Chicago Cubs Rumors

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

Minor Moves: Hendrickson, Baxter, Perez

Here are today’s minor moves from around the game.

  • The Orioles have agreed to terms with Mark Hendrickson on a deal that includes a Spring Training invite, Britt Ghiroli of MLB.com tweets. The deal is presumably of the minor-league variety. The tall lefty last pitched in the big leagues with Baltimore in 2011, and he’s now 40 and has a 5.03 ERA with 5.1 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in parts of 10 big-league seasons. He is, however, coming off a good season with the independent York Revolution, posting a 1.54 ERA with 5.8 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 52 2/3 innings of relief. The O’s also reportedly have interest in hiring Hendrickson as a coach when he’s done playing.
  • The Cubs have signed corner outfielder Mike Baxter, Matt Eddy of Baseball America writes. Baxter, best known for his stints with the Mets in 2012 and 2013, has a career .225/.331/.342 line in parts of five seasons. He spent most of 2014 with the Dodgers’ Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate, batting .289/.365/.439.
  • The Rangers have signed lefty Juan Perez, Eddy writes. The 36-year-old Perez did not pitch in 2014, but he was effective coming out of the Blue Jays’ bullpen the previous year, posting a 3.69 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9 in 31 2/3 innings with a fastball that reached into the mid-90s. Before that, Perez had pitched in brief stints with the Pirates, Phillies and Brewers.

Quick Hits: Prospects, Viciedo, Cuba, Coffey

It is prospect season yet again, with various evaluators releasing their latest breakdowns of the brightest young players in the game. Baseball AmericaBaseball Prospectus, and Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs are working through the systems on a team-by-team basis for the time being, while MLB.com is going position-by-position at present. ESPN.com’s Keith Law (subscription links) has now filed a new top-100 list as well as organization rankings. Kris Bryant and his club, the Cubs, rank atop Law’s respective boards.

  • The Phillies should take a flier on Dayan Viciedo, argues CSNPhilly.com’s Corey Seidman. While there are some barriers to such a move, and reasons against it, Seidman says that there is enough upside left in the 25-year-old that Philadelphia ought to roll the dice.
  • In another update on Yoan Moncada and the general situation of Cuban ballplayers, Baseball America’s Ben Badler reports that the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) does still issue the “specific licenses” that MLB has required Cubans to obtain before they are cleared to sign. Since it appears that such players would already be able to sign pursuant to a “general license” (more on that here), Badler suggests that MLB-related requests may be receiving a lower priority that extends the delay.
  • Free agent reliever Todd Coffey has interest from five or six club and may be nearing a deal, Chris Cotillo of SB Nation tweets. The 34-year-old has not seen big league action since 2012, but put up intriguing numbers last year at Triple-A in the Mariners organization.

Central Notes: White Sox, Twins, Baez

Members of the White Sox are excited about GM Rick Hahn’s high-profile offseason, Dan Hayes of CSNChicago.com writes. “They were busy, worked hard and instilled confidence in the guys that were here,” says Adam Eaton. “It kind of credits (us) that ‘This is a good base, this is the time to stretch it.’” For a 73-89 team, the 2014 White Sox had a lot go right, including excellent performances from starters Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, along with an exceptional rookie season from Jose Abreu and good contributions from Eaton and Alexei Ramirez. Now they’ve added Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and Zach Duke to that talent base. “You go from not expecting anything or not knowing what to expect to now you expect quite a bit and expect success,” says Eaton. Here’s more from the Central divisions.

  • The Twins believed they had completed two trades that ultimately fell through this offseason, as the players they wanted were traded to other teams, Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN reports (Twitter links). Wolfson says he wondered if those trades might have involved Jeremy Hellickson (who went to the Diamondbacks) or J.A. Happ (who headed to the Mariners), but was told no in both cases.
  • New Cubs manager Joe Maddon traveled to Puerto Rico to see Javier Baez play winter ball, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat writes, citing a report from the Puerto Rican paper El Nuevo Dia. “He’s trying way too hard,” says Maddon. “I want him to back off. The last thing I want him to do is try to impress me tonight. … I said, ‘Hit a couple singles and, above all, I want to see you smile.’” The 22-year-old Baez’s underwhelming 2014 debut (.169/.227/.324 in 229 plate appearances) was understandable given his youth, although he’ll probably have to improve his strikeout rate before he can make an impact in the big leagues. He’ll compete for a spot in the Cubs’ infield in Spring Training.


Cubs Legend Ernie Banks Dead At 83

Hall of Fame infielder Ernie Banks has passed away at age 83, as has been widely reported. “Mr. Cub” suited up for 19 campaigns in his career, never calling a park other than Wrigley Field home.

That intense identification with one of the game’s iconic teams, along with Banks’ renowned honor and affability, are what make him one of the true legends of the sport. Banks may have best encapsulated his own spirit with his famous tribute to the pure joy of playing baseball: “Let’s play two!”

