The Cubs upgraded their outfield, acquiring veteran Dexter Fowler on Monday in exchange for infielder Luis Valbuena and right-handed pitcher Dan Straily. Fowler, 28, a switch-hitter, has a career .366 on-base percentage over seven seasons, primarily with the Rockies. He was traded to the Astros on Dec. 3 with a player to be named later for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles.
According to FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, Fowler asked for $10.8 million in arbitration, and the Astros offered $8.5 million. Fowler will be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.
The Cubs had projected Arismendy Alcantara as their primary center fielder, although last season was his first in the outfield after spending most of his playing time at second base.
Valbuena, 29, made the most starts at third base last season for the Cubs, and his departure could open the spot for top prospect Kris Bryant at third. Valbuena batted .249 with 16 home runs and 51 RBIs. Bryant was the Minor League player of the year, hitting 43 home runs and driving in 110 runs at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. If Bryant isn’t ready by Opening Day, the Cubs have Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella to play third base.
Straily, 26, was acquired from the Athletics last July in the multi player deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. He was 13-12 with a 4.54 ERA in 48 big league appearances covering parts of three big league seasons.
— Carrie Muskat
Christian Villanueva went 2-for-4 Tuesday, hitting a solo home run in the first inning in Obregon’s 7-1 loss to Jalisco in Mexico. It was Villanueva’s 10th home run this winter.
In Puerto Rico, Javier Baez played a doubleheader on Tuesday. In the first game, he went 0-for-2 with a walk and two strikeouts as Santurce beat San Juan, 3-1, in seven innings. Baez was 1-for-7 in the second game, which San Juan won, 3-2, in 14 innings. Baez hit a RBI double and struck out three times. He’s batting .286 in Puerto Rico. Santurce is off until Friday.
* An update on some of the other Cubs playing winter ball:
Luis Valbuena: .230 with four doubles, four homers, 12 RBIs in 17 games for Lara in Venezuela
Arismendy Alcantara: .324 with one double, one triple, four homers, eight RBIs in 19 games for Licey in Dominican Republic
Luis Valbuena hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning Friday to help Lara beat Caracas, 5-4, in Venezuelan winter league play. It was Valbuena’s fifth game, and he’s batting .211 so far.
Junior Lake hit a double and drove in two runs in Estrellas’ 3-1 win over Aguilas in the Dominican Republic.
Arismendy Alcantara hit a home run, his third, in Licey’s 3-0 win over Toros in the Dominican. Alcantara is batting .326 this winter.
John Andreoli hit a double in San Juan’s 8-2 loss to Mayaguez in Puerto Rico.
* Luis Valbuena expected back in the lineup on Sunday. He’s been battling a cold that’s spreading through the clubhouse.
* It’s been a struggle this season for outfielder Junior Lake, who the Cubs are hoping can get back on track playing every day at Triple-A Iowa. Lake was optioned to Iowa to make room on the 25-man roster for pitcher Dan Straily, who started Saturday against the Mets. The outfielder was batting .216 with 102 strikeouts in 98 games. He hit .114 in July.
“We’ll try to get him back on his feet again,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It’s tough for me to have him here. The window right now is just right [for him to go to the Minors].”
Lake was told he would be back with the big league team when rosters expand on Sept. 1.
* Dan Straily is the 10th starting pitcher used by Cubs this season. Last year, they used nine. In 2012, they used 12.
* Luis Valbuena, who hit a game-winning two-run homer Friday against the Cardinals, is batting .345 (10-for-29) with seven extra-base hits against the Cardinals this season. According to Elias, Valbuena’s seven extra-base hits (4 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR) are the most by any player against St. Louis this season.
* Wesley Wright has a 0.63 ERA (1 ER/14 1/3 IP) in 17 games against NL Central division foes this season. Neil Ramirez has posted a 0.68 ERA (1 ER/13 1/3 IP) in 13 relief outings.
Luis Valbuena is 5-for-14 with four doubles vs. Adam Wainwright, and gets the start Tuesday for the Cubs in the second game of their four-game series against the Cardinals. Here’s the lineup:
In the first seven games of the season, Cubs manager Rick Renteria has used a lefty-righty platoon at third base and the outfield with his lineup, and said he’ll continue to do that.
“At this point, we’re still allowing these guys the opportunity to use the splits that end up existing, righty-lefty,” Renteria said. “At some point, these guys will end up playing against both righties and lefties.”
So far, left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena, Ryan Sweeney and Ryan Kalish are starting against right-handers, while right-handed hitting Mike Olt and Junior Lake face the lefty starting pitchers. Emilio Bonifacio, a switch-hitter, usually switches to the outfield against southpaws.
At some point, though, Renteria said he will likely abandon the platoon. It depends on the player.
“It’s the seventh game of the season today,” Renteria said Tuesday. “As the season progresses, and I start to see them playing more and they have pinch-hit at-bats in the ballgame … a lot of those things are giving me a lot of information and feedback leading me to where we might ultimately go.”
Performance is key, he said.
