* The Cubs plan on taking advantage of Doug Dascenzo’s expertise in base running and the outfield, and have him to teach at both the Major and Minor League levels in the organization. Dascenzo was bumped from manager Joe Maddon’s coaching staff to make room for Dave Martinez, who was hired Thursday as the bench coach. Brandon Hyde, who was the bench coach in 2014, will move to first base coach, which was to have been Dascenzo’s job in 2015. Now, Dascenzo will be the Cubs outfield and baserunning coordinator.
“He’s a Cub — he handled it with complete grace,” Theo Epstein said of Dascenzo, who played for the Cubs from 1988-92.
Hyde will continue to run Spring Training, but Martinez moves back into the familiar spot next to Maddon, returning to the team that drafted him in 1983.
“Obviously, he’s Joe’s right-hand man and I think that’s proved to be a winning combination in the past and we’re excited to have both guys,” Epstein said of Martinez, whom the Cubs had interviewed for the manager job prior to the 2014 season.
Epstein said he liked Martinez because he has “an edge to him as a coach,” and is able to communicate well with players. Dascenzo will still spend significant time with the big league team, Epstein said.
* New Cubs hitting coach John Mallee will get to work with Javier Baez, joining the infielder in Puerto Rico. Baez is expected to begin playing for Santurce on Dec. 11, and will start four to five games a week, Epstein said.
“Javy’s had some time away from the game and decompressed a little bit, and I think it’s certainly a testament to his work ethic and his desire to improve that he’s out there getting ready to play winter ball and get ready for the season,” Epstein said.
There’s no set number of at-bats for Baez, who batted .169 in 52 games with the Cubs this past season, striking out 95 times in 213 at-bats.
* The Cubs staff will have a chance to see Kris Bryant at the Winter Meetings as well. The third baseman, named the Minor League Player of the Year by several organizations, including MLB.com, will be honored as the top home run hitter in the Minors. Epstein said Bryant, who belted 43 home runs last season at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, has built a batting cage at his home and was working on his swing there this offseason.
– Carrie Muskat
Ryan Dempster knows how good a pitcher Jon Lester is, and has already talked to the free agent about how fun it is to pitch at Wrigley Field for the Cubs. Whether that helps Lester make a decision remains to be seen. Dempster, who was Lester’s teammate in Boston in 2013, made his recruiting pitch to the left-hander before joining the Cubs front office as a special assistant to Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
“Jon and I have talked about how great it is to play here,” Dempster said at the Cubs offices near Wrigley Field. “He knows that and he’s got an extremely tough decision ahead. But whatever the decision is, hopefully it’s here with the Chicago Cubs because he won’t be disappointed. I know the city of Chicago would embrace him. He’s the type of person who could pitch here and do well here. Hopefully we’re lucky enough to have him here with us.”
Lester, 30 is weighing offers from at least four teams — the Cubs, Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers — and talks between his agents and those teams were expected to continue into the Winter Meetings.
Epstein would not comment Friday on any specific negotiations, but did say the Cubs were not delaying any other talks with free agents or teams regarding possible trades while waiting for Lester to make a decision.
“We’re working on a lot of fronts,” Epstein said. “When there’s a potential impact player involved, it does shape a little bit the course of your short-term thinking. If you get a player who makes a significant difference in the standings, you prioritize creating a winning roster immediately around that player.
“If the offseason goes in a slightly different direction, you would continue to build more organically and continue to think a little bit longer term,” Epstein said.
Dempster said he was impressed by how prepared Lester is before his starts.
“Here I was, a guy who played 16 years in the league, and I’m supposed to be the veteran leader and I watched him and felt like I wasn’t doing enough,” Dempster said of their days together with the Red Sox. “If we could add him here, he’d step in front of everybody and all the young guys could sit and watch and learn from him. He’s just a tremendous pitcher and a tremendous human being and would be a great addition to any team.”
And now, Dempster said, Lester is seeing the reward of all that hard work by being offered lengthy contracts that will likely top $130 million.
– Carrie Muskat
Ryan Dempster doesn’t have an office yet at the Cubs complex near Wrigley Field but he lives close enough to the ballpark that it will be no problem for him to come over whenever needed in his new role. Dempster, 37, who did not pitch in 2014, officially announced his retirement as a player on Friday but also has a new job as a special assistant to Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
Dempster left the game on a high note as part of the Red Sox World Series championship team in 2013. He said it wasn’t a tough decision to retire.
“I think just going through this past season and not missing it as much as I thought I would made the decision a lot easier,” he said. “I had a great year off. I got to travel a lot, spend a ton of time with my kids — things I never got to do — and I got to go out on top and win a World Series. Now I can be on the other side in the front office and help get a World Series here to Chicago with the Cubs because that’s what I dreamt about as a player and that’s what I want as a front office member.”
