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Chicago Cubs Rumors
Catcher Eli Whiteside has opted to accept a coaching job with the Giants rather than taking one of several offers he had to continue playing, MLB.com’s Chris Haft reports. The veteran played in parts of six MLB seasons, including a three-year run in which he was a significant contributor for San Francisco. He will retire after getting one last short run in the bigs last year with the Cubs.
More from the NL West:
- Padres righty Josh Johnson has progressed to the point that he’ll throw to a catcher on flat ground, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. With his training program currently on track, Johnson is scheduled to throw a pen session for the first time by mid-March with a target of game action by June, if all goes according to plan. Johnson’s deal with San Diego promises him only $1MM but can increase all the way to $7.25MM if he maxes out his incentives.
- Fellow two-time TJ patient Cory Luebke is also hoping to return strong for the Padres, as MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports. The story details some of the ups and downs that Luebke has had in dealing with his two procedures. As with Johnson, 2015 is something of a make-good season for the lefty: his early-career extension is up after the season, when San Diego will have to decide whether to exercise a $7.5MM option or pay a $1.75MM buyout.
- The Rockies pursued utilityman Daniel Descalso not only because he would offer a versatile bench option, but because of his big-game experience, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. Skipper Walt Weiss explained that the former Cardinals infielder brought an underappreciated element to the squad. “All of that factored in quite a bit,” said Weiss. “I think we sometimes underestimate the value of that — guys that have played in big games, pennant races, and have won a World Series. Those types of players are valuable, and that’s a big reason why we brought Danny in here.”
- Alex Guerrero‘s contract and the Dodgers roster situation makes for quite a puzzle, as Dave Cameron of Fangraphs writes. On the one hand, Guerrero can refuse an optional assignment and has said he will do just that. On the other, if he is traded he will earn the right to opt out of his deal after the season. Cameron posits that the club could send Guerrero out in exchange for some savings on his 2015 tab, agreeing to remain responsible for post-2015 responsibilities while hoping he will opt out. The Angels, Blue Jays, Rockies, and Rangers all look like reasonable landing spots, in Cameron’s estimation.
The White Sox have announced that star pitcher Chris Sale has suffered an avulsion fracture in his right foot, sustained Friday in an accident at his home. (GM Rick Hahn says Sale sustained the injury while unloading his truck, according to CSNChicago.com’s Dan Hayes on Twitter.) Sale is expected to be out three weeks. That means he should return to pitching before the start of the season, although it remains to be seen how the timing of the injury will affect his preparations. The White Sox say they’ll evaluate whether Sale will be ready for Opening Day once he undergoes more tests. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- Most of the Cubs‘ top picks from their 2010 draft haven’t panned out, but the team could still get good value from several of their later-round picks, including Matt Szczur, Dallas Beeler and Eric Jokisch, the Associated Press writes. “I was the first one out of the draft class to be called up, and everyone seemed to follow after that,” says Beeler. “I felt like I got the ball rolling for everybody on that. That was a good feeling.” Beeler and Jokisch got good results in their first exposure to the big leagues last season, although neither are likely to make the team out of Spring Training after the Cubs added pitching talent this offseason.
- Pitcher Gavin Floyd says he signed with the Indians in part because he felt manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway could help him, Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer writes. Also, Floyd liked the Indians’ chances of winning and welcomed a return to the AL Central, with which he became familiar as a member of the White Sox from 2007-2013. Floyd has also been limited the past two years due to arm injuries, and the Indians have a fairly good track record of getting the most from bounce-back pitchers like Scott Kazmir and Carl Pavano. After missing much of the 2014 season with a broken bone in his elbow, Floyd has been pitching off a mound in Spring Training.
Team spending restrictions could be an issue in negotiations for MLB’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. Specifically, the debt structure of the Ricketts family’s heavily financed purchase of the Cubs in 2009 required the team to tie baseball spending to revenues, limiting its ability to spend. Other clubs face similar restrictions.
“Cubs aside, larger picture, any time there are contractual obligations or language that affect the way a team functions, against the backdrop of the decisions that they are going to be making, against whatever restrictions are in place, we enter that equation,” says MLBPA head Tony Clark. “Rest assured, we’re interested enough to be involved in the conversation.”
MLB’s current CBA expires after the 2016 season. Wittenmyer suggests that the union’s main issue with team banking restrictions is that teams might use them as excuses not to spend.
