Chicago Cubs: John Baker

Cubs interested in Jon Lester’s catcher David Ross, sources say

December, 3, 2014
12/03/14
7:35
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- As the Chicago Cubs continue to look for catching help after non-tendering backup John Baker on Tuesday, 13-year veteran David Ross could be in their sights, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Ross, 37, was free-agent pitcher Jon Lester’s catcher for 18 games last season with the Boston Red Sox. He caught Lester for 29 games over the past two years. Lester had a 2.02 ERA with Ross catching in 2014 and 2.77 overall in those 29 games.

David Ross
Ross
While some of his offensive and defensive skills have faded with age, Ross is still considered a good receiver and pitch framer. He has ranked in the top 10 in that category over the past few years, while Cubs starter Welington Castillo has ranked near the bottom. There’s mutual interest between the team and Ross, according to a source.

Ross would provide some veteran leadership the Cubs have stated they want to add to the team. He has been to five postseasons. His batting average has declined each of the past five years, and he hasn’t played in more than 62 games since 2007.

So could Ross help draw Lester to Chicago?

There have not been any reported links between the two this offseason, but it’s not hard to connect the dots. Lester has had some of his best success recently with Ross behind the plate, and the two of them would bring championship experience as they helped the Red Sox to a title in 2013. Almost any pitcher would say they would love to have the same catcher every start, especially when they have had success with that person.

Ross made $3.1 million last season, so he’s definitely affordable for a year or two while the Cubs groom 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber. Ross could bring a lot of the intangibles that Russell Martin possesses but without starting-catcher capabilities. A Lester/Ross package would certainly check a couple of boxes off the Cubs' offseason needs list.

Cubs non-tender John Baker, Wesley Wright

December, 2, 2014
12/02/14
11:28
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs tendered contracts to eight arbitration-eligible players on Tuesday, while they non-tendered catcher John Baker and lefty reliever Wesley Wright, making them free agents.

Baker, 33, played one season for the Cubs after signing a minor league deal last winter. He hit .192 with 15 RBIs in 68 games. The Cubs relied on him as a veteran presence for their young pitching staff, as he caught the major league debut of several starting pitchers. But his offense was nearly nonexistent. Baker has the longest active streak (199 games) and hasn't homered since 2009, when he was with the Marlins. That's 562 at-bats, though Paul Janish has more at-bats (586).

Wright, 29, appeared in 58 games, giving up 48 hits in 48 innings while walking 19. He was 0-3 with a 3.17 ERA. After the midseason trade of James Russell, Wright became the go-to lefty in the bullpen.

It's doubtful either player will be re-signed by the Cubs, but with the need for reliable left-handed pitchers in baseball, it's possible Wright could find his way back to Chicago, though it's not likely.

The moves put the Cubs squarely in the market at both positions. They already made a run at catcher Russell Martin before he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, and now they'll need another catcher to play with Welington Castillo. The only other backstop on the 40-man roster is Rafael Lopez. He made his major league debut in September, but it's doubtful the Cubs will break spring training with Castillo and Lopez as their catchers.

Miguel Montero of the Arizona Diamondbacks is reportedly available, though he's under contract for three more years and $40 million. He was one of the best in the game at pitch framing last year, a skill for which Castillo ranks near the bottom of the league. The Cubs are expected to add a veteran at the catching position. That was the case even before they officially let Baker go. It's unclear if they're looking at a starter or purely a backup.

The Cubs could fill Wright's role from within, as they recently re-signed lefty Tsuyoshi Wada -- though he was a starter last season -- and picked up southpaw Joe Ortiz from the Texas Rangers in early October. Lefty Zac Rosscup is also on the 40-man roster, while Felix Doubront threw out of the bullpen in seven games last season, as well.

The eight players the Cubs tendered contracts to included pitchers Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood, Pedro Strop and Doubront, as well as infielder Luis Valbuena and outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Chris Coghlan. Castillo was also tendered a contract. All can negotiate and sign a contract with the team before arbitration hearings begin in February.

Expect Wood to be tendered by deadline

December, 1, 2014
12/01/14
1:23
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Despite his down year in 2014, expect Chicago Cubs left-hander Travis Wood to be tendered a contract before a Tuesday night deadline, according to a source familiar with the situation.

[+] EnlargeTravis Wood
AP Photo/Fre/Sean M. HaffeyTravis Wood struggled in 2014, finishing with an 8-13 record and 5.03 ERA.
Wood, 27, is one of 10 Cubs players who are arbitration-eligible this offseason, and the team must tender contracts to all of them by 11 p.m. CT on Tuesday or else they become free agents. Jake Arrieta is the highest-profile player in the group, but given his breakout year in 2014 there’s little doubt he’ll be tendered. Wood wasn’t necessarily a slam dunk considering his 8-13 record and 5.03 ERA last season.

