December 2013

12/12 Cubs get Ruggiano

The Cubs Thursday swapped outfielders with the Marlins, sending Brian Bogusevic to Miami for right-handed hitting Justin Ruggiano.

The Cubs needed another right-handed hitting outfielder to platoon with Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Sweeney. Ruggiano, 31, has a .281 batting average over the last two seasons against left-handed pitching.

The newest Cub has spent all or part of five Major League seasons with Tampa Bay (2007-08, 2011) and Miami (2012-13), batting .251 with 49 doubles, 37 home runs and 109 RBIs in 317 games.

Bogusevic, who turns 30 in February, batted .273 with six home runs and 16 RBIs in 47 games with the Cubs last year. He signed a Minor League contract with the Cubs prior to the 2013 campaign.

– Carrie Muskat

12/11 Boras and the Cubs

If Cubs fans are upset at how long it’s taking the team to complete its rebuilding process, they have a friend in agent Scott Boras.

“The idea is it’s going to take some time for them to reach the resolve to say that they’re going to compete on all fronts to win a division or build a franchise,” Boras told reporters at the baseball Winter Meetings on Wednesday when asked about the Cubs.

“Obviously, it’s internal and I know the fans and baseball [operations] people have a plan afoot,” Boras said. “It’s just that normally with major market teams, you see a little bit different approach than you see here [with the Cubs]. This is more of a small-market approach if you will.”

The Cubs’ plan since Theo Epstein took over as president of baseball operations prior to the 2012 season is to develop their own players in an effort to build a solid foundation of homegrown talent. That includes two of Boras’ clients, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant.

“I think everybody knows that we have great respect for their baseball people there,” Boras said of the Cubs’ front office. “They’ve done a great job in the Draft. They know what they’re doing. The real thing has nothing to do the baseball people or how the organization is run. It’s just the fact that you have a major market team that has dramatically more revenues than most clubs that do take this type of approach.

“The Cubs have the capacity to sign any player they want in baseball,” Boras said. “The question is whether they think it fits their plan.”

Epstein said he had a great relationship with Boras and seemed more amused by the comments.

“It’s not the first time an agent has used the media to try to compel a team into spending huge amounts of money without knowledge of that club’s financial situation,” Epstein said. “It’s not a surprise and we’re not going to get into a war of words with Scott other than to say the folks who work at the Cubs probably have a better understanding of our situation than he does. We look forward to working with him and to continue to sign his players.”

– Carrie Muskat

12/11 Samardzija update

Theo Epstein met Wednesday with Jeff Samardzija’s agent at the Winter Meetings, and said as of now, the pitcher is the team’s Opening Day starter. Samardzija also doesn’t appear to be any closer to agreeing to a long-term contract. Samardzija will be a free agent after the 2015 season. His name has been mentioned in trade rumors but interested teams have not been able to meet the Cubs’ demands. Samardzija is coming off his first 200-inning, 200-strikeout season.

“Every time we meet with [agent Mark Rodgers], I feel great about the relationship and the relationship with Jeff, too,” Epstein said. “Talks are amicable, open. We’re transparent about the situation and our interests, and he’s transparent about Jeff’s desires and interests.

“We continue to try to move the ball forward as much as we can on one of two or three possible outcomes,” Epstein said. “There hasn’t been any fundamental change in the situation. Communication is good and we continue to view Jeff as a really big part of what we’re doing even as we admit there are several possible outcomes.”

And that’s that as far as Epstein is concerned. He won’t be giving daily briefings on Samardzija’s status.

“At some point, I don’t think Jeff deserves to read about this every day,” Epstein said. “It’s a tough thing to read about someone speculating on where you’re going to work. We’ll put it to bed. The sitaution now is Jeff’s our Opening Day starter and that’s how we’re moving forward.”

Epstein said he and GM Jed Hoyer will stop answering questions about Samardzija’s status.

“I don’t want Jeff to have to read the paper every day that there’s speculation that he might be traded or not,” Epstein said. “We’re asked about all of our good players all the time and it’s no surprise we’re asked about Jeff Samardzija. There’s no trade imminent, and we’ll see what happens. We hope he’s here for a long time.”

– Carrie Muskat

12/11 Winter Meetings, Day 3 – UPDATED

* Jeff Samardzija’s agent was expected to meet Wednesday with Theo Epstein. The Cubs would like to extend Samardzija, but he will be a free agent after the 2015 season and is most likely to politely reject their offer. The right-hander, who would like to test the market at that time, has been the subject of trade rumors. The Cubs also could deal Samardzija in July.

The three-way trade between the Angels, the Diamondbacks and the White Sox may have had an impact on what the Cubs do with Samardzija. The Cubs were believed to be looking at lefty Tyler Skaggs as part of the package for the right-hander, but Skaggs was sent to the Angels.

* The Cubs are reportedly expanding their search for starting pitching. According to Comcast SportsNet Chicago, the Cubs are considering not only Masahiro Tanaka but also Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda and Korean right-hander Suk-Min Yoon. CSN Chicago also says the Cubs are looking at Jason Hammel, 31, who has pitched for the Orioles, Rockies and Rays. He has a 49-59 career record and 4.80 ERA. Tanaka, 25, was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season. The president of his team, Rakuten, arrived at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. MLB and Japan baseball officials were hoping to resolve the posting system.

A source said Maeda most likely would not be posted until next year. Maeda, 25, was 15-7 with a 2.10 ERA for Hiroshima last season, striking out 158 over 175 2/3 innings. Yoon, 27, is a free agent who has been a starter and reliever with the Kia Tigers in the Korea Baseball Organization. He has battled injuries.

* Major League managers and general managers met early Wednesday to discuss instant replay, among other things.

