The Cubs’ offseason goals were to upgrade their roster by finding players, preferably left-handed hitters, who can get on base, and they most likely completed the makeover on Monday with the addition of Dexter Fowler. The Cubs dealt infielder Luis Valbuena and right-handed pitcher Dan Straily to the Astros for Fowler, 28, expected to fill the leadoff spot. The switch-hitter has a career .366 on-base percentage over seven seasons, primarily with the Rockies. He was traded to the Astros on Dec. 3 with a player to be named later for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles.
Fowler will be reunited with hitting coach John Mallee, who was with the Astros last season, and now has that job with the Cubs. Mallee recommended the outfielder.
“The biggest thing John kept saying to us is, ‘This guy really puts on an at-bat … he sees pitches, he gets on base,'” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Monday.
That’s something the Cubs haven’t had. They ranked 13th in the National League in on-base percentage. Fowler, Miguel Montero and Tommy La Stella are three left-handed hitters the Cubs added who they hope will get on base and extend the lineup.
Arismendy Alcantara played the most center field last season but had to learn about the outfield on the job after coming up in the Cubs system as an infielder. He may become manager Joe Maddon’s Cubs version of Ben Zobrist — a versatile player who can fill in everywhere.
“Joe’s been a part of a lot of our meetings about the team, and Alcantara, for one, brings a smile to his face every time because he’s exactly the kind of player he loves,” Hoyer said of the 23-year-old switch-hitter. “He can play all over the field, he can run the bases, he’s a good defender, he’s got good power. He’s an exciting piece who you can move around.”
– Carrie Muskat
Dexter Fowler can’t wait to join the Cubs.
“I’m excited,” Fowler told MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart on Monday after being dealt to the Cubs from the Astros for Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily. “I envisioned myself when I first went to the Astros just to go in and help the young guys and see what comes from that. A trade to the Cubs is also an awesome move. It’s a great time to be a Cub.
“It’s tough leaving my teammates and tough leaving the relationships I built, but going to a new team, a young team like that, that’s on the way up, on the rise, is awesome as well,” Fowler said.
The deal did catch Fowler off guard.
“I was a little surprised,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s a business and I realize that, but you’ve got to go and continue grow and continue to play your game.”
Fowler will be reunited with hitting coach John Mallee, who held that job with the Astros, and is now with the Cubs.
“Mallee’s a good dude,” Fowler said. “He’s real receptive. It’s good to go in and know a coach that’s been with you. He knows your swing so you’re not just starting from scratch with a new guy.”
The Cubs upgraded their outfield, acquiring veteran Dexter Fowler on Monday in exchange for infielder Luis Valbuena and right-handed pitcher Dan Straily. Fowler, 28, a switch-hitter, has a career .366 on-base percentage over seven seasons, primarily with the Rockies. He was traded to the Astros on Dec. 3 with a player to be named later for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles.
According to FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, Fowler asked for $10.8 million in arbitration, and the Astros offered $8.5 million. Fowler will be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.
The Cubs had projected Arismendy Alcantara as their primary center fielder, although last season was his first in the outfield after spending most of his playing time at second base.
Valbuena, 29, made the most starts at third base last season for the Cubs, and his departure could open the spot for top prospect Kris Bryant at third. Valbuena batted .249 with 16 home runs and 51 RBIs. Bryant was the Minor League player of the year, hitting 43 home runs and driving in 110 runs at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. If Bryant isn’t ready by Opening Day, the Cubs have Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella to play third base.
Straily, 26, was acquired from the Athletics last July in the multi player deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. He was 13-12 with a 4.54 ERA in 48 big league appearances covering parts of three big league seasons.
– Carrie Muskat
Cubs games will be broadcast on three different stations in 2015 — Comcast SportsNet Chicago, WGN-TV, and WLS-TV/ABC 7. The Cubs are reaching out to markets to syndicate their games outside of the Chicagoland area.
“If there’s a market they can’t serve or get an agreement with, we could go to [Major League Baseball] and ask them to lift the blackout in that community only,” said Crane Kenney, president of business operations. “MLB should want to see distribution occur everywhere there’s a fan who wants to see the game as long as we respect our local partners.”
Stay tuned, Cubs fans.
– Carrie Muskat
Some highlights from the Cubs Convention seminars:
* Javier Baez is headed back to Puerto Rico to continue to play for Santurce, most likely through the playoffs. GM Jed Hoyer says Baez is well aware he has to make adjustments.
“He has to earn his playing time,” Hoyer said of the 21-year-old infielder. “He knows he has to make more contact to stay in the big leagues.”
* The Cubs pitching staff actually did well last season but the offense struggled. The Cubs ranked 12th in the National League in runs scored, ahead of only the Reds, Braves and Padres; 13th in on-base percentage; and 14th in batting average with runners in scoring position (.223). Where will the runs come from in 2015? Theo Epstein says he’s counting on better performances from Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara and Luis Valbuena, plus feels they will get more production from the catching position with the addition of Miguel Montero. What about Kris Bryant? Epstein said Bryant definitely is expected to be in the lineup in 2015.
“When it’s the right time for Kris’ development and the right time for the team, he’ll be on the roster,” Epstein said.
* The Cubs may open the season with three catchers: Montero, David Ross and Welington Castillo. The Cubs added Ross because they felt he was too good a player and person in the clubhouse to pass on, Hoyer said.
* Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts was asked about Sammy Sosa and whether the team can reconcile with the former right fielder.
“I don’t want to get into Sammy,” Ricketts said. “There will be a time and a place for it, and we’ll wait for that time and place.”
* Jon Lester’s ability to pitch at Fenway Park will help him at Wrigley Field, Epstein said. Lester would pitch at Fenway in ways that were counter to the type of pitcher he is, and that was because of the way the ballpark is built.
