Questions Remain for the Cubs with a Week Left in Spring Training

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.

CubsMesaLogo-pubTeams 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

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

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.

Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO and @TheCCO_Minors

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  • triple

    I was reading the debate in the ramblings comment section about why Baez and Olt should or should not start the season with the Cubs. Here’s some real facts:

    Olt’s 1st 6 ST games produced this line:
    .235/.235/.412/1HR/3RBI/7k/0BB in 17 at bats

    Baez’s 1st 6 ST games produced this line:
    .333/.333/.778/2HR/2RBI/3k/0BB in 18 at bats

    Olt’s next 21 at bats produced 3HR/6RBI/5K/3BB which leaves him with a .289/.333/.632 slash line with 4HR and 9 RBI to date

    Baez’s next 25 at bats produced 3HR/3RBI/10k/0BB which leaves him with a .333/.333/.857 slash line with 5HR and 5 RBI to date

    As you can see, once pitchers were getting stretched out more and both of these guys have recently seen more major league caliber pitchers, one guy is producing for his team (getting on base and driving in runs), while the other hasn’t done any more than hit 5 solo homeruns. Yes he hits them far and its fun to watch the longball, but solo homeruns don’t help put crooked numbers up on the scoreboard, which will help get the team into the win column.

    Want more to consider? It only becomes more obvious.

    Bases empty:

    Olt: 6 for 18/2HR/2RBI/4K/.333/.333/.722
    Baez: 13 for 29/5HR/5RBI/5K/.448/.448/1.069

    Wow, Baez is killing it!!! Olt is not too shabby either.

    Now here are their stats with runners on base:

    Olt: 5 for 20/2HR/7RBI/8K/3BB
    Baez: 0 for 13/0HR/0RBI/8k/0BB

    I think this all clearly shows which player is more fit to help the big league team win games at the beginning of the season. Once Baez learns to lay off the junk he’s seeing with runners on base, I think he will really help the Cubs greatly, but there’s no reason to rush and ruin his development. As far as Olt goes, I think he’s showing that he belongs in the majors, but I believe that still comes down to his shoulder, and making throws from 3B. He hasn’t been handed anything yet. Besides how are Olt and Christian Villanueva both supposed to see regular playing time sharing 3B in AAA.

    • SuzyS

      Well done, triple.

    • cubtex

      If u are going to say he deserves to start based on spring training stats….look what Olt has done vs RHP compared to LHP. I am not going to look it up but I will bet Olt is destroying the Randy Wolf types and not doing much against the Cain, Masterson types. Spring training is extremely misleading and stats like what u put up don’t tell the whole story.

    • cubtex

      Wow. What do u know? They have advanced stats for ST. Mike Olt vs ALL RHP. Now understand some of these guys are minor leaguers and guys who were working on a certain pitch early in ST. Olt vs RHP. 5 for 25 with 2 HR’s and 9 K’s for a .200 batting average. Olt is hitting .400 vs LHP. I thought that would be the case.

      • BigJonLilJon

        “Spring training is extremely misleading and stats like what you put up don’t tell the whole story” Apply’s there as well.

        • cubtex

          Agreed it doesn’t tell the whole story but it is more of an indication than what Triple posted. RHP vs LHP

      • Tony_H

        LOL! That you think L/R splits is advanced stats!

        If Olt ends up the starting 3B, I see his days off against the better RH pitchers.

        I think we will see a lot of different lineups this year, not quite Joe Maddon level but close.

        • cubtex

          LOL. Anything more than a BB SO 1B is advanced to me. I was surprised they would actually take the time to break down ST stats. Computer geeks unite!

          • Tony_H

            I am pretty sure it is all automatic anymore.

  • Ripsnorter1

    I’d like to see the Cubs cut Sweeney and keep Kalish, Jackson, Schierholtz, Lake, Ruggiano. Two RH bats; three LH Bats.

    If someone says, “Jackson is hitting only .208 in ST,” let them note that Sweeney is hitting .094 and slugging .094 in ST, with 1 BB and 9 ks. Meanwhile Jackson is slugging .458 with a .321 OBP.

    • Tony_H

      Sweeney is not going to be cut, but he may not be the starter even against RH”s that everyone thought he would be when he signed. I don’t expect Schierholtz, Ruggiano or Sweeney to be around come summer.

