Twitter mailbag: Who's up first?

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
Rogers: Fun question. Will be examining that in the coming weeks. The obvious answer at the top is Dexter Fowler. I think that’s a big pick-up. If he can be consistent with a .350-ish OBP, that will help the offense. I think No. 2 comes down to two people: Starlin Castro and Jorge Soler. My guess is it will be Castro, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change. He did well driving in runs in the cleanup role last year, so if they drop him to five or six, that might work too. Soler’s plate discipline might max out in the No. 2 hole. Then you have the big boppers after him. Not that he can’t play long ball from there as well, but I would still suspect Castro starts out there and Soler lower.

Rogers: I suppose there is a scenario where the Cubs will look really, really bad by sending him down if he’s just crushing it, but it probably won’t get to that. They can limit his at-bats or send him to minor league camp at any time. Unless the Cubs change their mind, his spring results aren’t really going to matter. Of course, if he struggles, that makes it a tad easier of a sales job to the public, but I honestly don’t believe the Cubs are rooting for that. By May we will have forgotten about all this. His time is coming.

Rogers: He’s the incumbent starter in left field, at least on Day 1 of spring training. Anything can happen after that, but if he shows the ability to get on base as he did in getting hot last year, then I think he sticks, at least in a platoon role from the left side. Long term, we can’t predict Coghlan’s role. If Bryant is better suited for left field, then he’ll be there. Unless Coghlan establishes himself as a core guy, he’s just a nice piece for right now. We need to see if he can follow up his half-year of production.

Rogers: The easy answer is "sure," but you can make a case that a bad team needs chemistry even more. The bottom line is every team needs it, considering they practically live together for seven and a half months. But sure, a team that wants to get off to a good start and shed some losing vibes can certainly use that extra little spark, and that does start in spring training. Plenty of new faces, hopefully they bond quickly.

Rogers: I can’t see that happening considering they are pretty well positioned throughout the diamond with a mix of veterans and young players. There will be some spring invites and things like that, but I don’t see a major addition at this point. Haven’t they done enough? Was one heck of an offseason.

Rogers: It’s a good question. The obvious answer would be Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara. But this spring it won’t be about fawning over the long home runs, it will be about them working the count and seeing what’s changed since last year. We can never make full assessments on spring games, but we can certainly get an idea if they “look” different. Also, after watching Carlos Marmol and Jose Veras completely blow up these past two springs, I won’t ignore a particular pitcher that struggles in a similar manner. It’s not just the struggles, but how they struggle. It was obvious to me that neither of those pitchers was ready for prime time come April. If someone else has that feel to his performances, then it’s worth noting.

Rogers: Not as many as you might think! What I found funny was the headlines about Bryant that the Luis Valbuena trade generated. Like he was the reason Bryant was stuck in the minors. I think people get it. And I think most people aren’t blaming the Cubs. The system says two weeks in the minors saves the Cubs a whole year.

Rogers: You are correct. If they wait until the Super 2 date, then they might have a mutiny on their hands.

Rogers: That’s like asking why they don’t just sign every great free agent player available? Why stop at Jon Lester and Shields? Why not Scherzer and David Robertson and the top position players as well? Every team has a budget and a long-term plan, and I can understand not committing to two pitchers in the same offseason, especially when you’re still a year or so away. Plus, Shields isn’t worth it, in my opinion.

Rogers: I’d love to be out in front of a Neil Ramirez All-Star bid. They take middle guys nowadays, and he’s pretty darn good. If he picks up where he left off after his breakout year, then why not? I also would not put anything past Kris Bryant if he comes up early enough. I’m not going to predict it, but it wouldn’t shock me. If/when he struggles, I just think his adjustment period will be a lot shorter than most. So there’s a couple options, but neither is a favorite to be there.

Visitation, memorial set for Ernie Banks

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO -- The public visitation and memorial service for Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks will be held Friday and Saturday in Chicago, the team announced late Monday.

The visitation will go from noon until 8 p.m. Friday at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut Street. The memorial service will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at the church, according to a Cubs release. There will be limited public seating for the memorial Saturday.

Banks was 83 when he died of a heart attack Friday night. Known as Mr. Cub, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977 after playing 19 seasons for the Cubs. He was league MVP in 1958 and 1959 and amassed 512 home runs in his career.

Ernie Banks suffered heart attack

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25

Ernie Banks' family has announced that the Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer died after suffering a heart attack.

Banks, a two-time National League MVP who spent his entire major league career with the Cubs, died Friday at age 83.

