Chicago Cubs: Winter Meetings
“We have offers out for a starting pitcher in free agency, we have offers out for a relief pitcher, we have a trade offer out for a position player,” team President Theo Epstein said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re doing a lot. We’re not just hanging out at the ‘ole Dolphin (hotel). Teams that have less currency often times execute things later in the winter.
“We’ll probably be active later than earlier.”
It’s believed that the trade offer involves an outfielder.
The Cubs have inquired about many available second tier players both in free agency and through the trade market. They’ve also fielded a lot of calls.
And while these kids have been marketed as the future of the team, is there a scenario in which the Cubs might consider moving some of their top prospects for a major piece?
“I think it would have to make a lot of sense for the future,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “If it did make sense for the future, we’d certainly consider it. I think one of the great things about having a good farm system and building it up is that it’s a currency.
“We ultimately want those players to be really good Chicago Cubs. But if a couple of those players led to another player that helped our future, we would do that.”
“That was one of our biggest regrets from last year,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer bluntly stated on Monday.
The Cubs' bullpen imploded right from the start of the season. It ranked third to last in the National League with a 4.04 ERA and blew 26 saves -- third most in the league. Only two pitchers, James Russell and Hector Rondon, lasted the entire season on the roster. And Rondon was forced to be there due to Rule 5 draft status, though he threw well as the season progressed. The same can’t be said of the rest of the group.
“We have spent a lot of time thinking about the bullpen, thinking of ways to get better,” Hoyer said.
Reports on Monday indicated the Cubs might be interested in relievers Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard of the Washington Nationals. And there are several free agents with closing experience, including John Axford and Kevin Gregg, who saved 33 for the Cubs last season. He’s not expected back. The team already agreed to terms with left-handed pitcher Wesley Wright, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Cubs will look from within, as well.
“We should have been a lot closer to .500 at the beginning of the season,” Hoyer said. “A lot of the trades over the last year will help that bullpen.”
The Cubs will announce at a Friday news conference that they have come to terms with Japanese relief pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa on a two-year contract. As soon as Nate Schierholtz passes a physical he will be announced as the team's right fielder, or at least as part of a platoon.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum held his only press conference during the winter meetings Tuesday. While a throng of Japanese reporters waited for any news (there wasn't any) on the imminent signing of Kyuji Fujikawa, Sveum addressed everything from Brett Jackson's batting stance to the Cubs competing next year. Here are some highlights:
"But basically what I want to see out of him is just keep progressing mentally and understand the process of becoming a winning player and not a hit seeker, becoming more of a winning hitter situation, drive runs in, understanding the situations. Defensively, like I said, I think he came a long way but still has to even concentrate more. I think we got him probably, just throwing a number out there, probably really focused 80 to 85 percent of the time. We've got to get that to that 95 percent. I don't think anybody ever really focuses 100 percent."
On Anthony Rizzo: "I mean, having that half a year under his belt and his leadership, he just took off in a lot of things and started understanding a lot of things. Even though he was hot when he first got there and then cooled off and got hot again, I think he learned a lot why that little three-week period when he really got cold, why he started doing that. He got a little -- trying to hit home runs and do all those kind of things too much, and then he got right back to what he does best and finished up nice."
Hopeful for a better record: "You know, when you lose 100 games, you'd better go into it with a little more optimism. But yeah, last year going into the season, we knew we were going to have to have a tough time scoring runs, and we ended up having a tough time scoring runs."
On Jackson at the plate: "He made huge, huge strides just in his batting practice, completely overhauled a swing, changed a lot of things. Using his hands much, much more, staying behind the ball, a lot of things that are going to definitely help him going into the season. Nobody can sit here and predict anything, but I think he's got a good base to work with going the rest of the winter and spring training ... ."
On Darwin Barney at the plate: "I think his on-base percentage is going to gradually get better just with experience. We all know the glove he has and the Gold Glove, but we have to get that OPS up, and he realizes that, and he's capable of doing it with both."
