"Jeff has done it before," Renteria said. "He's put in a very strong year, as [Travis] Wood did. The decision was quite easy for all of us."
Samardzija was the Opening Day starter last season and beat the Pirates 3-1, throwing eight shutout innings. But Wood had the better year and was the team's lone All-Star.
Renteria was asked if he needed to talk with Wood about the decision.
"I think you just have your conversations with your guys," he said.
It could be Samardzija's last Opening Day with the Cubs. He is set to become a free agent after the 2015 season, and sources familiar with the situation indicate the Cubs will trade him before then if they can't sign him to a long-term deal.
The Cubs previously optioned infielders Arismendy Alcantara and Logan Watkins along with outfielder Matt Szczur to Triple-A Iowa while sending outfielder Jorge Soler to Double-A Tennessee.
Other non-roster invitees sent to minor league camp included pitcher Eric Jokisch and infielders Kris Bryant and Jeudy Valdez, as well as outfielder Albert Almora. Outfielder Aaron Cunningham was given his release.
He won 21 games pitching for the Cubs most of the past three seasons before Chicago dealt him to the Texas Rangers at last July's trade deadline.
Garza will push his warm wishes for his former teammates aside this season, however, insisting he would have extra motivation whenever he takes the mound to face the Brewers' division rivals.
"I wish them the best," he said. "But I like where I'm at, and I'm going to try to kick their teeth in every time I get a chance."
Garza ended up going to the Brewers for four years and $50 million after going a combined 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA over 24 games with the Cubs and Texas in 2013. While he said he savored his time at Wrigley, he voiced some rancor about how the Cubs' front office treated him.
Speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times this week, Garza was still bitter about being on the trading block for a good part of his three years in Chicago and seeing his on-again, off-again contract talks with upper management ultimately prove fruitless.
"They finally put it like, 'Hey, we're rebuilding, don't get comfortable,'" he said. "You just take it with a grain of salt and enjoy the time while you're there.
"I'm just a pawn. It's just playing a chess match. You've got your king and your queen you have to protect, and then you put the pawns in. That's us."
Garza called it a learning experience.
"I dealt with a lot there," he told the Sun-Times, "a lot of positives and some negatives."
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Namely: I’m really, really surprised we have the Cubs as high as No. 7.
That's over the Tigers, who have made the playoffs every year lately. Over the Braves, who just locked up one of the youngest cores of stars in the big leagues -- Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Julio Teheran -- and had the second-most wins among NL teams last season. We had the Cubs over the Tampa Bay Rays, who have won as many postseason games in the past six seasons (12) as the Cubs have won in the past 78 years. We have the Cubs over the Yankees, who may not have run the most efficient franchise or farm system in the past decade but who have a habit of qualifying for games in October.
If you reverse-engineer the polling results, you can figure out how it happened
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Initially, the Cubs said Castro would be out of the lineup for seven to 10 days, but on Friday morning, manager Rick Renteria gave no exact timetable on when Castro might play again.
"I don't have a set date in my head right now," Renteria said. "That's all based on how he's progressing. He's progressing well."
Earlier in the week, Castro indicated he might be back by this weekend, but Renteria said he wouldn't play before Monday. Now, Castro says it could be another week, as he's running at only "40 percent."
"I don't want to rush myself," Castro said. "If I can play in 10-12 games in spring training I think I'll be good for the season."
The Cubs have 16 days of games left on their spring schedule before their season opener in Pittsburgh.
"He knows his body more than I do," Renteria said. "He could be 75-80 percent in 3-4 days. We just don't know."
MESA, Ariz. – The Chicago Cubs never wavered during the winter whenever a reporter or fan asked what it would take for their top prospects to make the club out of spring training. The answer was always the same: “They can’t.”
Olt did dominate all the way up to Triple-A, where he struggled last season due to those eye issues. He still hit 14 home runs, which he attributed to “luck.” Now he’s seeing the ball again -- and hitting it well again. Two long home runs Wednesday night against the Seattle Mariners have vaulted him squarely into the conversation for the third-base job come Opening Day. He's hitting .333 this spring.
Undoubtedly, the Cubs wanted to see this Olt someday when they acquired him for Matt Garza last July. It was just a year earlier he was considered untouchable by the Texas Rangers, but his health issues made him expendable. He hit just .168 at Triple-A Iowa after the trade last season. There was no telling what would happen this spring.
