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January 18, 2014 at 10:24am
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January 18

ESPNChicago.com

Plan is same as Cubs await Tanaka decision

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein’s annual state of the team address, at the opening of the Cubs Convention on Friday, sounded a lot like last year’s. The front office has a plan to end the long World Series drought, but it’s going to be executed at the pace it needs to be — and no quicker.

“We’ve been honest since day one,” Epstein said from a ballroom at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. “If there is tension between the immediate present and the sustainable future that we’re building, we’re going to lean towards the future.”

In other words, for example, there won’t be any trading of prospects for rental players at the trade deadline in July — not unless the Cubs shock everyone and are firmly in the playoff race. Even then, it probably won’t happen.

Two years into a rebuilding phase, there is no going back. Epstein did acknowledge his top prospects are getting closer to making it to the major leagues, and didn’t back off interest in free agent Japanese star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka — though he offered few details.

“I’m going to respect the request of confidentiality that’s come from the agent and the player, just let things play out,” Epstein said.

Because of that confidentiality, very little is known of the offers in front of Tanaka. One source thinks the Cubs will go as high as $25 million to $26 million per year and up to seven years. Others think the Cubs have only the New York Yankees to worry about — and they’re a big concern. A Tanaka signing would immediately change the narrative for the Cubs.

“You bring him [in] and that R-word [rebuilding] disintegrates,” pitcher Jeff Samardzija said. “You always keep an eye on that as a player.”

The addition of Tanaka would probably go a long way toward keeping Samardzija around, as long as the Cubs have the money to pay both over the long haul. Samardizja is antsy to win sooner rather than later — he wouldn’t even say the word “rebuild” — and wants to do it in a Cubs uniform.

“For me, being a part of that building process and saying you had your hands in building it, that’s exciting, too,” Samardzija said.

With or without Tanaka, the Cubs’ plan isn’t going to change. He’d speed it up, of course, but Epstein won’t rush his prospects.

“They’re going to have their time; it’s not quite now,” Epstein said.

About a year from now — or maybe a bit longer — the idea of acquiring only young talent should start to fade and be replaced by the notion of adding to the core. That’s when the Cubs will start to spend money, though they’re showing that desire right now in the Tanaka sweepstakes.

“I couldn’t believe more in where we’re going,” Epstein said.

ESPNChicago.com

Epstein: Clark fuss will die down

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Theo Epstein believes the furor over the Chicago Cubs’ new team mascot, Clark the Cub bear, will die down over time.

"It’ll be a blip instead of a cacophony or Clark-cophony," the Cubs president of baseball operations said jokingly at the start of the Cubs Convention on Friday.

Clark is the first team mascot in modern history. After his unveiling on Monday, social media voiced a strong negative opinion about his creation.

Epstein says some of that is due to the state of the franchise right now. The Cubs have lost 197 games over the last two seasons as they rebuild.

"It’s a natural by-product of a bit of a vacuum that’s been created," he said. "I also think it shows how special this franchise is. Pick a random team, had they introduced a new character into the organization to entertain children, it may not have been met with the same attention that Clark was greeted with."

The attacks and vulgar representations of Clark led a Cubs spokesperson to call them “negative to despicable” earlier in the week, but Clark proved to be a favorite of kids on Thursday during a Cubs’ caravan stop at a local school.

"All those things [the negativity] fade away when we get to where we want to be as a baseball organization and we’re winning," Epstein said.

ESPNChicago.com

Samardzija wants to stay with Cubs

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Despite the inability to come to a long term deal — or even a one-year contract at this point — right-hander Jeff Samardzija is still confident he can remain with the Chicago Cubs. At the very least, that’s his desire.

"This is where I want to be," Samardzija said Friday from the Cubs Convention. "I want to be a part of building that team that everyone envisions taking the field at Wrigley."

Samardzija and the Cubs have had little movement in negotiations during the past year. But Friday they couldn’t come to an agreement for 2014, so the two sides are preparing for arbitration.

The Cubs submitted a salary figure of $4.4 million; Samardzija is asking for $6.2 million. He’s coming off an 8-13 season with a 4.34 ERA.

"When you don’t have control and other teams have your rights, all you can do is go out and hopefully put it on their side that this guy is invaluable and we need him and he’s hard to replace," Samardzija said. "That’s all you can do."

Samardzija can become a free agent after the 2015 season. Yet even if they settle on a contract for 2014, he’s still trade bait.

"Obviously there’s been public speculation about a contract extension at times, a trade at times, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said. "I can tell you I’m happy he’s a Cub and look forward to him getting the ball on opening day."

The Cubs exchanged salary figures with three others on Friday while signing four players to one-year deals.

Pitcher Travis Wood is looking for a salary for 2014 of $4.25 million while the club submitted $3.5 million. Second baseman Darwin Barney wants $2.8 million while the Cubs are offering $1.8. And outfielder Justin Ruggiano is requesting $2.45 million while the club says $1.6 million.

All four players can still negotiate with the Cubs while they await arbitration, which takes place the first three weeks of February. If any go to a hearing then an arbiter will choose one salary or the other and the player and team is bound to that number for 2014.

Settling on Friday for one-year deals was infielder Luis Valbuena ($1.71 million), outfielder Nate Schierholtz ($5 million), pitcher Pedro Strop ($1.325 million) and pitcher James Russell ($1.775 million).

ESPNChicago.com

Schierholtz, Valbuena, Russell, Strop sign

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – Outfielder Nate Schierholtz, infielder Luis Valbuena and relievers James Russell and Pedro Strop avoided arbitration on Friday by agreeing to one-year deals with the Chicago Cubs.

Schierholtz will make $5 million in 2014 after setting career highs in home runs (21) and RBIs (68) last season. He made $2.25 million in 2013. He can become a free agent after this season.

Valbuena signed for $1.71 million after making $930,000 last season. Russell agreed to a deal for $1.77 million.

The Cubs and Jeff Samardzija, Darwin Barney, Justin Ruggiano and Travis Wood could not come to an agreement Friday so the sides exchanged salary figures in advance of an arbitration hearing in early February. A deal can still be struck between now and the hearing, and even during the hearing.

ESPNChicago.com

Questions abound as convention kicks off

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The annual Cubs Convention kicks off with an unusual amount of uncertainty surrounding the team.

Questions abound both on and off the field: Will the Cubs’ pursuit of Japanese star pitcher Masahrio Tanaka end with the right-hander wearing Cubbie blue? Baseball insiders say not if the New York Yankees have anything to do with it. And to make matters worse, those close to Tanaka’s camp are saying the highest bid may not be the winner. Tanaka will be the talk of the weekend for fans, media and front office types.

Will this be pitcher Jeff Samardzija’s last Cubs convention? He could go to an arbitration hearing as teams and players will exchange salary figures on Friday unless deals are struck. Either way, that only assures Samardzija a one-year deal. There’s been no sign of progress on a long-term deal and as a league source indicated, every day he remains without one increases his likelihood of testing free agency after the 2015 season. It means he’s still on a path to be traded before it gets to that point.

