CHICAGO -- Donning a Chicago Cubs jersey for the first time, new manager Rick Renteria is excited about the opportunity to lead the Cubs, including embattled shortstop Starlin Castro.
Castro is coming off his worst season as a professional -- hitting just .245 -- but the positive-minded Renteria is ready to go to work on him -- and the rest of the team.
Former manager Dale Sveum wasn’t one to shy away from a tough conversation, but the key difference with the new coaching staff might come down to that one word: teaching.
Team President Theo Epstein was asked what the major goal was in recent hirings, including former batting champion Bill Mueller as hitting coach and newly retired player Eric Hinske as first base coach.
“To find as many coaches as we can that can impact players,” he responded. “It takes a special personality as well as experience to actually reach the modern player. To dig deep and engage ... and find out what makes them tick.”
That might be Renteria’s strength. His positive attitude became an attribute early in his career. At Class-A ball in 1982 he had his best year as a professional, hitting .331 with 14 home runs and 100 runs batted in. His manager was former infielder for the Detroit Tigers, Johnny Lippon.
Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka's baseball future was thrown into flux Thursday when the president of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles told a newspaper that the team might not make the prized starter available to major league teams as a free agent this winter.
Yozo Tachibana told Sponichi that the Golden Eagles might refrain from making Tanaka available through the posting process. Under a proposed system, major league teams would submit maximum bids of $20 million for rights to negotiate with Tanaka, and Tanaka would be free to sign with the club of his choosing among those that meet the threshold.
Previously, major league teams would submit bids and the club with the highest offer would receive exclusive rights to negotiate with the player.
"We have an obligation to explain to our stakeholders whether it's fair," Tachibana reportedly told Sponichi. He added that if Rakuten shareholders do not think the proposed rules are fair, "There's a possibility we won't take the next step."
Tanaka, 25, is a prime target for multiple big league clubs that hope he can have an impact similar to the one Yu Darvish has had with Texas. When Darvish came to the U.S. in January 2012, the Rangers gave him a six-year, $60 million contract on top of the $51.7 million posting fee they paid to his former club, the Nippon Ham Fighters. Darvish led the American League with 277 strikeouts this past season and finished second to Detroit's Max Scherzer in Cy Young Award balloting.
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs have agreed to terms on a one-year contract with left-handed reliever Wesley Wright just two days after he was nontendered by the Tampa Bay Rays, a source familiar with the situation confirmed.
For his career, Wright has a 4.37 ERA with two saves. He is limiting left-handed hitters to a .232 batting average and has struck out 5.5 batters for every walk issued to a lefty.
James Russell was the lone lefty reliever for the Cubs for most of 2013, appearing in a combined 151 games over the last two seasons. Russell is arbitration eligible after earning $1.075 million last year.
The deal with Wright is reportedly worth $1.425 million, according to USA Today, which earlier reported the agreement between the sides.
Wright changed his Twitter profile Wednesday evening to read "Relief Pitcher for the Chicago Cubs."
Current television studio analyst Todd Hollandsworth and former player and Chicago native Ron Coomer are the frontrunners, although there are a “couple others still in the picture,” according to the source.
Hollandsworth, who was Rookie of the Year for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1996, played for the Cubs in 2004-05. He’s been the pre- and post-game analyst for Cubs games on ComcastSportsNet since 2009.
Coomer played one season (2001) for the Cubs before retiring from his playing career in 2003. He’s been an analyst for the Minnesota Twins' radio and television outlets after playing for the Twins for five seasons.
The Cubs flagship station, WGN Radio, said they hoped to have a replacement for Moreland by mid-January when the Cubs Convention takes place.
The former 17th-round pick of the Cubs in 1998 is newly retired from the game as a player, having seen action with the Arizona Diamondbacks last season. He spent a total of 12 years in the big leagues after the Cubs traded him to Oakland in 2001 for Miguel Cairo.
Hinske hit .249 with 137 home runs in his career. He was the rookie of the year with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002.
Hinske is the final hire for new manager Rick Renteria's staff. He joins Bill Mueller (hitting coach), Gary Jones (third base), Mike Brumley (assistant hitting coach) and Brandon Hyde (bench coach) as newcomers. Leftover from former manager Dale Sveum's coaching ranks are Chris Bosio (pitching), Lester Strode (bullpen), Mike Borzello (catching and strategy) and Franklin Font (staff assistant).
But until further notice, Barney gets another chance to rebound from a rough season at the plate in which he hit just .208 and got on base only 27 percent of the time. The simple reason is Dale Sveum and the old coaching staff. If Sveum and Co. are going to be blamed for the "regression" of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, then Barney fits into that category as well.