But Olt insisted his vision problems were behind him after doctors figured out how to treat him with the correct eye drops. He didn’t exactly stand out early in spring, and when games started, he struck out a few more times than he would have liked. But things started to click for him after some recent batting-practice sessions.
“Made some serious strides,” he said Wednesday night.
They’ve paid off, which means the trade of Garza to the Rangers could yield even more than anyone thought. The key member of the deal was C.J. Edwards, who went on to win minor league pitcher of the year in all of baseball despite the midseason change of address. Now Olt is starting to show why Texas once thought so highly of him.
If he makes the team out of spring training, Cubs officials will be pleasantly surprised. They were set to start the season with Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy sharing time at third base until Olt or Kris Bryant was ready. Now there’s a chance Olt can seize the job, and if things go really well for him, it could move Bryant to the outfield eventually. But that’s a long way off. Right now, he has to keep doing what he’s doing, because the question has shifted from if his eye problems are over to just how good can he be?
Which franchise will be the one to beat in five years? We published our Future Power Rankings today, and while Eric Karabell weren't on the committee for those rankings, we do have something to say about them, including which team should be No. 1, wondering if the Cubs should have been ranked higher than the Red Sox and whether our beloved Phillies and Mariners are properly ranked.
Abraham Almonte, CF
Kyle Seager, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Justin Smoak, 1B
Logan Morrison, DH
Dustin Ackley, LF
Michael Saunders, RF
Mike Zunino, C
Brad Miller, SS
Cubs starter James McDonald, trying to find some semblance of the pitcher he was in the first half of 2012 with the Pirates when he went 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA, struggled to throw strikes with just 26 strikes in 64 pitches, walking five batters in 2.2 innings. Cano went 2-for-2 and turned a sweet double play. Miller homered off Cubs lefty James Russell, his third of the spring. Jesus Montero came in the game and made two errors at first base.
The Cubs sent a lineup of reserves and minor leaguers and they provided the most interesting results of the night, however. Mike Olt, the former Rangers prospect acquired in the Matt Garza trade last summer, homered twice, including a deep blast to center off Mariners starter Randy Wolf. Olt battled vision problems last year and struggled in the minors but says those issues have been cleared up.
But the most impressive blast came from Javier Baez, who did this against Wolf in the fourth inning for his third spring home run, drawing gasps of admiration in the press box and from the fans as well his Cubs teammates in the dugout.
It was a terrific at-bat, as Baez fell behind on two slow curveballs that were called strikes. The biggest knock against Baez so far in the minors has been an approach that is overly aggressive at times, but he laid off two inside cutters and then crushed the 2-2 slider. Baez's bat speed has been compared to Gary Sheffield's and he used that to hit 37 home runs in the minors. It came at the expense of 147 strikeouts against just 40 walks, but if he puts at-bats together like the one against Wolf, you're going to see the spread in the ratio decrease and Baez become even more dangerous.
The Sheffield comparison isn't exactly perfect -- Sheffield had great hand-eye coordination and strike-zone judgment to go along with that bat speed (his career high in strikeouts in the majors was 83 and that was late in his career and he walked more than he struck out. Like Baez, Sheffield was a minor league shortstop, although he moved to third base and then the outfield. Baez has a better chance of sticking at shortstop and he's expected to start there in Triple-A, although some scouts believe he'll eventually end up at third base. The Cubs have said he'll get some time at second base in the Cactus League as well to improve his versatility.
Anyway, a good start to a week in Arizona. Should be fun.
However, instead of competing for the NL Central crown as they did four or five years ago, last season the two clubs jockeyed to simply stay out of the cellar. This season the clubs are going in opposite directions; the Brewers could compete for a wild-card berth, while the Cubs probably are looking at 90 or more losses.
Here’s a look at both the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, and the buzz surrounding their spring training camps.
• The Cubs’ plan is to start top shortstop prospect Javier Baez in Triple-A. If he tears it up, they will call him up in June after he no longer is eligible for Super Two status.
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Wolf knows him now.
Baez belted a 2-2 pitch deep into the left-field grass, just missing the scoreboard in the process. It was hit well more than 400 foot and brought teammates -- and opponents -- to their feet.
"I've never seen anything like him,” Cubs first baseman Mike Olt said. “But I'm used to it by now. He's in my batting practice group every day.”
It was Baez’s third home run of the spring, tying him for the team lead with Olt, who homered twice in the game.
Baez’s bat speed often is compared to former slugger Gary Sheffield. Wolf understands the comparison.
“The distance on the home run was comparable,” he deadpanned.
