Kris Bryant Wins AFL MVP and Cubs Continue to Explore Options

Weekend Update

The Arizona Fall League wrapped up the 2013 season on Saturday with Mesa losing 2-0 to Surprise in the Championship game. But before the contest, Kris Bryant received the Joe Black Award for the Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League. Bryant was impressive during the fall league and created quite the buzz. Bryant edged out Solar Sox teammate, C.J. Cron for the honor.

Kris Bryant hit .364/.457/.727 with eight doubles and one triple. Bryant led the AFL in home runs with six, drove in 17 runs, walked 14 times and finished with a league leading 1.184 OPS in 20 games. Bryant played third and was used as Mesa’s designated hitter.

As for the big league team, it will be a busy final full week before the Thanksgiving holiday for the Cubs’ front office. The Cubs have roster decisions to make, a coaching staff to fill and are expected to continue exploring free agent signings and trades.

Renteria’s Staff

The Cubs are expected to announce Rick Renteria’s coaching staff at some point during the coming week. Chris Bosio reportedly signed a two-year contract to return as pitching coach. Lester Strode will be back as assistant pitching coach/bullpen coach. And Mike Borzello is expected to be part of Renteria’s staff.

As for the other five positions on Renteria’s staff, the front office is believed to be talking to Bill Mueller about the hitting coach job. Gary Jones and Bruce Fields appear to be in the running for the base coach positions and Jose Castro is thought to be in line for a coaching job.

Mariano Duncan could end up as the Cubs’ assistant hitting coach. Duncan received rave reviews for the work he did as Daytona’s hitting instructor last year and Starlin Castro had his second best month of the season when Duncan was with the big league team in September. Alex Cora and Henry Blanco are also thought to be in the mix for a coaching position.

After reports suggested A.J. Hinch could leave the Padres’ front office to be Renteria’s bench coach, those reports were shot down by Comcast SportsNet late last week. It is unclear at this point who the leading candidate or candidates are to be Renteria’s bench coach.

40-Man Roster

Wednesday (Nov. 20) is the deadline for all teams to file their Major and Minor League reserve lists to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft. The Cubs’ 40-man roster currently sits at 37 players.

The Cubs have until Dec. 2 to tender contracts for the 2014 season to arbitration eligible players and could create room on the roster by Wednesday by addressing their arbitration and automatic renewal players.

Daniel Bard, Darwin Barney, Mat Gamel, Donnie Murphy, James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, Nate Schierholtz, Pedro Strop, Luis Valbuena and Travis Wood are the 10 players that are arbitration eligible for next season. Donnie Murphy seems to be a non-tender candidate.

The front office has a long list of minor league players they could add to the 40-man roster to protect from the Rule 5 Draft but the most likely additions are IF Arismendy Alcantara, OF Jae-Hoon Ha and possibly LHP Eric Jokisch. Teams may look at RHP Dallas Beeler, LHP Austin Kirk, RHP Matt Loosen and RHP Frank Batista closely before deciding all four of the young pitchers are not ready to be on an active big league roster for an entire season.

Minor League Roster Moves

The Cubs confirmed the signing of OF Aaron Cunningham to a minor league contract and announced they signed free agent infielder Walter Ibarra to a minor league contract.

The 26-year old Ibarra has been in the Yankees’ organization since he signed as an 18-year old in 2006. Walter Ibarra split time at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in the Yankees’ system a year ago and hit a combined .276/.308/.367/.675 with seven doubles, one triple and three home run in 58 games. At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Ibrarra hit .254/.300/.344 with five doubles and two home runs in 38 games.

Cunningham’s deal includes a non-roster invite to Spring Training. It was not announced if Ibarra’s contract includes the same.

There is also an unconfirmed, but reliable, report that the Cubs signed catcher Eli Whiteside to a minor league contract that includes an invite to big league camp.

Jeff Samardzija and Other Cubs Rumors

The Jeff Samardzija rumors should increase in the coming week. The list of teams interested in trading for Samardzija should also increase from the Diamondbacks, Nationals, Blue Jays and Pirates. The front office would like to keep Samardzija in the fold and sign him to a long-term, team friendly contract that would not include a non-trade clause. But Samardzija is willing to go year to year with the Cubs at this point. If the team cannot work out a deal with him they are expected to shop Samardzija at the Winter Meetings.

Nate Schierholtz could also be on the block with Arizona being the only team linked to him by the mainstream media so far this winter. The Pirates were thought to have a lot of interest in trading for him last July and there could still be a fit there.

As for additions to the Cubs’ roster, the front office is looking at the second and third tier free agents such as Nate McLouth to fill a spot in the outfield and both John Buck and Kurt Suzuki as possible backups for Welington Castillo.

Scott Baker is thought to be on the Cubs’ radar as well as Josh Johnson and Phil Hughes. Hughes, the former Yankee, could fit into the Cubs plans past the 2014 season and there appears to be a lot of interest in signing Hughes. Many feel that once he is out of the American League he will reach some of the projections from early in his career.

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Quote of the Day

"Build up your weaknesses until they become your strong points." – Knute Rockne