Chicago Cubs Rumors


NL Notes: Medlen, Cubs, Padres, Rockies

The Braves suffered a scare this afternoon when Kris Medlen, likely the team's Opening Day starter, left his start against the Mets (video link) with what is being diagnosed as a forearm strain. He will be evaluated further tomorrow morning. Manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters, including David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (video link), he's hopeful. "Keep our fingers crossed. But I feel a lot better after talking to our medical people. We might be OK." Medlen, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010, has been dominant for the Braves. O'Brien notes the right-hander's ERA since the 2012 All-Star break is second only to Clayton Kershaw among pitchers with at least 250 innings pitched in that period and he's won three of the past eight NL Pitcher of the Month awards while no other pitcher in baseball has won more than one over the same span. O'Brien opines losing Medlen for any significant amount of time could be a blow to the Braves' chances of defending their division title, unless they make a move to acquire another proven top-of-the-rotation type of starter mentioning Ervin Santana. If Medlen is sidelined, the Braves could stay in-house and insert both veteran Freddy Garcia and left-hander Alex Wood into the rotation with Gavin Floyd, who has received good reports on his rehab from his own Tommy John surgery, expected to be ready in May.

Elsewhere in the National League on the first day of Daylight Savings Time (except in Arizona):

  • New Cubs manager Rick Renteria does not see competing in the NL Central "as a daunting task" despite being the only division to send three teams to the playoffs and his own club coming off four consecutive losing seasons, writes the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. Renteria also sees similarities between the NL Central and the much-praised AL East. "So my thing is, quite frankly, we have a body of players that we’re trying to help form into a team, and that if we can do certain things and take certain actions that we have just as good a chance of competing in our division as some of those teams in the [AL] East have done in the past."
  • Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Times examines the players on the bubble of making the Padres' 25-man roster, including recent waiver claim Alex Castellanos.
  • The Rockies have renewed the contracts of all their pre-arbitration eligible players, according to the Denver Post's Troy E. Renck (via Sulia). Last month, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes reported agents were unhappy with the Rockies' salary formula for these pre-arb players, which spawned a feature article by Zach Links detailing how teams determine salaries for such players.



NL Central Notes: Carpenter, Neshek, Phillips, Cubs

With Matt Carpenter and the Cardinals are reportedly closing in on a six-year extension that will be worth $50-55MM, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the long road Carpenter has taken to get to this point. Carpenter had to settle for a $1,000 signing bonus as a fifth-year senior out of Texas Christian University and didn't establish himself as a big league regular until age-27. Goold spoke to manager Mike Matheny and several Cardinals players about Carpenter's perseverance and leadership. Said Matheny: "One of those great stories — a guy who didn’t necessarily have the golden road paved for him. He came in here and worked his butt off."

Here's more on the Cardinals and the NL Central...

  • Matheny also told Goold that Cardinals non-roster invitee Pat Neshek's chances of making the club are largely tied to his ability to retire left-handed hitters. Neshek did just that in his most recent appearance, but lefties have been a problem for the sidearmer over the past two seasons. Matheny doesn't want two specialists in his bullpen, and he already has lefty specialist Randy Choate as a fixture in the relief corps.
  • MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince looks at the turbulent last year for Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, who has found himself at the center of controversy and trade speculation. Castrovince notes that it was Phillips' brash attitude that got him traded from Cleveland to Cincinnati, and some of that has been on display in recent months. Phillips laughed off the notion that he's declined, citing his RBI total and Gold Glove Award, but did say that the offseason trade rumors hurt him to an extent. "This offseason, I really found out that baseball is a business," he told Castrovince. "...Did it [hurt]? Yeah, it [hurt]. I did as much as I can for this organization when it comes to social media or caravans or Reds Fest. I did it all because I wanted to do it. Not because they asked me to do it; because I wanted to do it."
  • Emilio Bonifacio and Jose Veras have a presence among the Cubs' young Latin American prospects, right-hander Carlos Villanueva tells MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. Villanueva says that prospects such as Arismendy Alcantara and Jeudy Valdez idolized Bonifacio as they grew up watching him play in the Dominican Winter Leagues. Bonifacio tells Muskat he tries to laugh and share his energy with everyone to keep the clubhouse positive.