When will the Wrigley Field renovations begin? It was a year ago at this time the Ricketts family announced an ambitious $500 million project that would be funded soley by the team. It’s been nearly a full year and nothing of significance has been accomplished. The family will face the media and fans this weekend, but will they have answers?

There are smaller questions like who’s on third come 2014 and will Travis Wood get a long-term deal or is it too soon for him? Some of these questions will be answered throughout the weekend as there is plenty of player, management and front office access for fans and media alike.

Here are some highlights:

FRIDAY

Media social: 4:30-5:30 p.m.

This will be the first chance for the mass media to talk with Samardzija about another offseason in which little progress was made for a long-term deal. It’s also a chance to meet newcomers Jose Veras, Wesley Wright and Justin Ruggiano.

Opening ceremonies: 6 p.m.

Who gets the biggest cheer from the assembled fans during introduction is always of interest. Will it be a former Cub or a prospect instead of a current player? More importantly, how will new mascot Clark be received?

Film premiere: 100 Years of Wrigley Field, 8 p.m.

SATURDAY

Ricketts family forum: 9-10 a.m.

No question is a bad one when it comes from the paying customer and the family will undoubtedly be grilled on the Wrigley project and when the Cubs will win again.

Meet Cubs baseball management: 10-11 a.m.

A chance to ask Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the rest of the front office about their long-term plan for the team. It hasn’t changed since a year ago at the convention — youth will rule the day. The only difference is now that youth is getting very close to playing at Wrigley Field.

SUNDAY

30-year anniversary of 1984 team: 9-10 a.m.

CSNChicago.com

Theo deflects Tanaka buzz, knowing Cubs face tough questions

By Patrick Mooney

All that buzz about Masahiro Tanaka helps create the illusion for Cubs fans that everything is going to be all right.

But when the season-ticket holders step up to the microphones on Saturday at Cubs Convention, there will be tough questions for the Ricketts family, Theo Epstein’s front office and Crane Kenney’s business operations department. There will be awkward moments inside the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.

There have been four straight fifth-place finishes since the Ricketts family bought the team (and a stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago). There are the 197 losses in two seasons since Epstein took over at Clark and Addison. And there’s the whole 100-years-and-counting thing since the Cubs won the World Series.

Enter Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. All along, the Cubs have planned to make an aggressive bid for the 25-year-old Japanese pitcher, because he profiles like a No. 2 starter and fits into their long-range vision.

But sources insist all the Twitter speculation about the Cubs doesn’t match up with the realistic sense inside the organization that a big-money team like the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers will probably go all-out to sign Tanaka.

The Cubs are projected to have a payroll south of $100 million this season. Heading into Year 3, have you gotten the financial resources you expected when you left the Boston Red Sox?

“There can’t be any hard-and-set expectations,” Epstein said. “It’s a dynamic landscape that constantly changes. We were all hopeful of getting some public money for the ballpark and it didn’t happen, so we went out on our own. Those are just audibles, things that happen along the way that you have to adjust with.”

The biggest stories this winter have been MascotGate and the stalled Wrigley Field renovations. Epstein wrote off the social-media backlash to “Clark the Cub” as the “natural byproduct of the vacuum that’s been created” in a slow offseason.

“All those things fade away when we get to where we want to be as a baseball organization,” Epstein said. “What I want the conversation to be – and it will be in the future – is: ‘I’m not sure the Cubs’ eighth starter is deep enough. What if three guys go down in the rotation? I don’t think that pitcher at Double-A is quite ready yet, so we need to sign a long guy to step into the rotation. (And) I’m not really sure the Cubs’ backup catcher is good enough. (And) the division’s a little bit more left-handed now…’

“That should be the narrative as a baseball organization and it will be as our baseball plan moves forward and our business plan moves forward. We’re going to become a lot more relevant. I’m not going to sit here and complain about it in the meantime. We’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. We’re a last-place team.”

Still, the Cubs made their pitch to Tanaka last week in Southern California, selling a deep farm system and what could be a sleeping giant with a renovated stadium and new TV deals. Tanaka’s camp sat down with Epstein, chairman Tom Ricketts, general manager Jed Hoyer, manager Rick Renteria and video coordinator/Pacific liaison/interpreter Nao Masamoto.

“I’m going to respect the request for confidentiality that’s come from the agent and the player and just let things play out,” Epstein said. “I can echo what’s already been in the media, which is he’s a very talented 25-year-old pitcher who’s proven everything that he can in Japan and is looking forward to the next challenge in Major League Baseball. That doesn’t happen everyday. He’s a valuable commodity, so we’ll see what happens.”

Tanaka has until Jan. 24 to sign his nine-figure contract, and these deals usually come down to the deadline, which means Cubs staffers and Chicago reporters will keep joking about who might pop out of that mascot costume.

“We’re never going to lose sight of our plan,” Epstein said. “We’re never going to sign a player just to appease the fans or media. We’re never going to sign a player just so a convention goes better.”

CSNChicago.com

Samardzija: Cubs would send strong message by signing Tanaka

By Patrick Mooney

Jeff Samardzija is tired of hearing about rebuilding. He wants to know if the Cubs will be able to sign Masahiro Tanaka.

“It changes that timeline,” Samardzija said. “I’ve mentioned my frustration with that ‘R-word’ before. You bring him in – that ‘R-word’ essentially kind of disintegrates.”  

Seven years after the Notre Dame All-American made a Cubs Convention splash by signing a $10 million contract, Samardzija showed up at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers on Friday ready to answer questions about the trade rumors.

“This is where I want to be,” Samardzija said. “I want to be a part of building that team that everybody envisions taking the field at Wrigley, which is a young, strong, powerful team that comes to play at noon, 1:20, 3:30, whenever. To me, that’s more exciting than just signing because a team’s starting to win. Being a part of that building process is something that’s exciting, too.”

Tanaka would be a huge foundation piece. Winning the bidding war over a star Japanese pitcher would send a strong message to Cubs fans, the Chicago media and the Opening Day starter looking to get paid in his next long-term deal.

Samardzija is two seasons away from free agency at a time when the Cubs are planning for 2016 and beyond. Theo Epstein’s front office wants long-term assets. Sources continue to say that the two sides haven’t made much progress on a contract extension.

Samardzija, who grew up in Northwest Indiana, is in no rush and has been consistent with his position. He believes he can be a No. 1 starter and prefers to put together a larger body of work before signing his next contract. He wants to figure out what a market-rate deal would be – and see what direction the franchise takes next.

“You just prove how much you’re worth on the field,” Samardzija said. “That’s just all there is to it. There’s no strong-arming. There’s no leveraging. You go out, you play and your numbers speak.

“You can’t really apply the Tanaka situation to a domestic situation. He’s coming off a low posting fee, essentially being a 25-year-old free agent with a lot of experience. It’s a little different. You can’t really connect the two.”

Samardzija – who will turn 29 next week and has become the longest-tenured player on the team – wants to pitch in October. Samardzija and Tanaka would be fun to watch at a sold-out Wrigley Field in Games 1 and 2 of a playoff series.

