Chicago Cubs Rumors

Chicago Cubs trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

NL Central Links: Mueller, Frazier, Mesoraco, Bucs, Cards

Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller has resigned after one year on the job, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers reported yesterday (via Twitter). Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com tweets that the Cubs have confirmed Mueller’s decision and added that he resigned after learning that assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley was reassigned by the team. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford speculates (Twitter link) that the Red Sox might have interest in adding Mueller to their coaching staff. For those who would have some fun and speculate, Rogers also tweets that Manny Ramirez is not a candidate to become the club’s new hitting coach, as he’s yet to even officially retire as a player.

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that too much focus is being placed on what the Reds should do with their quartet of starters that are free agents following the 2015 season, and not enough is being placed on the fact that the team should try to extend breakout stars Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco. While the future of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon is indeed a big part of the Reds’ offseason, Fay notes that the team can position itself for sustained success by controlling the salaries of Frazier and Mesoraco and keeping them in place beyond their arbitration seasons.
  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington tells Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he expects his entire coaching staff back in 2015, unless one of them unexpectedly departs. Price notes how much the offense improved under first-year hitting coach Jeff Branson and first-year assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey. She also points out that pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas also played a key role, helping to facilitate the turnarounds of Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley.
  • The Cardinals view the draft as “a mechanism to save money,” scouting director Dan Kantrovitz tells David Laurila of Fangraphs in a fascinating interview. Whether it’s landing a solid starter or a future bench piece, the draft can open flexibility down the line, says Kantrovitz, who explains that savings from drafted players represents “money that our GM can allocate to another area, or a more abundant, cheaper position.” Kantrovitz says that the team is focused on adapting and finding value, rather than “stick[ing] to a rigid strategy that is not data-driven.” Ultimately, the team takes all the information it can acquire, then attempts to combine them and apply discount rates to reach a present value for the amateurs under consideration. There’s plenty more to glean from this interview, and you’ll want to give it a full read.

Offseason Outlook: Chicago Cubs

The Cubs enter the 2014-15 offseason with the highest expectations since Theo Epstein took over as club president in October 2011.  Starting pitching should be the team’s main focus this winter.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

Free Agents

For a last-place team that finished 16 games under .500, the 2014 Cubs had several positive developments.  25-year-old Anthony Rizzo emerged as one of the best first basemen in baseball.  24-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro bounced back to his 2011-12 form.  22-year-old right fielder Jorge Soler battled hamstring injuries but still tore through Double and Triple-A and saw his success carry over for a month in the Majors.  On the pitching side, Jake Arrieta emerged as a potential ace with a 2.53 ERA in 25 starts and Hector Rondon had a successful run as the team’s closer.  A lot of building blocks fell into place under new manager Rick Renteria.

In March, I questioned the Cubs’ choices of position players Rizzo and Kris Bryant over power arms Andrew Cashner and Jon Gray.  The Rizzo and Bryant choices, plus this summer’s acquisition of Addison Russell and drafting of Kyle Schwarber, suggest president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have implemented a strategy favoring the stability of position players to begin their rebuild.  The plan has come up smelling like roses so far, as the team’s collection of young hitters is the envy of baseball.

Rizzo has first base locked down for the Cubs potentially through 2021, on what’s become one of the game’s most team-friendly contracts.  Though Luis Valbuena did an admirable job at the hot corner in 2014, third base belongs to Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year Kris Bryant.  If the Cubs wait a few weeks into April to select Bryant’s contract, they’ll control him through 2021 as well.

The Cubs’ middle infield logjam represents a good kind of problem.  Castro, signed potentially through 2020, was one of the game’s ten best shortstops in 2014 despite missing most of the season’s final month.  Powerful 21-year-old Javier Baez made his big league debut in August, playing second base and then switching to shortstop when Castro went down.  Baez struggled at his new level, as many prospects do, but has the second base job entering 2015.  Then there’s Addison Russell, the key piece in the deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.  The 20-year-old Russell raked at Double-A and is knocking on the door to the Majors himself.

Valbuena, 28, had his first full season as a regular, posting a solid .249/.341/.435 line while playing third base and a bit at second.  If we pencil in Rizzo, Castro, and Bryant at their respective positions for 2015, only second base is available for three players ranging from good (Valbuena) to potential All-Star (Russell and Baez).