Despite Baez's success this spring, he's still slated to start the year at Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs haven’t wavered from that plan.
McDonald’s outing: James McDonald was happy to just get back to competing, even though his stat line wasn’t impressive on Wednesday. McDonald walked five and hit a batter in 2 2/3 innings while giving up two runs.
“It’s not always going to be 1-2-3, 1-2-3,” he said after his night was done. “That’s what you eventually want. One thing I can control is my effort and the way I competed.”
At this point McDonald is probably a long shot to make the starting rotation if Jake Arrieta isn’t ready by Opening Day.
Russell pitches: Lefty reliever James Russell made his spring debut after a bout of dead arm to open camp. He admits it could be tied to his heavy workload in the past, but he’s feeling fine after throwing an inning on Wednesday. He did give up a home run to left-handed hitter Brad Miller.
“The arm is good,” Russell said. “One mistake. Made some good pitches. Felt great.”
Renteria replay challenge: The Cubs’ Ryan Kalish was called out on a close play at first base in the fourth inning, so Cubs manager Rick Renteria asked for a video replay, his first of the spring. The ruling was upheld. But replays showed the umpires still might have got the call wrong.
Day off: The Cubs have their lone day off of the spring on Thursday, and Renteria is asking his team to get away from baseball for a day.
“I probably shouldn’t have to say it, but some of those guys are going to want to be around it,” he said. “We’re pushing them a lot. They need a break.”
Renteria will probably report to work himself, because pitchers Jason Hammel and Eric Jokisch will pitch against Cubs minor leaguers to stay on schedule.
“Something that involves animals. Try to go to the zoo. I think I’ll go to the aquarium. Just walk around. I’m a big people watcher.” -- Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva on what he’ll do on his day off.
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Maybe the “big four” of prospects should be expanded to five.
Chicago Cubs infielder Mike Olt had his signature game of the spring with a three-hit, two-homer, three RBI performance on Wednesday night against the Seattle Mariners.
“The last couple of days I’ve felt much better, just in batting practice, doing some extra work,” Olt said afterward. “Made some serious strides.”
He overshadowed a monster home run by top prospect Javier Baez off Seattle starter Randy Wolf. Olt hit two out of the park, including one off of Wolf, as he tries to prove he belongs with the Cubs when they break camp come April.
“Last year I had a couple nights like this, but I felt like I almost got lucky,” Olt said.
That’s because he wasn’t seeing the ball well due to vision problems, which have since been cleared up. It had been a trying time that’s seemingly behind him.
“It’s easier for me to answer the questions now,” he said of his eye problems.
Olt followed his two home runs with an RBI single in the seventh, raising his spring batting average to .333 with a team-leading three home runs (with Baez) and seven RBIs.
Make no mistake, however, he wasn’t a favorite to win a starting job with the team out of spring training. Not after a season in which he hit just .168 in Triple-A after being acquired from the Texas Rangers.
But there was hope he would return to the form that earned him 28 home runs in 2012 at Double-A. He has to be giving the Cubs some pause for thought even though he hasn’t played any third base so far due to a “tender shoulder.” He says that should be fine as soon as next week, then he’ll be at the hot corner.
“I’m not going to look into it [making the team] right now,” Olt said. “I’m just going to keep focusing on getting better every day. Whatever happens I just want to be ready when I do get the opportunity to play.”
That could come next month at Wrigley Field if he keeps hitting as he did on Wednesday.
Umpires upheld their on-field ruling that Cubs batter Ryan Kalish was out at first base on a grounder in the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night.
Kalish hit a ball to shortstop Brad Miller and was ruled out by first-base umpire Dan Bellino. Renteria had a short conversation with him, then asked for a replay that was initiated by Bellino and second-base umpire Hal Gibson.
After a short delay to watch the replay the ruling on the field was upheld.
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Top prospect Javier Baez homered and roster hopeful Mike Olt homered twice and drove in three runs, but the Chicago Cubs fell to the Seattle Mariners 8-7 in 10 innings Wednesday night.
Olt, a 2010 first-round draft pick, took Mariners starter Randy Wolf deep in the second inning for his first home run of the night.
Baez gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead with a homer off Wolf in the top of the fourth.
Olt started a four-run sixth inning with his second home run. Catcher John Baker finished 2 for 3 with a three-run double in the sixth.
Baker cleared the bases after three Mariners' errors in the inning.
Mariners catcher John Buck drove in the tying runs with a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth.
Abraham Almonte scored the winning run on a Ty Kelly single in the 10th.