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Duensing reportedly re-signs with Cubs

MLB.com @basebollie

The Cubs and left-handed reliever Brian Duensing are reuniting after the two sides agreed to a two-year deal on Wednesday, sources told MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

The club has not confirmed the deal, which is worth $7 million according to multiple reports. Heyman reported that Duensing "had deals for significantly more money elsewhere but liked the Cubs experience so much he wanted to return."

The Cubs and left-handed reliever Brian Duensing are reuniting after the two sides agreed to a two-year deal on Wednesday, sources told MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

The club has not confirmed the deal, which is worth $7 million according to multiple reports. Heyman reported that Duensing "had deals for significantly more money elsewhere but liked the Cubs experience so much he wanted to return."

Duensing, 34, signed a one-year contract with the Cubs last offseason and went 1-1 with a 2.74 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings in 2017. He pitched 5 1/3 innings during the postseason, allowing one earned run while striking out three and walking three.

A nine-year Major League veteran, Duensing is 43-38 with a 4.01 ERA in 725 career innings. He was once a part-time starter, but has pitched strictly out of the bullpen over the past five seasons.

He is likely to fill a middle relief role for Chicago in 2018.

Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @basebollie.

 

Chicago Cubs, Brian Duensing

By the book: Maples seeks 'pen role with Cubs

Right-hander advanced from Class A to Majors in 2017
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Dillon Maples was sitting at a Starbucks in Memphis on Aug. 31, reading about George Washington, when Cubs player development director Jaron Madison interrupted him. Triple-A Iowa's game against the Redbirds had been called because of the weather. An avid reader, Maples' plan was to hunker down in one of the coffee shop's comfortable chairs for the day.

"Jaron comes over and says, 'Hey, why don't you ride back with me to the hotel?'" said Maples, who was pitching in relief for Iowa, his third Minor League stop in 2017. "I said, 'You know, I'm probably going to get my drink refilled and hang out here for another hour.' He said, 'No, no, no, I think you need to come back with me.'

CHICAGO -- Dillon Maples was sitting at a Starbucks in Memphis on Aug. 31, reading about George Washington, when Cubs player development director Jaron Madison interrupted him. Triple-A Iowa's game against the Redbirds had been called because of the weather. An avid reader, Maples' plan was to hunker down in one of the coffee shop's comfortable chairs for the day.

"Jaron comes over and says, 'Hey, why don't you ride back with me to the hotel?'" said Maples, who was pitching in relief for Iowa, his third Minor League stop in 2017. "I said, 'You know, I'm probably going to get my drink refilled and hang out here for another hour.' He said, 'No, no, no, I think you need to come back with me.'

"I thought, this is a little weird," Maples said. "We get back to the hotel and he tells me, and I was ecstatic."

Madison's message was the news every Minor League player wants to hear: Maples was being called up to the big leagues. After six seasons in the Minors, including several stops, injuries and frustrations to the point where he nearly quit pitching, Maples was headed to the show.

Ranked 14th on MLB Pipeline's list of Top 30 Cubs prospects, Maples made his Major League debut on Sept. 3 against the Braves and walked one and struck out one in one inning. The Pirates roughed him up in his next outing the next day, scoring five runs on three hits and two walks, but he settled down in his final four outings. In six games with the Cubs, he struck out 11 over 5 1/3 innings and showed off an impressive slider.

Tweet from @MLBPipeline: #Cubs No. 14 prospect Dillon Maples notched his first @MLB strikeout during his debut. 🎥 https://t.co/cxENXmqCDn pic.twitter.com/E2IWCXOoLP

When the right-hander, who was a 14th-round pick in 2011, returned home for the offseason, he took about two weeks to reflect on what he had done. Maples began the year with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, was promoted to Double-A Tennessee then Iowa before reaching the Cubs.

"The first few weeks after the season ended, you're not doing too much. You're just relaxing, and I let it hit me," Maples said Sunday. "I thought about how crazy it was and all the people who have been supporting me through thick and thin. It's been really awesome, and I'm grateful to be surrounded by so many great people.

"Last year was pretty crazy, but I've moved on," he said. "That's why I had that two-week period to sit back and let it soak in. Now, it's, 'All right, let's go. Let's have a good camp and work on what I need to work on. Last year is irrelevant.'"

Maples will be invited to the Cubs' big league Spring Training camp, which will give him a chance to learn from the veteran pitchers.

"[For him], it's about being more consistent and efficient with his pitches," Madison said. "As long as he continues to do that, he'll stay healthy."

This offseason, the Cubs have added arms to the bullpen, including Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek and Dario Alvarez. Maples has learned a lot about pitch sequencing in the Minors, and even if he's not on the big league roster on Opening Day, he's someone to keep an eye on.

"He has a slider that no one can hit and he can throw it in any count," Madison said.

