As 2015 comes to a close, take a moment to reflect on the members of the Cubs family who are gone, including Mr. Cub Ernie Banks, Lennie Merullo, and scout Keith Ryman. The Cubs said hello to Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Addison Russell, and the youngsters helped propel the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. When the NL Championship Series ended, nearly every Cubs players talked about how eager he was to get started on 2016. And that was before the front office added Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist.
As for this blog, the most visitors in 2015 came from the U.S., but there also were folks from 161 countries who checked in, including Cubs fans in Madagascar, New Zealand, Chile, Nicaragua, Poland, Italy, Macedonia, Russia, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Brazil. Thanks to you, the blog set career highs in viewership, and was viewed 1,098,271 times by 588,895 visitors. As for the comments, K.G. led the field with the most (866) followed by jhosk (730), Jasper (564), Fonzie5430 (275), and Petrey10 (267).
In case you haven’t marked your new 2016 calendars, the Cubs Convention is Jan. 15-17, pitchers and catchers report Feb. 19 in Mesa, Ariz., and Opening Day is April 4 in Anaheim.
Here’s to a healthy, happy and successful 2016. And one more look at the NL Division Series celebration.
It was quite a 2015 season for the Cubs’ Kris Bryant. He was called up to the big leagues, helped the Cubs reach the postseason, and was named NL Rookie of the Year. Bryant capped a stellar season by proposing to his long-time girlfriend, Jessica Delp, who said, “Yes.” Bryant announced the engagement on Twitter, saying: “Only took me 8 years, but I can’t wait to marry my best friend! Perfect way to end an unforgettable year!” Now, Cubs fans are eager for Bryant to help the team get a ring in October 2016.
The Cubs’ Javier Baez played his third game in center field on Sunday and went 1-for-4 in Santurce’s 2-1 loss to Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican winter league. In 13 games so far with Santurce, Baez is batting .227 (10-for-44) with two doubles, one homer, six RBIs, seven walks and nine strikeouts. His home run came in his second game on Dec. 6. Baez has started at second base in seven games and at shortstop in three. The Cubs are hoping that Baez, 23, can be comfortable enough to play in the outfield when needed, giving manager Joe Maddon another versatile piece.
— Carrie Muskat
Folks, I’m taking some time off, so any Cubs news — Jason Heyward signing, Minor League staffing — will be posted on Cubs.com and not here. I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your comments and contributions over the year. Leaving you with one more look from the NLDS celebration.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon will host a Thanksmas charity event tonight at Ava restaurant in Tampa. Starlin Castro and Kyle Schwarber are among the celebrity bartenders to take part, beginning at 4 p.m. CT. Proceeds will benefit the Homeless Empowerment Project. If you’re in the area, please attend. Reservations are encouraged.
Maddon then heads home next week. On Wednesday in his hometown of Hazleton, Pa., he’ll host the fourth holiday celebration for the Hazleton Integration Project. He’ll be joined by Jose Cardenal, Rick Sutcliffe and Chris Bosio, among others. There will be a baseball clinic on Wednesday, followed by a holiday banquet next Friday, Dec. 18. A silent auction of sports memorabilia plus a wine raffle will be included.
The five-day event will end Dec. 20 with the fifth annual Thanksmas at Hazleton One Community Center. Among the items on the menu are Maddon’s famous spaghetti and meatballs, pierogies, “jerk” chicken and roasted pork. The meal is open to all economically disadvantaged families.
The Cubs did not select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft but did pick three players in the Triple-A phase, including catcher David Freitas, and outfielders Mike O’Neill and Jesus Loya.
Freitas, 26, was a 15th round pick by the Nationals in 2010. He was dealt to the Orioles in 2013 as part of the Jim Johnson trade, and spent most of last season at Double-A Bowie where he batted .242 in 71 games with eight homers, 12 doubles and 33 RBIs.
The Cardinals selected O’Neill, 27, in the 31st round of the 2010 Draft, and the left-handed hitter was a combined .289 in 90 games last season at Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. He has a career .412 on-base percentage.
Loya, 23, a left-handed hitter, spent last season in Mexico, where he batted .260 in 93 games.