The cause of his death was not announced until Sunday, when family attorney Mark Bogen revealed at a news conference that Banks died from the heart attack just seven days before his 84th birthday.

Banks' wife, Liz Banks, also was in attendance.

"It is certainly a sad day for us," she said. "I'd like to thank everyone for being here. ... He was very beloved and he is going to be dearly missed by family, friends and all of his fans."

The Cubs and the city announced later Sunday that a statue of Banks will be temporarily moved from outside Wrigley Field to downtown. It will be on display in Daley Plaza from Wednesday through Saturday.

A public visitation and then memorial service for Banks will be held this Friday and Saturday in Chicago, the team announced late on Monday.

The visitation will go from noon until 8 pm on Friday, Jan. 30 at Fourth Presbyterian Church at 126 E Chestnut St. while the memorial service will take place the next day at 10 am, according to a Cubs release. There will be limited public seating for the memorial on Saturday.

Banks hit 512 home runs during his 19-year career and was fond of saying, "It's a great day for baseball. Let's play two!'' That finish to his famous catchphrase adorns his statue outside Wrigley Field.

Although he played in 14 All-Star Games from 1953 to 1971, Banks never reached the postseason, and the Cubs finished below .500 in all but six of his seasons. Still, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, the first year he was eligible, and selected to baseball's all-century team in 1999.

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"Let's play two" to honor Banks

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO -- For once, social media is in near agreement.

The Chicago Cubs should make “Let’s Play Two” a reality in honor of the late Ernie Banks. It can’t necessarily happen for the 2015 season, but there is no reason –- besides money -– the Cubs can’t ask Major League Baseball to schedule a doubleheader for the team each year starting in 2016.

After his passing on Friday night, fans across the country have suggested various ideas to honor Mr. Cub, but none is better than living up to his favorite saying: “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two today.”

Some on twitter and Facebook have suggested making Sept. 17 “Ernie Banks Day” considering that was the date in 1953 he made his debut for the Cubs. That might not work for a scheduled doubleheader as a rain-out that late in the season could cause issues with the standings. A floating day each year makes the most sense, whether that be a weekday game or weekend.

If the Cubs are so inclined they should make it a one-ticket event playing both games in back-to-back fashion. That’s the way Banks would have wanted it, we can presume. A split doubleheader just doesn’t sound right.

The team will unveil ways they will honor him in this upcoming season after talking with his family. A patch would be a good start, along with a day to remember his generosity and greatness. Maybe Sept. 17 works best for this season, but a yearly doubleheader in honor of No. 14 would be a great gesture.

Ernie Banks remembered fondly at SoxFest

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
Padilla By Doug Padilla
CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox's fan convention took on a decidedly somber tone Saturday after the death of Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks was announced late Friday evening.

There was no crosstown rivalry Saturday, as before each panel discussion tributes were made toward the Hall of Famer.

During a mid-morning panel discussion featuring members of the club's 2005 World Series championship team, radio broadcaster Ed Farmer offered his own tribute to Banks, whom he called a friend. The packed house followed with a round of applause.

"When you talk about Ernie, you have to smile," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "He was always in a great mood. I never heard him complain about anything. He was always upbeat. He always had a wisecrack. I know he was Mr. Cub, but he was really Mr. Baseball. He was really a great, great ambassador for the game."

White Sox broadcaster Steve Stone, who pitched three seasons for the Cubs in the 1970s and was a former Cubs broadcaster as well, also remembered Banks fondly.

"I've never heard anybody say, 'I don’t like Ernie Banks,'" Stone said. "It's like saying you don't like Santa Claus. How can you not like Ernie Banks? He was one of the most lovable human beings that our game has ever produced, and he never lost that child-like enthusiasm."

Banks' positive disposition eclipsed his production on the field, a monumental achievement considering that he hit 512 home runs and had a career .500 slugging percentage.

"I don't believe you're going to remember the home runs; I think he hit 512 of them," Stone said. "You're not going to remember the fact that he was a Hall of Famer because that was obvious to anybody who watched him play.

"I think what everybody is going to remember about Ernie was the enthusiasm he brought to each and every day; the positive attitude that he always had and the lesson in like he taught anybody who cared to listen to him, which was you don't have last season, you don't have last week, you don't have yesterday, you have to look ahead and see what tomorrow brings and tomorrow is going to be a great day."

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who grew up in the northern suburbs, said Banks meant as much to baseball as he did to the Cubs.

"Growing up, I probably met him more as a kid and outside of baseball," Hahn said. "I spent a little time with him from time to time during Cubs-Sox series. He was just a tremendous ambassador for the game, for the city. His enthusiasm and his passion for baseball is going to be missed. It’s a big loss."