Trading Castro, Russell, or Baez this offseason could be jumping the gun, since Baez has yet to succeed at the big league level and Russell has yet to reach Triple-A.  A safe plan would be to begin 2015 with a Castro-Baez middle infield, and if Baez hits and Russell is knocking down the door come July, the team can more seriously consider trades at that point or even move someone to the outfield.  Trading Valbuena this winter could make sense, though he’d be a good backup plan at second base.  The Cubs need a backup plan for Baez, who struck out in 41.5% of his plate appearances as a rookie.  Among players with 200 or more plate appearances, that’s easily the worst strikeout rate in baseball history.

Valbuena was one of the ten best offensive third basemen in the game this year and is under control through 2016; a team like the Red Sox could have interest.  He could also be marketed as a second baseman, especially since the free agent market is weak at that position.

Soler should have the right field job locked down heading into 2015, but last year’s 86 games marked a career high.  We won’t know if Soler’s hamstrings can hold up for 130+ games in the Majors until he does it.  Over in left field, former 2009 Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan had a resurgent year and should have the job heading into next season.  The 2014 Cubs used a host of center fielders, the most interesting of whom is 22-year-old Arismendy Alcantara.  A very good prospect in his own right, Alcantara took his first reps at the position this year after previously working as an infielder.  As with Baez, Alcantara should get first crack at the 2015 job despite rookie growing pains.

The Cubs’ outfield has enough uncertainty that keeping veterans Sweeney and Ruggiano around makes sense.  The team would be justified entering Spring Training with their current outfield pieces, though I’d consider an offseason run at Colby Rasmus on a one-year deal.  Rasmus would bring power and upside with no long-term risk, and Alcantara could get further acquainted with center field at Triple-A or be an oft-used super-utility player in the Majors.  Another outfielder who could fit is Yasmany Tomas, if the Cubs see star potential in the Cuban free agent, consider him worth a potential $100MM contract, and don’t mind creating something of a long-term surplus in the outfield.

Behind the plate, 27-year-old Welington Castillo played acceptably but saw his batting average and walk rate decline from 2013.  The Cubs don’t have to make a long-term decision on Castillo, who is entering arbitration for the first time.  The team does have a potential star catcher in the pipeline in 2014 first-rounder Kyle Schwarber, but he needs to prove he can stick at the position.  In the spirit of adding position player talent now and worrying about a potential surplus later, the Cubs could make a run at the best free agent catcher, Russell Martin.  Signing Martin would signal the Cubs intend to take a leap forward into contention in 2015, though he could require upwards of $50MM as well as the forfeiture of the Cubs’ second-round draft pick.

Epstein whiffed on the biggest expenditure thus far in his Cubs tenure, Edwin Jackson.  Jackson now has two years and $22MM left on his contract.  According to a late August report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today, the Cubs and Braves engaged in talks in July to swap Jackson and B.J. Upton.  That could be revisited, but it’s not the best match since Upton has more than twice as much money remaining on his contract.  Other disappointing contracts with between $16-30MM remaining include Cameron Maybin, Chris Johnson, Aaron Hill, Allen Craig, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and Carlos Beltran.  While those players have been letdowns, their teams may not be as close to the breaking point as the Cubs seem to be with Jackson.

Regardless of Jackson, the Cubs will need to explore adding starting pitching from all angles.  The 2014-15 free agent class is rife with options for all parts of a rotation.  The Big Three are Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields.  Lester is the most obvious fit for the Cubs, as a player who joined the Red Sox around the same time Epstein did and was a big part of the executive’s success there.  That he isn’t eligible for a qualifying offer is helpful, but Lester’s price tag will probably exceed $150MM.  If they prefer the trade market, the Cubs could try to swing a deal for the Phillies’ Cole Hamels, who is owed $96MM through 2018.

