Weekend Update … A Big Week for the Cubs

As anticipated last week was a busy one for the Chicago Cubs … and it could be more of the same over the next five days leading up to the convention. The Cubs are looking to add pitching (starters and relievers) as they try to finalize their roster heading into Spring Training.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer acquired Chris Volstad for Carlos Zambrano and landed Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates for Andrew Cashner and Kyung-Min Na … to say the Cubs’ new regime has been busy would be an understatement.

Since Epstein and Hoyer took over, the Cubs have added David DeJesus, selected Lendy Castillo in the Rule 5 draft … and for now, lost Ryan Flaherty and Marwin Gonzalez in the Rule 5 Draft. Jeff Bianchi was claimed off waivers and Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes were acquired for Sean Marshall. The Cubs also dealt Tyler Colvin and D.J. LeMahieu for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers and re-signed Reed Johnson … plus they added Manny Corpas and Andy Sonnanstine on non-guaranteed split contracts.

And that is not counting hiring a new manager and basically a whole new coaching staff plus adding pieces to what was smallest front office in the game.

The Cubs’ front office is continuing to explore options to make the team better for the upcoming season … and beyond.

Between the Caravan, Convention and what Team Epstein might have in the works, there figures to be plenty of news over the next eight days.

Here’s the update …

Matt Garza
The Matt Garza rumors have slowed down of late and the Cubs could have decided to keep him for now. Bruce Levine thinks Garza will be in the Cubs rotation on Opening Day (if so, Garza should be Dale Sveum’s Opening Day starter) because Epstein and Hoyer are not able to get the package they want for Garza.

The Cubs do not have to trade Garza and have not ruled out signing Garza to an extension similar to the one John Danks inked a few weeks back. Garza will still be affordable over the last two years of team control (figures to make between $8-$9 million through arbitration for the upcoming season and $11-$13 million in 2013).

Paul Maholm, Kerry Wood and Pitching
The Cubs are looking to add pitching between now and the start of camp … and it could end up taking until February 18 (report date for pitchers and catchers to report to Fitch Park) to do so.

Bruce Levine mentioned twice during Talkin’ Baseball (ESPN 1000) that he thinks the Cubs could re-sign Kerry Wood this week prior to the convention. Plus he is hearing the Cubs are still “really in” on Paul Maholm (other reports late in the week stated the Cubs are interested in the southpaw as well). Levine said he tried to contact Maholm’s agent and he has yet to return the call, which signals to Levine that something is indeed brewing for Maholm.

The Cubs could also add inventory (starters and relievers) if they find the right return for Matt Garza.

With Andrew Cashner out of the picture, it appears Jeff Samardzija will enter camp in the mix for the backend of the Cubs’ pen and not as a candidate for the starting rotation. Even without Cashner, the Cubs will have plenty of solid options for the bullpen … James Russell, John Gaub, Scott Maine and Jeff Beliveau from the left side and Carlos Marmol, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Carpenter, Rafael Dolis, Manny Corpas, Casey Weathers, Andy Sonnanstine and Lendy Castillo from the right.

As Jed Hoyer stated Friday, the Cubs are looking to have between seven to nine starting pitching options when Spring Training begins … and they are also not done adding options to the bullpen.

Jason McLeod on XM Radio
The Cubs’ Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development spent a little time with Jeff Joyce and Todd Hollandsworth Saturday afternoon on Homeplate (MLB Network Radio/XM Radio).

Jason McLeod discussed the Anthony Rizzo trade and several other topics.

Obviously there is a lot of history with McLeod and Jed Hoyer with Anthony Rizzo. They think Rizzo has a lot of potential … power, quality defense, quality make-up and a middle of the order run producer.

