The Cardinals announced Wednesday they have signed veteran right-handed pitcher Carlos Villanueva to a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to the team’s Major League Spring Training Camp. Cardinals’ pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Fla. on Feb. 19.
Villanueva, 31, has compiled a 45-50 won-loss mark and a 4.26 ERA in a nine-year career that has included stops with Milwaukee, Toronto and the Chicago Cubs.
Catcher John Baker played in San Diego when Rick Renteria was on the coaching staff, and the two were reunited in Chicago this past season. Baker, well aware of the business side of the game, was saddened at the news that Renteria was dismissed Friday as Cubs manager.
“Obviously, when you play for somebody — and I’ve known Ricky for a few years, so it’s sad to see that side of it in baseball — but I think everybody going into every new season knows this is a business,” Baker said Friday. “Sometimes business decisions are tough on people who are personable. It was fun to play for Ricky. I enjoyed having him as a manager and a coach. I look forward to seeing what happens next season.”
What will happen next season is the beginning of the Joe Maddon era in Chicago. The Cubs will introduce Maddon as their 54th manager in franchise history on Monday.
Renteria leaves after one season on the job.
“I believe he did a wonderful job with the circumstances he was presented with this past season,” pitcher Carlos Villanueva said Friday. “It is very hard to be evaluated after only one season managing, especially when your two best starters are traded away mid season.
“I said it then, and I’ll say it again, most of us with experience in this business knew what we signed up for when we came to Chicago during this period of rebuilding,” Villanueva said. “And we also understood that whatever Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] thought was best for the future of the organization, they were going to do, putting the organization first over anyone and anything else.”
Maddon will be the Cubs third manager in the last four years.
“It is obviously a business driven decision that not all are going to like,” Villanueva said of dismissing Renteria, “but at the end of the day if that is what they thought was going to help bring a championship to the Cubs organization, that’s what they need to do. We’ll know if it works with time. Hopefully, it works out for all parties.”
Villanueva credited Renteria for getting Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro back on track after tough seasons in 2013.
“He helped make them All-Stars along the way and did all that was asked of him and more,” Villanueva said. “There are things that happen that only the people who are in the clubhouse at times know of, but with all the challenges [Renteria] faced, he did great. Whoever gets him will have an outstanding baseball man.”
— Carrie Muskat
Just to get up to date, the Cubs have made the following roster moves this week:
* Assigned outright to Triple-A Iowa:
OF Ryan Kalish
IF Chris Valaika
IF Josh Vitters
* Elected free agency:
RHP James McDonald
* The Cubs declined the 2015 option for RHP Kyuji Fujikawa, and he is now a free agent.
* RHP Carlos Villanueva filed for free agency.
With the moves, the Cubs’ 40-man roster is now at 35.
— Carrie Muskat
I asked three Cubs players for one word to describe Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, and say why they picked that word.
“In 2011, I faced him in New York. We went back to Toronto, and to go to the clubhouse there, you have to go past the hitting cage. It just so happened he was walking in the same time I was coming in. I was starstruck — it’s Jeter. The guy just spoke to me like one of his peers. He remembered that I punched him out in the first at-bat — I think I threw a 3-2 changeup. He kind of smiled; I guess he was surprised. He mentioned it, he said, ‘Man, that was a good pitch you threw me that first at-bat of the game.’ I’ve played with a lot of superstars and some of their egos are a little up there more than you would want them to be, but this guy was so much about what you want the game to be. I don’t think I have as much respect for any opposing hitter than I have for him. A guy who conducts himself the way he does, the way he has for so many years in such a difficult city to play in, it’s an example I wish every player could see and follow. It doesn’t compare when everybody says it, but the respect, even not knowing him and seeing how he conducts his business, no showmanship, none of that stuff. Just winning and doing things the way you’re supposed to, and spend time enjoying the game. It’s something I don’t think we’ll see as good as he’s done it for such a long time. He respects the game.”