Rosenthal's Latest: Masterson, Burns, Olt, Francisco

In his latest piece for FOX Sports, Ken Rosenthal wonders how the Indians could possibly say no to Justin Masterson's proposed extension. Rosenthal's sources tell him Masterson is seeking a three-year extension on top of his current deal at roughly market value in terms of average annual salary (Rosenthal speculates $17-18MM). Few Cleveland stars in any sport express a willingness to take a discount to stay, adds Rosenthal, and it would send a poor message to fans and the Indians' players to make the decision not to pay Masterson. Here are some more highlights from a jam-packed Rosenthal column...

  • Outfielder Billy Burns might be the most intriguing player in Athletics camp, writes Rosenthal. Acquired from the Nationals in exchange for Jerry Blevins, Burns was attractive to the A's because he was one of just three players in all of minor league baseball with more than 50 stolen bases and an OBP north of .400 last season. Burns has swiped seven bags in eight Spring Training games thus far, and scouts have raved about his instincts as a leadoff man, says Rosenthal.
  • Mike Olt has looked good thus far in camp with the Cubs, and the team's preference is for him to win the third base job out of Spring Training rather than head back to Triple-A. Doing so would allow the club to start Christian Villanueva at third in Triple-A and Kris Bryant at the hot corner in Double-A. Rosenthal points out that if Olt were to rebound from the concussion/vision issues that plagued him last season, the Cubs' haul for Matt Garza would look all the more impressive. Chicago also plucked C.J. Edwards from the Rangers, who enters the 2014 season ranked as the game's No. 26 prospect, per Baseball America.
  • Brewers first baseman Juan Francisco could be squeezed out again and find himself on the move, writes Rosenthal. Francisco is out of options, and the Brew Crew could prefer to take Lyle Overbay as a potential pairing with Mark Reynolds due to Overbay's superior glove. Rosenthal speculates that the Tigers could be a good fit for Francisco, as they have just four players capable of hitting left-handed on their roster. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes ran down all of the NL Central's out-of-options players yesterday.
  • It's been reported in recent days that the Royals and James Shields aren't likely to work out an extension, and sources tell Rosenthal the same thing. A Masterson extension would be a clear benefit to Shields, as Shields would have less competition on next year's open market. MLBTR recently examined what Shields might earn as a free agent next offseason.



Quick Hits: Samardzija, Santana, Lester, Dodgers

While Jeff Samardzija has been a chief subject of trade rumors this offseason, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told Jim Bowden and Casey Stern of MLB Network Radio on SiriuxXM (via Bowden's Twitter feed) that his preference would be to sign the right-hander to a long-term extension.  Samardzija said the same during an appearance on the broadcast (audio link here), as "I've always stated this is where I wanna be...this organization stuck by me and has given me the opportunity to be a starter."  Despite the rumors, there has "obviously been a mutual interest between the two parties, for sure...[which] kinda makes everything else just talking, which is what you want it to be."

Here's some more news from around the game...

  • Johan Santana never considered retirement in the wake of his latest shoulder surgery, as the veteran southpaw told reporters (including MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli) that he didn't want to let his health dictate the end of his career.  "I don't want to go out in the game like that. I want to go out of the game on my own terms, knowing this is going to be my last game, knowing this is going to be my last year," Santana said.  The two-time Cy Young Award winner said he has "nothing to lose, [and] a lot to gain" from his incentive-heavy minor league deal with the Orioles.
  • Jon Lester's cancer diagnosis in 2006 played a big part in his acceptance of his original multiyear deal with the Red Sox, WEEI.com's Rob Bradford reports.  That contract will expire this offseason, and while Lester has no new news on the status of extension talks, he is hopeful a new deal will be settled soon.
  • The Dodgers' surplus of pitching could force the team to make a tough cut in the form of right-hander Seth Rosin, ESPN Los Angeles' Mark Saxon writes.  Rosin has pitched well thus far in Spring Training but L.A. might not have space for him on the roster, a situation that Saxon says could backfire like the team's cut of Kevin Gregg last spring.  Rosin was selected off the Phillies' roster by the Mets in last December's Rule 5 draft and was then traded to the Dodgers, who now must keep Rosin on their Major League roster all season or else offer him back to Philadelphia for $25K.
  • In a subscription-only piece for Baseball America, Matt Eddy and J.J. Cooper look at some of the offseason's key minor league free agent signings and some of the overall trends of this winter's minor league deals.
  • Jim Leyland is happy in his position as special assistant to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski and has no interest in returning to the Pirates organization, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.  “I really don't want to come back to the organization,” Leyland said. “Not because I don't love it, but (because) they've set their tempo now and they have their own people in place. They don't need somebody like me hanging around and, really, I don't need to do that....I'll retire a Tiger.”



