October 2011

10/31 AFL update

Junior Lake was 1-for-4 with a triple and scored the tying run in the seventh in Mesa’s 3-1 win Monday over Phoenix in Arizona Fall League play. Lake is batting .313 in the AFL. DJ LeMahieu also played, and was 0-for-4. On Tuesday, Mesa travels to Surprise.

— Carrie Muskat

10/31 Hoyer, McLeod to be introduced Tuesday

On Tuesday, GM Jed Hoyer and scouting and player development director Jason McLeod will be introduced at Wrigley Field. In a Q&A Monday in sportswriter Tom Krasovic’s blog, “Inside the Padres,” McLeod talks about charting pitches when he was young and watching the Cubs play the Padres:

Q: Tell us about 1984, when the Padres and Cubs met in the League Championship Series?

McLeod: I was living in Yuma. My dad was stationed there, a career Marine. I was 12 years old. And for whatever reason, I got into charting pitches. I remember lying on my living room floor with a legal-sized lined notepad, and I would write down every pitch the Padres threw. I do remember going crazy, I’m going bananas when Garvey hit the bomb. My mom was a huge Padres fan, and I’m high-fiving my mom. Then came the World Series, and it was 1-1 going to Detroit. I actually had the 12-year-old naivete to think we could sweep the Tigers in Detroit.

Q: You and Theo Epstein were in a rock band in Boston. Will it be reunited in Chicago?

A: That remains to be seen. You’ve got to try to set a good example first. Theo actually plays music. I hack it up when I hop on the guitar. I’m sure we’ve got a lot of long hours in the next few months. The offices in Wrigley Field are extremely small when you compare them to San Diego and Fenway. There’s not as much room to goof around. But I’m sure we’ll find some time.

— Carrie Muskat

10/31 Ernie update

If you drive by Wrigley Field next week and notice the Ernie Banks’ statue is missing from the corner of Clark and Addison streets, do not panic. The bronze is being removed for maintenance and will be taken to sculptor Lou Cella’s studio. The work was expected to take about 10 days.

— Carrie Muskat

10/31 Samardzija, GM & more

The Cubs have declined to pick up the $3 million option on Jeff Samardzija’s contract but the pitcher remains under club control. Samardzija has 2 years 28 days of Major League service time, and is not arbitration eligible. He will be renewed next year. Samardzija, a fifth-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, was 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA in a career high 75 games this season, pitching solely in relief.

* The Cubs also announced new general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting and player development director Jason McLeod will be introduced at a news conference on Tuesday at Wrigley Field. The Cubs and Padres announced last week that Hoyer and McLeod were leaving San Diego to be reunited with Theo Epstein in the Cubs front office. The three were together in Boston.

The Cubs and Red Sox have one more day to determine compensation for Epstein before Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig gets involved. Epstein resigned from the Red Sox to become president of baseball operations in Chicago. Selig gave the two teams a Nov. 1 deadline, saying he would step in if not resolved by then.

* Epstein has met with Cubs manager Mike Quade to discuss next season. Quade, whose team finished fifth in the National League Central, does have a contract for 2012.

— Carrie Muskat

10/31 So long, Tony

Tony La Russa announced his retirement Monday, and Cubs-Cardinals series won’t be the same without him.

“Enough’s enough” La Russa said. “It’s time to do something different.”

Remember the La Russa-Dusty Baker fracas at Wrigley Field in September 2003? On Sept. 4, 2003, Baker, then the Cubs manager, and La Russa met for nearly six minutes behind the batting cage. In the end, they shook hands. They were trying to settle differences that had been on display the day before.

“We explained to each other about different things, different things that might have upset him, upset me, different things that might have hurt his feelings or different things that might have hurt mine,” Baker said at the time. “That’s baseball, and that’s how it goes sometimes.”

Tensions snapped in the third inning on Sept. 3 after Cubs pitcher Matt Clement was hit by a pitch and both benches were issued a warning. Cardinals pitcher Dan Haren had been hit by a pitch the inning before. The two managers shouted at each other from their respective dugouts, and La Russa promised after the game he wanted to talk to Baker before talking to the media.

So, after their session behind the cage, did they reach an accord?

“Relatively so,” Baker said.

Did they agree to disagree?

“He has an opinion and I have an opinion on things — what was right, what was wrong, what was enough,” Baker said of La Russa. “It’s a big series, and there’s a lot of emotions. I’m not proud of myself when I display that kind of action. I don’t really like that person when he comes out, and he rarely comes out unless he’s provoked to come out. When he comes out, then he’s got to stay out.”

The two managers did have an altercation in the 2002 playoffs when Baker, then the Giants manager, accused the Cardinals of throwing at Kenny Lofton.

“Me and Tony were teammates,” Baker said. “He was my last manager. He’s the guy who gave me my first advice when I started managing. There wasn’t any tension. Sometimes there’s tension between myself and my brother. I still love my brother.”

In the Sept. 2, 2003, game, Cardinals pitcher Matt Morris was knocked down three times.