By the way, Maples did finish the Washington biography.

"I love reading about battles and wars and people who lead people into battle," he said. "George Washington did everything. He formed this great nation, he was a leader of a bunch of rag tags. It's just awesome. His leadership and stoicism and everything he took on and was able to propel this nation. I enjoyed it."

The book was about 700 pages and a little intimidating, Maples said. He expected to need a year to read it. Getting to the big leagues can be intimidating, too.

"I'm trying to read about all of the people who were the glue to this country," he said. "They're all pretty interesting. I've got [Alexander] Hamilton lined up."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

 

Chicago Cubs, Dillon Maples

Young fan asks Rizzo to be her valentine

The Cubs Convention took place this past weekend, providing fans with player meet-and-greets, baby news (?) and autograph sessions from current and former players. One of the more fun activities was a panel led by Anthony Rizzo -- although, this wasn't your typical Q&A session.

Batting Bryant leadoff makes sense for Cubs

Slugger has skills that would prove beneficial from top of lineup
MLB.com @AndrewSimonMLB

Cubs manager Joe Maddon carries a reputation for outside-the-box thinking, and it shows up in his lineup construction.

Following the departure of Dexter Fowler, the Cubs' leadoff hitter in 2015 and '16, Maddon started 11 different players in the top spot in '17. Current free agent Jon Jay led the way with 51 starts, but the eclectic group also included plenty of players who go decidedly against the traditional prototype, including Kyle Schwarber (36), Anthony Rizzo (14) and Willson Contreras (2).

Cubs manager Joe Maddon carries a reputation for outside-the-box thinking, and it shows up in his lineup construction.

Following the departure of Dexter Fowler, the Cubs' leadoff hitter in 2015 and '16, Maddon started 11 different players in the top spot in '17. Current free agent Jon Jay led the way with 51 starts, but the eclectic group also included plenty of players who go decidedly against the traditional prototype, including Kyle Schwarber (36), Anthony Rizzo (14) and Willson Contreras (2).

Not included on that list was Kris Bryant -- but it's possible that could change in 2018.

Speaking over the weekend at Cubs Convention, Maddon was noncommittal about who will fill that role, saying that the club will "go to camp and sit down and try to evaluate everybody." For his part, Bryant volunteered for the gig, citing his experience as a leadoff hitter at the University of San Diego. "I'd love to," he recently told the Chicago Tribune.

Should this idea take hold, it wouldn't be a dramatic change for Bryant and the Cubs. After all, in 149 starts in 2017, he batted second 110 times and third 38 times.

Video: CHC@ARI: Bryant knocks three hits in big day at plate

Installing Bryant atop his lineup would be a sensible course of action for Maddon this season, with no obvious alternative in place. Here are three reasons why:

1. It would maximize his plate appearances
Obviously, the higher a batter is placed in the lineup, the more chances he will get. Cubs leadoff hitters, for example, got 15 more plate appearances than their No. 2 hitters in 2017, 27 more than their No. 3 hitters and 39 more than their cleanup men. Those aren't major differences, but you still would prefer those extra opportunities go to a hitter of Bryant's caliber.

The 2015 National League Rookie of the Year and '16 NL MVP -- who just turned 26 on Jan. 4 -- has been one of the 10 or so best hitters in the Majors since his arrival. His 146 weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) last season roughly matched the previous year's output and ranked sixth in the NL, solidly ahead of Rizzo (133).

2. He's an on-base machine
While Bryant's homer total dropped from 39 to 29 last year, he increased his walks from 75 to 95 and his on-base percentage from .385 to .409. That OBP ranked fourth among NL qualifiers, and again, Rizzo (.392) was the only Cubs hitter to come close.

In contrast, the Cubs' collection of leadoff men combined for a mediocre .325 OBP last year to rank 18th in MLB. Apply a .400 OBP to those plate appearances instead, and that's nearly 60 extra times on base at the top of the lineup over the course of a season. If Rizzo then slotted in behind Bryant, it would give the Cubs two excellent on-base threats atop their lineup.

The tradeoff, of course, would be fewer opportunities for Bryant to bat in RBI situations. On the other hand, Maddon has no qualms about putting his pitcher eighth and a position player ninth, having pulled off that maneuver 55 times last season. Such a setup would perhaps help alleviate the issue, and having Bryant bat first would provide Rizzo and other capable Cubs with more of those juicy chances.

Video: CHC@BOS: Statcast™ analyzes Bryant's sprint on double

3. He's a multi-dimensional offensive player
The above reasons could apply to Rizzo nearly as well as they apply to Bryant, and Rizzo actually thrived in the leadoff spot last season, with a 1.053 OPS and five home runs in his 14 starts there. But there is one significant difference between the two.

