Cubs to Focus on Coaching Staff, Adding Pitching and the Process with Tanaka

With Rick Renteria in the fold and the GM Meetings beginning on Monday in Orlando, the Cubs should be extremely busy over the next six weeks leading up to the Christmas Holidays.

Not only will the Cubs name their Major League coaching staff, but minor league coaching assignments will be announced in the coming weeks. The deadline to set their reserve roster to protect players from the Rule 5 draft is Nov. 20 and teams have until Dec. 2 to tender contracts to arbitration eligible players and automatic renewal (0-3 men) players.

Both Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein indicated during the meetings on Friday with their season ticket holders that the team would be looking to add pitching, pitching and more pitching this winter, both “quality” starters and relievers. The Cubs are looking for another option to close games and will “hit the market with a full closing opportunity to offer to the right pitcher.” The Cubs could either acquire the reliever via free agency or through trade. Pedro Strop could still be in the mix for the closer’s job this spring as one of the in-house candidates Epstein referred to on Friday.

Theo Epstein did say the Cubs will be more creative this winter to improve the offense, but the first step would be to get Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo back on track. Jed Hoyer said the focus will be adding arms and on-base guys and is on the same page with Epstein in regards to the offense needing Castro and Rizzo to bounce back from last year.

Jed Hoyer confirmed the Cubs’ interest in Masahiro Tanaka on Friday night. The Cubs have scouted Tanaka heavily and have done their due diligence on the right-handed pitcher according to Hoyer.

The Cubs will lay the foundation for the rest of the off-season starting Monday at the GM Meetings when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer begin talking to agents about their clients and other teams about possible trades. Epstein said the Cubs are not looking for pitchers they can sign this winter and flip at the trade deadline next July. They are looking for more long-term pieces to the puzzle.

The Big League Coaching Staff

The Cubs will work hard over the next two to three weeks to assemble Rick Renteria’s staff. Rick Renteria will have input on who will be in the dugout with him. The front office will work aside Renteria in the process of hiring the men they feel fits the needs of the young roster moving forward. The coaching staff will have men that Renteria knows and has possibly worked with in the past as well as guys Renteria does not know.

Chris Bosio reportedly has a two-year contract to return as pitching coach and as previously reported, both Lester Strode and Mike Borzello are expected to return.

Rumors and reports have suggested Alex Cora, Mariano Duncan and Henry Blanco are in the running for coaching jobs. Renteria has a history with Cora and Duncan and are thought to be high on the list. A.J. Hinch remains a possibility for the bench coach job.

As for who will be the Cubs’ third hitting coach in three seasons, the team is looking for the right fit this time around that will have a unified message. One of the issues from the previous coaching staff was the mixed messages being delivered to the young players, especially from an offensive standpoint, and players were “pulled in different directions.” The coaching staff, manager and front office were not on the same page.

According to the Tribune, the search for the new hitting coach is a high priority for the Cubs. Epstein said on Friday “he is determined to find the best hitting coach to invigorate an offense that finished 14th in runs scored and on-base percentage and 13th in the National League in batting average last season.”

Theo Epstein admitted he’s made his share of mistakes during his first two years with the Cubs and the lack of player development at the big league level is one of the areas he feels he has not provided the right personnel. Epstein explained, “Ultimately, that falls back on me to provide the right personnel and right messaging so there’s one message and we do stand for something from an offensive standpoint. We like to control the strike zone. We like to get on base. The right hitting coach has to be on board with the organizational philosophy, but maybe more importantly, he has to be able to connect with players and teach them and support them and struggle with them and ultimately triumph with them.”

James Rowson

James Rowson will not be returning to the Cubs. Rowson’s contract expired, along with all of the coaches from last season, on Oct. 31 and according to the Tribune he has returned to the Yankees’ organization and will be their minor league hitting coordinator, the same position he held before the Cubs hired him following the 2011 season.

