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1/15 Rizzo: “We’re going to win NL Central”

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

1/15 Felix Doubront signs

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

1/14 Cubs roster moves

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.

1/14 Winter league update

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.

1/13 Cubs’ Pat Hughes honored

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.

1/13 Woody’s Winter Warm-Up Friday

Kerry Wood will kick off the 2015 Cubs Convention weekend with “Woody’s Winter Warm-Up” fundraiser on Friday at 8:30 p.m. CT at Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch Restaurant and Chicago Sports Museum. The Warm-Up will feature musical performances by Chicago’s Plain White T’s and DJ Matt Roan. Guests will enjoy ‘meet and greet’ opportunities with players, a premium open bar, food stations, raffle and a silent auction (which is currently taking bids).

The live auction will showcase “The Ultimate Cubs Experience” package, which is two game tickets in Theo Epstein’s private box at Wrigley Field and a seventh inning stretch sing-a-long with Wood.

“This is one of our favorite events because it not only starts up the excitement for the convention but also for the upcoming baseball season with [Joe] Maddon and [Jon] Lester joining the ball club,” Wood said.

Cubs players past and present, local celebrities, and media personalities will serve as guest bartenders, mixing drinks and competing for tips while also challenging guests in the Museum’s interactive games. Confirmed participants from the Cubs include members of Maddon’s coaching staff, Lester, and Anthony Rizzo, plus former players Mark DeRosa, Bob Howry, Ted Lilly, Jacque Jones, Rick Sutcliffe, Ryan Dempster, Jon Lieber, Dave Otto, Glendon Rusch, Lee Smith, and Steve Trout. Team executives Tom Ricketts, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer also were expected to attend.

Additionally, former Bear Donnell Woolford, former White Sox Ron Kittle, plus LaRoyce Hawkins (Chicago P.D.), DJ White Shadow, Jerry Hester (former University of Illinois basketball star), John Vincent (Ditka’s), Ryan Chiaverini (ABC’s Windy City LIVE), Natalie Martinez (NBC), Sarah Spain (ESPN Radio), Kelly Crull (Comcast), Kip Lewis (Comcast), Jane Monzures (WGN Radio), Pete McMurray (WGN Radio), and Showbiz Shelly (B96) will attend.

From now until Friday, all Harry Caray’s locations will be serving up “Woody’s Spring Training Spiked Apple” specialty cocktail. Made with Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey, apple juice, agave nectar, lime juice and topped with a sliced apple garnish, the drink will donate 100 percent of proceeds back to the Wood Family Foundation.

“We’ve had a busy 2014 putting together our mentoring program, Pitch In, and this event will provide the necessary means for us to continue our work with more mentors and mentees,” Wood’s wife Sarah said.

Tickets for Woody’s Winter Warm-Up are $125 per person in advance and $150 at the door, and can be purchased at http://www.woodfamilyfoundation.org. Parking is available for $16 in (valet) and $12 (self-park).

The Wood Family Foundation (WFF) is a non-profit organization founded in June 2011 by Wood and his wife, Sarah. The goal is to improve the lives of children in and around Chicago by raising funds and awareness for children’s charities and the causes they support.

1/13 Winter league update

* Christian Villanueva hit a tie-breaking sacrifice fly in the eighth to lift Obregon to a 6-5 victory over Jalisco in the Mexican League semifinals on Monday night. The best-of-seven series is now tied at one win apiece with Game 3 scheduled for Wednesday.

* Javier Baez hit a walkoff RBI single with two outs in the 10th inning to lift Santurce to a 5-4 victory Monday over Caguas in the Puerto Rico round robin playoffs. Baez went 2-for-6 with an RBI, a stolen base, and he scored a run. Santurce (6-2) plays Carolina (3-5) on Tuesday.

1/12 Winter league update

* Javier Baez was 1-for-3, scoring two runs and drawing two walks, in Santurce’s 10-4 loss Sunday to Carolina in the Puerto Rican league playoffs. No K’s. Santurce is now 5-2 in the round robin playoffs, and scheduled to play Caguas on Monday. Baez is 7-for-30 with six Ks in the seven playoff games so far.

* Christian Villanueva was 0-for-3 in Obregon’s 6-1 loss to Jalisco in the first game of the Mexican league best-of-seven semifinals. Game 2 will be Monday night.

* Junior Lake was 1-for-5 with an RBI single in the third in Estrellas 7-1 win over Gigantes in the Dominican Republic league playoffs. No games are scheduled Monday.

1/11 Minor League transactions

According to Baseball America, the Cubs have reportedly signed the following players to Minor League contracts:

RHP Jorge De Leon (released by A’s Dec. 17)
RHP Andres Santiago
C Taylor Teagarden
2B Chris Valaika (re-signed)

Santiago, 25, threw a nine-inning no-hitter, striking out 12, against the Cubs’ Double-A Tennessee team in the last week of the regular season. He repeated in the Dodgers system at the Double-A level in 2014 prior to testing the Minor League free agent market. Santiago was 6-8 with a 4.47 ERA in 26 games (24 starts) last season, striking out 98 over 129 innings.

Teagarden, 31, spent most of 2014 with the Mets’ Triple-A Las Vegas team, batting .303 in 55 games. He also appeared in nine games with the big league team, and over seven seasons with the Rangers, Orioles and Mets, has a .202 career average.

Valaika, 29, batted .231 in 44 games with the Cubs, and hit .278 in 102 games at Triple-A Iowa.

De Leon, 27, appeared in eight games, all in relief, with the Astros last season, and gave up four earned runs over 7 1/3 innings, striking out four. He pitched at Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2014, and was a combined 4-5 with a 3.01 ERA in 46 appearances, striking out 61 over 68 2/3 innings.

* Players from other organizations to sign Minor League contracts with the Cubs:

OF Adron Chambers – Blue Jays
SS Jonathan Herrera – Red Sox

* According to Baseball America’s Minor League free agent tracker, the following Cubs prospects have signed with other teams:

1B Lars Anderson (Dodgers)
RHP Alberto Cabrera (Tigers)
C Charlie Cutler (Angels)
RHP Marcus Hatley (Cardinals)
OF Ryan Kalish (Blue Jays)
RHP Marcos Mateo (Padres)
RHP Dae-Eun Rhee (Japan)
C Eli Whiteside (Braves)

* Cubs Minor Leaguers who are still free agents:
RHP Lendy Castillo
RHP Eduardo Figueroa
2B Edgar Gonzalez
C Nathan Maldonado
2B Jonathan Mota
RHP Carlos Pimentel
OF Manny Ramirez
OF Josh Vitters

1/10 Winter league update

* Javier Baez was 3-for-5, scored three runs and hit a double in Santurce’s 10-0 win over Carolina to improve to 5-1 in the Puerto Rican league playoffs. Santurce plays Caguas on Saturday.

* Christian Villanueva was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Obregon’s 7-2 loss to Mexicali in the deciding seventh game of the best of seven playoffs in Mexico. Obregon had opened a 3-1 lead in the series.

* Junior Lake was 2-for-4 with one RBIs in Estrellas 4-3 win over Aguilas in the Dominican Republic. Lake delivered an RBI single with one out in the eighth. Estrellas faces Los Toros on Saturday.

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