“I took offense to the unwritten threat [by La Russa]. That’s what I took offense to,” Baker said. “If you’re going to do it, just do it.

“We’re just playing hardball,” Baker said. “Then, there’s the war of words with [Kerry Wood] being a head hunter, [Mark] Prior being a head hunger, ‘Dusty Baker better do something about it.’ I think each manager should take care of their own club. You take care of yours, I’ll take care of mine.”

* La Russa and Lou Piniella grew up in Tampa, Fla., and played against each other as kids. Piniella, who is one year older, did top his friend in the 1990 World Series when his “Nasty Boys” Reds swept La Russa’s A’s. The two were teammates in 1961 hen they traveled to California to play in the Colt League World Series.

During the 2006 Winter Meetings, after Piniella had taken over the Cubs, the two talked.

“Tony and I, we had a nice conversation ’til about 3 in the morning, and we vowed that we would remain friends, that we would leave our competition on the field, and that would be the end of it,” Piniella said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tony. I really do. And I think we are both at times in our careers where we realize that, hey, we are going to go out there and try to beat each other every day, but when it’s over, just leave it there, go back and compete the next day.”

Ah, memories.

— Carrie Muskat 

10/31 Winter ball update

Cubs prospect Austin Bibens-Dirkx gave up three hits and walked one over six scoreless innings to help Aguilas del Zulia beat Margarita, 4-1, on Sunday in Venezuelan Winter League action. It was the right-hander’s first win in three starts for Zulia, and his longest outing. He now has 11 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings.

Also, Bryan LaHair was 1-for-4 in Magallanes’ 5-0 loss to Caracas. LaHair is batting .314.

— Carrie Muskat

10/30 Ramirez headed for free agency

Aramis Ramirez is headed for free agency. The Cubs announced Sunday night that they will exercise their side of the $16 million option for 2012, and the third baseman has two days to declare his interests. However, a source said Ramirez has told the Cubs he will decline the option and explore free agency. If Ramirez does that, the Cubs will not have to pay him the $2 million buyout.

Ramirez, 33, has said he would stay with the Cubs if they gave him a multi-year deal. His last contract with the team was a five-year, $75 million package, which he signed in 2007, that included a $14.6 million player option for 2011, and the mutual option for the 2012 season.

Ramirez had two days after the World Series ended to exercise or decline the option. He will be the top third baseman available on the free agent market. In his ninth season with the Cubs, he batted .306 with 35 doubles, 26 homers and a team-high 93 RBIs. He also led the team in slugging percentage and on-base percentage. Ramirez did get off to a slow start this season, hitting two home runs in the first two months combined. But he belted eight in June and nine in July en route to becoming the fifth player in franchise history to have at least seven 25-homer seasons, joining Sammy Sosa, Billy williams, Ernie Banks and Ron Santo.

— Carrie Muskat

10/30 Big Z set for Venezuela

Carlos Zambrano has reportedly signed a contract to pitch for Caribes in the Venezuelan Winter League. Caribes GM Sam Moscatel told the Chicago Tribune that Zambrano signed a contract on Saturday, and was scheduled to start Nov. 6 against Magallanes.

“When he signed the contract, I told him, ‘Carlos, it’s a privilege for us that you are part of our team,” Moscatel told the Chicago Tribune. “We hope he plays here for the next eight or nine years.”

Whether he pitches again for the Cubs is still to be determined. Zambrano is under contract for 2012 with the team and owed $18 million next year. He has not pitched in a game since Aug. 12 in Atlanta, when he served up five homers, then was ejected after throwing inside to Chipper Jones. He was then placed on the restricted list for 30 days.

Zambrano, 30, was to throw a 30-pitch simulated game on Tuesday.

“Our stadium is going to be sold out, for sure, in his first start here [on Nov. 11],” Moscatel said. “It’s big news, in all the papers today. This is very exciting.”

— Carrie Muskat

10/30 Free agency begins

Carlos Pena, John Grabow, Reed Johnson, Rodrigo Lopez, Ramon Ortiz and Kerry Wood were among the 148 Major League players who filed for free agency on Sunday. Teams have until Thursday at 12:01 a.m. ET (11:01 p.m. CT Wednesday) to exclusively negotiate with their own free agents. If an agreement isn’t reached by that point, players are free to sign with any team.

— Carrie Muskat

10/30 AFL & winter ball update

Josh Vitters was 3-for-4 with one RBI, hitting a solo homer, and Junior Lake also homered to help Mesa beat Peoria, 8-5, on Saturday. Andrew Cashner pitched in relief, his first appearance since Oct. 14, and gave up three runs on thre hits over one innings. Cashner threw 15 pitches, 12 for strikes. Chris Carpenter was credited with a hold, giving up one hit in one scoreless inning. After an off day Sunday, Mesa returns to action Monday at Phoenix. First pitch is scheduled for 12:35 p.m. MT.

In Venezuela, Bryan LaHair was 3-for-5 with three RBIs in Magallanes’ 6-5, 12-inning win over Caracas. LaHair hit two doubles, and now has 12 RBIs for the season.

— Carrie Muskat