Rumors Continue as Cubs Prepare for Spring Training

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

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

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.

Carlos Villanueva

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.

Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO and @TheCCO_Minors

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  • Ripsnorter1

    “Ryne Sandberg was not invited to the Cubs’ convention.”

    This FO is real classy. NOT.

    • Sonate

      Agree. This is puzzling. The convention is for the fans, right? Why the slight? Ryno could always decline if he’s uncomfortable. I wonder what more there is to this story.

    • 07GreyDigger

      Why would they invite him to the convention? He’s managing ANOTHER TEAM! Get over it Ryno. You work for the Phillies now. How would’ve that looked?

      • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

        No kidding! The day he no longer manages another national league team he can come back. Until then, absolutely not. The idea they would invite him is insanity!

      • cubtex

        maybe because he is a Hall of Fame 2nd baseman who played for our Cubs and is beloved in Chicago. What da think? Pretty good reason?

        • 07GreyDigger

          Would you invite Kirk Gibson to Tigerfest or Don Mattingly to a Yankeefest? I don’t really get why this is a sticking point.

          • cubtex

            It was in Neil’s report. Someone obviously felt the need to ask him why he didn’t attend. Never got an invite. He is a part of the Cubs and many long time fans favorite player. I also think they should invite Sammy Sosa back as well. These players are who many people have grown up watching. Invite the Sosa,Kingman,Rick Reushel,Leon Durham,Buckner,
            DeJesus(not David) Trillo,Jody Davis etc. That is who the fans would want to see. imo

          • cubtex

            and of course. Banks,B Williams,Kessinger,Hundley etc

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            I agree on Sammy. Absolutely don’t on Ryno. If they did decide to invite him, great, I wouldn’t mind. But I have zero problem with them not doing so.

      • cubtex

        this is from the link above in case you didn’t open it.

        And when pressed on the issue of the Cubs’ relationship with
        Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg, the marketing boss made it sound
        terrific and said Sandberg was invited to the convention.

        According to Sandberg, this is patently untrue.

        • 07GreyDigger

          This is so silly. Sandberg probably isn’t contractually able to go anyway so who cares if he’s not invited? I imagine if he weren’t managing elsewhere he’d be invited. Seems like a petty thing to pick on the organization for.

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            Sandberg has never gotten along with them for whatever reason. I don’t know if he’s still bitter about not getting the managerial job but there is bad blood. It flows both ways I believe, but if he weren’t managing a rival National League Club I imagine he would have been invited.

  • Tony_Hall

    Villanueva could take a spot in the rotation to start and send Arrieta to Iowa. This would give them Hammel and Villanueva to trade ala Maholm and Feldman. Add in the possible trade of Samardzija before the deadline and it would all buy time for the Arrieta, Hendricks, Ramirez, Beeler, etc to sort out who deserves the spot in the rotations. Arrieta and Ramirez are on their last option year, so they both need to stick in 2015 in the rotation or the pen.

    • Tony_Hall

      And those young pitchers are going to be followed pretty closely by CJ Edwards, Pierce Johnson, and Vizcaino, let alone Wells, Pineyro and Black.

      • Bryan

        If all the stars align perfectly.

        • Tony_Hall

          There are only 5 spots in the rotation. Not all the stars have to align.

    • Zonk

      Only one problem with that plan….Arrieta has an option, but he has accrued enough service time that he has to pass through Optional Waivers in order to be sent down. They are revocable, but any team can claim him in that process.

      For that reason, Arrieta has probably made the team already

      • Tony_Hall

        That only applies if they try to take him off the 40 man roster and send him to Iowa. They can option him to Iowa with no restrictions. I had thought this as well and Neil corrected me on it a few weeks ago.

        • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

          Tony, my response then was to Parker and Rondon if I remember correctly. Thanks for posting the link to the glossary page.

          • Tony_Hall

            After I posted I was wondering about that. I love having the glossary page to reference. Of course from time to time everyone misspeaks when referencing info.

          • Zonk

            I researched this a bit; I was basically right, but in practice only half-so.

            First, Arrieta does need to clear Optional Assignment Waivers to be optioned to the minors, regardless of his status on the 40-man. He cannot be sent down at will anymore.

            However, because OAW’s are revocable, other teams usually do not put in a claim, because you would then simply pull the player back. Teams usually only do it when they WANT the team to have a roster crunch problem. As a courtesy, teams usually lay off.

            So, Cubs can probably send him down once, but if at any point another team decides to be a bit, dickish, then he can’t.

      • Tony_Hall

        I might be off on that.

        Here is optional waivers.