Out Of Options Players: NL Central

The following 40-man roster players have less than five years service time and are out of minor league options.  That means they must clear waivers before being sent to the minors, so the team would be at risk of losing them in attempting to do so.  I've included players on multiyear deals.  This list was compiled through MLBTR's sources.  Today, we'll take a look at the NL Central.

Brewers: Juan FranciscoJeff Bianchi

Francisco is competing with Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay for the Brewers' first base job.  It's hard to imagine a scenario where all three make the team, wrote Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last week.  Reynolds and Overbay signed minor league deals, but it seems likely at least one of them will make the team.  When Reynolds signed in January, it was said the Brewers told him he'll almost certainly make the team, so Overbay might have to beat out Francisco, who has the advantage of already being on the 40-man roster.

Back in February, Curt Hogg of Disciples of Uecker dissected the Brewers' reserve infielder situation, explaining that while they may need to carry seven infielders, Bianchi still seems needed as the only one capable of backing up Jean Segura at shortstop.

Cardinals: None

CubsGeorge KottarasWesley WrightJustin RuggianoJames McDonaldPedro StropWelington CastilloJeff SamardzijaLuis ValbuenaTravis WoodDonnie MurphyAlberto Cabrera

McDonald is competing with Chris Rusin for the Cubs' fifth starter job, at least until Jake Arrieta's shoulder is deemed ready.  Meanwhile, Cabrera is battling for the final bullpen spot with about a half-dozen others.

PiratesChris StewartJeanmar GomezMark MelanconTravis SniderJose TabataBryan MorrisAndy OliverStolmy PimentelPedro AlvarezVin Mazzaro

The Bucs' seven primary relievers last year were Jason Grilli, Melancon, Justin WilsonTony Watson, Gomez, Mazzaro, and Morris, and indeed, that was their bullpen for the NLDS.  It would be difficult for Oliver to break into that group, but surely the Pirates don't want to lose the hard-throwing Pimentel.  Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects thinks they'll find a place for him.  Some kind of trade makes sense to clear the logjam, barring injury.

RedsAlfredo Simon

Simon is in good standing as a member of the Reds' pen.



Ted Lilly Joins Cubs Front Office

It's only been a couple of months since Ted Lilly decided that his pitching days were over and announced his retirement, but he didn't stay out of the game for long. The Cubs announced today, via press release, that Lilly will join their front office as a special assistant to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

Per the release, Lilly will work with young players in Spring Training, visit the team's minor league affiliates over the course of the regular season, evaluate amateur players leading up to the draft and also perform professional scouting assignments.

Lilly spent parts of four seasons with the Cubs from 2007-10, posting a 3.70 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 705 2/3 innings. At the time of his retirement, Lilly called his years with the Cubs the best of his career, noting how grateful he was to have had the opportunity to experience the postseason with a winning team in a "great city."



Offseason In Review: Chicago Cubs

The Cubs added flippable veteran arms, assembled a center field platoon, and brought in a new backup catcher.     

Major League Signings

  • Jason Hammel, SP: one year, $6MM.
  • Jose Veras, RP: one year, $4MM.  $5.5MM club option for 2015 with a $150K buyout.
  • Ryan Sweeney, OF: two years, $3.5MM.  $2.5MM club option for 2016 with a $500K buyout.
  • Wesley Wright, RP: one year, $1.425MM.  Under team control for 2015 as an arbitration eligible player.
  • James McDonald, SP: one year, $1MM.  Under team control for 2015 as an arbitration eligible player.
  • Total spend: $15.925MM.