– Carrie Muskat

12/10 Pitching, pitching, pitching

The Cubs used nine different starting pitchers last season, including Scott Baker who started three games in September, and want to make sure they have enough depth. GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday the goal is to add at least one and possibly two more starting pitchers before the season begins. So far, the rotation includes Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta with Chris Rusin and Carlos Villanueva possibly getting starts. The Cubs have had talks with Baker’s agent about the possibility of the right-hander returning for another season. Baker spent most of the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Whether that extra pitcher is Masahiro Tanaka has not been determined as Major League Baseball and the Japan baseball officials sort through the posting process.

“In general, we only need one starter in theory,” Hoyer said, “but we know we’ll go through a lot more starters. We’re in on a lot of starting pitchers and we could well sign more than one starter. That’s a possibility. Someone is going to be hurt, someone could go to the bullpen for a short amount of time. I feel it’s a dangerous game playing that ‘just enough’ starting pitcher game. Could we add more than one starting pitcher this winter? Absolutely.”

On Day 2 of the Winter Meetings, Hoyer and Theo Epstein continued their meetings with agents and teams.

“I think we’ve laid the groundwork and we’ll keep doing that,” Hoyer said. “It’s boring to say but that’s what you do here. You have meeting after meeting and try to kick ideas off each other. You hope that having the big group here and having everyone in the same building will lead to a little more creativity.”

* The Cubs may go to Spring Training and let the relievers battle it out for the closer’s job.

“In theory we can,” Hoyer said. “I think we have people on the roster who can certainly hold down that job. At that point, it would be on [manager Rick Renteria] to name a closer in Spring Training. I’m not sure that will happen or not. I think we have more power arms on the roster and we feel better about our bullpen. We do still want to add to it.”

The list of candidates includes Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, and Hector Rondon. However, the Cubs are looking at adding some relievers, and hoping the chance to be a closer could entice some free agents.

Renteria did admit that managing the bullpen is the “most critical part of the ballgame.” He’d like to have roles established for each pitcher.

* Kyuji Fujikawa is continuing his rehab from Tommy John surgery but most likely would not be back until May at the earliest.

– Carrie Muskat

12/10 Renteria tidbits

New Cubs manager Rick Renteria met with the media on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Here are some of the highlights:

* Starlin Castro is an option to be the leadoff man. Renteria wants to address that with the shortstop in person.

“A lot of those conversations I like to have one on one and in person,” Renteria said. “It always comes off better when have face to face conversations with players. They can read my face, and if they think I’m happy about it, not happy about it.”

* On Jeff Samardzija: “Right now, they way I see it and the way he sees it, is he’s a Cub, and we’re going to move forward as Cubs. When I spoke to him he was very excited about the upcoming season. He came off a high strikeout year last year and a lot of innings, and he’s looking to build off that.”

* Renteria happy to have Chris Bosio returning as the pitching coach. Renteria said: “He’s another guy who is part of the kids who have been coming up and it’s nice to have that stability.”

* The Cubs may go to Spring Training and have open competition for the closer’s job. Pedro Strop will get a chance.

* Renteria is working with bench coach Brandon Hyde this week, going over their plans for Spring Training. Renteria and his coaching staff will meet in Mesa this weekend to see the new facility.

– Carrie Muskat

12/10 Trade rumors

According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, talks are over between the Cubs and Nationals regarding a possible trade in which Chicago would get either reliever Tyler Clippard or Drew Storen. The Cubs are looking for bullpen help and a possible closer. Storen, 26, had that role. Kilgore reports that Nationals GM Mike Rizzo would need to have his “socks knocked off” to move either reliever.

12/10 Bryant gets another honor

Cubs prospect Kris Bryant was named to the Arizona Fall League 2013 Top Prospects team. The players were selected by the AFL managers and coaches. Voters were asked to consider AFL performance and Major League projectability. Bryant won AFL MVP honors, leading the league with six home runs, .727 slugging percentage, and 1.184 OPS. He was tied for the league lead in extra base hits, runs scored and total bases.

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

12/9 Castro amps up workouts

The Cubs are making sure shortstop Starlin Castro reports to Spring Training in better shape. The team assigned strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss to the Dominican Republic to work with Castro for three weeks in November. In January, Castro will start workouts at the Cubs’ facility in the Dominican. The shortstop is coming off his worst year, batting .245 this past season. GM Jed Hoyer said other teams have expressed interest in Castro, knowing the team has shortstop Javier Baez coming up in the organization.

“We’ve always gotten hits on [Castro],” Hoyer said Monday during his media briefing at the Winter Meetings. “I think people see him as a guy who was one of the best young players in the game a couple years ago.”

In 2011, Castro totaled 207 hits and batted .307, and followed that in 2012 with a .283 season. He asked the Cubs to help him as far as an offseason workout.

“I think he was frustrated by his season,” Hoyer said. “I would be very surprised if he didn’t show up at Spring Training in great shape, ready to go. I hope we look back on [the 2013 season] four, five years from now as a good learning experience for him and a wakeup call, if you will.”

Castro did play 161 games this year but Hoyer said to do that, a player needs to be “in really unbelievable shape.” The Cubs are banking on Castro, which is why they gave him a seven-year, $60 million contract in 2012.

“I think we felt like there’s no reason he can’t be a little faster and he can’t have more range than he does,” Hoyer said. “He’s at that age — he’s going to be 24 years old [in March]– where he’s going to start to put on a little bit of htat man strength.

“He was a college-age kid when he came up and I think he can start to put on that muscle mass now and maybe that does improve his speed, his range, his power,” Hoyer said. “It’s something he wanted to do and we certainly encouraged it.”

– Carrie Muskat

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