        Optional Waivers

        Optional Major League waivers are required when optioning a player who has options remaining but who is more than three calendar years removed from his first appearance on a Major League roster (40-man roster). Because optional waivers are revocable, players usually clear in this scenario.

        http://chicagocubsonline.com/major-league-baseball-transactions-glossary#.UvorWfldVws

        So someone could block them from doing so, but I doubt any team is going to be worried about the Cubs players in this category.

        • Zonk

          Oops, saw this after posting above….you are right, Arrieta is stuck, but Cubs can probably get him through as most teams don’t claim as a “courtesy”.

  • Tony_Hall

    I still have at least 1 spot open in the fantasy baseball league with as many as 5 possibly available.

    I have 15 confirmed. 2 screen names who said they wanted to play, but I haven’t received their emails yet. And I have 2 people I am holding spots for that all I have is an email, but no screen name. I will hold these spots until tomorrow morning, but then will fill with anyone else who wants to play.

    If you want to play send an email to Neil through this link, that includes your screen name on the CCO. You don’t have to be a regular poster, but you do need a screen name.

    http://chicagocubsonline.com/contact

    • Vivid_Reality

      The divisions should really be the optimists and the cynics, lol.

      • Tony_Hall

        LOL!

    • Denver Mike

      Did you decide if you were doing ESPN or Yahoo?

      • Tony_Hall

        ESPN

    • TheWrongGuy

      I sent Neil 2 messages.
      Though he only needs one. =)

  • The Dude Abides

    The FO needs a united front on all messaging and right now they don’t appear to be on the same page at all based on various leaked information. Rickett$ needs to get this taken care of ASAP. A power struggle between baseball and business operations is the last thing he needs.

    Rickett$ & family already come off as being out of their
    league in just about everything they do, a power struggle very well could stall an already stagnant rebuild of Wrigley, TV/radio deals, on field product, etc.

    C’Mon Man! you owe the fans something.

  • cubtex

    Cubs got a C grade for their offseason moves. Lol. Most significant move? Hiring Rick Renteria as manager. I like Renteria and think it was a good hire, but what other moves have they done to improve the team. Hammel? Coming off last year will give the team a C grade? They deserve an F. No activity after losing 96 games.

    • Tony_Hall

      LOL, and they award the trophy for winning the off-season when?

      The last few teams to win the off-season, I believe missed the playoffs.

      • cubtex

        They didn’t do anything is my point!

        • Tony_Hall

          They did do things just not as much or what you wanted.

        • cubtex

          Attaboy Digger! Keep up your league leading down arrows :))) I am proud of you kid!

          Since I have a high school junior, I will use this example. Say a student takes the ACT college entrance exam for the 1st time and does extremely poor….lets say a 16(my daughter better add at least 12 to that :) or in the Cubs case lose 100 plus games. The student takes an ACT prep class and studies and studies to try and improve his or her score. or in the Cubs case, signs an EJax,Feldman,Baker,Schierholtz
          Navarro. The student takes the test again and only improves 1 pt to a 17. or in the Cubs case improves 6 games or so. Student signs up to take ACT a 3rd time but this time says…what is the point? I studied,took a class and still only improved 1 point. I am not going to do much this time and just take the test. Cubs didn’t do much. They are just resigned to the fact that they will be bad. That is the Cubs offseason.

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            Pretty much true. Willing to roll the dice with what they have and get better by having current players improve. Next year will be a big offseason for the Cubs in my opinion. I believe since day 1 the 2014-2015 offseason has been when Theo has planned on beginning to make his move.

          • cubtex

            I even have been noticing some frustration from you Rider :) I don’t think when Theo took over anyone imagined a roster looking like this in year 3.

          • John_CC

            That’s a funny analogy, we know where your head is.

            What if the next kid pays for all sorts of study aids, multiple books, pays a tutor, pays to take the pre-tests and it seems to have paid off, she scores a 30. Accolades are thrown upon her by relatives, her dad brags to all his friends, it’s pretty certain at this point that she’ll be pre-med easily.

            Everyone is shocked and dismayed when at the end of her first year she has 2.0 GPA.

          • cubtex

            happens all the time. This past offseason reminded me of that ACT example. I feel Theo and the boys decided what is the point to add this year when we will lose anyway.

          • Rational Logic

            False. The Cubs are not willing to contribute money and long contracts to players who will block the upcoming talent. The “do-nothing” can also be seen as holding on to promising prospects, instead of trading them away, not signing players to block them, and signing players who can be traded at the deadline to further improve the system. The major league roster, if healthy, is good enough to tread water until the reinforcements come. That’s the message of the offseason.

            Considering the Cubs did nothing to hurt their future in reality, I’d say it’s a good one.

            Good luck to your daughter. I too am studying for a big time exam (not college related, however!).