The Cubs have operated with dramatically limited payrolls in recent years, with their Opening Day payroll falling from a high of about $144MM in 2010 to about $93MM last season (via Cot’s Contracts). Obviously, the team’s splashier 2014-15 offseason, highlighted by their signing of Jon Lester, will produce a higher payroll in 2015 (and Wittenmyer notes that the team did hold over money budgeted for 2014 to spend this winter). But team president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has emphasized that the team’s lower recent payrolls were not purely a function of the fact that the team had been rebuilding.
“We’re not withholding dollars from this year’s team. We are spending every dollar that we have on this baseball team,” Epstein said in 2013 (via David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com), when the Cubs had an Opening Day payroll about about $107MM. “We maxed out our payroll last year and we maxed out our payroll this year.”
Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright has left the team’s Spring Training complex in Florida and will head to St. Louis after experiencing abdominal pain, writes Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wainwright will see a specialist in St. Louis to diagnose the source of the injury. GM John Mozeliak said it would be incorrect to label the injury a sports hernia at this time. Wainwright said that he’s been feeling better each day, but seeing a specialist will give the team some further clarity.
- The Cubs announced today that they have hired Manny Ramirez as a hitting consultant. Ramirez, who spent the 2014 season as a player-coach with Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate, will work with the Cubs’ Major League and Minor League players on the fundamental and mental aspects of hitting, according to a press release from the team.
- Via ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers, commissioner Rob Manfred said yesterday that the investigation into the Cubs‘ alleged tampering regarding their hiring of Joe Maddon will be resolved by Opening Day (Twitter link). The Cubs agreed to bring Maddon on as their new manager on a five-year deal just 10 days after he opted out of his contract with the Rays.
- Corey Hart had other offers in free agency but welcomed the opportunity to return to the familiar setting of the NL Central when the Pirates made a one-year offer, he tells Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Hart admits that he also rushed back to action too quickly in 2014 after missing the entire 2013 season due to surgery on both of his knees. The fact that Pirates have morphed into one of the National League’s best teams over the past few seasons also played a role in his decision to select Pittsburgh’s offer.
- The Pirates are drawing some influence from the NBA’s Golden State Warriors in determining how much to rest their stars this offseason, writes ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Manager Clint Hurdle said that an interesting article on how much the Warriors are resting their best players and how the on-court production has improved as a result Seeing the analysis was no accident, however, as GM Neal Huntington tells Stark that the Pirates are constantly studying successful teams in other sports to see if any trends or philosophies can carry over to baseball.
The Pirates are studying the NBA’s Warriors to see if there’s anything they can learn from Golden State’s success, ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark writes. “I read an interesting article a while ago on the Golden State Warriors, how they get maximum production with their players,” says manager Clint Hurdle. “They’re actually playing less, and they’re playing better collectively as a group.” A member of the Pirates’ front office recently did a study on the Warriors, with the Pirates trying to determine whether they can glean an advantage by somehow optimizing playing time for their roster. As Stark notes, though, it’s likely tricky to figure out how playing time in the NBA correlates to playing time in the Majors. Here are more notes.
- There were plenty of high-profile starting pitchers available on this year’s free-agent market, but the Yankees‘ main starting pitching acquisition was 25-year-old Nathan Eovaldi, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News notes. That’s not the sort of acquisition the Yankees are known for, but Eovaldi feels he fits in well with them. “The Yankees are rebuilding in a way,” he says. “A lot of guys are leaving, and we’re starting to get a lot more of the younger guys coming in here, too.” Eovaldi began working on a splitter near the end of last season, and he and the Yankees hope that pitch can help him boost his strikeout totals, which have been relatively low despite a terrific fastball.
- It’s well known that the Cubs have an outstanding core of hitting prospects, but it’s tough to project how far that core will actually take them. Baseball America’s Matt Eddy aims to figure that out by comparing the Cubs’ top young hitters to other exceptional groups of prospects from the past. Some of those groups (those of the 2006 Diamondbacks, 2011 Royals and 2004 Brewers) didn’t produce obviously exceptional results in wins and losses, although at least the Royals and Brewers would probably argue that they’re happy with how the intervening years unfolded. The other two great prospect groups (the 2007 Rays and 1992 Braves) helped produce great results by any standard, even if the Braves’ subsequent run was fueled largely by pitching that was already in the big leagues at the time.
Ryan Madson, who’s in Royals camp and who faced live batters for the first time in a year and a half on Sunday, encountered plenty of obstacles as he battled back from Tommy John surgery, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes. Madson, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2011, ultimately spent the 2014 season out of baseball. But he got the urge to come back after Royals special assistant Jim Fregosi, Jr. enlisted him to help instruct a Southern California high school pitcher. Madson does not have any limitations in camp this spring, although it’s unclear whether he’ll be available to join the Royals’ bullpen once the season starts. Here’s more from the Central divisions.