According to Statcast™, Bryant's average baserunning sprint speed of 28.2 feet per second on "max-effort" plays was third on the Cubs in 2017, just behind Ian Happ (28.5) and Javier Baez (28.3). Rizzo trailed far behind at 25.7 feet per second, well below the MLB average of 27 feet/second.

And while Bryant stole only seven bases, his speed manifests itself in other ways when combined with his instincts and reads. Bryant took an extra base (first to third on a single, for example) on a team-high 60 percent of his chances last year to tie for fourth among all players with at least 500 plate appearances. His mark of plus-4.8 runs via FanGraphs' Ultimate Base Running (UBR) metric -- which focuses on plays other than steal attempts -- tied for fifth in MLB.

In other words, Bryant is an asset on the basepaths, especially compared with sluggers such as Rizzo and Schwarber. That makes him a solid compromise as a leadoff hitter, with the patience to get on base, the power to do damage and the wheels to carry himself home.

Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.

 

Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant

Hughes named Illinois co-sportscaster of year

Longtime Cubs play-by-play announcer honored for 11th time
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Cubs radio play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes was named the 2017 Illinois co-sportscaster of the year by the National Sports Media Association on Tuesday.

"I'd like to dedicate this award to three special parties," Hughes said. "First, I have the best announcing partner in baseball in Ron Coomer. We both work for the finest executive producer in America, and that is Mitch Rosen. And the Chicago Cubs fans are the sweetest listening audience on the planet."

CHICAGO -- Cubs radio play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes was named the 2017 Illinois co-sportscaster of the year by the National Sports Media Association on Tuesday.

"I'd like to dedicate this award to three special parties," Hughes said. "First, I have the best announcing partner in baseball in Ron Coomer. We both work for the finest executive producer in America, and that is Mitch Rosen. And the Chicago Cubs fans are the sweetest listening audience on the planet."

This is Hughes' 11th sportscaster of the year honor and his eighth in Illinois, having previously won it in 1996, 1999, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2015. Hughes was Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year in 1990, 1991 and 1992.

The 2018 season will be Hughes' 36th consecutive campaign of broadcasting Major League Baseball, his 23rd season with the Cubs and his fifth year with Coomer.

This year, Hughes shared the NSMA Illinois honor with Mark Giangreco, the sports director and lead sports anchor of WLS-TV.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

 

Chicago Cubs

Cubs put emphasis on developing young arms

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- When Rob Zastryzny made his Major League debut in August 2016, it was a significant moment for the Cubs organization. The left-hander was the first Cubs pitcher selected in the Draft by Theo Epstein to reach the big leagues since he took over as president of baseball operations in October 2011.

The Cubs want to get more homegrown talent to the Majors and made some changes this offseason. Jim Benedict, considered a pitching guru who is credited with helping Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez and Mark Melancon, was named special assistant to baseball operations. Brendan Sagara is the new Minor League pitching coordinator and Jim Hickey is the Cubs' new pitching coach.

CHICAGO -- When Rob Zastryzny made his Major League debut in August 2016, it was a significant moment for the Cubs organization. The left-hander was the first Cubs pitcher selected in the Draft by Theo Epstein to reach the big leagues since he took over as president of baseball operations in October 2011.

The Cubs want to get more homegrown talent to the Majors and made some changes this offseason. Jim Benedict, considered a pitching guru who is credited with helping Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez and Mark Melancon, was named special assistant to baseball operations. Brendan Sagara is the new Minor League pitching coordinator and Jim Hickey is the Cubs' new pitching coach.

"It's just a huge investment in our pitching infrastructure," said Jaron Madison, director of player development. "It's an area we've identified that can continue to get better. Theo made it a goal this past offseason and all through last season, we talked about pitching -- what can we do better as an organization at the Minor League level and the big league level to make sure we're marrying our ideas at both places and getting pitchers up to the big leagues to help out."

• Cubs' Top 30 prospects

Madison and Alex Suarez, director of international pro scouting, closed the Cubs Convention on Sunday with a seminar on the Minor Leagues. The Cubs have had no problems developing position players they've drafted, including Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ, who were selected in the first rounds in 2013, '14 and '15, respectively, and were among the top 10 players taken those years.

Last year, the Cubs had two first-round picks -- Nos. 27 and 30 -- and selected pitchers Brendon Little and Alex Lange. Both should open the 2018 season at Class A South Bend. The Cubs had focused on college position players because they usually get to the big leagues quicker, which helped Epstein's rebuilding process. If they continue to have success, they won't be getting any more top 10 picks.

"We're digging in and re-evaluating everything we're doing from a pitching standpoint," Madison said. "We've come a long way, but now we need something to take us to that next level, and that's where Jim [Benedict] and Hickey and Sagara come in."

There are some young pitchers on the horizon, including Adbert Alzolay, ranked No. 3 among MLB Pipeline's top 30 Cubs prospects; Jen-Ho Tseng (No. 13); and Duane Underwood (No. 17).