          • cubtex

            what if the Cubs had done nothing until the Patterson’s, Pie’s,Colvin’s,Jake Fox’s,Ryan Harvey’s, etc were ready? They never would have been in the playoffs 2003,2007 and 2008. To not improve the team for 3 years “UNTIL” the prospects come is not a plan for success.

            BTW- Thanks for the luck for my daughter. This will be child #3 going to college and one more to go after her.

          • Rational Logic

            You make a good point, however, the team during those years was already very top heavy at the ML level, and wasn’t a rebuilding effort, so the pieces were in place and couldn’t be moved. This situation is different, reversed. Those players were acquired over several years as part of already contending teams.

          • cubtex

            right now the only realistic prospects who could see time at Wrigley as potential long term players are Baez and Alcantara. I don’t see Bryant,Soler or Almora sniffing the majors this year. So lets say that Baez gets called up in July and plays 3rd base and Alcantara plays 2B. Baez does well but Alcantara struggles and is clearly overmatched. He is sent back down and will start the next year in AAA. Do you still keep that spot open for him with a fill in to not block him? What if Soler gets hurt again and pushes his clock back another year. Do you go into 2015 with Baez,Castro a fill in at 2B because Alcantara is not ready still and Rizzo in the infield. Almora will start 2015 in AAA and Soler struggled again and got hurt so now he starts again in AA. Do you keep another 3 stooges tandem in the OF again in 2015 so nobody is blocked and lose again? Do you see how this cycle could occur for the next 3 years?

          • Rational Logic

            That’s why this year is make or break for Theo and Co. The kids have to show SOMETHING or else it has all been wasted. However, to not have spaces cleared for them is clearly the wrong choice.

      • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

        We all knew they weren’t going to make a big splash this year. I expect them to next year but they’re just not gonna build externally. Until they have a base up from the minors and an external piece would augment the major league roster I just don’t see them signing anybody significant.

        Next year I believe we will sign at least one major free agent. If he is a pitcher or plays a position of need.

        • cubtex

          yep. they will be forced to Rider. Fans will not tolerate another offseason of inactivity. Key word is “forced” Could be another EJax sign if they can’t get one of their main targets.

        • K_Gripp

          Which major FA signing would that be? Next year’s FA class is not that great. With the new CBA the top players are not making it to free agency. They certainly aren’t making it to FA at an age and a cost that fits with Theo and Jed’s “pay for future performance not past performance” strategy. Hopefully they can find a few pieces via FA that can contribute but don’t look to FA to be some sort of savior for the organization. They have pushed all in on developing form the ground up which means 2015 the prospects arrive and hopefully by 2017 the prospects are producing at a level where the Cubs can win and acquire complimentary pieces via FA and trade.

          I’m much more inclined to believe that the Cubs will be in a position to improve next off season via trades. They will have a pretty good handle on their organizational strengths by position. They can also evaluate who in the organization is over valued by scouts and can be used for trade.

          Unfortunately I think it is now much more likely that 2016 is the first year the cubs are competitive. Seven seasons of misery after they were swept from the playoffs by the Dodgers.

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            I believe they will sign Masterson or Bailey. More likely both, as I believe that will be what it takes to get either one to come. And I agree on trades. Good chance to get something back for prospects that internally we have lost faith in.

            I think that yes, 2016 will be when we can compete. But I see 2015 as much improved and fun to watch. Baez, Alcantra and Bryant all up. Olt improving and maybe Villanueva. Plus Vizcaino at full strength. We may not be postseason ready but the future will be arriving and there will be a lot to get excited about.

          • cubtex

            I like Masterson. I would like to get him but they will need to overpay to get either Masterson or Bailey. With those 2 being the only 2 starting pitchers available they will have a lot of suitors. I think the only realistic way to get a TOR is through a trade. They are going to need to trade a couple of top prospects for one. Kind of like the Garza deal.

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            I think we will get our TOR starter in a deal that includes Castro. If he plays as he is capable in te first half I see him gone in a deadline deal for a near MLB ready stud pitching prospect. Somebody like Archie Bradley but maybe not him exactly.

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            And of course don’t forget Loux waiting in the wings to take his spot near the top, eh Ray?

            Seriously though, this is a big year for him. He either stays healthy and takes a step forward or breaks down and is probably done with baseball. Or near it.

          • cubtex

            Loux has got to be able to stay healthy enough to go more than 5IP per start.

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            Yeah that was pretty much a joke. It is make or break for him though. Stay healthy or not. Prolly 80/20 against but you know I’m pulling for him. Guy started on front of Wacha in college. I still think he was a good get in the Soto trade. Soto had no value. Loux has tons of potential, JUst a huge red flag to accompany it.