One big name starter alone probably wouldn’t be enough to push the Cubs into contention.  Arrieta looked like an ace this year, but his 176 2/3 pro innings marked a career-high, and he missed the season’s first month recovering from a shoulder injury.  Kyle Hendricks posted a sparkling 2.46 ERA in 80 1/3 innings as a rookie, but his scouting report and lack of strikeouts suggest a back of the rotation starter.  Though his ERA bounced around in his three years with the Cubs, Travis Wood profiles at the back end of a rotation as well and could be non-tendered or traded.  The other immediate options are projects who once showed potential: Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, and Dan Straily.  If the Cubs want to keep Turner they’ll pick up his $1MM club option, as renewing him would cost at least 80% of his 2014 salary, which comes to more than $1.5MM.

The Cubs would do well to add one or two mid-tier starting pitchers even if they sign one of the Big Three.  Wada could be in that mix after a successful 13-start run, though the Cubs would probably want him for less than his $5MM club option.  The Cubs will likely set their sights higher and go for Kenta Maeda, Brandon McCarthy, Francisco Liriano, or Justin Masterson.  Masterson comes with the Epstein connection plus other helpful factors such as the lack of a qualifying offer and a likely short-term deal.  Epstein has succeeded in the free agent starting pitcher bargain bin over the years, finding Hammel, Wada, Scott Feldman, and Paul Maholm on the cheap.

The Cubs’ bullpen has talent.  Rondon is the incumbent closer, while Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez, and Pedro Strop also pitched well.  The Cubs could cut Wesley Wright loose and pursue a better option from the left side, with Andrew Miller profiling as the top southpaw reliever on the free agent market.  Right-hander Kyuji Fujikawa is likely to have his option bought out after missing most of his two-year term with the Cubs due to Tommy John surgery.  The 2014 Cubs led the NL in relief innings, and the ten pitchers who tossed 14 or fewer innings apiece accounted for a 6.91 ERA.  The nine hurlers who had 21 or more relief innings tallied a cumulative 3.04 mark.  Better starting pitching could have a significant trickle-down effect on the bullpen in 2015.

Alfonso Soriano is finally off the books for the Cubs, who owe $25.5MM to five players under contract for 2015.  They could spend another $17MM or so on arbitration eligible players, bringing total commitments to around $43MM.  What is an appropriate payroll for the 2015 Cubs?  It seems they could reasonably sit around the middle of the pack with a $110MM payroll, and they could also roll over unspent money from 2014.  A $70MM war chest would be more than enough money to add the players necessary to compete next season.

In the longer-term, the Cubs should raise their payroll to be top five in baseball, befitting of their status as a major market team.  Though their short-term television rights are an open question, the Cubs’ potential TV deal for all their games following the 2019 season will be what Epstein called a “paradigm shifter” for club revenue, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.  Improvements to Wrigley Field, which are now underway, will “move the needle,” according to Epstein.  The Cubs have begun their renovation project despite a pending lawsuit between rooftop owners and the city of Chicago regarding the team’s plans to erect signs that will affect the rooftop view.

Regular season winning percentages in the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer Cubs era have increased from .377 to .407 to .451.  Though he could sign an extension, Epstein only has two years left on his contract.  Aggressive acquisition of starting pitching this offseason should mark the end of his three-year rebuilding plan.


Cubs Claim Joseph Ortiz

The Cubs announced that they have claimed left-hander Joseph Ortiz off waivers from the Rangers.

The 24-year-old Ortiz missed much of the 2014 season after he was struck by a motorcycle this offseason in his native Venezuela, as Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News wrote back in January. Ortiz missed upwards of three months this season due to a broken foot suffered in that accident and spent the remainder of the season in the minor leagues. He totaled just 18 innings between the team’s Rookie-league affiliate and Double-A, pitching to a 4.00 ERA with nine strikeouts against two walks.

Ortiz made his big league debut for the Rangers in 2013 at the age of 22 and fared well given his young age. He compiled a 4.23 ERA with 5.4 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and a 39.5 percent ground-ball rate in 44 2/3 innings out of the team’s bullpen. Ortiz ranked 30th among Rangers prospects heading into that 2013 season, according to Baseball America, who noted that his breaking ball made him a candidate to hold down a spot in a Major League bullpen.



Quick Hits: Gomes, Holliday, Marlins, Cespedes

A number of impressive postseason achievements have occurred on October 6th over the years, yet perhaps the most notable was Babe Ruth slugging three home runs in Game Four of the 1926 World Series.  The Bambino’s huge day helped the Yankees to a win and (according to legend) fulfilled his promise that he would homer in honor of a hospitalized young fan on that day.