But given Wood's age and the fact he’s just one year removed from being an All-Star –- plus he’s left-handed -– he will get tendered. However, with the return of lefty Tsuyoshi Wada at $4 million for next season the Cubs could still move one of their lefties in a trade this winter. Wood is slated to make about $5.5 million in arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors, after making $3.9 million last season.

Wood is a control pitcher who’s at his best when painting the corners while working both high and low in the strike zone. That wasn’t the case as much in 2014, when he walked 10 more batters and gave up 27 more hits in 27 fewer innings pitched than the year before. According to ESPN Stats and Information, his line drive percentage went from 19 percent in 2013 to nearly 25 percent in 2014. That was 7th highest of 88 qualified starting pitchers.

One industry source recently indicated a potential signing of catcher Russell Martin would have helped Wood more than anyone else on the Cubs staff. Martin's receiving skills plus his veteran knowledge would helped the lefty regain his footing after the league adjusted to his breakout year in 2013. But Martin signed with the Toronto Blue Jays, leaving the Cubs with two catchers from last season, who are both under team control.

Catchers Welington Castillo and John Baker are among the 10 players who need to be tendered, along with pitchers Wesley Wright, Pedro Strop and Felix Doubront. Outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Chris Coughlan, as well as infielder Luis Valbuena, join Wood and Arrieta on the arbitration-eligible list as well.

Contracts with these players can be negotiated at any time and don’t need to be completed by Tuesday’s deadline. The sides can go to arbitration before spring training but usually one-year deals are negotiated before a hearing takes place.

Coaching the next step for Baker

September, 24, 2014
9/24/14
8:07
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
John BakerCharles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsBaseball is "all I really know," said Cubs catcher John Baker, who is eyeing a transition to coaching.

CHICAGO -- The stairs up to the Wrigley Field press box are lined with pictures of the Chicago Cubs' current roster. Right after a few images of the coaching staff, the first player shown is John Baker. It's nothing but a coincidence, but it's an interesting one, since the 33-year-old Baker is nearing the end of his playing career and seems likely to transition to a coaching job at some level in the near future.

"It's something that I would like to do, just because I think there are things in the game I could change," Baker said when asked about a potential future in managing. "I think there's coaching philosophies that could be altered -- not pointing any fingers here or other teams -- but just stuff that I see that works and stuff that doesn't work that I'd like to be able to put my stamp on and see what kind of environment I could cultivate with what I know from all the teams I've been on."

Baker appears more than willing to think outside the box if the opportunity arose and he found himself managing a club. While he pointed out that advanced statistics definitely hold an important role in today's game, Baker believes the sabermetric angle is most valuable to the people in front offices, especially when constructing a roster. Numbers certainly have a place for coaches as well, but Baker says the bottom line is most players don't have much use for them.

"It's something I don't think the players think about very often, nor should they think about it," Baker said. "Because baseball boils down to, no matter which way you slice it, hit the ball with the stick and chase the ball in the grass. Mathematics don't necessarily help you with your reaction. It’s going to help [first-base coach] Eric Hinske move Jorge Soler 15 feet to his left, because maybe that's where Matt Holliday is 70 percent likely to hit the ball when we throw a fastball up and away. But it's not going to help Jorge Soler catch the ball."

Baker admitted that a sort of liaison between the front office and coaching staff to help communicate that sort of information could be useful. It's something that more and more teams are starting to use and could become the norm soon enough all around baseball. However, when it comes to having a passion for the game and getting into the nitty-gritty of learning everything about an opponent, Baker seems willing and able to tackle that head-on.

"I really like playing baseball, I love to watch baseball, it's really all I know," Baker said. "I consider myself … not necessarily an expert physically, but I’ve probably watched, closely, more games than a lot of people -- analyzed it on video, watched games on the airplane, trying to figure out why people are pitching certain people certain ways. Trying to figure out different strategies for success and different strategies for cultivating the right environment in the locker room."

Baker surprised some by snagging the backup catcher role in spring training over George Kottaras. But soon, any doubters realized that Baker's infectious personality, easygoing nature and unimpeachable work ethic made him the perfect veteran to work with the pitching staff and have around a young, impressionable core of talent.

"My responsibility as a player is to show up to the field every day ready to play baseball and, in whatever way I can, help the team win the game," Baker said. "I think sometimes that mindset gets lost, especially with the newer generation. I think it's my responsibility to act that way all the time so that when other people see it, they say, 'Oh my gosh, this is a guy who batted seventh in high school, walked on in college and got to the big leagues. He's not the best athlete, but he spends lots of time in the weight room, spends lots of time in the cage, spends lots of time in the video room and spends lots of time practicing.'

"I think you need people around some super-talented guys who have the work ethic where they're going to practice all the time. I think they can learn something from that, because they realize that there's not just one way to be successful. It's not just about having talent; a lot of times it's about being able to prepare. When you prepare and work really hard, even athletes like me can make it to the big leagues."