Alzolay, 22, was 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts at Class A Myrtle Beach and finished the year in the Arizona Fall League.

"We love the athleticism, arm speed," Suarez said. "He's exceeded every expectation I had from a scouting standpoint. Our area guys were dead set that this was a guy we had to bring into our system. Not only does he have the physical tools but also the mental makeup."

Video: Alzolay discusses his growth, future with Cubs

Madison also likes top prospect Oscar De La Cruz, 22, who posted a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts at Myrtle Beach. The right-hander was bothered by a pectoral injury last season but is healthy now.

"He's a guy who could move quick through the system because he's a big strong guy with Major League weapons," Madison said. "It's just a matter of keeping him healthy."

• Besides Sagara, the Cubs also will have a new Minor League hitting coordinator in Jacob Cruz and a new Minor League infield coordinator in Jeremy Farrell. Cruz was the Double-A Tennessee hitting coach. Farrell, who was the hitting coach at South Bend last season, is the son of former Red Sox manager John Farrell and his two brothers are already in the Cubs organization. Luke Farrell is a pitcher and Shane Farrell is the Midwest area scout.

• Since Joe Maddon became the Cubs manager, there has been an emphasis in the Minor League system for players to be more versatile. Someone may be listed as a shortstop, but he will learn quickly that he'll see time at second and third base and possibly in the outfield.

"We're looking for guys who are athletic," Suarez said. "With a National League club, it's extremely important and when you have a manager as creative as Joe, it's even more important."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

 

Chicago Cubs, Adbert Alzolay, Jen-Ho Tseng

Davis bringing new plate 'mentality' to Cubs

New hitting coach working closely with Heyward on swing
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Asked about how his sessions with outfielder Jason Heyward were going in Arizona, new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis offered to show some videos. Apparently, the workouts are going very well.

The two began in early November, and they are now working together two days a week at the Cubs' complex in Mesa, Ariz. Last Tuesday was the first time Heyward, 28, and his younger brother Jacob, 22, who was drafted by the Giants last year, tested their swings on a field rather than the batting cages.

CHICAGO -- Asked about how his sessions with outfielder Jason Heyward were going in Arizona, new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis offered to show some videos. Apparently, the workouts are going very well.

The two began in early November, and they are now working together two days a week at the Cubs' complex in Mesa, Ariz. Last Tuesday was the first time Heyward, 28, and his younger brother Jacob, 22, who was drafted by the Giants last year, tested their swings on a field rather than the batting cages.

What did Davis want to see?

"[I wanted to] watch them go from the cage to the field, and my focus with them was to see if they were going to transfer the focus and the process that we were going through in the cage [to the field]," Davis said.

Davis complimented John Mallee, who was dismissed as the Cubs' hitting coach after this past season.

Video: CHC@STL: Heyward goes deep for a three-run dinger

"It was surprising to me that a team that had been to the playoffs three years in a row and had won a World Series was going to make a change," Davis said. "For me, all I can say is the opportunity came up, and it couldn't be a better opportunity."

Now there is a new voice. Davis, 57, played 19 seasons in the big leagues, and most recently, he was the Red Sox's hitting coach. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he gives the team "the graduate school finishing touch."

"I try to bring a mentality, not as much a philosophy, in hitting," Davis said. "Everybody has a philosophy and a lot of them, to me, match. That doesn't make me any different than any other guy. I try to bring a mentality in how we approach the game."

Right now, he's working on building trust with the players. Heyward has been a project since batting .230 in 2016, his first season with the Cubs.

"A relationship with me, it's kind of like meeting your wife or girlfriend," Davis said. "Whoever she dated prior to you, it doesn't matter. It's what happens from that point on."

Worth noting

• The 2018 season will be the fourth for Maddon, who has a five-year contract with the Cubs. A fan asked Maddon if he was going to talk to the Ricketts family about an extension.

"I have a job to do, and I have two years left on my contract," Maddon said. "I'm totally looking forward to honoring the next two years. I've been very fortunate in the first place that the Ricketts family and [president of baseball operations Theo Epstein] and [general manager Jed Hoyer] gave me this opportunity. I don't want to go anywhere else, and that's obvious and that's true.

"I don't worry about stuff like that," Maddon said. "That's the kind of stuff that takes care of itself. I'm not concerned about that. I am a Cub right now, and I want to be a Cub for many years to come."

Video: Morrow brings his blazing fastball to Chicago

• Although the Cubs are still in the market for another starting pitcher, Epstein said they feel confident Brandon Morrow can handle the closer duties.

"That's the guy we anticipate being in that role," Epstein said of the right-hander, who signed a two-year, $21 million deal in December.

• The last question of the session for Maddon was about who will lead off for the Cubs in 2018.

