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
* Cubs manager Rick Renteria was asked what he expects of Javier Baez, who was starting at second on Wednesday in the second game of his Major League life.
“In terms of the results, what I expect is that he’ll go out there and grind out some at-bats,” Renteria said. “His skill set is bat speed and power, and that would indicate if he squares up a ball, he’ll have a chance to hit it out of the ballpark. My expectations of him is to be here to learn, to grind out at-bats, to experience the opposition’s ability to work him, for him to get a feel to play second base alongside Starlin [Castro] and [Anthony Rizzo] on that side, and to continue to learn the game. He’s a young man and he’s a baseball player. Once you get here, a lot of different things can happen. We want him to continue to be a sponge and keep learning and moving forward.”
The Cubs are keeping expectations in check regarding the talented infielder.
“It’s 60 feet, 6 inches in Triple-A, A ball, Double-A, rookie ball, and 60 feet, 60 inches in the big leagues,” Renteria said. “It’s just a matter of still keeping it simple and learns, just learn.”
* Arismendy Alcantara was not in the leadoff spot on Wednesday.
“We want to try to take away a little bit of the pressure,” Renteria said. “He still looks calm but the results haven’t been what he wants. Seeing how guys work ahead of him might give him a different perspective, a different view.”
* Kyuji Fujikawa will be eased into game situations. This is the last year of his two-year deal with the Cubs, who have an option for 2015. Fujikawa said he hasn’t thought about next year, and is focused on getting back on the mound now.
— Carrie Muskat
In case you missed it, the Cubs made some roster moves:
* Emilio Bonifacio has joined Double-A Tennessee on a rehab assignment. Bonifacio, 29, was batting .261 with 10 doubles, three triples, one homer and 17 RBIs in 61 games before he suffered a strained oblique.
* Kyle Schwarber was promoted from Class A Kane County to high A Daytona. Schwarber hit safely in 15 of the 23 games he played with the Cougars, batting .361 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. He was a catcher, played left and was the designated hitter.
* Kyuji Fujikawa has joined Class A Kane County on a rehab assignment. He’s been rehabbing in Mesa since undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in June 2013.
Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Ryan Kalish all homered to help Iowa beat Oklahoma City, 5-4. It was Baez’s 13th homer of the season. Kyle Hendricks started, but was pulled after two innings, and most likely was headed to Cincinnati to start this week for the Cubs. Manny Ramirez went 2-for-4 with his third RBIs of the season.
Jorge Soler hit his first home run, a solo shot in the sixth, to lift Tennessee to a 9-1 win over Birmingham. Corey Black picked up the win, giving up one run over six innings. Jonathan Mota and Dustin Geiger each had three hits.
Daytona’s game at Lakeland was postponed because of rain, and was to be made up as a doubleheader Monday.
Kane County lost, 2-1, to Clinton in 14 innings. Shawon Dunston, Ben Carhart, Jeimer Candelario and David Bote each had two hits.
Rashad Crawford had three hits and three RBIs in Boise’s 10-5 win over Eugene. Chesny Young was 3-for-3 with two RBis.
Kyuji Fujikawa struck out one in one inning for the Mesa Rookie League team. Mesa lost, 7-5, to the Angels. Fujikawa has been rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, which he had in June 2013.
It was only 20, 25 pitches but it was the first time off a mound since he had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, and Cubs pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa said he is continuing to make progress. Fujikawa threw off a mound Monday for the first time since having the procedure done last June.
“It’s one step at a time and it’s a long process,” he said Wednesday through interpreter Ryo Shinkawa.
The right-hander, limited to 12 games last season, his first with the Cubs, said he didn’t hesitate during his side session.
“I didn’t have any doubts because I was throwing with pretty good intensity on flat ground,” he said.
“All I can say now is I’m playing light catch today,” he said. “Anything can happen each day. I’m following the medical staff and the [athletic] trainer’s plan and following the schedule.”
The Cubs are hopeful Fujikawa can pitch for the big league team this summer.
— Carrie Muskat
* Wednesday was the Cubs’ first full squad workout, which meant it was the first day of live batting practice. Nate Schierholtz got to face exactly who he needed in lefty Travis Wood. Schierholtz is hoping he can convince Cubs manager Rick Renteria to not platoon the outfielder against left-handed pitchers. Last year, Schierholtz batted .262 against right-handers and hit .170 against lefties, part of the reason he had to share right field.