“I’m still with the Cubs,” Samardzija said. “I’m still wearing a Cubs uniform. I approach it just like that. I’m going to work hard. I’m going to give my heart and soul to this organization – like I have since Day 1 – and do everything I can to make us succeed and win like we know we can. The benefits that would come from that would be unbelievable – and everything would be just how we want it.”

CSNChicago.com

Samardzija headlines arbitration cases for Cubs

By Patrick Mooney

The Cubs haven’t answered the Jeff Samardzija question yet. But a likely scenario is he will report to the team’s new complex in Mesa, Ariz., for spring training and get traded before the July 31 deadline.

The next step is settling on Samardzija’s 2014 salary after the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement by Friday’s deadline. The arbitration numbers filed – $4.4 million vs. $6.2 million – showed the different interpretations of his value.

The Cubs also exchanged numbers with All-Star pitcher Travis Wood ($3.5 million vs. $4.25 million), second baseman Darwin Barney ($1.8 million vs. $2.8 million) and outfielder Justin Ruggiano ($1.6 million vs. $2.45 million). Arbitration cases are scheduled for Feb. 1-21, though deals can be made before those hearings.

The Cubs reached one-year agreements with four other arbitration-eligible players: outfielder Nate Schierholtz ($5 million); relievers James Russell ($1.775 million) and Pedro Strop ($1.325 million); and infielder Luis Valbuena ($1.71 million).

Samardzija is coming off a season in which he went 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA and 214 strikeouts in 213.2 innings. Masahiro Tanaka’s long-awaited decision has slowed the pitching market and the supply/demand dynamics mean the Cubs will probably hold onto Samardzija for at least a few more months.

“I’m a big fan of Jeff Samardzija,” team president Theo Epstein said. “He’s got a great future. I actually think his best days are ahead of him. He’s under Cubs’ control for the next two years and hopefully we get a chance to extend that window.

“There’s been public speculation about a contract extension at times, a trade at times. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. But I can tell you I’m happy that he’s a Cub and hopefully he’ll get the ball on Opening Day.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs’ Renteria: ‘If I bite, I want to make it count’

Staff

Rick Renteria’s demeanor is a big part of the reason the Cubs hired him to be the new face of the franchise.

As the organization continues along their rebuilding path (a phrase Jeff Samardzija hates), the big-league squad doesn’t figure to be a World Series contender again in 2014, even if the front office can make a splash and sign Masahiro Tanaka.

So while the fanbase grows weary of the losing and becomes more and more impatient, Renteria will be called upon to present a calm, collected front in the media, just as he’s expected to do in the clubhouse.

Since he was hired in November, Renteria has emphasized his stance that he’s not the type of manager to be seen screaming and hollering at his players, something he reiterated once again to CSN’s David Kaplan at the Cubs Convention Friday.

"A dog can bark all it wants. Pretty soon, everybody gets annoyed at the dog," Renteria said. "If I bite and it’s only once, I want to make it count. That’s how I kind of look at things."

Kaplan asked Renteria specifically about Starlin Castro, who has had some issues with focus over his four seasons in Chicago.

"If you’re a major-league player, it shouldn’t take a whole lot to motivate you," Renteria said.

Tribune

Cubs and Jeff Samardzija far apart on money

Sides headed to arbitration with a gulf of $1.8 million between them, and trade talks going nowhere now

By Mark Gonzales

Interested teams such as the Diamondbacks and Braves believed the Cubs were asking too much in trade proposals for Jeff Samardzija.

Now there’s currently a gulf over the perceived value of the Cubs’ ace, as the team and Samardzija’s representative, Mark Rodgers, exchanged salary figures Friday as part of the arbitration process.

Samardzija submitted a figure of $6.2 million — $1.8 million more than the Cubs’ offer. The two sides will continue to negotiate before the Feb. 1-21 arbitration hearings.

Samardzija understands the process and wasn’t upset he couldn’t agree to terms. Second baseman Darwin Barney ($2.8 million) and the Cubs ($1.8) had the second widest gap, followed by left-hander Travis Wood ($4.25-$3.5 million) and outfielder Justin Ruggiano ($2.45-$1.8 million).

"It’s part of the business," Barney said. "It’s one of those things that every player hopefully gets to go through. We fought for it, and that means you’ve played three years in the big leagues and I’m proud of that."

The Cubs agreed to terms with outfielder Nate Schierholtz ($5 million), left-handed reliever James Russell ($1.775 million), third baseman Luis Valbuena ($1.71 million) and reliever Pedro Strop ($1.325 million).

Staying the course: President Theo Epstein reiterated the Cubs won’t rush prospects.

"For every Manny Machado who comes up right from Double A or A ball and succeeds, there are 10 whose careers are never the same because they were rushed," Epstein said. "My philosophy is to fully develop prospects as best you can in the minor leagues with significant time at each level."

Extra innings: Several players were eager to meet new manager Rick Renteria after exchanging emails and text messages. Samardzija said he spoke with former teammate Andrew Cashner, who played for the Padres when Renteria was the bench coach. “(Renteria) sounds like he’s a great guy and he’s here to win,” Samardzija said. “Fresh air sometimes is what’s needed.” … Barney has spent part of the offseason refining his swing with new hitting coach Bill Mueller and assistant Mike Brumley in Arizona.

Tribune

Result of Cubs rebuilding: building up prospects

With little to show at big league level, President Theo Epstein stresses commitment to “sustainable future”

By Mark Gonzales

President Theo Epstein looked through the eyes of the Cubs’ faithful Friday night before loyal fans had a chance to ask why the Cubs have shown few signs this winter of improving on their 197 losses of the last two seasons.

"If I was sitting here and following the Cubs, I would have hoped for more this winter, frankly, to be honest with you," Epstein said before answering questions during a session at the Cubs Convention. "I’m not going to hide."

Epstein didn’t duck, but he again leaned on the top prospects on which the organization has mortgaged its future. Those players, such as Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, received a loud reception during the opening ceremony at the Sheraton Chicago.

"There’s tension between the immediate present and the sustainable future that we’re building," Epstein said. "We’re going to lean toward the future."

While Epstein stood firm in the club’s decision not to rush prospects to the major leagues, the future of the franchise could take a dramatic step by next Friday if Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka decides to sign with them rather than his many other suitors.

Tanaka, 25, was 24-0 last season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League. Despite their losing trend, the Cubs are making a game effort to sign him as a bona fide ace would give them a better chance of winning quicker.

That’s the view of pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who also is fully aware the Cubs are assessing his trade value as well as unsuccessful efforts to sign him to a long-term contract.

"(Signing Tanaka) changes that (winning) timeline," Samardzija said. "And that’s what I’ve talked about. I’ve mentioned the frustration with that ‘R’ (rebuilding) word before.

"And you bring him in, that ‘R’ word essentially disintegrates. You’re always keeping an eye on that as a player, and you see some young players coming who are close and that excites you, too. It makes spring training exciting to see these guys get some big league action and how they respond and grow.

"There are a of couple things that are exciting to look at, especially from my position. The more things like that happen, the more excited and encouraged you are to stay here.”