"If you don't have the typical Dexter [Fowler] kind of guy, you have to chose from the group that you have. I totally agree it's wonderful to have that catalyst at the top of the batting order who sets the tone for the rest of the group. We'll go to camp and sit down and try to evaluate everybody."

• A young fan asked Epstein when he thought he should buy his Bryce Harper Cubs jersey, assuming the outfielder, who will be a free agent after this season, will be signing with the Cubs.

"Ask Kris Bryant. He seems to have quite a few," Epstein said of Harper's Las Vegas buddy.

• Asked by a fan for his favorite road trip, Maddon quipped: "Barcelona, Spain."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

 

Chicago Cubs, Jason Heyward

Cubs scout Zielinski honored at awards dinner

Greats on hand as impact-makers honored at fundraising gala
MLB.com @kengurnick

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Hall of Famers as well as the unsung heroes of the baseball community turned out Saturday night for the 15th annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation Awards Dinner.

This year's fundraiser coincided with an offseason in which dozens of scouts have lost jobs, underscoring the need for assistance, foundation officials said.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Hall of Famers as well as the unsung heroes of the baseball community turned out Saturday night for the 15th annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation Awards Dinner.

This year's fundraiser coincided with an offseason in which dozens of scouts have lost jobs, underscoring the need for assistance, foundation officials said.

"It's heartbreaking that many of my fellow scouts have fallen on hard times and have to ask for assistance," said White Sox special assistant to the general manager Dave Yoakum, who shared the George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award in Scouting with Dan Jennings of the Nationals and the late Stan Zielinski of the Cubs.

Speaking to a sellout crowd at the Beverly Hilton, Yoakum cited fellow Foundation co-founder Dennis Gilbert for being its "beating heart." The foundation has raised more than $2 million and helped more than 100 scouts and their families.

Video: George Brett on importance of Scouts Foundation

The award for Zielinski, a Cubs scout who died last January, was presented by former Cubs GM Jim Hendry and pitcher Jeff Samardzija, one of Zielinski's Draft picks. Zielinski's son, Zach, accepted the award.

"He never treated players as prospects," Zach said of his father. "He treated them like family."

Jack Gillis, Bruce Kison, Ken "Squeaky" Parker and Gene Watson shared the Legends in Scouting Award presented at the dinner, which was hosted by Matt Vasgersian, Joe Magrane and Heidi Watney of MLB Network.

The Player Lifetime Achievement Award went to Ken Griffey Jr., with his father and former Mariners teammate, Ken Sr., helping to present as well as accept.

Junior encouraged scouts to redouble their search for talent.

Video: Ken Griffey Jr. receives Lifetime Achievement Award

"You guys are appreciated," Junior said to the scouts. "Keep at it. I don't want to go to football games." Buster and Kristen Posey received the "In the Spirit of the Game Award" for their foundation's impactful work on behalf of pediatric cancer research, presented by Posey's Giants manager, Bruce Bochy.

"In all my years in baseball, I have not found a better teammate than Buster Posey," said Bochy, who read a list of Posey's on-field achievements. "But if you think he's an amazing teammate, wait until you meet his wife, Kristen. They have dedicated themselves to beating pediatric cancer. When they're not out raising awareness and bringing others to the fight, they're inside cancer wards, one-on-one with patients. Their dedication is immense."

Video: Buster, Kristin Posey win award at Scouts Dinner

Washington outfielder Bryce Harper was given the Scout's Dream Award, presented by Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner.

"I remember being 16 and waiting for Sports Illustrated to come in the mail," said Turner. "At 16, Bryce Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated."

Video: Harper honored Scouts Dream Award at Scouts Dinner

Cleveland's Terry Francona received the Tom Lasorda Managerial Achievement Award, presented by last year's winner, Dave Roberts of the Dodgers.

Video: Francona accepts Tommy Lasorda Managerial Award

Thomas Tull, a former scout who produced "42," the epic film about Jackie Robinson, received the Bud Selig Executive Leadership Award, presented by Selig, MLB's Commissioner Emeritus.

The Dave Winfield Humanitarian Award was presented by the Hall of Famer to Kurt Rappaport, a Los Angeles real estate entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Tweet from @DaveWinfieldHOF: Just returned from 2018 Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation #pbsf @beverlyhilton and gave the Dave Winfield Community Service Award to young real estate titan Kurt Rappaort @USC. His service to causes started at home. Congratulations!! pic.twitter.com/NMryANAUw5

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

 

Schwarber compares Keenum's 'omg' to Rizzo's

We know it's the offseason in baseball, so many players, unable to play, are embracing every NFL moment they can on TV. Especially when there are games like the one that took place on Sunday night -- a situation that reminded a certain Cubs player of a certain teammate.

