January 2011

1/29 Cubs close on 2 Cuban players

The Cubs have reached agreements with two Cuban players, outfielder Ruby Silva and catcher Yaniel Cabezas. According to MLBTradeRumors.com, Silva signed for $1.2 million, and Cabezas for $500,000. The Cubs are not confirming the report because the visa issues have not been finalized. Silva, 21, is a left-handed hitter who played center field for champion Havana Vaqueros in the 48th Cuban National series. He can play all three OF positions. Both players are in the Dominican Republic. In late November, they took part in a tryout at the Cubs’ academy, attended by player development director Oneri Fleita. Silva and Cabezas could open at Class A Peoria.

— Carrie Muskat

1/27 Happy birthday, Ernie

Mr. Cub will celebrate his 80th birthday Saturday. Ernie Banks will be toasted at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse restaurant in downtown Chicago. Before the event begins, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will read a declaration proclaiming Jan. 29 as “Ernie Banks Day” in the state. Cubs owners Laura and Todd Ricketts will give tributes to Banks along with Dutchie Caray. Banks’ actual birthday is Jan. 31, 1931.

— Carrie Muskat

1/27 Non-roster invitees

The Cubs have invited 21 non-roster players to Spring Training, including Todd Wellemeyer, Braden Looper and infielder Augie Ojeda. Looper and Ojeda agreed to terms on Minor League contracts Thursday. Pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 13, and their first workout is the next day. Position players report Feb. 18 and the Cubs’ first full squad workout will be Feb. 19.

Seven pitchers — including right-handers Looper, Wellemeyer, Chris Carpenter, Angel Guzman, Jay Jackson, and Trey McNutt and left-hander Scott Rice — have been invited to the Cubs’ camp along with catchers Steve Clevenger and Chris Robinson. The seven infielders invited include Ojeda, Matt Camp, Bryan LaHair, Scott Moore, Bobby Scales, Marquez Smith and Josh Vitters. Five outfielders were invited including Jim Adduci, Brett Jackson, Reed Johnson, Luis Montanez and Brad Snyder.

Looper, 36, is 72-65 with 103 saves and a 4.15 ERA in all or part of 12 Major League seasons with St. Louis (1998, 2006-08), Florida (1999-2003), the New York Mets (2004-05) and Milwaukee (2009). He last pitched in the big leagues in 2009, going 14-7 with a 5.22 ERA.

Ojeda, 36, is a career .234 hitter with 44 doubles, nine triples, seven home runs and 81 RBIs in 502 games with the Cubs (2000-03), Twins (2004) and Diamondbacks (2007-10). He’s seen action at second, third, and shortstop. Last season, Ojeda batted .190 in 59 games with Arizona.

Wellemeyer, 32, is 32-34 with three saves and a 4.83 ERA in 208 appearances, including 75 starts. He’s pitched for the Cubs (2003-05), Marlins (2006), Royals (2006-07), Cardinals (2007-09) and Giants (2010).

— Carrie Muskat

1/18 Gone fishing

It was great to see everyone at the Cubs Convention, especially folks from Mesa, AZ, Fergie, and the nice people in the coffee line at the Hilton Chicago; and others. I’m taking a little break, and will return Jan. 31, if not earlier. It’s almost time for Spring Training.

— Carrie Muskat

1/15 Remembering Ronnie

The Grand Ballroom at the Hilton Chicago was packed Saturday as Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, plus Randy Hundley, Jose Cardenal, Glenn Beckert, and Milt Pappas shared stories about Ron Santo. There were lots of laughs during the hour-long segment, clearly the most popular of all the events at the Cubs Convention. Beckert said when he first joined the Cubs, he was thrilled to learn he would room with Santo on the road. “About a year later, I found out nobody else on the team wanted to room with him,” Beckert said.

Banks recalled Santo’s competitive spirit, saying “Billy would hit a home run and Ronnie would want to hit a home run.”

“He was like a brother to me,” Banks said. “I always think about him — he’s my friend.”

Santo died Dec. 3 from bladder cancer. He was 70. The Cubs will honor him with a No. 10 patch on their uniforms and also dedicate a bronze statue outside Wrigley Field.

