Catching Up on Cubs News and Notes

Pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park in 22 days and the first pitch of the spring is just 36 days away … Baseball is just around the corner.

WGN and Comcast SportsNet have not released their spring broadcast schedules yet but at least two of the Cubs Cactus League games will be carried on ESPN2.

The Cubs signed a minor league first baseman that has a well-known grandfather. Tim Wilken’s scouting staff received a boost and the Cubs announced the signing of Matt Szczur. Szczur’s $1.5 million contract is not a Major League deal and does not include an invite to big league camp.

Here’s the update, including what Jim Hendry envisions the Cubs outfield to look like in 2014 …

Minor League Signings
The Cubs announced the signing of their former first round draft pick in Luis Montanez and former Cub, Reed Johnson. The Cubs inked both to minor league deals and Johnson’s includes an invite to big league camp. Johnson is expected to compete with Fernando Perez for a spot on Mike Quade’s bench. No official word yet if Montanez’s deal included a non-roster invite to Spring Training.

According to Baseball America, the Cubs also signed John Urick, a left-handed first baseman, to a minor league deal. Urick played in independent ball in 2009 and 2010. The soon-to-be 29-year old spent from 2003 through 2005 in the Yankees organization and from 2006 through 2008 in the Phillies’ system. Urick has played a total of five games above A-ball (one in Triple-A and four in Double-A).

Urick is the grandson of former Cardinals skipper and Hall of Famer, Whitey Herzog.

John Urick’s Page on Baseball-Reference

Adding to the Scouting Staff
During the Cubs Convention, Tom Ricketts said that he would be making additions to the Cubs’ scouting staff. Both Tim Wilken and Oneri Fleita spoke about the increased budget for the scouting and development staff and appeared very pleased that the Ricketts family was allocating more revenue in that direction.

According to a report from the Sun-Times, the Cubs hired Tim Kissner to be their new West Coast Supervisor, or crosschecker.

Kissner was the Pacific Rim Coordinator for 10 years in the Phillies organization.

Kissner “is now responsible for sorting through at least six lists of players covering the 16 western states, and adding them to a master list for the Major League Baseball draft.”

Cubs Spring Games on the Air
WGN, Comcast SportsNet and WGN Radio have not released their broadcast schedules for Cubs Spring Training games, but the Cubs will be on ESPN2 according to NBC Sports.

ESPN2 will televise two Cubs games from Arizona Thursday, March 24 against the White Sox in Mesa and Saturday, March 26 against the Rangers in Surprise. Both games figure to feature most of the regulars with the Cactus League finale on March 29 against the Diamondbacks. The Cubs exhibition season ends with an Intrasquad game on March 30 at HoHoKam Park.

Matt Szczur
The Cubs announced the signing of Matt Szczur to a minor league contract on Thursday. The Cubs stepped up their efforts to sign Szczur and tripled their original offer to persuade him to pick baseball over football.

Bruce Miles reported the $1.5 million contract is not a Major League deal, unlike the one Jeff Samardzija inked in 2007. Szczur was not added to the Cubs’ 40-man roster and will report to minor league camp this spring. Szczur figures to start the season in A-ball.

Jim Hendry left the Cubs Convention early to secure Szczur’s commitment. Hendry told Szczur that he envisioned a Cubs outfield of Tyler Colvin in right, Brett Jackson in left and Szczur in center by the 2014 season.

Carlos Marmol and Matt Garza
Carlos Marmol filed for salary arbitration but no one thinks the Cubs and Marmol will get to the room. The two sides are reportedly working on a multi-year deal.

Marmol filed a $5.65 figure and the Cubs countered with $4.1 million. Marmol earned $2.125 million in 2010.

According to a report from Bruce Levine, the Cubs are looking to sign Marmol to a three-year contract. The deal would buy Marmol out of the last two years of arbitration (2011 and 2012) and his first year of free agency. Levine thinks a good starting point could be $18-$20 million. Inking Marmol to a three-year deal would give the Cubs cost certainty and would give Marmol financial security.

A three-year deal in the $18-$20 million range could save the Cubs $5-$7 million.

Matt Garza is under the Cubs control for three more seasons. He will earn $5.95 million in 2011 and if he continues pitching the way he has, Garza’s salary could jump into the $10 million range in 2012 and up to the $13 million mark in 2013 (Levine speculated between $13 and $15 million).

According to Levine, “the Cubs may want to reconfigure all three seasons and offer Garza a three year deal in the area of $23 to $25 million”.

The Cubs would have cost certainty and save around $6 to $8 million in the process.

