The Cubs have apparently moved up their timeframe on Carlos Villanueva returning to the starting rotation. Prior to Thursday’s game in Oakland, the team announced Villanueva would start the finale against the Pirates at Wrigley on Sunday.
Dale Sveum piggybacked Chris Rusin with Villanueva in the opener on Tuesday night against the A’s after Rusin was recalled to fill in for Scott Feldman on short rest. The team announced that Villanueva would be stretched out for at least one other long relief appearance in order to increase his pitch count before he would rejoin the rotation full-time. Villanueva threw only 44 pitches while allowing two unearned runs on two hits with one walk and one strikeout in 2 2/3 innings. The nearly three-inning outing on Tuesday was the longest for Villanueva since he pitched two innings against the Pirates on June 7. Villanueva’s last start came on May 14 against the Rockies. Villanueva made it through the fifth after allowing a season-worst seven runs on 12 hits.
As a starter this season, Villanueva is 1-3 in eight games with a 3.93 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP.
Sveum said Thursday that Sunday would likely be a bullpen day with everyone available, depending how the relievers are used the three games leading up to Sunday. Villanueva should be limited to 60-70 pitches.
With the Cubs playing a make-up game against the White Sox on the South Side on Monday, the Cubs do not have another off-day before the break (July 15). The Cubs could decide to call-up Brooks Raley to give depth to the pen and possibly use him to follow Villanueva on Sunday. The Sun-Times mentioned the possibility of calling up a fresh-arm from the minors.
Of course, the plans could be altered again if the front office trades Matt Garza before Sunday. Garza’s next start is scheduled for Monday at The Cell.
Eloy Jimenez and the International Plan
Despite a report from ESPN Deportes, the Cubs have agreed to terms on a contract with the top international prospect, Dominican outfielder Eloy Jimenez. The Cubs reportedly have agreed to terms on a $2.8 million signing bonus that includes a $250,000 college scholarship. The scholarship does not count against the bonus pool money.
The Cubs are not done on the international market and have figured out a loop hole in the system that should benefit the organization in the long term by the front office being able to add inventory to the organization.
If the numbers are correct, the Cubs have signed Eloy Jimenez ($2.8 million), Gleyber Torres ($1.7 million), Jefferson Mejia ($850,000), Erling Moreno ($800,000) and Yohan Matos ($270,000). The Cubs have committed $6,420,000 to the five players and have exceeded their International signing bonus pool of $5,520,300.
The Cubs appear to be willing to take the max penalty under the new rules and spend heavily on this year’s class, which their scouts think is much deeper than players expected to be available on J2 next year. By going 15 percent or more over the pool, the team has to pay a 100 percent tax on the overage and the team would not be allowed to sign a player in next year’s class for over $250,000. The Cubs will still receive the slot money but they cannot sign any of the players looking for a signing bonus in excess of $250,000. The Cubs could also trade their slot money, just like the Astros did to acquire Ronald Torreyes. The Cubs could end up using the slot money next season to make improvements to the system.
According to a report from Phil Rogers, the Cubs have their eye on two “intriguing players” from the Dominican Republic. Rogers reported the Cubs are looking infielder Luis Encarnacion and outfielder Leonardo Molina. Both players are only 15 years old and the Cubs cannot sign them until their 16th birthday. Molina turns 16 on August 1 and Encarnacion hits 16 eight days later (August 9).
When the signing of catcher Yohan Matos surfaced on Wednesday, his first name was reported as Johan not Yohan. According to the transactions page on Cubs.com, the Cubs signed catcher Yohan Matos on J2. Matos is 6-foot-0, 175 pounds and the right-handed catcher is from the Dominican Republic.
According to multiple reports, Kevin Gregg’s stock is very high right now and his days in a Cubs’ uniform could be numbered. Kevin Gregg was garnering a lot of attention prior to the White Sox’s Jesse Crain landing on the disabled list Wednesday afternoon. Gregg is anticipating things heating up after the All-Star break but a move could happen before then.
The Rockies, Braves and Red Sox are interested in Gregg according to multiple reports and Jim Bowden thinks the Dodgers could be looking at acquiring the reliever they let go of in the spring.
The Cubs are looking to turn Gregg into a long term asset … and the front office should look to move him as soon as possible to maximize the return. Blake Parker appears to be in line to pitch the ninth inning once Gregg is traded.
According to a report from the Sun-Times, James Russell’s recent struggles might be due to a left ankle injury. James Russell hurt his ankle two weeks ago and while he is not using the injury as an excuse, it could have led him to slightly altering his mechanics.
Russell told the Sun-Times he thinks it could be tendonitis because he did not twist his ankle. Russell said the ankle is feeling better now.
News, Notes and Rumors
According to Phil Rogers, the Cubs are very interested in RHP Jen-Ho Tseng. The 18-year old pitched for Taiwan in the World Baseball Classic. Rogers reported he would not be surprised to see the Cubs land him.
Two more players made their Cubs’ debut on Thursday afternoon. Matt Guerrier and Pedro Strop became players no. 40 and 41 used by the Cubs this season. The Cubs have now used 23 different pitchers this season and only seven players remain from the 2012 Opening Day roster.
The Cubs have been connected to hard-throwing Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Major League Baseball has granted Gonzalez his free agency so he can sign with any team once he receives his unblocking license from the U.S. government. As of Thursday, Gonzalez had not been cleared by the OFAC. The Cubs sent a group to Mexico last week to watch Gonzalez and they are expected to be in the mix for him until the end of the bidding process.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is represented by Jaime Torres and another one of his clients will have his first showcase for big league teams on Tuesday in Barcelona. RHP Odrisamer Despaigne recently defected from Cuba and is in the process of establishing residency in Spain. It could take Despaigne 3-6 weeks before he can petition to be a free agent and he will also need an unblocking license from the OFAC. Despaigne is not expected to draw the same interest as Gonzalez. The Cubs have not been connected to Despaigne yet.
Carlos Marmol cleared waivers and accepted his assignment to Triple-A. The Dodgers feel they can correct Marmol’s mechanics while he is in the minors.