White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton offered his condolences.

"[He was a] Hall of Famer. You look at the statistics that he put up," Eaton said. "And as a person, it seemed like he was top notch. On and off the field, he did it the right way. It's a sad day for baseball, and definitely here in Chicago for South Siders and North Siders alike. He'll be missed for sure."

Audio: Andre Dawson, others share their thoughts on Ernie Banks

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
By Staff
Beloved "Mr. Cub" Ernie Banks died Friday. Many shared their thought on Banks and his impact. Here are some excerpts:

Baseball Hall of Famer Andre Dawson tells Jonathan Hood about his memories of Ernie Banks, what Banks was like and how Banks influenced his life. Listen Listen

PTI's Michael Wilbon reacts to Ernie Banks' death and discusses Banks' accomplishments on the baseball field, watching Banks play and his significance to Chicago. Listen Listen

espnW's Sarah Spain shares her thoughts on what Ernie Banks meant to Chicago, the city's reaction to Banks' death and his enthusiasm for the Cubs. Listen Listen

ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers tells Jonathan Hood about his reaction to Ernie Banks' death, Banks' relationship with the Ricketts family and Banks' impact on the field. Listen Listen

What I learned from Ernie Banks

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24

Race matters. We may not agree as to how or when. We may not agree to the degree or extent. You may look in the mirror and believe it does not matter to you, but concede that it may matter to others. We may believe it shouldn't matter. We may even express we are all one race. But it still matters.

I was drafted in 1991 by the Chicago Cubs, and, by far, the person I met in my career who most lived and breathed a life that showed us that we are all one was Ernie Banks.

I had my share of trials and tribulations around race or culture. As a player coming up in the Cubs system and ultimately having the good fortune of playing in the major leagues, my journey was not without bumps in the road -- some of which I attributed to race.

Certainly, that did not embody my entire experience, but it was part of it. And by the time I got to the big leagues, I had thicker skin but also a layer of defense. Maybe it came from the number of advisers in the minors who told me not to trust anyone. Or from mentors who warned me about things like the perils for my baseball future in interracial dating because the powers that be would disapprove.

It was baffling to me because I grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey, a town that seemed to celebrate diversity and cross-cultural exchange. On draft day, I was optimistic because I was heading to an environment that was our country's pastime -- a place that I expected to be progressive. Yet it still had many growing pains around diversity.

Then there was Ernie Banks. I am not even sure when I first met him, but that is irrelevant to the experience of knowing Ernie Banks. All I can think about was how he always pointed you toward the good in people. He didn't even have to be specific in his advice to you. This man had an aura that you understood was your call to be better, to get perspective that you are probably worrying about something small in the grand scheme of things.

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Michael Wilbon discusses the life and career of Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks.

Sarah Spain of espnW talks about her memories of beloved Hall of Famer "Mr. Cub" Ernie Banks, who died at age 83 in Chicago.

Ernie Banks Dies At Age 83

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23


Cubs legend Ernie Banks passed away Friday at the age of 83.

Ernie Banks dies at age 83

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23

"Mr. Cub" Ernie Banks, the Hall of Fame slugger and two-time MVP who never lost his boundless enthusiasm for baseball despite years of playing on losing Chicago Cubs teams, died Friday night. He was 83.

The Cubs announced Banks' death but did not provide a cause.

"Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball. He was one of the greatest players of all time," Tom Ricketts, chairman of the Cubs, said in a statement released by the team. "He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I've ever known.

"Approachable, ever optimistic and kind hearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub. My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie's life in the days ahead."

Banks hit 512 home runs during his 19-year career and was fond of saying, "It's a great day for baseball. Let's play two!'' That finish to his famous catchphrase adorns his statue outside Wrigley Field.

The Cubs paid tribute to Banks on the Wrigley marquee Friday night:

Although he played in 14 All-Star Games from 1953 to '71, Banks never reached the postseason, and the Cubs finished below .500 in all but six of his seasons. Still, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, the first year he was eligible, and selected to baseball's all-century team in 1999.

Banks' infectious smile and nonstop good humor despite his team's dismal record endeared him to Chicago fans, who voted him the best player in franchise history.

One famous admirer, "Saturday Night Live" star Bill Murray, named his son Homer Banks Murray. Former major league outfielder Dale Murphy, in a tweet Friday night, said: "Did a card show w Ernie Banks. He drove the promoter crazy! Spent time/talked with every person. After an hour had signed maybe 15."