Could another incredible playoff moment take place tonight?  While we wait for today’s NLDS Game 3 action, here are some notes from around the majors…

  • The Cubs could be interested in outfielder Jonny Gomes, league sources tell ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers.  The Cubs are known to be looking for both veteran leadership in the clubhouse and depth in the outfield, and Gomes could check both boxes as a platoon partner with Chris Coghlan.
  • The Cardinals received some criticism when they signed Matt Holliday to a seven-year, $120MM free agent deal in January 2010, yet as MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby writes, both the team and the player are very happy with how everything worked out five years into the contract.  Holliday has averaged .295/.383/.496 with 24 homers and 92 runs scored from 2010-14, and while he posted career lows in average (.272) and slugging (.441) this season, it could be argued that the deal has already been worth it for St. Louis.
  • The Marlins are looking to add a starting pitcher this winter, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports.  A new arm plus the return of Jose Fernandez could lead to some rotation shuffling, and Frisaro cites Tom Koehler and Nathan Eovaldi as possible candidates to move to the bullpen.  Also in the piece, Frisaro examines some other Miami position changes that could occur depending on how the Marlins’ offseason shopping plans develop.
  • On paper, Yoenis Cespedes fits as a long-term power bat for the Red Sox, though Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald notes that Cespedes’ free-swinging, low-OBP style doesn’t fit into the Red Sox organizational philosophy of taking pitches and grinding down opposing pitchers.  Silverman thinks Cespedes could potentially better help the Sox as a trade piece, perhaps as part of a major package to pry Giancarlo Stanton away from Miami.
  • Hunter Strickland‘s rise from being an unheralded Red Sox draft pick to a flame-throwing postseason reliever for the Giants is chronicled by WEEI.com’s Alex Speier.
  • Stephen Drew, Jed Lowrie, Jason Hammel, Rafael Soriano and Alfonso Soriano stand out as potential bargains on the free agent market, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post opines.

Rule 5 Draft Roundup

With the regular season in the books, it’s worth assessing how things ultimately shook out from last winter’s Rule 5 draft. Only nine players were taken in this year’s draft. Here’s where things stand:

Remember, players are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if they aren’t on the 40-man roster four or five years after signing, depending on the age at which they signed. If a team makes a selection, it pays the former team $50K and must keep that player on the Major League roster all season or offer him back to his original team for $25K. (Note that Rule 5 selections can change hands like any other player, with an acquiring team stepping into the shoes of the original selecting club. Click here for more details.)

