Archive | January, 2010

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Chicago Cubs Opt to Stay in Mesa, Arizona for Spring Training

Posted on 31 January 2010 by Lou

The Chicago Cubs have decided to keep their Spring Training home in Mesa, Arizona.  Once Mesa city officials unanimously approved a plan for the new and improved “Wrigleyville West”, Cubs officials jumped at the bit and gave the city the exclusive right to get the deal done.  The development will include commercial properties, a shopping district and hotels and could occupy as much as 100 acres in the Phoenix suburb.  The $84 million complex will also be the site of a brand new, state-of-the-art 15,000-seat ballpark.

The Naples, Florida bid to bring the Cubs to the Grapefruit League on the east coast in Florida is on hold for now.

I must say I am a little surprised by the decision.  I know the Ricketts Family has ties in Florida, so Mesa must have made a great proposal to keep the Cubs in Arizona.  It also shows the Cubs commitment to the area for all of the great things they have done for the Cubs over the last 57 years.

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Starlin Castro on MLB’s Top 50 Prospects List – Pretty Impressive

Posted on 30 January 2010 by Lou

The accolades keep on rolling in for Cubs minor league shortstop Starlin Castro.  The 19-year old is ranked 22nd on MLB.com’s Top 50 Prospects list.  WOW!

We knew this kid was good, but at 19, for him to be ranked as high as 22 is pretty damn impressive.  Castro clearly has a very bright future with the Chicago Cubs organization.

Castro excelled in the Arizona Fall League this past October, playing with minor league players with a lot more experience than him.  He finished 6th in the AFL with a .376 batting average.  This after at shining at Class-A Daytona and then helping the Double-A Tennessee qualify for the playoffs during the 2nd half of the baseball season.  Castro will likely be the Cubs starting shortstop for years to come once he is ready to make the big leap to the major leagues.  How soon will that be?  It’s a little hard to say, but development personnel within the Cubs organization think it could happen very soon.  The director of player development Oneri Fleita had this to say about Castro’s quick development: “I haven’t had a player go through the system who has done what he’s done… He’s certainly surpassed any expectations we’ve had.  To finish at Double-A and get a chance to play in the playoffs – — and he contributed to them winning… It seems like it takes some guys a year before we see any gains.  We’re seeing gains in Castro weekly, monthly, if not daily.  Who knows?”  Gotta like that assessment of the youngster.

It’s finally nice to have a “can’t miss” prospect being grown within the Cubs organization.  It seems like it’s been a while since that’s been the case.  Let’s just hope he stays healthy and keeps maturing and progressing.  Maybe we’ll see him at Wrigley Field in 2011?

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Cubs Avoid Arbitration with Lefty Sean Marshall

Posted on 29 January 2010 by Lou

The Chicago Cubs and left-handed pitcher Sean Marshall have agreed on a 1-year, $950,000 deal for the 2010 MLB schedule.  Marshall will be given an opportunity to compete for a spot in the Cubs starting rotation on Opening Day 2010.  And if he doesn’t make it there, he will likely be one of Manager Lou Pinella’s go-to guys out of the bullpen during the 2010 MLB schedule.  Marshall submitted 1 $1.175 salary demand, while the Cubs had countered with $800,000 Marshall made $450,000 in 2009, so it is still a pretty hefty raise for the lefty.

Marshall is a bargain at $950,000.  Marshall can be a full-time starter, he can make spot starts or he can be an effective pitcher out of the bullpen.  What more can you ask out of a pitcher. He has gained some valuable experience over the last few years, so he is becoming more and more of a veteran presence on the team.  He is a solid clubhouse guy too, so Marshall is a key pitcher on the Cubs staff.

GM Jim Hendry and the Cubs still have to work out deals with 2 other abritration-eligible players – probably the most important 2! Shortstop Ryan Theriot and Closer Carlos Marmol.  Theriot made $500,000 in 2009 and has submitted a $3.4 salary demand with a $2.6 million counter-offer from the Cubs.  Marmol made $575,000 in 2009 and has submitted a $2.5 salary demand with a $1.75 million counter-offer from the Cubs.  The Cubs will definitely get deals done with these 2 valuable players in the upcoming days…

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Andrew Dawson to Enter Hall with Montreal Expos Cap?!

Posted on 28 January 2010 by Lou

It’s official — Andre Dawson will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July with a Montreal Expos cap – NOT a Chicago Cubs hat.

Dawson played his first 11 MLB seasons as an Expo in Montreal and then the next 6 years of his career on the North Side of Chicago as a Cub.  Dawson won the NL Rookie of the Year Award with the Expos in 1977 and has was also named an NL All-Star 3 times as an Expo.  He hit .285 and racked up 225 HR’s and 838 RBI’s in a Montreal Expos uniform.

