The ribbon will be cut on the Cubs’ new facility in Mesa on Wednesday. The team’s pitchers and catchers report in two days. And while the off-season will technically come to an end at that time, the questions that have surrounded the organization all winter will continue to be asked.
The team and the rooftop club owners have yet to come to an agreement that would allow the Cubs to move forward with their plans to restore Wrigley Field. Will the two sides find a common ground before lawsuits delay the project even further? Which radio station will broadcast Cubs’ games after the 2014 season? And will the team and WGN TV work out a deal to keep the Cubs on its long time network beyond the upcoming season? The television and radio contracts are game changers and the team must maximize those revenues.
On the field, Rick Renteria is set to begin his first Spring Training as skipper of the Cubs, the fourth manager under the Ricketts family ownership. Renteria has said all of the right things, as one would expect, and on Friday his real work begins.
The constant questions about players such as Jeff Samardzija, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez figure to dominant the spring and it will be up to Renteria and his coaching staff to keep the players focused on their preparation for the upcoming season. Even without any expectations for the upcoming year, the organization needs several players to put together good years and show improvement on the field.
Welington Castillo was one of the few bright spots for the Cubs last season and on Monday Castillo was named Cub of the Year by Comcast SportsNet.
After a slow start, both at the plate and behind it, Castillo made strides defensively and ended up hitting .274/.349/.397 with 23 doubles and eight home runs. Castillo played in a career-high 113 games.
Welington Castillo hit .288/.388/.475 with eight doubles and six home runs in 44 games after the break.
Jeff Samardzija may have avoided his arbitration hearing on Monday by agreeing to a one-year contract over the weekend, but he cannot avoid the rumor mill.
Mark Gonzales, Bruce Levine and Jim Bowden linked Samardzija to the Mariners. Gonzales reported, “the Mariners have emerged as a potential trade partner” for Samardzija according to his sources while Bowden said Sunday the Mariners checked in with the Cubs about Samardzija but the cost to acquire Samardzija was too high.
According to Nick Cafardo, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer “are holding out hope they can sign him long term” and there is “still a good amount of interest” in Samardzija. Cafardo does not think the Cubs will deal him during Spring Training.
As Mark Gonzales pointed out, five of the Mariners’ top seven prospects according to Baseball America are pitchers and six of the first 10. But it is unknown if Seattle would be willing to part with any of their young pitching prospects.
The Cubs have asked Carlos Villanueva to report to camp prepared to start games. There are several factors that will determine whether or not Villanueva ends up in the Cubs’ rotation on Opening Day.
With the way the Cubs roster is currently constructed, plus Jason Hammel, Villanueva would figure to begin the season in the Cubs’ pen. But that might not benefit the team long term because he might have more value over the course of the season as a starter.
Villanueva is beginning his second and last season of the two-year contract he signed last winter. Villanueva is set to make $5 million this year, unless there are incentives built into his contract that have not been released, and that makes him an affordable option to just about every team. And Villanueva might be more valuable to another club if he is stretched out as a starter.
According to Mark Gonzales, the Blue Jays and Rangers “inquired this winter about Villanueva” and the Cubs “could showcase Villanueva as a starter in the exhibition season for teams seeking a back-end starter.”
News, Notes and Rumors
Barry Rozner reported Sunday “this off-season hasn’t been a lot of fun for Theo Epstein” and it may be due to the mixed messages coming out of the Cubs’ front office, but not from the baseball side. Also included in Rozner’s report was Ryne Sandberg telling Rozner he was not invited to the Cubs Convention.
Ken Davidoff ran a report on the 30 questions facing the 30 teams during Spring Training. For the Cubs, “Will new manager Rick Renteria establish a connection with the many young players that previous skipper Dale Sveum couldn’t?”
RHP Suk-Min Yoon might be down to two teams … and both call the AL East home. Nick Cafardo reported Sunday that Yoon received bids from the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles and the Diamondbacks appeared to still be in the mix. A report from Global Sporting Integration indicated Yoon was down to the Orioles and likely the Blue Jays but the Rangers also remained in the running.
Sports Illustrated gave the Cubs a ‘C’ for the final grade of the off-season.
And lastly, the New York Times posted an article on how general managers foresee a World Series in 2014.