Needless to say, Banks was also a supremely talented ballplayer. He started his big league career in 1953 with a cup of coffee at age 22, established himself as a fixture the following year, and did not stop until age 40. Along the way, he won two MVP awards and appeared 11 times in the All-Star game.

From 1954 through 1961, Banks manned short for the Cubbies, missing little more than a handful of games and averaging nearly seven wins above replacement annually. His peak came in 1958-59, when he hit 92 total home runs, slashed .308/.370/.605, and took home those two most valuable player nods despite playing for losing ballclubs. Though he ceded some bottom-line value when he shifted to first beginning in 1962, Banks remained one of the game’s most-feared power hitters for much of the next decade.

Banks’s statue already stands outside of Wrigley Field, depicting a simple, straightforward batting stance that does not conjur the power and grace sought after in most effigies. You have to look a bit closer to understand why this particular likeness was chosen: Banks is forever smiling.


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Cubs Claim Gonzalez Germen From Rangers

The Cubs announced that they have claimed righty Gonzalez Germen off waivers from the Rangers. Germen had only just been acquired by Texas, after previously being dealt from the Mets to the Yankees following a DFA.

Needless to say, the 27-year-old has covered some ground this offseason in rather a short period time. (He was first designated by the Mets in mid-December.) But the wide interest in his services bodes well for his prospects at receiving another big league opportunity.

Germen saw regular time in the Mets bullpen in each of the last two seasons, compiling a 4.31 ERA in 54 calls from the pen. He delivers an average fastball of 92.9 mph and generates a good number of whiffs (8.9 K/9), but has less-than-perfect control (4.2 BB/9) and does not generate many ground balls (36.8%).


Cubs, Dexter Fowler Avoid Arbitration

The Cubs and outfielder Dexter Fowler have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $9.5MM, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). As MLBTR’s Arbitration Tracker shows, Fowler had filed at $10.8MM, while the club countered with an $8.5MM figure. His $9.5MM salary falls $150K shy of the midpoint of those figures and is $500K north of his $9MM projection from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.

Chicago acquired the 28-year-old Fowler (29 in May) this offseason in exchange for infielder Luis Valbuena and right-hander Dan Straily. Fowler spent just one year in Houston, where he batted .276/.375/.399 with eight homers and 11 steals. Another season of his characteristically high on-base percentage (career .366) should position him well as a free agent heading into his age-30 campaign next winter.

Fowler figures to be the Cubs’ everyday center fielder in 2015, although defensive metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved suggest that he’s perhaps be better off in a corner spot — likely left field, given the sub-par marks that his arm receives. Despite those defensive shortcomings, Fowler has been plenty useful throughout his career, as evidenced by a lifetime .271/.366/.419 batting line. He’s walked at better than a 13 percent clip over the past two seasons and cut his strikeout rate to roughly 21 percent in that time as well, so he should be a nice boost for a Cubs team that had the worst strikeout rate (24.2 percent) in all of Major League Baseball and finished with the game’s third-worst team OBP (.300).


NL Central Notes: Pirates, Kang, Baez, Reds

The Pirates deserve praise for the depth they’ve built on their Major League roster, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes in his daily Insider-only blog post (subscription required and recommended). More and more, Olney writes, the Pirates are beginning to look like the second coming of the perennially-contending Cardinals, with talented players that can handle multiple positions, safeguarding the club against regression and injury. For instance, Josh Harrison can play right field if Gregory Polanco‘s adjustment to the Majors stalls again in 2015, with Jung-ho Kang sliding into third in his stead. Kang could also unseat Jordy Mercer at short if Mercer struggles, and the team has plenty of options at first base in addition to Pedro Alvarez, including Corey Hart, Sean Rodriguez and Andrew Lambo. That depth breeds success, which paired with the revitalization of pitchers A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley, makes Pittsburgh a very desirable free agent destination — particularly for pitchers.

More on the Pirates and the NL Central…

  • The questions about Kang’s defense may not be an issue given how the Pirates have used shifts to cover up for their generally unimpressive fielding, Fangraphs’ Miles Wray writes.  If Kang’s defense isn’t an issue, Wray feels the Bucs made an acceptable risk in signing Kang given his power-hitting potential.
  • Javier Baez is having a tough time in Puerto Rico winter ball, FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi reports, as the Cubs prospect is still plagued by strikeouts.  It is starting to look like Baez could begin the 2015 season in Triple-A unless he enjoys a big Spring Training.
  • Tony Cingrani and Anthony DeSclafani are the current favorites to fill the two remaining spots in the Reds rotation, though manager Bryan Price tells reporters (including C. Trent Rosencrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer) that nothing has been decided.  Jason Marquis, David Holmberg and Raicel Iglesias stand out as possible contenders to earn a rotation spot in Spring Training, with Iglesias something of an “X-factor” given how he went several months without pitching while arranging his departure from Cuba.