Dawson’s most memorable major league season, however, came in a Cubs uniform.  In 1987, Dawson captured the hearts and minds of the Wrigley Field faithful with his amazing season in which he hit .287 with 49 HR’s and 137 RBI’s.  He was named the National League MVP for his Herculean efforts that summer.

How did Dawson take the decision by Major League Baseball?  Not well.  Dawson spoke with Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman on ESPN Radio 1000 in Chicago on Wednesday morning.  Dawson made the following statements about the process: “I’m disappointed.  I can proudly say that because Chicago was my preference… I repsect the Hall of Fame’s decision to put an Expos logo on my cap, and I understand their responsibility to make sure the logo represents the greatest impact in my career.  Cubs fans will always be incredibly important in my heart, and I owe them so much for making my time in Chicago memorable, as did the fans in Montreal, Boston and South Florida, my home.  But knowing that I’m on the Hall of Fame team is what’s most important, as it is the highest honor I could imagine.”

The Hall and Major League Baseball have stated that Dawson had a greater impact for the Montreal Expos than he did for the Chicago Cubs.  More than half of his hits came in an Expos uniform (1575 out of 2774) and he won 6 of his 8 Gold Glove Awards as a member of the Expos.  Dawson was also instrumental in leading the Expos to their own playoff series win over the Philadelphia Phillies back in 1981.

Gotta give Dawson credit – he is a stand-up guy and his quotes indicate that.  On the other, he’s not afraid to tell it how it is and acknowledge that he would have preferred to go into the Hall of Fame with a Cubs logo on his cap.  You da man Hawk – you deserve it…

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Cubs Sign Chad Tracy to Minor League Deal

Posted on 27 January 2010 by Lou

The Chicago Cubs took a flyer on veteran infielder Chad Tracy, signing him to a minor league contract with a chance to compete for the Cubs Opening Day roster.  If Tracy makes the MLB Cubs roster, he will earn $900,000 during the 2010 MLB season.  He will also earn a $525,000 bonus if he reaches the 450 at-bat plateau.

Tracy has been hampered by injuries each of the last 3 major league baseball seasons.  He has not played more than 100 games since the 2006 MLB schedule.  In 2009, Tracy played in 98 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks, hitting .237 with just 8 HR’s and 39 RBI’s.  His best season was the 2005 MLB campaign when he slugged 27 HR’s, scored 73 runs and drove in 72 runs.  Tracy hit .305 with a .359 on-base percentage that season.  Since then, however, he has not lived up to the expectations that he created with that big year.

Tracy does have a few positives – he can play both 1st base and 3rd base, so he could back up both Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez should either of them get hurt or if they need a day off here or there.  Tracy is also a career 2.97 hitter against right-handed pitching, so he will give Micah Hoffpauir a run for his money as the Cubs left-handed hitting option off the bench.  Hoffpauir started off the season as a productive role player for the Cubs in 2009, but his numbers tailed off dramatically as the season progressed – .239 batting average, .300 on-base percentage, 10 HR’s, 35 RBI’s, 28 runs scored in 234 at-bats in 105 games.

Seems like a wise move by GM Jim Hendry – yep, you heard me right – a wise move – for once.  Hoffpauir clearly struggled down the stretch, so the Cubs realize his limitations.  Tracy is a good, cheap player.  Not having to play everyday could save him from the nagging injuries that he suffered as a starter.  Unless he totally craps the bed during Spring Training, I see Tracy beating out Hoffpauir for the Cubs lefty role player heading into the 2010 MLB schedule.  And at $900,000, that is a major bargain for someone of his caliber.

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Chicago Cubs Add 4th Outfielder – Xavier Nady

Posted on 26 January 2010 by Lou

The Chicago Cubs have agreed to a 1-year deal with outfielder Xavier Nady to be the Cubs 4th outfielder.  Nady will be guaranteed $3.3 million under the terms of the deal for the 2010 MLB schedule, but he could make an additional $2.05 million in incentives for games played.

Plain and simple – I don’t like this deal at all for one simple reason – Nady underwent his 2nd Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in July 2009 and he only played 7 games for the New York Yankees in 2009.  Given the injury propensity for starting left fielder Alfonso Soriano and the slump propensity for starting right fielder Kosuke Fukudome, the last thing we need is a 4th infielder who might not be ready to step in right away should something negative happen with Soriano or Fukudome.  Nady is a career .280 hitter in 679 major league games with the San Diego Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and Mets.  In his last full season in the majors – 2008 – Nady hit .305 with 25 HR’s and 97 RBI’s for the Pirates and Yankees.