“He’s one of the greatest players who I’ve watched since I was a little kid. It’s how he plays baseball, how he controls the situation on the biggest stage with the Yankees. Not everybody can take that big responsibility to be a captain on the biggest team like that. It’s also how he plays the game, how his teammates respect him. Not everybody can do that. We won’t see that for a long time, everybody doesn’t have that kind of respect. In the world, we have a lot of Hall of Famers and great players, but to be captain on one team like the Yankees, not everybody can do it. Respect. That’s the most important thing. Everybody who plays on the Yankees, everybody respects him, everybody does what he says in a good way. He’s awesome. Everybody pays attention to him, and everybody listens to him because they respect him, and not only the players but the coaches, everybody.”
“I think about No. 2, and the reason I think about No. 2 is because it’s the perfectly appropriate number for Derek Jeter because I think he’s the best player of all time. He’s gone through the steroid generation and never been in trouble and stayed relevant as baseball has improved. At the same time, he always takes a back seat to his team. No. 2 for me is the perfect number for Derek Jeter because he’s the best player who doesn’t want everyone to see him as the best player and it makes him the best teammate. No. 1 would be inappropriate because it would be selfish. No. 2 is perfect.”
— Carrie Muskat
* Outfielder Arismendy Alcantara, who suffered a mild right wrist sprain on Monday, was able to hit off a batting tee and took batting practice Thursday, and could return to the Cubs lineup soon. Alcantara was injured when he ran into the brick outfield wall.
* Anthony Rizzo did not start Thursday, part of the Cubs plan to ease him back into game action after missing three weeks with a low back strain. The first baseman was expected in the lineup on Friday.
* Pitching coach Chris Bosio asked Cubs reliever Carlos Villanueva to sub for bullpen coach Lester Strode, who had to attend to a family matter. Villanueva made his debut Wednesday, and closer Hector Rondon complimented the veteran.
“I didn’t want to mess up,” Villanueva said. “My job depends on how those guys do. I’m glad to help. I feel good that they trust me. It was definitely a first.”
— Carrie Muskat
Matt Holliday hit a solo homer, an RBI double and a two-run tie-breaking single in the eighth to lead the Cardinals to a 9-6 come from behind victory over the Cubs, who blew a five-run lead Sunday.
Luis Valbuena had three hits and was a triple shy of the cycle, and Arismendy Alcantara added a solo home run for the Cubs, who did finish August with a 16-14 record, their first .500 or better record this calendar month since going 16-13 in August 2011. The last time the Cubs won 17 games in August was 2008 (20-8). But that wasn’t enough to make the Cubs players feel any better.
“There’s nothing positive about losing,” Carlos Villanueva said. “I know what needs to be addressed has already been addressed. We take nothing from this — we take a loss. We’re not happy about it. That’s up to us to do something about it.
“Our goal down the stretch is to break as many hearts as possible,” Villanueva said. “We play a lot of teams that are in contention now, and that’s how we’ll learn to win those games. We have a month left and we’ll see how we do.”
What needed to be addressed were some costly defensive lapses. With one out in the St. Louis fifth inning, center fielder Arismendy Alcantara couldn’t get his glove on Matt Carpenter’s fly ball, which resulted in an RBI double. Carpenter then scored one batter later on Holliday’s RBI double to pull within, 5-4.
Second baseman Javier Baez wasn’t able to get a glove on Molina’s ball with two outs in the seventh, and another run scored to tie the game at 6. Both Alcantara and Baez are rookies, both are new at their positions. But no excuses.
“Those are all tremendously helpful, useful experiences that they’ll be able to use,” Rick Renteria said. “We did everything we could to contain everything. Hey, today, they won out.”
* Travis Wood made his team-leading 28th start. The lefty did not get a decision and gave up four runs on six hits over 4 2/3 innings.
— Carrie Muskat
Jeff Samardzija was scheduled to start Saturday for the Cubs but instead Carlos Villanueva will take the mound. Samardzija is on his way to Oakland to join the Athletics along with pitcher Jason Hammel. The two were traded late Friday.