  • Patrick Schuster, LHP (taken first overall by the Astros from the Diamondbacks): Returned to Arizona. But not before a somewhat eventful tour. He was first dealt to the Padres, then placed on waivers and claimed by the Royals before finally being sent back. He never ended up throwing a big league inning, and ultimately struggled to 4.50 ERA in 18 frames at Triple-A once back with the D’backs.
  • Adrian Nieto, C (taken third overall by the White Sox from the Nationals): Retained by Chicago. The switch-hitting, 24-year-old backstop hung on all year, posting a .236/.296/.340 line in his first 118 MLB plate appearances. He is now White Sox property.
  • Kevin Munson, RHP (taken fourth overall by the Phillies from the Diamondbacks): Returned to Arizona. Munson never made it onto the active roster, and was sent back in mid-March. Though he never saw MLB action this year, he did post a rather dominant campaign at Triple-A: 2.60 ERA, 11.8 K/9, 3.2 BB/9.
  • Tommy Kahnle, RHP (taken eighth overall by the Rockies from the Yankees): Retained by Colorado. The 25-year-old was an oft-used bullpen piece for the Rockies, posting a 4.19 ERA in 68 2/3 frames with 8.3 K/9 against 4.1 BB/9. Colorado owns his rights moving forward.
  • Brian Moran, LHP (taken ninth overall by the Blue Jays from the Mariners): Still in limbo after season-ending surgery. Moran was dealt by Toronto to the Angels on the day of the draft, and opened the season DL’ed on the active roster. But his left elbow ultimately required Tommy John surgery, meaning that he ended up on the 60-day DL. The Halos do not yet own Moran’s rights permanently: to keep him, the club will need to carry him on the active roster without a DL stay for at least 90 days.
  • Seth Rosin, RHP (taken tenth overall by the Mets from the Phillies): Returned to Philadelphia. Dealt immediately after the draft to the Dodgers, Rosin was claimed by the Rangers late in the spring and made three appearances before his roster spot was needed and he was returned. Back at Triple-A with the Phillies, he worked to a 3.86 ERA over 58 1/3 rames.
  • Wei-Chung Wang, LHP (taken eleventh overall by the Brewers from the Pirates): Retained by Milwaukee. It took some doing, but a contending Brewers club was able to hold onto Wang for the entirety of the season. Though he did miss 45 games with a DL stint, Wang ultimately made only 14 appearances for the club. The 22-year-old will presumably be stretched out as a starter again as he returns to his development track in the lower minors.
  • Marcos Mateo, RHP (taken fifteenth overall by the Diamondbacks from the Cubs): Returned to Chicago. Mateo was the first player to be returned, heading back in mid-March. The 30-year-old threw to a 3.86 ERA in 37 1/3 innings upon his return to Triple-A with his original team.
  • Michael Almanzar, 3B (taken sixteenth overall by the Orioles from the Red Sox): Returned to Boston … but ultimately traded back to Baltimore. Shelved with injury for much of the year, Almanzar was returned to the Red Sox in the middle of the summer after a rehab stint. But the O’s obviously wanted him back, and added him as part of the Kelly Johnson deal. Over 233 minor league plate appearances on the year, Almanzar posted a .245/.322/.389 slash.

Epstein Says Cubs Intend To Compete In 2015

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said today that he believes the club is prepared to compete in the NL Central next year, as MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports“I think we’ve proved we can be very competitive in this division,” said Epstein, and when you have a chance to compete, you should set your sights high and that means our goal is the Central title next year.”

While those words would appear to indicate that Chicago will increasingly be willing to dedicate resources to improve the production of its current roster, Epstein cautioned that the team would not “sell out just for 2015.” It will, however, look to add talent — in particular, some starting pitching, a pen lefty, and new outfield options — through all available mechanisms, including free agency.

Epstein says, unsurprisingly, that the team remains committed to relying on its young talent to drive a resurgence. In spite of his struggles, Javier Baez is expected to open the season as the starter at second. Other less experienced players will presumably keep or expand their roles as well. Epstein specifically addressed relievers Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm, who he said would stay in the pen rather than being stretched out as starters.

Certainly, the Cubs are a fascinating team to watch as free agency approaches. Many of the club’s best prospects have already reached or are nearing the major league level. Future salary obligations are minimal. And long-anticipated Wrigley Field renovations — which have often been connected to payroll capacity by ownership and the front office — are now underway.


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Multiple Teams Change Minor League Affiliations

As Baseball America’s Josh Leventhal writes, yesterday marked a two-week period where Major League clubs are free to negotiate with available minor league organizations. Major League clubs sign player development contracts with minor league organizations much like players will sign contracts with teams. As such, Leventhal notes that the “affiliation shuffle” is akin to free agency for minor league teams. Leventhal’s article provides more insight behind many of the moves and offers quite a bit of detail for those who are curious to read more about this process.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll see multiple teams sign deals with new affiliates, and MLBTR will keep track of them here for those that are interested …

Class-A Advanced

  • The Braves announced that they have moved their Class-A Advanced affiliate from Lynchburg, Va. to Zebulon, N.C. (formerly an Indians affiliate) after agreeing to a two-year PDC. They will inherit the Carolina Mudcats moniker.

Earlier Updates

  • Daytona (formerly the Cubs’ affiliate) has announced that it has reached a PDC with the Reds.
  • GM Jon Daniels says the Rangers will move their High-A affiliate from Myrtle Beach to High Desert, FOX Sports Southwest’s Anthony Andro tweets.
  • The Cubs announced that they will be moving their High-A affiliate from Daytona to Myrtle Beach (previously occupied by the Rangers).
  • The Indians announced that they will be moving their High-A affiliate from Carolina to Lynchburg (previously occupied by the Braves).

