* On Sunday, Luis Valbuena hit a three-run home run in the ninth to secure an 8-3 win for Lara over Magallanes in Venezuela. Valbuena was batting .275, and this was his second home run of the winter league season.
* On Monday, Junior Lake was 2-for-4 with a RBI double in the ninth in Estrellas’ 7-2 loss to Gigantes in the Dominican Republic. Lake was batting .361.
* Rubi Silva was 3-for-4 with a RBI double in the fifth Monday for Leones de Ponce in Puerto Rico. The outfielder, who batted .284 with 30 doubles, nine triples and 15 home runs for Double-A Tennessee last season, was batting .385 this winter.
The Cubs are hoping to find someone willing to buy naming rights for the new Spring Training stadium in Mesa, Ariz. For now, the ballpark will be called Cubs Park. Justin Piper, the GM for business operations in Mesa, said the name could change. The Cubs will play their first game at the new stadium Feb. 27 against the Diamondbacks. On Jan. 25, the city of Mesa will hold a public grand opening for the stadium and the surrounding park. In 2010, Mesa voters approved a $99 million outlay of public money for the stadium complex, located at what was Riverview Golf Course in west Mesa.
Ernie Banks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last week, and you can celebrate the honor with Mr. Cub at a reception and toast on Dec. 3 in Chicago. Banks will be honored at the East Bank Club’s River View Room, 500 N. Kingsbury Street, Chicago, from 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. CT next week. There will be music, food, cocktails and a champagne toast. Tickets are $300 each, and each purchase includes a bat autographed by the Hall of Famer. No tickets will be sold at the door, so you must purchase them in advance. There is VIP seating with a purchase of 10 tickets or more. To purchase a ticket for this celebration, go to http://www.ErnieBanks.net, or call (312) 828-9711.
Jeff Samardzija struck out 200 over 200 innings in his first full season as a starter, and has drawn interest from teams looking for a young pitcher, especially one who would be under team control for two more years. The Diamondbacks, Nationals and Blue Jays have reportedly inquired about Samardzija and on Sunday, there was a report that Toronto was putting together a package of young players for the Cubs right-hander.
During an interview on MLB Radio on Sunday, Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos was asked if there was any truth to the rumor about the Blue Jays pursuing Samardzija.
“You know what, I just saw that [rumor], too,” Anthropoulos told MLB Radio. “I’m in the office [Sunday] just going through some things. I’m going to try to be a little more candid than I may have been in the past. I won’t comment on specific rumors and things like that but I will say that we’re definitely exploring starters with teams. But also, just like a lot of stuff that’s out there that is false, we have not made an offer to anybody with respect to a starter. So if there is something out there that [says] we’ve actually made an offer to someone for a starter, that is not accurate. It doesn’t mean we’re not inquiring.”
MLB Radio host Jim Duquette asked if anything was imminent regarding either adding a free agent or making a trade.
“You know what, we’re talking to one club about a smaller trade and maybe it’ll move the next few days, or maybe it won’t happen,” Anthropoulos said. “But, no, I don’t think, not right now there isn’t anything imminent. We’re not necessarily waiting on someone to get back to us but, again, at any time that can change and I hope it does. I think, and you guys both went through it, before the Thanksgiving holiday sometimes there’s that last little push [when] teams want to get some things off their plate. So maybe things happen here in the next two or three days. If not, we’ll take it to the [Winter Meetings], I guess, at that point.”
The Cubs have approached Samardzija, 28, about a possible contract extension. The pitcher, who was the Opening Day starter this year, has not been in a hurry to something done.
“I have two more years of arbitration so there is a lot of time to get something done,” Samardzija said in early November.
As for all the rumors, GM Jed Hoyer said Samardzija had the right attitude because he doesn’t pay any attention to the reports.
Teams shopping for starting pitching may be comparing the cost of acquiring Samardzija with another 28-year-old, David Price, who also is under team control for two more years. However, Price has more innings and experience as a starter, and won the AL Cy Young in 2012 when he went 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA for the Rays. Price did miss time this season because of a left triceps strain. Samardzija, who ranked fifth in the National League in strikeouts per nine innings, has been healthy. Price was paid $10 million in 2013; Samardzija $2.6 million.
The Cubs don’t have that much depth pitching-wise, with Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Jake Arrieta set for the rotation in 2014.
