* 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
The Cubs avoided arbitration Friday with Jake Arrieta and Welington Castillo. The Cubs signed Arrieta to a one-year, $3.63 million contract, and agreed to a one-year, $2.1 million deal with Castillo.
Arrieta, 28, is coming off a stellar season with the Cubs in which he compiled a 10-5 record and 2.53 ERA in 25 starts, including his first complete game shutout. The right-hander carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning in three starts, the first Cubs pitcher to do so since 1950. He was projected to the Cubs 2015 Opening Day starter until Jon Lester was signed.
“It’s hard to not want to give it up to a guy like that,” Arrieta said Thursday of the Opening Day honors. “[Lester] is well deserving, he’s a leader, and a guy who all of us can look to for advice and ways to build and grow and learn as players. No problem with that at all.”
Castillo’s future isn’t as clear. The catcher hit a career-high 13 home runs but batted .237 last season in 110 games. The Cubs have added catchers Miguel Montero and David Ross this offseason. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said they’ve had some inquiries about Castillo but haven’t found the right match.
The Cubs now have three arbitration-eligible players remaining, including Travis Wood, Luis Valbuena, and Pedro Strop.
– Carrie Muskat
With plenty of eyes on the Cubs as they kick off their winter convention Friday, Theo Epstein spoke on MLB Network Radio about the remaining plans for the offseason and the 2015 season outlook. Epstein, on “The Leadoff Spot” with Steve Phillips and Todd Hollandsworth, said that despite the big-name starting pitching free agents still on the market, the Cubs are content with their current rotation.
“We feel pretty good about the rotation as it stands, and especially good about the depth,” Epstein said. “We like our sixth, seventh, eighth starters this year better than we have in a long time.”
With newly signed ace Jon Lester at the top of the rotation, the Cubs also have incumbents Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Travis Wood joining free agent acquisition Jason Hammel.
In other hot stove news, Epstein said the Cubs have kicked the tires on a few deals involving their bounty of catchers, but nothing has come to fruition.
“It might be a situation if we don’t find a match that we like and we’re not overwhelmed, we might just go into Spring Training because a quick way to derail a potentially good team is if you have an injury to one of your catchers and most teams, most organizations aren’t deep enough to call up a Minor League free agent or someone from Triple-A and it can really create a bit of a black hole in your lineup,” Epstein said.
That may leave the club largely as-is, and it’s a team the organization is excited about. First baseman Anthony Rizzo said Thursday he expects the club to win the National League Central, and Epstein didn’t have a problem with that statement.
“I think enthusiasm is great, especially with our players,” Epstein said. “I want our players thinking that way and having a little bit of swagger.”
– Joey Nowak, MLB.com
The Cubs avoided arbitration with Chris Coghlan, signing the outfielder to a one-year, $2.505 million contract on Friday. In his first year with the Cubs, Coghlan, 29, batted .283 with nine home runs, 28 doubles, five triples and 41 RBIs in 125 games. He began the season at Triple-A Iowa, but finished with the most games (103) and at-bats (358) of any of the Cubs outfielders.
The Cubs now have five arbitration-eligible players remaining, including Travis Wood, Luis Valbuena, Pedro Strop, Jake Arrieta and Welington Castillo. Felix Doubront settled on Thursday, signing a one-year, $1.925 million contract.
– Carrie Muskat
Anthony Rizzo sent a message to the rest of the National League Central: The Cubs intend to win the division.
“It’s going to happen this year,” Rizzo said Thursday during a Cubs Caravan stop at an elementary school. “[Get to the playoffs] is what we’re going to do. We’re going to play, we’re going to win the NL Central. You guys will quote me on that. We should be the team — with all due respect to every other team, they’re just as good talent wise — but we’re going to do some things this year and that’s what we’re expecting, that’s what we’re going to put our sights on and we’re not going to accept anything less.”
Flashback to Sept. 28 when the Cubs wrapped up the regular season at 73-89 with a win over the Brewers, and Rizzo said the same thing. But he sounded more convinced Thursday now that Joe Maddon is the manager and Jon Lester is in the rotation.
