Weekend Update … Non-Roster Invites, Rumors and Matt Garza

The week following the convention was a busy seven days for the Chicago Cubs. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer avoided arbitration with six of the seven arbitration eligible players for the upcoming season … only Matt Garza remains unsigned.

The Cubs continued to sign free agents to minor league contracts. News surfaced Friday that the Cubs had signed utility outfielder Matt Tolbert. Bruce Levine confirmed the signing of Tolbert to a minor league contract that includes an invite to big league camp. Tolbert joined Alfredo Amezaga, Joe Mather, Edgar Gonzalez, Jason Jaramillo and Rodrigo Lopez on the list of players that has signed a minor league contract with the Cubs that includes a NRI to Spring Training. The Cubs are expected to announce the full list of non-roster invitees to big league camp this week … and both Brett Jackson and Trey McNutt should be among the prospects in the system that receive NRIs.

The Cubs have not announced the corresponding move in order to make room on the 40-man roster for Kerry Wood. The Cubs’ big league roster currently stands at 40 players, with one contract pending.

The Cubs picked up a draft pick when Carlos Pena signed with the Rays. Matt Garza discussed his future, trade rumors and the Cubs on XM Radio and Jason McLeod spent a little time on ESPN 1000.

Here is the update …

Matt Garza on MLB Network Radio
Matt Garza spent a little time Friday morning on First Pitch (MLB Network Radio/XM Radio) with Jim Memolo and Todd Hollandsworth.

Matt Garza began the interview by stating that he cannot wait to get to Arizona. He has not been out yet because of his three children that are in school in Chicago.

The trade rumors this winter have not affected him. Garza said, “For me, until I get a call from my agent, nothing is close.” Garza has not received any calls from his agent this off-season. Garza lets his agent handle the business side. He just wants to be kept in the loop.

As for the new front office, it does not matter to Garza. His job is to pitch and win games regardless of who is running the show. Garza said later in the interview that he has faith Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will put together a winner and he would like to stay with the Cubs.

Garza loves Chicago. He loves day games because he is a morning person. He also likes being able to treat baseball like a 9-5 job where he can go home at night and spend time with his kids.

The first year with the Cubs was a learning experience for Garza. He feels like he reestablished himself and gained a lot of confidence. Garza credited Mark Riggins with teaching him how to trust his ability.

Garza is proud of the second half he put together and he feels he will be able to carry his performance into the upcoming season. Confidence is the big key for Garza and he said it all started clicking after a start he had against the Marlins last year (July 14). Garza feels his secondary pitches really improved and he was able to repeat his delivery more consistently.

Garza described the day when Jim Hendry was fired as “crappy” but he knew he had to stay positive for the rest of the year.

Matt Garza would be open to signing an extension with the Cubs. He stressed again how happy he is right now. As for discussing a new contract with the Cubs, Garza said that is something his agent and Jed Hoyer would have to work out.

The Cubs youth movement does not bother Garza. He’s actually excited about it [the youth movement].

Garza began preparing for the upcoming season in November. He’s been working out in a gym daily but is not throwing off a mound yet … he is long-tossing at this point of his off-season program. Garza is throwing indoors and will until he goes out to Arizona.

Matt Garza finished by reiterating how excited he is for the upcoming season and is looking forward to seeing how the new guys workout. Garza explained that it is going to be an exciting season.

“I’m excited, can’t wait. I’m looking forward to getting down to Mesa.”

Carlos Pena
Carlos Pena signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays worth a reported $7.25 million. Pena’s return to Tampa is important for the Cubs. By offering Pena salary arbitration and Pena declining, the Cubs will receive a sandwich pick (between first and second round) in this June’s Draft.

The Cubs picked up two additional picks in the draft with Pena and Aramis Ramirez signing with new teams in the off-season … two decisions that history has shown the previous regime would not have done.

While Carlos Pena seemingly took a pay cut from the one-year, $10 million deal he signed with the Cubs for last season, Pena will actually make $12.25 million in 2012 … the Cubs owed him $5 million in deferred money from the contract Jim Hendry inked him to in December of 2010.

Jason McLeod on Talkin’ Baseball
Jason McLeod joined Bruce Levine and Fred Huebner during Talkin’ Baseball (ESPN 1000) Saturday morning.

The interview began with questions about Yoenis Cespedes. McLeod said he did not want to go too far into the Cubs’ evaluation of Cespedes publically. McLeod did describe Cespedes as an intriguing player with a lot of tools. The key for the Cubs is to do a proper evaluation of Cespedes to see what kind of player he could be in the Major Leagues. The Cubs have done a lot of work on him according to McLeod.

Yoenis Cespedes will hit the free agent market fairly soon and McLeod said the Cubs will bid on him.

McLeod chuckled about acquiring Anthony Rizzo for the third time (draft, trade from Red Sox to Padres, trade from San Diego to the Cubs). They feel Rizzo has a bright future and he fits the bill of what the Cubs are looking for … a left-handed power bat that can handle the strike zone and play good defense. McLeod reiterated that he needs time to develop in the minors. McLeod pointed out that Rizzo will play a majority of the season at 22 years old and he has already received valuable playing time in the high levels of the minors … as well as in the majors.

The Cubs’ new regime really loves Rizzo’s makeup both on and off the field.

As for Rizzo possibly playing another position, like a corner outfield spot, he has not played another position. McLeod and the Cubs see Rizzo as a long-term first baseman.