One final noteAccording to the Sun-Times, once Marmol is under contract for the 2011 season, the Cubs Opening Day payroll figures to be around $130 million, 10 percent less than 2010.

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Well, there’s the update … and I’m sticking to it.

Quote of the Day

"The man says 'play ball' not 'work ball,' you know." - Willie Stargell
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  • Tony_Hall

    I sure hope that JH does sign Marmol and Garza before opening day, to those contracts. That is something he hasn’t done much of, except with vets, who will be FA’s. Signing guys in their 0-4 year range to contracts can save a lot of money, IF you pick the right guys to sign. Marmol and Garza are good ones to wrap up now.

  • Tony_Hall

    Jackson, Szczur, Colvin – is a nice thought. But Colvin in RF, how about LF. Jackson is by far the superior defensive player, and you would put him in RF, if Szczur would move B Jackson out of CF.

    • Bruce

      Tony:

      The rule of thumb is righties in right & lefties in left. However, Colvin has far the best arm between him & Jackson. Arm strength generallytrumps defensive skills if the players are close in skill. Bruce

      • paulcatanese

        Bruce,what you are saying is a matter of opinion. I have to say that leftys in right serve a better purpose as anything hit towards the line is to a leftys advantage and the oppisite is for left field. Since most teams play the corner oufielders off the line to begin with and the center fielder has the call over both,but thats just my opinion. As for center right now I feel that Byrd has the weakest arm out there and any of the three wold be an improvement in center. I cannot say that Colvin has the better arm over Jackson as I have not seen Jackson play,I will take your word on that. I do know that after watching Colvin play left his arm did not impress me with runners in scoring position.

      • Tony_Hall

        Colvin is not that great of a defensive OF. I have always followed the rule of your best range guy is in CF, your 2nd best guy in RF (needs an above average arm as well) and your weakest defensive OF in LF. If arm strenght was everything, Soriano would be a RF, but he is awful in the field, so he is in LF.

        Colvin is best suited for LF in a good OF. The best defensive OF we can put out with our current OF’s is Colviin in LF, Byrd in CF, and Fukudome in RF.

        • paulcatanese

          Tony,Right now today, I agree Fukudome in RF. Not to stray off your point,but of the three Fuko is the best outfielder. What you have posted is the best now in the outfield.

          • paulcatanese

            One other point Tony,you may be right about Colvin in left,but it ust seems the angle he uses with runners on just dont cut it. Just my feeling. Somehow from RF it seems shorter for him. It may be a mirage but thats what it looks like to me,but with Fuko inRF,Colvin would be in left.

    • Patrick_Schaefer

      Agreed!!!!!

  • paulcatanese

    Good morning Neil.What has happened to the hyped future of Brett Jackson?All of a sudden he’s going to be moved from center to left with the signing of Szczur, and the kid hasn’t played a full year at A ball yet. And Reed Johnson is a no brainer for Quade over Perez. His experience has the edge here. Not that I wouldnt want to see someone younger in the fifth spot for the outfield.

    • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

      Good morning Paul, I do not think anything has changed about Brett Jackson’s future. I have seen him play and he can handle all three outfield spots. I agree with Tony in the fact that Jackson in right and Colvin in left would seem a better fit.

      Here’s one thing to look at … but let me start by saying I am not comparing the two players at all, because someone will read this and start bringing up numbers, etc. With that said, there was a left fielder in Tampa that was very athletic, took a lot of hits away with his speed as well as turning doubles into singles … etc.

      I was surprised about the comment when I read it and I’m hoping to see Szczur play when I go out to Arizona next month.

      • paulcatanese

        Neil,the comment was not to take anything away from Szezur or Jackson,just a comment as I have not seen either play. Just making noise and being the “devils advocate”so to speak. I am really happy that Szezur chose baseball over football, and have been all along.When in Arizona you can look up my Grand Son Zach,he can sell you some insurance.Have a good day.

    • Gary J

      Haven’t seen them play but I’ve been reading a lot of things… Szczur by all accounts apparently has wings on his shoes. It’s not a matter of Jackson dropping down on the prospect list, but rather a good problem of having someone that matches him in athletic ability. Going to enjoy keeping an eye on Szczur as he moves up the ladder in the minors and see if his first year stats hold up against better competition.

      • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

        Gary, I have seen scouting reports that state Szczur is a 80 runner.

        • Gary J

          Well there ya go :-) He’s capped the scouting scale at least for his speed. Thanks Neil. Also saw that he started his career (over three levels – Rk, A-, A) with a 21 game hit streak… and he only played 25 games total. Going to be really interesting to see what happens this coming year with the full focus on baseball and getting a full season under his belt.

