Pitching, Pitching … and Other Cubs News, Notes and Rumors

Early indications are that the Cubs will focus on adding pitching this off-season. Theo Epstein said earlier this week that the Cubs will add at least two starters to go along with Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza and Travis Wood. Epstein indicated that Garza is progressing as the Cubs had hoped and he should be ready to pitch when Spring Training begins. The Cubs are going to build the 2013 rotation without Arodys Vizcaino but they are hopeful he is able to force his way into the rotation.

The Cubs search for pitching is not limited to the free agent market or outside the organization.

Theo Epstein said that Alberto Cabrera turned the corner in his development this past season. Cabrera has a “very intriguing arm” according to Epstein and the Cubs plan on stretching him out at the Triple-A level when the season begins as they look to find the next Jeff Samardzija.

Epstein said they “feel pretty good” about the position-player group in the organization but the Cubs “have a long ways to go” with pitching.

Could Josh Johnson and/or Mark Buehrle be on the Cubs’ radar to fill one of the holes in the rotation?

Theo Epstein and the Cubs Plate Approach
During his meeting with the media earlier this week, Theo Epstein also addressed the Cubs lack of plate discipline throughout the organization … and came very close for the first time of indicting the Hendry regime for not emphasing the importance of getting on base.

Epstein said, “That’s another thing we really need to continue to improve. If there was one thing that I was surprised by in a negative way it was how pervasive the lack of plate discipline was in the whole organization, at the major-league level, upper minors, lower minors, draft decision making and protocol. It’s just something that has not been a factor for a long time, and we’re paying the price for that.”

“It’s embedded. It’s institutionalized, so we have to be really, really vigilant in turning that around. I believe 90 percent of the game revolves around controlling the strike zone, when you combine what it means to do so from an offensive standpoint and also from a pitching standpoint. It’s something we weren’t really good at. We didn’t walk enough. We didn’t get on base enough. Our pitchers walked too many hitters. We didn’t manage counts as well as we need to. Because it’s embedded, we need to dig deep and build a really strong foundation in that area because we’re suffering from that.”

The Cubs were near the bottom (29) in all of baseball in OBP last season while the Iowa Cubs were 12th out of 16 PCL teams with a .334 OBP and the Smokies ranked fifth in the ten team Southern League with a .336 on base percentage … and while the Cubs were near the bottom in OBP, the Cubs staff led the league in walks (573).

Starlin Castro
Starlin Castro took several steps forward at the plate this past season. And while his batting average and on-base percentage might have been lower than a year ago, Castro made strides in his approach. Castro hit the ball with more authority, especially at the end of the season when few were still paying attention to the games.

Castro played in all of the Cubs’ 162 games and set career marks in triples (12), home runs (14) and walks (36). Castro drove in a career-high 78 runs and finished the year with a .283/.323/.430/.753 line with an OPS+ of 105.

The Vine Line ran a report on their blog using data from BrooksBaseball.net that reinforced Castro’s improved approach from the first half of the season to the second half. The report not only addresses Castro’s walk rate but his swing rate by location and even Castro’s improved defense. Full report from the Vine Line

Darwin Barney
Darwin Barney received a post-season award on Thursday … Barney took home the Fielding Bible Award for second basemen. Barney received 96 of a possible 100 points from a panel of ten analysts that include Doug Glanville, Bill James, Joe Pasnanski, Peter Gammons and Rob Neyer.

Barney’s defense saved 28 runs for the Cubs this past season almost double of runner-ups Robinson Cano and Alexi Casilla (15).

The Fielding Bible Awards have been handed out annually since 2007.

Mark Teixeira (1B), Adrian Beltre (3B), Brendan Ryan (SS), Alex Gordon (LF), Mike Trout (CF), Jason Heyward (RF), Yadier Molina (C) and Mark Buehrle (P) were the other award winners for the 2012 season.

Cubs Rumors
It is no secret the Cubs are looking to add pitching this off-season and as much as possible in the foreseeable future to a pitching-starved organization. According to a report from Bruce Levine, the Marlins could have two pitchers that might interest the Cubs … Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.

According to Levine, the Marlins “are hoping to dump some of their high salary pitching contracts as part of their new approach going forward.” Josh Johnson is owed $13.75 million in the final year of the four-year extension he signed in January of 2010 and Mark Buehrle has three years and $52 million remaining on the four year contract he inked last winter ($11 million in 2013, $18 million in 2014 and $19 million in 2015).

Levine’s sources indicated the Marlins will be approaching teams like the Cubs that have payroll flexibility to “take on most of the money owed on the contracts of Buehrle and Johnson.

Cubs Polling on New Game Times
According to a report from Crain’s Chicago Business, the Cubs reached out to Wrigleyville neighbors on Wednesday morning for opinions on potential game times moving forward.

The Cubs asked for feedback about moving Friday afternoon start times from 1:20pm to 3:05pm and about adding more Saturday night games.

Friday afternoon games have not started at 3:05pm since the 1988 season. The Cubs said the idea to move the start time was well-received by the fans. Due to nationally televised games, the Cubs have had two Saturday night games in two of the last three seasons.

News and Notes
Jose Serra, the scout who signed players such as Starlin Castro, Rafael Dolis, Junior Lake, Welington Castillo, Marco Hernandez, Jose Rosario and Jeimer Candelario, was promoted to Director of Dominican operations.

According to a report from Comcast SportsNet, the last scan (mid-to-late September) on the stress reaction in Matt Garza’s right elbow showed it was healing. Matt Garza is scheduled to have another scan in mid-November.

Darwin Barney is close to becoming one of the Cubs’ core players.

According to a report from the Tribune, Dan Plesac appears to be interested in the Cubs’ analyst job. Both Plesac and Rick Sutcliffe apparently have “strong interest” in replacing Bob Brenly … but both are under contract, Plesac with the MLB Network and Sutcliffe with ESPN.

According to a report from ESPN, Mark Grace has been indicted in a DUI case and could face nearly four years in prison if convicted. Grace is not probation eligible because it was his second DUI charge in 15 months.

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Quote of the Day

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