, Castro announced he was just going to “be me.” The shortstop may be the Cubs’ new leadoff man in 2014 — he batted .263 there this past season — and the team can only hope he regains his approach, especially since this is Year 2 of his seven-year, $60 million contract.

– Carrie Muskat

12/28 Winter ball update

Luis Valbuena hit his fourth home run but it wasn’t enough as Lara lost to Caribes, 6-5, because of a walk-off two-run homer by Jackson Melian on Friday. Valbuena, who connected on a two-run home run with one out in the first, is batting .303 this winter.

* Carlos Marmol, a free agent, pitched for Licey, and picked up a hold, giving up one hit in two-thirds of an inning.

12/27 Cubs sign Jose Veras

The Cubs now have a bonafide closer. On Friday, the Cubs announced they have signed right-hander Jose Veras to a one-year, $3.85 million contract with a club option for 2015. There is a $150,000 buyout for 2015.

The Cubs did not chose to keep free agent Kevin Gregg after he saved 33 games last season, taking over for Carlos Marmol, who was traded to the Dodgers, and Kyuji Fujikawa, who needed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Veras, 33, combined to go 0-5 with 21 saves and a 3.02 ERA in 67 relief appearances between the Astros and Tigers last season. He struck out 60 and walked 22 over 62 2/3 innings, and compiled a .199 opponents batting average against. The right-hander began the season with Houston and posted a 2.93 ERA and 19 saves in 42 outings before he was traded to Detroit, where he made nine appearances and helped the Tigers reach the postseason.

In 2011, Veras ranked fifth in the National League with 27 holds in a career-high 79 appearances. He also was a member of the 2013 World Baseball Classic Dominican Republic club. Since the start of the 2011 season, he is tied for fifth in the Major Leagues with 218 appearances.

His contract with the Cubs includes incentives for an additional $750,000 based on games finished.

The Cubs’ bullpen is definitely stronger with Veras at the end. He joins lefty relievers James Russell, Wesley Wright and Zac Rosscup and right-handers Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Blake Parker, and Arodys Vizcaino.

– Carrie Muskat

12/27 Holiday cheer

Belated Christmas greetings to all. You have made this another entertaining year with your insights, questions, observations, banter, and brownies. I appreciate the feedback, and am looking forward to 2014. Happy new year.

– Carrie Muskat

12/23 Spreading good cheer

IMG_9775(1)

Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija visited children on Monday at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and handed out goodies as well as signed autographs and posed for photos.

(Photo courtesy of Cubs)

12/23 Roster moves

The Cubs claimed right-handed pitcher Brett Marshall from the Yankees on Monday while the Orioles claimed right-handed pitcher Liam Hendricks on waivers from the Cubs. Marshall, 23, made his Major League debut last season with three relief appearances in two stints for the Yankees. He spent the majority of the year with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, going 7-10 with a 5.13 ERA in 25 starts. The right-hander tied his career high with 120 strikeouts. Marshall had been designated for assignment last Thursday by the Yankees when they signed Carlos Beltran. In Marshall’s Major League debut in relief on May 15, he threw 108 pitches over 5 2/3 innings against the Mariners.

The Cubs had claimed Hendricks, 24, off waivers from the Twins on Dec. 13. In three seasons with Minnesota, he was a combined 2-13 in 30 games (28 starts) with a 6.06 ERA.

– Carrie Muskat

12/23 Javy Baez’s “miracle” sister

Want to know what motivates Javier Baez? It’s his “miracle” sister, Noely. On Christmas day, Javier will gather with his family to celebrate, just as others do, but for them, every day is a holiday because of her.

“[Christmas] is very, very special,” Baez said. “When my sister was born, doctors said she wouldn’t last 20 minutes, that she wouldn’t last from one room to another one. Last November, she turned 20. Every day is special.”

Noely Baez, 20, has spina bifida, the most common permanently disabling birth defect in the United States. It literally means “split spine,” and happens when the spinal column does not close all the way. Noely can’t walk, but that’s about the only thing she can’t do.

“She’s very, very independent,” Javier said from his Jacksonville, Fla., home. “That’s why I don’t like people to feel sorry for us. She’s very independent. When we’re in the house, we cannot touch her wheelchair. If we touch it, she’ll lock the wheels, and say, ‘No, don’t push me.’ She wants to do it by herself.”

Javier and Noely and their two older brothers were born in Puerto Rico, but the family moved to the U.S. so Noely could get better health care. Before arriving in Jacksonville, they were traveling three or four times a month to the U.S. for treatment.

Javier and his two brothers developed a love for baseball because of their late father, Angel Luis Baez. He died when Javier was 10 years old.

“He was a big part of my life,” Baez, 21, said of his father. “I like people to know who he was in my life.”

Angel Baez worked with a landscaping company in Puerto Rico, which meant long hours and tough, physical labor.