Double-A

  • The Twins announced that they will be moving their Double-A affiliate from New Britain to Chattanooga (previously occupied by the Dodgers) after agreeing to a four-year term.
  • The Dodgers announced that they will be moving their Double-A affiliate from Chattanooga to Tulsa (previously occupied by the Rockies).
  • New Britain (formerly the Twins’ affiliate) has announced that that it has reached a PDC with the Rockies.

Triple-A

  • The Giants announced that they have reached a two-year PDC with Triple-A Sacramento (formerly occupied by the Athletics).
  • The Brewers announced that they have reached a two-year PDC with Triple-A Colorado Spring (formerly occupied by the Rockies)
  • Fresno (formerly the Giants’ affiliate) has announced that it has reached a PDC with the Astros.
  • The Athletics have announced that they will be moving their Triple-A affiliate from Sacramento to Nashville (previously occupied by the Brewers).
  • The Dodgers have announced that they will be moving their Triple-A affiliate from Albuquerque to Oklahoma City (previously occupied by the Astros).
  • The Rockies announced that they will be moving their Triple-A affiliate from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque (previously occupied by the Dodgers).
  • The Brewers have announced that their Triple-A affiliation with Nashville has been terminated by the Sounds.

Central Notes: Braun, Ramirez, Hughes, Rondon

The Brewers fell to the Reds today by a score of 5-3, thereby officially eliminating the club from the postseason despite having spent 150 days in first place in the NL Central this season. As MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy notes, Milwaukee’s collapse makes the Brewers the first team since divisional play began in 1969 to spend that much time in first place but miss the postseason (Twitter link).

Here are some notes from Milwaukee and elsewhere in the game’s central divisions …

  • Ryan Braun could at least theoretically be moved from the outfield to plug the Brewers‘ hole at first base, reports MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. Manager Ron Roenicke said that the team had discussed that possibility, but indicated that it was a hypothetical discussion that did not seem likely to go anywhere. If Braun stays in the outfield, the team will both need to find a new first bagger (both Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay are free agents) and will face a more difficult decision whether to tender a contract to Gerardo Parra. As McCalvy notes, there are currently three possibilities already on the club’s 40-man roster in Matt Clark, Hunter Morris, and Jason Rogers. Otherwise, Milwaukee could turn to a free agent market that does appear to have a decent number of lumbering slugger types available.
  • Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez will soon meet with his agent, Paul Kinzer, to discuss his strategic options, writes McCalvy. Ramirez says that he has yet to seriously consider his future, though generally would like to stay with Milwaukee and is not sure he is interested in committing to multiple years. If he does decide to test the open market, Ramirez would need to turn down a $14MM mutual option (if it is offered in lieu of a $4MM buyout). Though his production is down somewhat this year, the 36-year-old remains a solid regular and would draw plenty of attention on the open market.
  • After a rain delay put a premature end to the last start of the season for Phil Hughes of the Twins, the club offered him a chance to make a relief appearance this weekend to notch the last out needed to trigger a $500K contract bonus, reports MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger (links to Twitter). Even more remarkable than that offer, perhaps, is the fact that Hughes declined, saying that he “owe[s] too much to the organization over the next two years to risk getting hurt.” (GM Terry Ryan said that it was not possible simply to give Hughes the cash, since the CBA would require a completely restructured contract, though Hughes also shot down that idea as setting a “bad precedent.”) Needless to say, this interesting tale puts a shine on an already gleaming turnaround year for Hughes.
  • The emergence of Hector Rondon as the Cubs‘ closer this year makes him an easy choice to keep the role next year, writes MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat. Rondon, 26, took a big step forward in 2014, striking out nearly nine batters per nine (against 2.2 BB/9) while registering a 2.49 ERA. If he continues to rack up the saves — he sits at 27 on the year — Rondon will set himself up for a nice payday when he reaches arbitration eligibility after next season. His continued presence at the back of the pen — bolstered by Pedro Strop and Neil Ramirez, both of whom have had strong campaigns — could keep the Cubs out of the free agent market for late-inning arms.

