The Calm Before and Other Cubs News and Notes

The first Friday of the New Year is in the books and teams continue to work on their rosters with Spring Training just around the corner. And what ended up being a quiet week should change in the coming days.

The Hall of Fame debate continued and with the announcement only four days away (Jan. 8), Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio appear to be on their way to enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Masahiro Tanaka stayed in the news along with which teams will end up signing the remaining free agents on the market.

As for the Cubs, the front office appears to be focused on Masahiro Tanaka while looking into other free agent options to add a starter to the mix.

Masahiro Tanaka

Speculation continued on Friday on which team would end up signing Masahiro Tanaka. And depending on the source of the report, the favorites to land Tanaka ranged from the Mariners, to the Diamondbacks to the Yankees. With Casey Close still on vacation, it is too early to tell which team should be considered the favorite to sign Tanaka and how much it will cost.

Pete Abraham reported the Red Sox “are not expected to chase Tanaka” despite Boston’s front office being impressed with his talents. And it is “unlikely at this point” the Red Sox “will add or subtract a prominent starting pitching before Spring Training begins” according to Scott Lauber.

The Tanaka Sweepstakes will kick into high gear next week and figures to continue right up until the deadline at 4:00pm CST on Jan. 24.

Mike Olt

The Cubs are looking for Mike Olt to compete for the third base job this spring. Olt did not play ball this winter and was given the winter off to hit the proverbial reset button. Olt spent time at the Cubs’ facility early in the off-season before he went home for the holidays.

Mike Olt is expected back at the Cubs’ facility soon to prepare for the start of Spring Training.

Jonathan Mayo was asked about Olt and he is not sure how he will perform with the Cubs, if he is given enough playing time. Mayo thinks Olt will “show some power, but not hit for a very high average.” Mayo suggested 20-25 home runs and around a .250 batting average.

Mike Olt was considered a top prospect in the game just a year ago. If he was able to hit the reset button on his career as the Cubs are hoping, he could be at third base for the Cubs on Opening Day in Pittsburgh. Olt will be at the top of the Cubs storylines to follow this spring.

Cubs 40-man Roster

When the team announced the one-year contract with Jose Veras on Dec. 27, the veteran reliever took the last open spot on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. So in order to sign another player to a Major League contract this winter, the front office will have to clear a spot, or two, on their big league roster.

The Cubs have a couple of players they could put on waivers and try to sneak through in order to keep in the system. And of course, a trade or two could also be made to clear space on the roster. Players such as Darwin Barney, Nate Schierholtz, James Russell, and of course, Jeff Samardzija are thought to be available in the right deal.

The recently acquired Brett Marshall could be one option. The Cubs claimed him off waivers from the Yankees prior to the holidays (Dec. 23) and he passed through the American League without being claimed. Marshall has a lot of upside and could be used as a reliever or a starter. Plus Marshall has two minor league options left which would give the Cubs flexibility in the spring.

Alberto Cabrera is another possibility. Cabrera has a big arm and was very good in a starting role for Double-A Tennessee last season. Cabrera went 9-3 in 18 starts for the Smokies with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. In 112 2/3 innings, Cabrera struck out 107 batters, walked 39 and surrendered 102 hits. But when he was promoted to Triple-A Iowa he continued to struggle with his command and walked nearly as many batters (12) as he struck out (19) in 15 relief appearances (20 1/3 innings). Cabrera made only seven appearances out of the Cubs’ pen and walked more hitters (5) than he struck out (4) in six innings.

Alberto Cabrera turned 25 in October and is out of minor league options, which does not bode well for his future with the organization. The front office appears to view him as a reliever and he is slotted behind other right-handed options such as Jose Veras, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Blake Parker and Arodys Vizcaino as well as both Justin Grimm and Carlos Villanueva if they are not used as starters next season.

Theo Epstein is on record stating Brooks Raley has been moved from a rotation option to the bullpen and the shift of Raley to the pen gives the Cubs’ four lefty relievers on the 40-man roster. The Cubs could waive Raley and try to keep him in the system but he has shown the ability to retire left handed hitters in the majors and minors. For his career, lefties have hit .194/.293/.306 against him in 14 big league games and left handers hit .244/.294/.369 against Raley last season in Iowa. Raley’s stuff could play better in a relief role, plus he has one minor league option left. And of course, he is a southpaw. If the Cubs are able to move James Russell, Raley would give them another lefty in the pen, along with Wesley Wright, at the beginning of the season and would allow Zac Rosscup to get the development time in Iowa that he needs.

The Cubs’ daily roster shuffle figures to resume once the season begins and they will have at least one roster spot they will be able to use to add a player currently not on the 40-man once Kyuji Fujikawa is placed on the 60-day DL at the end of Spring Training. But for now, with the way the roster is currently constructed, Cabrera, Marshall and Raley figure to be the prime candidates to be removed from the roster if the front office needs to clear a spot.

TV Contracts

Add the Phillies to the list of big league teams with a huge television contract. According to reports, the Phillies signed a 25-year contract that will pay the team $2.5 billion. The Phillies agreement with NBCUniversal and Comcast SportsNet also includes equity stake and “some ad revenue.”

The Cubs currently receive $60 million per season from Comcast SportsNet ($40 million per season) and WGN TV ($20 million per season) to televise their games.

News and Notes

Bill Chuck posted on Peter Gammons’ site (Gammons Daily) the salary relief the Yankees will receive once the Alex Rodriguez suspension is handed down and Jon Heyman reported the announcement could be made as early as Friday, Jan. 10. The Rodriguez decision will reportedly impact their negotiations with Masahiro Tanaka.

Carlos Marmol has discussed a Major League deal with three teams according to a report from Hardball Talk. Marmol was linked to the Brewers and Red Sox during the Winter Meetings and could sign a contract this month according to the report.

And last, but not least, Buster Olney addressed qualifying offers and free agency in his Friday blog. Olney reported, “The cost of a draft pick is a deal-breaker for a lot of team. The big-market teams want and need access to draft picks and draft dollars attached to those picks so they don’t wind up in the predicament that the Phillies and Yankees are currently in – relying on expensive free agents to fill roster holes. A lot of the small-market teams see the draft picks as their lifeblood, the currency they must hae, because they can’t sign expensive free agents.”

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Quote of the Day

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