Epstein, respecting the wishes of agent Casey Close in not elaborating on negotiations with Tanaka, was more expansive in assessing the status of Samardzija, who surpassed the 200-inning and 200-strikeout marks for the first time in his career in 2013.

"His best days are ahead of him," Epstein said. "And he’s under Cubs’ (contract) control for the next two years, and hopefully we get a chance to extend him. Obviously, there has been public speculation about his contract extension and, at times, a trade.

"I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. But I can tell you I’m happy he’s a Cub and look forward to him getting the ball on opening day.”

A packed ballroom of fans gave each introduced Cubs official and player varying degrees of applause. Chairman Tom Ricketts read off a list of publications that ranked the Cubs’ farm system among the top five in major league baseball.

Fans were treated to short videos of the Cubs’ prospects and the club’s new training facilities in the Dominican Republic and Mesa, Ariz., as well as some of the past stars who have played at Wrigley Field, which celebrates its 100-year anniversary this season.

Several current players wore jerseys from each decade that will be worn during specific games on homestands.

And second baseman Darwin Barney says he’s ready to make amends for a .208 batting average.

"First and foremost, you take full responsibility for the numbers you put up," Barney said. "Maybe some guys weren’t on the same page with people. In the end, you’re the one who goes up to the plate."

Despite small moves that haven’t stoked optimism among their fans about a winning season, Epstein maintained better days are ahead.

"The results haven’t been manifested yet at the big league level, and that’s what fans pay to see," Epstein said. "So we should answer to that. You have to be honest as where we are as an organization, and as a major league team and where we’re headed. I couldn’t believe more in where we’re going."

Tribune

Schierholtz, Cubs reach deal; Samardzija unsigned

By Mark Gonzales

The Chicago Cubs and outfielder Nate Schierholtz agreed Friday on a one-year, $5 million contract.

Pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood and second baseman Darwin Barney, however, didn’t reach an agreement by Friday’s noon deadline for arbitration-eligible players to reach an agreement, according to multiple sources.

Those players and the Cubs will exchange salary figures that will become public later this afternoon. Those players can still negotiate up to a salary arbitration hearing, scheduled for Feb. 1-21.

Samardzija earned $2.64 million last season and could receive a raise that could boost his 2014 salary to around $5 million. Wood could receive a raise of at least $3 million from his $527,500 salary.

Schierholtz confirmed his agreement in a text message shortly before the noon deadline before salary numbers were to be exchanged between players and management. Schierholtz, who earned $2.25 million in 2013, is coming off a breakout season in which he hit 21 home runs and drove in 68 runs.

Left-hander reliever James Russell also confirmed he agreed to a one-year, $1.775 million contract. The New York Post reported earlier that third baseman Luis Valbuena agreed to a one-year, $1.71 million contract.

Reliever Pedro Strop and outfielder Justin Ruggiano also remain unsigned.

Tribune

Cubs’ Hoyer intrigued by Tanaka’s youth

By Mark Gonzales

Youth, youth, youth.

That’s the strongest consideration in the Chicago Cubs’ pursuit of Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

General manager Jed Hoyer confirmed the team’s interest in the top free agent, who could command a multi-year contract in excess of $100 million.

“He is 25 years old,” Hoyer said on the McNeil and Spiegel Show on WSCR 670-AM. “Those kind of guys don’t come available that often in the States.’’

Hoyer declined to provide more details of the Cubs’ interest in Tanaka, other than to add, ‘’certainly age is a big part of it.’’

Tanaka was 24-0 last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, who will receive a $20 million fee for allowing Tanaka to become a free agent.

Despite a relatively thrifty off-season, Hoyer said management hasn’t been hamstrung by limited finances.

“I have no doubt we have the money to go out and improve the major league team, and I have no doubt that in the future we’ll be able to go out and make significant commitments and retain our team to make it better,” Hoyer said. “Our focus is on building that foundation that could lead to sustained success.”

Hoyer said management hasn’t been limited in building their foundation, but said “every team has limitations.’’ That hasn’t stopped the Cubs, however, from pouring money into the draft and adding staff.

Second baseman Darwin Barney, who batted only .208 last season, has been working on mechanic changes in Arizona with new batting coach Bill Mueller and assistant batting coach Mike Brumley.

“What happened at the plate last year can’t happen again,” said Hoyer, adding that Barney just needs to not try to hit for power.

Hoyer revealed that shortstop Starlin Castro didn’t report last spring in top shape but has addressed his fitness with strength coach Tim Buss in the Dominican Republic. Castro will continue his work in Bradenton, Fla., before reporting to spring training in Mesa, Ariz., next month.

According to a report in the New York Post, third baseman Luis Valbuena agreed to a one-year, $1.71 million contract.

Sun-Times

Samardzija says Tanaka outcome will have ‘ripple effect’ on him

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

The latest version of Cubs Moneyball was delivered Friday by right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who linked his willingness to sign a contract extension to the team’s ability to land Japanese free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

‘‘Obviously, a lot of people are talking about Tanaka and everything going on there,’’ said Samardzija, whose stalemate in 15-month-long extension talks put him on the trading block this winter. ‘‘There’s a ripple effect.’’

At this point, slow free-agent and trade markets for pitchers — and a sky-high asking price by the Cubs in trade talks, according to sources — make it likely Samardzija will make a second consecutive Opening Day start for the North Siders this season. And likely to go up for auction again near the trade deadline this summer.

But if the Cubs land Tanaka with the bid and presentation they made last week in Los Angeles, might it lead to a softening of Samardzija’s negotiating position and create a greater likelihood he will stay? And if they don’t, will it kill off two rotation birds with one stone and push them further back in the rebuilding process?

‘‘Obviously, it changes that timeline,’’ said Samardzija, who consistently has said the Cubs’ commitment to trying to win at the big-league level in the short term is one of his top priorities in negotiations. ‘‘And that’s what we’re talking about.

‘‘I’ve mentioned my frustration with the ‘R’ word before. You bring him in, and that ‘R’ word essentially kind of disintegrates.’’

For now, ‘‘R’’ stands for reality. Despite the Cubs’ serious intentions, not even their brass is confident their bid will beat out the depth of the big-spending Dodgers’ wallet or the urgency of the big-spending Yankees’ need for starting pitching.

President Theo Epstein again wouldn’t comment about the Tanaka situation Friday. And about Samardzija’s status with the Cubs, he said only: ‘‘I’m a big fan of Jeff Samardzija. I actually think his best days are ahead of him. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but I can tell you I’m really happy that he’s a Cub and really looking forward to him getting the ball on Opening Day.’’

Samardzija, who will turn 29 this month, is under club control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2015. But if the Cubs can’t sign him to a long-term extension, his value would drop dramatically after the trade deadline July 31.

Neither side will talk publicly about extension talks, but Samardzija has made it clear he’s comfortable taking another year or two to establish the value he thinks he has as a front-of-the-rotation starter and is in no hurry to sign an extension based on a perceived current value that doesn’t reflect that.