Banks' No. 14 was the first number retired by the Cubs, and it hangs from the left-field foul pole at Wrigley Field.

"I'd like to get to the last game of the World Series at Wrigley Field and hit three homers," he once said. "That was what I always wanted to do."

News of Banks' death quickly spread throughout the sports world Friday night, with major league teams, former greats and current players taking to social media to express their condolences.

Added Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement: "Ernie Banks was more than a baseball player. He was one of Chicago's greatest ambassadors. He loved this city as much as he loved -- and lived for -- the game of baseball. This year, during every Cubs game, you can bet that No. 14 will be watching over his team. And if we're lucky, it'll be a beautiful day for not just one ballgame, but two."

In 2013, Banks was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- by a noted Chicago White Sox

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Reinsdorf plays to fans with Cubs jab

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
Padilla By Doug Padilla
CHICAGO -- In honor of the 2005 World Series championship club, Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf made a rare appearance on the dais at the team's annual SoxFest on Friday night.

Reinsdorf admitted that he rarely does these types of public speaking engagements because he is bound to say something he regrets.

It is uncertain if he had any regrets when speaking about the crosstown Chicago Cubs, but he did fire off a memorable zinger toward the National League team to the north.

“I sincerely hope the Cubs do win the World Series --” Reinsdorf said with a straight face, setting off a murmur through the crowd of White Sox fans, "after I die.”

The group, which also came to hear thoughts from executive vice president Kenny Williams, as well as 2005 teammates Geoff Blum, Bobby Jenks and Joe Crede, erupted in cheers. Reinsdorf's jab came less than a week after Cubs owner Tom Ricketts took a shot at attendance issues on the South Side during his team's annual convention.

Otherwise Friday, Reinsdorf was the voice of reason. With fans excited for the approaching season after a winter during which the White Sox added so many proven veterans to the roster, Reinsdorf offered caution.

“I think I was the most excited going into spring training in 2006 because here we had played in the World Series and then added Jim Thome; I really had visions of back-to-back,” Reinsdorf told the crowd. “It’s a funny game. You have to play the games. Not too many people here are old enough to remember 1983, but we won 99 games in 1983 and the only thing we did in the offseason was to add Tom Seaver to the pitching staff. Then we won 74 games. So you can’t get too excited before you play the games.”

Before the games start, though, excitement is all fans have. The optimism has been stoked by additions such as Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and David Robertson, leading one fan to thank Reinsdorf for the moves.

“Don’t thank me, this is the guy to thank,” Reinsdorf said, pointing to Williams, who works side by side with general manager Rick Hahn. “I set a budget and say, ‘This is it, this is all the money we have to spend.’ He figures out a way somehow to get me to go over where I wanted to go. And then after we get to that point, he has other lies to tell me to make me go even further, and before it’s all over we’re $25 million above where I said yes.”

With a payroll that appears headed north of $110 million, the White Sox have indeed gone above their original spending plan, although perhaps not as high as $25 million over. But as the buzz at SoxFest has shown, the fans are appreciative.

Cubs, Dexter Fowler agree to terms

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs and newly-acquired outfielder Dexter Fowler agreed to a one-year contract to avoid arbitration, the team announced Friday.

The Cubs picked up Fowler, 28, in a trade with the Houston Astros earlier this week for infielder Luis Valbuena and pitcher Dan Straily. Fowler is expected to be the Cubs' starting center fielder after hitting .276 with eight home runs and 11 stolen bases in 2014.

The deal is for $9.5 million, as the Cubs inherited Fowler’s arbitration case from the Astros. Fowler was asking for $10.8 million for this season while Houston countered with $8.5 million. Fowler made $7.35 million last season. He’ll be a free agent at year’s end.

Pitcher Pedro Strop is the Cubs' lone arbitration-eligible player who remains unsigned.

Crystal ball: Five most improved teams

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
Schoenfield By David Schoenfield
Is it easy to predict which teams will improve the most? We tend to focus on the teams that made the flashiest moves in the offseason. Think of the 2012 Marlins, who signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell and promptly lost three fewer games. Or the 2013 Blue Jays, who acquired Reyes, Buehrle, reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Melky Cabrera and were a popular World Series pick. They improved from 73 wins all the way to 74.

I’m trying to think of last offseason's consensus winner. Maybe the Yankees? They signed free agents Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, a pretty impressive haul of big names. The Yankees saw their win total decrease from 85 to 84.