On All-Star Bryan LaHair leaving to play in Japan: "Well, I think he had obviously a nice first half for us, and it was kind of a unique situation that doesn't happen every year that a guy makes the All-Star team and then basically almost didn't play very much the second half of the season, especially after Anthony Rizzo got there. Yeah, it wasn't going to be a super good fit in the outfield because of the speed factor, and we want to be more athletic in the outfield ... I'm glad he's going over there, get some money and play and hopefully has a nice career."
On understanding the Cubs phenomenon more: "Well, I mean, going there as a visitor and all those things, you know the loyalty. But then when you live it, you understand it. The importance of wearing that 'C' on your shirt has got to get to a level. That's the culture of understanding of free agents, the players we have, the minor leaguers understand it's a huge, huge thing to be able to wear that jersey. So that's where we're changing the culture is to get to understand when you put on the Yankees pinstripe, it's different than some things. And when you put on a Cubs uniform, you want that to be different."
On 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez in the fall league this year: "You know, the bat speed is -- Gary Sheffield type bat speed. Incredible bat speed. Didn't get to see any results, but the bat speed was pretty good. I didn't go to his best games. But he had a heck of a minor league season, the combination of the home runs and everything. He was a bigger kid than I thought when I saw him in person. I saw him in big league camp, I didn't really -- I saw him without a shirt on one day, and I was like, wow, he's a pretty big kid. But a lot of tremendous, tremendous tools at that age. That kind of bat speed just doesn't come around at 19 years old."
On Fujikawa: "Yeah, I've seen video and I've seen all the numbers and everything like that. It's one of those guys that can pitch at the back end of our bullpen, no doubt about it."
On competing this year: "You look at the Oakland A's last year, I think the Orioles winning all those extra-inning games, the one-run ballgames, the walk-off home runs, we talk about all the time you have to have slugging percentage, you have to have the ability to hit fastballs so you can win those close games. But my point is you have to have your core guys, your eight guys that are going to go out there every day as an offense, and they have to have kind of their career years. You see most teams when they might be not on paper like the Yankees or the good Red Sox teams or guys end up having out-of-nowhere guys have their career years, and all of a sudden you win a lot more ballgames. Don't get me wrong, you still have to pitch, so that's the bottom line."
Jesse Rogers covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- While last season’s 101 losses certainly aren’t a selling point, they won’t necessarily keep free agents from deciding to join the Chicago Cubs, according to club president Theo Epstein.
“We’ve been pleased with the expressed desire by players to come play in Chicago,” Epstein said at the end of Day 1 of baseball’s winter meetings. “Dale (Sveum) is making a name for himself as a manager players want to play for. Free agents recognize we had a good clubhouse. Generally free agents believe in the direction we’re going.
“Elite baseball players are real competitive. They like the thought of being part of the solution and being a member of the team that wins a World Series here. I’ve had a number of players tell me that directly.”
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"We still look at it as an area of need," Hoyer said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. "Organizationally we need a lot of depth. We'll be active trying to find bullpen help at the meetings, for sure, and after. As far as the rotation goes we do have some guys coming off injury that are on our roster so we will be active seeking depth."
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DALLAS -- Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer talked to Albert Pujols' agent Dan Lozano on Monday at the winter meetings. However, the Cubs fan base should probably hold off on getting Pujols jerseys.
“[Lozano] also represents Rodrigo Lopez, so if you see somebody going into someone’s room, it’s not always to talk about the Big Kahuna,” said Epstein, who admitted he was hoping to bring Lopez back to the team to add depth to a paper-thin starting rotation. “But yeah, we met with Danny.”
Just from Epstein’s commentary over the past month, it doesn’t appear that the Cubs will be spending all of their money on one player.
Looking at the Pujols situation realistically, it seems far-fetched for a team like the Cubs, which has four or five position spots to fill and at least two rotation spots, to be going after Pujols. But one thing to keep in mind is that Epstein is known for flying under the radar.
A prime example is his signing of free agent Carl Crawford to a $160 million contract with the Red Sox without any media people finding out about it beforehand.
Could Epstein go stealth again during these meetings?
“Probably not,” Epstein said. “We try the best we can not to telegraph our moves, but then again it’s not a huge concern [if people find out.] You guys are pretty good at anticipating things that we might do. But if you can pull off something that hasn’t been made public, it makes it a little bit easier.”