Baker is aware he might have a future in managing, but he's not spending any energy thinking about that right now. He'll have plenty of time in the offseason to consider his options for next season, which he says include playing again or perhaps moving on to the next phase -- coaching, possibly in the minors or college. But while he's on a major league roster, his only concern is the present.

"Embrace the fact that you're at Wrigley Field and that you're playing against the Cardinals, and that's a really cool thing," Baker said. "The moment I start thinking about myself -- I hate to say it because I have a family that I'll have to take care of in the future -- but I consider those thoughts about my own future away from baseball while I'm a member of the Chicago Cubs is selfish and against what my entire philosophy of baseball [is]. And that philosophy is that every day we show up, it's our job to try to win the game -- and everything that I can do to try and win the game is what I'm supposed to do."

And, while the Cubs haven't done a lot of winning in 2014, or in the recent past, Baker is very confident that is about to change.

"Playing with these players, these younger players especially, that I've played with this year, I love the way their mindset is," Baker said. "Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo in particular. Javy Baez, the way he plays, Jorge Soler, how excited he is to be here. I look at these young players and how good they are, how they're approaching baseball, I really feel like they're going to change this organization. It's something I would love to be a part of. I really feel there's going to be a World Series here in the not too distant future, and I'd love to be a part of that."

Hoyer: 'They get a fair shot now'

August, 20, 2014
8/20/14
10:13
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- In an unusual twist, the Chicago Cubs advocated for their opponent as the San Francisco Giants were able to win a protest of Tuesday's game, which had originally been called after 4 1/2 innings and declared a Cubs victory.

"The idea of losing a game where you hit five times isn't right," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "I hope we win the [suspended] game, but they get a fair shot at winning the game now."

SportsNation

Should the Cubs have advocated for their opponent in the Giants' protest of their rain-shortened loss?

  •  
    54%
  •  
    46%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,270)

The game will be picked up in the bottom of the fifth inning with the Cubs leading the Giants 2-0. Hoyer faced some tough questions as Major League Baseball directed fault around the Cubs' grounds crew, which -- according to the league -- didn't properly "wrap and spool the tarp" after its previous use.

"Our grounds crew does a great job," Hoyer said. "A pretty good batting average when it comes to getting these right. Obviously you have to bat 1.000 in this situation."

Others think the grounds crew at Wrigley Field has a tougher task than at other stadiums.

"The dirt is thicker here, the grass is thicker here, there's rocks on the warning track," catcher John Baker said. "When I played in the old Marlins stadium it would rain and rain hard and that field would be ready 25 minutes later.

"The blame is spread across multiple different parties. This field is really old, doesn't drain the best, that's an issue. ... I was pretty confident, once it started raining [and] the tarp wasn't on that there's no way anyone was going to fix that field."

Hoyer was less sure of Baker's assessment saying, “I think it [Wrigley Field] does a pretty good job. The outfield drains well."

Whatever the case, all parties agree the league did the right thing, but the rules need to be re-evaluated so an occurrence like Tuesday's doesn't happen again.

"It's not a good feeling when 15 minutes of rain causes the cancellation of a major league game," Giants outfielder Hunter Pence said. "I've never seen that before."

Baker says he thinks the whole thing went on too long. He's probably not alone. A 4-hour, 34-minute rain delay seems a bit much.

"One of the things we might ask for in the future regarding the collective bargaining agreement is if you have a game and it's a official game and you've waited an hour or two hours and it's midnight, just call it at that point," Baker said. "It's why we play 162 and not 30. If we were playing a football season with 16 games, yeah you have to play the game."

The Giants will get their chance to play but presumably only because of help from the Cubs.

"That's why we were here until two in the morning yesterday," Hoyer said. "Looking at the rule and finding a way to make it a suspended game. Once we were able to look at video and look at the tarp, it was obviously a mechanical issue there with how it was put away. We're glad it happened. It was a just outcome. We'll play a real game. Hopefully we'll win."

Cubs' Wada making a pitch for 2015 rotation

August, 15, 2014
8/15/14
11:55
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- While the Chicago Cubs will search for pitching this offseason, they may have found a couple of hurlers for their starting staff already. Rookie right-hander Kyle Hendricks is garnering most of the headlines -- as he should be -- but 34-year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Wada is carving out a nice second half run himself.

[+] EnlargeTsuyoshi Wada
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesTsuyoshi Wada has posted a 3.15 ERA in six starts with the Cubs this season.
He's 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA in six starts since being called up from Triple-A Iowa, including a gem Wednesday against the talented right-handed lineup of the Milwaukee Brewers. Wada gave up two solo home runs in his final inning of work en route to a 4-2 win. What's working for him?

"Executing," his catcher John Baker said. "Everything that he's throwing. He puts the ball where he wants to put the ball. And he's not shaking me off. Maybe twice [Wednesday]. So I can take the pressure and he can just pitch."