    • Tony_H

      And BJAX is not going to Chicago. He is going to Iowa. I see BJAX, Vitters and Szczur as all getting called up this season to replace the Sweeney, Schierholz and Ruggiano as they trade them off, which will be based on how the 3 in the minors play. I see a big roster turnover this year for the position players as I also see, Barney, Murphy, Valbuena, Bonifacio and Kottaras as not likely to be around all year.

      • BigJonLilJon

        Tony – Kind of sounds like your expecting the transition for the prospects to the Majors to begin this summer? Don’t get me wrong… I’d like to start seeing it as well, but not sure they’ll have that much turn over. That’s 8 position players you named off. Schierholtz, Barney, Valbuena, and Bonafacio, I could see a market for. Would like to keep Ruggiano if he comes around. The others…. not sure any other team would want them??

        • Tony_H

          Yes I do see the change over this year to a team that is from the farm. I see an infield group that has Rizzo, Baez, Castro, Olt, Villanueva and Alcantara in it by the end of the year. If it is September than there will be others.

          I also see an OF group of Lake, Kalish, Vitters, BJAX and Sczcur, same thing if in September than there will be others.

          As for the guys I mentioned plus Barney, Bonifacio, Murphy, Valbuena, they will all be traded, cut or a few could stick all year due to injuries or poor play.

          • BigJonLilJon

            Good thoughts… didn’t think about out right releases. I could see it

          • Tony_H

            And for guys like Vitters, BJAX, Kalish, even Olt, they need to show the FO they have a future here because the guys like Baez, Castro, Rizzo, and Bryants are going to be on the field, the others need to show they should be as well.

          • BigJonLilJon

            At the end of the day… I’ll take Ruggiano, Olt, Rizzo, Kalish, and possibly Castro or Wellington to be the only position players who may be worth there weight. From there… Open season!!

          • Tony_H

            Keep in mind that Ruggiano is about to turn 32 and is not going to be around long.

          • SuzyS

            My view is akin with yours, Tony.
            40 man roster spots are going to become more and more valuable as the Cubs transition from a losing organization to a winning one. The Cubs won’t have the luxury of having guys like BJAX, Vitters et al of languishing in the minors , taking up valuable roster spots.
            The Competition is going to get much keener as the talent level improves.
            I see this as a major transition year….

          • Tony_H

            The 40 man roster should continue to improve and get younger at the same time. Both good things.

    • Richard Hood

      With Sweeney you are talking about a notorious bad spring player. Remember he was grabbed by the Cubs and stashed in AAA after he was very bad in the Spring for Boston last year.

  • Tony_H

    The Jesse Rogers story that Neil linked above about Sutcliffe is well worth the read.

    Here it is again.

    http://espn.go.com/blog/chicago/cubs/post/_/id/22152/sutcliffe-not-if-for-cubs-but-when

  • Tony_H

    Fun watching real baseball games again…even if the start time was 3 am.

    Kershaw looks dominating again but Puig looks lost and with big holes in his swing.

    • cubtex

      Kershaw 20 hits in 14.1 IP in Spring Training with a 9.20 ERA and when the lights go on….so does he. Spring Training + Veteran Pitchers= Nada

      • Tony_H

        I have no idea why you replied this to me.

    • John_CC

      Puig will be exposed this year. He is a .240 hitter with middling power.

      • Tony_H

        I agree. When Kemp comes back (Crawford from paternity leave) he could be sent back to AAA to get AB’s and work on things.

        But he also will continue to hit the mistakes as his last AB this morning would have been gone if not for the wind blowing in.

  • Tony_H

    And now Justin Turner makes an error at 2B and Jed’s phone is probably ringing. Can’t believe the Dodgers with all the money they spent they are going to go with Turner at 2B when they could trade for Barney, who would slot into a very good utility guy once Guerrero is ready. Barney would greatly improve their bench at that point.

  • TheWrongGuy

    We all know Fujikawa is going to start the season on the DL. which opens up a roster spot.
    But I was wondering that there could be 2 spots open “if” they place Arrietta on the DL also? That would help the cause for guys like Kalish.
    Just my thoughts. :)
    “Happy baseball season everyone!”