- Cubs pitcher Travis Wood hasn’t been given a heads-up from the team on the likelihood of a trade, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times tweets. “If I get traded, I get traded. It’s part of the business,” Wood said. At present, Wood figures to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation alongside Tsuyoshi Wada and Felix Doubront. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, and Kyle Hendricks, of course, make up the Cubs’ front four.
- The Cubs trading Welington Castillo is not a foregone conclusion, as President Theo Epstein says the team is considering keeping three catchers, tweets Bruce Levine of 670theScore.com.
- Yadier Molina has lost 15-20 pounds this offseason after injuries limited the Cardinals catcher to 110 games and forced him to miss the final three games of the NLCS, reports Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Molina has three years and an option remaining on his contract and expects to play beyond its length. “Oh, my God. I’m 32 years old. I’ll play as long as my body lets me. Who knows? Maybe I’ll catch 10 more years. You don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows.“
- In a separate article, Hummel details how Cardinals reliever Randy Choate has expressed his frustration to manager Mike Matheny about being used for complete innings (and being exposed to right-handed hitters) rather than in his specialty of lefty-on-lefty situations. Matheny says the confines of a 25-man roster prevents using a player in such a limited way. “You can’t completely cater to one guy if it’s going to beat up two other guys where they can’t do their job. How does that work?“
- Cardinals infielder Pete Kozma, who is fighting for a roster spot and is out of options, is increasing his versatility by donning the tools of ignorance with hopes of serving as the team’s emergency catcher, according to MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch.
Carlos Villanueva had hoped to throw in a different division before he was contacted by the Cardinals, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. After spending seven of his nine seasons with NL Central teams, Villanueva will look to take a swingman role with St. Louis. Though Villanueva was given no guarantees, Goold says that the club targeted him with hopes he would earn a pen/spot starter slot in camp.
Here are some notes from the rest of the division:
- The time for Welington Castillo with the Cubs is up, says Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Though the backstop has said he still hopes to compete for a job, multi-year commitments to Miguel Montero and David Ross make that exceedingly unlikely. Chicago has continued to discuss trades — and had already started doing so even before dealing for Montero — with the Phillies among the teams in talks, per Wittenmyer. Castillo certainly seems to be bringing a good attitude with him to camp, but the report indicates that Chicago is mostly just waiting for the market to open up.
- Righty Mike Leake, who’ll qualify for free agency after the season, said he would be interested in exploring an extension but that the club has not approached him, MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports. “I’ll be happy to stay in Cincinnati, but I’d also be happy to go to free agency,” he said. “I’d like for them to show interest. They haven’t yet. If they don’t have interest, they don’t have interest.”
- It’s all reading tea leaves at this point, but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle gave no indication in early spring comments that Jung-ho Kang is being groomed as an eventual replacement for second baseman Neil Walker, MLB.com’s Tom Singer reports. Per Hurdle, Kang “will get reps at short and third, positions he has played, then maybe second.” While Kang’s potential versatility — like that of Josh Harrison — could well impact the team’s plans for the increasingly-pricey Walker, it seems most likely that Pittsburgh will allow circumstances to dictate how things proceed.
- Of course, Kang has a significant period of transition in store, on and off the field. Global Sporting Integration discusses that and provides an audio link to the proper pronunciation of the Korean star’s name.
While it may seem curious to some that the Royals are adding relief arms such as Franklin Morales because of the perceived strength of their bullpen, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes that the bullpen isn’t as deep as the team would like. The Royals are hoping for a return to form from Luke Hochevar, but he’s less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Tim Collins and Louis Coleman each posted FIP marks of 4.80 or higher with poor strikeout-to-walk ratios, and other candidates such as Rule 5 pick Jandel Gustave, journeyman Joe Paterson and reclamation projects Ryan Madson and Joe Blanton offer little certainty. While 2014 top pick and late-season bullpen weapon Brandon Finnegan is an option, the club still wants to develop him as a starter, which likely means more time in the minors.
Here’s more from baseball’s Central divisions…
- Finnegan, for his part, tells McCullough that he would prefer to open the season with the Royals as a reliever than go back to the minor leagues as a starting pitcher (Twitter link). Of course, it’s not surprising that he’d prefer to remain with the Major League club any way that he can, however, as McCullough points out, it’s also not his decision. Certainly, Finnegan’s long-term value to the club would be increased were he able to make it as a starting pitcher, and he may not have to wait that long for a shot, as Jeremy Guthrie can become a free agent next winter.