Which teams did have the largest improvement last season? Here are the top five:

Angels: +20
Astros: +19
Mariners: +16
Marlins: +15
Giants: +12

Other than Seattle signing Robinson Cano, do you recall many big moves from those teams? The Giants signed Tim Hudson and Mike Morse, hardly the deals that foretold a World Series triumph.

So this list of five teams that I predict will improve the most in 2015 isn’t necessarily a list of teams that have received the most headlines this winter (2014 record in parentheses).

1. Boston Red Sox (71-91)
The Red Sox look like the obvious choice after an active offseason that saw them spend big dollars on Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez and add Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson to the starting rotation. The rotation lacks the ace that everyone seems to think Boston still needs, but the projections at FanGraphs like the Red Sox at 88 wins -- fourth-highest in the majors -- thanks in part to a rotation that projects to 10.8 WAR, fifth-best in the majors (although with a relatively high ERA of 4.27).

Even if you’re not buying that ace-less rotation, it’s hard not to buy into a vastly improved offense. Red Sox outfielders hit just 26 home runs last season, last in the majors. They should have a whole new trio with Ramirez, Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts. Sandoval is an upgrade at third base, and sophomore Xander Bogaerts has the ability to break out in a big way.

Also in Boston’s favor: There doesn’t appear to be a dominant team in the AL East. Granted, the Red Sox have lost 90-plus games in two of the past three seasons (they hadn’t lost 90 since 1966), but I think they'll avoid their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1992-94.

2. Houston Astros (70-92)
I wrote about the Astros on Wednesday, pointing out they had glaring holes at first base, third base, left field and the bullpen in 2014 and have addressed all those areas in the offseason.

The FanGraphs projection system isn’t as optimistic as I am, forecasting 77 wins. The Astros do have some regression candidates in Jose Altuve, Chris Carter, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, but I believe all four will be solid contributors in 2015, and I like George Springer’s chances to become a force in the middle of the lineup. The AL West is tough, and that will work against the Astros, but you can balance their expected improvement against possible decline from the Angels and A’s.

3. Chicago Cubs (73-89)
The Cubs are here not so much because I expect them to make the playoffs -- it will be a tall order to beat out both the Cardinals and Pirates -- but because they’re starting out from 73 wins, so there’s room to improve by 12 wins and get to 85.

Like the Astros, the Cubs carried a lot of dead weight in 2014 -- Darwin Barney, Nate Schierholtz, Junior Lake, Mike Olt, John Baker, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez were horrible offensive contributors, each batting at least 200 times and posting an OPS+ of 70 or less. That’s bad, but Cubs fans already knew that. So they’ve traded for catcher Miguel Montero and center fielder Dexter Fowler. The Cubs also hope youngsters Baez and Alcantara learn from their struggles and will join rookies Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant to help improve an offense that ranked 12th in the NL in runs scored.

Oh, and then there’s Anthony Rizzo. He could be an MVP candidate. And the club spent a few pennies on Jon Lester. I hear he’s pretty good.

4. Chicago White Sox (73-89)
The battle between the Cubs and White Sox should prove to be one of the more interesting subplots of the season. The White Sox made several big moves of their own, trading for Jeff Samardzija and signing free-agent closer David Robertson, left fielder Melky Cabrera and first baseman/DH Adam LaRoche. The team already has two franchise players in Chris Sale and Jose Abreu.

The FanGraphs projection likes the Cubs a lot better than the White Sox -- 84 wins versus 77 -- and I do worry about the back of the White Sox rotation once you get past Sale, Samardzija and Jose Quintana. You also worry that so much rides on Sale and his ability to stay healthy. If the depth on the roster comes through, the White Sox have a chance to surprise in a division where the Tigers and Royals both could win fewer games.

5. Miami Marlins (77-85)
Two major reasons the Marlins could take a major leap forward: They’re young and they have two awful teams in their division. The Phillies and Braves actually project as the worst two teams in baseball via FanGraphs, so I could see the Marlins or Mets taking advantage and winning 90 games. Between those two, I like the Marlins a little better thanks to Giancarlo Stanton and his fellow outfield youngsters, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. The rotation needs to stay healthy -- Mat Latos and Henderson Alvarez in particular -- but if that happens and Jose Fernandez returns in June and pitches like Jose Fernandez, the Marlins could be a wild-card contender.

Notable omission: The San Diego Padres. I don’t like the outfield defense. I’m not pumped about the third-base and shortstop situations, and I worry about the injury histories of Matt Kemp and Andrew Cashner. They’re going to be entertaining and I hope everything breaks right for them, but I’m not sure I see a 90-win team here.



Starlin Castro
.292 14 65 58
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
WJ. Arrieta 10
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167