    • Tony_H

      They would need to 60 day DL Arrieta to clear a 40 man spot for Kalish and they won’t be doing that. They will just cut someone to clear room.

    • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

      Tony is correct about the roster.

  • cubtex

    How about this stat this Spring Training for Mike Olt.
    Can’t sugarcoat this. He has had 10 AB’s where he fell behind in the count. 10. Guess what he has done.

    0-10 with 10 K’s. Does that tell you anything about this spring? Guess hitter. Sit on a pitch and drive it.

    Now that should tell you that he should go to AAA to start the year.

    • cubtex

      I would be pretty quiet if I saw this stat too. 0-10 with 10 K’s when falling behind in the count. And this is Spring Training? Imagine when the lights go on?

      • Tony_H

        Is that first part necessary?

        Amazinlgy, most players struggle when they get behind in the count and Olt is not a perfect player.

      • triple

        Javier Baez when behind in the count:

        1 for 14, 13k’s

        Way to tell only half the story…not a surprise you would do that at all!

      • triple

        Besides Baez is 0 for 13 w/ 8k when runners are on base! You are the one who bitched all last season about Rizzo’s average with RISP. And now you want Baez in that spot?!?!?! Are you drunk? Trust me, I’m pretty sure no one here wants to endure the 2014 season reading your negative posts about Baez sucking with RISP. You said it yourself, luck is not the problem. So why do you want Baez so bad? Maybe because he was drafted before the current FO? I bet you secretly want Bryant and Almora to fail too?

        • cubtex

          Am I drunk. Follow another team. You guys are on a roll. If you read my post a couple of days ago…I have said that I now agree Baez needs time in AAA. I didn’t look up Baez because you were talking about how well Olt is doing.

          • triple

            I wasn’t talking about how well Olt is doing. I was talking about the comparison between the two and showing how much more ready for the major leagues Olt is in comparison to Baez.

            So while you only looked up Olt, you only wanted to do the least amount of work to prove your point, which in the end did nothing to help your case….kind of lazy.

          • cubtex

            It wasn’t lazy. Baez is going to minors for sure. In fact they just made it official. Olt is being pushed to make team. No point comparing the 2. Just pointing out how Olt has work to do. Bad against RHP and behind in count.

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

            Olt, a young player, is better when ahead in the count. Not a news flash. More often than not his at bats will be over before he gets behind anyway and the rest of the time he may strike out or ground out. Typical young player. He’ll work through those things, probably in Chicago as our starting 3rd baseman. The spot he has obviously earned. Although Valbuena has been good too.

  • cubtex

    After a disastrous 2012 season, the Indians signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, but Dolan was still impressed how quickly the team turned itself around. “We were on the verge of a complete collapse at the end (of 2012),” Dolan says. “Twelve months later, the entire trajectory of the franchise has been changed. It’s a 180-degree turn.

    Don’t worry Cub fans…after a disastrous 2013 season the Cubs signed ummmm, we signed ummmm. We traded Bogusevic for Ruggiano and picked up Bonifacio. Were good.

    • TheWrongGuy

      Thanks for the negativity it can ALWAYS be counted on. :)

      • cubtex

        Some teams don’t believe it has to take 5 years to get competitive. Nice to be informed.

        • TheWrongGuy

          Baseball’s current CBA restricts teams. WAY TOO MUCH. Can’t build teams any faster now while playing with-in the rules. And bla bla bla… there are way too many restrictions…

          • cubtex

            agreed but they were in place after the 2012 season.

        • triple

          Well last year you basically handed the Yankees and the Indians their world series rings… Can you show us a picture of their 2013 world series championship trophies?

          Oh wait, that’s right, only Cleveland got to play one playoff game and lost.

          I think the fans here want a championship. We are on an 8 game postseason losing streak. Just being competitive like you’re willing to accept is not enough!

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

          We’re gearing up for a decade or more of title runs. That’s the difference between us and the Indians.

    • http://chicagocubsonline.com/ Neil

      Please stop trying to bait people into an argument this morning.

    • SuzyS

      Cubtex, do us all a favor, follow another team for a year or 2…one that you like what the management is doing. Then, if you wish, when the Cubs are becoming winners…come back and post your thoughts on the winning Cubs team that is coming.
      We all get that you don’t like the Cubs management, way of doing things…or the 2014 team.
      I can skip a week or 2 on this site…come back and see that you’re posting the same thing, (perhaps in a different form)…ad nauseum.