- While some players will admit that a trade suits them best when their path to playing time becomes obscured, Welington Castillo tells Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune that he hopes to remain with the Cubs even after their acquisitions of Miguel Montero and David Ross (Twitter link). Castillo looks to be an expensive and perhaps superfluous third catcher at this stage, and there have been some indications that the 27-year-old may find himself with a new team before Opening Day.
- Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette argues that the Pirates should have found a way to avoid arbitration with Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Vance Worley rather than ending up in hearings that resulted in a savings of a mere $50K. While Cook is accurate that the money saved was minimal, GM Neal Huntington explained via email that the team’s goal was “to simply explain why the club’s submitted salary is a more accurate salary for the player based on other comparable past and current players than the player’s submitted salary.” I’d add that teams feel a sense of responsibility to the rest of the league to manage arbitration salaries, as the arbitration process is based largely on statistical comparables.
- Reds lefty Sean Marshall has had a minor setback in recovery from his June shoulder surgery and isn’t throwing from the mound yet, he tells John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. However, Marshall is pleased with how his offseason has progressed and isn’t concerned about having to slow things down a bit. The 32-year-old has pitched just 24 1/3 innings since signing a three-year, $16.5MM extension with Cincinnati, though he was among the game’s elite left-handed relievers the three seasons prior (2010-12).
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant is baseball’s best prospect, as per Baseball America’s newly-released list of the top 100 prospects in the game. Since being drafted second overall in 2013, Bryant has put up an extraordinary .331/.431/.673 slash line and 58 homers in 832 minor league plate appearances, which includes an 1.036 OPS in 297 PA at the Triple-A level last season. The Cubs placed six players on the top 100 list overall, including four in the top 19 (Kyle Schwarber at #19, Jorge Soler at #12) and two in the top three, as shortstop Addison Russell was ranked in the #3 spot.
Here’s the latest from around the NL Central…
- “There’s nothing new to report” about Johnny Cueto‘s extension negotiations with the Reds, agent Bryce Dixon told John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer in a text message. Dixon said in a text message. “Johnny’s excited for camp and optimistic about the season and wants to be a Red, so nothing’s changed on our end.” Cueto reiterated to reporters today that he wants to stay in Cincinnati but is focusing on his Spring Training preparations rather than contract talks.
- If the Reds can’t extend Cueto before he hits free agency next winter, the question then becomes whether the team will be competitive enough to avoid having to trade Cueto before the July deadline, MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince writes.
- A.J. Burnett made it clear to Pirates GM Neal Huntington that he only wanted to pitch for the Bucs next season, which almost made their negotiation “odd,” Huntington tells FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. Burnett declined a $12.75MM player option with the Phillies to sign a one-year, $8.5MM deal to return to Pittsburgh, and finding the appropriate dollar figure was difficult. “The last thing we wanted to do was insult him,” Huntington said. “At the same time, every dollar we can save in every contract we can re-allocate to another player who can make us deeper, a better club. It was almost a little bit more challenging to approach that negotiation vs. a negotiation where you know you’re competing against prior comparable contracts or other players on the market.” Also in the piece, Burnett talks to Rosenthal about how he missed his Pirates teammates and how he decided that 2015 will be his last season.
- In other NL Central news from earlier today on MLBTR, Pedro Alvarez won his arbitration case against the Pirates, and the Cardinals and John Lackey haven’t made any headway on a new contract.
Recently-retired veteran Kevin Youkilis will be joining the Cubs as a special assistant, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports on Twitter. The connection will be obvious for many: Youkilis rose to prominence and made most of his impact on the field playing for former Red Sox GM and current Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
Here’s more from the central divisions:
- Pirates starter Francisco Liriano held talks with the Red Sox, Twins, Astros, and Royals before re-signing with Pittsburgh, the lefty told Dan Zangrilli of 93.7 The Fan (Twitter links). Kansas City went as high as $36MM over three years, said Liriano, who ultimately took home $39MM from the Pirates. Interestingly, Liriano noted that he felt the qualifying offer did not significantly hinder his market.
- If Brandon Moss and Nick Swisher prove their health this spring, outfielder David Murphy (or another roster candidate) will likely need to be dealt before breaking camp, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer writes. It may be hard to find a taker without eating a good bit of Murphy’s $6MM salary, should that come to pass. For now, this remains an interesting story to watch over the coming months.
- While the Tigers do have some worrying signs in their large contracts and low-rated farm, they are not yet facing the kind of difficulties that the Phillies have found, Mike Petriello of Fangraphs writes. If nothing else, Detroit still looks to be legitimately competitive at present, and has time to prepare for a soft landing when its window does finally begin closing.