  • Demitri

    I like how hes envisioning an outfield in 2014. And im supposing he must be that eager for soriano to leave. Classy jim hendry. Hopefully when we win a championship we can look back at his era and laugh about it.

  • Patrick_Schaefer

    http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2011/01/rays-agree-to-terms-with-johnny-damon-manny-ramirez.html
    The Rays just made themselves a lot more competetive for only 7and a half million.
    While I hate Manny Ramirez for 2 million it’s a good deal.
    Damon got 5.25 million with a possibility to make 750,000 more in incentives.

  • Patrick_Schaefer

    Neil, did you ever find out who the 2 International free agents that Oneiri Fleita talked about were. I’m assuming one was Daniel Sanchez.

    • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

      Patrick … no, not yet.

  • Patrick_Schaefer

    I’m not surprised about the comment JH made in terms of Jackson playing LF, I have read that before, as Jackson gets bigger and stronger that he may have to move from center to left field.
    It’s funny that Reggie Golden’s name wasn’t even mentioned.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Hood/100000706523521 Richard Hood

      But I imagine that when Hendry talks to Reggie Golden he says that he is his CFer in 2013 so we will see.

    • GrantJones7

      I like Golden a lot, this is a good problem to have though!

  • Aaron

    If I’m Hendry, I’m on the phone IMMEDIATELY with Dayton Moore, the GM of the Royals, and asking about Kila Ka’aihue’s availability, along with Alex Gordon. Why? Because Billy Butler just signed an extension, and has mostly experience at 1B (only 6 games in OF), as well as DH. With Eric Hosmer arguably being the crown jewel of the system and future 1B, Mike Moustakas the 3B of the future on the verge of breaking through to the bigs and Ka’aihue and Gordon both turning 27 this spring, it appears that the latter 2 are blocked.

    I don’t know what it’d cost to get either player, but I know, especially with uncertainty at 3B and 1B going into next year, it’d make a TON of sense to pursue these guys.

    I hate it when Hendry signs retreads like Montanez and Johnson, along with resigning the likes of Hill and Baker. Why not give legit younger prospects and younger, but blocked MLB players a shot?

    As far as I know, we have a rapidly declining former top prospect, who is still very young, but needs to prove himself this year big time (Vitters) and Marquez Smith, who is coming off his first true above average season in the minors last year (therefore, he’s kind of an unknown.

    At 1B, we have Ridling, who almost died of appendicitis last year trying to battle back and become a respectable prospect, but he was 24 last year playing in high-A…NOT a good sign.

    Otherwise we have a 22 year old Bour that put up a decent line in low-A last year with .291/.375/.436, 31 doubles, 12 hr, 87 RBI. If he doesn’t at least make it to AA this coming season, he’s probably not even considered a prospect at that point, just like Ridling has age working against him.

    We have depth up the middle of the field in catcher, pitcher, SS/2B, and CF. Where we’re lacking BIG TIME is corner depth at 3B/1B, LF/RF, which is typically where your power hitters reside. We must retool in these areas, and Hendry needs to look at players that are blocked.

    A short list would be Gordon and Ka’aihue, Montero of the Yankees, and Chris Davis of the Rangers. If anyone else wants to add to that list, we should create one to monitor their progress this year.

    • Wickitkevin

      I bet we could get Mitch Moreland from the Rangers too.

      • Aaron

        LOL…I take it you’re being sarcastic today. If they hadn’t traded Smoak, I would’ve thought you were serious

        • Wickitkevin

          I don’t see Michael Young liking being a DH, so I think he will end up taking most of the 1B time. I also think they will be in on Fielder and Pujols next offseason.

          • Tony_Hall

            Young is going to play all over the infield, giving guys, days off, and DH on the other days. They won’t be trading Moreland,

    • Patrick_Schaefer

      Alex Gordon what’s not to like his underwhelming career numbers vs. RHP of .256/.343/.419 or his well below replacement value vs. LHP of.215/.290/.370.
      Kila Ka’aihue looks like a AAAA type to me .217/.307/.394 last year at the Major League Level. His Minor league numbers look good but he is overmatched at the ML level.
      The Yankees aren’t going to trade Montero he will only be 21 this year and tore it up last year in AAA. Posada is going to be 40 this year why would they trade a young replacement who has a bright future ahead of him.
      Chris Davis against lefties.217/.266/.400 vs. righties not exactly jaw dropping numbers either .261/.315/.483.
      Marquez Smith had a .358 BAbip last year at AAA Very Lucky and 12 of his 20 home runs were hit in August. His 23.01% strikeout rate and under 10% walk rate are unimpressive as well.
      The only player that you mentioned that I would like is Montero but they aren’t going to trade a guy like that. Just like we wouldn’t trade Castro.