Here is Saturday’s lineup:
The Cubs open a three-game series in Milwaukee against the Brewers. Carlos Villanueva faces Matt Garza in the opener. Chicago was 3-7 at Miller Park last season, and 6-13 overall against the Milwaukee. Starlin Castro is batting fourth for the second time in his career. In the only other time, he was 3-for-5. He needs to pick it up on the road. Castro is 18-for-52 (.346) at Wrigley Field, and 5-for-32 (.156) on the road. Here’s the lineup:
On Wednesday, Wrigley Field will celebrate it’s 100th anniversary, and Cubs catcher John Baker will think about all the other players who have stood on the field in the last century.
“This field is kind of like a soldier — it’s lasted for so long,” Baker said. “More than anything, I think about the privilege to step out on to it. Rarely in baseball do you get the chance to stand on the same spot where the all-time great players have stood on and played on the same field.
“One of the special things about golf is people can go to St. Andrews and Augusta and play,” he said. “In baseball, you think of the new stadium in Washington and the new stadium in Miami and Shea Stadium is gone, and that was new in the ’60s. This place and Fenway Park are one of the few places left where you can walk out and stand at home plate and be at the same place Babe Ruth stood and Ted Williams stood. I think that’s the most special aspect of this entire ballpark.”
The Cubs and Diamondbacks will wear throwback uniforms to reflect the 100-year anniversary, although neither will be wearing jerseys from their respective club. The Cubs will wear the Chi-Feds jerseys to represent the first team that played at Wrigley, which was then Weegham Park. The Diamondbacks will wear versions of the Kansas City Packers’ uniforms. The Chi-Feds played the Packers on April 23, 1914.
Fans will be asked to sing “Happy Birthday” in the fifth inning, and several Cubs alums, including Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Billy Williams, will return for pre-game festivities.
“There’s a little kid in every one of us that comes out when we see former players who have been here,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “Their experiences are unique.”
However, no team has celebrated a championship at Wrigley Field. Is there anything about the ballpark that makes Renteria think that can’t happen?
“No,” Renteria said. “The game is defined and starts and ends with the players. Hopefully, when we’re coaching and managing, we’re able to help direct and stay out of the way when we have to.”
Theo Epstein knows about historical ballparks, having spent so much time with the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
“When it comes to the 100th anniversary, for me, I think of how Wrigley is the epicenter of fans’ connection to the Cubs and it represents something so important to this franchise and the fans,” Epstein said. “It not only connects Wrigley to the fans of the team, but also generations of fans to one another. … It’s the epicenter of the fan’s connection to the team and for a lot of families, it’s an important familial place because of so much bonding and so many good times have gone on here despite the losing.
“We all look forward to the day when the crowd and the energy in the ballpark is focused on the ninth inning comeback the Cubs are going to have instead of the seventh inning stretch,” he said.
For Chicago’s Carlos Villanueva, pitching at Wrigley Field is a little surreal.
“This park, it’s a different aura,” Villanueva said. “I was fortunate in my first year to start a game here in September. You grow up in the Dominican and you get WGN-TV back home, and we watched the Cubs games, and it looked so much different on TV. You see the ivy and the wind and the people.
“The fact that I was here, it’s almost like I didn’t want to pitch, I just wanted to sit and watch a game as a fan,” he said. “I couldn’t believe I was actually in this park. You start thinking about all the people and everyone has seen the videos of years ago and the people who were playing here. It’s crazy.”
It’s been 100 years of baseball at Clark and Addison streets.
“Obviously, the dimensions, the ivy, the basket, how more people come for day games than night games, the rooftops — it’s definitely special and it’s something you can’t replicate,” Villanueva said of Wrigley Field. “I always joke around and tell people nobody can understand what it feels like to be a Cubbie unless you’ve been one. Wrigley is all part of it. We get a little renovations done and it’ll be around for 100 more years. In this next century, let’s have at least 25 championships.”
— Carrie Muskat