The Cubs did not lose a player in the Major League phase of the Draft but had four prospects taken in the Triple-A phase. The Reds took infielder Pin-Chieh Chen, the Angels picked left-handed pitcher Ariel Ovando, the Yankees took right-handed pitcher Julian Aybar, and the Cardinals took left-handed pitcher Michael Heesch.
Heesch, 25, was the Cubs’ eighth-round pick in the 2012 Draft, which was a thrill for the Crystal Lake, Ill., native who grew up a Cubs fan. He was 8-2 with a 2.24 ERA in 33 games last season at Class A Myrtle Beach, striking out 49 over 64 1/3 innings.
— Carrie Muskat
*The Cubs made two deals Tuesday, and they are connected. They signed free agent Ben Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million contract, and also traded Starlin Castro to the Yankees for pitcher Adam Warren and a player to be named later.
The player was expected to be Brendan Ryan, and will likely be announced on Thursday following the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings. The Cubs’ 40-man roster is at 40.
“We couldn’t have made this free agent signing without this trade, and would not have made the trade without the free agent signing,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said.
Zobrist is project to bat at the top of the order. That means the center fielder they add does not have to also be a leadoff man.
*The Cubs also formally announced John Lackey signing, giving the right-hander a two-year, $32 million contract.
“It’s really exciting to get John,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
Lackey, 37, will be slotted in behind his former Red Sox teammate Jon Lester and National League Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.
“He’s one of the best competitors I’ve ever been around,” Maddon said. “He demands a lot on a daily basis when he plays of himself and his team, and I love it. I really believe the particular kind of edge that John provides is really going to be helpful for us moving forward.”
— Carrie Muskat
The Cubs added a key piece to the rotation on Tuesday, formally announcing the signing of free agent John Lackey to a two-year, $32 million contract.
“It’s really exciting to get John,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the addition, announced at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
Maddon and Lackey were first together in Anaheim, and the right-hander helped the Angels win the 2002 World Series, winning Game 7 against the Giants. Maddon quipped that the pitcher’s performance in the postseason “actually helped pay for my daughter’s wedding — I was very grateful for many years for that.”
Lackey, 37, will be slotted in behind his former Red Sox teammate Jon Lester and National League Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. Not a bad combination.
“He’s one of the best competitors I’ve ever been around,” Maddon said. “He demands a lot on a daily basis when he plays of himself and his team, and I love it. I really believe the particular kind of edge that John provides is really going to be helpful for us moving forward. I like the idea of coming off the year we had to add this kind of personnel to the group I think it will benefit us even more. Our veterans within the group are spectacular and now you get to add John Lackey.”
Lackey was 13-10 with a career-best 2.77 ERA in 33 starts with the Cardinals last year, and finished ninth in the Cy Young voting.
“I think he’s good for us,” Maddon said. “He’s almost a perfect fit for us after the season we just had.”
— Carrie Muskat
Jeimer Candelario and Willson Contreras were named to the Arizona Fall League 2015 All Prospects team. The players were selected by the AFL managers and coaches. Voters were asked to consider their AFL performance and Major League-projectability.
Candelario finished second in the AFL in home runs, extra base hits, and total bases, and was third in hits, doubles and lowest strikeout ratio per plate appearance. He played in the Fall Stars Game and delivered an RBI double. He is ranked 20th on MLB.com’s list of top Cubs prospects. In 21 games, he batted .329 with five home runs, eight doubles and 15 RBIs.
Contreras is 10th on the Cubs’ list of top prospects. The catcher batted .283 in 14 games, hitting three home runs, four doubles and driving in eight runs. His season ended early because of a hamstring injury.
— Carrie Muskat
Trevor Cahill, who became a key piece in Chicago’s bullpen at the end of last season, has re-signed with the Cubs and will be given the chance to start. The one-year deal was reportedly worth $4.25 million, and is pending a physical.
The Cubs’ primary goal this offseason was to add more depth with the pitching staff, and they have already agreed to terms with free agent John Lackey, whose deal will be finalized once he completes a physical which was expected to be done this week.
Cahill, 27, was a starter with the Athletics, Diamondbacks and Braves, but was released by Atlanta last June, and again by the Dodgers last August.
He signed a Minor League deal with the Cubs on Aug. 19, and after a stint at Triple-A Iowa, he made 11 relief appearances for the Cubs, giving up four runs on eight hits over 17 innings.
— Carrie Muskat