Wada signed with the Baltimore Orioles at 31 years old after coming over from Japan in 2012. After undergoing Tommy John surgery, he pitched in Triple-A last season but the Orioles let him go after his two-year deal was up and the Cubs grabbed him.

His major league debut was anything but assured after a rough spring training, giving up 14 hits and eight walks in 9 2/3 innings with an 8.38 ERA. He was actually released and then re-signed to a minor league deal but it included an option for 2015.

"It was my first spring training in Arizona so at first I was kind of struggling to grip the ball and the command of it," Wada said through an interpreter. "After a while I got a better handle of it."

It's well known spring training in Arizona isn't always kind to pitchers. The ball flies. Still, Wada knew something was up.

"There are guys that still put up the numbers," he said. "I was thinking, 'What's the best solution to get the results that I want.' As time went by I was able to figure it out."

There was concern from others as they watched him in the spring. He simply couldn't get anyone out.

"His velocity was down too," Baker said. "He was throwing 83-84 mph on his fastball; it's pretty easy for guys to hit the ball. When he tops out at 92 mph it looks even faster. He built up the arm strength, I guess."

There's some deception to Wada's delivery, which has thrown hitters off balance. Manager Rick Renteria saw it right away but also saw reason for concern.

"The only thing I was concerned with when he was pitching was his arm side command," Renteria said. "It was about his command. You could see he had some sneaky life, but it was a matter of if he was going to get it into a zone."

As soon as Triple-A Iowa's season started Wada found what he was looking for. As good as Hendricks has been in the majors, that's how dominating Wada was in the minors this season, going 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA in 18 starts. Now he's finding his groove with the Cubs.

"He has that pause in that windup that's thrown off their timing just a little," Baker said. "But it's not all about the deception. It's deception plus command."

Which brings us to next year. The Cubs may be on a search for more pitching, but they're still going to need bodies like Wada. At this point there's no reason they wouldn't pick up the option on 2015 as just about nothing else is for certain with the Cubs on the mound.

"I don't want to characterize it as No. 1 quality or whatever but we know we have to add pitching," general manager Jed Hoyer said recently of the upcoming search. "We know we have an imbalance [of hitting prospects vs. pitching in the minors] and I think that will be a main area of focus in the offseason and probably several offseasons."

The Cubs aren't yet in that add-at-all-costs mode. They'll search and probably sign a bigger name but they'll definitely bring in some more arms for depth. Wada is already here and despite his age, he's the perfect stopgap for another year -- unless of course the Cubs end up competing next season. Then he might become even more valuable.

"He's been around," Renteria said. "This isn't a young kid."

As rebuilds go, a rotation of Jake Arrieta, Hendricks, Travis Wood, Wada and Edwin Jackson -- if he's still around -- could be what the Cubs go to spring training with. There's also 25-year-old Dan Straily, acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija trade, who will make his Cubs debut Saturday, and the recently acquired Jacob Turner, who was sharp in relief Thursday.

More than likely they'll add a top-of-the-rotation hurler moving everyone down one. It still could mean Wada is throwing every fifth day.

"I'm not thinking about that," he said. "I'm just trying to finish strong."

Kernels: While you were sleeping

August, 3, 2014
8/03/14
8:41
PM CT
By Doug Kern
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
In case you couldn't (or didn't) stay up, our weekly look at the interesting and unusual in MLB takes us on a roundup of some late-night and late-inning happenings.

• The Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies were tied 3-3 after four innings on Tuesday. Eleven innings later, it was still 3-3. After the Cubs loaded the bases in the 16th, Starlin Castro ended things with a sacrifice fly. By inning, it was the latest sac fly in Cubs history (flies were split from bunts in 1954), and the Cubs' longest victory since a 16-inning, 1-0 win over Houston on May 31, 2003.

John Baker
Baker
Catcher John Baker pitched the top of the 16th and ended up with the win. Depending on your definition, he's on a very short list of Cubs position players to be a winning pitcher. Hal Jeffcoat won 13 games in the mid-1950s after being converted from an outfielder. In the early days, it becomes a gray area between pitchers and other positions. The Cubs' last winning "pitcher" who played more games in the field than he pitched was Jock Menefee, who in 1902 played 41 games at other positions, but pitched in 22 (winning 12). Their last not-regular pitcher to get a win while pitching in five or fewer games that season was second baseman Fred Pfeffer, who finished three games (and won one) in 1885.

At 6 hours, 27 minutes, Tuesday's was the longest game of the season, the longest in either team's history, and its 1:34 a.m. CT ending was the latest finish ever to a game at Wrigley Field (breaking the previous record from 2012 by 6 minutes).

While there have been four 16-inning games this season, we still haven't had a contest go 17. The last season without at least one was 2002.

• The San Diego Padres piled up 20 hits in Friday's win over the Atlanta Braves, the most hits recorded by any team in a nine-inning game at Petco Park. It was the Padres' highest hit total in a nine-inning home game since 1995. Tommy Medica had five of those hits, including two homers, becoming just the second player in Padres history with that line (Ryan Klesko, 2001).