Nady’s agent Scott Boras has said that Nady will be ready to play come the start of Spring Training, but Nady still needs to undergo a physical before the deal is approved.  How funny would it be if he failed?!  The one positive about Nady is that he a stand-up guy and a good veteran clubhouse presence.  If he is really healthy, he’ll be a good addition to the Cubs.

I have a feeling this deal was done because of the limited payroll flexibility that GM Jim Hendry has left the club in because of all of his miserable deals the last 3 years.  $3.3 million is a lot easier to swallow than the amounts that the Cubs would have had to pay for a Jermaine Dye or some other 4th outfielder out there on the open market.  Good job Jim – this will be another reason for the Ricketts family to fire you after the 2010 MLB schedule…

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Jeff Samardzija – 2010 – Starter, Reliever or Minor Leaguer?

Posted on 25 January 2010 by Lou

Ah – many questions surround the current status of Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija.  The Cubs would love for Samardzija to step up as an everyday starter in 2010.  But it’s unclear if he has what it takes right now to make that jump.

After a solid 2008 as a rookie – 26 games, 1-0 record, 1 save, 3 blown saves, 2.28 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 25 K’s in 27 2/3 innings – the Cubs thought that they would be able to count on him for a lot more in 2009.  But the opposite was true.  Samardzija struggled with his command and with his ability to keep runners off base.  While hitters batted just .226 against him 2008, that number jumped to .329 in 2009.  Not good.  Samradzija bounced back and forth between the Cubs and Triple-A Iowa during the 2009 MLB schedule.  He pitched 34 2/3 innings in just 20 appearances, but gave up 46 hits and 26 ER during that span.  His 7.53 ERA and 1.76 WHIP were major disappointments for Manager Lou Pinella, GM Jim Hendry and Cubs fans alike.

The Cubs suggested that he pitch in the Mexican League this winter to get in some extra work.  It looked like the added throwing paid off to some extent.  He started 5 games with Mexicali and pitched 24 innings.  He had command of his pitches (8 walks to 22 strikeouts) and he gave up just 6 earned runs.  Sure the competition isn’t as good, but at least he was able to focus better and work on his offspeed pitches that could help him at the major league level in 2010.

The Cubs will give Samardzija a chance to compete for a starting position in 2010.  If he doesn’t make the top 5 at the start of the season, the Cubs will have to decide whether it’s better to send him down to Triple-A Iowa where he can continue his work as a starter, or whether he would be more valuable to the Cubs coming out of the bullpen.  Samardzija clearly has the talent, or the Cubs wouldn’t have wooed him away from football and the NFL when they signed him after he graduated from Notre Dame in 2007.  Now he just needs someone to help him “make things click” in order for him to perform consistently at the major league level at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.

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Jeff Baker Looking Forward to 2nd Base Battle with Mike Fontenot

Posted on 24 January 2010 by Lou

Jeff Baker is looking forward to having a legitimate shot at winning the starting 2nd base job for the Chicago Cubs during the 2010 MLB schedule.  The Cubs acquired Baker from the Colorado Rockies in early July 2009 and he performed well for the Cubs in the 2nd half of the season.  In August, Baker excelled with a .359 batting average in 64 at-bats.  He followed that up with a .295 batting average in September.  Overall, Baker played in 69 games for the Cubs, hitting .305 in 203 at-bats.  Baker had a .362 on-base percentage with 4 HR’s, 15 doubles and 21 RBI’s.

Contrast that with Mike Fontenot who had a horrible year in 2009 – .236 batting average, .301 on-base percentage, 9 HR’s, 43 RBI’s in 377 at-bats in 135 games – and you could see a hard-fought battle in Spring Training next month.  Fontenot had hit .305 with a .395 on-base percentage in 2008 and he had earned the starting 2nd base job to start off the season.

For Baker, this is a step in the right direction.  Baker also sat 2nd fiddle to Rockies 3rd baseman Garrett Atkins in Colorado.  Although he tried to break through by learning to play 2nd base and the outfield, he never saw enough action in Denver.  Baker is excited about the opportunity that has presented itself with the Cubs and he has a positive attitude about the competition with Fontenot: “The bottom line is it’s about the team winning. Guys who you’re competing with for the same spot, you’re still good friends and the competition doesn’t change anything.  As long as Mike and I have the same mindset that it’s about what’s best for the team and about what’s best for the team that day, I don’t think anything will change.  We’re both professional players and we both want to win.”

