Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Cubbies Come Out of Hibernation

It's official, pitchers and catcher have reported to Spring Training in Mesa, Arizona! Their first workouts will take place tomorrow. Today, however, lots of news, interviews, and rumors have been spreading, so let's jump right in.

Lilly Update reports that Ted Lilly is targeting a return by Opening Day. Ted went for for a long run with Ryan Dempster today and felt pretty good. He also tossed lightly on the side with coach Allan Trammell. Lou Piniella is not as optimistic as the lefty, predicting a return between April 15 and May 1. Also, Lilly would like to stay with the Cubs beyond 2010, but he doesn't want that to be a distraction.

Cubs Tax
A lot has been made of the "Cubs Tax" that the state of Arizona would like to put in place. If this goes through, all fans will have to pay a tax on their Cactus League game tickets to help keep the Cubs in Arizona. Even if the Cubs are not playing in the game, this tax would be enforced. Obviously, most other teams are opposed to the idea, and the D'backs and White Sox have been especially vocal.

Soto on Steroids?... No Chance
With the sudden weight loss this winter of Cubs catcher Geovany Soto, some speculated that this could be a result of Geo using steroids before. Soto told Paul Sullivan that these rumors are ridiculous, as he was just fat before, and now stuck to a work out program this offseason. Soto reported to camp early, working out with new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo yesterday. He was one of 40 Cubs to report early to Fitch Park.

Less Attention, More Focus
Chicago Cubs Spring Training will get much less attention from the national media than it did each of the last 3 years, as the Tribune pointed out. A laid back camp could be a good thing for the team, as it will allow them to spend more time practicing and less time and energy answer questions. There are few new faces to be seen, so this group of guys already knows each other pretty well.

Early Injuries
There are just two pitchers that will be slowed down at the start of camp, Jeff Gray and Angel Guzman. Bruce Miles reports that Gray, who was acquired from the A's in the traded that sent Jake Fox the other way, has a mild groin strain. Guzman had arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago, but he will be ready to go by the end of the spring.

Hearing Time
At this point, going to arbitration with short stop Ryan Theriot seems inevitable. According to, Jim Hendry will leave tomorrow for Florida, where the hearing will take place either Friday or Saturday. Levine chimes in that the date is set for Friday. The Cubs have a good history of avoiding these hearings (this is the first since 1993), but they are trying to save some money that could be used to help the bullpen. Should be interesting.

Theriot's Role
Starlin Castro will get a lot of playing time in Spring Training games, but Lou is planning on going with Ryan as the Opening Day shortstop. Also, Theriot will be the Cubs primary leadoff man, with Kosuke hitting second.

Rotation Battle
Another Cub to report early was Jeff Samardzija, who really wants to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues. The Shark will have to battle with Tom Gorzelanny, Carlos Silva, and Sean Marshall for what most likely will be only one spot, with Lilly returning shortly after the start of the year. Marshall figures to end up as a swing man, but the Cubs do feel he deserves a chance to earn the job. Gorzo has experience in the rotation, while Samardzija struggled when given the chance last year. He has his work cut out for him.

Greg Maddux has reported
Another pitcher who reported to the Cubs today was Greg Maddux, only this time he will not be taking the hill. Thanks to TCR for this one- Lary Rothschild will most likely be around as Cubs pitcher coach as long as Jim Hendy is the team's GM. Therefore, fans that would like to see Greg in the dugout coaching may have to wait until after the Hendy era comes to a close.

The Message
Piniella's message to this year's time is, "Let's get back on top." He is hoping to add another 10-12 wins to what the Cubs did last year. Rudy will work with Lou's hitters every morning at 10:00 according to Bruce Levine.

Hill with Cardinals
Former Cubs pitcher Rich Hill signed a minor league deal with St. Louis this offseason that included an invite to Spring Training. Hill has impressed pitching coach Dave Duncan. Could this be another Duncan/LaRussa success story?

Levine's Latest

Mr. Chicago Baseball started his busy few days by joining Waddle and Silvy yesterday to talk baseball:
  • Bruce is getting a lot of questions about what can be expected from Carlos Zambrano. Big Z and Dempster are keys to this team with Harden gone, Lilly down, Wells young, and a handful of question marks in the mix for the rotation as well.
  • Levine thinks the Cubs are due a new ballpark.
  • The Cubs add 4,000 people a game to every road game, so they make money for the other teams. Bruce doesn't like the idea of "Cubs tax" but they are very important to all of the teams in the state.
  • You can't depend on Spring Training results, because you are not going up against all major league players.

Bruce stopped by the Afternoon Saloon on ESPN 1000 yesterday as well:

  • Yesterday Rudy Jaramillo had 12 guys swinging for the first time. Marlon Byrd and Geovany Soto are among the "early bird" hitters.
  • Levine hopes that Soto did not lose his power with his weight.
  • Alfonso Soriano is the player that Lou Piniella is most concerned about going into this season.
  • Sori was so out of his swing and "clueless" last year, that he really needs to recover and be a productive 5 or 6 hole hitter.
  • Derrek Lee may get more rest this year. Xavier Nady plays some first, and he will be the backup to Derrek.

Busy Bruce hosted his weekly chat on yesterday:

  • Chad Tracy, Micah Hoffpauir, and Kevin Millar are have different strengths and weaknesses, but he thinks there will only be a spot on the roster for one of them.
  • Somehow the Cubs must figure out their bench, because a solid bench is needed to win. Sam Fuld could play a role.
  • There may be some questions Felipe Lopez's character, so teams may not want him even for a minor league deal.
  • Some starting pitcher will have to step up.
  • To make it to the World Series, the Cubs are going to need bullpen help and a healthy Ted Lilly.
  • Jeff Gray has a shot to make the bullpen. Levine called him a "young version of Bobby Howry".
  • The Cubs are very interested in Chan Ho Park. If they win Theriot's arbitration case, they may have a better chance of going after him because of the money gained.
  • Castro may not be around to the middle of the season or later, maybe not even until next year.
  • 15 or 16 wins from Zambrano will satisfy Z and the team. They are looking for quality innings.
  • If the Cubs don't have any injuries, they have a good shot in the Central. However, this is unlikely, and that's why a strong bench is important.
  • Jake Fox couldn't hit the breaking ball, and that was part of the reason for the trade.
  • Tyler Colvin most likely will not break camp with the team. Because he is a left handed bat, if an injury should occur, he may get the callup.
  • Sean Marshall is still looked at as more of a bullpen guy.

Rogers on Mully and Hanley

Phil Rogers joined Mully and Hanley on 670 the Score today to talk some baseball:

  • Rogers has suggested that the Cubs may be the 3rd or 4th best team in their division.
  • He doesn't think they really have any top level starters. Lilly's injury is a big concern, Z is a question mark, Dempster had one good year, and the back end of the rotation is not set.
  • Phil doesn't think there are very many teams that the Cubs defense is that bad. It is in the middle of the pack.
  • He is excited about seeing Starlin Castro play. Castro came out of the blue and is a total mystery. He will most likely not make the club on Opening Day, but he could be called up mid-season.
  • Castro at short would really help the team's defense.
  • Carlos Marmol would be "Mitch Williamsy" type closer, who gets himself in and out of trouble. Carlos will make the fans nervous, but he has enough stuff to pitch around his wildness.
  • A bigger question mark is the bullpen in front of Marmol. Lou has not done a great job letting guys develop roles in the 'pen the last few seasons.
  • The Cubs really haven't gone out and gotten proven guys to make the relief core better.

That's it for a busy first day of Spring Training! I'll keep you posted!

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