The Padres took a different tack on Saturday, going to extra innings before Will Venable won the game with a bases-loaded single in the 12th. Venable has both the team's walk-off hits in the 12th or later this season (May 5); the Padres' only other player with two in a season was Chris Gomez in 1997. Venable also had a 13th-inning single in 2012 and is the first player in franchise history with three walk-off hits in the 12th or later.

• The Royals won a 1-0 game against Oakland on Friday behind Raul Ibañez's fifth-inning homer. Eleven games this year have been 1-0 via solo homer, but the Royals had not won such a game since Sept. 18, 1993 (Felix José homer vs. Seattle).

It's only the third time in history that the current Kansas City team (the Royals) has beaten the previous Kansas City team (the Athletics) by a 1-0 score. It happened in 1982 on a U.L. Washington ninth-inning single, and in 1980 when Washington scored the only run on a Willie Aikens base hit.

Hanley Ramirez ended Saturday night's game with a three-run 12th-inning homer for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the team's first walk-off homer of the year, leaving four teams (Royals, Mariners, Rangers, Nationals) without one. The Dodgers had not hit a walk-off homer against the Cubs since Pedro Guerrero's solo shot in the ninth on May 18, 1982. By inning, it was their latest three- or four-run walk-off, against any team, since Darryl Strawberry beat the Astros with a 13th-inning shot on Aug. 16, 1991.

• On Thursday the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles engaged in a friendly game of chicken as they waited to see who wanted to score first. Finally in the top of the 13th, the Angels combined a walk and two singles into the game's only run. It was the first time the Orioles had played 12 scoreless innings to start a game since Aug. 20, 1978, also against the Angels. Don Baylor's walk-off double in the 14th was the only scoring in that game. That was also the Angels' last 1-0 win in a game of 13 or longer; they've had just one other such win in franchise history (1963).

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 4, Rockies 3, (F/16)

July, 30, 2014
7/30/14
1:56
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs beat the Colorado Rockies 4-3 in 16 innings on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at a long game:

How it happened: Starlin Castro drove home catcher-turned-relief pitcher John Baker with a sacrifice fly in the 16th to end the longest game in the histories of the Cubs and Rockies. Baker pitched the 16th inning to earn the win after the Cubs used eight pitchers, including starter Edwin Jackson, who lasted just four innings. Jackson labored through a 35-pitch first inning as Nolan Arenado and Justin Morneau had RBI doubles that produced three runs. The Cubs got one back in the bottom of the inning as Rizzo drove in Emilio Bonifacio, who had doubled. Three innings later, Bonifacio tied the game with his second home run of the season, a two-run shot. It stayed 3-3 all the way until the 16th inning.

Jackson lasted just four inning, throwing 105 pitches. He walked three while giving up six hits and three runs.

[+] EnlargeJohn Baker
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastCatcher -- and relief pitcher -- John Baker scored the winning run in the 16th.
What it means: Jackson is doing the Cubs no favors by throwing so many pitches in so few innings. Little did he know his bullpen would have to throw 12 innings, but his team needs him to spare its taxed relievers. However, in start after start he continues to let them down. And his fielders can’t like his slow pace, either. Though it was “only” three runs, the outing seemed a lot worse due to the high pitch count.

Bonifacio is playing his way out of town as he has gotten hot at the right time for the Cubs. He was a triple shy of the cycle, collecting four hits while raising his batting average to .400 since his return from an oblique injury. Barring a strange twist, Bonifacio should be moved before Thursday’s 3 p.m. CT trade deadline.

Baker pitches: Catcher John Baker became the first position player to pitch in a game for the Cubs since August 2012 when Joe Mather threw against the Milwaukee Brewers. He induced a popup, then walked a hitter before inducing a double-play grounder. Then he came to the plate, walked and scored the winning run a few moments later.

Longest game: It was the Cubs' longest game in franchise history, the 6 hours, 27 minutes surpassing the 6:10 played on Aug. 17, 1982.

What’s next: Game 3 of the series takes place on Wednesday night when Travis Wood (7-9, 5.06) takes on Brett Anderson (1-3, 3.24).

Cubs' Bonifacio keeping trade value high

July, 29, 2014
7/29/14
11:53
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- With Thursday's non-waiver trade deadline approaching, the value of Chicago Cubs utility man Emilio Bonifacio may never be higher since he started the season as one of the hottest hitters in baseball.

[+] EnlargeEmilio Bonifacio
David Banks/Getty ImagesCubs utility man Emilio Bonifacio is batting .357 in July.
"I'm not focused on that," Bonifacio said before collecting two more hits in a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Monday night. "I have enough to worry about facing the pitchers."

Bonifacio may not be focused on it, but many are focused on him. The Cubs and Rockies aren't exactly a marquee matchup in the standings, but for pro scouts, the two cellar dwellers have plenty to offer. Bonifacio is on their lists. All the American League East and West contenders have had scouts at Cubs games as have National League East and West teams.