Latest On The Market For James Shields

With Max Scherzer off the market following a historic seven-year agreement with the Nationals, all eyes will be on top remaining free agent James Shields and agent Page Odle leading up to Spring Training. ESPN’s Jayson Stark has spoken to a number of industry sources for his most recent look at Shields’ market, and he lists various reasons that the industry doesn’t expect Shields to end up with the Marlins, D-Backs, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Royals, Tigers, Rangers, Astros, Cardinals and Brewers (the Padres, at least, are listed as “possible, but not likely”).

Of particular note from Stark is that the D-Backs are actively trying to trim their payroll, rather than add salary; the Cubs are likely to look for another big-name starter, but not until next offseason; and the chances of the Marlins signing Shields are precisely “zero,” the latter of which meshes with a recent report from Grantland’s Jonah Keri.

Nonetheless, one executive to whom Stark spoke said he sees jumping back into the mix for Shields. However, one of the reasons, per that exec, is that teams believe Shields will have to settle for less than the $110MM that he reportedly was offered earlier this month and are revisiting the situation with the assumption that the price has dropped. Said Stark’s source, “But the problem is, now everyone is bottom-feeding. And when you’re someone like him, that’s the last thing you want, is a lot of teams bottom-feeding on you in late January.”

Regardless of the imperfect fits that litter the market for Shields, most executives tell Stark they can’t see Shields signing for anything less than $80MM over a four-year term, and nearly everyone to whom he spoke thinks that Shields could sign at virtually any time.

One club that won’t be signing Shields is the Giants, it seems, based on comments made by GM Brian Sabean earlier today on KNBR radio. As KNBR scribe Dieter Kurtenbach writes, Sabean plainly stated that while his club has wiggle room to add another piece, “it’s not going to be a high ticket item.” Sabean explained that while the team made a run at a pair of “high ticket” items in the form of Pablo Sandoval and Jon Lester, the team made the decision to spread the money throughout the roster. As such, the club acquired Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki to fill respective holes at third base and in left field, and Jake Peavy was re-signed to add some stability to the rotation. (Of interest to Astros fans may be Sabean’s statement of the fact that he believes Ryan Vogelsong is “going elsewhere as we speak,” as Vogelsong is said to be nearing a deal with Houston.)


Free Agent Notes: Moncada, Olivera, Belisario, Santana, Zito

While he awaits clearance from the government, Cuban second baseman Yoan Moncada is putting on showcases for interested teams. The Yankees have already put the 19-year-old through the paces, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. In addition to New York and the previously-reported Giants, Moncada has worked out for the BrewersRangersRed Sox, and Padres, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. Meanwhile, the DodgersRaysCubs, and Phillies have shown interest. For their part, the Twins will not seek a private workout because they believe the bidding will go too high, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets.

Here are some more free agent notes:

  • Fellow Cuban second bagger Hector Olivera will begin a two-day open showcase in the Dominican Republic tomorrow, Badler reports on Twitter. Olivera figures to be more of an immediate contributor than the younger Moncada.
  • Clubs interested in righty Ronald Belisario, as with Burke Badenhop, include the Blue Jays and Nationals, per Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The 32-year-old has run up solid innings totals over each of the last three years, but has seen his ERA steadily move north during that stretch. On the other hand, ERA estimators have viewed him as a solidly average performer in each of those seasons, with a low strand rate likely causing most of his troubles in 2014.
  • The YankeesBlue Jays, and Padres are three of the approximately six teams pursuing lefty Johan Santana, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets. An upcoming Venezuelan league start could have some bearing on where the one-time ace ends up.
  • Another prominent lefty is plotting his comeback as well. Per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle (Twitter link), Barry Zito still plans to return to baseball after a year off and will put on a showcase this spring. The 36-year-old last threw in 2013, working to a career-worst 5.74 ERA over 133 1/3 innings.

Reactions To And Fallout From The Fowler Trade

Here are reactions to and fallout from today’s trade between the Cubs and Astros, which sent Dexter Fowler to Chicago for Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily.

  • Fowler says he never discussed a long-term deal with the Astros, Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports. “We didn’t really talk about contract stuff — more going through the arbitration process and that whole thing,” says Fowler. “Obviously I’m going to be a free agent next year so I guess that (topic) would have been a little bit more down the road.”
  • Cubs GM Jed Hoyer says the two teams had been discussing a Fowler trade since last month, Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago tweets.
  • The Cubs and Astros are suddenly looking to be competitive in 2015, and the Fowler trade was about making each of their rosters more complete, Eno Sarris of Fangraphs writes. The Cubs had plenty of infield talent but were thin in the outfield, and sending Valbuena to the Cubs gives them more flexibility to figure out what to do with Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez while giving them a veteran outfielder who they might also be able to extend a qualifying offer after the season. Meanwhile, Valbuena improves the Astros at third base while clearing space for some combination of Jake Marisnick and Robbie Grossman in the outfield.
  • Valbuena’s departure assures that Kris Bryant will begin his big-league career at a third baseman and not as an outfielder, Rogers writes. Meanwhile, the Cubs will have Alcantara play a number of positions, remaining open to the idea that he could emerge as a starter at one of them.