          • cubtex

            There was never a question about his stuff. He was the 6th pick of the draft. Diamondbacks would have never let him walk if they thought he could stay healthy

          • SuzyS

            If the Reds fall back…I see Bailey as a strong trade candidate at the trade deadline…and that might mean an extension wherever he lands.

          • cubtex

            Agreed

          • K_Gripp

            The arrival of the prospects in 2015 will at least make the team fun to watch. I think one of the frustrations of Cubs fans is we thought a rebuild was going to include watching young prospects get to prove themselves on the big club. Unfortunately the cupboard was so bare that we have been watching 3 years of has beens and never will bes holding places until the prospects are ready to cut their teeth. After this season we should be able to say that the worst is behind us but this season will not be pretty.

          • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

            I just don’t see it as bad as some feel. If Castro improves that by itself will make us better. Add in Rizzo, Schierholtz and Castillo all playing better. Barney couldn’t get much worse and from what we hear he is focused on better hitting. Add in a more seasoned Junior Lake. Then the pitching: I believe Arietta and EJax will both improve, I’m not on board that Wood was a flash in the pan. Then Shark another year older and wiser and especially better on a more competitive club. Throw in a bullpen that is undoubtedly light years ahead of last year and I think the status quo will be greatly improved over last year. Maybe 8-10 more wins.

        • K_Gripp
    • PleaseStopLosing

      It would sure be nice to get C’s in school every year without doing anything at all…

      • cubtex

        At first I thought they might not have given any of the other teams lower grades…but they did. If C would have been the lowest I would have understood.

  • CubbyDenCritic

    Rumors, rumors, rumors……Baseball always has rumors 365 days of the year…..only 5% of them are truthful……

    If you remember, not only did the Cubs lost out to Tanaka to the Yankees…. Joe Girardi also rejected the Cubs managers opening……

    It was reported that Sandberg had other commitments for not coming to the Cubs convention…….

    if Renteria cannot connect with the young players, then we have no chance at all of being a World Series team……..

    Tanaka spent $220,000 from his new contract to fly 7 people from Japan to NYC on a charter 787……..that is like Samardzija charting a Greyhound Bus for $15,000 for seven of his people to a trip to Mesa, Az from Chicago.

    Grades don’t mean much….results do !

    I know many of us cannot wait for Opening Day….but how many of you are more excited to see what our roster will be like on August 1st….and who we traded for?

    The Cubs 2015 season starts when September 2014 call ups arrive.

  • No Baseball In Indiana

    Fangraphs top 100 prospects, Cubs have 7 : http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2014-top-100-prospects/

  • CubbyDenCritic

    Bleacher Report compared our hitting prospects with past or present day hitters…………

    J. Baez = G Sheffield……..what will come first for Baez, 500 HR’s or 9 MLB teams?

    K. Bryant = A Pujols…….is Rickettts ready to pay Kris $240 million ?…..does Ricketts have $240 million?

    J. Soler = Y Puig……….Will Soler speed down Alligator Alley or the Kennedy Expressway doing 120 mph ?…or throw 120 mph ball to the plate?

    A. Almora = J. Ellsbury……I love diving catches on the grass.

    A. Alcantara = R Furcal……..I love diving catches on the dirt

    D. Vogelbach = P Fielder……..I hope all the best for Rizzo and his new team….and lets make sure there are plenty of Jenny Craig meals in the locker room for Voggie.

    M Olt = JJ Hardy………..Not Santo numbers , but Olt will be better than Gary Scott.

  • STLCubsFan

    I bet the FO was asking for Taijuan Walker in the trade for the Mariners acquiring Shark, which would be amazing, but understandably so the Mariners would not let that happen now.

    Just wait and see what the deadline brings. Saying he remains healthy and progresses from last year, he will be a hot item come July.

    • TheWrongGuy

      I agree. The probably did ask for T. Walker if there were any talks between them for Shark. Mariners, Rays, and Royals all look to be the teams with the best possible chances of catching a Shark for their rotation at the trade deadline.
      Mariners – T. Walker + ?
      Rays – Hellickson + Odorizzi
      Royals – K. Zimmer + comp draft pick

      Mariners, Rays, and Royals are all making a push in the play-offs this year and have good line-ups to support play-offs. Mariners and Royals Front offices jobs are in jeopardy. So they might be desperate. Just my opinion.

      • CubsfannearSeattle

        When it comes to Seattle I’ll second that opinion. … Jack Z. is about to lose his job and so he’s risking everything on the Cano signing. It’s a make or break season for him. If the signing doesn’t work out what does he care anyway? He’ll be out of the job, but the Mariners will take another 10 years to rebuild. Living in the area I’d love to see it ‘work out,’ but I’m still upset over the Wedge departure and I’m NOT a big fan of Jack Z. I can’t help but wonder what drink he gave to ownership to get them to sign off on that contract.