‘‘I’m still wearing a Cubs uniform, and I’m going to approach it just like that,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m still going to work hard and give my heart and soul to this organization, like I have since day one.’’

Sun-Times

Theo Epstein offers company line

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

Cubs president Theo Epstein isn’t exactly enthused about the relatively quiet winter the team has endured after pouring many of its offseason resources into a bid for Japanese free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka that probably will fall short.

But as the Cubs Convention opened Friday, he shrugged off the suggestion that the roll-out of a new mascot and more renovation delays at Wrigley Field have overshadowed a low-key offseason on the heels of a 96-loss season.

‘‘All those things fade away when we get to where we want to be as a baseball organization,’’ said Epstein, who’s in the third year of a five-year deal. ‘‘What I want the conversation to be — and will be in the future — is, ‘I’m not sure the Cubs’ eighth starter is deep enough. What if three guys go down in the rotation?’ . . .

‘‘I’m not going to sit here and complain about it in the meantime. We’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. We’re a last-place team.’’

Moneyball

The Cubs agreed to terms with four of their eight arbitration-eligible players on the day arbitration figures were exchanged.

The four in the fold: outfielder Nate Schierholtz ($5 million), reliever James Russell ($1.775 million), infielder Luis Valbuena ($1.71 million) and reliever Pedro Strop ($1.325 million).

The four who filed figures: right-hander Jeff Samardzija (who filed at $6.2 million to the Cubs’ $4.4 million), left-hander Travis Wood ($4.25 million vs. $3.5 million), second baseman Darwin Barney ($2.8 million vs. $1.8 million) and outfielder Justin Ruggiano ($2.45 million vs. $1.6 million).

Sun-Times

Masahiro Tanaka has what it takes

BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN

Masahiro Tanaka will break the bank in the major leagues mostly because of his four-pitch assortment that helped him go 24-0 in Japan last season. The coveted 25-year-old free-agent right-hander, who is being pursued by the White Sox, Cubs, Yankees, Dodgers and others, also has the mental makeup to make the adjustment to a big city in the States.

Take it from a pitcher who has seen him up close the last three years.

“From a makeup standpoint, from a distance, he seems really focused,’’ said Bryan Bullington, a former No. 1 overall draft pick who pitches in Japan. “He’s not worried about the accolades and all the other stuff that goes on around him. When he’s on the mound, he’s locked in. He’s not putting on a show; he’s just focused on being competitive.’’

Bullington, 33, the first player taken in the 2002 draft by the Pirates who pitched in parts of five major-league seasons, is entering his fourth season with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He agrees with scouts and executives who project Tanaka as a No. 1 or 2 starter in the majors, with only one concern — the adjustment to pitching every fifth day instead of only once a week.

Other Japanese pitchers, such as Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish, have adapted.

“Darvish has a few more weapons and is a little more creative with his offspeed stuff, but they both have great fastballs,’’ Bullington said. “Tanaka might have more downward angle with his fastball that a lot of teams look for [in the majors], being able to pound the bottom of the zone. He does a really good job with that, and he has the slider that’s a really good pitch for him, and the forkball. He has three really good weapons — he mixes the curveball, too — but those are his three main pitches.’’

Tanaka, who joined the Rakuten Golden Eagles’ rotation as an 18-year-old out of high school, already has logged a lot of innings and piled up high pitch counts.

Bullington, who makes his winter home in the southwest suburbs, was a client of Casey Close, who represents Tanaka. To Bullington, Seattle makes sense as a landing spot because of the Mariners’ history with Japanese players. The biggest spenders — the Yankees and Dodgers — appear to have the upper hand in negotiations that are expected to clear $100 million. By how much and where Tanaka is leaning — Close is a secretive negotiator, so speculation is high and facts are low — remain to be seen. Tanaka must sign by Friday.

NOTES: The White Sox avoided arbitration with Gordon Beckham and Alejandro De Aza, agreeing to terms on a $4.175 million base salary for Beckham and a $4.25 million deal for De Aza, both for one year. The Sox have no arbitration-eligible players left.

◆ First baseman Jose Abreu, the Cuban free agent who signed for $68 million, made a good first impression on first-year hitting coach Todd Steverson.

“It actually looked better than what I [expected],’’ Steverson said. “He has a plan of what he wants to do. He has some thunder in the bat head.’’

Sun-Times

So far, Ricketts family last in standings among Cubs owners

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

When the Ricketts family took ownership of the Cubs in the fall of 2009, they promised championships, stability and a long-term hope.

While that hope appears to remain intact — it’s the club’s only selling point these days — there’s not much certainty about baseball performance or management stability four years later.

In fact, as the Rickettses prepared this weekend to face their most restless, if not hostile, fan base in five years of Cubs Conventions, their track record includes some of the worst baseball of any ownership tenure in the history of the franchise.

The promises are still there, in the physical forms of Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora roaming the ballrooms and lobbies of the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers.

But as those touted prospects head to the minors again for the start of what figures to be another lost season of North Side baseball, an unflattering view of the Ricketts ownership is starting to develop in the game, with some industry sources questioning the fitness of the family to operate a big-market franchise.

The third-year rebuilding plan under baseball president Theo Epstein is starting to flow with minor-league prospects/saviors. But the Cubs remain strapped for the financial resources to rebuild more quickly and aggressively through such avenues as pre-prime international player acquisitions. (They remain a long shot for free agent Masahiro Tanaka despite focusing this winter’s resources on strengthening a bid.)

How quickly baseball operations gets a promised cash boost is linked to factors ranging from the highest franchise debt load in Major League Baseball to Wrigley Field renovations that have been delayed for more than a year to promises of a local-TV rights increase next season.

Despite suggestions that this third-year overhaul has taken a toll on the Cubs’ substantial brand, sports business experts so far say that’s not the case — but that the next two or three years could be critical.

Chicago-based sports business consultant Marc Ganis said the lengthy process is at least partially because of ‘‘the fact that the team losing games on the field, unfortunately, has been part of its persona.’’

Still, the last four seasons have put the Ricketts family in an unenviable class of its own among Cubs owners. No other ownership group in Cubs history has failed to reach .500 in its first four years, and the .421 winning percentage is worst among all Cubs owners.

Along the way, the Rickettses have run through four managers in five seasons, watched attendance decline each season (down 17 percent total) and maintained an average ticket price roughly 10 percent higher than it was the year before they took over a then-contender.

All of which will be forgotten very quickly if The Plan works.

‘‘Even if the Cubs take a short-term hit in the box office,’’ New York-based sports scholar Marc Edelman said, ‘‘if they’re able to build a team that can win the World Series in the next decade, they will more than offset any temporary loss in revenue.’’

Or damage to the Cubs brand and the Ricketts reputation.

Edelman, an associate law professor specializing in sports-related fields at Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York, compared this stretch of Cubs history to the losing New York Yankees teams in the early ’90s that had Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte developing into a core that would deliver six pennants and four championships in eight years.

‘‘There were similar concerns that the Yankees were tarnishing their brand equity based on performance and on-field record,’’ he said. ‘‘But if you look at the Yankees today, it is clear that the rebuilding strategy they took in the early 1990s ultimately led to a colossal increase in the franchise’s brand equity.’’

