Cubs Looking for a Southpaw and Other News, Notes and Rumors

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been upfront about their desire to add pitching to the roster this winter. The Cubs are thought to be looking at starters Scott Baker, Josh Johnson and Phil Hughes while trying to improve the bullpen in the process.

The Cubs are reportedly in the market to add a lefty reliever to the mix. James Russell has been overworked the past two seasons and Zac Rosscup has a bright future, but very little experience. The Cubs could take a long look at Brooks Raley in the spring to fill the lefty specialist role as well.

James Russell is arbitration eligible for the second time and figures to receive a nice bump in pay from the $1.075 million he earned last season. Russell has appeared in 151 games over the last two years, very close to half of the Cubs total games during that span. Russell was 1-6 in 74 games with a 3.59 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP, but in the second half 1-4 in 19 games with a 3.70 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP. Russell’s strikeouts per nine innings dropped after the break from 7.9 to 4.4 and he issued almost as many walks (11) as strikeouts (12). Russell figures to make slightly under $2 million in 2014.

Russell has been misused by three different Cubs’ managers. Russell struggles getting right handed hitters out and should only be used as a LOOGY. Right handers hit .321/.418/.615 against Russell last year while lefties managed a .183/.221/.322 slash line. For his career, Russell has limited lefties to a .232/.264/.400 line and right handers have hit .293/.356/.511.

Zac Rosscup showed the ability to retire right handers (.211/.308/.328) and lefties (.150/.274/.225) at the Triple-A level last season. But he struggled throwing strikes when he was called up in September. Rosscup was charged with one run on three hits in 6 2/3 innings but issued eight walks, one intentional, with seven strikeouts (1.35 ERA, 1.50 WHIP). It was September and is a small sample size, but he might need a little more time in Iowa’s pen before he’s ready for a full time job in the majors.

One of the lefty relievers the Cubs could sign this winter is J.P. Howell. The Cubs were very interested in signing Howell a year ago before the Dodgers inked him to a one-year, $2.85 million contract. Howell was 4-1 in 67 appearances for the Dodgers with a 2.03 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP.

Javier Lopez, Scott Downs, Eric O’Flaherty, Manny Parra, Boone Logan, Oliver Perez, Matt Thornton, Mike Gonzalez, Rich Hill, Travis Blackley, Zach Duke, Pedro Feliciano and David Purcey are also free agents. O’Flaherty is recovering from Tommy John surgery and should not be an option. And Javier Lopez figures to be in line for a big pay day from a contending team.

Adding an experienced left-handed reliever, on the right deal, would help reduce James Russell’s workload and would allow Rick Renteria to use Russell correctly.

Free Agents

The Cubs’ front office appears to be looking at second and third tier free agents to improve the big league roster for next season. Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein are on record saying they have no intention of swaying from the plan they put in motion more than two years ago.

The Cubs could add pieces to the team, but look for them to be more of the short-term variety signings than long term contracts. Hoyer did not rule out signing a free agent to multiple years but did preface it by saying any signing would have to make sense for the Cubs’ future.

Buster Olney reported that teams are steering away from long-term deals and seem to be more willing to do shorter, higher average annual value deals.

The Cubs are thought to be interested in free agent pitchers Josh Johnson, Scott Baker and Phil Hughes, catchers John Buck and Kurt Suzuki and outfielder Nate McLouth.

Josh Johnson

According to Jeff Passan, the signing of Tim Hudson by the Giants on Monday to a two-year, $23 million contract might “thaw” out the free agent pitching market and Josh Johnson might be the next starter to sign.

The Cubs are believed to be interested in signing Johnson, and most think he will ink a one-year contract to rebuild his value. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Monday that Johnson let the Giants and Padres know early on in the free agent process that they (Giants, Padres) were his first choice. Schulman reported Johnson’s interest in the two teams could be because they are not far from his home in Las Vegas … but those big home ballparks in San Diego and San Francisco would not hurt him either.

Josh Johnson has not fared very well in NL Central parks throughout his career. Johnson is 0-2 with a 7.11 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP in three games, two starts, at Wrigley; 1-1 in three games, two starts, with a 3.95 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP at Great American Ball Park; 0-0 in three starts at Miller Park with a 6.60 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP; 1-0 in one start at PNC Park with a 2.25 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP; 1-2 in three starts at Busch Stadium with a 4.05 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP.