“[The] 2014 [season] is over with, and 2013 is over with, and 2012. This is it,” Rizzo said. “I was saying this to my family that when everything was going down getting Lester and Maddon and signing those guys, that for the rest of my career, I should be on a contending team now. That’s exciting. The expectations now are set this year and every year on out.”
Rizzo’s prediction didn’t surprise teammate Jake Arrieta.
“I don’t think it’s out of reach at all,” Arrieta said about getting to the playoffs. “I expect the guys on our ballclub to have that same sort of mindset, especially starting with a clean slate, a fresh season, a lot of new faces. Optimism is a good thing to have. I think everybody’s excited and ready to get started.”
Rizzo said the fact that Maddon has battled in the tough American League East will help the Cubs. Plus, the players can learn from Lester’s and catcher David Ross’s postseason experience. The Cubs should head into 2015 better prepared.
“I’ve never been [to the World Series], Starlin [Castro] has never been there,” Rizzo said. “[Lester and Ross] are going to help us with everything. That’s what’s great with how our roster is shaping up is we’ll have a lot of knowledge, a lot of youth, and a lot of talent.”
Rizzo’s prediction is tame compared to the movie, “Back to the Future 2,” which predicted the Cubs will win World Series this year.
“They’re smart,” Rizzo said. “‘Back to the Future’ said we’re going to win in 2015. We’re going to be a fun team and I’m going to say it now, our goal is to make the playoffs, and once you make the playoffs, the ultimate goal is the World Series. That’s our goal every single year.”
Said Arrieta: “We’ll do our best to make sure that happens.”
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs avoided arbitration with Felix Doubront, signing the left-handed pitcher to a one-year, $1.925 million contract on Thursday. Doubront was 2-1 with a 3.98 ERA in four starts with the Cubs, who acquired him from the Red Sox on July 30 for Minor League infielder Marco Hernandez. A candidate for the Cubs rotation, Doubront was 2-4 with a 6.07 ERA in 17 games (10 starts) with Boston before the deal.
The Cubs have six arbitration-eligible players remaining, including Travis Wood, Luis Valbuena, Pedro Strop, Chris Coghlan, Jake Arrieta and Welington Castillo. Hearings will be Feb. 1-21 if no settlement is reached before then. The deadline to exchange figures is Friday.
– Carrie Muskat
Left-handed pitcher Mike Kickham, whom the Cubs claimed off waivers from the Giants, then designated for assignment, is now headed to the Mariners. Kickham, who was DFA’d on Jan. 9 to make room on the 40-man roster for Chris Denorfia, was traded Wednesday to Seattle for Class A pitcher Lars Huijer.
A native of the Netherlands, Huijer, 21, pitched for Clinton and High Desert last season, and was a combined 6-9 with a 5.08 ERA in 28 games (24 starts), with 76 strikeouts over 124 innings. In 2013, he was 8-2 with a 3.03 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) at Class A Everett.
Kickham, 26, was waived by the Giants following their signing of Jake Peavy.
Here’s a scouting report on Huijer from MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo:
A product of the Mariners’ consistent efforts to mine European talent, Huijer signed out of the Netherlands in 2011. The big right-hander split time in 2014 between the Class A Midwest League and Class A Advanced California League, almost exclusively as a starter. The 21-year-old has an intriguing three-pitch mix and there is some ceiling for him to reach. His fastball sits mostly in the upper-80s with a lot of groundball-inducing sink. He throws a big, slow breaking ball in the mid-70s along with an upper-70s changeup. When he’s successful, he does a good job of keeping the ball down in the strike zone. As he adds strength and experience, the hope is he’ll command the ball better (4.4 BB/9 in 2014) and reach his potential as a mid-rotation starter.
Junior Lake went 2-for-3 with a double and Robinson Cano drove in three runs in Estrellas 7-2 win over Gigantes Tuesday in the Dominican Republic round robin playoffs. Lake, who batted third and played center, scored from first on a two-run double to left by Cano in the fourth. Estrellas plays Aguilas on Wednesday.
Cubs play-by-play radio announcer Pat Hughes was named the 2014 Illinois Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association on Monday. This is Hughes’ ninth Sportscaster of the Year honor and his sixth in Illinois. The award will be presented June 9 in Salisbury, N.C. The 2015 season will be Hughes’ 33rd broadcasting big league baseball and his 20th with the Cubs.