In fact, going back to last offseason, Sveum may have worked more closely with Barney than Rizzo or Castro. The bottom line is Barney hit .276 the season before Sveum arrived. He hit .254 and .208 in the two years under him. It would be way too simplistic to put that all on Sveum, but Barney deserves a fresh start with a new coaching staff just like Rizzo and Castro.
And even with some poor numbers, he has shown some signs. He'll battle an opposing pitcher with the best of them -- he was third in the league in foul ball percentage at 43.6 percent, according to ESPN Stats and Information. With two strikes he fouled a pitch off 47.6 percent of the time, tops in the league. It's a good reason why he's only struck out an average of 63 times in three full seasons in the big leagues.
But those foul balls don't mean much -- other than driving up a pitch count -- if the at-bat ends in an unproductive out. And Barney actually fouls off more pitches (46 percent) outside the zone than inside (42 percent). Maybe that's where his upside lies or perhaps his deficiency. All players get hits off pitches outside the zone, or at least take more walks than Barney's 36 last season. So a few more balls that go forward instead of backward could make the difference for him as will laying off a few of those outside the zone. And Barney's seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 2013 aren't bad for a hitter who mostly bats in the eighth spot in the lineup. In fact, only Matt Dominguez of the Houston Astros had more runs driven in from that position in the order than Barney.
Of course, Barney doesn't get another chance at the plate without his work in the field. As bad as he was on offense, he was a Gold Glove winner as well as a finalist at second base in two years under Sveum. That counts for more than just a passing mention. If Sveum gets some blame for Barney's offense then his coaching staff gets some credit for mentally keeping him in the game on defense. FanGraphs basically has Barney as the best defensive second baseman in the game over the past two years. So for Barney to be an effective overall player he only has to return to respectability at the plate.
Unless something unexpected happens, expect the Cubs to sign him for 2014. After that, there are no guarantees. But he deserves another chance to improve at the plate.
At least for a while.
There were no major surprises during Monday's tender deadline.
The Cubs signed their new backup catcher in George Kottaras after Dioner Navarro joined the Toronto Blue Jays. Navarro wanted a multiyear deal and the Cubs wouldn't give more than one. That has basically been their philosophy lately. If you're not part of the core for the future the Cubs aren't going to be locking you up.
Infielder Donnie Murphy fits into that category and between his signing and the Cubs tendering Luis Valbuena a contract, it made Mat Gamel expendable. According to sources, Murphy had a lucrative offer from Japan after hitting 11 home runs in less than two months last season. An arbitration hearing would have been unique considering his short but successful stay in the majors in 2013, so instead, both sides decided to lock him up. But again, it's for one year.
With prospects Baez, Alcantara, Kris Bryant, Mike Olt and others getting ready to break into the majors, one-year deals is the norm right now. And that's the right thing to do.
Certainly their priority is to re-sign their ace right-hander to a long-term contract. However, if they enter the winter meetings without closure to negotiations with Samardzija, don’t be surprised if they deal him. As the rumor mill has probably told you by now, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer also have been checking the trade market to find out which avenue is best for their long-term goals.
With a free-agent market thin on top-of-the-rotation starters, Samardzija is arguably better than what’s available, including Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo. After Japan and MLB agree on a posting system, you possibly can add even Masahiro Tanaka to that list.
However, the Cubs don’t have to trade Samardzija -- they control him for two more seasons and have the ability to move him at the July trade deadline or next offseason. However, as we discussed with Tampa Bay Rays left-hander David Price, the 28-year-old Samardzija is entering his prime, as his trade value will likely never be higher.
Samardzija pitched a career-high 213 2/3 innings this season, finishing with a 4.34 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. He has a nasty fastball in the 93-96 mph range, which he also cuts in the low 90s, with a hard slider (84 mph) and nasty split-finger fastball (also 84 mph). The repertoire says he should be a top-of-the-rotation type starter and in a new environment should reach that potential this upcoming season.
To deal him, however, the Cubs have to receive a significant package in return. And since their system is flush with elite hitting prospects but few pitchers, they would be looking to add elite arms in any major deal. So here are four trades for Samardzija that would make sense for the Cubs. If they can’t get this type of return, they should just hold on to him.
1. Baltimore Orioles trade RHP Kevin Gausman straight up
The Orioles’ window to win a World Series title with their present corps of stars will close over the next two seasons. And without a top-of-the-rotation starter, that’s going to be difficult.
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The moves were announced Monday night.
Kottaras, acquired from Kansas City last week, is due $1,075,000. Murphy will earn $825,000.
Besides Samardzija and Wood, the Cubs offered contracts to five other arbitration-eligible players: pitchers Pedro Strop and James Russell, infielders Darwin Barney and Luis Valbuena, and outfielder Nate Schierholtz.