The Cubs’ goal at the meetings is to add pitching depth and position players. San Diego third baseman Chase Headley is on their want list as is Colorado’s Ian Stewart.
Headley, a switch hitter, could be projected to hit with more power if he was playing in Chicago. The Padres third baseman only had four home runs in cavernous Petco Park last season in 351 at-bats. What the Cubs like about Headley is that he hit 11 home runs in 2010 and 12 in 2009. If acquired, they would expect Headley to hit 15-20 home runs at the more homer-friendly Wrigley Field. The Padres are looking for bullpen help in return and are hoping the Cubs might part with a couple of pitchers, including left-hander James Russell.
The Rockies are interested in right fielder Tyler Colvin in exchange for Stewart. Stewart, like Headley, had a rough season in 2011, failing to homer in 122 at-bats. But he hit 25 homers in 2009 and 18 in 2010. Stewart is a left-handed hitter, which is something else that the Cubs are seeking.
The Cubs also confirmed that first baseman Carlos Pena will most likely reject their arbitration offer. Industry sources tell ESPNChicago.com that Pena is looking for a three-year contract elsewhere. The deadline for a free agent offered arbitration to accept or decline is Wednesday.
“Lots of talk but not a lot of action,” is the way Epstein, who challenged his scouts to find trading partners for starting pitching, described the first day of winter meetings.
As the Chicago Cubs’ newly installed front office, led by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, head to this year's winter meetings, here’s a look at some of the team’s most pressing questions.
1. How will the Cubs go about rebuilding the starting rotation?
The Cubs’ rotation is in need of a major upgrade and new direction under soon-to-be-introduced pitching coach Chris Bosio. During the 2011 season, starting pitchers Andrew Cashner and Randy Wells both went down with arm injuries the first week of April. The organization had no viable options to replace them. Epstein is on record as saying he’ll want to know not only who his first five pitchers are but also six through nine. In other words, he wants depth.
Addressing the organization’s lack of pitching depth may come at a high cost, so the team may take a step backward before moving forward. A large number of team’s are likely to enquire about the availability of 28-year-old righty Matt Garza.
Although Ryan Dempster may be the leader of the staff, Garza is the ace of the team’s group because of his stuff. Please ignore his 10 wins in 2011, Garza left seven other starts with a lead but ended up a no-decision. Garza’s 3.32 ERA in 31 starts was significantly better than the staff’s overall ERA 4.43. Garza still managed to throw 197 innings, striking out 197 hitters despite missing three starts with an elbow contusion.
Tampa Rays president Andrew Friedman found out last year that established pitching can get you back a ton of prospects. Garza’s value to teams like the Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox is obvious. He is under contract control for two more seasons. He’ll make between $8.5 and 9 million in 2012 through arbitration.
Ironically for the Cubs, Garza is the one pitcher on the roster who could be a building block. Still, the team can take a giant step toward rebuilding its future by dealing him to the highest bidder. A major league source has already indicated that the Rangers have asked about Garza’s availability.
Looking at the top free agent pitchers, it’s doubtful the Cubs would pay the $120 million free agent lefty C.J. Wilson is seeking. The asking price for 33-year-old Mark Buehrle also appears to be rising. Industry sources believe Buehrle will get at least three years and $40 million on the open market. It appears more likely the Cubs will go after free agents like Aaron Harang, who might come at a more reasonable price.
Will the Cubs shuffle around their bullpen?
The Cubs’ bullpen was a strength last season, as lefty Sean Marshall continued to lead the way. Right-hander Jeff Samardzija and lefty James Russell continued to grow into their bullpen roles. Samardzja has let team officials know that he’d like to get a chance at the rotation this spring. He grew as a pitcher by leaps and bounds in 2011.
It’s possible Samardzija ends up as the team’s closer if the Cubs move Carlos Marmol. Numerous scouts told ESPNChicago.com that Marmol should bounce back in 2012, after blowing 10 of 44 save opportunities this past season. The baseball talent evaluators point to Marmol’s 313 relief appearances since 2008 – a major league high during that span -- as the determining factor for his down 2011 season. If the Cubs look to trade Marmol, Cashner, Samardzija and prospect Chris Carpenter could all be groomed for the closer role.