But Ganis, who consulted on the Cubs sale for Tribune Co. and works with the Yankees, cautions that the success of a rebuilding plan built on big promises is critical.

‘‘It’s not like they’ve over-promised and under-delivered,’’ he said. ‘‘But they are promising a lot for the future, and if they don’t perform in the future, there is a risk of tarnishing the brand — and losing a meaningful part of the next generation or two.’’

So far, Edelman and Ganis say they’re impressed with the improvements the Cubs have made to their spring and Dominican facilities, their technology upgrades and the early signs of their commitment to player development.

It’s the focus on those things that the Rickettses said — through a spokesman — are why they’re not concerned about perceptions from the outside or whether the lights will come on when they decide to flip the switch on baseball resources.

‘‘From the family’s perspective, the only thing that matters is winning the World Series and becoming a consistent championship contender,’’ family spokesman Dennis Culloton said. ‘‘And everything [else] with regard to how the family and the team are perceived will all be wrapped around the success of that endeavor.

‘‘Theo Epstein was very clear about the path that we would be taking when we signed him a few years ago, and we’ve stayed on that plan. And he described a long, hard slog. . . . No shortcuts.’’

As for the resources, Epstein paused Friday when asked if he’d gotten the kind of budgets he expected when he signed that five-year deal two years ago.

‘‘There can’t be any hard-and-set expectations,’’ he said, pointing to unforeseen delays in the ballpark-renovation process. ‘‘It’s a dynamic landscape that constantly changes . . . that you have to adjust with.’’

Said Culloton: ‘‘[The front office is] on plan, and they have the resources they need to execute that plan.’’

Meanwhile, the bar is clearly set very high.

‘‘Theo Epstein has been sold as a savior of baseball on the North Side,’’ said Ganis, who said the transition would be helped by a star player the fans could embrace, especially in an age of social media.

‘‘But they’re not there. That’s why they’re hanging their hats on Theo. And that’s where I get to, if the team does not come through under Theo’s stewardship, then there are risks.

‘‘They’re not there yet.’’

Daily Herald

Optimistic Epstein ready to face Cubs fans

By Bruce Miles

We’re not quoting directly, but Cubs president Theo Epstein seemed to have three words for fans asking tough questions at this weekend’s convention: bring it on.

"I welcome all questions," Epstein said Friday before what turned out to be a subdued opening ceremony. "I really believe in what we’re doing. We just wrapped up a phenomenal weeklong rookie development program with several players who are going to have a significant impact on the future of this franchise. Morale is great among that group, and we’re incredibly optimistic about the future."

This is Year 3 of the Epstein regime at Wrigley Field. The Cubs have lost 197 games in the first two years as Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have undertaken a massive rebuilding project. Those two will meet with fans during a Saturday morning session as will chairman Tom Ricketts and his family.

Although most fans appear to be on board with the rebuild, patience is fraying around the edges.

"Obviously, the results haven’t manifested yet at the big-league level, and that’s what the fans pay to see," Epstein said. "So we should answer for that. We have to be honest where we are as an organization, where we are as a major-league team and where we’re headed. I couldn’t believe more in where we’re going and hope to share some of that vision today, all being accountable for the product they see on the field."

Epstein said he has heard positive feedback from fans. And give him credit for sticking to his story.

"There aren’t shortcuts," he said. "I know some of you are sick and tired of hearing that, but it’s the reality. We’re not going to deviate from the plan. We feel great about where we’re headed. Compared to where we were a year ago, certainly two years ago, I’m very bullish on our future."

The Samardzija situation:

A year ago, people seemed surprised that pitcher Matt Garza was still with the Cubs at convention time. The Cubs wound up trading Garza to Texas during the 2013 season.

This year, it was pitcher Jeff Samardzija’s turn. Samardzija remains a Cub, for now.

"Nothing’s changed with me," Samardzija said. "I start working out Dec. 1, same as usual. I took my time off before that. It’s just the chatter on the outside. There was always chatter before. Before, it was whether I was going to make the team or not or be a starter or this or that.

"I’m hopeful (of remaining a Cub). I’ve said that from Day 1. Ever since I signed my first contract with the Cubs, I’ve wanted to be here. The big reason for not playing football was to come here and play in Chicago. Obviously, it means a lot for me to be here."

Samardzija cannot become a free agent until after the 2015 season.

"I’m a big fan of Jeff," Epstein said. "He’s got a great future. Actually, I think his best days are ahead of him. He’s under Cubs control for the next two years, and hopefully we get a chance to extend that window. Obviously, there’s been public speculation at times, (about) a trade at times. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but I can tell you I’m really happy he’s a Cub and look forward to him getting the ball on Opening Day."

Half empty or half full?

The Cubs avoided salary arbitration with four players: Nate Schierholtz ($5 million), Pedro Strop ($1.325 million). James Russell ($1.775 million) and Luis Valbuena ($1.71 million).

They exchanged arbitration figures with four others: second baseman Darwin Barney, Samardzija, pitcher Travis Wood and newly acquired outfielder Justin Ruggiano.

General manager Jed Hoyer expressed optimism they could reach deals before arbitration hearings.

Barney is asking for $2.8 million while the Cubs are offering $1.8 million. Samardzija is seeking $6.2 million, and the Cubs’ offer is $4.4 million. Wood is asking $4.25 million while the Cubs are offering $3.5 million. And Ruggiano is seeking $2.45 million while the Cubs’ offer is $1.6 million.

Daily Herald

Cubs skipper visits Advocate Children’s Hospital

By Daily Herald report

New Cubs Manager Rick Renteria visited with children and families at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge on Friday afternoon as part of the annual Cubs Caravan’s stop in the suburbs.

Reneteria signed hats, talked to parents and visited with some of the youngest patients at the hospital.

The stop comes as the Cubs Convention kicks off in Chicago celebrating the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field.

Missing from the visit was new Cubs mascot Clark, who was announced by the baseball organization this week to mixed reviews.

Cubs.com

Cubs sign Schierholtz, Valbuena, Russell, Strop

Quarter avoids arbitration; Samardzija, Wood, Barney, Ruggiano to exchange figures

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The Cubs avoided arbitration with outfielder Nate Schierholtz, infielder Luis Valbuena and relievers James Russell and Pedro Strop on Friday, and exchanged salary figures with their other four arbitration-eligible players, including Jeff Samardzija.

Schierholtz signed for $5 million, while Valbuena agreed to a $1.71 million contract and Russell signed a $1.775 million deal with the Cubs. Strop signed a $1.325 million contract.

The other four arbitration-eligible players exchanged salary figures. The Cubs offered Samardzija $4.4 million, and he is seeking $6.2 million. Travis Wood filed for $4.25 million, and the Cubs countered at $3.5 million; Darwin Barney filed for $2.8 million, and the team offered $1.8 million. Justin Ruggiano, whom the Cubs acquired in a trade with the Marlins for Brian Bogusevic, was seeking $2.45 million, and the team offered $1.6 million.