— Carrie Muskat

1/15 Could Big Z & Maddux be roomies? No

Greg Maddux plays a large role with the Cubs as an extra coach and talent evaluator but one thing they won’t ask the four-time Cy Young winner to do is be Carlos Zambrano’s spiritual advisor. During a question and answer session Saturday at the Cubs Convention, a fan suggested Maddux, now a special assistant to GM Jim Hendry, be matched up with Zambrano as an emotional coach. Everyone knows how calm Maddux was on the mound and how Zambrano often is not.

“I expect Carlos to handle himself the way he finished up last year,” Cubs manager Mike Quade said of the right-hander, who finished 8-0 in his final 11 starts. “Whether he explodes, or whatever the thing is, all right, so he explodes? Take a walk, see you in five days, pitch well.

“If it becomes a re-occuring thing, then we have a problem,” Quade said. “If we’re going to have individual guys taking care of each guy who has emotional issues, man, we’re not going to have a big enough plane.”

That prompted more than a few laughs from the crowd at the Continental Ballroom.

Zambrano did undergo anger management therapy last season after a tantrum in the dugout June 25. Quade said he likes Big Z’s enthusiasm for the game.

“One thing I don’t want to do is take all the passion out of Carlos Zambrano,” Quade said. “If a little bit of over-excitement results in him pitching and performing well, we’ll deal with that. There’s no question Greg Maddux will benefit him and everybody else. But I don’t want to make them roommates.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/15 Pena to work with Rudy

Carlos Pena will get to work on his swing next week with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Pena, who signed a one-year, $10 million contract in December with the Cubs, will go to Dallas to work with Jaramillo immediately after the Cubs Convention ends Sunday. The free agent is coming off a disappointing season in which he batted .196.

“It’s just getting back to basics,” Pena said of what he wants to accomplish in his sessions with Jaramillo.

The two were together briefly in Texas. Pena was the Rangers’ first round pick in 1998 and played briefly in 2001 with the big league team. The 2010 season was Jaramillo’s first in Chicago after 15 seasons with the Rangers.

“We’ll get acquainted again,” Pena said. “I’m anxious to get it going.”

Pena called Jaramillo the day he signed with the Cubs. The hitting coach has looked at video of the first baseman this winter. Despite the low batting average, Pena did hit 28 homers and drove in 84 runs for the Rays in 2010. He said last season was his toughest to deal with personally but sees nothing but positives.

“I’m happy I went through the struggles I went through last year because it makes me stronger,” he said. “Today, the Cubs are getting a better player because of it.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/15 Ramirez comes through

Aramis Ramirez was victimized by counterfeit tickets during an autograph session Saturday at the Cubs Convention. Ramirez was scheduled to sign, starting at 12:30 p.m., although it was only for lottery winners. Apparently, someone made fake tickets, and Ramirez left the session before everyone in line was able to get their souvenirs signed. That included people with legitimate tickets. Hall of Famer Billy Williams also had the same problem and left his autograph session as well. The Cubs were able to take care of the people who had legitimate tickets for Ramirez, who did sign items later in the day.

This was the first Cubs Convention for Ramirez, who took part in an entertaining seminar titled “The Dominican Way of Life” with teammates Carlos Pena and Starlin Castro. Ramirez admitted his father didn’t want him to play baseball but wanted him to be a doctor. He didn’t start playing until he was 13 years old. Ramirez went to one tryout in the Dominican Republic, and the Pirates wanted to sign him immediately. But his father made him finish high school before he could turn pro.

— Carrie Muskat

1/15 Cubs convention notes

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts was asked about everything from the music at Wrigley Field to Ryne Sandberg to payroll during a question and answer session at the Cubs Convention Saturday. Ricketts said Sandberg, who did not get the manager’s job, is always welcome back with the team. Sandberg has taken a job as Triple-A manager with the Phillies.

“He was always welcome here, he is always welcome here and he’s one of us,” Ricketts said of Sandberg.

Ricketts said the Cubs hope to complete rennovations at Wrigley Field by 2014. There are no plans to instal a video scoreboard but in another session, fans expressed an interest in one. We’ll have to wait and see.

— Carrie Muskat

1/14 Geovany Soto signs

Cubs catcher Geovany Soto avoided arbitration and signed a one-year, $3 million deal Friday night. Soto batted .280 last season with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in 105 games. The 2008 National League Rookie of the Year, Soto struggled in ’09 and batted .218. The Cubs now have avoided arbitration with Soto, Jeff Baker and Koyie Hill. The arbitration eligible players remaining include Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, Matt Garza and Tom Gorzelanny.

— Carrie Muskat