When the Cubs signed Bonifacio during spring training, general manager Jed Hoyer declared him a "perfect fit" for an NL team due to his versatility. That attribute makes predicting where Bonifacio will end up nearly impossible. Some may use him in the outfield, others in the infield. The bottom line is if players such as Darwin Barney and Dan Uggla found new homes, then Bonifacio could as well. He's far more attractive.

After missing more than a month with an oblique strain, Bonifacio has found his groove again. He has a hit in six of seven games, going 10-for-28 (.357) in that span and batting .271 for the season.

"I don't know," Bonifacio said. "Maybe the time off got me some new energy."

Either by design or coincidence, Bonifacio played third base Monday, adding to his defensive duties, which have mostly limited him to second base and center field. His versatility and hot bat make him attractive to a number of contending teams. One NL executive believed he would be a perfect "last-minute deal on Thursday" as teams move on from bigger trade possibilities.

Bonifacio joins left-handed relievers James Russell and Wesley Wright as the Cubs players most likely to be moved by Thursday, but Chicago could trade any of its outfielders as well.

"I don't pay attention to it," Russell said Monday. "I hear it from you [media] guys."

Many of the Cubs' potential trade chips were on display in Monday's win. Russell threw a third of an inning, outfielder Justin Ruggiano had a hit and an RBI, Chris Coghlan struck out twice but made a couple of nice catches in left field, and Bonifacio made a difference on offense with his bat and legs.

"I really don't get into the possibilities or the chances of any movement," manager Rick Renteria said of trades. "I concern myself more with the guys that we have and how we'll move forward."

SportsNation

Should the Cubs trade Emilio Bonifacio?

  •  
    79%
  •  
    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,354)

One school of thought has the Cubs holding on to their outfielders like Ruggiano and Coghlan, as they are under team control and the Cubs will need some bodies out there next season as they continue a transition to more talented prospects. But that strategy came back to bite them as right fielder Nate Schierholtz has followed up a career-best 21 homers in 2013 with a subpar 2014, making him practically untradable. Before the season, of the position players, Schierholtz was a sure thing to be moved by the deadline since he will be a free agent at season's end. But his .203 batting average and six home runs has kept his name out of the headlines.

"He's just not the same hitter he was last year," one NL scout said.

Schierholtz could still be moved in August when players have to clear waivers. Several Cubs will undoubtedly be put through the process as David DeJesus was last season. He ended up with the Tampa Bay Rays after a short stay with the Washington Nationals.

This whole process is becoming all too familiar in the Cubs clubhouse, and players are doing their best to deal with the talk.

"One of our strengths is sometimes our lack of intelligence when it comes to what's going on in the baseball world," catcher John Baker said. "Everybody seems to think that after they get three or four hits they're going to be the next guy that's going to be traded. For me, I tend to laugh at that stuff."

Bonifacio's situation could have a trickle-down effect on other players. It could lead to the anticipated call-up of Triple-A Iowa infielder Javier Baez. Since moving to second base after the All-Star break, Baez is hitting .367 with five home runs and 18 RBIs.

If Baez is called up and plays mostly second base, Arismendy Alcantara will move to the outfield on a more permanent basis, at least for this season. Several players could see time at third base since the Cubs will have only one third baseman on the roster, Luis Valbuena.

Essentially, a trade of a position player will lead to more focus on call-ups rather than the players the Cubs get in return.

Wada earns first career win -- at age 33

July, 28, 2014
7/28/14
11:17
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Tsuyoshi WadaBrian Kersey/Getty ImagesLefty Tsuyoshi Wada went seven innings Monday, allowing one run on five hits with six strikeouts.

CHICAGO -- His age screams trade candidate, but his body of work is likely too small for the Chicago Cubs to move starter Tsuyoshi Wada by Thursday’s trade deadline. So the 33-year-old will have to settle for his first career win and move on from there.

“I’m just happy the Cubs used me again after that outing I had wasn’t very good,” the left-hander said through an interpreter Monday night after a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies. “It was my second time pitching in Chicago. [I was] a little more relaxed.”

Last week, Wada got beaten up by the San Diego Padres after making a nice debut against the Cincinnati Reds. Everything looked better Monday, and the results showed.

“He had them taking some swings on some fastballs they seemed to be very late on,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “So he was speeding them up and slowing them down pretty well.”

Wada lasted seven innings, giving up just one run on five hits. He walked his lone batter in his last inning. He was seemingly signed in the offseason for this exact role: to eat some innings after the predictable trades of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Renteria didn’t want to talk big picture regarding Wada, just the here and now.

“I’m just really happy he’s here with us,” he said. “Whether he was 20 or 33, he did a nice job today.”