The players and the Cubs will continue to negotiate. Arbitration hearings are scheduled for Feb. 1-21 if no settlement is reached before then.

Wood could get the biggest increase. The lefty, who was 9-12 last season, posting career highs in starts and innings pitched, earned $527,500 in 2013.

Valbuena, who made $930,000 last year, appeared in the most games at third base for the Cubs in 2013, batting .218 with 12 home runs and 14 doubles.

Schierholtz also was coming off a strong season in which he set personal bests in home runs (21), doubles (32), at-bats (462) and RBIs (68). The outfielder made $2.25 million in 2013.

A quick refresher on salary arbitration: Eligible players are those with at least three years of Major League service but fewer than the six years needed to qualify for free agency. If a case goes to a hearing, the player and the team each present their case to a three-member panel.

Cubs.com

Samardzija, Tanaka hot topics as Convention opens

Club exchanges arbitration figures with righty, continues pursuit of Japanese ace

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — During the opening ceremonies of the 29th Cubs Convention, Theo Epstein did not walk onto the stage and surprise the fans by saying he’s signed Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka. Epstein, president of baseball operations, also couldn’t announce that the Cubs had inked Jeff Samardzija to a new deal.

But Epstein and Samardzija, who is arbitration eligible, both sounded optimistic about the Cubs as the convention opened Friday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.

"Obviously, there are fans with questions, and if I was sitting there, a fan of the Chicago Cubs, following the offseason, I would’ve hoped for more this winter, frankly, to be honest with you," Epstein said. "I’m not going to hide the ball. I would’ve hoped for bigger names and bigger investments and more change.

"But I would also feel great about the direction of the franchise and where we’re heading and how talented a group of young players we’ve assembled and really be looking forward to the future," he said. "The future is bright. We don’t have a lot to show for the offseason, as far as household names, but you can’t go out and force it. There aren’t shortcuts for what we’re trying to do. We’re not going to deviate from our plan, and we feel great about where we’re headed. Compared to where we were a year ago and two years ago, I’m very bullish about the future."

Whether Samardzija fits into the Cubs’ future remains to be seen. The pitcher and the team exchanged salary figures Friday, with Samardzija asking for $6.2 million and the team countering at $4.4 million.

"Obviously, I’m hopeful," Samardzija said about the possibility of a long-term deal with the Cubs. "I think I’ve said that from day one. Ever since I signed my first contract here with the Cubs, I’ve wanted to be here, and a big reason for not playing football was to come here and play in Chicago. It obviously means a lot for me to be here."

The right-hander, a former All-America wide receiver at Notre Dame, also has heard his name mentioned in trade rumors as well. So has Epstein.

"I’m a big fan of Jeff Samardzija," Epstein said. "I think he has a great future. I think his best days are ahead of him. He’s under club control for the next two years, and hopefully we get a chance to extend that window. There’s been public speculation about a contract extension at times, a trade at times. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, but I can tell you I’m really happy he’s a Cub and look forward to him getting the ball on Opening Day."

Epstein also has said that the negotiations with Samardzija are not linked to the Cubs’ interest in Tanaka. Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and new Cubs manager Rick Renteria met with the Japanese pitcher earlier this month.

"He’s a very talented 25-year-old pitcher who has proven everything he can in Japan and is looking forward to the next challenge in Major League Baseball," said Epstein, who did not want to talk about the meeting or the negotiations with Tanaka. "He’s a valuable commodity, so we’ll see what happens with his future here in the States."

Samardzija knows what the addition of Tanaka would mean to the Cubs.

"Obviously, it changes that timeline," Samardzija said. "I’ve mentioned my frustration with that ‘R’ word [rebuilding] before. You bring him in and that ‘R’ word essentially disintegrates."

The Cubs are rebuilding, and fans at the convention showed their excitement for some of the prospects, cheering loudly for Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler, who were introduced during the opening ceremonies. Epstein continues to stress that the youngsters need time to develop, which means Soler won’t be starting in right field on Opening Day.

Epstein hasn’t thrown in the towel on the 2014 season either.

"This season starting, we don’t show up in Spring Training saying, ‘Hey, let’s get ready for 2000-whatever-year down the road,’" he said. "We’re trying to compete and win as many games as we can in 2014. We want to show improvement, and we’d love to show a lot of improvement. There’s room for improvement.

"We have a lot of talented players on the roster who didn’t have their best years last year, and I know they’re really committed with the work they’ve done this offseason to doing better next year," he said, "and we have guys who did make breakthroughs last year, and they want to sustain that progress and build from there."

After losing 197 games over the past two seasons, the future can’t come soon enough for the Cubs. Samardzija wants to be a part of it.

"Being a part of that building process and saying you had your hands in molding it is exciting, too," Samardzija said.

Instead of player signings, the biggest news around the Cubs lately has been the introduction of their new mascot, Clark, which resulted in what Epstein jokingly referred to as a “Clark-ophony” of responses. If the Cubs were coming off back-to-back winning seasons, fans might be more focused on who the backup catcher is rather than a bear.

"We’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes," Epstein said. "We’ve been a last-place team. We haven’t accomplished our baseball goals. Our business plan, a lot of it is still in front of us and yet to be executed. I believe we’re going to execute on both fronts and the conversation will be a lot different in a few years."

Cubs.com

Prospect Watch: Top 10 first basemen (Daniel Vogelbach mentioned)

Mix of power and patience earns Astros’ Singleton top spot; Mets’ Smith ranks No. 2

MLB.com

First base currently offers the lowest prospect potential among all the positions, with Houston’s Jonathan Singleton the lone member of this Top 10 who was able to crack MLB.com’s overall Top 100. Mets 2013 first-round pick Dominic Smith could jump to the top of the list of first basemen once he establishes himself in full-season ball this year.

1. Jonathan Singleton, Astros: Singleton had a disappointing season, serving a 50-game suspension for multiple positive tests for marijuana before posting a .687 OPS in Triple-A, but scouts like his offensive prowess. He combines power, patience and an all-fields approach, which could make him a .280 hitter with 25 homers annually once he gets established in Houston. When Singleton gets there, he’ll be the third big leaguer the Astros have gotten out of the 2011 Hunter Pence trade with the Phillies, following Jarred Cosart and Josh Zeid.

2. Dominic Smith, Mets: The 11th overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, Smith joined the Royals’ Eric Hosmer as the only high school first baseman to go in the upper half of the first round in the past decade. That speaks to Smith’s offensive potential, as he has the bat speed and ability to barrel balls that should translate into the ability to hit for both power and average. As a bonus, he’s also a slick fielder.

3. C.J. Cron, Angels: Some scouts viewed Cron as the best all-around hitter available in the 2011 Draft, during which the Halos selected him 17th overall. He hasn’t lived up to that billing in pro ball, in part because he has been overly aggressive at the plate, but he may have turned a corner by winning the Arizona Fall League batting championship with a .413 average. Cron has plus raw power and could hit for a solid average.