The Vikings pulled off a stunner in Minneapolis when receiver Stefon Diggs scored the game-winning 61-yard touchdown as the time ticked away on the clock:

Wrigley Field renovations progressing nicely

Team entering latter stages of five-year plan to overhaul Wrigley Field
MLB.com @philgrogers

CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts hasn't forgotten the feeling that haunted him as his Cubs were seeking success, not enjoying it.

"When we won the [National League Championship Series] in 2016, they handed me this giant trophy," he said. "The National League pennant trophy weighs like 60 pounds. One of the guys from FOX said, 'Here's something for your trophy case.' I'm going, 'We're the Cubs, we don't have a trophy case.' "

CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts hasn't forgotten the feeling that haunted him as his Cubs were seeking success, not enjoying it.

"When we won the [National League Championship Series] in 2016, they handed me this giant trophy," he said. "The National League pennant trophy weighs like 60 pounds. One of the guys from FOX said, 'Here's something for your trophy case.' I'm going, 'We're the Cubs, we don't have a trophy case.' "

Ricketts was wearing a year-old World Series ring when he faced a ballroom full of fans on Saturday at Cubs Convention. He would have loved to have added a second ring in October but is proud of a third consecutive trip to the NLCS. He's also pleased that the team is entering the final stages of a five-year overhaul of Wrigley Field.

The historic stadium has been a major construction zone each of the past four winters. There will be more work to do in 2018-19, but that mostly will be in the upper deck and peripheral areas of the park, unlike projects to add video boards, move the bullpens under the outfield bleachers and the ongoing work to shift dugouts further down the foul lines.

The three offseasons have seen major excavation projects commence immediately after the Cubs' final home game. The first project created a foundation for the home clubhouse, the second was for the 1914 Club behind home plate.

The team has dug down 22 feet adjacent to the left- and right-field lines this winter to create the footprint for the Maker's Mark Barrel Room and the W Club, which will be completed after the upcoming season.

The Park at Wrigley and a team office building including restaurants and bars opened last year. The work outside the walls will be complete when the Hotel Zachary opens in April at the northwest corner of Clark and Addison.

"By the end of this offseason and next, our initial plan [will be] complete," said Ricketts, whose family bought the team from Tribune Company in 2009. "That doesn't mean we're done, because it's a 100-year-old ballpark. There will be something else we have to fix after that. But it will be great to have the major construction done a year from now. We'll get the upper-deck renovation done after the 2018 season, and that will really help the ballpark a lot."

Ricketts said the dugouts are being moved largely because they needed to be upgraded, but said the move also will allow the team to add some premium seats.

"The dugouts are shifting about 25 or 30 feet," Ricketts said. "The fact is we had to redo the dugouts. We had to make them better. [They're] pretty old-school. Doing that gives the players more room, and doing that gives us more seats where we can put the fans closer to the action. It also allows us to build in camera wells. … It's a win-win-win for everyone."

Ricketts joked about how the cramped visiting clubhouse will soon be the only part of Wrigley Field that hasn't changed.

"One thing that hasn't changed is the size of the visitor's clubhouse," Ricketts said. "When somebody says something about it, I like to say, 'If it was good enough for Lou Gehrig, shouldn't it be good enough for you?' I believe we are adding hot water this year."

Other business discussed

• The Cubs will extend the home-plate netting at Wrigley Field to run all the way to the end of both dugouts, according to president for business operations Crane Kenney.

Ricketts said it has long been the team's plan to extend the netting after construction of the new dugouts. "It was always part of the plan and renovation," he said. "Obviously it's for safety, fan safety. Their experience is the most important thing to us."

• The Cubs continue to explore the possibility of opening their own television network after 2019, when their contract with NBC Sports Chicago ends.

• Ricketts believes the biggest reason for the slow player-acquisition market is that many teams are saving their aggressiveness for the 2018-19 free-agent class, which is expected to include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Craig Kimbrel, Daniel Murphy, Charlie Blackmon and possibly Clayton Kershaw.

"It's been a very interesting offseason," Ricketts said. "There's just a lot of teams keeping their powder dry for next year. We'll see how it shakes out."

• Ricketts said there has been no movement toward a reunion with Sammy Sosa. Speaking in general terms, he said it's tough to embrace players who haven't admitted their use of performance-enhancing drugs.

"I think we can put ourselves in their shoes and be very, very sympathetic," Ricketts said. "[But] I believe players from that era owe us a little bit of honesty. I kind of feel like the only way to turn this page is to put everything on the table. … We'll see what happens in the future."

• The Cubs announced that they have added two elevators in the main concourse between ground level and the upper deck.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

 

Chicago Cubs

Cubbie blue: Players deliver baby news

Celebration highlights Cubs Convention in Chicago
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Colin Carney went to the Cubs Convention when he was 12 years old and living in a Chicago suburb. Now 33 and a Houston resident, he and his wife Jennifer brought their two children this weekend in hopes of escaping the headaches and heartache of dealing with the devastation from Hurricane Harvey. They also wanted to share some news with the Cubs regarding their third child and do a gender reveal.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo agreed to take part in the surprise, along with teammates Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez during a "Kids Only" seminar on Saturday.