What type of players will the Cubs add to fill out the roster?
The signing of David DeJesus last week shows that the Cubs will put a premium on versatile, athletic players this offseason. The Cubs will be looking for more left-handed hitting, and Carlos Pena’s return at first base in 2012 is a possibility. Pena was offered salary arbitration by the club and has until Dec. 7 to accept. If he does, he will have a one-year guaranteed deal with the team. Second and third base will also be assessed as the team moves forward. Darwin Barney and D.J. LeMahieu are possibilities at both spots.
That said, the team’s top free agent need may be a versatile third baseman. Sources say that Colorado’s Ian Stewart and San Diego’s Chase Headley could be trade targets for the Cubs over the next week. The Cubs like both players, and Headley played for Jed Hoyer over the past two seasons in San Diego.
Is Soto still in the plans?
Numerous teams may approach the Cubs about the availability of Geovany Soto. He is coming off a disappointing 2011 season in which he struck out 124 times and led all catchers in errors (13), but the Cubs may hesitate to move him with a dearth of suitable replacements available. Soto will make at least $4 million through arbitration. The Pirates and Giants inquired about Soto at last year’s trade deadline, and the Pirates still may have interest. The Cubs have up-and-comers Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger in their system. Neither, however, appears ready for full-time duty.
Outside of a wild shot at Prince Fielder, whose agent (Scott Boras) is seeking a seven-year deal, and Buehrle or Wilson, the Cubs may decide to spend their time in Dallas looking for trades and adding more players like DeJesus who are versatile and less costly.
On satisfying Cubs fans: “My expectations are normally higher than the fans’ [expectations]. Now, their reactions to those expectations may be a better question. I go in with high expectations, and realistically make adjustments along the way.”
On the frustration of a long World Series drought: ”Having lived there, and having had the Chicago experience most of my life, I understand the angst. But I have to stay focused about getting the most out of my club every day.”
On fans who may be disappointed that Ryne Sandberg didn’t get his job: “I don’t blame them, and I get it. It’s a heck of a deal when you have a guy who meant so much to the city.”
On what he gained from his six-week experience as interim manager in 2010: “I learned a lot about myself those last six weeks. The veterans played hard and the kids were great. I needed to find out in my mind [whether I could manage at this level]. I believed I could do it, but I learned a lot. I just need to continue to prove it to myself. The fans have always appreciated hard work and a good job, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
On his biggest challenge as a new manager: “The communication and the stuff you have to deal with -- with players making a ton of money, many with huge egos. That’s the challenge. The game is the game. You match wits with Tony La Russa and that’s a challenge. And that’s fun. But the stuff that you go through on a regular basis at Triple-A or Double-A is not dealing with Demp and Z and Marlon. That was the thing I needed to find out. If my approach, and the way I go about my business, is something that they would accept and respond to.”
Quade, like most of the Cubs family, will be leaving the Winter Meetings and flying back to Chicago on Thursday to attend funeral services for Cubs icon Ron Santo on Thursday and Friday.
“I think in our situation it doesn’t make any sense dealing with clubs that don’t fit exactly what we need,” Hendry said. “We’re not interested in making any deals that don’t help our big-league club.”
The Cubs, Washington and Pittsburgh all have interest in signing free-agent right-hander Brandon Webb, according to a major league source.
Webb, who has had shoulder problems since Opening Day 2009, pitched earlier in November in the Arizona Instructional League. At that time, the Cubs watched him pitch. One scout’s radar gun had his velocity at 84-85 mph, a far cry from the 90-mph mark that Webb used to hit consistently as a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher in 2006.
Another source said the teams that are interested in Webb are looking at MRI images of his injured shoulder.
The Cubs have also talked to several teams, including Cincinnati, Toronto and Texas, about possible trade scenarios, numerous sources have told ESPNChicago.com. According to sources, the Cubs are kicking around a trade with Texas for first baseman Chris Davis, and Texas has interest in some of the Cubs’ younger minor league catchers.
Riggins, 53, was the team’s pitching coordinator in the minor leagues over the past three seasons. Before signing with the Cubs, he worked for the St. Louis Cardinals for 29 years in various coaching capacities.