“He was one of the most amazing dads,” Baez said. “He got home from work at 6 o’clock at night, and he’d get to the house and take us to the field almost every day. He was really important in our lives. He is a special person in our history.”

So is Noely.

“We don’t see her as someone who is different from us,” Javier said. “She’s a miracle for us. She’s a miracle in our lives. We don’t feel sorry for her, like, ‘Oh, we have to do this for her.’ God put this miracle in our lives and He did it for a reason. There’s no time for us to feel sorry about it.

“When I was a little kid, and I didn’t understand her situation, yeah, I thought, ‘Wow, we have a handicapped sister’ and it’s hard for my mom,” Javier said. “Once I started growing up and lived with her everyday, I realized this is not hard for us. God gave us this miracle. That’s what she is, a miracle. She’s in our lives for a reason.”

And Javier Baez wants to do what he can to raise awareness of spina bifida. Last winter in Jacksonville, he hosted a pizza party for local children with spina bifida. When the Smokies played against the Suns in a Minor League game in Jacksonville, Baez invited the children to attend.

It was quite a day. On Aug. 6, Tennessee’s Eric Jokisch threw a no-hitter in a 10-0 win. Baez went 4-for-6, hitting two doubles, driving in three runs, stealing a base and scoring three runs. He also helped save the no-hitter with one out in the ninth by making an acrobatic play when he dove and caught a ball behind the second base bag.

“They saw me, and they were excited to watch me play but I was more excited that they were there for me,” he said of the kids.

He’s hoping to do another event for the spina bifida children in Jacksonville before he heads to Arizona to begin Spring Training. This will be his second season in the Cubs’ big league camp, and Baez already feels more at ease.

“I learned everything [last spring],” he said. “I was looking around to see what I could get from the other guys, the big leaguers. That’s my goal to get where they are. I’m a real quiet person on the field, but I’m always looking around and picking up stuff from everybody. I’ll feel comfortable once I get there next year because I’ve been there already. I’ll continue to learn from everybody, from the new guys who come in to the veterans. I learn from everyone.”

This offseason, he was reminded once again how fragile life is. On Oct. 13, Baez tweeted, “Pray for my sister please.” Noely had to be hospitalized.

“We thought we were going to lose her,” Baez said.

His sister’s lungs stopped functioning, and for three weeks, she was on a ventilator. The doctors finally decided to take the ventilator out.

“God put his hand on her,” Baez said. “She stopped breathing. They said, ‘We can’t do anything else. We have to see how she’ll react.'”

She survived, and it’s taken some time for Noely to get her strength back, to be able to eat solid foods. She plans on going back to school in January, and has made it clear she doesn’t need her mother to take her to school. As Javier said, Noely feels she’s old enough to go by herself.

“I go places and people ask me, ‘Oh, I heard about your sister — what does she have? What’s happening to her?'” Javier said. “People don’t know [about spina bifida]. Sometimes I talk to people about it, and I have to explain what it is. People still don’t know.”

What Baez does know is that when the Cubs do promote him to the big leagues, he wants Noely there. Not only does he have a tattoo of the MLB logo but also one for each of his brothers and his miracle sister.

“We celebrate Christmas and it’s a very special season, but for us, every day is special,” Javier said. “Every day we wake up and see her laughing and playing around, and it’s special for us.”

– Carrie Muskat

12/23 Strike a Chord, Jan. 16

Want to sing along with Cubs players and help a good cause? The David DeJesus Family Foundation and Cubs Charities will present “Strike a Chord” celebrity karaoke event on Jan. 16 at American Junkie, 15 West Illinois Street, Chicago. You can sing with some of your favorite Cubs players, alumni and their wives at the fundraiser, with proceeds going to benefit ALS research and support the DeJesus foundation. There will be karaoke duets, an open bar, live auction and raffle. Tickets are $125 per person ($150 at the door), and $1,000 per table (four tickets plus reserved seating). The karaoke show begins at 8 p.m. CT. There will also be dancing after the event. Cubs Charities will donate half of the proceeds raised to ALs Research and Support in the name of the David DeJesus Family Foundation. Go to Cubs.com/community/strike_a_chord.

– Carrie Muskat

12/21 Starlin Castro

Starlin Castro is fighting to prevent millions of his money from being seized from his bank accounts. According to a Chicago Tribune report, Castro’s father allegedly signed a contract promising 3 percent of the shortstop’s big league earnings to go to a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. When Castro signed the $60 million contract in 2012, the academy said he owed it $1.8 million. Dominican law states that twice the amount can be frozen while the matter is resolved. Castro’s lawyers are fighting the claim, and asking for $5 million in damages. They say the academy did not have the right to a percentage of Castro’s extension. He was 16 when the agreement was reached. Castro’s attorneys also argue that the shortstop’s father did not have the right to sign away his earnings past age 18.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 261 other followers