CHICAGO -- Colin Carney went to the Cubs Convention when he was 12 years old and living in a Chicago suburb. Now 33 and a Houston resident, he and his wife Jennifer brought their two children this weekend in hopes of escaping the headaches and heartache of dealing with the devastation from Hurricane Harvey. They also wanted to share some news with the Cubs regarding their third child and do a gender reveal.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo agreed to take part in the surprise, along with teammates Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez during a "Kids Only" seminar on Saturday.

Jennifer, who is due in July, had reached out to the Cubs through social media, and the team responded.

"After [the hurricane], we needed a little happiness," Jennifer said.

Tweet from @Cubs: It���s a boy! #CubsCon #CubsKids pic.twitter.com/cijnln3Mig

About 500 businesses and 3,000 homes were damaged during the storm in their Kingwood, Texas, town. Colin, who used to watch Cubs games on WGN-TV, is on the school board, and he has been busy setting up charter schools to accommodate displaced kids.

"The community is devastated," Carney said.

Although Colin has a "Cubs room" at home with memorabilia from his favorite team, he said they rooted for the Astros last year as they reached the World Series.

"We're happy for the Astros -- and not being in the same division [as the Cubs] helps," Carney said.

The Carneys, who brought son Blake and daughter Addison -- yes, named after the street outside Wrigley Field -- to the convention, thought the Cubs might have a celebration in a small room, not a packed ballroom at the Sheraton Grand Chicago -- and definitely not on stage with four of their favorite Cubs players.

At Colin's first Cubs Convention, he was lucky enough to get an autograph from Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. This time, he found out the gender of Baby No. 3.

Rizzo called the Carneys on stage, and each of the players had a popper. On the count of three, they pulled them and bright blue confetti sprayed onto the stage. It's a boy.

The Carneys were presented a jersey with "Boy" on the back and the number "18" for the year as well as a "Rookie of the Year" onesie. Of course, Rizzo insisted they name their child Anthony or Tony.

"It's got to be a Cubs name," Jennifer said.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

 

Chicago Cubs

Bryant sets 1st-year arbitration record

Former MVP signs for $10.85 million; Cubs also avoid arbitration with 4 others
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- The Cubs on Friday avoided arbitration with five players, including third baseman Kris Bryant, who signed for $10.85 million, a record for a first-year arbitration-eligible player.

Shortstop Addison Russell, pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Justin Wilson and infielder Tommy La Stella also agreed to one-year deals. Right-hander Justin Grimm did not agree to a new contract after the two sides exchanged salary figures.

CHICAGO -- The Cubs on Friday avoided arbitration with five players, including third baseman Kris Bryant, who signed for $10.85 million, a record for a first-year arbitration-eligible player.

Shortstop Addison Russell, pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Justin Wilson and infielder Tommy La Stella also agreed to one-year deals. Right-hander Justin Grimm did not agree to a new contract after the two sides exchanged salary figures.

Bryant's raise topped Ryan Howard's record salary for a first-year arbitration-eligible player. Howard, who, like Bryant, earned National League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Award honors in his first two seasons, received $10 million in 2008.

"[Bryant] earned it," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Friday on the first day of the Cubs Convention. "He's going to set a lot of records in his day. I'm more excited about the ones on the field. This is a well-deserved and appropriate salary and I'm sure he'll put it to good use helping the team win."

Bryant, 26, who won those awards in 2015 and '16, respectively, received a big boost from his '17 salary of $1.05 million. Last season, Bryant hit .295 with 29 homers, 38 doubles and 73 RBIs, and finished seventh in the MVP balloting.

"For some players it might be stressful, but I really enjoyed the whole process," Bryant said. "You play to get to this point in your career and I put so much hard work behind the scenes to get to this point, it just feels so rewarding."

Russell agreed to a $3.2 million contract, Hendricks -- who started Game 1 of the 2017 NL Division Series -- finalized a one-year, $4.175 million contract, and Wilson signed a $4.25 million deal. It's a significant pay raise for Hendricks, who made $760,500 last season when he went 7-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 24 starts, missing time because of a right hand injury.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm1: Hendricks fans six over seven scoreless

Wilson, 30, who will be a free agent after this season, posted a 5.09 ERA in 23 outings with the Cubs compared to a 2.68 ERA in 42 games with the Tigers. The lefty made $2.7 million last season.

Video: CHC@STL: Wilson catches DeJong looking to end the 8th

A key left-handed bat off the bench, La Stella, who turns 29 on Jan. 31, batted .288 in 73 games last season. He agreed to a $950,000 contract after making $573,000 in 2017.

