12/9 Extra bases
* Besides looking for bullpen help and another starting pitcher, the Cubs are searching for players who will be good role models for the current youngsters on the roster.
“I think people forget how young guys like [Anthony] Rizzo and [Starlin] Castro are,” GM Jed Hoyer said Monday at the Winter Meetings. “They need some positive examples.”
The Cubs are hoping new first base coach Eric Hinske can fill that role as well.
“He did a great job as a bench player and being a team leader,” Hoyer said of Hinske, who played last season for the Diamondbacks. “It was always about having different influences on the coaching staff for our players. You want to have different avenues. [Players] might gravitate toward the guy who has been teaching for a long time, or they might gravitate toward the guy who just came off the field.”
* Luis Valbuena, who led the Cubs with 94 starts at third base last season, has been playing strictly second base in the Venezuelan Winter League. That’s by design.
“We want him to be versatile and he is versatile,” Hoyer said. “[Darwin] Barney can play shortstop, Valbuena can play some shortstop, Donnie Murphy can play some shortstop. We have a really versatile infield and that’s a great thing. We may not have to carry a standard utility guy and can mix and match in different ways.”
Speaking of Barney, Hoyer said he expects the second baseman to have a much better season than he did in 2013.
“It’s a big year for him, no matter what,” Hoyer said of Barney, who batted .208 this season. “He had a down year offensively and he’d be the first person to say that. I don’t think it has anything to do with competition among young players. He wants to bounce back and get back to where he was.
“With him, mechanically and approach-wise, he got caught with some things last year,” Hoyer said. “A lot of things with him isn’t the hard work or the swing, it’s the approach.”
The team does have a promising second baseman in Arismendy Alcantara, ranked No. 8 among MLB.com’s top 20 Cubs prospects, but he will open the season at Triple-A Iowa, Hoyer said.
* Andy MacPhail, who was the Cubs’ president and CEO from 1994-2006, including a two-year stint as the general manager (2000-01), is keeping an eye on how the current Chicago front office is trying to rebuild the organization.
“They have to do it the way they’re comfortable with and the way they think most guarantees their success, and I know that’s what that group is doing,” MacPhail said Monday at the Winter Meetings.
“I have a lot of confidence in that group that they’re going to do it the way they think will most assuredly get them the end goal because that’s the prize, winning the whole thing,” MacPhail said. “We got close [in 2003]. You ultimately aren’t successful until you at least get to the World Series.”
* Outfielder Ryan Sweeney hoped to begin work this week with Hall of Famer Rod Carew. The two worked together last season, and Sweeney said he benefitted from the sessions. Sweeney batted .266 in 70 games with the Cubs, and signed a two-year contract extension on Oct. 8.
* New manager Rick Renteria will get together with his coaches in Mesa, Ariz., this weekend to get a tour of the new facility and start preparations for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 13.
* Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, recently completed his studies at Dartmouth and graduated with a major in economics. Hendricks was a combined 13-4 with 2.00 ERA in 27 starts between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.
* Junior Lake is done playing in the Dominican Republic winter league, and those who saw him raved about his outfield play.
– Carrie Muskat