Rowson began the 2012 season as the Cubs minor league hitting coordinator and held that position until he replaced Rudy Jaramillo as the Cubs hitting coach on an interim basis in June of 2012. The front office removed the interim tag from Rowson last fall and he spent last season as the Cubs full time hitting coach.

Masahiro Tanaka

The Cubs have scouted Masahiro Tanaka heavily and will be involved in the bidding process once he is posted by Rakuten Golden Eagles. Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball have yet to work out the new posting rules. The two leagues were trying to finalize the new rules, that will impact Tanaka’s ability to negotiate and sign with a MLB team, by Nov. 1.

Guesses on what a team might have to pay in posting fees have reached the ridiculous level. If the estimates of between $75 million and $125 million for just the rights to negotiate with him are accurate, the Yankees and Dodgers figure to be the only two teams with a legitimate shot at making the highest bid.

The Yankees are viewing Tanaka as their top target of the off-season. Even with the outlandish posting fee, that would not count against the Yankees’ self-imposed $189 million salary cap for 2014, the Yankees think if they could sign Tanaka, then re-sign Hiroki Kuroda, the combination would help solve their pitching issues.

Jed Hoyer said on Friday night that the Cubs would be involved in the process for Tanaka. The Cubs came up short when they went after Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yu Darvish. They were just simply outbid.

If the Cubs are going through the process with Tanaka and are prepared to spend heavily on an unproven pitcher, they cannot be wrong and spend $150-plus million on a mistake.

Minor League Moves

The Cubs have begun working on their minor league rosters. Last week the Cubs signed OF Aaron Cunningham to a minor league deal that should include a non-roster invite to big league camp in the spring.

The Cubs re-signed RHP Eduardo Figueroa and RHP Dae-Eun Rhee to minor league contracts.

The soon-to-be 25-year old Figueroa was a combined 3-6 in 30 games, eight starts, for the D-Cubs and Smokies last season with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP. Rhee dealt with injuries last season and made only 11 starts (59 1/3 innings) for the Smokies. Rhee was 5-1 with a 3.34 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.

News and Notes

Welington Castillo has recovered from the right knee surgery he had in September, and he should begin preparing for Spring Training soon.

During an interview on 670 the Score on Friday morning, Jed Hoyer mentioned the performances in the Fall League may “speed up the clock a little” on a couple of those players. Hoyer did not indicate which player or players he was referring to at the time.

Rick Renteria made all of the usual media stops on Friday … the day after the Cubs announced his hiring. During an interview on MLB Network Radio, he said the recovery from his hip surgery has gone well. It had been five weeks at the time and he was two days away from walking with a cane. Renteria explained the trust factor he has with players is “most important” to him and he will not trash players in public.

Rick Renteria started reaching out to his players on Thursday and has already talked to Starlin Castro.

The Cubs are interested in re-signing free agent RHP Scott Baker, but he is “also exploring other options.”

Two of Scott Boras’ free agents have been connected to the Cubs through the national media. Boras thinks both of his clients are in line for huge pay days. Boras told Jon Heyman that there are unexpected markets developing for Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo. The charismatic Boras said the interest in his three big clients (Ellsbury, Choo and Stephen Drew) has more mysteries than a book fair. Most think Ellsbury could sign a $150 million contract, similar to the one Carl Crawford inked, and Boras is looking for Choo to sign for more than Jayson Werth did with the Nationals ($126 million) in Dec. of 2010.

Anthony Rizzo led all National League first basemen in runs saved this past season. Travis Wood was among the leaders in the NL for starting pitchers, while Jeff Samardzija was not. Welington Castillo was third in the NL among catchers and Darwin Barney fell in just behind Brandon Phillips at second base.

Ken Rosenthal passed on information he received from a rival executive that wonders if the Cubs would package Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija as a part of a deal with Arizona. One of the reasons the Cubs hired Rick Renteria, as Rosenthal pointed out, is to connect with Starlin Castro to get him back on track. Castro does not turn 24 until February and the front office has not given up on Castro.

Jim Bowden posted six different trade scenarios for David Price this winter … not one of the six involved the Cubs.

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