Masahiro Tanaka

Andrew Marchand reported that an agreement between MLB, the MLB Players Association and Nippon Professional Baseball should be reached by the end of the year. And Masahiro Tanaka would still be posted before the season begins.

As Jon Paul Morosi pointed out on Monday, Yu Darvish was not posted until Dec. 8 and the Rangers still had plenty of time to get him ready for the 2012 season.

The Yankees are viewed as the frontrunner to land Tanaka when he is posted.

Jacoby Ellsbury

The Cubs continue to be linked to Jacoby Ellsbury by the mainstream media, and for obvious reasons. The front office is very familiar with Ellsbury, plus he would fit a need at the big league level. Even with prospects such as Albert Almora and Jorge Soler on the horizon, a majority of the hitting prospects in the Cubs’ system are right handed. Brett Jackson is the only lefty outfielder near major league ready that will not be in his late-20s or 30 years old on Opening Day.

Jim Bowden posted a report of one deal he thinks every National League team should make this winter … and for the Cubs it would be to sign Jacoby Ellsbury to a six-year, $120 million contract. Bowden feels that Ellsbury would still be in his prime when Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler all reach the majors by the end of the 2015. And signing Ellsbury “would be an important step forward for the Cubs.”

Jon Heyman reported that the Rangers have apparently ruled out Ellsbury and “are considering a run at top-tier free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.” The Rangers are happy with Leonys Martin in center and are looking at Choo as a replacement for Nelson Cruz.

Scott Boras is looking for a Jayson Werthtype deal (seven years, $126 million) for Shin-Soo Choo and a Carl Crawford-contract (seven years, $142 million) for Jocoby Ellsbury.

Kris Bryant

Kris Bryant has impressed Theo Epstein in a short amount of time. Bryant’s performance led Epstein to compare him to Evan Longoria according to a report from Comcast SportsNet.

The Cubs “aggressively pushed” Bryant and he has responded so far.

Theo Epstein admitted the front office realizes Bryant still “has a long way to go.” Epstein explained, “There are developmental issues for him and parts of his player plan that need to be worked on, just as there are for everybody else in the system.”

Epstein looks “forward to him getting better over the course of the next minor league season.” The Cubs do not plan on rushing Kris Bryant to the big leagues.

A player’s performance dictates his promotions. Epstein explained, “That’s part of the criteria for advancement. One thing we tell our players: ‘If you want to move up, dominate you competition. Perform. Ultimately, it comes down to performance. You need to work on your player plan. You need to work on your weaknesses. You need to be a good teammate. But the single most important factor is performance. Dominate.”

News and Notes

Bronson Arroyo may or may not be on the Cubs’ radar this winter, but the former Reds’ starter is looking for a three-year contract. Arroyo feels he has enough left in his tank to pitch three more seasons and told Jim Bowden and Casey Stern during an interview on MLB Network Radio that he has been contacted by the Phillies, Dodgers, Angels, Twins and Orioles … but he has yet to receive an offer.

The Yankees could use the same loophole the Cubs found in the international free agent market to add talent to a depleted farm system. The Yankees have already surpassed their bonus pool allotment and are expected to exceed their allotment by 15 percent. The Cubs used the loophole in the system to add the top two players in this year’s class and will not be able to sign a player for more than $250,000 next year.

The cost of catching went up on Monday when the Phillies signed Carlos Ruiz to a three-year, $26 million contract that includes a fourth-year option worth $4.5 million and includes a $500,000 buyout. Ruiz’s deal also includes a limited no-trade clause and an incentives package worth an additional $500,000 per year for catching 125 or more games. Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski will benefit the most from Ruiz’s deal … and Dioner Navarro might end up getting the $5-6 million per season he is looking for this winter.

With the Cubs reportedly looking to add a lefty to the pen, the word southpaw will be used countless times this winter. The origin of the word southpaw, in baseball terms, is thought to be from the orientation of early baseball fields to the same points of the compass, such that the pitcher’s left arm was on the “south” side of his body.

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