The Cubs will probably still need the Wadas of the world going into next season. Their starting staff -- like the team as a whole -- is in transition. Jake Arrieta is the only pitcher assured of anything right now. Ineffectiveness (Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood) along with youth (Kyle Hendricks and Dallas Beeler) have left things uncertain moving forward. Wada might or might not stick around, but the Cubs will undoubtedly need to find more innings as they search for a contending staff.

“He seemed to agree with how I wanted to pitch the guys,” catcher John Baker said of Wada. “He was very comfortable with the pitches that were called.”

It means Wada gets to start again -- and probably for the rest of the season, unless things go terribly wrong. After that, it’s anyone’s guess -- with him and with the Cubs' entire starting five.

Dallas Beeler impresses in debut

June, 28, 2014
6/28/14
4:33
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Dallas BeelerDennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsDallas Beeler threw 91 pitches in a six-inning stint, allowing just one unearned run.
CHICAGO -- If Chicago Cubs pitcher Dallas Beeler was nervous before or during his major league debut Saturday against the Washington Nationals he never showed it.

Beeler, 25, threw 91 pitches in a six-inning stint, allowing just one unearned run -- it scored on a wild pitch -- while striking out seven and impressing fans and teammates alike.

“Some guys get third deck shock,” his catcher John Baker said after the 3-0 defeat. “All of a sudden they forget who they are. I wanted to make sure he remembered who he was and he threw the game he wanted to throw.”

“Third deck shock” refers to pitching in a big league stadium as opposed to one in the minors. The pressure, the build-up, the noise are all different. Baker advised Beeler to pretend it was a Double-A game in Pearl, Mississippi.

“It’s a big weight lifted off the shoulders,” Beeler said. “I was a lot calmer than I thought I would be.”

The Cubs did a good job bringing Beeler along after injuries sidelined him some both last year and at the beginning of this one. He played in the Arizona Fall League -- on the team fellow prospect Kris Bryant was winning the most valuable player award on. But Beeler is the first of the highly touted prospects to find his way to Wrigley Field. He was a 41st round pick in 2010 making it before several first-rounders. Most of that was due to timing as it was his turn in the rotation but he earned the chance, as well.

(Read full post)

Despite win, too little too late for Cubs

June, 27, 2014
6/27/14
7:28
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs catcher John Baker was asked if he wishes this version of his team was around at the beginning of the season. The Cubs are playing good baseball after beating the Washington Nationals again on Friday, 7-2, in another well-played game by the home team.

"Absolutely," Baker said. "It was rough going for us in the beginning of the year. [Anthony] Rizzo and [Starlin] Castro carried us for the last month or so. If we can get a couple of auxiliary players hot, we're a really tough team."

[+] EnlargeJason Hammel
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJason Hammel led the Cubs to another win Friday, but his days in Chicago might be over soon as he's a prime candidate to be traded.
Everyone knows who those "auxiliary" players are: anyone not named Rizzo or Castro. Baker is one of them and he came through on Friday in his best game as a Cub. He was on base four times with three hits and four RBIs as starter Jason Hammel won for the seventh time. The Cubs won for the 21st time in their past 38 games, including 12 of their past 18 at home. That's not bad for a parity-filled National League.

"We're obviously very proud," Hammel said. "It's a long season. Today was my 16th start. That's halfway. We have a long way to go. We're trending in the right direction. That's all that matters."

But everyone knows Hammel and others will probably be gone by the trade deadline, dooming the Cubs for the second half. In fact, it will be a surprise if Hammel isn't traded. So any headway the Cubs are making is going to come to a halt. That doesn't take away from the way they're playing now, though. Good teams fight back when they get down, add on runs and win games with stars coming through as well as role players. The Cubs got all those things in the first two games of the series, both wins.

"They've been developing a personality as a team,” manager Rick Renteria said. "I think they've continued to chip away at who they are individually and as a club."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7 Nationals 2

June, 27, 2014
6/27/14
6:02
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs beat the Washington Nationals 7-2 on Friday afternoon. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Ryan Sweeney knocked in two runs with a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth inning after the Nationals had tied the score in the top of the inning. The Cubs got down 1-0 when Ryan Zimmerman brought home Adam LaRoche with an RBI double in the second, but they quickly took the lead on RBI singles by John Baker and Darwin Barney in the bottom of the second. The Nationals tied it 2-2 when LaRoche homered in the fourth, but then came Sweeney’s clutch hit. Baker extended the lead with a three-run double in the seventh. Jason Hammel went 6⅓ innings, giving up five hits and two runs to get the win.

What it means: The Cubs offense is starting to look like it knows what it's doing, and the key on Friday was the role players coming through. Baker was on base four times, Chris Coghlan twice and the entire bottom of the order contributed to go along with Sweeney’s big hit at the top. The Cubs managed nine hits off starter Tanner Roark, who had a 2.79 ERA coming into the game. When he left, it was over 3.00.