NL Central Notes: Tomas, Martin, Jackson, Reds

The Pirates had scouts in attendance at Yasmany Tomas‘ weekend showcase, writes MLB.com’s Tom Singer, but GM Neal Huntington didn’t sound overly optimistic about the team’s chances. “We like the player,” Huntington told Singer. “We will participate in the process. As it has with most Cuban players, the market may take it above a place where we feel comfortable.”

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes that while Pirates owner Bob Nutting is the one who ultimately determines payroll, Huntington is the one who distributes the funds. And while Huntington doesn’t like the idea of allocating more than 18 percent of a team’s payroll to one player, Sawchik opines that Russell Martin is the rare case in which an exemption should be made. He notes that it’s unlikely for teams to go beyond four years for Martin, and they’re also unlikely to go as high as Brian McCann‘s $17MM average annual value. The Pirates can get by offering Martin something close to $60MM over four years, Sawchik writes, and given the lack of alternative options, he feels they’d be wise to do so.
  • It’s best for both the Cubs and Edwin Jackson if Chicago can orchestrate a change of scenery for the beleaguered right-hander next season, writes Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. Jackson, owed $22MM from 2015-16, has been a good citizen through his significant struggles in Chicago and remains positive, but both sides need to move on from a bad situation, Rogers continues. The Cubs’s best chance at moving Jackson is likely to swap him for another bad contract or to pay a large portion of his remaining salary, though as Rogers notes, it may be best to move on “no matter how they get rid of him.”
  • While many Reds fans are convinced that the team needs to add a power bat to play left field, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that the team should instead prioritize on-base percentage in a left field upgrade. Cincinnati’s team OBP dropped from .327 in 2013 to .298 in 2014. Shin-Soo Choo, who reached base 300 times last year, was replaced by Billy Hamilton, who is on pace to reach 184 times. Joey Votto, who reached 316 times in 2013, spent most of this season on the DL, and the team’s No. 3 hitters have combined to reach just 206 times as a result. Pointing to the team’s struggles in one-run games (22-38), Fay notes how important a healthy Votto and an OBP-focused left fielder could be to the team.

NL Central Notes: Martin, Huntington, Brewers, Cubs

As a former player, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly can relate to what Cubs prospects Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara are going through, writes David Just of the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s just a time factor with the young guys,” Mattingly said. “They can look good right away, and the next year they come out and it doesn’t look good. Or they can look kind of shaky and figure a lot of it out. So time is going to tell.” As a youngster, Mattingly got off to a slow start with the Yankees, hitting .278 with a .326 on-base percentage in his first 98 games during the 1982 and ’83 seasons. He then led the American League in hits, doubles, and batting average in 1984.

Here’s the latest from the NL Central:

  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington says re-signing catcher Russell Martin is a priority for the franchise, tweets Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We are going to try to do everything we can to keep Russ,” said Huntington. “We’d love nothing more than to have (Martin) in a Pirates uniform.
  • Huntington, however, reiterated the Pirates will not veer from their financial philosophy. “We’re going to continue to have to pay guys for what we believe they’re going to do, and not what they’ve done,” said Huntington (as quoted by MLB.com’s Stephen Pianovich). “The bigger markets certainly have luxury to be able to extend much beyond comfort levels to pay an extra year or two, to pave over prior mistakes with more money.
  • Brewers GM Doug Melvin does not “think there’s a need to go out and try to get another starter” and will instead focus on offense this offseason, reports MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. The Brewers are all but certain to pick up the $13MM option on Yovani Gallardo, McCalvy opines.
  • The Brewers‘ biggest offseason decisions will be the infield corners and whether to exercise Gallardo’s option, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a recent chat. The Brewers will consider both internal and external options at first base, but Haudricourt notes finding productive first basemen is easier said than done.
  • In a separate piece, Haudricourt writes Rickie Weeks is nearing the end of his tenure with the Brewers (his $11.5MM option isn’t expected to be exercised), but the team’s senior member in terms of service time is not thinking about 2015. “I’ll worry about that when the time comes,” Weeks said. “I’m still with the Brewers right now. That’s the way I look at it.
  • What we’d really like is to have a bunch of really good baserunners,” is what Cubs manager Rick Renteria told reporters, including MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat, when asked about the club’s 2015 wish list.