      • Cheryl

        What would it take to get Montero? The Yankees need pitching. We’re deep there. What about Wells?

        • daverj

          There is nothing on our major league team or in our minor league system that the Yanks would take for Montero. Montero is one of the top 5 prospects in MLB.

          • Cheryl

            I see what you mean. But back to what Aaron said about Moustakas or Hosner. Any chance of getting them? .

          • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

            No. The Cubs simply do not have anything the Royals would want for either player.

        • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

          Cheryl, I agree with David. The Cubs do not have enough to get Jesus Montero.

    • daverj

      Aren’t the Royals moving Gordon to the outfield. I expect they’ll want to give him another year or two (given his potential) before they let him go.

    • Patrick_Schaefer

      I’ve read/heard that Junior Lake might get moved to third base , and with the muscle/mass that LeMahieu has put on he is most likely ticketed to third as well but I think he will still get some time at 2b this year as well. Vitters will be playing both 1st and 3rd.

      I agree we do need some more depth in the corners!!

      • GrantJones7

        I thought that it was common kowledge Lake was going to 3rd
        i heard that mid season last year, that he may

        I like Lake as a reserve, and DJ at 3rd, Vitters at 1st

    • Patrick_Schaefer

      Sorry Aaron a little harsh down below. I agree with your thoughts a lot but just not on any of these guys, except Montero and he’s like Elliot Ness(untouchable) :) :) :)

  • paul catanese

    I am going to make one more appeal about Ramariz. I have read the posts where his defense is slowing at a rapid pace.Partly because of injury and part because of age. I know I have asked several weeks ago about him moving to first base and Rami himself was adamant about moving. I think the reason or reasons that he is against the move are two-fold 1.A complete lack of confidence on his part to do it.2.He must think it would diminish his value. What I think is he will not have 500 AB while at 3b but in the are of 3-350 ab. If he were to make the move it would certainly pro-long his career and probably give more playing time,and he coulde reach 25-30+ HR for the year and increase his value. Then who at third? The up-swing in defense with a younger player would off-set the offense that would be produced.I know then what do you do with Pena?

    • Ripsnorter1

      When Pena is hitting in the .170′s, you won’t have to worry about what to do with him. It will be a relief to have him out of the lineup.

      • Patrick_Schaefer

        I think he will rebound this year, not that .240 is anything special but when you figure in his obp, HR, and gold glove defense.

        Drink some Kool-Aid Rip it’s really good LOL!!! :)

  • bulldogmaddox

    I actually agree with you that Hendry needs to make a deal to get a 1st and 3rd baseman. To get a quality young player or two the Cubs need to think bold. I would like to see what Hendry could get for Marmol. I love Marmol but he could get you at least 2 nice young players in return. Cashner could become the closer. The Cubs have gapping holes that need to be filled at 1st and 3rd and there’s nothing in the minors. Test the waters with a trade and try to get a blue chip 1st and 3rd baseman in return. I admit it’s a bold move. Another reason why I’d consider the trade is I fear Marmol is due to breakdown with an arm injury due to his horrible mechanics. Trade him now while his stock couldn’t be higher.

    • paulcatanese

      You make some very valid points,they should be able to get something for Marmol. However what seems that all these young players that we are supposed to be getting never get to the Cubs to help out. If it were a deal where the players would be an instant impact I would consider it.If not then I would say no,two,three years while they develop is much too risky. Blue chips don’t always make it. In Marmols case–starters yes,prospects no.

      • bulldogmaddux

        Agreed, that I wouldn’t make the move unless someone was at most a year away from the bigs. I’d look at teams that are set at first and third and would be willing to part with a ML ready (or near ready) prospect for a top reliever like Marmol. Someone like the Yankees, are set at 1st and 3rd for several years, so they’d be willing to trade a blue chipper.

        • paulcatanese

          Ok,that makes sense,thenI agree.

        • Tony_Hall

          Bad example as they have a guy named Mo and just signed his replacement in Soriano.

          It would take an awful lot for me to trade Marmol. Yes, lots of guys can close, but very few are as dominant as Marmol.

  • Patrick_Schaefer

    I agree this is a huge season for Vitters, his injury history concerns me hopefully with the added muscle and moving to 1b he can stay healthy. His strikeout rate went up last year, his walk rate did not.
    I hope with the added muscle his confidence is increased it has to be down from last year. I think his power numbers will jump, but his pitch recognition/ walk rate needs to improve.
    I am glad he will be at spring training with the big league club, maybe Jaramillo can get him pointed in the right direction.