Baker’s day: Baker went 3-for-3 with a walk and four RBIs in his best day as a Cub. He’s been getting more time as Welington Castillo is eased back into action after recovering from a rib injury. Baker made the most of his extra chance Friday, doubling his RBI total for the season in one game.

What’s next: Cubs prospect Dallas Beeler makes his major league debut in Game 1 of a doubleheader Saturday at 12:05 pm. He’ll face Gio Gonzalez (4-4, 4.38 ERA). In the nightcap at 6:05 p.m., Jeff Samardzija (2-6, 2.53) takes on Blake Treinen (0-3, 2.08).

Series preview: Cubs at Marlins

June, 16, 2014
6/16/14
8:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
The Chicago Cubs open a three-game series with the Miami Marlins on Monday night.

The series: Monday, 6:10 p.m. CT, Jason Hammel (6-4, 2.81 ERA) versus Tom Koehler (5-5, 3.68).

Tuesday, 6:10 p.m., Jeff Samardzija (2-6, 2.77) versus Jacob Turner (2-4, 6.38).

Wednesday, 11:40 a.m., Jake Arrieta (2-1, 2.09) versus Nathan Eovaldi (4-2, 3.71).

Road win: The Cubs just won their first road series of the season in Philadelphia -- a milestone that comes as they close in on the halfway point of their road schedule. After this set in Miami, the Cubs will have 40 games left on the road and 52 at home, where they are 15-14. They’re just 13-25 on the road after taking two of three from the Phillies.

Scouting: Scouts wanting to see both Samardzija and Hammel for the next few weeks will have an easy time of it as they pitch one after the other in the rotation. There might be a few less at Wednesday’s matinee, with Arrieta not expected to be moved before July's trade deadline.

Who’s hot/who’s not: Starlin Castro has gotten hot again. After a 3-for-4 effort Sunday he’s 10-for-25 (.400) on the current road trip, with 6 RBIs in seven games. ... Neil Ramirez earned saves in both wins in Philadelphia and has three on the season while sporting on 1.06 ERA. ... Without Welington Castillo, Cubs catchers have struggled. Combined, John Baker and Eli Whiteside are 3-for-26 (.115) on the road trip so far.

Saying this offense stinks might be polite

May, 28, 2014
5/28/14
9:05
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
SAN FRANCISCO -- After back-to-back shutouts at the hands of the first-place San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, the Chicago Cubs offense has nearly sunk to the cellar of the entire league.

Not that they were thriving before being blanked over the past 20 innings.

“You can look at it two ways,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said after the latest shutout. “That’s how the season is going for us: We stink. Or, let’s get something going tomorrow and be positive about it.”

[+] EnlargeHunter Pence
Lance Iversen/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants scored plenty on Wednesday, but the Cubs were shut out for the second straight game in San Francisco.
Being positive is Cubs manager Rick Renteria’s mantra. It has to be with a group of hitters who rank second to last in batting average, second to last in on-base percentage, fourth to last in slugging and third to last in OPS.

Saying the offense stinks might be polite.

“Nobody no-hits the Cubs,” catcher John Baker said half-sarcastically. “That’s what we say when someone gets the first hit of the game.”

In fact, the Cubs haven’t been no-hit since Sandy Koufax did it to them in 1965. That seems odds because there have been some awful Cub offensive attacks between then and now -- and this year’s might rank right up there.

Baker earned the Cubs’ first hit of the game in the seventh inning on Wednesday, though the Giants had taken out starter Tim Lincecum after five. But the San Francisco bullpen allowed only two hits in the final four innings as the Cubs went down quietly.

Even so, Renteria is always looking for small victories.

“We drove [Lincecum’s] pitch count to almost 100 in five innings,” he said. “So we had good at-bats.”

All you have to know about Wednesday’s lineup is by the end of the afternoon the Cubs had five of the nine starting hitters batting .206 or below. Think about that. Including the pitcher, they had nearly five hitters below .200 ... in a major league lineup.

As the Cubs’ offensive numbers continue to sink, the call for them to reach down into the minors is going to grow louder, especially with prospects Javier Baez and Arsimendy Alcantara heating up at Triple-A Iowa and the domination of Double-A third baseman Kris Bryant. Heading into games on Wednesday, Bryant was two RBI’s short of the Triple Crown lead.

“It’s been a grind to score runs more often than not,” Rizzo said.

The time isn’t right just yet, but by July the Cubs should seriously consider some promotions. If last year is any blueprint, the fourth month of the season is where we should see some top prospects. Junior Lake came up last July and he hasn’t been back down since.

It’s a noble thought that the Cubs don’t want to have to demote once they promote. If it works that way then all the better. But plenty of decent prospects have gone up and down from the minor leagues and still ended up having success. And maybe they’ll take off like Lake did last year and never see the minors again.

As it is, this Cubs’ offense wasn’t designed to be very good. So the Cubs and their fans wait for help. The wait feels too long already.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jake Arrieta
WINS ERA SO IP
10 2.53 167 156
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .292
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167