      It’s why I don’t bother to post as much as I did anymore.

      • cubtex

        Are you really telling someone how they should think and feel as a Cub fan? Really?

        • Tony_H

          Actually, I think she is telling you where to go.

          • cubtex

            To heaven? That is nice of her. I like how Suzy gets on her rants. I think it is good that there are varying opinions. Should all Cub fans think like Boardrider and Tony Hall? Should all Cub fans be as demanding as me? Democrats vs Republicans? Does either party love our country any more or less? Should we tell either party to find a different country? Should we tell Cub fans to find a different team?

          • Tony_H

            LOL! I don’t think that is where she was exiling you!

            You call it demanding, I call it short sighted.

            Stay away from politics though, even though, I am quite confident that is an area we agree on a lot more than the Cubs.

          • cubtex

            Fair enough. Call it shortsighted and I have another word for the way you look at the Cubs. The point remains that doesn’t make one more of a fan than the other or they are not entitled or allowed to post their thoughts.

          • Tony_H

            Did say it was.

            Just try to keep it classy.

    • Chris K.

      Thanks to those signings, the Indians aren’t likely to re-sign Justin Masterson and probably don’t have much hope of extending Kipnis. But you’re right, they’re building a team the right way.

      • Tony_H

        Exactly! Indian fans are already after just 1 year of a 4 year deal wondering if Bourn was a bad signing. He is questionable for the start of the year with hamstring issues still. Not good when your entire game, offensively and defensively, is based on your legs.

      • cubtex

        Hey Chris. Never said it was the “right” way but the Cubs way isn’t the “only” way

        • Tony_H

          No one has said that what the Cubs are doing is the only way.

          But it is the way that Tom Ricketts has chosen to take the Cubs and hired Theo to execute it.

    • Richard Hood

      Keep in mind Cleveland was suppose to be where the Cubs are going to be in 2014 in 2012 and the kids could not cut it. So they brought in Stubbs, Bourn, and Swisher (as well as some pretty good scrap heap pitchers) to keep the pressure off of Brantley, Masterson, and that catcher that I can never remember the name of.

      So my hope is next off season we are proactive instead of reactive and put some solid veterans around the kids before they wilt under the pressure.

      • cubtex

        This was a story on mlbtraderumors today.

        • Richard Hood

          WOW really I just got on and haven’t even made my way over there yet. Great minds think alike I guess.

          • Tony_H

            And maybe the guy with the Red Sox connection is why…from mlbtraderumors.

            “Dolan says has has been very impressed with manager Terry Francona, who led the Indians in their rebound season. “I used to think that a good manager would make a difference, but a marginal difference,” says Dolan. “A bad manager could mess things up. But Terry makes so much more than a marginal difference.””

  • Tom U

    An apology to all CCO followers.

    Last week I reported that in a practice run for the Race to Wrigley, I finished 3 1/6 miles in 18:34. I have since learned that I read the signs wrong, and the distance I actually traveled was a little under two miles.

    In today’s practice run, I actually covered 3.1 miles in 34:45. Splits were 9:55, 10:55, 13:55. It can be considered a “cold” time, as I have not had a chance to work out since Monday.

    I apologize for the error. It was not my intention to mislead anyone.

    • TheWrongGuy

      No worries Tom you still beat me.
      My last Navy PRT I ran a 13:15 in my last 1.5 mile run. I needed 13:45 at my age bracket(29 +10 years old). :)

  • Tony_H

    For anyone that wants to see more about Chapman’s surgery, he posted pictures after the surgery and they are in this article. Nothing too graphic.

    http://www.sportingnews.com/mlb/story/2014-03-21/injury-update-aroldis-chapman-line-drive-face-video-staples-in-head-surgery-recovery-six-to-eight-weeks-timetable?Eadid=SOC/Twi/SNMain

  • Larry Cutler

    First time poster here, so don’t rake my comments over the coals boys/girls. I’m still wondering what happens if Ryan Roberts aka The Tat Man is going to make the team? If he does go North, then who doesn’t come up? Olt? No. Maybe Jackson and Vitters will be either sent down, or released.