Cubs Working on the Big League Roster, Focus on the Minors and Other News and Rumors

Weekend Update

It could be a very busy 72 hours throughout the game leading up to Christmas, especially if the Rakuten Eagles finally make a decision, one way or the other, to post Masahiro Tanaka. Players prefer to know where they will be playing prior to the holidays and there are several free agents still unsigned for next season.

The last high-dollar, long-contract, free-agent position player of the off-season came off the board on Saturday when Shin-Soo Choo agreed to a seven-year, $130 million deal with the Texas Rangers. The addition of Choo, along with acquiring Prince Fielder this winter, likely takes Texas out of the bidding for Masahiro Tanaka, if he is posted, according to Joel Sherman. Ken Rosenthal reported the same as Sherman and indicated the Rangers are out on the Tanaka derby with the addition of Choo according to his sources.

Jed Hoyer reiterated the Cubs are working on ways to improve the big league roster. And while he did not mention any deals or signings being relatively close, Hoyer did indicate it could be an active January for the Cubs.

The Cubs technically have one spot open on the 40-man roster. The team has not announced the one-year deal with Jose Veras that was agreed to last week. The one-year contract includes a club option for the 2015 season and it will be announced once Veras has passed his physical. With what transpired in Baltimore between the Orioles and Grant Balfour proves an agreement is just that until a contract is actually signed and announced by the team.

The front office added more players to their minor league roster and non-roster invite list to Spring Training this past week. The signings of LHP Jonathan Sanchez and LHP Tsuyoshi Wada are intriguing and could turn out to be low risk signings that pay dividends for the organization down the road. Sanchez will compete for a spot in the Cubs’ pen in Spring Training and with the way the roster is currently constructed, Wada figures to be Chris Rusin’s main competition for a spot in the Cubs’ rotation.

The Cubs are believed to be talking to the Yankees about Darwin Barney, listening to offers for Jeff Samardzija with the Blue Jays still seen as a possibility and they are thought to be receiving calls (or texts) about Nate Schierholtz.

In other news, the Cubs announced the minor league managers, staffs and coordinators for the 2014 season this past week. The front office did not make any changes with their minor league skippers from last year. Marty Pevey (Triple-A Iowa), Buddy Bailey (Double-A Tennessee), Dave Keller (High-A Daytona), Mark Johnson (Low-A Kane County) and Gary Van Tol (Short-Season, Low-A Boise) were all retained.

The biggest changes on the coaching front in the Cubs’ system were the pitching coach assignments.

Bruce Walton replaced Mike Mason as Iowa’s pitching coach. Brian Lawrence was hired to coach the pitching staff in Boise and former Cubs’ top prospect Angel Guzman took a full time job as the pitching coach for the Venezuela Cubs.

The front office promoted Storm Davis, Ron Villone and David Rosario up a level to help keep the pitchers that made progress under their tutelage last season going in the right direction. Davis moved up a level from Daytona to Tennessee for the 2014 season. And Davis figures to have an excellent staff to work with next year. Ron Villone replaces Davis in Daytona after he spent the 2013 season in Kane County and David Rosario was promoted from Boise to Kane County, and like Davis, on paper Rosario will have a very good staff in Kane County next season.

As for the hitting coaches, Brian Harper will remain in Iowa, Desi Wilson in Tennessee and Mariano Duncan will return to Daytona. Tom Beyers and Bill Buckner will handle the hitting coach duties for the Cougars and the Hawks.

Starlin Castro

Starlin Castro is making off-season headlines for all of the wrong reasons. Castro is coming off the worst season of his professional career and took several steps back in his development. Castro is a big-time talent, one that has collected 692 hits at the big league level before the ripe old age of 24. The Cubs see Castro as part of the team’s core moving forward and the front office realizes the importance of getting him back on track.

Theo Epstein explained during the meetings with the season-ticket holders last month that Castro called one day and asked for Tim Buss to be sent to the Dominican to work with Castro to get him back in shape. Epstein put Buss on the plane the next day.

Starlin Castro has been in the majors for the best part of the last four seasons and he will be playing for his fourth different manager … and third different coaching staff. Castro mentioned at the end of last season he was going to stop listening to everyone that was trying to help him and just go back to playing the way he did.

But was Starlin Castro being distracted last year by off the field problems?

A report earlier in the week indicated Castro had one of his bank accounts in the Dominican frozen due to a contract Castro’s father signed when he was only 16 years old. According to the reports, Castro’s father “allegedly signed a contract promising three percent of the shortstop’s big league earnings to go to a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.” The $60 million contract extension he signed in 2012 triggered the contract and the baseball academy claimed he owed them $1.8 million.

Reportedly under Dominican law, twice the amount owed in a lawsuit can be frozen until the matter is resolved. Castro is fighting the claim and has issued a countersuit claiming his father “did not have the right to sign away his earnings past age 18.”

Paul Sullivan reported on Saturday night the lawsuit has affected Starlin Castro’s performance on the field to the point that part of the countersuit indicates the ordeal “has had a direct impact on his duties as a professional ballplayer, leading to one of his worst-ever statistical performances.”

Castro’s agent, Paul Kinzer, told Sullivan that the issue will not impact Castro on the field moving forward because “he has known about it since last year and has gone through so much already.”

Minor Signings

The Cubs officially added four players to their list of non-roster invitees to Spring Training this past week. So here is an updated list of players the front office has signed to minor league contracts this winter.

Pitchers

  • RHP Paolo Espino
  • LHP Tommy Hottovy (NRI)
  • RHP Carlos Pimentel
  • LHP Jonathan Sanchez (NRI)
  • LHP Tsuyoshi Wada (NRI)

Catchers

  • John Baker (NRI)
  • Eli Whiteside (NRI)

Infielders

  • Walter Ibarra
  • Ryan Roberts (NRI)
  • Chris Valaika (NRI)
  • Jeudy Valdez

Outfielders

  • Aaron Cunningham (NRI)
  • Ryan Kalish (NRI)
  • Darnell McDonald (NRI)
  • Mitch Maier (NRI)
  • Casper Wells (NRI)

NRI – Player received Non-Roster Invitation to Major League Spring Training

News and Notes

According to Baseball America, the Giants signed former Cubs’ RHP Casey Weathers to a minor league contract. And the Rangers inked RHP Justin Germano and IF/OF Brent Lillibridge to minor league deals.

With Shin-Soo Choo agreeing to terms with the Rangers, Jeff Passan pointed out on Twitter that teams have guaranteed approximately $1.543 billion to free agents this winter. American League teams account for $1.13 billion and National League teams have spent $409.18 million. Passan broke out the spending to the point that minus Jhonny Peralta’s deal with the Cardinals, NL Central teams have spent $24.95 million this winter. Passan reported on Saturday night that MLB teams are on pace to spend more than $2 billion this off-season.

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Quote of the Day

"From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life." – Arthur Ashe