Riggins believes he and Cubs manager Mike Quade will be a good coaching team this season.
“I knew Mike from spring training the last three years,” Riggins said. “As far as sitting down, spending a lot of time together, we haven’t. But he and I signed [our first professional playing contracts] the same year, we are the same age, and we both have spent a lot of time [coaching] in the minor leagues before we got our opportunity. So I think we have a lot of things in common that we can share throughout our experience.”
Riggins replaces Larry Rothschild, who was the Cubs pitching coach from 2002-2009 before taking the Yankees pitching coach position this season.
Riggins only has one year of major league coaching experience. In 1995 he was the pitching coach for the Cardinals.
The source said that there were conversations between the two teams, but it never got to the point where the Padres asked for specific Cubs prospects.
The Cubs were led to believe that San Diego was going to hold on to Gonzalez until at least the early part of the 2011 season to market the San Diego native in order to sell tickets after another solid season by Gonzalez and his team in 2010.
“He’s a Gold Glove caliber first baseman,” Boras said. “He’s a guy that gives you power and run production.”
I asked Boras if he has had any recent conversations with the Cubs about Pena.
“There’s a guy in Chicago [general manager Jim Hendry] that you should talk to about that,” Boras said.
Pena is one of three or four still-unsigned, free-agent first basemen that the Cubs have interest in. Others include Lyle Overbay and Adam LaRoche.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo originally signed Webb with the Arizona Diamondbacks when Rizzo was the team’s scouting director. Webb has not pitched competitively in the major leagues since opening day 2009, when he developed shoulder problems.
The Cubs had a scout watch Webb pitch in the Arizona Instructional League in early November.
“Ronnie loved the Cubs,” Riggleman said. “That was the great thing about him, Ernie [Banks] and Billy [Williams]. They loved the team, even after they left. They always supported the Cubs. They never complained about how they were being treated. He was a legend. He was a great guy to be around. I’m just glad he’s not in pain.”
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Cubs’ needs going into the Winter Meetings are pretty easy to document. Solutions to those needs are another matter.
Here’s a look at the biggest holes on the Cubs’ roster:
Replacing Derrek Lee at first base: In this category the Cubs hope to find a first baseman who drives in runs and bats left handed. Numerous free-agent candidates still exist in the market place. However, the Cubs missed out on Lance Berkman, who signed with the Cardinals on Saturday for $8 million. The Cubs also offered $8 million to Berkman, but one source said there were deferred payments in the Cubs’ offer. The Cubs really don’t have a first baseman of the future in their minor-league system, so signing a veteran to a short-term deal would be the prudent thing to do at this point. As these meetings open, the Cubs were looking at former Blue Jay Lyle Overbay and former Tampa Bay Ray Carlos Pena. Overbay is just a moderate threat left handed. In 2010, he hit 20 homers with 67 RBIs in 154 games. His .767 OPS is far short of what most teams look for from first base. Overbay’s 131 strikeouts are a concern as well. Pena is a terrific defensive first baseman -- though he came in under the Mendoza Line in 2010, hitting .196. That’s a pretty pathetic batting average. However, his power numbers were still good with 26 homers and 83 RBIs. Strikeouts are also a big concern with Pena, who whiffed 158 times last season. Pena is considered a top-flight clubhouse man as well. The other option the Cubs have examined the past couple weeks is a possible trade for Texas first baseman Chris Davis. Davis has big-time power, but also is prone to big strikeout totals. The Rangers are looking for a catcher in return for Davis.
Hendry will be active but somewhat limited during these meetings due to little payroll flexibility. A small trade or two might take place before the Cubs sign a free agent. Outfielder Kosuke Fukudome will be shopped extensively at these meetings. The Cubs are hoping that someone will take at least half of the $13.5 million Fukudome is owed in 2011. Team president Crane Kenny said on ESPN 1000’s “Talking Baseball” on Saturday that the team has ample cash and player resources for Hendry to add the components he needs for 2011. That type of bravado might be a bit of an overstatement, considering the Cubs already have close to 130 million committed to existing contracts and arbitration eligible players. Hendry might only have between $5-8 million to spend, after ownership cut payroll during their November budget meetings.