4. Dan Vogelbach, Cubs: Vogelbach once crushed a 508-foot homer in a high school home run derby, and his power earned him a $1.6 million bonus in 2011 as a second-round pick. He can do more than hit baseballs for good distances, as he has an advanced approach and control of the strike zone. Vogelbach’s hefty build and pedigree as a Florida high schooler are reminiscent of Billy Butler and Prince Fielder.

5. Matt Olson, Athletics: Olson led Parkview High in Lilburn, Ga., to a 2012 national championship, starring as a first baseman and a pitcher before signing with Oakland as a supplemental first-round pick for $1,079,700. Power is his best tool, which he demonstrated by smashing 23 homers as a teenager in the pitcher-friendly low Class A Midwest League in his first full pro season. While Olson hit just .225, scouts do like his easy swing and he did draw 72 walks.

6. Kyle Parker, Rockies: Parker is the only player in NCAA history to throw 20 touchdown passes and hit 20 home runs in the same academic year. The former Clemson quarterback, Colorado’s 2010 first-round Draft choice, has topped 20 homers in each of his three pro seasons, thanks to his quick hands and strength. Parker has made more consistent contact as he has climbed the Minor League ladder, and he began to make the transition from outfield to first base in 2013.

7. Greg Bird, Yankees: Bird’s $1.1 million bonus as a fifth-round pick in 2011 raised some eyebrows, and he did little to justify the investment in his first two pro seasons. But he broke out in 2013, leading the Minors with 107 walks while slamming 20 homers in low Class A. Scouts like Bird’s hitting ability more than his raw power, but he could wind up being solid in both categories.

8. Travis Shaw, Red Sox: The son of former All-Star reliever Jeff Shaw had a breakthrough 2012 season but struggled in Double-A last year. He got back on track by hitting .361 with five homers in 17 Arizona Fall League games, and he has consistently demonstrated an ability to hit for power and draw walks. If Shaw can curb a tendency to get homer-conscious, which reared its head in 2013, he could hit for a decent average as well.

9. Max Muncy, Athletics: Muncy’s pure hitting ability got him drafted in the fifth round in 2012, though scouts worried that he might not have enough power to be a first baseman. His pop wasn’t an issue in his first full pro season, however, as he hit 25 homers, drove in 100 runs and slugged .857. Muncy is an OK defender who moves well enough to possibly see some time in left field.

10. Ronald Guzman, Rangers: Signed for $3.45 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2011, Guzman was the best pure hitter on a low Class A Hickory club loaded with position prospects last year. Though a knee injury limited him to 49 games, he made hard contact to all fields and showed hitting savvy well beyond his 18 years. Guzman’s power still is developing, but given his strength and leverage, he could develop into a 15-20 homer threat.

Next up

Matt Skole (Nationals) got off to a terrific start as a pro, leading the short-season New York-Penn League in RBIs in 2011 and winning low Class A South Atlantic League MVP honors in 2012. Then, on the same play, a collision at first base, he sustained a broken left wrist and torn left (non-throwing) elbow, ending his season after two games and requiring Tommy John surgery. When healthy, Skole has displayed power to all fields and good patience.

In three years at South Carolina, Christian Walker (Orioles) won two College World Series championships and finished runner-up once, and he tied Dustin Ackley’s career CWS record with 26 hits. Walker’s bat is more advanced than his power, as evidenced by his .297 average and 13 homers in 125 pro games. He’s strong enough that he might develop into a 20-homer threat if he focuses more on driving the ball.

December 31, 2011 at 3:29pm
0 notes

The game of politics

Every four years, presidential candidates criss-cross Iowa in the months leading up to the Iowa Caucuses. In 2011, two candidates for the Republican Party nomination for president made it to Principal Park.

Michele Bachmann visited on July 2. Newt Gingrich stopped by on July 15. Both candidates were extremely nice. But the similarity ends there.

Bachmann arrived in a huge campaign bus and was greeted by a big crowd of supporters. She arrived shortly after the game had started, and took a seat down the third-base line and watched much the game with her supporters. She stopped up in the radio booth to chat with broadcasters Deene Ehlis and Randy Wehofer and commented how nice “the lawn” at Principal Park looked.

Gingrich arrived pretty much by himself, threw out a first pitch, enjoyed a beer, watched a few innings and also did a radio interview.

It was much busier in 2007 when five presidential candidates — Sam Brownback, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and Barack Obama — made it to Principal Park. In addition, George Stephanopolous of ABC News also threw out a first pitch.

We cornered Obama — then a longshot for the Democratic nomination — to do a piece for our “The I-Cubs are My Cubs” video. You can catch it here, about 43 seconds into the piece.

Scroll down for photos of the visits by Bachmann and Gingrich … and a bonus Mitt Romney photo!

3:14pm
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Both Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich autographed baseballs for the Iowa Cubs staff.

3:11pm
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GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann posed for photos with fans before entering Principal Park on July 2.

GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann posed for photos with fans before entering Principal Park on July 2.

3:10pm
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Cubbie Bear was on hand to greet Michele Bachmann during her campaign stop at Principal Park.

Cubbie Bear was on hand to greet Michele Bachmann during her campaign stop at Principal Park.

3:05pm
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Newt Gingrich tosses out the first pitch before an Iowa Cubs game on July 15.
Jodi Jurik photo

Newt Gingrich tosses out the first pitch before an Iowa Cubs game on July 15.

Jodi Jurik photo

3:04pm
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Newt Gingrich chats with Iowa Cubs catcher Chris Robinson after throwing out the first pitch. No conflict of interest here — Robinson is a Canadian citizen and can’t vote in the Iowa Caucuses or the general election.
Jodi Jurik photo

Newt Gingrich chats with Iowa Cubs catcher Chris Robinson after throwing out the first pitch. No conflict of interest here — Robinson is a Canadian citizen and can’t vote in the Iowa Caucuses or the general election.

Jodi Jurik photo

3:02pm
0 notes
Mitt Romney didn’t visit Principal Park in 2007 or 2011, but a friend dropped off a leftover from his 2008 presidential bid.

Mitt Romney didn’t visit Principal Park in 2007 or 2011, but a friend dropped off a leftover from his 2008 presidential bid.

December 15, 2011 at 10:58am
0 notes

Night and day

It makes sense that the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs — who play the most home day games in Major League Baseball — would play the most home day games in the Pacific Coast League. The Iowa Cubs have 26 day games at home on their 2012 schedule — up from 19 in 2011.

Some PCL teams — think heat — don’t play many day games at home at all. Here is the list of home day games for each PCL team:

3 — Tucson

4 — Round Rock

8 — Oklahoma City

9 — Las Vegas

10 — Albuquerque

11 — Memphis

11 — Nashville

11 — Fresno

13 — Salt Lake

14 — New Orleans

15 — Reno

16 — Tacoma

16 — Sacramento

17 — Omaha

19 — Colorado Springs

26 — Iowa

November 9, 2011 at 10:23am
0 notes
First snowfall of the season at Principal Park. We don’t think it will be the last. Opening Day: April 5.

First snowfall of the season at Principal Park. We don’t think it will be the last. Opening Day: April 5.