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

In an alternate universe, the Cubs' 2013-14 offseason could have been very exciting.  They fired manager Dale Sveum in late September, and for about a week there was talk of a big-money run at Joe Girardi, who would have marked a return to the team's "name" managers.  Instead, Girardi re-upped with the Yankees.  The Cubs interviewed A.J. Hinch, Manny Acta, Dave Martinez, Eric Wedge, and Brad Ausmus for their managerial position but ended up hiring someone less famous than any of them in former big league infielder Rick Renteria.  Renteria has no MLB managing experience, but did manage eight seasons in the Marlins' and Padres' farm systems before becoming a Padres bench coach.  The Cubs would probably admit they missed the mark on Sveum, making Renteria the fourth Cubs manager in the last five years.  He signed a three-year deal with two options, and hopefully the Cubs will be satisfied with his handling of young players and find managerial stability.

Having traded Matt Garza and Scott Feldman during the 2013 season, the Cubs were in need of veteran rotation depth for 2014.  They decided not to revisit the Scott Baker idea, letting him walk as a free agent.  Though last summer's Feldman trade netted a rotation candidate in the form of Arrieta, he encountered shoulder tightness in the offseason.

Cubs president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have been on the job for three offseasons now, and Hammel is their fourth potential sign-and-flip starting pitcher.  The key return in the Paul Maholm deal, Arodys Vizcaino, is still trying to come back from the Tommy John procedure he had two full years ago.  He could still become an impact reliever, according to Baseball America, which ranked him tenth among Cubs prospects.  Feldman brought Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop from the Orioles last summer, as well as international bonus pool slots 3 and 4.  The Cubs ultimately went nearly 50% over their international bonus pool, so the slots acquired from Baltimore can be considered nothing more than $58K in overage tax savings.

USATSI_7518696

Having gotten nothing in return for Baker, the Cubs spent close than $12MM in salary on the three flipped starters.  Vizcaino, Arrieta, and Strop are all under team control through 2017, and if the Cubs walk away with multiple seasons of solid cheap relief work, the whole thing was worthwhile, if not spectacular.

When McDonald posted a 3.56 ERA in his first 331 innings with the Pirates, it looked as though they had found something in their 2010 trade with the Dodgers.  The wheels fell off in July 2012, however, and he posted a 6.28 ERA in 104 2/3 frames thereafter, plus time spent in the minors on 2013.  A shoulder injury surfaced in May last year, and by September, McDonald was a free agent.  There's no telling whether the Cubs can get him back to usefulness, but they didn't risk much to try.

The Cubs stumbled into a reunion with Kevin Gregg last year, and although they didn't manage to flip the closer in a trade, he did provide a few months of stability at the back end of their bullpen.  Veras, 33, was signed in December 2012 to be the Astros' closer and was quite good at the job in 43 innings.  The Astros flipped Veras to the Tigers for a pair of far-off prospects in Danry Vasquez and David Paulino, and it stands to reason the Cubs will consider doing the same with Veras if he succeeds in the first half.  Veras apparently wasn't the Cubs' first or only choice in right-handed relief this offseason, as reports linked them to Edward Mujica, John Axford, Joba Chamberlain, and Jesse Crain

The Cubs signed Wesley Wright to an affordable deal to bolster their left-handed relief.  In a world where Boone Logan, Javier Lopez, and J.P. Howell garner eight-figure commitments and even a 38-year-old Scott Downs costs $4MM, the $1.425MM commitment to Wright has a chance to return profit.  The Cubs also took some long shots in this area, signing Jonathan Sanchez, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Tommy Hottovy to minor league deals.

Catcher Dioner Navarro wound up signing a two-year, $8MM free agent deal with Toronto on the strength of 266 strong plate appearances with the 2013 Cubs.  With Welington Castillo's solid play, the Cubs had no need to pony up to retain Navarro, who they had signed as a backup for $1.75MM.  I am curious as to whether the Cubs received any decent offers on Navarro during the summer, however.  Regardless, they acquired three reasonable options to back up Castillo this year in Kottaras, Baker, and Whiteside, the last two on minor league deals.  The Cubs reportedly had looked into a more established backup in Kurt Suzuki.  However, the walk-happy Kottaras, a former Epstein acquisition for the Red Sox, will caddy for Castillo to start the season.  