“That’s a huge goal of mine is to play every day and not necessarily platoon as much,” Schierholtz said Wednesday. “That’s one of my big goals this spring.”
* Renteria met with each player on Wednesday, and was impressed by shortstop Starlin Castro, who is coming off a tough year in which he batted a career-low .245.
“He’s very excited,” Renteria said of Castro. “We liked the way he looked in our meeting. He was very happy. We just told him to be himself, expand on his skills and improve his approach at the plate. He spoke a bit more than we did. He has an idea of what he wants to do.”
* Even though Mike Olt’s primary position is third base, he was working out at first on Wednesday on the first day of workouts. The Cubs don’t have a backup first baseman, and top prospects Kris Bryant and Christian Villanueva were sharing third during the session.
* Kyuji Fujikawa, rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, had a long toss session Wednesday, throwing from about 135 feet. He is making progress.
“As long as there is nothing that sets him back, he continues to move forward,” Renteria said.
* Somehow, Blake Parker was aligned with lefties Wesley Wright, James Russell, Tommy Hottovy, Tsuyoshi Wada and Zac Rosscup. Parker is the only right-hander in that group. Did he have to adjust to the southpaws?
“No — I just took my glove off and we did a strictly right-handed shake,” Wright said.
* Besides Wood, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Rusin, Carlos Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks threw live BP sessions on Wednesday.
* Thursday’s workout in Cubs camp will start at the normal time, with stretching at 9:30 a.m. Arizona time.
— Carrie Muskat
Kyuji Fujikawa is throwing this spring, and could be able to pitch in the big leagues by June. But he wasn’t able to recruit Masahiro Tanaka to sign with the Cubs. Fujikawa and Tanaka were teammates three times in the World Baseball Classic. After 12 seasons in Japan, Fujikawa left to sign a two-year contract with the Cubs in December 2012. But his 2013 season ended after 12 games because of elbow problems, and he eventually underwent Tommy John surgery last June.
All winter, Cubs fans were giddy over the possibility of the team adding Tanaka, a 25-year-old free agent, who eventually agreed to a seven-year, $155 million deal with the Yankees. Whether Fujikawa talked to Tanaka is unclear.
“I can’t really say much,” Fujikawa said Saturday. “It’s not for me to comment.”
Fujikawa says he didn’t talk to any Japanese players before signing with the Cubs. He could’ve asked Kosuke Fukudome about what it was like at Wrigley Field. Instead, the right-hander shifted the focus back to his rehab.
“I can’t really say anything about Tanaka, but for myself, I just want to say last year wasn’t my real self, and I’m trying to think about myself,” Fujikawa said through interpreter Ryo Shinkawa. “I can only talk about myself.”
Right now, Fujikawa is playing catch five, six times a week, alternating between a long toss day and a light toss day. He has yet to throw off a mound but is close.
“It was definitely tough while the season was going on and you have to understand you can’t be able to contribute, that was the tough part,” he said.
Fujikawa knows Cubs fans were interested in having the team acquire Tanaka.
“It’s a good thing that everybody was talking about him,” he said. “He has a strong heart, so he shouldn’t have a problem in New York. He’s used to it.”
— Carrie Muskat
* The Cubs are eager to see right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, 23, this spring. He’s been slow in rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, which he had in March 2012.
“I think his stuff is as good as anyone in this camp when he’s healthy and he’s healthy right now,” GM Jed Hoyer said. “As far as setting expectations for the beginning of the year or whether he breaks with the team or not or what his role will be, it’s too early for that. We’ll see him on the mound and see him in games and then make a decision later this spring.”
Vizcaino will be used in the bullpen.
* Another pitcher who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, Kyuji Fujikawa, also is making progress. He underwent surgery on his right elbow last June, and is now throwing off flat ground. In his last session, he threw 25 pitches, 20 for strikes.
“I don’t want to put any specific date timetables on him but he should be [throwing] off a mound here pretty soon,” Hoyer said. “Any time you have a Tommy John guy, you have concerns about setbacks. It’s been a really good process so far. He’s really excited about how good he does feel and how well the ball is coming out of his hand.”
Among the other pitchers to watch this spring are Justin Grimm, 25, who has the potential to be a closer, and Cuban right-hander Armando Rivero, 26, who pitched at Class A Kane County, high A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee last season as well as the Arizona Fall League. Rivero posted a 4.15 ERA in 20 Minor League games in relief combined, striking out 45 and walking 12 over 30 1/3 innings.