– Carrie Muskat
* The Cubs have reportedly released outfielder Dave Sappelt. He was acquired with Travis Wood and infielder Ronald Torreyes from the Reds in the Sean Marshall deal. Sappelt, 26, has a .251/.301/.343 slash line in 274 plate appearances.
* The Cubs have reportedly signed outfielder Casper Wells to a Minor League contract. Wells, 29, batted .155/.211/.169 with one double over 76 plate appearances between the Athletics, White Sox and Phillies last season. He had vision problems and didn’t play after Aug. 25.
* Hector Rondon struck out two, walked two and gave up one hit in one scoreless inning in relief for Leones del Caracas in Venezuela. So far, the right-hander has given up four runs on 12 hits over 9 1/3 innings in 10 games.
The Cubs also have reportedly signed outfielder Casper Wells to a Minor League contract, and he was currently playing for Leones. In 19 games, the right-handed hitting Wells was batting .178 with one home run.
* Luis Valbuena drew a walk and scored a run for Lara de Cardenales in Venezuela. He was batting .278 in nine games.
* Right-hander Marcus Hatley had a rough outing for Culiacan. He entered the game in the ninth and walked the first Mexicali batter he faced, then made a throwing error. The next batter smacked a RBI single to tie the game, and one out later, Hatley served up another RBI single. He escaped without further damage but took the loss. It was only the third time in the last 10 games teams have scored on Hatley. The right-hander has a 3.00 ERA in 16 games, giving up five earned runs on 15 hits and six wlaks over 15 innings.
* Luis Valbuena was 1-for-3, hitting his first home run of the offseason, but it wasn’t enough as Lara lost 10-4 to Aragua in Venezuela. Valbuena is batting .303 this offseason, and has played strictly at second base.
* Junior Lake was 1-for-3 with one RBI in Estrellas’ 5-2 loss to Escogido in the Dominican Republic. Lake, who started in center, was batting .344.
Bill Mueller hasn’t worn a Major League uniform since 2007 and he’s eager to get back on the field. Mueller was named to new Cubs manager Rick Renteria’s coaching staff on Friday. A former American League batting champion, the 42-year-old Mueller was an interim hitting coach for the Dodgers in the second half of 2007. After an 11-year playing career that included two seasons with the Cubs, Mueller joined the Dodgers’ front office. He has spent the last six seasons as a special assistant.
“It’s something that has always been inside me to be near the field again and be a part of a team and be with a Major League club,” Mueller said Friday. “You never know when that opportunity might come or if it does. I’ve always tried to be as well-rounded as possible and stay in the game and continue to be a student of the game so if an opportunity pops up, I could handle it and be ready to take it on. This was an opportunity that was hard to pass up and I’m very excited about it.”
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer asked the Dodgers for permission to talk to Mueller, who picked Mike Brumley, 51, as his assistant. Brumley has spent the last four seasons as first-base coach with the Mariners. He began his big league career with the Cubs in 1987.
Mueller compiled a career .291 average in his 11 seasons as a player, and batted .326 in ’03 with the Red Sox when he won the batting title. It wasn’t easy, which is something he’ll stress to the Cubs hitters.
“I had to work to get everything I achieved,” Mueller said. “Going through the process of understanding my swing and breaking it down and understanding the strengths and weaknesses and all that good stuff was a process that I had to go through. I feel it helps with the relationship and the communication with these guys. … I wasn’t the best bat on the team, it was something I had to work very hard at.”
The next step will be to study video of the Cubs batters, some of whom he has seen as a scout. He’ll then contact the players. Told that Theo Epstein wants the Cubs to lead the league in on-base percentage, Mueller laughed. That’ll be a tough assignment, but he’s up to it.
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs received enough donations for tornado relief victims to fill a 53-foot semi-trailer truck plus an additional moving truck, and everything was delivered to Peoria, Ill., on Friday. Among the items donated were containers, cleaning supplies, gloves, flashlights, clothing, food, toiletries, pet supplies, and school supplies. The Cubs worked with the American Red Cross, which provided a list of items needed. Some fans drove from Indiana to make a contribution at Wrigley Field. Volunteers also helped sort, load and unload the items. Volunteers at Brewers Distributing Company in Peoria helped the Cubs staff unload the trucks, and that site served as a distribution center for the Red Cross.