Junior Lake, 24 later this month, hit a respectable .284/.332/.428 in 254 plate appearances for the Cubs last year while learning to play left field.  While the Cubs might be happy to see Lake establish himself as a second-division regular, their entire current outfield seems comprised of placeholders for Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, and perhaps Kris Bryant if he moves off third base.  Schierholtz endured some trade talk but is back as the Cubs' right fielder against right-handed pitching for his walk year.  Ryan Sweeney could take a similar platoon role as the team's primary center fielder, though in last year's limited sample the left-handed hitter handled same-side pitching well.  Kudos to the Cubs for re-signing Sweeney for just $3.5MM plus a club option in October, before the market for good fourth outfielder types was established at two years and $10-12MM by Rajai Davis, David DeJesus, Nate McLouth, and David Murphy.

The Cubs reached out to Chris Young early in the offseason, but he ended up signing a one-year, $7.25MM deal with the Mets.  Plan B for a right-handed hitting outfielder in Young's mold appears to have been Justin Ruggiano, who Hoyer described as "a better fit for our roster" than Bogusevic.  Ruggiano, a power/speed guy, has hit .270/.347/.544 in 305 plate appearances against southpaws over the last three years and will likely spell Schierholtz and Sweeney.

Questions Remaining

The Cubs' biggest question mark is the future of 29-year-old righty Jeff Samardzija, their nominal ace.  With two years of team control remaining, the Cubs have tried to extend him but have found a gap between the valuations of each side.  Rather than further reset the extension market and give Samardzija a $100MM deal, the Cubs explored trades this offseason.  The Diamondbacks, Nationals, Blue Jays, Orioles, Yankees, and Braves were among the reported suitors, but by the Winter Meetings the trade barometer had gone from likely to unlikely.  On December 11th, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun wrote that the Cubs wanted Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, and a third player from the Blue Jays.  Prospect gurus suggest Sanchez is around the 30th best prospect in the game, and Stroman around the 60th.  

Though teams are rightfully veering well away from ERA in decision-making, Samardzija's marks of 4.34 last year and 5.47 in the season's final three months certainly don't help his trade value.  Though a third of Samardzija's team control will have evaporated by the trade deadline and the pitcher finds an extension with a new team unlikely, the Cubs are gambling he can raise his stock with a big first half in 2014 (barring a surprise trade this month).

The Cubs wound up adding Hammel and McDonald, though they were thinking much bigger with a pursuit of the offseason's top prize, Masahiro Tanaka.  The Japanese ace signed a seven-year, $155MM deal with the Yankees with an opt-out clause after the fourth year, and required a $20MM release fee as well.  If speculation as to the Cubs' six-year, $120MM offer with no opt-out clause is accurate, then the Yankees were offering nearly 11% more in AAV, an extra year, and the extremely valuable opt-out.  That suggests the Cubs were not close on Tanaka.  Of the ten MLB contracts signed with true opt-out clauses, only Tanaka's allows for the player to join a new team before age 30.  The Cubs will compete in 2015 if we're being optimistic.  Burning his first year on a rebuilding season could be acceptable as part of a six-year deal, but potentially paying Tanaka $108MM for the next four years didn't work for this team.  The Cubs had also been an early offseason speculative suitor for David Price, whose two-year window of control and huge prospect cost also fit poorly for the Cubs unless they had reason to expect a below-market extension.

The Cubs' bid for Tanaka and speculative connection to Price stems from the question of who their future mound ace will be when all of their hitting prospects reach the Majors, especially if Samardzija is not extended or does not take the next step.  Slender but well-regarded prospect C.J. Edwards could become that ace, and maybe the Cubs will take a close-to-the-Majors pitcher with their fourth overall pick in the June draft.  Though Bryant projects as a future All-Star, perhaps Jonathan Gray would have been a better pick for the Cubs with their #2 overall choice in the last draft.  There's a good chance the Cubs' next ace pitcher will have to come from outside the organization.