Chicago's roster now stands at 37 players.
If arbitration-eligible players are non-tendered by their clubs, they become free agents. Bard might still return to the Cubs.
And you thought the BBWAA had tough standards.
Yes, as much as we criticize the BBWAA -- for not electing anybody last year, for electing Jim Rice, for electing relief pitchers but not starting pitchers -- your average sports fan apparently has an even more narrow view of the Hall of Fame.
They wouldn't elect Maddux this year. Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas wouldn't come close to sniffing Cooperstown this year. Mike Mussina? Not a Hall of Famer. Jeff Kent? Forget about it. You can see why it's so hard for a candidate to get the 75 percent needed for election.
As for Maddux, it appears his legacy has perhaps waned a bit. While I'm sure the BBWAA will elect him with well over 90 percent of the vote -- unfortunately, I'm guessing a few curmudgeons will refuse to vote for him out of some strange first-ballot principle or something and thus prevent him from becoming the first unanimous choice -- perhaps we need a little refresher on Maddux's dominance.
During his seven-year peak from 1992 to 1998, he went 127-53 with a 2.15 ERA, while averaging 32 starts, 239 innings, 184 strikeouts, 38 walks and just nine home runs per season. He won four straight Cy Young Awards and had back-to-back seasons in '94 and '95 with ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63, all while pitching in the heart of a high-scoring era. In '94 and '95, the average National League team scored 4.63 runs per game; compare that to 2012-2013, when the average NL team averaged 4.11 runs per game.
If you're too young to have seen Maddux pitch, go over to YouTube and check out some highlights. Here he is pitching eight shutout innings in Game 2 of the 1996 World Series. He threw a low-90s fastball with great movement, making it cut or sink, but with impeccable command and precision. In 1997, he issued just 14 unintentional walks in 232 2/3 innings; I'm sure several of those were intentionally unintentional. He varied his speed so every pitch was a different velocity from the previous one. He mixed in a changeup to further keep hitters off-balance. My old colleague Rob Neyer tabbed him The Smartest Pitcher Who Ever Lived, an apropos moniker; he was always one step ahead of the hitters, even if he didn't have the overpowering fastball of Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson.
As you can see in this video, Maddux was always a bit coy about what made him so good. It was like he had discovered this great mystery but needed to keep it to himself. Teammates often talked about his encyclopedic knowledge of opponents or his ability to read into a batter's body language, but Maddux always played this down. I remember interviewing him once and asking something along those lines and he simply joked, "Well, if I told you I'd have to kill you." He then took a baseball and showed how he would change his grip or finger pressure for different pitches, but he had such a big smirk on his face that to this day I think he was simply screwing with me.
Despite the glasses he wore when not pitching and a body that rarely -- if ever -- saw a weight room, Maddux was a good natural athlete who won 18 Gold Glove Awards. He was blessed, of course, with a rubber arm, and I believe he never missed a start in his career. (He started 33-plus games every season from 1988 until his retirement in 2008, excepting the strike-shortened seasons of '94 and '95.)
Think about that. You have a guy who had the peak of a Sandy Koufax, plus 12 more seasons where he was better than league average (and sometimes much better). You could actually extend his peak from 1992 to 2002, when he went 198-88 with a 2.47 ERA. His ERA+ -- ERA adjusted for the run-scoring environment pitched in -- over those 11 seasons was 171, a figure Koufax topped in just two individual seasons.
Maddux is 25th in career wins above replacement, making him a clear inner-circle Hall of Famer. Among pitchers, he's seventh. Among pitchers born after 1900, he's third, behind Clemens and Tom Seaver.
Maddux is an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer. Maybe he didn't throw 95 mph.
He didn't have to.
Navarro will make $3 million next season and $5 million in 2015. The contract's completion is contingent on the free agent passing a physical.
Several hours after announcing the deal, the Blue Jays said they failed to offer a 2014 contract to catcher J.P. Arencibia, who became a free agent.
Navarro batted .300 with a career-high 13 home runs and 34 RBIs in 89 games for the Chicago Cubs last season. The 2008 All-Star has not played more than 89 games in a season since 2009 because of injuries.
Navarro will turn 30 in February. His signing likely means the Blue Jays will part with slugger Arencibia, who had a disappointing 2013 season.
A 10-year veteran, Navarro has also played for the Rays, Yankees, Dodgers and Reds. He is a .251 career hitter.
Navarro will make a donation to the Jays Care Foundation as part of the deal.
Arencinbia, who would have been eligible for arbitration for the first time, hit .194 this year with 21 homers and 55 RBIs in 474 at-bats.