“We all know Wrigley plays two different ways,” Epstein said. “When the wind is howling in and it’s April, and it’s really hard to hit the ball out of the ballpark, he’ll go right at guys and be extremely efficient. He has the power and the mix to be able to do that. On the days when [the wind] is howling out, he can change things up and work his two-seamer a little more, change speeds a little more often and keep hitters off balance. For a left-handed pitcher having gone through your whole career basically at Fenway Park, that’s a gauntlet and it forces you to get creative.”
* Someone asked Epstein how he was able to lure Lester to the Cubs.
“Well, $155 million,” Epstein quipped.
– Carrie Muskat
Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said Saturday that the Wrigley Field bleachers will not be ready by Opening Night, April 5. The bleachers are currently being renovated, part of the five-year, $575 million “Project 1060″ for the 100-year-old ballpark. Bleacher season ticket holders received an email on Saturday outlining their options. They can get a full refund prior to games of May 11, get a credit amount prior to May 11, or relocate for all their games prior to May 11. Kenney said the left field bleachers are expected to be ready by early May, and the right field bleachers ready by late May. Said Carl Rice: “We want to do it right.”
– Carrie Muskat
Ryan Dempster interviewed players and others during a show Friday night, the first night of the Cubs Convention. In case you missed it, here was Dempster’s “Top 10 reasons the Cubs hired Joe Maddon:”
10. “We misheard and thought he knew [actress] Eva Longoria.”
9. “We’re trying to set the Guinness Book of World Records for most fired managers.”
8. “We needed someone who would take the leftover Harry Carry glasses.”
7. “The Cubs’ bus keeps breaking down so we figured, hey, we can use his RV.”
6. “Most managers take shots from the media; Joe Maddon buys shots for the media.”
5. “We have a young team here in Chicago, and if 60 is the new 40, well, we need someone to manage all of our toddlers.”
4. “[Model wife of former Cub David DeJesus] Kim DeJesus told us to.”
3. “He’s the son of a plumber and, let’s just face it: the Wrigley bathrooms need a ton of work.”
2. “We just feel bad for anyone who lives in Florida.”
1. “Well, because of all the other managers we tried to tamper with, none of them called us back.”
– Cash Kruth, MLB.com
The Cubs avoided arbitration Friday with Jake Arrieta, Welington Castillo, Travis Wood, Chris Coghlan and Luis Valbuena, and exchanged salary figures with reliever Pedro Strop.
Wood: one-year, $5.685 million contract
Arrieta: one-year, $3.63 million contract
Castillo: one-year, $2.1 million contract
Valbuena: one-year, $4.2 million contract
Coghlan: one-year, $2.505 million contract
Friday was the deadline for teams to exchange figures with arb eligible players. Hearings will be Feb. 1-21 if no settlement is reached before then.
– Carrie Muskat
* Starlin Castro says he was in the “wrong place at the wrong time” regarding two shooting incidents in the Dominican Republic in December and the Cubs shortstop will likely move his family to the United States. Castro, 24, has relocated to Arizona to get a head start on preparing for the 2015 season at the Cubs complex in Mesa. Theo Epstein talked to Castro immediately after both incidents.
“The most important thing is that Starlin has responded to this adversity really well,” Epstein said Friday prior to the opening ceremonies at the Cubs Convention. “He’s taken a mature approach and figured out he needed to make some changes, he needed to change his environment to put himself in the best position to A, keep him and his family safe, and B, to prepare the right way for the season to win a championship. He made a not insignificant step to move to Arizona and start his training early, and I was proud of the way he responded to a difficult situation.”
The move to Arizona isn’t full time, Castro said, and he’s still considering his options.
“I’ve got to move,” Castro said. “I’ve got to do something that doesn’t create negative things. I’m not that kind of person.”
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs new marketing slogan for the 2015 season is “Let’s Go,” and it was unveiled Friday at the opening ceremonies of the 30th convention. New manager Joe Maddon has heard the same message from fans while walking around Chicago this past week.
“The refrain that catches me, primarily, is male-oriented and guys talk about their dads and their grand pops a lot,” Maddon said. “It’s this unrequited situation where they’ve never had a World Series here in their lifetime. There’s a real passionate generational situation here.”
Maddon, who has strong ties to his family, said he could relate.
“I get it,” he said. “I understand where the fans are coming from and I understand the frustration, but more important, I understand the family component.”
The Cubs are coming off a last-place finish in the National League Central, and begin the 2015 season with plenty of optimism following the addition of Maddon and free agent pitcher Jon Lester, who both received loud ovations during opening festivities of the three-day fan fest at the Sheraton Hotel and Tower.
Maddon has spent the week in Chicago, watching video of the Cubs players, meeting with the Minor League coordinators, and talking to the analytics department. He’s been analyzing the pros and cons of batting a pitcher eighth, something he did during Interleague games with the Rays. He hasn’t been scribbling possible lineups down, preferring to see players in person first.
He’s heard how optimistic at least one of his players is. On Thursday, Anthony Rizzo promised the Cubs would win the NL Central this year. A lot of Rizzo’s enthusiasm is spurred by the addition of Lester, who signed a six-year, $155 million contract last month.
“I mean it’s obviously a bold statement,” Lester said. “I don’t think the end-all goal is the division. It’s nice to win the division, it’s always nice to be in the playoffs, but obviously the end-all goal for everybody, I would imagine, would be the World Series.
“By no way, shape or form am I predicting a World Series win, but that’s the goal, to get there,” Lester said. “You get there, you can figure it out and see what happens. … I stand behind my teammate and we’re going to go out there and hopefully that’s the first goal we’re going to try to make.”
– Carrie Muskat