Dempster pitched for the Cubs from 2004-12, first as the closer, and then as a starter. In his 16 seasons in the Major Leagues, he compiled a 132-133 career record and 4.35 ERA in 579 games, including 351 starts.
– Carrie Muskat
Joe Maddon will get to keep his bench coach, Dave Martinez. The Cubs announced Thursday that Martinez, 50, will join Maddon’s coaching staff on the Cubs as the bench coach.
In early October, the Cubs finalized the coaching staff, which included Brandon Hyde as bench coach. But Rick Renteria was the manager at that time. Renteria was dismissed Oct. 31 to make room for Maddon, who opted out of his contract with the Rays and signed a five-year, $25 million deal to manage the Cubs.
Martinez was one of the original candidates to replace Maddon as the Rays manager but in late November, was told he was not in the final three, and decided to leave Tampa Bay. He has been Maddon’s bench coach for seven seasons, beginning in 2008.
Martinez will be coming back to the team that first drafted him back in 1983 in the third round. He played four seasons with the Cubs — 1986-88 and again in 2000 — and spent 16 years as a player with nine total teams.
Hyde, 41, will stay with the Cubs as first base coach. Doug Dascenzo, who was hired as first base coach and outfield instructor, will now focus on outfield and base running with the Major League and Minor League players.
Maddon’s staff is now complete.
– Carrie Muskat
There is no timetable for Jon Lester to make a decision, but there apparently is a new team in the race. The Dodgers are a late entry into the Lester sweepstakes. The free agent pitcher has already met with the Red Sox, Cubs, Braves and Giants, but the Braves have reportedly bowed out, saying Lester is the right pitcher for them but just not now. The Dodgers can afford Lester, taking advantage of their lucrative television deal. The Cubs reportedly have the largest offer on the table at six years, $138 million. On Wednesday, sources said Lester was considering his options.
– Carrie Muskat
If you’re in Puerto Rico later this month, you could see Cubs infielder Javier Baez in a game. Baez will start playing winter league ball on Dec. 11 for Santurce, according to Cubs officials. The infielder, who turned 22 on Monday, finished the season with the Cubs, and batted .169 in 52 games with nine home runs and 95 strikeouts. He began the year at Triple-A Iowa, where he batted .260 in 104 games with 23 home runs, 24 doubles, and 80 RBIs.
– Carrie Muskat
The Cubs will host a tree-lighting ceremony Thursday to celebrate the holidays and conclude the team’s yearlong 100 Gifts of Service. The ceremony will be at 5:30 p.m. CT outside the Cubs Store at the northwest corner of Clark and Addison. The tree was donated by Christy Webber Landscapes.
Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins will be joined by Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, Cubs Charities chair Laura Ricketts, president of business operations Crane Kenney and representatives from many of the organizations that benefited from the team’s 100 Gifts of Service this year.
Fans and Wrigley Field neighbors are invited to participate in a holiday toy drive to benefit children at Lawrence Hall Youth Services. New, unwrapped toys may be donated at Thursday’s ceremony or during the Cubs Store’s business hours — 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. CT — leading up to the event.
Christian Villanueva was 4-for-4, including a grand slam, for Obregon in a 16-7 loss Tuesday night to Culiacan in Mexico Winter League play. The third baseman was batting .273 with six home runs.
Arismendy Alcantara was 2-for-5 with a double in Licey’s 5-3 win over Aguilas in the Dominican Republic. Alcantara is batting .325 this winter.
In Puerto Rico, John Andreoli was 2-for-4 with a solo home run and scored two runs in the Senadores 6-2 win over Carolina.
The Cubs non-tendered catcher John Baker and left-handed reliever Wesley Wright on Tuesday, reducing the 40-man roster to 37. The Cubs did tender contracts to eight of the 10 arbitration eligible players, including right-handed pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, left-handed pitchers Felix Doubront and Travis Wood, catcher Welington Castillo, infielder Luis Valbuena, and outfielders Chris Coghlan and Justin Ruggiano.
Overall, 30 players from the Cubs’ 40-man roster were tendered 2015 contracts. That includes the eight arbitration-eligible players listed and 22 players not yet eligible for arbitration. Wright and Baker are now free agents.
With Wright gone, the only left-handed pitchers on the Cubs’ 40-man roster are Doubront, Wood, Tsuyoshi Wada, Joseph Ortiz, Eric Jokisch, and Zac Rosscup. Besides Castillo, Rafael Lopez is the only other catcher on the Cubs’ 40-man roster.
MLBTradeRumors.com projects arbitration salaries, and estimated Wood could make $5.5 million in 2015; Arrieta $4.1 million; Castillo $2.1 million; Coghlan $1.4 million; Doubront $1.3 million; Ruggiano $2.5 million; Strop $2.4 million; and Valbuena $3.1 million.
– Carrie Muskat