Baker also cherishes the idea of earning a starting spot at the major league level: “Coming over here was a fresh start and an opportunity for me.  The one thing I’ve noticed about the Cubs is if you play well, you’ll get the opportunity to play.  I’m going to try to take advantage of it and I’m going to go out there and go 100 percent.  It’s not going to be from a lack of effort or lack of preparation… I always prepare like I’m going to be a starter.  I believe I can play every day in the big leagues and I can be productive and help a team win… The opportunity to start doesn’t come along too often.  I’ve been fighting for one my whole career…it’s something I’m going to try to gran hold of tight and not let go.”

Gotta love his preparation and his attitude.  I’d love to see Baker win the starting job.  I never thought Fontenot was built to be an everyday player and his numbers last year proved that.  Now I don’t know Baker well enough to project whether he will be able to handle the everyday load either, but I hope he beats out Fontenot this spring and at least gets a chance to show his stuff.  Fontenot is solid off the bench and if he can get back in that role where he gets between 250-300 at-bats during the course of a season, I think his production will also improve.  Let’s just hope they both stay healthy and can compete on even ground in Spring Training 2010…

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Cubs Mulling Over Proposal from Mesa, Arizona for Future Spring Training Site

Posted on 23 January 2010 by Lou

As the world turns – the Cubs are currently reviewing a plan tendered by the city of Mesa, Arizona to keep the Chicago Cubs in the Cactus League during Spring Training for the next 25 years.  Will it work – only time will tell as the Cubs are also mulling an offer from a Naples, Florida development group.  The wooing is on…

Mesa’s Memorandum of Understanding proposes building a new 15,000-seat stadium for the Cubs with a modern facility that can be used by the club and fans alike year-round.  The deal would be for a 25-year term.  Reports indicated that the Cubs bring $52 million in annual revenue to the state of Arizona, so Mesa and the state want to do whatever possible to keep the Cubs in Arizona for the long-term.

Under the proposed MOU, the Cubs would acquire the land used to build the stadium and would maintain and operate the stadium, parking and public access roads surrounding the stadium.  If construction costs exceeded the agreed upon $84 million, the Cubs would cover that excess cost.  The city would also be obligated to secure the passage of state legislation that would help fund some of the facility construction.  We’ll keep you posted as soon as we hear anything definitive, but it looks like the Cubs will be staying out west for Spring Training for the foreseeable future…

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Catcher Geovany Soto Drops 40 Pounds – Seriously!

Posted on 22 January 2010 by Lou

Geovany Soto has dropped 40 pounds so far this off-season and has become a new man.  Manager Lou Pinella and the Cubs instructed Soto to lose “some weight” this off-season, but when they saw him at this past weekend’s Cubs Convention, they were shocked out how quickly and how much weight Soto really dropped.  Soto took it to heart.  He adjusted his diet (mainly chicken, fish and vegetables) and worked out with a personal trainer in Puerto Rico.  The results are astounding and Soto is feeling like he is ready to go even though it’s only January.

Soto had this to say about the “new” Soto: “It’s weird, I feel like a 12-year-old.  I have a lot of energy, I’m wired all say… I’m active all day.  I used to be sluggish, I’d want to take a nap.  Now, I feel great.  I want to push myself in the best position to help the club.  The better I feel, if I’m agile back there, it will give me the best opportunity to not get hurt.  I want to be there for my teammates… I’m not thinking about me, I’m thinking about us as a team.”

2009 was clearly a disappointing season for Soto.  In 2008, Soto was named the National League Rookie of the Year and he was the NL’s starting catcher in the All-Star Game.  Soto hit .285 with a .364 on-base percentage and he had 86 RBI’s, 23 HR’s and 35 doubles.  In 2009, Soto battled injuries and a World Baseball Classic positive drug testing, and his poor numbers showed that he was not in the best shape.  Soto played in just 102 games (down from 141 the year before), hitting a paltry .218 with a .321 on-base percentage.  Soto hit only 11 home runs and drove in 47 runs.  Not good.

It’s great to see that Soto took some responsibility for his lack of discipline in 2009.  Some players would have continued to lay blame elsewhere, but it’s clear that Soto realized that he let his teammates down and that he wanted to make amends.  Koyie Hill will still serve as the Cubs backup behind the plate, but it looks like Soto should be able to return to his 2008 form.  The Cubs need him big time.  If he can take a little pressure off of Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez and newcomer Marlon Byrd with improved offensive output, the lineup could be formidable from top to bottom again.  The Wrigley Field faithful and Cubs fans across the country will also be thrilled with the improved play and dedication from their starting catcher.  Go Cubs!

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