The Cubs also face questions at every infield position.  First baseman Anthony Rizzo is signed through 2019, but hasn't hit lefties in his big league career and batted .217/.325/.374 from June onward last season. 27-year-old power righty Andrew Cashner, who the Cubs sent to the Padres for Rizzo, has developed into a more valuable pitcher than anyone in the Cubs' current rotation.  Second baseman Darwin Barney didn't hit enough in 2013 to justify regular playing time, and figures to be challenged by prospects this year.  Shortstop Starlin Castro, signed through 2019, was surprisingly below replacement level last season.  A lawsuit with a baseball school in the Dominican may have affected his play, but he'll be pushed by top prospect Javier Baez in 2014.  The Cubs' ragtag group of third basemen showed surprising pop last year, and they have good organizational depth beyond stopgap veterans Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy.

Deal of Note

The Cubs made a run at Roberto Hernandez during the Winter Meetings, but wound up reaching an agreement with Hammel in late January.  The 31-year-old Hammel had surprised with a strong partial season in 2012 with the Orioles, bumping his average fastball velocity to almost 94 miles per hour and posting career-best strikeout and groundball rates.  Hammel earned the Orioles' Opening Day nod but came back to Earth in 2013, posting a 4.97 ERA and hitting the DL with inflammation around the ulnar nerve in his elbow.  If both Hammel and Samardzija are dealt this summer, it will mark the third consecutive season of the Cubs trading 40% of their rotation.

Overview

After a new front office came in and on punted on their first two seasons, the Cubs have assembled the fourth-best farm system in baseball, according to ESPN's Keith Law as well as Baseball America.  Ideally, 2014 will be the team's final consolidation year before contending.  If you think about it, three concession seasons in a market of this size is remarkable, the Mets notwithstanding.  After this year, Epstein will have only two years left on his contract and even the Cubs' fanbase will start getting antsy.

The Cubs certainly tried to make some big statements this offseason.  Imagine how the conversation would have changed had they hired Girardi, extended Samardzija, and signed Tanaka.  The big moves didn't materialize, leaving Epstein and company with money kept in reserve for the first time.  In the bigger picture, the Cubs seem to be holding off on embracing their status as a large market team until their $500MM Wrigley Field renovation project begins, potentially after this season if the dispute with rooftop owners can be resolved.  Brighter times are ahead, but until then the world's most patient fanbase continues to be tested.  

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



NL Notes: Baez, Diaz, Mets

Cubs senior vice president of player development and scouting Jason McLeod was once an assistant GM for the Padres, and he tells FanGraphs' David Laurila that the Friars would not have taken Javier Baez if he had fallen one pick to them in the 2011 draft. "The Cubs beat a lot of teams on Javy. They certainly beat the Padres," McLeod says. "I have to admit we weren’t set up to take him with our pick. Thankfully, the Cubs were smart and I don’t have to wear that one too bad." Baez, of course, is now among the best prospects in baseball, while the player the Padres took instead, second baseman Cory Spangenberg, struggled somewhat last year in Double-A -- he hit .289, but struck out three times as often as he walked and hit for very little power. Here are more notes from the National League.

  • The market for Cuban free agent infielder Aledmys Diaz will likely be set by the Dodgers' signings of Alexander Guerrero (four years, $28MM) and Erisbel Arruebarrena (five years, $25MM), Scout.com's Kiley McDaniel writes. The market for Cuban players is different from the markets for other player types, McDaniel argues, so it makes sense to compare Diaz to other Cuban players to determine his value. Diaz should hit well for average, and should be a decent defender at second base. Teams believe Diaz will likely receive a contract worth about $5MM-$7MM per season for five or six seasons, although the contracts of Cuban free agents can be difficult to predict.
  • The Mets appear set to head into the season with Ruben Tejada as their shortstop, writes Joel Sherman of the New York Post. They don't appear likely to add Stephen Drew, and they haven't had serious trade talks recently with the Mariners (who have Nick Franklin and Brad Miller) or Diamondbacks (who have Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings). The Mariners and Diamondbacks are asking for a lot in return, Sherman says, since it's tough to find a good shortstop, and all four players have options.