* Theo Epstein said they still have money in their budget to add players if needed this season.
“In the two previous offseasons, we’ve spent every dollar available to us and this is the first winter where we ended up keeping some in reserve to be used on players [that are] hopefully prime age, impact-type players down the road,” Epstein said. “It gives us a bit of a leg-up as we look toward next winter or an in-season move that might make the present and the future better.
“Rather than just spend the money to spend it, if we can book that and have it available to us to sign that international free agent who comes along in the summer or to acquire a player in a trade who carries a significant salary but fits for the long term, or to just start out next offseason knowing we can be a little more aggressive on the guys we really want early because the money will be availble to us, that made more sense than spending the money now just to spend it.”
* One thing the Cubs are focusing on is adding more pitching. Epstein said they will do so in the First-Year Player Draft, although not necessarily by picking a pitcher with their first-round selection. The Cubs have the fourth selection overall.
* Pitchers and catchers have their first workout on Friday.
— Carrie Muskat
The Cubs now have a bonafide closer. On Friday, the Cubs announced they have signed right-hander Jose Veras to a one-year, $3.85 million contract with a club option for 2015. There is a $150,000 buyout for 2015.
The Cubs did not chose to keep free agent Kevin Gregg after he saved 33 games last season, taking over for Carlos Marmol, who was traded to the Dodgers, and Kyuji Fujikawa, who needed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Veras, 33, combined to go 0-5 with 21 saves and a 3.02 ERA in 67 relief appearances between the Astros and Tigers last season. He struck out 60 and walked 22 over 62 2/3 innings, and compiled a .199 opponents batting average against. The right-hander began the season with Houston and posted a 2.93 ERA and 19 saves in 42 outings before he was traded to Detroit, where he made nine appearances and helped the Tigers reach the postseason.
In 2011, Veras ranked fifth in the National League with 27 holds in a career-high 79 appearances. He also was a member of the 2013 World Baseball Classic Dominican Republic club. Since the start of the 2011 season, he is tied for fifth in the Major Leagues with 218 appearances.
His contract with the Cubs includes incentives for an additional $750,000 based on games finished.
The Cubs’ bullpen is definitely stronger with Veras at the end. He joins lefty relievers James Russell, Wesley Wright and Zac Rosscup and right-handers Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Blake Parker, and Arodys Vizcaino.
— Carrie Muskat
The Cubs used nine different starting pitchers last season, including Scott Baker who started three games in September, and want to make sure they have enough depth. GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday the goal is to add at least one and possibly two more starting pitchers before the season begins. So far, the rotation includes Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jake Arrieta with Chris Rusin and Carlos Villanueva possibly getting starts. The Cubs have had talks with Baker’s agent about the possibility of the right-hander returning for another season. Baker spent most of the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Whether that extra pitcher is Masahiro Tanaka has not been determined as Major League Baseball and the Japan baseball officials sort through the posting process.
“In general, we only need one starter in theory,” Hoyer said, “but we know we’ll go through a lot more starters. We’re in on a lot of starting pitchers and we could well sign more than one starter. That’s a possibility. Someone is going to be hurt, someone could go to the bullpen for a short amount of time. I feel it’s a dangerous game playing that ‘just enough’ starting pitcher game. Could we add more than one starting pitcher this winter? Absolutely.”
On Day 2 of the Winter Meetings, Hoyer and Theo Epstein continued their meetings with agents and teams.
“I think we’ve laid the groundwork and we’ll keep doing that,” Hoyer said. “It’s boring to say but that’s what you do here. You have meeting after meeting and try to kick ideas off each other. You hope that having the big group here and having everyone in the same building will lead to a little more creativity.”
* The Cubs may go to Spring Training and let the relievers battle it out for the closer’s job.
“In theory we can,” Hoyer said. “I think we have people on the roster who can certainly hold down that job. At that point, it would be on [manager Rick Renteria] to name a closer in Spring Training. I’m not sure that will happen or not. I think we have more power arms on the roster and we feel better about our bullpen. We do still want to add to it.”
The list of candidates includes Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, and Hector Rondon. However, the Cubs are looking at adding some relievers, and hoping the chance to be a closer could entice some free agents.
Renteria did admit that managing the bullpen is the “most critical part of the ballgame.” He’d like to have roles established for each pitcher.
* Kyuji Fujikawa is continuing his rehab from Tommy John surgery but most likely would not be back until May at the earliest.
— Carrie Muskat