Video: CHC@STL: La Stella lines pinch-hit RBI double to gap

Bryant, Russell, Hendricks and La Stella were all first-year arbitration-eligible. This was Grimm's second year and Wilson's third year.

The Cubs offered Grimm $2.2 million, and Grimm's agents countered at $2.475 million. The two sides can continue talks, but if no agreement is reached, an arbitrator will determine Grimm's salary for 2018 at a hearing between Jan. 29 and Feb. 16. Friday marked the deadline for players and teams to exchange salary figures.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

 

Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant, Justin Grimm, Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell, Tommy La Stella, Justin Wilson

Rizzo worked on agility in a fitness class

One model of offseason training holds that the best results come when the athlete strips away all distractions in his or her life and focuses exclusively on the workout regimen. That's why Rocky Balboa retreated to the snow-covered fields of the USSR to prepare to fight Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV."

But social isolation isn't actually necessary for effective training, as Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo showed Friday when he trained just like everyone else -- by going to a fitness class led by an instructor:

Schwarber, Cubs hope trim look brings big '18

'I expect him to have a huge year,' Bryant says
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Kyle Schwarber has had to deal with some good-natured teasing from his Cubs teammates after showing up looking svelte and trim because of a change in his diet this offseason. He did confess that he allows himself to splurge on one meal a week. What's the food he misses the most?

"I would say pizza," Schwarber said on Friday on the first day of the Cubs Convention. "I've always enjoyed pizza growing up, and you're in the pizza capital of the world in Chicago."

CHICAGO -- Kyle Schwarber has had to deal with some good-natured teasing from his Cubs teammates after showing up looking svelte and trim because of a change in his diet this offseason. He did confess that he allows himself to splurge on one meal a week. What's the food he misses the most?

"I would say pizza," Schwarber said on Friday on the first day of the Cubs Convention. "I've always enjoyed pizza growing up, and you're in the pizza capital of the world in Chicago."

The adjustments have been positive, he said, despite the razzing.

"It's something I can control," Schwarber said. "I want to be the best baseball player I can be and help the Cubs get to the World Series again, and this is something I can control."

Schwarber's personality hasn't changed.

"He's still the same Kyle to me -- he's still Schwarbs," Kris Bryant said. "It's nice to see everybody here put in the work to help the team out for this upcoming year. I expect him to have a huge year."

Anyone concerned that Schwarber has lost some power by losing weight can relax.

"When someone is throwing 95 [mph] and you hit it on the barrel, there's a good chance you'll hit it out," Schwarber said. "That won't be a problem at all. I'm trying to get quicker, more explosive, and that's going to help, too."

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sees good things from the changes.

"There were so many balls last year that he just fouled straight back, and in the past, he had driven them," Epstein said. "If he's a little more athletic and a little more limber, it can only help. He's another year removed from his knee [injury], which will help, too."

Worth noting

• Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward is spending most of his time this offseason at the team's Spring Training complex in Mesa, Ariz., getting to know new hitting coach Chili Davis.

"We've been hanging out, hitting some, talking hitting, talking baseball," Heyward said Friday. "It's been fun."

A year ago, Heyward moved to the Phoenix area and became a self-proclaimed "gym rat," working out at the complex and trying to feel better about his swing after batting .230 in his first year with the Cubs. At that time, he was working with hitting coaches John Mallee and Eric Hinske, who are no longer with the team.

"It's different people," Heyward said of this offseason. "Naturally, I'd say it's different because it's a different person. Chili played for 19 years and switch hit and all those things, so he brings a different perspective and a different mindset. For me, Chili is somebody who is team-oriented, at-bat wise, and has a plan and wants to get that across to the group and everybody going in the same direction."

Heyward said he didn't move to Arizona last year just to work on his hitting, but it was easier to be based near the Cubs' facility.

"I was going to hit in Arizona and it works out that I have him there and other coaches there and I can train and hit, so it's cool," he said.

Video: CHC@STL: Heyward goes deep for a three-run dinger

• Bryant's Las Vegas buddy Bryce Harper will be a free agent after the 2018 season. Harper has teased on social media that it would be fun to be Bryant's teammate.

"I don't make those decisions and I don't think I could ever make those decisions," Bryant said when asked about the possibility. "Who wouldn't want Bryce Harper on their team? He's 26 and five years, six years in the big leagues and a superstar. He'd bring a lot to any team. That will be an interesting one to follow next offseason. I would love to have him on our team."

Video: Rogers on Cubs' possible pursuit of Harper in 2018

• Cubs Minor League right-handed pitcher Wilfre Delgado was suspended by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball on Friday for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Delgado was on the roster of the rookie-level Dominican Summer League Cubs. He has received a 72-game suspension without pay after testing positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance, in violation of the program. The suspension will be effective at the start of the 2018 DSL season.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

 

Chicago Cubs, Kyle Schwarber