NL Central Notes: Morel, Samardzija, Cubs, Lorenzen

The Pirates claimed Brent Morel off waivers because they felt they needed a better "Plan B" in the event of an injury to Pedro Alvarez, manager Clint Hurdle told Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh has been following Morel since 2011 and had interest in him when he was placed on waivers in December, writes Brink. Toronto claimed him then, but Pittsburgh got their second chance this week and claimed him based on his solid defense, hands and power, said Hurdle. Morel told Brink that he's thankful for the opportunity and that, as a Steelers fan, he's excited to play in Pittsburgh.

A few more NL Central links as we await the start of the weekend...

  • Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times that trade talks don't bother him, but instead simply put a chip on his shoulder when he pitches. Wittenmyer writes that the Blue Jays and D'Backs have shown interest in Samardzija this winter, and an executive from a third team called the 29-year-old a "monster in the making." Samardzija is used to pitching in front of scouts for numerous other clubs and simply smiled as he told Wittenmyer, "You want to put on a good show for them."
  • ESPNChicago.com's Jesse Rogers took a look at the scenarios to watch in Cubs camp during Spring Training yesterday, most notably wondering if February pickup Emilio Bonifacio can supplant Darwin Barney at second base. He also examined whether or not July 2013 acquisition Mike Olt can recover from his vision issues and take the third base job from Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy.
  • Michael Lorenzen was a two-way player when the Reds selected him 38th overall in last year's draft, having served as an outfielder and closer for Cal State Fullerton. In a piece for Baseball America, C. Trent Rosencrans reported that the Reds have told Lorenzen he will focus on pitching, and not only that, but they value him as a starting pitcher. Lorenzen sounded pleased with the decision and has already been talking with college-closer-turned-starter Tony Cingrani in Spring Training. "I’m picking his brain," Lorenzen told Rosencrans. "We’ve been in the same situation as a college guy moving quick. He’s been really good with me."



NL Central Notes: Cardinals, Rolen, Baez, Cubs

It was on this day in 1887 that Grover Cleveland Alexander was born in Elba, Nebraska.  "Old Pete" spent the first eight years of his career with the Phillies and the last 12 with the Cubs and Cardinals, but Alexander was one of baseball's dominant arms no matter where he pitched, amassing 373 wins (the third-most in history) and a 2.56 ERA over his epic career.  Alexander helped the Cards to their first World Series title in 1926 by recording two complete game victories during the Series and also earned a save for his 2 1/3 hitless innings to close out Game 7.

Here's the latest from the NL Central...

  • The Cardinals didn't trade from their surplus of pitching depth over the offseason, a decision that looks wise to MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince given the uncertainly over Jaime Garcia's shoulder problems.  Several of the Cards' young arms are still new to the majors and the club doesn't want to make moves until they know what they have.
  • Though Scott Rolen hasn't officially retired and is "simply inactive at the moment," he tells MLB.com's Paul Hagen that he is enjoying his time with his family.  The long-time Reds and Cardinals third baseman recently made an appearance at the Phillies' Spring Training camp, and Cincinnati is interested in hiring Rolen as a guest instructor.
  • Javier Baez could be the top prospect most likely to switch positions, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo opines.  The Cubs shortstop is still a work in progress in the field but his bat could be Major League-ready as soon as this season.  Since the Cubs already have Starlin Castro at short, Mayo suggests that Baez could play third and Kris Bryant (another top Chicago youngster) could shift to the outfield.
  • ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers, meanwhile, thinks Baez could possibly end up at second base.  Rogers discusses Baez, Jeff Samardzija trade rumors and several other Cubs topics as part of a reader chat.
  • Speaking of Samardzija, we can't count him amongst our readership as the Cubs right-hander tells CSNChicago.com's Patrick Mooney that he's avoiding MLB Trade Rumors and Twitter in order to shut out the trade speculation and focus on the upcoming season.  “You concentrate on doing your job," Samardzija said.  "You can make as many excuses for yourself as you want. But when it’s all said and done, that doesn’t fly. Your numbers are your numbers. Your record is your record.”









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