The Cubs just wrapped up their scouting meetings (Tuesday-Friday) and they talked about all of the changes to the organization over four days. They rolled out the new program (Bloomberg Sports) and spent time going over video with scouts as they prepare for the new season (college, high school) leading up to the draft.

McLeod said they are not telling scouts how to look at players but are letting them know what kind of players the Cubs are looking for now.

The changes within the organization will have an impact on the scouts, especially the older ones. McLeod said there would be a learning curve and each scout must make a commitment to mix both philosophies (old school scouting and new school analysis). McLeod did say that several of the older scouts in the organization (20-30 years of scouting experience) admitted to him afterwards that they feel the changes Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod are implementing will make the Cubs better in the long run.

The Cubs Convention was an eye opening experience for McLeod. He admitted the annual fan fest was much bigger than anyone had prepared him for leading up to the event. The Chicago media is kind of what he thought it would be, but it has only been a couple of months. McLeod feels his experience with the Boston media will help.

Jason McLeod was able to spend more time with the Ricketts family during the convention. The family is on board with everything the Cubs’ new front office is doing.

Minor League Signings
Another minor league signing by the Cubs has leaked to the media. According to Bruce Levine, the Cubs signed Matt Tolbert to a minor league contract that includes a non-roster invitation to Spring Training.

The 29-year old (May 4, 1982) utility infielder (second, third and shortstop) played in 87 games for the Twins last year. Tolbert posted a .198/.252/.266/.518 line with 10 doubles and two triples without a home run in 226 plate appearances.

Matt Tolbert’s Page on Baseball-Reference

The Cubs are expected to announce all of their non-roster invitations to Spring Training in the coming week. So far, the Cubs have signed Alfredo Amezaga, Jason Jaramillo, Rodrigo Lopez and Matt Tolbert.

Cubs Payroll
The Cubs have added depth to the organization and at the same time Theo Epstein has also cut the big league payroll.

Over the past two seasons, the Cubs payroll was at an all-time high. It took $142 million to field the team in 2010 and $131 million last year. The Cubs’ new regime has trimmed another $12 million or more off the $131 million spent a year ago according to a report from Bruce Levine. The report did not add in the deferred money owed to Ryan Dempster ($1 million) and Carlos Pena ($5 million) for the year. The $2 million buyout on the final year of Carlos Silva’s contract, the sunk cost of Carlos Zambrano and the final year of Jim Hendry and Mike Quade’s contracts.

Before settling with Matt Garza on a contract for the upcoming season, the Cubs have $109 million committed to what figures to be the 25-man roster on Opening Day and another $3 million to the other 15 players on the big league roster … plus $2 million in medical replacement pay for when players go on the disabled list.

If the Cubs pay Garza $10 million and add a couple of back-up middle infielders that would take the Major League team’s payroll to around $120 million … down $11 million from 2011.

Bruce Levine addressed the Cubs’ payroll during Talkin’ Baseball (ESPN 1000) on Saturday morning. According to Levine, the Cubs are putting the money, not being used on the Major League payroll, towards signing international players and the draft. Levine thinks the Cubs will be extremely aggressive on Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler.

If the Cubs are able to sign either Cespedes or Soler, they would be sticking to the plan they have outlined for the immediate future of the organization.

Cubs Top Prospects
MLB.com has been releasing their lists of the top prospects in the game at each position leading up to the unveiling of the Top 50 Prospects in Baseball Wednesday night (January 25) at 9:00pm CST on the MLB Network.

Several of the Cubs top prospects have made the position prospect lists.

Anthony Rizzo was named as the top first baseman prospect in the game … and Dan Vogelbach came in at no. 10.

Earlier in the week, MLB.com released their list of the top shortstop prospects in the game. The Cubs’ first round pick from last June’s draft, Javier Baez, came in as the eighth best shortstop prospect in the game.

To be eligible for MLB.com’s list, a player must have rookie eligibility and must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or military service.

News, Notes and Rumors
During an interview during Talkin’ Baseball (ESPN 1000), Bruce Levine joked with Jason McLeod about hoping that Anthony Rizzo is not part of the compensation to the Red Sox for Theo Epstein because he would have to acquire him for a fourth time. McLeod laughed at the scenario but said, “I don’t think it [the compensation for Epstein] will be that.”

According to a report from the Sun-Times, the Cubs continue to modify internal operations with an eye toward belt-tightening in areas besides team payroll, including reducing the daily meal allowance for scouts from $50 to $30.

According to Bruce Levine (Talkin’ Baseball, ESPN 1000), the Cubs could still add a middle infielder to the mix before Opening Day that could end up changing lineup options for Dale Sveum.

Bruce Levine does not think a conversation between the Cubs (Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer) and Tigers (Dave Dombrowski) took place regarding Alfonso Soriano after Victor Martinez was lost for the year … and if it did, the Cubs placed the call to the Tigers. The Cubs and Tigers could not agree on a package for Matt Garza and Levine does not think the two teams could work out a deal that would include Garza and Soriano. Levine, like many of the national writers, thinks Dombrowski will end up signing one of the available free agents to fill their DH void.

Yoenis Cespedes will likely need a month or two in the minors before being ready to play in the majors. Levine explained Saturday morning that if the Cubs sign him and once he is ready, he would jump right into the centerfield job. Levine could see a Cubs outfield consist of Brett Jackson, Yoenis Cespedes and Matt Szczur in the next year and a half … or so.

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

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