McLeod reiterated what Hoyer said on Friday about them probably rushing Rizzo to the majors last season. Rizzo was mashing in the hitter friendly PCL and Tucson Park and Brad Hawpe was struggling with the Padres. They decided to give him a chance and it was the wrong move. Rizzo started off strong and did well at first. McLeod brought up two at bats in which Rizzo hammered balls that ended up as doubles at PETCO. Not soon after pitchers made adjustments, Rizzo could not and once he started struggling he was not able to recover.

Rizzo has natural leadership according to McLeod. Players gravitate to him. McLeod sang his praises from the great family background to how well he handled adversity with cancer.

Hoyer and McLeod also think a lot of Zach Cates. They drafted him and really think the former Junior College catcher can succeed as a pitcher. Cates has only been pitching for two years and not only throws hard but has a good change-up.

Todd Hollandsworth asked about Brett Jackson and McLeod admitted he has not seen Jackson play in person since his college days. In looking at the scouting reports on Jackson (both the Cubs and Padres’ reports), Jackson has stuff to work on and needs to cut down on the strikeouts. The Cubs are not going to hand him the centerfield job, he’s going to have to earn it … but according to McLeod, Jackson’s future looks very bright.

The Cubs have told a few of the younger players that because they do not have a history with them then they have a great opportunity to prove what they can do this spring.

The Cubs’ new regime had the minor league players sign accountability contracts. They want not only quality players in the system but quality people as well that play the game the right way on a daily basis.

When asked about Bryan LaHair being the Cubs’ starting first baseman on Opening Day, McLeod said, “Sitting here on January 7, Bryan LaHair is our starting first baseman.” McLeod had the opportunity to meet with LaHair during the Winter Meetings and came away impressed. LaHair told them he is looking forward to proving to everyone he can perform in the big leagues.

The new regime has worked very hard to learn the organization but it takes time. Jason McLeod said it would take him to the middle of summer to get a firm grasp on what is in the Cubs’ system.

News, Notes and Rumors
According to Bruce Levine, the Cubs and Marlins had the same trade in place (Carlos Zambrano for Chris Volstad) during the Winter Meetings (December 5).

The Orioles are interested in Alfonso Soriano according to Bruce Levine but the amount of years remaining on his contract could be the hold-up. The money is one thing, especially with what the Cubs are willing to eat to move him, but if Soriano was to struggle his first year then Baltimore would be stuck with him … and in the process Dan Duquette would look bad in one of his first moves as the Orioles’ GM.

Ryan Dempster spent a little time Saturday morning on Talkin’ Baseball (ESPN 1000). Dempster has been out in Arizona working out and said there are a lot of guys out there participating in hitting clinics. Dempster also added Dale Sveum and his staff has been working hard preparing for Spring Training. Dempster is happy for Carlos Zambrano getting a clean slate and pointed out that no matter how good things were going for Z, people were always waiting and ready for him to blow.

According to Bruce Levine, the Cubs will be in the middle of the bidding for both Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler. The Cuban outfielders are expected to receive residency in the Dominican Republic soon, which is the first step in the process for both players to become eligible for Major League teams to sign them. Levine indicated Cespedes and Soler could officially hit the market a week to ten days. Cespedes is still expected to sign a deal in the $50-60 million range while Soler could ink a contract worth between $20-$30 million.

The Class of 2012 Hall of Fame announcement will be made Monday at 2:00pm CT. Who will be enshrined along with Ron Santo on July 22, 2012? Chris Jaffe published his annual report on which players have the best shot at being elected into the Hall by the BBWAA … and bases on Jaffe’s research, Barry Larkin will be enshrined along with Santo this July.

The 27th Annual Cubs Convention kicks off in five days … and speaking of the convention, the photo promotion to the left is another reminder of how much things can change in one short year.

Wally Hayward stated Saturday morning on Talkin’ Baseball (ESPN 1000) that the Cubs tried to change things up a little bit for the upcoming convention. “The Cubs Way“, “Sustained Success” and “Play Hard, 90 Feet at a Time” could be the themes for next weekend’s convention.

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

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Quote of the Day

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