The Cubs break camp in five days before wrapping up the exhibition season with two games against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field. In one week the Cubs will depart Arizona and fly to Pittsburgh for the start of the season. And the team that is picked to finish at the bottom of the NL Central has several questions to find answers to over the next seven days.
Teams are interested in trading for Nate Schierholtz, Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija. The general feeling is that the front office would not receive the package they are looking for in return for Samardzija at this point and they will hold on to him until July. But Schierholtz and Barney could fill holes on a contender’s roster.
The Tigers traded for infielder Andrew Romine on Friday and might start the season with a platoon at shortstop before looking into signing Stephen Drew. Drew is now willing to sign a one-year contract but reportedly not until after the first day of the season so he is not subject to the qualifying offer next off-season. The Tigers seem to have moved on from Darwin Barney but Jim Bowden is convinced the Dodgers should trade for Barney to fill their hole at second base.
As for Nate Schierholtz, the Tigers are interested and one scout told Jon Heyman that “Schierholtz fits the Tigers perfectly.” What the Cubs could receive for Schierholtz is unknown at this point. The front office is believed to be looking for pitching in return for Schierholtz, and for any player they would trade from their big league roster. LHP Casey Crosby was a name floated last week as a pitcher the Cubs might be interested in if a deal with Detroit was made.
The Cubs have to clear at least one spot on the 40-man roster for Emilio Bonifacio. The front office could use the spot the team will receive once Kyuji Fujikawa is placed on the 60-day DL for Bonifacio, and that would leave only one other spot to open for Ryan Kalish. Kalish has seemingly played his way onto the Cubs roster this spring and has made Schierholtz, or Ryan Sweeney, available.
The Cubs also have to decide how they are going to start the season at third base. Peter Gammons reported Friday that if “Mike Olt passes the defensive tests the next few days he may open as the Cubs third baseman and cleanup hitter.” If Mike Olt is on the Opening Day roster, the team has a decision to make with Donnie Murphy. Murphy is out of options and is in camp on a one-year, non-guaranteed deal that becomes guaranteed if he is on the roster on March 31. Luis Valbuena is a better defender than Murphy, plus he hits from the left side of the plate.
The fifth spot in the rotation remains in question and if the Cubs start the season with Chris Rusin in the rotation, Carlos Villanueva will take one of the seven spots in the bullpen. With Jose Veras, Pedro Strop, James Russell and Wesley Wright penciled in four of the seven spots, if Rusin is in the rotation, the last two spots should be filled by Hector Rondon, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Blake Parker or Neil Ramirez. Cabrera is out of options and has shown improvement this spring.
The Cubs have 44 players on their spring roster and more cuts are likely to be announced this weekend. The next seven days should be anything but boring for the Chicago Cubs.
Starlin Castro does not think he will miss the start of the season and neither does his manager. Castro addressed his status prior to Friday’s game and said “he feels really good” according to a report from ESPN Chicago. Castro told the media he would like to start playing in minor league games on Saturday. Castro would be able to get as many at bats as he would like in minor league games by leading off every inning.
Castro ran the bases Thursday “and is making good progress” according to a report from Carrie Muskat. Castro participated in fielding drills and took batting practice Friday. Castro injured his right hamstring on March 2 and what was supposed to keep him out 7-10 days has kept him out of the lineup for nearly three weeks.
Rick Renteria is “not worried” about Castro starting the year on the DL or not in the lineup on Opening Day. Renteria said “all indications are he’ll be 100 percent.” And the team isn’t looking into other options at shortstop for Opening Day at this point.
Starlin Castro could be back in the Cubs’ starting lineup on Monday or Tuesday if all goes well in the minor league games this weekend.
Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin
The fifth spot in the Cubs’ Opening Day rotation is down to a competition between Carlos Villanueva and Chris Rusin. Rusin made his case Friday with five more shutout innings and Villanueva will get his next chance to prove himself on Monday night in Peoria when the Cubs face the Padres. Villanueva told ESPN Chicago that he will do whatever the team asks him to do (start or pitch out of the bullpen).
Travis Wood made his next to last start in Spring Training on Friday afternoon at the Cubs complex. Wood stayed on schedule by facing a team of Diamondbacks’ minor leaguers. Wood reportedly allowed three runs, all earned, on seven hits with two walks and nine strikeouts in six innings. Wood served up a home run and threw 102 pitches, 68 for strikes.
Travis Wood should make his last Cactus League start on Wednesday when the Cubs face the Diamondbacks in Scottsdale.
News, Notes and Rumors
Javier Baez’s bruised right heel will be evaluated on Saturday. And he is expected to play in Saturday’s game against the Reds at Cubs Park.
According to a report from Mark Gonzales, the Royals have given James Russell “an extended look” this spring. The Cubs would like to have two lefties in the pen this year and have already used an option on Zac Rosscup. Non-roster invitees Jonathan Sanchez and Tsuyoshi Wada have struggled this spring, but the Cubs could still choose to deal James Russell, and go with either Sanchez or Wada to start the season or go outside of the organization to find another lefty reliever.
Junior Lake is going to receive every chance to succeed, or fail, this year. And the Cubs want to see a full season of The Junior Lake Show according to a report from Patrick Mooney.
When it comes to the Cubs, it’s a matter of when, not if, for Rick Sutcliffe.
The Cubs’ future looks very bright according to a report from David Kaplan.