“You might have someone say, ‘Well, I can’t perform unless I have four, five regular at-bats every single day,'” Renteria said. “The reality is every time you get an opportunity to hit, that’s an opportunity. How good the at-bat is, how the approach is — you don’t have to get a hit to have a good approach. It could be a productive at-bat without getting a hit. You take all those factors into play and hopefully make the right decision.”
— Carrie Muskat
Mike Olt knew from the first pitch he saw in live batting practice that his vision problems were over. On Thursday, he found out he was going to be on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster.
A first-round pick by the Rangers in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Olt began 2013 at Triple-A Round Rock, and was batting .139 on April 25 when he asked for some help. In November 2012, he was hit in the head while playing in the Dominican Republic winter league, and was having problems seeing. He’s overcome the vision problems, and battled a tender right shoulder this spring in camp.
“We’re excited for Mike,” GM Jed Hoyer said. “I think he’s proved himself here in Spring Training but he probably feels like he’s got a lot more to prove. This is the exhibition season and now we have to go play real games. I’m excited for him that he was able to come in here and do what he did in Spring Training.”
When did Olt know he was over his vision problems?
“First pitch of live BP,” he said. “Picking up the spin is just what I needed. Last year, I couldn’t pick up the spin. This year, I was able to see the ball and get a good curveball to hit instead of swinging at something in the dirt. I was happy with the swings I’ve made this spring training. Even my strikeouts have been some of my best at-bats.”
Getting the news was a bit of redemption.
“I worked hard this offseason coming from last year,” he said. “It was a tough year. I think it made me a better player, a better person. Just a little bump in the road. I know what I’m capable of doing. I’m just happy I was able to come here and do my job.
“I was extremely excited [at the news]. Just to get an opportunity like this is something that every kid dreams about. Now that it’s really true, I haven’t had time to really sit back and think about it, but it’s something that I’ll never forget.”
He hopes to be able to play every day but the Cubs will monitor his shoulder.
Olt is excited about what he’s seen in Cubs camp so far.
“Theo and Jed have a plan going for the Cubs,” Olt said. “Just listening to it, you get goosebumps with what they’re trying to do. To be a part of that is definitely something special.”
— Carrie Muskat
Luis Valbuena hit two home runs and drove in four runs to lead the Cubs to a 7-0 victory over the White Sox Friday in Glendale. Chris Rusin was the winning pitcher, giving up two hits over five scorless innings. The lefty combined with Alberto Cabrera, Wesley Wright, Jonathan Sanchez and Brian Schlitter on the shutout, holding the White Sox to three hits. Junior Lake had two hits, including a RBI single, and Ryan Kalish drove in a run. Javier Baez had to leave the game after suffering a right heel contusion in the sixth. He walked off the field on his own, and was to be re-evaluated on Saturday.
* On Saturday, the Cubs will play host to the Reds at Cubs Park in Mesa. Edwin Jackson gets the start against lefty Tony Cingrani.
* Fans are encouraged to take part in the Cubs wives mystery ball fundraiser, which will be held in left field of Cubs Park. For $30, fans will get an autographed ball, signed by a player or a seventh-inning stretch singer. Proceeds go to Paz de Cristo in Mesa.
— Carrie Muskat
The Cubs have a night game Tuesday in Surprise against the Rangers. There are 13 games remaining in Spring Training. Is it crunch time?
“I think some people are slow Spring Training guys, and a lot of us are like, ‘OK, let’s get going,’ so they’re hitting their stride when the season starts,” Donnie Murphy said. “I wouldn’t say it’s ‘crunch time.’ It’s more getting more hits, having more solid at-bats the closer you get to the season more than anything.”
What do the Cubs still have to do? Here’s a list:
1. Complete the rotation
Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel are set. James McDonald threw two pitches on Monday, and was pulled because of shoulder stiffness. That leaves Chris Rusin, who has looked really good, and Tsuyoshi Wada as options for the fifth spot. Carlos Villanueva also could step in if needed, although Rick Renteria says they like the right-hander more as a swing man. Villanueva will start Wednesday.
2. Finalize the bullpen spots
Jose Veras is set at closer. Who sets him up? James Russell should be fine after being slowed with a tired arm. The Cubs have to decide what to do with Jonathan Sanchez, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm and Blake Parker. Alberto Cabrera has given up one run on three hits in five innings over five games, and he’s out of options. The surprise this spring has been Arodys Vizcaino, who has served up two hits and one walk over three innings in three games. He’s throwing 98 mph.
3. Third base
Do the Cubs go with a combo of Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy, or do they give the job to Mike Olt? Olt has been unable to play third because of a tender right shoulder, but will get time there this week. He’s batting .241 with 11 strikeouts, but also shares the team lead with three home runs.
4. Figure out the bench
Junior Lake has struggled this spring. Is he ready for full work? Or is Ryan Kalish a better option for the outfield, even though he’s another left-handed bat. Chris Valaika can play anywhere but is batting .207 this spring. They like Emilio Bonifacio as a leadoff option.
5. Enjoy the kid
Javier Baez started at second base on Monday, and the Cubs want him to play third base as well before Cactus League games finish. The front office has repeated over and over that Baez will open as Iowa’s shortstop. These last two weeks will give Renteria and others one last look at their top prospect.
— Carrie Muskat